A busy summer stretch of federal engagement continued for The Winnipeg Chamber last week as we were part of the consultations held by The Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship while he was in town.
Immigration has been a driving factor in Manitoba’s growth over the past several years. We currently welcome over 15,000 new immigrants each year. Nationwide, the current target is around 300,000 individuals a year. While that may seem like a lot, Canada’s immigration levels actually peaked over 100 years ago, right before the start of the first World War. In 1913, for example, Canada took in over 400,000 immigrants.
The Winnipeg Chamber is among the voices calling for higher levels of immigration. The Minister of Finance’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth recently called for Canada to increase immigration levels to 450,000 a year by 2021. The focus is on the economic immigration stream, as we need more workers to keep our economy humming.
Over Canada’s history, our GDP growth has largely come from increases in employment growth, instead of increases in productivity. Our population growth is slowing down with the drop in birth rate and the baby boom moving into their retirement years. Without immigration, Statistics Canada figures Canada’s population growth will be close to zero in 20 years.
Other countries, on the other hand, are growing fast. Currently Canada is the 38th most populous country in the world, but if we maintain our current growth rates, some project we will slip to the 69th most populous country by the end of the century. The fear is not only will our economy be growing slower, but Canada could lose global clout and influence as other countries pass us population-wise.
It is encouraging to see the federal government take positive steps forward with their Global Skills Strategy which was announced in early June. A big part of the skills strategy is the new Global Talent Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. This new stream establishes for foreign high skilled workers a two week turnaround time for work permit applications. These changes should give employers faster access to skilled employees, which is critical as Manitoba is forecasted to have almost 170,000 job openings between 2016 and 2022, with over 60% of those jobs expected to require some post-secondary education. Our economy needs skilled workers to grow, and the faster we can get them the better.