OTTAWA - Major changes to the immigration system could include erasing a massive backlog of applications, the minister in charge said Wednesday.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said all options are on the table when it comes to modernizing the process of bringing in would-be immigrants.
"We must have transformational change to move to an immigration program that works for Canada and for newcomers," he said in a speech to the Economic Club of Canada.
He said the changes which will roll out over the course of 2012, will include one to give the provinces the ability to cherry-pick the immigrants they want.
He said Canada also has an eye on New Zealand, where a backlog of immigration applications was legislated away in 2003 and replaced by a pool of prospective applicants.
For now, a pilot program will allow provinces and territories to accept an additional 1,500 immigrants a year if they select them from an existing backlog of skilled worker applications.
"At this point we are looking at all options of dealing with these backlogs and coming up with a faster, more responsive system," Kenney told reporters after the speech.
A parliamentary committee report tabled Tuesday said there is currently a backlog of over a million applications, including as many as 460,000 in the skilled worker category.
Officials told the committee that without changes to the system that backlog won't be eliminated until 2017.
Kenney said the system as it stands is dysfunctional.
"We can’t continue to tell people that they’re going to wait for eight years for a decision on whether they can come to Canada," he said.
He said the government also needs to be more proactive when it comes to communicating with potential applicants about different routes into Canada.
But NDP Immigration critic Don Davies says while it's important to match immigrants with economic needs, there needs to be a more holistic approach to the issue.
"Immigration deals with people, it deals with families and human beings," Davies said.
"It's not just treating people like economic widgets in a machine that we can ruthlessly bring into our country."
And he said the idea of transferring more power to the provinces and in turn to employers, has risks.
"I don't think we want to be delegating the choice of who comes to the country to the private sector," he said.
Kenney said that wouldn't be the point of allowing more matching between jobs and immigrants.
"It's not about privatizing the immigration system, it's about a more active role of recruitment for people so they have jobs when they show up," he said.
"I'd rather have an engineer working as an engineer than a cab driver. That's really where we are trying to go with this."