VANCOUVER — Canada's immigration minister says it appears the country needs more newcomers, but as housing prices skyrocket in Vancouver and Toronto his government hopes to lure them elsewhere.
John McCallum recently returned from a trip to China, where he lobbied officials to double or even triple the number of visa application centres in the country in an effort to open more doors for Chinese students, workers and tourists.
Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks at a news conference in Vancouver on August 17, 2016. (Photo: Jonathan Hayward/CP)
He is also conducting a series of consultations across Canada. Speaking after a roundtable of experts and business leaders in Vancouver, he said he's hearing that the aging population means more young blood is needed to propel the economy, especially outside of big cities.
"We would like to spread the immigrants across the country relatively evenly. The last thing we want is that every immigrant either goes to Toronto or Vancouver," he said Wednesday.
The immigration minister's trip to Beijing comes just before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to travel to China for the G20 summit in September.
McCallum said the government has not yet made a decision on how many immigrants it will propose for 2017. It will announce a number in September, along with figures for 2018 and 2019.
"The last thing we want is that every immigrant either goes to Toronto or Vancouver."
He said Canada was able to settle Syrian refugees across the country, including in the Maritimes and the Prairies. He also pointed to a pilot program to attract newcomers to Atlantic Canada, where he said the need was "desperate."
However, he acknowledged there are limits to the government's ability to disperse migrants, as once people become permanent residents they have a constitutional right to move wherever they want.
Foreign buyers, most of them from China, have been blamed by some for surging housing prices in Metro Vancouver. British Columbia recently introduced a 15-per-cent tax on foreign buyers, but McCallum said Chinese officials didn't bring up the levy during his visit.
"I was a little surprised. I thought it might be raised, but nobody raised it and I didn't raise it with them," he said.
Chinese officials open to more application centres
McCallum said Chinese officials appeared open to his request for more application centres for Canadian visas. Currently, there are only five cities with such centres, and he would like an increase to 10 or 15, he said.
"They didn't say yes, but they certainly didn't say no, and they sounded positive," he said, adding it's possible an announcement could be made during Trudeau's visit.
The minister emphasized the need to ease restrictions on Chinese tourists, who make up the largest visitor market in the world and spend an average of US$750 a day when they come to Canada.
Canada is aiming to expand its ties with China on trade, investment and people, said McCallum.
Trudeau headed to China next month
"I wanted to go to China to enhance the flow of people, notably tourists," he said. "Other ministers will go for trade or investment, and the prime minister will be there in just a few weeks on all of these things together."
He brushed aside a question on whether he tried to smooth the waters ahead of Trudeau's visit, as free trade talks between the countries appear to remain frosty because of Canada's human rights concerns.
"I don't think he needs waters to be smoothed. I think he will get a very warm welcome from the Chinese government."