08/23/2013 12:06 EDT | Updated 10/23/2013 05:12 EDT

Is Canada Serious About Immigration?

Bold leadership required on immigration for the future

Recently, Minister of Employment Jason Kenney rightly highlighted the Foreign Skilled Trades Program (FSTP) as an important plank in Canada's complicated immigration system.

This new initiative (2013) seeks to attract the kinds of immigrants Canada's economy needs -- people with a skilled trade who are highly employable and who are moving here on a permanent basis. The announcement itself was highlighting the first two immigrants accepted to Canada under this program. According to Citizenship and Immigration in 2011, immigration accounted for 46 per cent of net labour force growth. In 2013, 62 per cent of permanent immigration was classified as "economic" 27 per cent "family" and 11 per cent "refugee/humanitarian".

The FSTP is classified as part of the "economic" stream -- however, total numbers under this stream were set at 3,000 which amounts to just over 1 per cent of Canada's total permanent immigration intake at about 250,000 people per year. Labour demand in Alberta alone could sop up all of these -- what about other regional economies? The proponents of major projects in Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Ontario all are forecasting a supply problem over the next five years -- Minister Oliver's recent practical changes to Canada's environmental review requirements ensures these projects don't face unnecessary delay.

The announcement itself by the Minister was made on a lazy, hazy, slow news day in August and stopped short of any real news -- how about an increase in this important stream? Build Force Canada (the old Construction Sector Council and HRSDC funded initiative) says in their latest forecast Canada's economy will demand north of 110,000 skilled trades people due to retirements of more than 210,000 carpenters, welders, steamfitters and many more highly skilled folks.

At this rate (if Canada does nothing else to change supply of skilled people) under the FSTP it will be 36 years or so before our economy will receive the supply it demands! The policy is solid but the numbers seem way too low to be taken seriously by industry over the long term. According to the Major Projects Management Office (the Federal body which provides coordination for major resource projects) there are hundreds of billions of dollars ready for investment in Canada -- what a great problem to have. If Canada is serious about capitalizing on these opportunities we better get the people thing right.

Immigration isn't the silver bullet for workforce development. There are other factors in labour force supply -- training Canadians and attracting young people to the skilled trades are paramount for a long-term solution. Labour Market Development Agreements need to be tweaked to ensure provincial training priorities are aligned with real time industrial labour demand and Canadians get value for money for the billions transferred from our pay cheques to Provincial governments. Are we encouraging and making apprenticeship spots available for young people? Are companies, learners and training facilities all incented to be successful?

Every year CIC rejigs the numbers and allocation of permanent immigration into streams -- this year it would be prudent to allocate substantial weight to the FSTP -- it takes bold action to address important policy issues facing our country. Here is to hoping the new Minister of Employment is open for business.