A duo of British Columbia-based immigration advocacy groups is calling on Premier John Horgan’s government to create a dedicated ministry of immigration. More robust immigration frameworks are needed to deal with the federally mandated rise in immigration and a shrinking workforce, spokespeople from the organizations say.
By 2023, Canada will be welcoming as many as 1.2 million potential new Canadians. B.C. welcomed 44,000 immigrants in 2020, the second-highest number after Ontario, which admitted 127,000 people.
Creating a ministry of immigration in B.C. is “long overdue” for Chris Friesen, director of Settlement Services for the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia (ISSofBC). Canada is receiving “the highest number of immigrants since 1913,” he says. “It begs the question, what role do provincial governments have?” Friesen believes that provinces have had a largely reactive way of doing things, and should “pivot to a forward looking, projection (based), multi-year plan.”
The federal government’s dramatic increase in immigration quotas has created an urgency for advocacy groups like ISSofBC or the Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies (AMSSA).
The AMSSA has issued 12 recommendations in their Immigration for B.C.’s Future document. Reinstating an immigration ministry, inexistent since the early 2000s, is the second priority on the list, right after creating a five-year immigration plan.
“It is all in silos,” AMSSA CEO Katie Crocker said of B.C.’s immigration policy. “You have a provincial ministry dealing with one area. Then you have another provincial ministry here, and then you have another provincial ministry here. There is no cohesion between these ministries,” she added.
Much like Ontario, the B.C. government spreads out immigration services and policy across more than one ministry: the Ministry of Municipal Affairs handles the Provincial Nominee Program, and the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training oversees the immigration scheme for international students.
NCM approached the office of B.C.’s Premier John Horgan for comment but received no reply by the filing deadline, which had been communicated to the staff.
Labour market woes
Labour shortages are front-of-mind for both government and stakeholders at the grassroots level. The ageing of the population means there might not be enough people in the labour market to take over from the baby boomer generation when that cohort retires.
In 1971, the worker to retiree ratio was seven to one. It now stands at four to one and is expected to be two to one by 2035. While the birth rate in the province is currently higher than the death rate, in its population projection to 2040, the provincial government expects that deaths will surpass births as of 2034/35.
Just like Nova Scotia, B.C. is already experiencing a large labour shortage, and it’s unclear how the situation will develop. According to the federal government, the number of job vacancies in the province peaked in the second quarter of 2019 at just over 108,000. Worker supply was higher than demand until 2018 when the ratio switched.
Both AMSSA and ISSofBC optimistically predict that B.C.’s share of the federal immigration quota will be around 180,000 permanent residents by 2023. But Crocker still believes that the current framework of getting immigrants settled in the province is being left to non-governmental organizations.
“This is being done off the back of nonprofits. Because that’s who’s out there doing the work,” she says. She thinks the government will use slogans to argue that the current system is working.
“I would argue it hasn’t been working,” Friesen told NCM over the phone. “I think it’s going to be even more critically important that we got collective unified voices in provincial territorial governments in order to respond.”
B.C. used to have the Ministry of Multiculturalism and immigration under a previous NDP government, back in the 1990s. It was headed by Ujjal Dosanjh, who later became the province’s first Indian-born premier.
B.C. is the second province to recently face calls to reinstate an immigration ministry. Ontario’s premier Doug Ford, who dissolved the provincial Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration (MCI) back in 2018, has faced similar appeals from the Official Opposition, the NDP.