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David Lu: As Canada grapples with mass immigration, Trudeau eases shut his open door | Conservative Home

David Lu is a Canadian political staffer and political campaigner now based in London. He previously worked for the Progressive Conservative government in Ontario.

The debate on immigration numbers have once started again in Canada. After years of record high migrants coming into the country, a shift seems to be on the horizon.

The Canadian Government is looking to reduce the number of temporary residents coming to Canada and limiting number of international students coming to study. Talk has started about shortening asylum applications, and also speeding up the deportation process.

The Canadian labour market has always been heavily reliant on temporary workers. In 2018, there were 337,460 temporary work visa holders; by 2022, that number swelled to 605,851. Last week, provincial ministers gathered to discuss the possibility of limiting the number of temporary visas, and transition to more permanent resident instead.

This move includes capping the number of international students, which take up much of the housing supply in big cities. On the flipside, they also drive the economy and fund universities with international tuitions, which is on average three times as much as tuition for a local resident. Many universities have voiced concerns about the budgetary implications of any cut in numbers.

Some are surprised that the Trudeau Government, and the Liberal Party, is making a move to reduce the number of newcomers to Canada. He has always welcomed refugees and temporary workers with open arms.

It seems he is not immune to the apparent a global trend to move away from an open-door policy, and instead be more accommodating to those who want to immigrate through legitimate process, with intention to stay permanently.

In Canada’s neighbour to the south, this seems to be the case too. Donald Trump’s wall across the Mexican border has taken a lot of criticism for being racist, heartless and immoral; this was a large point of opposition for the Democrats during the 2016 election.

Fast forward to 2023, with the more progressive Joe Biden in power, not only are the Democrats continuing the construction of the wall, but they are waiving laws and regulations to build it more quickly – breaking the President’s 2020 promise not to build another foot.

The Biden Administration claims that this move is purely fiscal, and too much funding has already been allocated to the wall to quit at this point. Many observers, however, see that illegal crossings in the Rio Grande Valley (245,000 in the last year alone) have made border security into an issue Washington cannot ignore.

It seems Trudeau is also trying to change the tone on his immigration policies.  He is happy to let you into Canada, but only if you are there to stay. It is a cautious tone, taking care not to sound anti-immigration but also slightly back tracking on his “all is welcome” stance from a few years ago.

Canada is a relatively new country, and it would not have the population or productivity without immigrants. Like many countries around the world, immigration is an important part of its economy, and even Conservatives understand that the labour force depends on foreign workers coming in.

After the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a large gap in the labour force in Canada. Skilled trade and the service industry took the biggest hit. A huge push from provincial governments was made to increase the number of migrants to fill that gap.

This resulted in nearly half a million yearly immigrants to Canada since 2021, with a target for 550,000 in 2025. In 2023, the Government’s immigration plan stated that temporary worker visas and student streams are key avenues to strengthening Canada’s labour market.

A year later, that strategy seems to be scrapped. So what has changed?

The debate has never been about whether we need more migrants, but rather how many and how long they should stay. The consideration should be a balance of fulfilling gaps in the labour market, as well as managing demand for housing and social services.

With unemployment sitting at 6.1 per cent, high housing costs, and long waiting lists for social and health services, it does make sense that the number of newcomers should be reduced from the current trend.

Trudeau’s willingness to shrink the number of temporary workers could also be driven by the election due in 2025. He needs to prove to Canadians that his policies are aimed to helping those that are in the country now, a perception not shared by most Canadians today.

Such concern could have been sharpened by the anger of trades unions over a recent plan to bring South Korean workers to build an EV battery plant in Ontario – despite that the Government gave a C$15bn subsidy to the plant aimed at creating local jobs. The public and private sectors in Canada have almost become addicted to temporary foreign workers, and it will be a challenge for all to make the shift into building a labour force based on permanent residents.

It will be interesting to see what provincial governments, and Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives, have to say on the subject. There is a need to keep up with productivity and strengthen the labour force. However, the political climate in Canada today suggests that voters care more about their own cost of living.

Will this move to limit temporary workers improve domestic concerns without undermining Canada’s GDP? I don’t believe a noticeable difference can be realized before the next election – only time will tell.

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