Ontario needs its own immigration program
TheStar.com – opinion/commentary – Ontario needs to control its immigration destiny with its own program reflecting its values and priorities.
May 19 2014. By: Viresh Fernando, Tim Leahy
The Constitution grants concurrent power to the provinces and Ottawa over immigration. Quebec wisely took full control over immigration in 1991. It is time for Ontario to do likewise.
Quebec has used its immigration program to attract capital to fund Quebec businesses, thereby increasing employment, to target immigrants to fill skill shortages and to maintain and enhance French language and culture by attracting francophones. Quebec’s immigration program has been very successful on social, cultural, economic and political levels.
Other provinces and territories have lesser accords. For example, Ottawa allows Prince Edward Island to select “investor immigrants” who have a net worth of at least $2 million, who commit to invest $800,000 in approved projects within P.E.I. and agree to reside in the province. P.E.I. makes all selection decisions and the federal government’s role is limited to ensuring that these nominees are not medically or criminally inadmissible. Thus, processing of investor immigrants is expedited and, most importantly, P.E.I. directs where the investment is made.
Ottawa, however, does not allow Ontario to emulate the type of investment program Quebec and P.E.I. enjoy. The Ontario Immigration Act that died when the legislature was dissolved only proposed that Ontario eventually have the power to select a mere 5,000 immigrants annually. Ontario needs and deserves many more. Ontario’s population is 67 per cent higher than Quebec’s, but Ottawa allows Quebec to select five times as many immigrants annually (25,300).
Ontario’s economy requires an immigration program tailored to this province. Ontario, not ambitious federal politicians, should design Ontario’s immigration programs and set the number of immigrants. While immigration to Canada has remained stable, Ontario’s share has steadily declined from more than 50 per cent a decade ago to 38 per cent in 2012 — from 140,000 in 2005 to less than 100,000 in 2012. In contrast, Quebec has maintained and slightly increased its share of immigrants.
Since the late 1970s, Canada’s birth rate has been less than the death rate. Thus, while the number of immigrants has declined, the number and percentage of pensioners has increased, resulting in higher health-care expenditures and a declining tax base. More working-age immigrants would counter the negative impact this phenomenon has on Ontario.
More provincial control of immigration could jump-start development of mineral resources in the Ring of Fire. Michael Gravelle, minister of northern development and mines, recently proclaiming the Ring of Fire as the “next great mining development,” pledged $1 billion to fund an all-weather road and power corridor and called upon Ottawa to match the funds.
Ontario’s billion-dollar investment for the all-weather road and other expenses associated with the Ring of Fire can be wholly financed by investor immigrants. Based on our experience as immigration lawyers, we foresee that within two years of an Ontario Investor Immigrant Program being implemented, fellow immigration lawyers and financial intermediaries can easily bring Ontario at least 1,000 investor immigrants who would invest $1 million each for the privilege of migrating to Ontario. Investment in capital-intensive infrastructure and transit projects, as well as “Green Bonds,” could be designated as qualifying investments.
At the time the federal government announced plans to abolish the federal investor immigrant program, Canada lost $8 billion pledged by would-be immigrants. If these jilted investors could invest in an Ontario program, the Ring of Fire project would be up and running in no time — and providing well-paying jobs in northern Ontario. And, that is just one project; there would be hundreds of others all over Ontario if the province had its own immigration program.
Massive projects such as the Ring of Fire will inevitably cause skill shortages. In lieu of resorting to the discredited temporary foreign worker program, an Ontario-controlled immigration program could meet the demand with Ontario-selected immigrants.
We should follow the path Quebec blazed in 1991 under Liberal premier Robert Bourassa. We, too, need to control our immigration destiny.
Viresh Fernando is a chartered accountant, lawyer and international investment consultant. Tim Leahy is an immigration lawyer.
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