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Canadian Provinces Are Looking for New Immigration Agreements

By Casey August 24, 2022 (Updated September 13, 2022) 6 min. read

The Saskatchewan government said on July 28, 2022, that it wants more control over its immigration system.

The announcement was made the same day that Jeremy Harrison, the immigration minister for Saskatchewan, and the other immigration ministers for Canada, including Sean Fraser, his federal equivalent, met in New Brunswick.

The ministers’ agreement to create a multi-year Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) distribution plan by March 31, 2023, is the meeting’s most significant result. Each province and territory will receive PNP allocations over a three-year period as a result, enabling them to plan ahead and support their economic development objectives.

According to numerous provinces, these initiatives are still insufficient to sustain regional economic development.

What Does This Mean for Each Canadian Province?

Saskatchewan and Quebec

Saskatchewan is asking the federal government for a new bilateral immigration agreement, similar to the one Quebec has. Quebec has the most influence over its immigration policy among all of Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories due to its distinctively francophone nature. In accordance with the 1991 Canada-Quebec Accord, the province is allowed to choose all of its economic class immigrants, set its own immigration numbers, manage admissions for temporary residency, and have input on the family and refugee categories. Additionally, it has exclusive control over settlement funds that the federal government has given to it for the purpose of providing newcomers with a range of resources, including job training and language instruction.

The federal government and each of Canada’s other nine provinces, as well as the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, have bilateral immigration accords. The main benefit of these agreements is that they make it possible for the provinces and territories to run the PNP. They also provide information on a variety of topics, such as how the two tiers of government would collaborate to provide services for immigrants’ settlement. These agreements, however, do not grant the provinces and territories much power beyond what is permitted by their individual PNPs.

Saskatchewan, therefore, desires what Quebec possesses. Saskatchewan wants sole control over family-class immigration, control over federal settlement financing, and a guaranteed PNP allocation that is in line with Saskatchewan’s demographic weight within Canada under its plan known as the Canada-Saskatchewan Immigration Accord.

Although Saskatchewan now has 6,000 principle applicants allocated to the PNP for 2022, it feels that 13,000 seats would be more equitable because they would represent Saskatchewan’s proportionate share of total immigration to Canada.

All Other Provinces

Harrison and his provincial counterparts from Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario sent minister Fraser a joint letter the day before the June 28 conference asking for more control over their own immigration systems. Ontario’s immigration minister, Monte McNaughton, told CIC News earlier in the week that he is asking the federal government to give Ontario more discretion over choosing economic classes.

Francois Legault, the premier of Quebec, has also declared that if he wins another majority government in the upcoming provincial elections in October, he will work to fully limit immigration into the province.

The requests from Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec put a lot of pressure on the federal government. The provinces contend that providing them additional selection authority will help to address the issue of application backlogs that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) continues to face.

The provinces can also ask for increased authority under the Constitution. Even though the Constitution makes it plain that the federal government has authority over immigration admissions, it nonetheless identifies immigration as one of the few areas of federal-provincial policy that is shared in Canada. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), Canada’s top immigration law, requires the federal government to collaborate closely with the provinces and territories to achieve regional economic and social goals. In addition, the fact that Quebec enjoys substantial immigration control while the rest of the nation does not places the federal government in an increasingly challenging position.

Unlike when the Canada-Quebec Accord was established in 1991, the country’s rapidly aging population has led to historic workforce shortages in all provinces and territories across Canada. As more baby boomers retire, provinces and territories are relying increasingly on the PNP to support their workforce, population, and economic growth.

Will the Provinces Demand More Control?

In a way, it seems inevitable that the provinces will demand more control. Some provinces approached the federal government after the Canada-Quebec Accord was signed, requesting a comparable level of immigration power. The federal government created the PNP because of a concern that it would lose control over the immigration system if comparable arrangements were made with the rest of the nation. From just 400 immigrant admissions in 1999 to a target of over 80,000 immigrants this year and 90,000 immigrants by 2024, the provinces and territories embraced the program.

Despite the fact that Canada’s PNP targets are at all-time highs, some provinces contend that the distribution of 80,000 immigrants among the eleven provinces and territories that administer the PNP is inadequate in light of the severe labor shortages those regions currently experience and are anticipated to continue to experience as all nine million Canadians in the baby boomer generation reach retirement age within the next ten years.

It is impossible to overstate how important these recent advances are. All immigrants to Canada were previously chosen by the federal government before Quebec took control of its system. The pendulum has gradually swung, and the two levels of government currently share a roughly equal split of economic class immigrant selection since the advent of the PNP in 1998. The admissions process for the family and refugee classes is still under the supervision of the federal government. In essence, the provinces are expressing their desire for majority control over selection.

It is impossible to overstate how important these recent advances are. All immigrants to Canada were previously chosen by the federal government before Quebec took control of its system. The pendulum has gradually swung, and the two levels of government currently share a roughly equal split of economic class immigrant selection since the advent of the PNP in 1998. The admissions process for the family and refugee classes is still under the supervision of the federal government. In essence, the provinces are expressing their desire for majority control over selection.

In any case, the provinces’ more assertive stance heralds a new era in Canada’s immigration system in which they are no longer satisfied with simply having a say in selection through the PNP, but rather appear to define success by making the federal government the junior partner in their immigration relationship.

Are You Interested in Canada’s PNP Programs?

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