Canada's innovation minister says a linchpin of the government's economic agenda is facing resistance not only from within government but also from Canadians worried about their jobs.
Navdeep Bains used an appearance at the Public Policy Forum's Growth Summit to make the case for increasing immigration numbers to give Canada a competitive economic advantage.
But Bains said there is a reluctance in Canada to boosting immigration — even from inside the Liberal government.
"I have to tell you, I'm hitting a bit of a challenge within government in having this conversation because there is this hesitation of maybe immigration might be viewed negatively," Bains said.
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Bains said that resistance is sparked by concerns there is still relatively high unemployment in certain parts of the country and fears that many Canadians view immigration as "someone taking away their jobs."
"In Canada, we say diversity is our strength. I think we take enormous pride in the fact that we have a multicultural society," Bains told the conference.
'Reluctance around immigration policy'
"But the honest truth is that there is still reluctance here around immigration policy. When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get push-back," he said.
Bains' comments reflect the findings of a recent poll conducted by Angus Reid for CBC News that suggest a hardening of Canadians' attitudes to immigration.
Sixty-eight per cent of respondents said minorities should be doing more to fit in with mainstream Canadian society instead of keeping their own customs and languages.
"It does seem like a very surprising finding, especially when you consider this is a country that has been living with 45 years of official multiculturalism as government policy," Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, said of the results of the poll.
"It is maybe not what conventional wisdom might expect. But what these findings show is there are real limits on what Canadians — regardless of their own heritage or walk of life — are prepared to put up with in terms of accommodation and the sense of the mosaic versus the melting pot."
'More immigration creates more jobs'
Bains said the government needs to do a better job of selling the message that "more immigration creates more jobs."
He says that in the era of Brexit, which saw a majority of Britons vote to leave the European Union, and U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump's anti-immigration protectionist rhetoric, Canada has a competitive advantage in luring global talent.
"We need to change that conversation to say it's not a social policy, it's economic policy," Bains said. "It's important to our economic agenda, our innovation agenda. If we bring the right people, the motivated people, they will create more jobs and more opportunities for Canadians."
Bains said his father came to Canada with just $7 in his pocket and worked three jobs before starting his own company, which employed 20 people.
"So I've seen it first-hand," he said.