Immigration focus of Halifax roundtable with federal minister John McCallum
'We are committed to streamlining things, to getting rid of silly rules'
John McCallum was in Halifax Wednesday to find out how local companies, groups and other stakeholders feel about immigration to Canada and he claimed the message he received is clear — Atlantic Canada needs immigrants.
Canada's Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship is travelling to cities around the country holding similar talks. He started in Charlottetown on Monday — the same day a new Atlantic growth strategy was announced.
The three-year pilot program will bring thousands of new immigrants to Atlantic Canada, with the goal of stimulating economic development and increasing jobs.
McCallum said Wednesday the program could spread to the rest of Canada.
"I've heard loud and clear from Atlantic Canada, from premiers to members of Parliament to businesspeople, that Atlantic Canada needs immigrants," he said.
"Your region has demographic challenges. An aging population, huge [numbers of] unfilled jobs in many areas. Many companies will not be sustainable or viable if they don't get a certain number of immigrants."
McCallum brushed off concerns about a backlash against an immigrant influx, calling Nova Scotia and New Brunswick two of the most "amazingly welcoming" provinces to Syrian refugees in particular.
'Cannot produce enough refugees'
"I am probably the only immigration minister in the whole world who's major problem is I cannot produce enough refugees fast enough to satisfy the incredible generosity of Canadians," he said.
South Shore-St. Margaret's MP Bernadette Jordan addressed job concerns by saying after Monday's announcement, she received a call from a local businessman wanting to bring two skilled immigrants to the country.
"He said if he can bring those two with a specific skill, he can create 10 additional jobs," she said.
In 2016, Canada will bring in a total of 300,000 immigrants.
Committed to streamlining
McCallum said the government will need to set new immigration levels for the next three years by November, but the system as a whole needs an overhaul.
"Lots needs to be fixed. The processing times are too long. Sometimes the decisions are arbitrary. People are denied visas to come to Canada when common sense says they should be given visas," he said.
"We are committed to streamlining things, to getting rid of silly rules, to improving the way the system operates."
McCallum said a major focus now is to shorten the two-year wait time for spouses to be reunited in Canada, which was a campaign promise.
He said a more concrete announcement of changes will come in the fall.