Posted on November 2, 2004

Canada Must Almost Double Immigration Levels To Expand Workforce: Minister

Sandra Cordon, Canadian Press, Oct. 30

OTTAWA — Canada’s labour minister says the country may need to consider doubling immigration levels to help fill enormous gaps in its skilled workforce.

And even that won’t be enough to cope with the shortage of trained workers and lagging productivity, Joe Fontana said Friday.

As part of a broader review of workforce issues, Canadians must look at dramatically boosting the number of workers it brings in from overseas as well improving skills training for underutilized employees, Fontana told The Canadian Press.

“We will have to attract many more immigrants, and the country and the government already knows that,” said Fontana, minister of labour and social housing.

“But even if we move to 300,000 to 400,000 to 500,000 (new) people — that ain’t going to do it.”

Workers already on the job must upgrade their skills and employers have to make better use of the existing pool of employees, many of whom are underutilized, he said.

“There are a whole bunch of under-employed people and therefore, we have to do an awful lot of training of the existing people-force that we have to make sure that they are in fact going to be able to do the jobs.”

Canada would essentially have to double its current immigration levels if it were to reach that level of 500,000 new workers.

Canada admitted just over 221,000 permanent residents this year, Immigration and Citizenship Minister Judy Sgro said in her annual report to Parliament this week.

Next year’s target is 220,000 to 245,000 new permanent residents.

But many newcomers still struggle to get their professional credentials recognized in Canada, Sgro noted.

“We recognize that it is vital that Canada continues to be a destination of choice for immigrants,” she said.

“To achieve this, we must remove any barriers.”

Sgro couldn’t be reached for further comment on Fontana’s suggestions Friday.

But critics were quick to respond.

Conservative Immigration critic Diane Ablonczy said the Liberal government must make better use of the skilled workers already here, before it tries to meet and beat immigration targets.

That means finding much more efficient ways of formally accepting professional certification and education from other countries. Otherwise a huge pool of skilled workers will continue to be wasted, Ablonczy said in an interview from her riding in Calgary.

She noted that far too many skilled workers — from medical doctors to university professors — are coming to Canada to find the only jobs they can get are stocking vending machines or delivering pizza.

“Do we really need any more PhDs driving cab in Toronto?”

The Immigration department has been working on ways improve integration of new workers, including better language training and recognizing foreign credentials.

Business and labour groups are calling on Ottawa to not only bring in more skilled workers but move to faster on accepting their credentials so they can apply their skills here.

Ottawa must also help employers boost overall staff productivity, said Fontana.

“Immigration isn’t going to do it all. . .We’ve got under-employment and we need to fix that.”

Lifelong learning and retraining and more flexible workplaces would help, he said.

“You make (workplaces) family-friendly places, you make them learning workplaces, you introduce hours that make sense, (introduce) flexibility,” said Fontana.

“People — if they’re too stressed, if they’re too tired — let’s face it, are not working to capacity.”