Political Parties Clash Over How To Attract Immigrants

Political parties clash over how to attract immigrants

Angela Hall,
Published: Thursday, December 06, 2007

The number of immigrants who've come to call Saskatchewan home leaves room for improvement, provincial politicians from both parties agree.

But while the Saskatchewan Party government points to a gap between the “rhetoric and the reality” of the NDP when it comes to immigration, the New Democrats point to recent strides Saskatchewan made in attracting new Canadians.

In the wake of new census numbers released this week, the new Saskatchewan Party government's minister responsible for immigration pledged a “bold statement” can be expected on future plans to attract people to the province.

Sask. Party MLA Rob Norris said he wants to review the “best practices” at work across Canada, and why the province has lagged under the NDP in the area of immigration.

However, the NDP — recently relegated to opposition status in the wake of the Nov. 7 election — noted the province had already been making progress in the last few years.

A provincial program that allows Saskatchewan to nominate applicants who qualify under various criteria to the federal government for landed immigrant status issued more than 1,200 nominations in the last fiscal year. That number compares to just 454 nominations the previous year.

“We won't really feel the effect of that (increase) until this year, so it'll be interesting to see what our numbers look like for this fiscal year in terms of actual landings,” said NDP MLA Pat Atkinson, who previously served as minister responsible for immigration and is now the opposition critic for the file.

Atkinson said the NDP began focusing on immigration after the 2003 election and had been seeing results. She pointed to a memorandum of understanding Saskatchewan signed a year ago with the Government of the Philippines to help increase the recruitment of Filipino workers to Saskatchewan under the nominee program.

Under the NDP, the province had a goal of attracting 5,000 immigrants annually by 2008.

In the past, the number of immigrants who have come to Saskatchewan in recent years pales in comparison to those who choose neighbouring Manitoba.

According to the 2006 census numbers released Tuesday, about 8,000 people immigrated to Saskatchewan between 2001 and 2006, compared to more than 31,000 in Manitoba, a province with a larger yet still comparable population to Saskatchewan.

However, Saskatchewan's 8,000 people over that five year-period was an improvement on the 5,000 immigrants attracted between 1996 and 2000, according to the census.

Norris said the Sask. Party hopes to offer new ideas on how immigration can be boosted.

“I think what we've seen is some incremental steps in the last two years,” but other provinces are moving more quickly, he said.

“Even those modest gains means we're still not keeping up.”

Norris said one change could be expanding the current criteria in the province's nominee program. Current categories under which people can be nominated include skilled workers, family members and health professionals, among others.