Rising Jobless Rate May Curb Immigration

Rising jobless rate may curb immigration
Weak economy may mean a rethink of how many newcomers we accept

Bruce Campion-Smith
Richard J. Brennan
The Toronto Star
Feb 11, 2009 04:30 AM

OTTAWA Rising unemployment could force the federal government to nudge shut the door on thousands of foreigners looking to make Canada their new home, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says.

While Ottawa is sticking by its pledge to accept 240,000 to 265,000 permanent residents this year, the worsening economic outlook may prompt the government to rethink that target in the coming months, Kenney said yesterday.

“We don't want people coming to Canada and facing unemployment. We need to be sensitive to the changing labour market, and if we need to make modifications, we will.”

The unemployment rate stands at 7.2 per cent in Canada, and 8 per cent in Ontario.

Kenney said Canada, which accepted 247,000 permanent residents last year, so far “stands alone” by maintaining its levels for permanent residents.

However, he conceded that might change, given economic conditions.

The target of up to 265,000 new permanent residents includes up to 156,600 immigrants in the economic category, 71,000 in the family category and 37,400 in the humanitarian category.

“I don't know of another developed country that is planning to maintain its current levels of permanent residents,” Kenney told the Commons immigration committee. “I have to add a clear caveat.
Obviously, the economy is changing on a weekly basis. We have to monitor the situation very closely.”

Federal and provincial immigration officials plan to meet next month and decide whether to tinker with the target.

But Kenney made clear his preference is to stick with the target, calling new immigrants the “fuel” of the economy, once it turns around.

The grim unemployment numbers dominated parliamentary debate yesterday. Opposition politicians were demanding the minority Conservatives step up their economic recovery plans, even before last month's multi-billion dollar stimulus package has kicked in.

“The facts are changing hourly. The government is not going to adapt? It is not going to respond?” Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said in question period.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government “will see how things unfold in the months to come,” but didn't rule out the prospect of more stimulus spending.

“It is important that we proceed with a plan, that we act on a plan and that we do not change our plan every week,” Harper said.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said the package “does not go nearly far enough to deal with the crisis in our economy.

“Will the Prime Minister finally admit that more has to be done?”

Yesterday, the leaders of two labour unions said restrictive employment insurance rules are punishing tens of thousands of Canadians who are losing their jobs.

“The government has basically failed us miserably,” said Ken Neumann, national director of the United Steelworkers union, who was joined by Canadian Auto Workers union president Ken Lewenza.

Neumann said about 40 per cent of unemployed workers in Canada don't qualify for EI.

He said the Conservative government had the opportunity in last month's budget to take away the two-week waiting period and to increase benefits.

The government did extend benefits by five weeks, to a maximum of 50 weeks for eligible workers.