Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser rises during Question Period, Monday, December 6, 2021 in Ottawa. \THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser rises during Question Period, Monday, December 6, 2021 in Ottawa. \THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Painful Truth: Liberals hit artificial milestone on immigration

The numbers need a closer look

What with COVID-19, and winter storms bearing down, and two days left until Christmas, it’s fair to say that few of us were paying attention to Canadian immigration policy on Dec. 23.

Which is a shame, because an announcement from the Department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship showed that we’ve had a quiet revolution in how Canada accepts new permanent residents.

The government announced that 2021 was a record year for the arrival of new permanent residents – in total, 401,000 people had “landed” as permanent residents. Permanent residency is a major step towards Canadian citizenship, and it’s a massive driver of our population growth.

But in that announcement was a confirmation of something that Immigration has mentioned a few times in passing during the pandemic.

More than half of the folks who officially “landed” as permanent residents were already here.

“As we continue to struggle with the pandemic, we made the most of the talent already within our borders,” the announcement said. “The majority of these new permanent residents were already in Canada on temporary status.”

Yep. We increased our population of permanent residents by moving a bunch of people from one column in a government ledger to the other!

A significant number of permanent residents have always come from the ranks of temporary residents. In 2019, 74,586 of the 341,180 new permanent residents were already here on temporary status. But that’s just 21 per cent of the total number of new permanent residents, not more than 50 per cent!

In 2020, massive disruptions in travel due to the pandemic caused immigration rates to plummet just as the federal Liberal pledge to ramp up immigration levels was supposed to be coming into effect.

In the first year of the pandemic Canada admitted just 184,500 new permanent residents barely more than half the number from the year before.

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I don’t actually have any particular objection to this change as policy. Making it easier to transition from being a temporary resident to a permanent one seems only just and fair, to me. If you’re good enough to work here or go to school here, surely you’re good enough to stay.

But the federal government didn’t make this change because they wanted to change the mix of people coming to Canada and becoming permanent residents. It wasn’t based on the idea that allowing increasing temporary residents to become permanent would be good for them, or good for Canada’s economy or culture.

It was done to hit an arbitrary number. The government had pledged to bring in more than 400,000 new permanent residents. Never mind how many were already here, some of them for years.

It doesn’t speak well that the government would see people, most of whom are future Canadian citizens, as mere numbers, a target that needed to be hit to meet an arbitrary goal.


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