|Saskatchewan Province within Canada. Español: Provincia de Saskatchewan en Canadá. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
BY JOE COUTURE, POSTMEDIA NEWS APRIL 20, 2012
SASKATOON — Saskatchewan Immigration Minister Rob Norris says there is a "healthy tension" between the provincial and federal governments over a cap Ottawa has put in place that limits the number of immigrants allowed into the province.
"We're not going to be discouraged, nor are we going to be dissuaded," Norris said Thursday in response to comments made by federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
"There is a real momentum here to make sure that (federal leaders) understand that Saskatchewan needs to continue to move forward on immigration."
Among the province's requests of Ottawa is an increase in the number of nominations allocated to the province for the Saskatchewan immigrant nominee program, Norris said.
"We're capped at about 4,000 right now," he said. "What we've said is we'd like 6,000. We can handle that. With more than 11,000 jobs open and available today, we see that there are broad-based needs. We know there are more improvements we can be making here, but quite candidly, many, many sectors are firing on all burners."
While there is "no intention" to reduce Saskatchewan's allocation, Ottawa doesn't have immediate plans to increase it, Kenney said in a phone interview Thursday.
"Certainly, Premier (Brad) Wall and Minister Norris have strongly advocated for that and we take their perspective very seriously," he said. "Our first priority is to address some of the weaknesses in the provincial nominee program."
Those include the nominations "creeping into" areas where other federal immigration programs apply and the need for minimum language requirements, which Norris endorsed earlier this month.
"Provincial programs play an important role," Kenney said. "But we do think there's an important nation-building dimension to immigration and we do want to maintain a significant federal role in selection."
"Once we've seen improvements in the provincial nominee program and once we've reformed our federal programs, we'll certainly be open to looking at possible further increases to the provincial nominee allocation," Kenney added. "It's not easy, though. Every province wants more allocations and, overall, Canadians don't want us to raise immigration levels."
Kenney cited polling data indicating 10 to 15 per cent of Canadians support increasing immigration overall.
"For too long we've seen declining economic results for immigrants — bringing in newcomers to face unemployment and underpayment," he said.
But Norris said "the broad brush strokes probably don't apply here in Saskatchewan, because certainly what we've heard from employers, what we've heard from newcomers and what we've heard from communities is actually a very, very consistent spirit of welcome.
"We're seeing the reinvigoration of communities that were having challenges of decline. Now we know there are challenges associated with growth, but those are the challenges that we welcome."
Kenney said the "employer-driven" federal reforms "will be disproportionately beneficial to a high-growth province like Saskatchewan," with programs to court "economic immigrant" investors, entrepreneurs, skilled workers and graduates of the province's two universities.
With the potential for more federally selected immigrants coming to Saskatchewan, Kenney said he does "anticipate that we'll continue to see an increase" in immigration in the province — though "not as quickly as in the past five years, because you can't sustain that velocity of growth."
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