|Deutsch: Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
There was a time when Ontario didn’t have to do much of anything to attract immigrants from around the world. People knew they could come here, get well-paying jobs in factories, even if they spoke little English, and fairly quickly make a better life for themselves and their families.
Not anymore. Ontario’s economy has shifted and needs more skilled people in our workforce. At the same time, other provinces have realized the immense value of skilled immigrants and are now actively luring them to the west and east of us.
Ontario still gets the largest number of annual immigrants — 99,000 last year — but our overall share has dropped almost one-third over the past decade.
As a nation, it’s a very good thing that immigrants are finding opportunity and welcoming communities in cities and towns right across the country. Newcomers shouldn’t be confined to Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. But as a province, Ontario can’t sit back and do nothing in what is becoming an increasingly tough competition to attract talented immigrants who can help drive economic prosperity.
Ontario must become more attractive to skilled immigrants or we’ll face large-scale shortages of workers in the coming years because of our rapidly aging population. Indeed, an expert panel has just concluded that Ontario needs to attract 135,000 immigrants each year. And the bulk of them, about 70 per cent, should be coming from the skilled class of immigrants, who tend to be better educated and have an easier time finding employment than those sponsored by families or refugee claimants.
Ontario has seen those kinds of numbers as recently as 2005, but getting back to that level won’t be easy at a time when many of the skilled immigrants who do come here are frustrated in their efforts to get work in their chosen fields and are relegated to low-paying jobs.
That’s why most of the expert panel’s recommendations have to do with ensuring a better fit between the skill-set of immigrants and workforce needs. To do that, Ontario needs to renew — and dramatically improve — its partnership with the federal government.
As the panel points out, Ottawa’s federal skilled worker program — the main source of the province’s economic immigrants — is not delivering the kind of newcomers Ontario needs. Its reliance on a list of priority occupations makes it “too static to respond to the realities and dynamics of Ontario’s labour market.”
While Ottawa is failing to bring enough skilled immigrants to Ontario, it limits the province’s ability to select its own immigrants by capping the provincial nominee program at 1,000. That must also change.
Ontario’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Charles Sousa says he will use the report’s recommendations to help develop the province’s “first-ever” immigration strategy.
That we don’t have such a strategy already shows how complacent Ontario has been. The time for that is over. Ontario must do more to earn the best and brightest new Canadians.