Ontario wants more immigrant selection authority.
This may seem like a strange request on the surface, given that Ontario welcomes some 45 per cent of Canada’s immigrants.
However, it makes complete sense.
As reported in the National Post in November, Ontario’s minister responsible for immigration, Monte McNaughton has asked federal immigration minister, Sean Fraser, to double the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) allocation from some 9,000 spots per year to 18,000 annually.
Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) allocations are set by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) each year. IRCC consults with various stakeholders including the provinces themselves and then determines what it feels is an appropriate allocation for each province within the context of its Immigration Levels Plan. The federal minister then reveals the allocation in letters to each of their provincial counterparts.
Ontario is what we call a “have” province when it comes to immigration. In fact, the PNP was launched in 1998 in large part to reduce Ontario’s national share of immigration. Throughout Canada’s history, Ontario has dominated the country’s newcomer intake and this remains the case today. In 2019, prior to the pandemic, 153,000 of 341,000 immigrants welcomed by Canada landed in Ontario.
Nonetheless, Ontario’s request is sensible for the following reasons.
Ontario has the least control out of any province and territory when it comes to selecting its immigrants. Attracted by the province’s large economy and diaspora communities, most immigrants who arrive under federal programs (economic, family, and humanitarian) choose Ontario.
This meant the OINP accounted for just 8 per cent of all new immigrants to Ontario in 2019.
By way of comparison, the PNP accounted for nearly 70 per cent of newcomers to Saskatchewan, over 65 per cent of Manitoba’s newcomers, nearly 50 per cent of new immigrants to Alberta, and 25 per cent of BC’s newcomer intake.
Even if Ontario’s request is granted, the OINP would account for what we estimate would be 15 per cent of its new immigrants. But it would be a start, as it would give the province more control, which is essential for the next reason.
Ontario needs more control to address its labour shortages. Labour shortages may become an even greater problem as more baby boomers retire over the coming decade.
Statistics Canada shows that Ontario had over 315,000 job vacancies in October, which is being felt across the provincial economy. The likes of health care, food services, and manufacturing are among the sectors facing a major labour crunch.
Without a significant increase to its OINP allocation, the province will struggle to address labour shortages over both the short- and long-run, which will hurt its economic growth, and job creation potential for the province as a whole.
Moreover, bringing more immigrants to the province through the OINP will be beneficial from a newcomer integration point of view since those selected by Ontario will be nominated on the basis of their ability to address an immediate labour market need. Thus, a higher OINP allocation will support both the IRCC and Ontario objective of promoting stronger newcomer economic integration.
In addition, such an expansion can allow Ontario to achieve other important objectives such as promoting immigration to cities and communities beyond the Greater Toronto Area as well as filling more vacancies in NOC C and D roles.
An argument can be made that increasing the allocation of the OINP would come at the expense of the objective to promote a broader distribution of immigrants across Canada (a policy objective called “regionalization”). In addition, one could point out that most of those who immigrate through Express Entry land in Ontario.
However, it is important to remember that provinces and territories across the country have seen their newcomer arrivals intake in recent decades even while the OINP allocation went up. Back in 2009, Ontario’s allocation was 1,000 spots. The evidence shows the increase to nearly 9,000 sports today has not come at the expense of other provinces. One of the reasons for this is many of those who obtain permanent residence under the OINP already live in Ontario, and hence, were not going to immigrate to another province anyway.
In addition, we argue that IRCC should also increase allocations for other provinces. The PNP has been an unequivocal success and is regularly celebrated by all stakeholders including IRCC itself. The aftermath of the pandemic including more baby boomers retiring will require provinces to become even more dependent on the PNP to address their labour market needs.
Promoting skills training among our existing population is also important but that takes years to materialize whereas prior to the pandemic, it could take less than one year from the time an individual was nominated by a province, to the time they landed as a permanent resident. A multi-faceted approach of skills training and higher PNP allocations would be an effective way of tackling short- and long-term labour shortages.
Provinces often ask IRCC for higher allocations and they have earned the right due to the success they have demonstrated. Let’s not forget the Constitution defines immigration as a matter of shared federal-provincial jurisdiction. At the moment, when you add Quebec, the provinces still have the minority share of immigrant selection powers.
So, why not have a more balanced federal-provincial split when it comes to the selection of economic class immigrants?