The minister was in Calgary as a part of a series of cross-country consultations on the Canadian immigration system, including questions about how many immigrants Canada should welcome in 2017.
There’s a strong consensus that they’re in favour of more immigrants, not less immigrants, notwithstanding the state of the economy, said McCallum, after a closed-door discussion with participants, including representatives of local businesses and organizations that work with immigrants in Calgary.
I think people tend to take a longer term point of view and there remain labour shortages in some sectors and they want to be in good shape for when the recovery begins.
The consultations highlighted a particular need for more immigration to rural Alberta, where employers in hospitality, meat packing and agriculture find it difficult to find workers, McCallum said.
Canada is an aging country, so we are in need of new blood because Canadians aren’t having enough babies and so the labour force growth depends very much on the entrance of immigrants, he said.
Even though the greatest need is for immigration to small towns and rural areas, that’s not where they choose to go, McCallum added.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses agrees with McCallum, saying there are still many rural businesses that are looking for workers in highly-skilled or semi-skilled trades.
In fact, more than half of immigrants settled in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto last year with many of the rest heading to other major cities, according to data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
We have to find ways to induce immigrants to go where they are most needed, McCallum said, noting that a meat packing plant in rural Alberta provided its immigrant workers with free English classes after they finished their shift.
If small towns across the country need immigrants, it’s partly up to the individual companies from those areas to develop mechanisms to welcome them and retain them, McCallum said.