Gerry WeinerIn this interview, the Hon. Gerry Weiner takes a look back at Canadian immigration policy in 2016 and where it might go from here.

Gerry, what do you think were the biggest successes for Canadian immigration in 2016?

There were actually quite a few successes worth mentioning, but the one that comes immidiately to mind is delivering on the promise to bring at least 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. The government was a little late on keeping the promise, but you can hardly blame them. Refugees are people, not objects to be picked up and placed whenever and however you wish.

I was also pleased to hear the government announce that 300,000 immigrants and refugees will be welcomed to Canada in 2017.

Changing the grid for Express Entry, and dealing with the unfairness of giving the majority of points to candidates with a job offer, was a good thing. In the past, foreigners who studied in Canada received a lot of bonus points for having already lived in Canada. It was extremely unfair to stop giving them this credit. I’m glad to see the government is beginning to give them the credit they once again deserve.

It was also good to hear that the government plans to shorten the processing time for spousal and family class applicants. My team and I have been extremely critical of the government on this point, and I’m glad to see they’re doing something about it.

Minister MacCallum is to be congratulated for his very positive attitude on immigration, his outreach to the immigrant communities from coast to coast, and his desire to re-examine every program that has been cancelled by the previous government, including investor immigration.

Where do you think Canada immigration came up short?

After what looked like a different approach to processing business immigration applications, especially those who had been granted invitations by Quebec, the delays are just as bad today as ever. The frustration continues. This gives the impression that the Feds would like the Quebec investor program cancelled. Let me be blunt and say that many bureaucrats never liked the program from day one. I’m on the record, of course, as saying that investor immigration is good for the economy and for creating jobs. I still feel that way.

Private refugee sponsorship has also seen lengthy delays on each file and very few have been welcomed even after two years. A real benefit to having a church, temple or community group do the sponsoring, in that they maintain responsibility for the well-being of the applicant family for years. For example, I have a friend in London, Ontario where he and his Anglican Church have been real mentors to a refugee and the results are truly amazing. Now on top of the delays, the government has announced that only 1,000 privately sponsored refugees will go through next year. A real shame.

In the same vein, the immigration department is still far too involved in the social engineering of family life, asking applicants to wait from 12 to 18 months to bring in their sponsored spouse. We can also do better in processing skilled workers in high demand, especially in the high tech sector where it can take up to 18 months for a skilled worker to get authorized. There are other countries that can process these applicants for pre-approved companies in a matter of days. Why can’t we?

As you’ve probably guessed by now, my biggest concern is the same as always: delays, delays, delays in the system.

What is the main change you would like to see in Canadian immigration policy in 2017?

I’ve already mentioned the problem with delays in processing, but I think investor immigration needs a real push at the federal level.

The Pace team has recommended an infrastructure immigrant fund as well as a program similar to the EB-5 program in the US. Programs like these would be especially good for smaller communities, where population growth and new economic development are very limited. Our idea of a business-to-business “dating site” would work wonders. That is, making use of our trade commissioners around the world to establish a database of interested businesspeople, who can then be matched with owner-operated businesses in Canada. This would be very helpful for small businesses where there are no real plans for succession after retirement. That is, if someone’s son or daughter does not want to run the business, and the business can’t find a buyer, it should be matched with a foreign investor willing to take up the reins. Jobs will be saved.

We should also bring forward a national coalition of interested parties to have a real conversation around immigration and help the general population better understand its value. This should be done under an independent think tank and not by government. Right now, public perception is that immigration “steals jobs.” Meanwhile, the overwhelming evidence is that immigration and refugees actually create jobs and are good for the economy. I have consulted a number of economists who concur in this view.

In any case, it’s time to say good-bye to 2016 and look forward with optimism to 2017. We have an improving situation, but we can still do much better. Negative attitudes must be overcome. I am hopeful that after a year of getting established, the Trudeau government will feel comfortable enough to take charge, become business-like, and start acting proactively for the benefit of all Canadians.

May I wish you a happy and healthy New Year.

Cheers. Le Chaim,

Gerry