Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Immigration tops premiers' wishes

Ask Ottawa for more control

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HALIFAX -- The premiers are calling on Ottawa to give them more control over the number of immigrants they can recruit and the kinds of services they can provide to them.

The provincial and territorial leaders concluded a meeting Friday on the economy in Halifax, where they said their governments -- and not Ottawa -- are best positioned to deliver settlement services and address their labour market needs through immigration.

"In a nutshell, we want greater flexibility," said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, attending his final gathering with his counterparts.

"We want to become masters of our own destiny when it comes to the immigration file. Nobody better understands our needs and our capacity to accommodate and our capacity to develop new Canadians so they can develop to their fullest.

"Give us more space. Let us run with this."

Premier Christy Clark of British Columbia echoed that message.

"We want more space to be able to make our decisions about which immigrants will come to our provinces, where they will be settled and how many we'll get," Clark said.

"It's provincial governments that drive economies in every part of the world. Immigration is one of the single most important economic levers that any jurisdiction has and the provinces ... don't control it."

They are pushing the federal Immigration Department to raise the number of people they can accept through immigrant nominee programs. Clark wants Ottawa to allow it to take in 6,500 people through its program next year -- up from 3,500.

Alexis Pavlich, a spokeswoman for federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, said the government has expanded provincial nominee programs, with plans next year to bring 42,000 to 45,000 people into the country, representing a seven-fold increase since 2004.

But she added that the programs have had problems in the past that Ottawa is trying to address with the provinces, referring to the tendency for some immigrants to leave the provinces that recruited them.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said a good portion of the economic discussions centred on training.

"We put a big focus today on enhancing the skills of our citizens and ensuring that our post-secondary institutions and our apprenticeship programs are all doing the maximum job possible to give opportunities for skills development," he said.

"In a lot of our jurisdictions there's jobs that need people to fill them, and there's a gap between some of our people and the skills that are required in the jobs.

"Overall it was a good meet because everybody came out of it more motivated to go back and do what they can do (to improve the economy."

The premiers invited Prime Minister Stephen Harper but he declined, saying he has met regularly with the premiers individually and will continue to do so in the future.

-- Staff / The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 24, 2012 A22

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