Watch a replay of the entire interview below.
WINNIPEG - Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says if the Selinger government was earnest in protecting its stake in immigration services, it would spend more money towards the provincial nominee program.
Kenney was in Winnipeg today as a part of a cross-country tour explaining the Harper government’s pending changes to the immigration system.
He said last week he was terminating an agreement that saw Manitoba administer about $36 million in federally funded immigrant settlement services. The province believes this made-in-Manitoba system is a key to the success of the provincial nominee program. Last year, 16,000 PNP applicants and their families come to Manitoba, the highest total admitted to any province.
"We quadrupled the federal investment in settlement services in Manitoba going from $8 million to $36 million in the past five years," Kenney said during an on-line interview with Free Press political columnist Dan Lett at the Free Press News Café today. "In the period Manitoba’s has basically been frozen at around $1 million to $1.5 million.
"We’re funding 97 per cent of the costs of these services in Manitoba. In that period of time, the last five years, we’ve seen Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. all significantly increase their investment in settlement services. If the province (Manitoba) really believes that these are important programs, it’s one thing to say that, it’s quite another to actually prioritize it in terms of their budgetary choices."
Kenney also said Ottawa wants a greater role in immigration services to reduce the number of new immigrants who end up unemployed—the rate of unemployment of immigrants is twice as high as the general population—and to reduce the duplication of immigration services across the country. Changes also include the requirement new immigrants will also have to have a basic understanding of English or French.
"When this agreement was first made, Manitoba was funding 25 per cent of the cost of these services," Kenney said. "That’s down now to three per cent and that’s a reflection of their choices.
"I can’t really take very seriously the provincial government suggesting that this is a hugely important priority that they’ve placed on the program when they have frozen spending at a nominal amount now ever since they signed the agreement over a decade ago while we have quadrupled it."
A spokeswoman for the province said, in response to Kenney, that the amount of money spent by Ottawa and the province on settlement services was based on a formula the federal government arranged with the province.
She said the reason why the cost to Ottawa increased was because of the success of the program--as more immigrants arrived, the formula required Ottawa to spend more.
She also said Ottawa has never complained about the relationship and never asked, until now, the province to change it.
Last week, Premier Greg Selinger said the province had no idea the changes were coming, and that Ottawa by withdrawing from the settlement-services agreement, Ottawa is sticking a knife in the nominee program.
Selinger also said under existing settlement-services agreement nominees quickly find jobs.
He said Manitoba has the second-lowest unemployment rate of any province in 2011, behind only Alberta. An assessment of the program in 2009 found 85 per cent of provincial nominees to Manitoba were working within three months and nine in 10 had permanent jobs. After three to five years, eight in 10 were working in their field or a related field.
Ottawa’s changes to immigration services will occur in the next two years.
More than 100,000 immigrants have settled in Manitoba since the provincial nominee program began in 1999.