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Sean Fraser defends Canada's immigration policy

As Canada plans to significantly increase its immigration levels in the coming years, some policy experts are concerned about the potential effects on health care, housing and the labor market.

But Immigration Minister Sean Fraser insists Canada needs more immigrants to address labor shortages and demographic changes that threaten the country's future.

"If we don't continue to increase our immigration ambition and bring more working-age population and young families into this country, our questions won't be about labor shortages, but whether we can pay for schools and hospitals," Fraser told Canadian Press.

At the same time, he said one justification for immigration is clear: Canada has a declining birth rate.

According to Statistics Canada, the country's birth rate fell to an all-time low of an average of 1.4 children per woman in 2020. That's well below the 2.1 rate needed to sustain a population without immigration.

That doesn't stop others from worrying about how more newcomers could put pressure on other perennial issues, such as housing affordability and health care.

"There's no assessment that I've seen of the impact of these targets on housing affordability and availability, no assessment of these targets in terms of additional pressures on health care," said Andrew Griffith, a former senior official with Immigration and Citizenship Canada.

But Fraser said many of the new permanent residents already live in Canada. For example, 157 000 international students became permanent residents in 2021.

"It's not as if there are half a million people coming to Canada who aren't here yet," the minister said.

He said there will also be changes to the Express Entry system in the spring so that immigrants can be selected based on the sector and region of Canada they are coming to.

That will help ease some of the strain on things like health care and housing, he said.

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