Ottawa Bureau chief
OTTAWA—Canada will no longer “passively” accept immigrants as it shakes up its immigration system to ensure it gets the newcomers it needs to fill growing labour shortages, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says.
“We have been making some fairly profound changes to how we handle immigration,” Harper said in a year-end interview with Global News.
“We have traditionally just been a country that passively accepts applications. We are now trying to go out and shape those immigration applications and process those in a way that will serve the labour force holes that are emerging.”
Canada faces a labour shortage now that will only worsen as the aging population retires from the workforce, Harper said.
“Even with the challenging economic situation, we have serious labour shortages in many regions of our economy and in many sectors of our economy,” the prime minister said.
Speaking to Global News national anchor Dawna Friesen, the prime minister said that tackling the labour shortage in the long-term will require changes to immigration system as well as changes at home to the education system.
“What we really need are Canadians trained for the jobs and we need an immigration system that’s going to bring people in permanently to take advantage of those opportunities,” he said in the interview that will air Sunday morning.
Harper said training Canadians to fill job vacancies would be one of the “big challenges” for the spring budget, hinting that the federal government is planning further measures on this front.
He voiced frustration that the education system isn’t doing enough to fill what he called a shortage of tradespeople, scientists and engineers. But he said the responsibility lies with the provinces, which handle education, to “reorient” programs to address those shortfalls.
Harper touched a number of topics in the year-end interview, from the crisis to Syria, the tragic school shooting in Connecticut and his own religious beliefs.
A father of a son and daughter, Harper said he had to turn away from the coverage of the shooting, unable to listen to details about the deaths of 20 young children and six school staff.
“I think once you’ve been a father, you’re affected by the deaths of children in a much more profound way than other people. It’s hard for me to talk about,” Harper said.
Asked about how faith influences his decisions, Harper said that he prays regularly to “ask for strength and for wisdom.”
But given Canada’s diverse population, he said he’s also careful not to impose “my particular theological views on the country.”
He said tragedies like the school shooting make him reflect on his faith.
“There are times like this where you know where we’re all reassured by the fact that there is you know a benevolent power ultimately looking over all of us,” he said.
Despite the sharp criticism of opposition critics and the federal spending watchdog, Harper defended the government’s initial process for selecting for the Lockheed Martin F-35 as Canada’s next fighter jet.
He said the previous Liberal government signed on early with an international consortium to develop the jet.
“I think because of that, an assumption was just made all along the way that of course, if we’re developing this plane, this will be the plane we’re purchasing. It’s not an unreasonable assumption,” Harper said.
But the prime minister said that decision will now be reviewed “step by step” to ensure the government is “making the right purchases.”
On the crisis in Syria, he said the days of the Assad regime are numbered but expressed concern that the government that replaces it could still be marked by “sectarian warfare and chaos.”