Quebec’s 2022 immigration plan is not enough to address labour shortages

Kareem El-Assal
Published: October 28, 2021

Quebec is looking to increase immigration once again.

This morning, the province announced it would welcome up to 52,500 new permanent residents in 2022.

Unfortunately, the province continues to fall short of the targets it needs to support stronger economic growth.

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Quebec currently has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada. Its unemployment rate was 5.9 per cent in September compared with 7.1 per cent nationally. One of the reasons for its low unemployment rate is Quebec has one of Canada's oldest populations. Over 20 per cent of Quebec's population is aged 65-and-older, compared with 18.5 per cent nationally. Quebec also has a birth rate that is just as low as the national average, and one of the country's lowest immigration rates per capita. When you put all this together, the province is facing significant labour shortages. According to Statistics Canada, Quebec is seeing among the highest increases in job vacancies in the country.

Labour shortages are problematic for several reasons. They make it difficult for employers to operate at full capacity, which makes it difficult for them to serve the needs of consumers. This, in turn, makes it difficult for employers to make investments, which hurts job creation and economic growth.

The topic of labour shortages has featured in Quebec media headlines throughout 2021 with stakeholders pointing to the need for higher immigration as part of the solution to better meet the province's labour market needs.

For instance, the President of the Quebec Employers' Council wrote an article in July providing ten solutions to tackle worker shortages, two of which pertained to increasing immigration levels and reforming the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). In September, Quebec Manufacturers and Exporters published a report that labour shortages cost the province $18 billion over the past two years, and it also called for more immigrants to help solve this problem.

To put Quebec's immigration figures into context, the province was targeting the arrival of some 50,000 immigrants annually until it elected a new government in the fall of 2018. The Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) party successfully campaigned on a promise to reduce immigration by 20 per cent due to its believe more needed to be done to improve newcomer integration in the province. Under its first plan, CAQ set a target of welcoming a maximum of 41,800 immigrants in 2019.

Welcoming 50,000 new immigrants per year prior to 2019 was already low, so CAQ's new policy created even greater pressure on the province's economy. Even though Quebec has the authority to set its own immigration targets (an authority no other province or territory has), it continues to choose to welcome just 12 per cent of all newcomers to Canada, despite it being home to 23 per cent of Canada's population. On a per capita basis, Quebec is now aiming for an immigration rate of 0.6 per cent. This pales in comparison to the immigration rate of 1 per cent that the Canadian government is pursuing under the Immigration Levels Plan 2021-2023.

It is important to stress that higher levels of immigration will not solve all of Quebec's labour market challenges. Analysts and commentators point out that a variety of solutions are needed such as more skills training and helping marginalized members of society access job opportunities. At the same time, immigration is a key part of the equation.

So, what is an optimal level of immigration for Quebec?

Given how significant the province's demographic and labour force challenges are, a strong case can be made Quebec needs to set much higher levels.

A good benchmark would be setting Quebec's immigrate rate at the same level as the targets currently being pursued by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

This means that given its population of some 8.4 million people, it may be wise for Quebec to pursue an immigration target of 84,000 immigrants per year.

This figure may seem high but it would be in line with the national average and would allow Quebec's immigration rate to catch up after lagging the rest of the country for many years. It would be difficult to increase immigration this dramatically in a short period of time, but the province could set a multi-year plan to gradually reach this figure within five years or so.

At the end of the day, however, CAQ was democratically elected and was given a mandate by voters to keep immigration in the province low. Nonetheless, CAQ also has a mandate to increase the prosperity of its province, and seeking higher newcomer levels without compromising integration is a key element of a prosperous Quebec.

Now that the province's 2022 plan has been set, we can not expect Quebec's immigration targets to be adjusted within the next year. But, by this time next year, Quebec voters will head to the ballot box to decide who will lead their next government. At that point, CAQ and opposition parties will have the chance to share their vision of the future for Quebec, including what each party feels is an appropriate level of immigration to support the province's economy.

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