At an event to announce plans to make it easier for skilled tradespersons to immigrate to Canada

Good morning. It’s great to be here on the site of the Bow construction site. This is the largest building being erected in the history of western Canada and it reflects the dynamism of the Calgary, Alberta and western economies. I understand that at any given time there are 1,200 people on this worksite, and this is a tremendous achievement that’s going to help be one of the centres of Alberta’s oil and gas industry for many, many years to come.

It’s good to be here with many of the folks who have been working on this site. It’s an amazing achievement and I want to congratulate them on behalf of the Government of Canada. I’m delighted to be here with my colleague Michelle Rempel, Member of Parliament for Calgary North – Centre and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, to  make an exciting announcement today about how we are reforming our immigration program to help fuel Canada’s growth.

You know that we are facing huge and growing labour shortages in Canada, particularly here in the west and in Alberta. Many of those skill shortages are in the skilled trades. In Canada, we’ve been welcoming historic high numbers of immigrants, partly to help us fuel our prosperity in the future and fill growing labour shortages, but to be honest our immigration programs haven’t been effective in addressing a lot of those shortages.

Our immigration programs have become rigid and slow and passive. One of the ways in which they are rigid is that there really is no meaningful access to Canada for skilled tradespeople to come here as immigrants, as permanent residents, and make a lasting contribution to our economy.

On construction sites like this across the country, in the tens of billions of dollars of new construction that’s going to be undertaken in northern Alberta in the next decade, in the small and medium sized businesses that need welders and boilermakers and heavy equipment operators across the country, they are telling us that they need an immigration program that works for Canada’s economy.

They need an immigration program that lets skilled tradespeople come to Canada as permanent residents. We announced in our budget a couple of weeks ago that we will be reforming Canada’s immigration programs to better align them with our labour market needs in this country to fuel our economy. Today I am delighted to make an exciting announcement that for the first time in our modern immigration history, in the context of a modernized Federal Skilled Worker Program, we will be unveiling later this year a separate streamlined program of immigration for skilled tradespeople.

Skilled trades include occupations in construction, transportation, manufacturing and service industries. As people in this province are well aware, skilled tradespeople are in high demand in Canada, particularly in the natural resources and construction sectors. In fact, construction accounts for 40 % to 50 % of skilled trade workers. Now, while 10 of the 29 occupations in our skilled worker program – that’s our main immigration program – are currently eligible, the reality is because the program’s so rigid, only 3 % of the immigrants we get through that program are skilled tradespeople.

The proposed new skilled trades program will create a way for skilled tradespeople to be assessed based on criteria geared to their reality, putting more emphasis on practical training and work experience rather than just post-secondary formal education. During my ministry’s consultations on the Federal Skilled Worker Program modernization over the past year, businesses, labour unions, employers all told us that they need a program like this to complement what the Provincial Nominee programs are doing here in Alberta and across the country, which have been successful but not nearly sufficient to fill these big and growing gaps of our skilled tradespeople.

We also have, of course, the Canadian Experience Class, which lets mid to high-skilled temporary foreign workers become permanent residents, and that’s been helpful, but there are still huge gaps. We’re talking about tens if not hundreds of thousands of shortages in the skilled trades predicted in the next decade alone.

Whether you’re a mining development in northern Quebec or building new homes in Regina, Saskatchewan, or working on one of the major developments in northern Alberta, you are desperate to find those skilled tradespeople that you can rely upon to build Canada’s future.

The good news today, and this is really a dramatic reform in Canada’s immigration system, is that we will finally have a system that can help to address that. Let’s be honest. We don’t need more people coming to Canada with advanced degrees who end up driving taxi cabs and working in convenience stores. That’s a waste of human capital. It’s an opportunity cost for our economy, especially when we have huge and growing labour shortages in the skilled trades.

What we need are for employers to go overseas, identify folks who have the skill level to come in and work upon arrival in jobs like this where Canadians are not available, where there’s not enough Canadians available to do the work. This is about complementing our amazingly strong and talented Canadian workforce so that we can build our future, and that Canada will continue to lead the world in economic growth.

I’m happy to take any questions you’ve got.

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