OTTAWA - A glowing international review of Canada's economic immigration system should serve as a factual counterpoint against anti-immigration sentiment, the federal immigration minister said Tuesday.
The report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found that Canada is a world leader in how it selects and retains foreign labour, to the benefit of national and regional economies alike.
The OECD study comes as Quebec debates whether to slash the number of immigrants it accepts, and ahead of a federal election in which the immigration file is expected to be a major point of discussion.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said what he hears from employers, local governments and Canadian citizens does not reflect the anti-immigrant opinions that routinely circulate both on social media and on the streets.
Just this week, the federal Conservatives scrambled to distance themselves from a woman who was filmed in downtown Toronto yelling racial slurs while holding a sign expressing support for leader Andrew Scheer.
The federal government has a responsibility to fight misinformation about the role immigrants play in the economy, Hussen said.
"The best weapon against that is to fight fear with facts, and the fact is immigration continues to be extremely beneficial to Canada."
The OECD reviewed how Canada recruits foreign labour -- from the Express Entry program that sees the government effectively "invite" people to come to Canada permanently, to programs geared towards temporary workers.
Their analysis is that the system functions well, despite flaws such as the fact that the screening policy leaves room for political tinkering and that too many professional credentials from outside the country are not recognized in Canada.
Some of the changes the Liberals have made to the system since it was introduced by the previous Conservative government -- reducing the number of points an applicant received for having a job offer, for instance -- have helped better align what the labour market requires and who is applying for entry, the report found.
The study suggests, however, that there are still mismatches. For example, what gets an applicant into the pool of potential invitees doesn't align with what leads to an invitation to immigrate, making it harder for areas with labour shortages to get the candidates they need.
About 85,000 economic immigrants a year settle in Canada and whether that number is too high, too low, or just right is a frequent political flashpoint, linked at times to whether newcomers integrate successfully into the country.
This week, Quebec politicians are debating an immigration proposal for that province that would see levels cut by 20 per cent this year. It was part of a campaign pledge by the Coalition Avenir Quebec which argued unemployment levels among immigrants are too high, and too few immigrants spoke French.
The idea is being fiercely contested by business groups in Quebec, among others, who say more immigrants, not fewer are what the province needs.
"We think now is not the time to cut skilled economic immigration numbers, now is the time is to continue to grow our economy responsibly."
The OECD report did not specifically review Quebec's immigration program. It operates independently of the federal system and other existing provincial systems for selecting economic immigrants.
But the OECD did find in general that newcomers directly recruited and settled by the provinces often have better outcomes than those who are welcomed via federal programs.