Canada’s housing minister says the federal government isn’t ruling out changes to its ambitious immigration targets, but maintains the country should also focus on what it can do to increase housing supply when it comes to addressing current housing challenges.
“When we look to the future of immigration levels planning, we want to maintain ambition and immigration, but we want to better align our immigration policies with the absorptive capacity of communities that includes housing, that includes health care, that includes infrastructure,” Sean Fraser said in an interview on CTV’s Question Period with Vassy Kapelos on Sunday.
Fraser said he believes the federal government has “some work to do” with its temporary immigration programs, which currently operate on the basis of demand in an “uncapped way,” but doesn’t “necessarily” need to reduce the number of newcomers who become permanent residents each year. It’s common for almost half of those individuals to already be in Canada as temporary residents, he noted.
Before making any changes, however, Fraser said the federal government would have to consult with other levels of government — since deciding which institutions take in international students is within the purview of provincial governments — as well as institutions that have “a duty to play part of a role in housing the people who come here.”
He also stressed that conversations around addressing the country’s housing crisis should not solely revolve around immigration.
“It’s important that when we’re looking at the answer to our housing challenges, we also focus on what we can do to increase the supply,” the minister said.
“I think it’s essential that we remember that immigration remains one of Canada’s strongest competitive advantages in the global economy.”
Fraser introduced Canada’s ambitious immigration targets in November 2022 when he was the federal immigration minister, with a goal of bringing in 465,000 permanent residents in 2023, 485,000 in 2024 and 500,000 in 2025.
At the time, he said the move was necessary to ensure Canada’s economic prosperity, by helping businesses find workers to fill in labour gaps and to attract the skills required in key sectors including health care, skilled trades, manufacturing and technology.
Academics, commercial banks, opposition politicians and policy thinkers, however, have been warning the federal government the country’s high-growth immigration strategy is exacerbating Canada’s housing crisis.
In a July report, economists from TD estimated that if the current immigration strategy continues, Canada’s housing shortfall could widen by about half a million units in just two years’ time.
The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation has estimated the country needs to build 3.5 million more homes by 2030 than it is currently on track for, to help achieve some semblance of housing affordability.
Fraser previously said putting a cap on the number of international students permitted to study in this country is one of the solutions the federal government is discussing when it comes to addressing housing affordability and rental availability.
But when speaking with Kapelos on Sunday, he said his preference is to continue to welcome “significant numbers” of international students “because the program is good for Canada, both in the short term and the long term when you create a pipeline of potential new citizens.”
Fraser said the federal government, along with its provincial and institutional partners, have to ensure that international students — many of whom have reported struggles to find affordable and adequate housing in Canada — are supported and communities have the capacity to “absorb them” when they arrive here.
“If we were going to shift the way that we operate, to set a target or to align the numbers with the housing capacity, it’s a monumental change in the way that Canada does immigration,” Fraser said.
“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. But it does mean if we’re seeking to make a permanent change to the way that Canada’s immigration laws operate, we have to do it right.”
Welcoming people to Canada who are making a productive contribution to the country’s economy is “essential,” Fraser said, adding he doesn’t “want to lose that.”