Liberal election victory heralds immigration continuity

Updated: Sep 27, 2021 | Tags: Canada Immigration, COVID-19

The 2021 Canadian general election took place on September 20, with results that represented only minor changes from the 2019 election results. While immigration was a central issue for many of the parties participating in the election, the results are likely to herald continuity in Canada's immigration policy.

Election background

Since the 2019 general election, the Liberal Party had governed as a minority government. Although the largest party in Parliament, it lacked a majority of seats, meaning that it could only implement policy with the support of other parties. With a new election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau clearly hoped that he could restore the majority held by the Liberals following the 2015 election. A majority would make it easier for him to govern without having to seek cross-party support.

Election results

Despite the Liberals' hopes, however, the 2021 general election revealed a political landscape not very different from that of 2019. The Liberals gained only four seats, still falling 11 short of a majority. As before, they will govern as a minority, hoping to attract support from other parties in order to get their policies through Parliament.

Immigration and the election

If the political landscape of Canada appears not to be very different from 2019, it is likely that immigration policy in the wake of the 2021 election will also remain largely unchanged. Although Trudeau is expected to announce a new cabinet in the autumn, it would not be surprising if immigration minister Marco Mendicino remained in his post.

Whether delivered to Mendicino or a successor, a new immigration mandate letter is likely to adhere to existing Liberal immigration policy goals. These include steady increases in immigration target numbers. Liberal immigration policy sees increased levels of immigration as vital to supporting Canada's economic recovery in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as helping to develop the nation's economy in general.

New immigration policies are likely to represent minor adjustments to this overarching principle. For instance, given the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, Trudeau has pledged to double the number of Afghan refugees Canada will welcome. Other goals include the abolition of citizenship fees, long regarded as an unjust barrier to citizenship for less-wealthy applicants, as well as reducing processing times for applications.

Other tweaks to the system could include making it easier for international students and temporary foreign workers to apply for permanent residence, simplifying the application process for temporary work permits, and doing more to encourage Francophone immigration. All of these initiatives would be minor changes, fitting comfortably within the broader scope of the party's immigration plan. Since immigration is one area where the Liberals have historically found it relatively easy to secure support from other parties, chances of opposition in Parliament are low.

Ongoing immigration trends

As the nation waits for an immigration mandate letter and the new Immigration Levels Plan, due in early 2022, current trends in Canadian immigration continue. The government continues to rely heavily on Express Entry draws focused on the Canadian Experience Class of applicants; these applicants for permanent residence are likely to be in Canada already, meaning that Covid-19 travel restrictions won't interfere with the process.

In addition, some of the predicted loosening of travel regulations also seems to be taking place. Although some restrictions are still in place, the country opened its borders to fully-vaccinated Americans in August, while early September saw the same freedom being extended to tourists from many other nations. These visitors will still have to abide by coronavirus safety regulations, but they will not have to quarantine unless instructed to.

Incremental change

Despite the media attention devoted to the 2021 election, the result suggests that any change to immigration policy in the years following it will be incremental. Gradual increases in immigration numbers joined with efforts to regionalize candidate selection have been central to Liberal immigration policy for years, and the new election results seem to suggest that the same will be true in the future. The main difference between immigration policy over the last few years and immigration policy in the next few years may simply be that the end of Covid restrictions leaves the government free to pursue the expansion of immigration it had sought all along.