OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the Liberals’ immigration levels — of 350,000 people by 2021 — seem “reasonable” to him, during a CBC interview Tuesday.
Scheer made the comment on a special CBC News program “The National Presents: Face to Face with the Federal Party Leaders” but he left the door open for those targets to change should he become prime minister.
Host Rosemary Barton pressed Scheer for some clarity on what immigration levels would look like should Conservatives form government.
“If the target right now is 350,000 by 2021, is that about what you’re looking at?” Barton asked.
“I think that’s reasonable, yeah,” Scheer said, adding “as long as that’s coming from facts, from evidence, from a look at the situation, and an understanding of where our society has needs — then absolutely.”
Watch: Scheer delivers speech about immigration plans
It’s the first time that Scheer has given an indicator for a federal immigration level he finds sensible. The Consevative leader has previously treaded the conversation carefully, stating that such figures shouldn’t be politicized.
He called the topic of immigration numbers a “red herring” in a policy speech in May. Scheer pledged that should he become prime minister, he would set levels to reflect the country’s “best interests.”
“Now that number may change every year, and I’m not going to get into a political debate or, worse, an auction about immigration numbers,” he said at the time.
Scheer’s comment to the CBC comes two days after the Liberals released their election platform pledging to make “modest and responsible” increases to immigration. Last year, the federal government unveiled a new plan to bump admissions from 310,000 in 2018 to 350,000 by 2021.
Immigration has been the source of much debate in the House of Commons, particularly around the federal government’s handling of irregular border crossers.
Irregular border crossers are people who enter Canada in between official border crossings. In recent years, a few hot spots have emerged along the U.S.-Canada border, notably at Quebec’s Roxham Road.
According to CBC News, nearly 50,000 have crossed into Canada this way since 2017. If they choose to enter Canada there, RCMP officers warn they will be arrested. But after crossing the border, it’s legal to apply for asylum.
The People’s Party of Canada has proposed lowering immigration levels to “between 100,000 to 150,000” and its leader, Maxime Bernier, has said refugee levels should be substantially reduced.
The party has also claimed that increased immigration dilutes government resources and exacerbates social tensions.
However, some areas of Canada, such as rural regions, are dependent on immigration to offset population decline. For example, in Nova Scotia, immigrants who’ve come to the province through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot are staying to fill job vacancies.
A Statistics Canada report released Monday indicates Canada’s levels of immigration have gone down slightly since 2015/2016 when the country admitted its highest number of immigrants in a single year (323,192 people including nearly 30,000 Syrian refugees).
Nearly 314,000 immigrants arrived in Canada in 2018/2019.