What is the government’s top priority for 2014?
Our number-one focus will remain the economy. Canada has led the global recovery, but the global recovery remains challenging and we know that we have to keep focused if we want to keep seeing results. We have nearly 1,100,000 net new jobs created since the end of the recession, far more people working now than were working before the recession, which is not the case in very many developed countries.
What will the government do to ensure family reunification in the future?
When we took office, every single stream of immigration had backlogs and applications of hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. And we were obligated through a bunch of crazy rules to process these in order. So it was taking literally years for anybody to find out what a decision was. This was obviously not a sustainable system…immi- gration is an important aspect of our economic policy…we need to act quickly and nimbly and respond to the needs of the economy. So, we have been spending a lot of the first few years of our government trying to clear these backlogs, trying to change the rules so we can clear the backlogs and start programs in a way that is far more rational… In the last two years, we have admitted more than 50,000 parents and grandparents. That is the largest number over a two-year period than just about any time. An additional 20,000 parents and grandparents will be admitted in 2014. And on top of that, we have put in place what we call the Super Visa for parents and grandparents so they can visit for up to two years at a time.
Will the federal government approve the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal and what’s the economic significance of this project?
We have received the report from the joint review panel and the federal cabinet now has the next few months to take a look at that report, which has recom- mended approval but with 209 conditions. It would be a good thing for Canada to diversify its energy exports…There is no doubt that from an economic standpoint the project would generate jobs and bene- fits. But we have to be assured that the environmental case is sound, that the project is safe and we have to fully exercise our duties to consult with Aboriginal communities in particular. And to do our best if such a project goes forward to encourage their support and participation.
Oil and gas powers the Canadian economy and the United States is on a path of declining imports. Will Canada look for new opportunities in Asia?
The energy sector has been probably the single- biggest driving force of growth in the Canadian economy over quite a period of time now. We export something like 98 per cent of our energy to the US… that’s not wise for any business or country at any point in time to be that dependent on a single market. The US because of its own growing energy supply, will likely still need lots of Canadian energy but it is not going to need lots more Canadian energy. It will not be a growing market for Canada in the near term or rapidly growing market. So we have to expand our exports. What makes Canada a unique energy supplier is that we are the only energy supplier in the world that is market oriented, politically stable and growing in size. And that’s an important thing that distinguishes us… There are proposals, as you know, both to West and East Coasts, that would involve exporting outside of the Americas and in particular to Asia.
Will Canada bring in more temporary foreign workers in the natural resource sector?
We are in the process of reviewing the temporary foreign workers program. We think quite frankly that while there is a need for it, that some businesses have been abusing and misusing it…What we need are not more temporary foreign workers, but more permanent foreign workers and we are doing a couple of things to try and encourage that. One is we brought in the foreign skilled workers program. We’re also shifting to what we’re calling ‘expression of interest’ system in terms of skilled workers and economic immigration next year, which will also encourage us to go out to try and recruit applicants with particular skills to fill job vacancies in the Canadian economy
There have been multiple rounds of negotiations between Canada and India, why has the trade partnership agreement not been signed?
I will say this, that notwithstanding the fact that we can go much further, there has been very large growth in bilateral trade, bilateral investment, in particular educational investments, flows of Indian students to Canada during the life of this government. These figures are all up very significantly. We have had some achievements in terms of agreements with India: one was the nuclear cooperation agreement, which was basically 40 years in the making. We finally got that done, great opportunities for Canadian exporters in the uranium and nuclear industries. And we got a social security agreement signed with India.
What would you describe as the govern- ment’s biggest achievement for 2013?
Expanding Canada’s trade networks and obvi- ously the big thing we did this fall was complete the negotiations on the Canada-European Union Trade Agreement, the biggest single agreement the country’s ever signed and probably the biggest single stand-alone achievement this government’s had since it came to office.
What can Canadians expect this new year?
Keep taxes down for families, individuals and business owners, part of plan to balance budget. Keep making our streets, communities safer for law-abiding citizens and victims of crime and families. Keep on reforming immigration system.
What would you like your government’s legacy, greatest achievements to be?
Legacy, I’m too young to talk about legacy [he jokes]. Canada will always maintain three streams of immigration: economically oriented, family reunification and humanitarian/refugee. I think the most important legacy of this government is reorienting our economic immigration so it’s not just application based, so that we can actually go out and recruit immigrants quickly to fill job needs in the Canadian economy. Coming through the worst recession in 80 years, this country is actually at the top of the pack, in terms of its performance among developed countries. There is no reason why Canada cannot keep up over the longer term with the emerging economies of Asia. And that’s where we’d like to take what we’ve done so far over the next few years.