Overall totals plummet across Canada
June 06, 2008
by Glen McGregor, The Ottawa Citizen
The number of people becoming Canadian citizens declined sharply across the country last year, but rose in the three provinces that gave the federal Conservatives the highest level of ballot-box support in the last federal election.
About 184,000 people became Canadians in 2007-08 compared to 249,000 in the previous year, representing a 26 per cent drop nationally.
In Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, though, the number of new citizens jumped by 25 per cent, 17 per cent and 37 per cent respectively. It was in those provinces that the Tories captured their highest levels of popular vote in the 2006 election.
By contrast, the number of new citizens in Ontario was down 35 per cent and Quebec dropped by 34 per cent, year over year, according to figures tabled in the House of Commons last week in response to a question from Ontario MP Gurbax Malhi.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada says the drop in the national total is due to the expiration in March 2007 of a two-year funding commitment designed to reduce the backlog of applications.
Last year's numbers were in line with the new citizenships in the years before the extra funding was committed, spokeswoman Danielle Norris said. Between 2000 and 2005, the figure ranged from 173,000 to 205,000.
Ms. Norris said the reasons for the regional disparities were not clear, but she said it could be related to changing patterns of immigration within Canada. "There is so much influx into those areas," she said.
Immigrants have historically tended to be Liberal supporters, but they cannot vote until they are Canadian citizens, nor can they run for public office. If that voting trend held, a smaller number of new Canadians in Ontario could, in theory, help swing some closely contested suburban ridings.
Immigration generally has been a hot topic on Parliament Hill this spring; in particular much attention has been focused on government reforms brought forward by the minister, Diane Finley, that would change the way new Canadians are approved.
Mr. Malhi says he doesn't believe the increase in the Prairie provinces is a coincidence and that numbers show the Harper government is using the citizenship process for political gain by approving more applications in Tory strongholds.
"I think it's political," he said. "How come in their areas are the numbers going up? In Mississauga and Vancouver the numbers are going down."
The Toronto-area MP said he recently spoke to a citizenship judge who complained that the government wasn't providing enough resources to process citizen applications quickly.
"I think maybe they're holding the applications or prolonging the applications."
A breakdown for major Canadian cities shows that the number of people becoming citizens dropped by 45 per cent in Mississauga, which includes Mr. Malhi's riding and is a community with a large number of immigrants. Toronto fell by 45 per cent over the past two fiscal years.
In Calgary, however, the number of new citizenships granted rose by 63 per cent. In Winnipeg, it jumped by 40 per cent.
"People used to accuse the Liberals of pushing through as many citizenship applications before an election on the assumption that newly minted Canadians tended to vote Liberal," Montreal immigration lawyer David Cohen said. "If you believe in conspiracy theory, it would be hard to disprove that."
However, Mr. Cohen said there could be other factors at play, such as the number of citizenship judges working in each region or the number of immigrants who have left Ontario and Quebec to seek better jobs.
"A lot of labour from central Canada has moved out West."
To become a citizen, an immigrant must live in Canada for three of the past four years, be able to communicate in English or French, write a test to show general knowledge about the country and swear an oath before a citizenship judge. The process takes between 15 and 18 months, according to the department website.
About 80 per cent of applicants for Canadian citizenship are successful, Ms. Norris said.
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Number of people who became Canadian citizens:
'06-'07 '07-'08 % Chg By city
Ontario 151,836 98,548 -35.1% Toronto -45%
Quebec 32,316 21,459 -33.6% Montreal -39%
British Columbia 33,634 28,776 -14.4% Vancouver -21%
Manitoba 4,299 5,895 +37.1% Winnipeg +41%
Alberta 17,827 22,197 +24.5% Calgary +64%
Saskatchewan 1,350 1,583 +17.3%
Canada 248,952 183,584 -26.3%
© The Ottawa Citizen 2008