When Immigration Minister John McCallum announced an immigration target of 300,000 for 2017, he described it as a permanent base for future economic growth. While pointing out that this is 40,000 more than the average intake during the last five years of the Tory government, some observers nevertheless considered his increase to be tame when compared to the recommendation of the government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth that Canada aim for 450,000 annually.
The probable reason for McCallum’s relative caution is that most Canadians don’t want an increase in immigration. A Forum Research poll released in September, for example, found that only 13 per cent of Canadians believe this country currently accepts too few immigrants.
While most Canadians remain well-disposed to the concept of immigration in general, they are also aware that there are far more downsides than benefits for the existing population and its descendants from large-scale immigration.
Immigration activists keep making the point that immigration grows the economy. Although this is true, they avoid pointing out that this does not translate into a higher standard of living for Canadians. It is simply a larger pie cut into more pieces. Research, moreover, indicates that recent immigrants are costing Canada around $30 billion a year in terms of the benefits they receive over what they pay in taxes.
“… no other country in the world is attempting to deal with issues related to population aging by means of immigration. Instead, they are implementing the only realistic solution for funding the needs of an aging population: raising the retirement age”
One of Canada’s foremost experts on immigration, the late Professor Alan Green of Queen’s University, summarized the situation as follows: the needs of earlier periods when we needed large-scale immigration have largely disappeared — we have no empty lands, the major structural changes have taken place, and we now have an educational infrastructure in place that can meet our needs for skilled workers in all but extreme circumstances.
Studies by two major Canadian banks as well as the former Parliamentary Budget Officer make it clear, moreover, that we are not facing such extreme circumstances. We don’t have looming labour shortages and, while we will have shortages in some parts of the country from time to time — which is not unusual — these can be met domestically through normal market forces where wages rise to attract more workers.
Another major argument for a large increase in immigration put forth by both McCallum and the advisory council is that we need large numbers of newcomers to pay the taxes required to fund public services for an increasing percentage of older people. Analysis by a leading think-tank, the C.D. Howe Institute, however, found such a solution to be totally unrealistic. It estimated that to maintain the current old age dependency ratio, we would have to raise immigration intake to several million a year — which would obviously create far more problems than it would solve.
It is worth noting in this regard that no other country in the world is attempting to deal with issues related to population aging by means of immigration. Instead, they are implementing the only realistic solution for funding the needs of an aging population, i.e. raising the retirement age. If people are living and staying healthy longer, they will simply have to work longer in order to finance their eventual retirement.
Canadians are also increasingly aware of the negative impact of large-scale immigration on the quality of their lives — particularly in large cities such as Vancouver and Toronto. It is difficult if not impossible for most younger people in Vancouver, for example, to buy a house because of extremely high prices. Research carried out at UBC found that immigration is seriously affecting housing affordability at both the high and low ends of the market.
In addition to soaring housing costs, residents of large immigrant-receiving cities must also cope with increased congestion, longer commute times and pressure on health care and educational facilities, and significant expenditures and efforts are required to integrate the newcomers, most of whom come from backgrounds with traditions and values often different from those of Canadians.
Yet a further consideration that proponents of tripling the population have overlooked is that the environmental impact of such a large movement of people from mainly developing countries to Canada will be significant, both within our borders and globally, since their ecological footprint will be several times larger than it was in the countries they came from.
In sum, those who advocate a large-scale increase in immigration — or for that matter any increase — do so in the interests of those who benefit from an expanding economy that does not improve the lives of most Canadians and, indeed, causes increasing loss of quality of life for those who live in large cities. In addition, the gains for those who benefit in economic terms are more than offset by what is extracted from taxpayers.
As for the Liberal party, an overriding reason for raising intake would appear to be to expand its voter base. It is currently in the process of making acquisition of citizenship easier and faster, probably in the expectation that most newcomers will vote for their party — and the more quickly they can qualify to vote in federal elections, the better.
A major theme among those proposing such an increase is that Canada would have more clout on the world stage — to our benefit as well as that of other countries. Common to such proposals, however, is the failure to take account of the negative impacts such an increase will have on the current residents of Canada and their descendants.
Canadians are becoming well aware that major increases or even current levels of immigration are not in their interests, and attempts by McCallum to convince them otherwise will be a very hard sell.
Martin Collacott lives in Surrey. He is a former Canadian ambassador in Asia and the Middle East and has testified frequently on immigration policy before parliamentary committees.