Friday, 28 October 2016 16:42

A Canada of 100 million? Are they Insane?

Commentary by Howard Anglin

There are some ideas so daft that it takes a very smart person to think of them. Or, in the case of a new proposal to triple Canada’s population to 100 million by the end of the century, it takes an entire committee of smart people.

The authors of this particular idea are the fourteen members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth, who issued their first report last week. To most Canadians, the idea is so preposterous as not to bear analyzing. Crumple it up and start again. But, as these are supposed to be serious thinkers — selected, according to a government press release, “because they are recognized, forward-thinking individuals in their respective fields” — it’s worth taking their proposal at face value.

Dominic Barton, the global managing partner of management consulting giant McKinsey & Co and the committee’s chief advocate of “a Canada of 100 million,” worries that without significant population growth, Canada’s international “relevance” will suffer. This is an odd thing to say, and an even odder thing to care about. How many Canadians, waking in the dark this morning, bundling their children into winter jackets and out the door to school, give two pucks for Canada’s “relevance”?

The disconnect between Mr. Barton, who lives in London, and the concerns of most Canadians was described in a recent column by Peggy Noonan as “something we are seeing all over, the top detaching itself from the bottom, feeling little loyalty to it or affiliation with it.”

“In Manhattan,” she says, “I see the children of the global business elite marry each other and settle in London or New York or Mumbai.” Having lived in London, New York, Washington DC and Ottawa (though not Mumbai), I’ve seen this phenomenon up close. Mr. Barton and his transnationalist peers think of Canada in terms of personal convenience and corporate expediency; to most Canadians, it means their home and community.

According to the Canadian Press, Mr. Barton believes “the world would benefit from a larger version of Canada’s stable, diversified democracy and economy” — but in the same breath he admits that 100 million “is a big number” that “would obviously change the country considerably.”

He fails to explain why we should believe Canada would remain the peaceful, pluralist society we currently enjoy after we added 65 million new people. Or why we would risk our remarkable and (looking around the world) extremely rare security and prosperity for … for what? “Relevance?”

There is no reason to think a Canada of 100 million would be a better place to live and good reasons to think it wouldn’t. Of the twenty countries with the highest per capita GDP, only the United States has more than 100 million people. Most have fewer than 10 million.

The bias against size carries across other national virtues. Happiness? Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland. Income equality? Sweden, Hungary, Norway. Reputation? Sweden, Canada, Switzerland. See a pattern?

The Trudeau government’s own immigration policy belies the Advisory Council’s assumption that more immigration will result in net economic benefits. Under the previous government, economic immigration as a percentage of overall immigration approached 67 per cent; under the new government, it has fallen to 53 per cent. In other words, there is a lot that can be done by better selecting immigrants within existing levels before we consider increasing intake.

It’s true we are a large country, with plenty of open space, but recent immigration has not filled that emptiness and future immigration is likely to follow the established paths to our cities and suburbs. Even at current, historically high immigration levels, Canada’s population is projected to grow by more than 20 million in the next 35 years. Are you ready for a Toronto of 20 million and a Vancouver of 10 million?

None of this will affect the members of Trudeau’s Advisory Council. For them, immigration is something that happens elsewhere. The acres of tract housing sprawling into farmland and greenbelts around our major cities are glimpsed by these people only in the minutes before takeoff and landing. Hopping between leafy downtown enclaves and luxury hotels, they won’t feel the strain on our roads, hospitals and schools, or the deterioration of our built and natural environments.

Industry Minister Navdeep Bains has already cautioned that he is hearing pushback from Canadians. This isn’t surprising. The government’s own polling shows only 8 per cent of Canadians think immigration should increase, while three times as many believe it is already too high. And that was before the Trudeau government increased annual levels to 300,000 already this year.

A government ignores clear public opinion at its peril — and at the nation’s. Significantly increasing immigration levels in defiance of the clear preference of Canadians, including recent immigrants, invites a sharp public backlash of the kind we’ve seen in the United States, the U.K. and Europe. Those who decry Trumpism should be the most vocal opponents of this proposal.

Unlike management consultants, citizens ask questions that are beyond the Advisory Council’s remit. Questions like: What will it mean to be Canadian after we’ve added 65 million new people? What holds our society together when immigration is so rapid that integration becomes impossible?

However smart the Advisory Council members may be, it’s average Canadians who are displaying common sense. They know that size is not a meaningful measure of national success. And they have seen from experience that when immigration is accelerated too quickly, multiculturalism becomes a centrifugal force — no longer holding successive waves of immigrants in a stable tension but driving us apart.

Howard Anglin was the chief of staff to Canada’s minister of Citizenship and Immigration from 2011 to 2013.

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Published in Policy

Commentary by Pradip Rodrigues in Mississauga 

Canada’s Minister for Immigration, John McCallum, made a startling announcement in Brampton. on Tuesday, about welcoming a whopping 305,000 permanent residents by the end of 2016. This is a 7.4 per cent increase from the 2015 admission target.

All this comes during a time of rising unemployment — namely, 7.2 per cent. Youth unemployment hovers at 13 per cent and the projected economic growth in 2016 is expected to just exceed one per cent.  

So, against this gloomy economic backdrop, the announcement of record high immigrant and refugee numbers leaves many, including me, wondering if there should be some co-relation between economic growth and immigration. 

While economic immigrants are made up of highly-skilled workers and caregivers, who may not be highly skilled but will still make up the majority of newcomers, McCallum's number will include 60,000 sponsored spouses, parents and children as well as 20,000 parents and grandparents by the end of the year. 

Historically, Canada has admitted between 251,600 to 262,200 immigrants every year, a number that was seen as striking the right balance between population and economic growth.

Going forward, it’s clear that the Liberals will be shifting the focus away from the economic class and placing a greater emphasis on bringing in more family-class immigrants, seniors and refugees. 

Skilled workers forced to take survival jobs

University of Toronto economist Peter Dungan points out in a Globe & Mail article that if Canada were to double the number of economic-class migrants only, average entry wages for all immigrants would rise by between five and six per cent. 

I am not sure how bringing in immigrants with lower skill sets will help either the country or these newcomers in a rapidly evolving Canadian economy. Will a significant number of them be condemned to working at minimum wage?

I immigrated to Canada in 2000 under the now-defunct points system under a category of Writer/Journalist. Lawyers at that time encouraged people like me to find a “good job” on the understanding that after a short struggle, we would land well-paying employment. 

Reality struck when I got to Canada and heard heartbreaking stories about men and women who held good jobs back in the old countries, only to be crushed and broken after being forced into survival jobs in order to put food on the table. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I am not sure how bringing in immigrants with lower skill sets will help either the country or these newcomers.[/quote]

I've met dozens of former doctors, engineers and accountants working in factories or other dead-end jobs simply because their credentials weren’t recognized. No one would give them "Canadian experience". For many educated immigrants, toiling in warehouses or driving taxis was all they got.

Then Harper’s Conservatives came along in 2006 and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney drastically overhauled the immigration system, bringing in skilled refugees and calibrating immigration to support the country’s specific economic needs

I am sure that if I applied for immigration under the revised system brought in by the Conservatives, I might not have been eligible to immigrate to Canada. That would've been fair, because, looking back, letting hundreds of immigrants into the country like myself when there were no real jobs now looks like a case of false advertising. 

Concerns over competition and economic burdens

When I speak with new Canadians who’ve struggled to find their professional footing in Canada about more immigrants, seniors and refugees being accepted as permanent residents, they aren’t very thrilled by the news. Unless, of course, they’re sponsoring family or senior parents. 

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that an acquaintance who spoke out against bringing in more seniors had herself sponsored her parents ten years earlier to Canada. 

In previous estimates, a set of grandparents can cost the system $400,000. Statistics have pegged sponsored parents and grandparents as receiving, on average, $6,262 in Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) payments plus $1,381 in other government transfers each year.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For many educated immigrants, toiling in warehouses or driving taxis was all they got.[/quote]

Many Canadians, new and old, who are struggling to keep or find jobs are wary about having to compete with new waves of job seekers. One parent I spoke to thought it might be a good idea to reduce immigration numbers until the economy improved. She was also opposed to foreign student workers because they’re often willing to work for less than minimum wage. 

And in any case, a large percentage of the almost 350,000 international students currently studying in the country have every intention of becoming permanent residents. For many South Asians and Asians in particular, coming to Canada as an international student is just another way to immigrate. 

Many immigrant parents with university-going children stay awake at night, worrying that their children may not find jobs once they graduate. How are they supposed to feel optimistic about Canada bringing in more immigrants who will likely compete with them as well as their children for a limited number of jobs?

Considering this, economic indicators should also be factored in when setting annual immigration quotas.

Bringing newcomers into a broken system

I often wonder how practical it is to have a large number of immigrants come in without taking into account the state of the economy. While I get it that Canada needs immigration in order to keep its economic engine running, I worry that the immigrants and refugees now being admitted into the country could end up being a burden on the system.

How can an immigrant contribute to the economic success of the country if he or she is not working at their full potential or is not working at all? That will be the likely fate of so many new immigrants in the years to come.

Meanwhile, it is the over-burdened taxpayer who is obliged to pitch in at a time when their own job security is shaky.

Pradip Rodrigues is currently the editor of Can-India, a weekly newspaper and website catering to the South Asian diaspora in the GTA. He immigrated to Canada in 2000 and currently lives with his wife and young son in Mississauga. Prior to coming to Canada, he was the Assistant Editor at Bombay Times, then the city section of the Times of India. 

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Published in Commentary

 Commentary by Don Curry in North Bay

Look at any online newspaper or magazine story about Syrian refugees and then read the comment section—if you dare. The comments range from sarcastic to racist and accuracy is not a prerequisite for participation.

Many of the comments sound something like this: the refugees will be living off the taxpayers and we’ll be paying for them for years to come.

It’s time for a reality check. 

Economic contributions of refugees

A Simon Fraser University study released in December calculated that Syrian refugees coming to B.C. will contribute approximately $563 million in local economic activity over the next 20 years. 

Canadian Business published an article on Sept. 14, 2015 with the headline "Why Canada should welcome more Syrian refugees—a lot more.” Canadian Business isn’t usually on the left of the political spectrum. Its argument is simple: it makes economic sense. 

The article states, “Casting refugees as freeloaders may be politically expedient but it lacks a basis in fact. Between 1979 and 1981, Canada accepted 60,000 “boat people” from Southeast Asia. Within a decade, 86 per cent of those former refugees were working, healthy and spoke English with some proficiency, achieving the basic criteria for success.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Syrian refugees coming to B.C. will contribute approximately $563 million in local economic activity.[/quote]

It also explains that refugees were less likely to use social services and more likely to have jobs than the average Canadian. “They weren’t a drain on the taxpayer—they were taxpayers,” it states.

Carl Nicholson, executive director of the Catholic Centre for Immigrants in Ottawa, told me a few months ago that Vietnamese “boat people” in Ottawa — former refugees themselves — are now stepping up to financially support Syrian refugees.

Most refugees aren’t dependent on government support

Other online comments lump all refugees as being in the government-assisted class, and that too requires a reality check.

There are three refugee programs in Canada: government-assisted, private sponsorships, and blended sponsorships.

In the Government Assisted Refugee (GAR) program, the federal government pays the cost. There is no government money in the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program and only approximately 40 per cent in the blended program.

The blended program has only been around since 2013 and the Mennonite Central Committee (who organizes much of the related resettlement activity) has worked almost solely with Mennonite churches. With the incoming Syrian refugees, the Committee is swamped.

Over the last months, it has worked with churches of all denominations and groups of citizens unaffiliated with any church who are getting involved in refugee sponsorship for the first time. With this wave of new players, clearly there is room to expand this program.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]There is no government money in the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program.[/quote]

The Harper government was planning to reduce the GARs’ commitment by about nine per cent, while the new federal government is now talking about increasing the number of Syrian refugees in all three categories from 25,000 by February 29 to 50,000 by December 31, 2016.

The cost of supporting GARs is the equivalent of the provincial welfare rate for an individual or family. That could range from $27,000 to $30,000 for a family of four.

But here’s a little-known fact: any government subsidy ceases immediately upon the refugee securing employment. And, in any event, it lasts for only 12 months.

Until the Syrian refugee crisis, refugees had to repay the cost, with interest, of their airfare to Canada. That has been waived for Syrian refugees and refugee advocates are lobbying to make that standard practice for all refugees. The federal government says it will have new regulations in place by mid-2016.

We must help GARs establish themselves in Canada

More than 50 per cent of PSRs had earnings in their first year in Canada, compared to only 14 per cent in the GAR category. In their second year, the percentage increased to 70 and 42 per cent respectively. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data, there’s little difference in employment earnings over time. Data from 2003 showed that a PSR who has been in Canada for 15 years had average employment earnings of $30,885 compared to $28,901 for GARS.

The numbers reflect the fact that PSRs have a network as soon as they arrive, plus the services of government-supported immigrant settlement agencies. GARs have settlement agency assistance alone to help them integrate into the community. This needs to change.

Refugee advocates are pushing the new federal government to capitalize on private sector interest, but not to depend on it. The premise of private sponsorship is to add more refugees to the mix, not to replace the government-sponsored Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP).

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]With this wave of new players, clearly there is room to expand this program.[/quote]

With communities that have never sponsored refugees now fundraising for Syrian refugees, there's the potential to expand the RAP program to new communities. In North Bay Ontario, we have a Canadian Forces Base with the capacity to house refugees temporarily until they're settled in the community. 

There's similar capacity at bases across Canada and if they were put to use, refugees would be more evenly spread across the country instead of just a few designated communities.

The federal government should capitalize on this new energy sweeping the nation and add capacity to the RAP program by bringing more willing communities into the available pool. 

Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting, a company providing immigration solutions for rural and northern Canada. He was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and served in that capacity for eight years. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Published in Commentary

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