Sure, it comes with some demographic challenges. With increased demand, the cost of housing in Canada’s major cities is under extreme stress. But that is something that smart government immigration policy can plan for.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on March 27, 2023.
OTTAWA—One million new Canadians is something to celebrate.
Statistics Canada’s announcement last week that the country’s population will shortly reach 40 million was something of a shocker.
I remember when we were only 15 million strong.
But what is so fantastic about this population jump is that the majority of Canadians are happy about it.
In most nation-wide surveys, by and large, Canadians believe the country’s immigration has led to economic prosperity.
Sure, it comes with some demographic challenges. With increased demand, the cost of housing in Canada’s major cities is under extreme stress.
But that is something that smart government immigration policy can plan for.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced last week that his department would be making some changes to the immigration policy. They include targeting specific subsets of workers for the immigration fast track, and incentivizing the immigration point system for people who are willing to move to underpopulated areas of the country.
Both moves make sense. We need skilled workers to cover off the job gap in certain sectors, and if they can come from abroad, the holes will be filled more quickly than waiting for apprenticeship and college graduates.
That doesn’t minimize the need for the government to aggressively promote apprenticeship and interprovincial migration of skilled labour. But it can supplement the shortages on a short-term basis.
As for the changes to where new immigrants live, that will be met with approval by big-city and small-town politicians.
Big-city mayors know that increasing populations put additional pressures on high-ticket items like local transit and infrastructure.
Municipalities are also grappling with the challenge that most downtown locations are becoming too expensive for the locals, pressuring developers into messy evictions and legal disputes with long-term tenants.
By moving immigrants into smaller communities, the changes plug the workforce gap that those communities are facing and simultaneously encourage local economic growth with the arrival of new families who need to purchase housing, appliances, furniture, and other big-ticket items.
With the exception of the People’s Party of Canada, most federal political parties seem to approve of the direction the government is taking in announcing an increase in the number of annual immigrants welcomed into the country.
Parties usually follow the wishes of the population. In most regions, the population is favourable to the hike in numbers.
However, Quebec is always tricky as the voters there do not want to see the French language undermined by immigrants who have a tendency to prefer raising their children in English.
Quebec has not exactly rolled out the red carpet to newcomers, with rules that prohibit religious headgear in public service positions, including teaching.
It is probably the only province where the majority of citizens would likely oppose a plan for mass migration.
As for the rest of the country, most provincial governments have experienced a direct economic boom related to immigration.
If the current population growth rate continues, the country will end up with almost 50 per cent immigrants within the next quarter century.
At the moment, immigrants comprise one-fifth of the country’s population.
But you only have to visit cities like Toronto and Vancouver to see the impact of migration on the new face of Canada.
And thus far, communities seem to be adapting and thriving.
Of course, there are problems. Triads and some gang elements well-established in their home countries have taken root in Canada.
But most studies show that Canadian-born residents are far more likely to commit crime than those who have come from other countries.
That doesn’t stop PPC Leader Maxime Bernier from railing against all forms of immigration.
But the Conservatives are playing it a lot smarter. For those who oppose immigration, they have been very active in demanding that the government close off leaky borders. In that respect, they are able to satisfy those who oppose immigration while at the same time wooing the communities who very much depend on family reunification and the chance to move to Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had to tackle that issue when the American president put migration front and centre on the bilateral agenda.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Ottawa has partly focused on amending the safe country agreement so that land borders cannot be used by those who want to transit illegally from the United States to Canada.
With a better safe country agreement, the boom is welcome.
It makes the country stronger.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.