Why our immigration levels can't climb too high

 

 Here is an article that was posted in the Vancouver Sun today by Martin Collacott who served as Canadian ambassador in Asia and the Middle East. He is a spokesman for the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform and lives in Vancouver.  A worthy discussion. 

 

Former federal Liberal cabinet minister Robert Kaplan recently proposed that Canada increase its population to 100 million through increased immigration in order that we become more influential on the world stage. While some may find this visionary in its scope, it totally fails to take into account the realities of today's Canada. Many of our larger cities are already groaning under the weight of high immigration intake that is increasing congestion, house prices and costs to taxpayers. A recent paper by Herbert Grubel and Patrick Grady estimated that newcomers cost Canadians between $16 and $23 billion a year because of what they receive in government benefits over what they pay in taxes.

Added to this is concern over the increasing concentrations of immigrants who come from cultures and traditions that are very different from those of most Canadians. An example of this is the controversy over Muslim prayer sessions at the Valley Park middle school in Toronto, where 80 to 90 per cent of the students are Muslims. Such problems can be expected to occur more frequently even at current levels of immigration.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is quite right when he questions whether Canadians are ready to accept higher immigration levels. He recently told the Vancouver Board of Trade that we do not have the resources or ability to integrate much larger numbers of immigrants every year and pointed out that we can't flood our taxpayer-funded services or put pressure on real estate markets.

While Kenney is the most effective immigration minister we've had in a long time, and is prepared to acknowledge and deal with some of the most difficult issues, even he would appear to be off-base in his belief that most Canadians accept intake current levels.

When Canadians say they are happy about immigration in general, this should not be interpreted as meaning they are satisfied with the numbers we are bringing in, particularly if this affects them (which is the case in larger cities, where most newcomers settle). An Ekos Research survey released in November, for example, found that, while 71 per cent of respondents said they felt immigration was good for Canada, this declined to 48 per cent when asked if they thought it was good for their neighbourhood.

A recent poll by Léger Marketing found 55 per cent of Calgarians thought their city was already too large and only 39 per cent thought it had the right number of people. This means 94 per cent didn't want it to get larger - which will be increasingly difficult to achieve unless we dramatically reduce immigration, as most of the population increase will be from this source.

Only five per cent of the people in Toronto and Vancouver wanted their numbers to increase. Yet Toronto is projected to grow by three million people and Vancouver by almost one million in the next two decades if current immigration levels are maintained.

That there is a gap between what our leaders think we want and what average Canadians want is not surprising. The Centre for Immigration Studies in Washington found that among opinion makers in the United States (politicians, leaders of church groups, business executives, union leaders, academics, etc.) only 18 per cent thought immigration should be reduced, compared to 55 per cent of the public. Although various reasons have been advanced for why Canada should continue with high immigration levels even if this causes problems for many Canadians, at least some fallacious arguments have been discarded.

The present government, for example, does not attempt to perpetrate the myth that immigration is a realistic way of dealing with the costs associated with the aging of our population. A more pervasive fiction, however, is that we must have large-scale immigration if we are to meet looming labour shortages and that Canada cannot prosper without a constant infusion of workers from abroad.

The fact is, most of our labour shortages can be met domestically if we make the best use of our existing workforce and educational and training facilities.

This point was made not only by the Economic Council of Canada 20 years ago, but has been reiterated and updated more recently by renowned labour economists such as Alan G. Green of Queen's University and David A. Green of the University of B.C. Green recently told a conference in Vancouver that using immigration to fill labour-force gaps carries pitfalls and that natural market responses to labour shortages, such as pay hikes, can be obstructed when immigration increases the supply of workers and thus reduces wages.

While Canada should remain an immigrant-friendly country and invite newcomers to come here in reasonable numbers, it is clear that not only would we be foolish to embark on a massive increase in population by means of immigration as suggested by Robert Kaplan, but that maintaining anywhere near current levels brings with it almost no benefit to most Canadians and, indeed, is very costly.

Martin Collacott served as Canadian ambassador in Asia and the Middle East. He is a spokesman for the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform and lives in Vancouver.

 

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