Government’s Proposal to Ramp Up Immigration Levels is Misguided
Madeline Weld, President
Population Institute of Canada
The Canadian government announced in October that it would significantly increase the intake of immigrants to Canada for each of the next three years, with minimum levels of 300,000 each year. Since 1990, Canada has been accepting approximately 250,000 – and sometimes more – newcomers each year. In 2017, 75% of Canada’s population growth resulted from immigration. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen argues that the government’s proposal for even higher levels of immigration would promote economic growth, overcome skills shortages and meet the demographic challenge of an aging population.
Population Institute Canada believes that economic and demographic arguments for growing Canada’s population are on shaky ground, while the negative environmental consequences of its rapid growth are very much in evidence, and growing. We contend that there are no good reasons to grow Canada’s population and many compelling environmental reasons to stabilize and reduce it.
It is true that Canada’s growing population over the past few decades has resulted in a bigger economy. There has, however, been no growth in per capita wealth. The real earnings of the average Canadian worker have not changed, while those of the poorest Canadian workers have fallen.
Economists Herb Grubel and Patrick Grady have calculated that immigrants cost the government $30 billion more in services each year than they pay in taxes. And Immigration Minister Hussen admits that his proposed increase in immigrant intake will cost at least an additional one billion dollars in resettlement expenses each year.
Already, large numbers of young people, many with significant debt loads, face a very challenging job market, one which Finance Minister Bill Morneau has called a “job churn.” Many job seekers, especially young and new Canadians, have few prospects of secure employment and must work multiple contract or part-time positions. They can only dream of better wages, a steady schedule and paid sick days. How, PIC asks, will adding hundreds of thousands of additional job seekers improve the prospects of these Canadians, when increasing automation, the loss of factory jobs to developing economies, and outsourcing are already putting significant pressures on Canada’s workforce?
It has also long been recognized that the problems associated with an aging population cannot be solved through immigration. Among studies showing that immigration, even at high levels, has little effect on Canada’s age structure is a 2006 analysis by the C.D. Howe Institute (No Elixir of Youth: Immigration Cannot Keep Canada Young). It found that to keep a constant dependency ratio, Canada would have to have an unrealistically high intake of immigrants and by 2050 would be taking in 7 million immigrants per year and have reached a population of 165 million. Due to the rapid and unsustainable growth of the human population during the 20th century, all countries will have to deal with an aging population during the coming decades.
In addition, the dependency ratio as currently calculated (number of workers for every person 65 years and older) merits re-examination. No doubt many retired grandparents over 65 years old are helping to subsidize their grandchildren. The fees paid by elderly people in retirement residences support many workers and economists anticipate a large intergenerational transfer of wealth as aging baby boomers die. All these factors complicate the issue of the dependency ratio and suggest that it is simplistic to use number of people over 65 versus the number working as a sole determinant. Furthermore, many people 65 years of age and older still work, some because they must, others by choice. Thus, designating every person a dependent at 65 is not realistic. It is also relevant to note that significant numbers of newcomers – and of the proposed increase in intake – are in the family reunification category. Many of these are the parents or grandparents of earlier immigrants and are therefore older than the average Canadian and more likely to require the healthcare services paid for by working Canadians.
Clearly, the economic arguments for relentlessly driving population growth through high levels of immigration do not hold up to scrutiny. There is also an increasing awareness that the size of a country’s economy or its GDP is an inadequate measure of its people’s well-being. As Canada’s population grows, more Canadians are having to contend with ever more crowded cities, increased traffic congestion, densification that has eliminated greenspace but not urban sprawl, increasingly stressed infrastructure, rising housing costs, and longer waiting times for healthcare and other government services. The resources of the cities in the southern belt of Canada where most Canadians live, and almost all immigrants settle, are as overstressed as those in cities anywhere in the developed world. What’s more, a growing population is putting enormous pressure on our irreplaceable farmland and very limited fruit-growing areas.
It is wrong to consider Canada as an “empty” country when so much of it is unsuitable for human habitation or incapable of supporting a dense population. The very high per capita “ecological footprint” of Canadians has already badly eroded our biocapacity per individual. For example, the latest (2017) Living Planet Report by the World Wildlife Fund shows a serious and significant decline in wildlife populations as our growing population and demands for space and resources convert wildlife habitat to human uses.
Our finite planet cannot support a continuously growing human population and expanding economies. Canada, too, is finite. And yet as a direct result of government policy, our population is growing as rapidly as the global average of 1.12% annually. The policy to keep expanding our economy by growing our population through immigration is no more sustainable than any other Ponzi scheme. Nor is the government’s planned immigration policy supported by a majority of Canadians – an Angus Reid poll conducted in 2017 found that 57% of Canadians thought that Canada should accept fewer immigrants and refugees (see page 15 of document).
Before increasing immigration levels, PIC believes it incumbent on government to assess the impact of current levels of immigration and the impact that higher levels would have, not only on the economy and the revenue and costs for the government, but also on the environment, climate change, farmland, property prices, public infrastructure, and the livability of our cities, among other parameters.
In its external aid programs, the current government has shown commendable leadership by supporting reproductive health and education programs that will contribute to a slowing of global population growth, leading to real social and environmental benefits coincident with significant increases in standards of living. Yet at home it continues to promote rapid population growth through immigration. Rather than pursuing economic growth for its own sake (or for the benefit of the few), PIC is urging government to show leadership on the home front (as it does abroad), through policies that promote human well-being and the preservation of Canada’s natural heritage for future generations.
Population Institute Canada believes that we must allow our population to stabilize to sustainable levels by moderating immigration intake while helping developing countries to achieve sustainable populations through our development aid programs…. and by our example.
PIC urges Canadians to contact their Member of Parliament and advocate for Canada to stabilize its population, while directing foreign aid to those developing countries which seek to control their own population growth through ethical policies and effective family planning programs.