October 5, 2005: The Numbers Don't Add Up (Editorial in The Ottawa Citizen Critical Of Immigration Minister's Proposal For A 40% Increase In Immigration)
October 5, 2005
The numbers dont add up
There are many problems with Paul Martin's pledge to increase immigration by 40 per cent within five years, not least of which is a lack of understanding and support from members of the Commons immigration committee.
“I'd like to know what the reasoning is,” said a perplexed David Anderson, a Liberal MP who sits on the committee.
So would we, because on the surface the prime minister's plan to increase immigration to 338,000 per year from the current 236,000 appears predicated on either faulty science or bald-faced vote- mongering.
The official rationale is that the country is short of workers, that certain regions are especially short of workers, and that our population has to be continually topped up to replace our retiring baby boomers and help pay their old-age benefits.
Immigration Minister Joe Volpe says economic growth is being hampered in places like Edmonton, Calgary, Fort McMurray and the Maritime provinces because there aren't enough workers to fill the jobs.
This may or may not be accurate. What is certain, however, is that the people Canada are targeting for immigration — primarily Asian professionals with advanced university degrees — are not inclined to drive trucks, or work in the oil patch, or build houses or roads.
Indeed, even though skilled tradespeople are much in demand throughout the country, government policy all but guarantees this category of foreign worker won't set foot on Canadian soil, since higher education is heavily weighted in the immigration approval process.
And even if this policy were altered to give more weight to tradespeople, it's highly unlikely that, upon landing in Canada, our new Chinese truckers and Indian bricklayers will strike out for the cultural melting pots of Fort McMurray and St. John's.
Rather, three-quarters of immigrants choose to live in Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, not because of the ready supply of jobs, but because these cities have large ethnic populations that allow newcomers to feel at home.
As to the need to offset the impact of the retiring baby boomers, Mr. Anderson for one doesn't buy it. “Just increasing numbers does not make one a more successful or less successful society,” he says, noting that Switzerland and Sweden are global success stories with populations a fraction the size of Canada's.
Finally, and perhaps most important, we can't process our immigrant stream in a timely way now, to the point where we have a backlog of 700,000 people waiting to become permanent residents. Surely this cohort has to be absorbed, and the immigration process streamlined, before we turn the stream into a river by adding 100,000 new applicants each year.
Of course, vowing to increase immigration does have one immediate and salutary effect: It serves to remind Canada's already burgeoning immigrant population who their true friends are come election time.
And with an election set to be held within six months, it's no wonder the prime minister has decided to let fly with his immigration pledge now — bad science and broken system notwithstanding.