Immigration Numbers To Be Put Under Microscope

Immigration numbers to be put under microscope

Updated Sun. Dec. 2 2007 2:31 PM ET
The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Canada's immigrants will take the spotlight Tuesday when new census information is released showing just how many foreign-born people call the country home, numbers that underscore the thorny debate over whether Canada accepts too many immigrants or not enough.

Some 1.2 million immigrants settled in Canada in the five years between the 2001 and 2006 census dates, accounting for two-thirds of the country's population growth.

Tuesday's release will put those numbers under the microscope for a sharper picture of the immigrant experience.

While Ottawa actively woos skilled workers from around the globe to grow the economy, at least one expert says the country can no longer sustain current immigration levels and that the system needs to be dramatically overhauled.

Public opinion polls suggest anywhere between one-third and half of the population feels immigration levels are too high.

“Many people think there's a very serious need for a review, but people are afraid to touch it because they'll be called racist,'' said Martin Collacott, a former Canadian ambassador who worked for the Department of External Affairs for 30 years.

“While we could use some immigration, there's a lot of evidence that we're bringing in far more than we need and that we can effectively absorb, and this should be reviewed.''

The country's demographic landscape suggests that as the baby boomers begin retiring en masse the workforce will be left clamouring for skilled people to fill the void. Statistics Canada projects that a declining birth rate coupled with an aging population will make immigration the sole source of population growth sometime after 2030.

“The marketplace is definitely in need of individuals joining the workforce,'' said Ayman Al-Yassini, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.

“We certainly are in favour of a policy that seeks to attract a greater numbers of immigrants.''

Public opinion surveys suggest that when the economy is good Canadians are more willing to support such a policy, said pollster Bruce Anderson.

But at other times, many, many Canadians want the tide of immigration to ebb.

“Somewhere between one-third and half of Canadians, depending on the question, depending on the time, will say that there a too many immigrants coming into Canada,'' said Anderson, president of Harris-Decima Research.

“That seems like a number that moves up and down with the health of the economy.''

Despite those numbers, Anderson said there's a strong desire among Canadians to avoid the kind of “controversial social debate'' that occurs in the United States around such issues.

“I'm always struck by the fact that Canadians generally don't like to debate those issues, they're too sensitive,'' said Anderson. “There's almost always a feeling of, if you talk about these things you're going to offend somebody.''

A recent poll in Britain suggests half the population there wants the government to reduce immigration. In Australia, a survey that came on the heels of the 2004 election found 35 per cent of people polled wanted immigration reduced.

Collacott, whose wife is Vietnamese-Canadian, said it's not racism but an analysis of economic and systemic practices that fuels his argument for reducing immigration to roughly one-quarter of current levels.

“My argument is, if we're talking about skill shortages we shouldn't look at immigration in isolation and say, 'let's bring in a quarter-of-a-million people,'' said Collacott, who is a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, a right-wing think tank.

“Let's look at first how we can make the best use of people already in the country, whether they're Canadian-born or they're immigrants already here.. and look at immigration only as a complement to that.''

The nagging problem of foreign-trained professionals, such as doctors, working menial jobs because their credentials aren't recognized in Canada is an issue both Collacott and Al-Yassini agree needs to be urgently addressed.

Collacott counts it among the “major things wrong with the system.''

Al-Yassini wants to see more programs developed at the provincial level to address the issue, but adds the debate over immigration shouldn't be centered on how many immigrants to admit but rather how best to integrate newcomers.

Despite surveys that suggest a large number of people feel the country takes in too many immigrants, Anderson said the foreign credential issue is one that brings out a sense of fair play among Canadians.

“I think there's a fairness instinct that's pretty strong and says, whether we want to debate how many immigrants or the right number… that's different from debating whether or not people should be effectively second-class citizens,'' he said.

“They come here, they are here, they should be treated the same as everybody else. I think (that's) a pretty overwhelming sentiment.''


Les donns du recensement portant sur l'immigration seront rendues publiques


TORONTO – Les immigrants se retrouveront sous les feux de la rampe mardi, avec la publication de nouvelles informations, tirs du dernier recensement, sur le nombre d'immigrants au pays – des donns qui pourraient alimenter l'ineux dat sur la question de savoir si le Canada accepte trop d'immigrants, ou pas assez.

Environ 1,2 million d'immigrants se sont install ici au cours des cinq anns ouls entre les recensements de 2001 et 2006. Ils reprentent les deux tiers de la croissance de la population du pays.

La publication des donns, mardi, apportera des prisions sur la situation de ces immigrants.

Pendant qu'Ottawa courtise assid?ent les travailleurs qualifi autour du monde afin de favoriser la croissance de l'onomie canadienne, au moins un expert soutient que le pays ne peut plus soutenir les niveaux actuels d'immigration, et que le syste doit re ris?

Selon diffents sondages d'opinion publique, entre un tiers et la moiti de la population serait d'avis que les niveaux d'immigration sont trop ev.