Lalande: Is #immigration at risk? Canadian attitudes could shift without proper planning

Broadening of the Century Initiative messaging to more explicitly address and mitigate externalities (as described in their scorecard), and a focus on “growing well” rather than just on demography and growth:

Welcoming and accepting successive waves of immigration has been one of Canada’s global advantages. Historically Canadians have recognized that immigration helps us innovate, grows our economy, keeps our public services solvent, develops cultural connections and business relationships with communities all over the world, and contributes to meeting our labour and skills needs – something that requires urgent attention right now.

Whatever their other points of disagreement, Canadians have welcomed immigrants and acknowledged the contributions they make to our economy and our social fabric.

While not yet at the stage it may be at in some other countries, that consensus may fraying and at risk of coming apart.   When Canadians are facing real day-to-day challenges in the forms of rising inflation and interest rates, housing unaffordability, labour shortages in healthcare and crumbling physical infrastructure, it can be difficult to see how welcoming more people in the country could help.

That unraveling is ever faster as divisive political discourse spreads and grows louder. There is deep anger we see reflected online in a rapid increase of hateful, racist and nationalistic comments.  Through my work at Century Initiative, I have experienced this vitriol directly, and I know many of you have too.

In the interest of our economic future we need to act now. Immigration is crucial to our development as a society, an economy and a nation.  We need more immigration and more supports for immigrants. We must continue to be the best country in the world in welcoming immigrants.

At the same time, we need to have an honest conversation about ensuring the benefits of immigration cascade to Canadians already living here – and mitigating any possible negative impacts of a growing population. Those discussions must be civil and focused on finding solutions.

At Century Initiative, we speak a lot about ‘growing well’. This means that not only do we need a growing population, but we need the policies, the public institutions and the physical infrastructure that will allow us to achieve sustainable population growth AND a prosperous country for all of us – old and new.

We need to make sure immigrants can contribute economically to their highest potential – by recognizing their credentials and by ensuring immigrant settlement agencies can support entrepreneurs and small businesspeople.

It also means recognizing the link between population growth and our ability to meet our health care, infrastructure and other needs. For example, with relatively low unemployment, population growth at its lowest in more than 100 years and growing demand for labour, we simply do not have the skilled workforce we need to build houses, highways and other infrastructure or staff our hospitals and other high demand jobs.

Take, for instance, our housing needs. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation recently estimated restoring housing affordability, will mean building nearly six million new housing units between now and 2030. At present, we are nowhere near being able to meet that target, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that we do not have the labour required to build what needs building.

Similarly, our shortage of healthcare professionals is leading to a crisis in a pandemic-battered public healthcare system. Our strained public services – even with respect to things as simple as passports – are creaking under soaring demand.

These are grave structural problems. Immigration can help address them.  Thankfully, no prominent politician has suggested limiting or eliminating immigration.  Let’s make sure it never happens.

The Canadian immigration model is a light unto the world. It’s our secret weapon – allowing our trading and innovating nation to become home to the world’s best, brightest and most ambitious.

But it is also fragile.

If we are going to grow, we need to grow well. And growing well means fixing the structural problems which make growth painful for ordinary Canadians – so that immigration can be part of a long-term solution for sustainable public services, a growing economy, and a prosperous country.

Source: Is immigration at risk? Canadian attitudes could shift without proper planning

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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