Amal Attar-Guzman: If my parents came to Canada today, would they still be set up to succeed?

Interesting that The Hub has two articles questioning the government’s ongoing immigration increases given housing, infrastructure and social issues:

My first reaction to the federal government’s recently announced immigration plan aiming to boost the economy?

“Wow, that’s a really great initiative!” 

I was not alone. It received praise on the global stage, and, despite some decreases in refugee and humanitarian class targets, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees applauded “Canada’s leadership on refugee resettlement” and further welcomed its commitment to accept refugees “as part of its overall immigration growth plan.” 

The in-take targets are substantial: 465,000 permanent residents in 2023, 485,000 in 2024, and 500,000 in 2025. Further, as highlighted in the Fall Economic Statement, Canada will also welcome at least 40,000 Afghan refugees and create a new permanent residence stream for Ukrainians who wish to stay in the country. 

Canada is well-known as an immigrant-welcoming nation, and the numbers are backing that up. As of 2021, almost one-quarter (23 percent) of the population was, or had ever been, a landed immigrant or permanent resident in Canada.1

The federal immigration plan makes sense from an economic and labour perspective. Canada has been going through labour shortages in almost every sector, especially in health care, manufacturing, STEM, and the trades. And though the looming recession might ease labour shortages, this is hardly a long-term solution.

Additionally, our rapidly ageing population combined with our rapidly declining birth rates mean that labour shortages are sure to be common occurrences in the short- and long-term. Current immigration admission seems to be responding to these challenges since two-thirds of new immigrants are of working age. 

Not only does immigration maximize economic potential but it also maximizes innovation and growth potential, something sorely needed in Canada. So long as it continues on its path, Canada is set to be a demographic superpower where innovation and dynamism should benefit as a result. 

This is a story that hits close to home for me. Like so many others, both my parents arrived in Canada as refugees in the late ‘80s and were already citizens by the time I was born in the late ‘90s. 

Despite great challenges, fear, and the uncertainty of arriving in a country that is so different from their own, they were both able to have a new start, safe from war and conflict. 

However, just as quickly as that first sentimental thought came to mind, trepidation set in:

“Are we ready to accommodate these folks?” 

Keep in mind, the Canada that my parents settled in is a much different Canada than the one we see today. By the time my parents arrived, the early ‘80s recession was over. While inflation was high and unpredictableunemployment was low and GDP was steadily growing. Renting or buying a home back then was a common reality rather than a lofty dream. Things were relatively affordable. And while they lived through a recession in the early ‘90s, by then they had accumulated some economic capital to weather that storm. 

This is not the environment current immigrants are finding today. Canada is facing a high inflation rate, housing and renting issues, rising cost of living, and current infrastructure challenges. And these trends are especially present in cities that are major hubs for newcomers: Montreal, Toronto,and Vancouver

Now, while immigration itself does not spike housing costs, current trends from wage stagnation to lack of supply are exacerbating the housing crisis. Rising rental costs are another constant challenge that many Canadians have been feeling for quite some time—pressures that can be exacerbatedby immigration due to broad rental legislation.

If the supply is not proportionate to the higher numbers of immigrants coming into Canada, and if the issue of affordability is not managed, new immigrants will be placed at a greater disadvantage and in a much more tenuous position, especially since they are on average more economically vulnerable than the average Canadian. This state of affairs has been amplified by the pandemic. 

The lack of sustainable infrastructure in Canada is another challenge. Prior to the pandemic, Canada’s infrastructure deficit range was estimated from$110 billion to $270 billion, and our infrastructure is lagging behind other peer countries. Ontario’s population is set to increase by 30 percent—an amount of over 19 million residents—in just over 20 years. The province is simply not ready to accommodate that growth.

All in all, across Canada our infrastructure is not sustainable with the current population growth. We are not building enough to manage.

Now, to alleviate the burden on immigration hubs, the federal government does plan to increase focus on attracting newcomers to different regions of the country, including small towns and rural communities. This, however, comes with its own deeply entrenched challenges. 

These range from inadequate housing, public transportation, and infrastructure, limited employment opportunities, underemployment, and barriers to entry into established networks. 

More complications arise in the case of intergovernmental immigration agreements between the federal and provincial governments. While the federal government does have the jurisdiction to issue its immigration policy and set these national targets, it will be up to the provincial governments to accept specific amounts of new immigrants to their province. Quebec specifically has already pushed back on the matter.

Goals are one thing. Failure to provide adequate support once real people are really here has consequences. Consider the case of Aziza Abusirdana, a Palestinian refugee who stabbed herself in the stomach while meeting with an Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada official. She claimed it was in response to a lack of affordable housing, rising costs of living, and a lack of mental health services. She’s not the only refugee driven to self-harm or thoughts of suicide. Other underlying societal issues, such as racism, xenophobia, and/or intolerance, as well as our failure to recognize foreign credentials, are further impediments to those seeking a better life.

While these challenges are complex and multi-layered, that is not to say they are insurmountable. Integrating new immigrants is a difficult whole-of-society task, but it is both laudable and doable—if proper care and consideration are given to the effort. Indeed, it may be necessary to combat labour shortages. Unfortunately, the federal government’s habit of announcing grand goals and leaving the provinces and the rest of the country to sort out the logistics is not doing anybody any favours.

The new immigration plan can give Canada the economic boost it needs while expanding our multicultural fabric, but we must proactively fix the broader societal issues plaguing us now or we risk exhausting the goodwill of fellow Canadians and hindering immigrants themselves. And the sooner the better. 2023 is right around the corner.

Source: Amal Attar-Guzman: If my parents came to Canada today, would they still be set up to succeed?

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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