Star Editorial: Helping new Canadians succeed

Of note. Even the Star is starting to question the government’s approach:

Immigrants have always enriched this country. Today, more than ever, they are also essential to sustaining a needed workforce as the Canadian population ages.

It speaks to the maturity of this country that a record number of immigrants were settled in Canada in 2022, giving this country the largest percentage of immigrants in the G7, without rancour, bitterness or xenophobic political arguments. An Environics poll found almost seven in 10 Canadians support the immigration policies of the Liberal government, double the support Canadians offered for newcomers 50 years ago.

While this country has benefited from the diversity, the energy and the talents of immigrants, the size of the wave that has been – and will be – settled by this Liberal government means it comes with challenges.

To understand the scope of recent immigration in Canada, consider the numbers:

  • In 2022, 431,645 new permanent residents were settled in this country, a record. Almost a quarter of them settled in the GTA and environs. For perspective, that is the equivalent of adding another city of Halifax. The government is aiming to welcome another 1.45 million immigrants over the next three years, essentially adding another city the size of Calgary.
  • According to the 2021 census, almost one in four (23 per cent) residents in this country are or have been a landed immigrant or permanent resident in Canada. This is the highest proportion in a century.
  • Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship estimate that by 2036 immigrants will represent up to 30 per cent of the Canadian population, jumping from 20.7 per cent in 2011
  • An Environics study of 2021 census data found that 79.6 per cent of the GTA population is first- and second-generation arrivals; in Vancouver the number is 72.5 per cent.

Ottawa is making up for an immigration downturn during the pandemic. Immigration now accounts for almost 100 per cent of Canada’s labour force growth and about 75 per cent of the population growth. And, as we age, younger skilled workers are needed in health care, manufacturing, information technology and the building trades. The government says the worker-to-retiree ratio is expected to be two to one by 2035. In the 1970s, it was seven to one.

But when they arrive, immigrants will find the Canadian dream comes with a significant sticker shock.

Where will they live? Higher mortgage rates and limited supply will mean the goal of home ownership would likely be as elusive for many new arrivals as it has been for long-time residents. If they turn to the rental market, they will find options limited because of a shortage of supply and people priced out the housing market renting longer. The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom condo in Toronto is $3,350 according to Urbanation, a real estate data analysis company. That is a 24 per cent increase in one year. Vacancy rates fell to 1.2 per cent, down from a pandemic high of 6.4 per cent in the first quarter of 2021.

Immigration will continue to fuel demand for rental properties, but a slowdown in the number of building projects underway now point to a shortage of housing in four to five years, experts say.

There is also evidence that Canada is wasting the skill of immigrants, particularly in the health care field. Statistics Canada found that only 36.5 per cent of immigrants trained abroad as registered nurses were working in that field here and only 41.1 per cent of new arrivals with foreign medical degrees were working as doctors. Bureaucratic and professional barriers leave too many languishing in fields other than medicine at the very time additional healthcare professionals are urgently needed on the frontline.

The federal government has invested $90 million to streamline the recognition of foreign medical credentials. The Ontario Medical Association has called for more spots in residency programs needed for training of physicians here and a provincial “ready-assessment” program that would more quickly integrate physicians trained abroad into the provincial system. It’s welcome as well to see political pressure to speed the approvals of foreign-trained doctors and nurses.

There is also the question as to whether the federal government has overestimated the impact immigrant labour will have on the workforce. Immigrants will not fill every labour force void and bringing in new labour to certain sectors could blunt opportunities for real wage gains for those already employed.

The record immigration numbers are welcome. But governments cannot simply point to the numbers as the cure for so many of our ills. They must rise to meet these challenges, from housing to employment barriers. Governments must invest in the programs that help newcomers get settled in communities, find their sense of belonging and realize the dream that motivated their move here in the first place.

In so doing, they will not only be helping immigrants, they will be helping all Canadians.

Source: Star Editorial: Helping new Canadians 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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