Cosh: The Incredibly Exploding Canada

More on the wake-up cry on immigration related to housing availability and affordability.

But why Cosh or his editors have to include a juvenile aside on the Globe “inferior national newspaper,” in general and at a time of Postmedia cuts, is beyond me:

It seems like only a few weeks since us newspaper halfwits were trying to absorb the astonishing news that the population of Canada had grown almost one per cent in three months. (“A few” turns out to mean “eight.”) In the meantime, nobody in Canada’s press has said very much about a Jan. 25 economics memorandum from the CIBC’s Benjamin Tal, which carries a somewhat disturbing message: we ain’t seen nothing yet

Tal’s concern is how we analyze the immediate future of housing markets in Canada. Newspapermen focus, perhaps naturally, on the headline details of federal-government targets for new permanent residents. These are already being increased at full throttle, with universal approval from the general public: new permanent resident (NPR) approvals are expected to hit 465,000 in 2023. Does this mean we need to somehow create housing (to say nothing of other infrastructure and social resources) for 465,000 new people and then more each year going forward? 

Well, the good news is that the answer to that question is “no.” Many new permanent residents are people who were already living in the country as students or temporary workers. While international travel was choked off during the pandemic, most new permanent residents were people already here, and so immigration figures didn’t represent new demand for housing and other socioeconomic supports. 

But this changed in 2022, which accounts for the remarkable spike in the observed population. Most new permanent residents last year came from outside the country, and this was coupled with a surge in arrivals of non-permanent residents, including about 140,000 Ukrainians who took immediate advantage of the humanitarian Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program. CUAET includes a three-year, more-or-less-unconditional work visa. 

The Ukrainians are merely a small part of this story, but they provide a hint as to why NPR numbers are more volatile and harder to forecast than the permanent-resident approvals, which are relatively easy for the federal government to enumerate and limit. Even as Ottawa crowbars the permanent resident-based immigration mainstream ever wider, industry is demanding more permits for temporary workers (don’t you know there’s a labour shortage?) and universities are frantically trying to rebuild their international student numbers. Actual NPR arrivals to Canada jumped from 258,000 in 2021 to at least 700,000 in 2022, Tal thinks. 

I hardly need to add that, this being Canada, reaching this estimate required digging into customized data from the immigration department. “Official published sources” don’t break down new permanent residents into “already here” and “newly arriving,” and Statistics Canada’s population projections have a habit of underestimating future NPR flows. 

“Together,” Tal concludes, net “permanent residents and NPR arrivals from outside Canada in 2022 amounted to an estimated 955,000, representing an unprecedented swing in housing demand in a single year that is currently not fully reflected in official figures.” He goes on to remind the reader that 340,000 Ukrainian holders of approved CUAET visas have not yet come to Canada, and there is a backlog of another 300,000 applications that haven’t been looked at. (The war in Ukraine, one should add, shows no sign of immediately ending; and who knows what unforeseen conflicts might inspire the creation of a second or third or nth emergency visa program?) 

Meanwhile, if you believe the inferior national newspaper, the feds are considering dealing with their notorious and awful immigration backlog by slashing the Gordian knot of visitor visas, waiving the eligibility rules for those and rubber-stamping 500,000 applications all in one wad. This would help Canadian tourism and conference organizing a great deal — but it would also be likely to send that unpredictable “net arrivals” figure through the roof. The discussion memorandum obtained by the Globe, let us note, explicitly considered the possibility that this might be best done in secret without an official announcement.

Source: Cosh: The Incredibly Exploding Canada

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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