@JohnIbbitson: Canadians need to form a consensus on long-term #immigration policy [but what should that consensus be?]

John Ibbitson follows on this previous article, Politics It’s time for Canada to focus on expanding our population, highlighting former PM Mulroney’s call for increased immigration and a Canadian population around 100m by the turn of the century and the need for a white paper to help build the arguments to get us there.

However, before we get too caught up in the advocacy by the Century Initiative, the Business Council of Canada and the Globe and Mail, we should step back and ask some fundamental questions a white paper should ask beyond the basic demographic arguments:

  • Does more immigration increase or decrease inequality?
  • In the immediate post-COVID period, should immigration increase given what we know from previous downturns regarding how the most recent immigrants suffer short and some longer-term scarring?
  • How should we factor in the lower-paid “essential workers” and will increased immigration improve their working conditions or not?
  • Longer-term, what are the more likely affects of automation and AI on the labour market and the need for skilled and semi-skilled workers?
  • How realistic is it to improve settlement of immigrants outside of our major cities and regions given past and current experience?
  • Will Canada realistically invest in the needed public and private infrastructure needed to accommodate such growth, again given past and current experience?
  • Will Canada be able to do so in a manner that respects our current and likely future climate change commitments?
  • Will Indigenous peoples accept increased immigration and the focus on newcomers compared to their concerns?
  • Will the greater imbalance between immigration to Quebec and the rest of Canada place further pressures on the federation?

A white paper that largely replicates the group think of the Century Initiative and related players would be a disservice to Canadians, rather than the needed more thoughtful and balanced discussions:

Though progressives and conservatives in the United States disagree on practically everything, they do agree that Canada has a better immigration system.

But as a new paper in the magazine American Affairs points out, they think this only because neither side fully understands how the Canadian system works.

Right-wing Americans praise Canada’s ability to police its borders while focusing on economic migrants who can make an immediate contribution. No less an authority than Donald Trump declared, when he was president: “I think we should have merit-based immigration like they have in Canada” so that “we have people coming in that have a good track record.”

But American conservatives would be less impressed if they realized that Canada protects its border through a dense skein of rules and regulations, a so-called bureaucratic border wall.

The left, on the other hand, celebrates Canada’s robust commitment to diversity through immigration. But they would be appalled to learn that those same bureaucratic rules – such as requiring that all employees provide a social insurance number – make it virtually impossible for undocumented workers to live in this country, and that our system limits diversity by favouring immigrants from more-developed regions, such as South and East Asia, over less developed regions, including parts of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Each side sees only what it wants to see, emphasizing those aspects of Canada’s system that align with their ideological predispositions, while excluding the others,” wrote Michael Cuenco, a Canadian writer based in Calgary.

“The most vocal elements of the Right and the Left are like the blind men grasping at different parts of an elephant. No one has bothered to offer to either side an honest description of the whole.”

Both the left and the right in the U.S. might be even more nonplussed were they to learn that former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney has joined a growing chorus calling for Canada to more than double its population to 100 million by 2100.

They might not understand that what truly distinguishes the Canadian immigration system from the American is that Canada’s reflects decades of increasing ideological convergence on immigration policy, even as America becomes ever-more polarized.

The question for Canadians is whether we are willing to converge on future immigration targets in the same way we have in the past.

Progressive Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker first declared that immigration should be colour-blind. Lester B. Pearson’s Liberal government converted that principle into the points system. Liberal Pierre Trudeau married immigration to multiculturalism, while Mr. Mulroney tripled the intake. Liberals Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin converted a system that favoured the family-class category into one that favoured economic-class applicants, while Conservative Stephen Harper and Liberal Justin Trudeau further refined and expanded the program.

If future Liberal and Conservative governments were to choose to, say, (a) convert the temporary target of more than 400,000 immigrants a year recently established to overcome the cutbacks imposed by the pandemic into a permanent target; b) gradually move toward 500,000 a year over the course of this decade and c) reassess Canada’s needs as the population approaches 50 million at mid-century, that would be nothing out of keeping with the past six decades of immigration policy, which saw Canada’s population more than double from 18 million in 1960 to 38 million today.

Whether we want that future is something else. Proponents of population growth must convince skeptics that Canada can more than double in numbers while still meeting commitments on global warming, that cities can grow in population without increasing sprawl, that creativity and productivity require a young, dynamic populace.

But we need to remember: We got where we are by agreeing we should grow robustly, and that it didn’t matter where people came from, as long as they shared the values that ground the nation. That’s what brought the Irish and the Germans and the Ukrainians here in the 19th century, what brought the Italians and Portuguese and Greeks here after the war, what brought the Vietnamese boat people here and people from Somalia and Lebanon, the Hong Kongers and then Mainlanders and new arrivals from French West Africa and Haiti, the Sikhs and Hindus from India and the Sri Lankans and Filipinos and …

A hundred million? Why stop?

Source: Canadians need to form a consensus on long-term immigration policy

Immigration levels plan: Reactions

Have been following the various reactions to date regarding the government’s (overly) ambitious targets for the next three years. Relatively few op-eds and commentary, possibly due to the focus on COVID and the US presidential election which are taking up most of the oxygen.

And much of the commentary focusses overly on the administrative issues, not the more substantive issues related to economic integration of immigrants during an economic recession, one that is likely to linger for a few years.

Have grouped these by constituency:

Business-oriented

The plan was welcomed by the business sector.

“There is widespread agreement across party lines that immigration is essential to long-term economic growth,” said Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, which represents some of the country’s largest businesses.

“Newcomers bring energy, skills, new ideas and entrepreneurial spirit. They start companies, fill skill shortages, buy houses and pay taxes, … The minister’s plan will allow Canada to make up lost ground as the pandemic eases. It will inject new dynamism into our economy.”

The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters even went one step further, saying Ottawa’s objectives were too modest and will not allow the country to catch up quickly enough over the coming months to compensate for the reduced number of immigrant admissions this year.

“Manufacturers are increasingly using immigration to supplement their workforce but there are not enough immigrants to meet the demand,” said Dennis Danby, its president and CEO, who represents 2,500 leading manufacturers in the country.

“If manufacturing is to be at the core of the economic recovery following the COVID-19 crisis, we must do more in prioritizing immigration from the economic stream.” (Toronto Star)

As Canada’s leading voice on smart population growth, Century Initiative continues to advocate not just for increasing our population, but for policies to support that growth through investments in education and in the national and urban infrastructure that will allow our communities to grow in a sustainable manner. We also need to prioritize supporting parents with a national childcare strategy, and our children with early education programs.

Now is the right time to invest in growing our population. Environics Institute’s recent Focus Canada survey shows that a record two-thirds (66%) of Canadians reject the idea that immigration levels are too high, and that Canadians recognize the critical contribution immigrants make to our economy and our social fabric. We have a tremendous opportunity before us and welcome the opportunity to continue working with gover(nment to seize it in the interest of future generations of Canadians. (Century Initiative)

Opposition critics

Opposition MPs took aim at the way the government has handled immigration throughout the pandemic and questioned how the new targets would be achieved.

Conservative immigration critic Raquel Dancho said the government is announcing new levels without a plan for how they will be safely implemented.

Jenny Kwan, immigration critic for the NDP, said she believes the numbers are “a bit of a hoax” because the backlog to process applications is so great that the targets will be hard to meet.

Christine Normandin, the Bloc Québécois immigration critic, said in French that Ottawa is taking the opposite approach to the Quebec system. She said the province takes only as many immigrants as it can process in one year, while Ottawa sets goals without taking into account its capacity to do the paperwork. (Globe)

That lower-end target is actually below the low end of the number of immigrants, pre-pandemic, the Liberals had planned to admit in 2021, pointed out NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan. 

“The Liberals demonstrate a lack of conviction in their targets and left the door wide open for immigration levels to decrease,” she said in a statement.

It’s also not clear how unused room is being carried over. 

For example: the Liberals had planned to admit 49,000 refugees this year. Next year, according to Friday’s plan, they are aiming for 59,500. 

While that looks like an increase of 10,000, the number of refugees who have actually arrived in the first eight months of this year was down nearly 60 per cent from 2019 arrivals. 

So it’s possible that the 2021 figures merely incorporate the shortfall from this year, as opposed to being an overall increase. Mendicino wasn’t clear when asked about that issue Friday.  (Canadian Press)

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the government must not overlook the compassionate aspects of the immigration system, such as removing travel restrictions for asylum seekers and ensuring permanent residence status for migrant workers in recognition of their contributions during the pandemic.

“The immigration department’s processing abilities is still spotty at best and serious investment in staffing, far beyond what we’ve seen so far, is needed,” said Kwan.

“Without these investments, applicants are to expect significant increases in processing times for years to come, which were already long before the pandemic.” (Toronto Star)

Tweets from CPC critic Dancho:

The Liberals have failed to layout a plan to  bring in newcomers to Canada safely. No widespread access to rapid tests and the 14 day quarantine is not a financial option for many people. #cdnpoli https://twitter.com/RaquelDancho/status/1322270115921055746?s=20

They have no plan to better resource immigration department to fulfil the levels promised.  Liberals are simply adding to their massive, years-long immigration backlogs that fail to provide potential newcomers with certainty, dignity or respect. #cdnpoli https://twitter.com/RaquelDancho/status/1322270117384851456?s=20

The ministers announcement did not acknowledge the economic devastation caused by COVID-19 or the hundreds of thousands of Canadians facing unemployment since the pandemic hit and how these new ambitious immigration numbers will impact them. #cdnpoli https://twitter.com/RaquelDancho/status/1322270118290903040?s=20

International organizations

Either way, that Canada even continues to open its arms is welcome, said Rema Jamous Imseis, the UN refugee agency’s Canadian representative. 

“In an era of travel restrictions and closed borders, refugees continue to be welcomed by Canadians,” she said in a statement.

“The significance of this lifeline and the deep generosity of Canadians cannot be overstated.” (Canadian Press)

Academics

While experts had expected Ottawa to stay the course with its immigration goals — given the government had publicly stated immigration would be key to restarting the post-COVID-19 economy, they were surprised the Liberals would decide to take it up a notch.

Although critics have raised concerns about high immigration given that the country’s jobless rate hovered at nine per cent in September — after peaking at 13.4 per cent in May — from 5.6 per cent before the pandemic, some experts say the government is on the right track.

“The timing for expanding the program now is good. But I’m surprised how high the targets are they have set. I don’t know how realistic it is from a bureaucratic administrative perspective,” said Carleton University economist Chris Worswick, who specializes in the economics of immigration.

“I commend the government for thinking about immigration again. I was worried that it wouldn’t happen. I wonder if they’re being too ambitious. I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll end up at a good place.” (Toronto Star)

Immigration lawyers and advocates

Immigration and refugee experts welcomed the move to grant permanent residency to those already in the country.

“I’ve always thought, even before COVID, that it makes a lot more sense to target people who are already educated here, or have work experience here, or at least have lived here. … These are people who are already demonstrating their genuine interest in Canada,” immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges said.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said her organization has urged the government to give permanent residency to those in Canada.

“What we need to see is that realization actually reflected in actual operations, actual policies, because at this point, the way the Immigration Department is working is running in completely the opposite direction,” she said. (Globe)

We need #StatusforAll and Fairness.
Today’s Canada’s Immigration Plan does neither. pic.twitter.com/xhsJtrZBtj— Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (@MWACCanada) October 30, 2020

Contrary to what the government is saying, there is NO INCREASE in IMMIGRATION LEVELS. Instead, there was a 150,000 shortfall in immigrants in 2020, and the government is trying to catch up for it by increasing 50,000 each year for the next three years. But as COVID-19 continues, these promises are unlikely to be kept.+

The overall proportion of new immigrants remain the same, with the primary focus on “high waged” immigrants. However, to qualify for these immigration programs, migrants must show 12-24 months of high-waged work. With COVID-19-related job losses disproportionately impacting racialized people, many migrants don’t have access to these jobs and won’t qualify. No plan has been announced to ensure full and permanent immigration status for all migrant and undocumented people right now.+ Many migrants — including care workers and former international students — were not able to complete requirements for permanent residency in 2020 due to COVID-19. However, there is no meaningful increase in numbers on fixing of rules for these migrants in today’s announcement. (Migrant Workers Alliance)

On the right

Recent polls have shown that Canadians are weary about increasing immigration levels in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

A poll commissioned by True North found that an overwhelming 76% of Canadians strongly agreed with the idea of a temporary pause until a coronavirus vaccine is developed and unemployment drops to pre-coronavirus levels. Note: Polling firm unknown and thus is not credible

The poll results show a surprising consensus among political parties as well with 67% of Liberals wanting to impose a temporary pause, 66% of NDP voters and 89% of Conservatives. 

“Given today’s global circumstances of a public health pandemic and severe economic crisis, now is the perfect opportunity to revert back to our successful historic immigration model, listen to the majority of Canadians, and take another pause,” True North’s founder Candice Malcolm wrote when the poll was released. 

“It’s time for our leaders to listen to the people and do what’s best for our country.” (“True” North)

While the government touted the need for migrants to strengthen the economy, the unemployment rate in Canada, the unemployment rate currently stands at 9%, from an all-time high of 14% in May. Over 8 million Canadians applied for emergency COVID relief benefits in the form of the CERB. Canada’s unemployment rate was around 5% prior the pandemic. (Rebel Media)

Links:

https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2020/10/30/canada-raises-immigration-targets-to-record-level-eyeing-covid-19-recovery.html

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-canada-aims-to-accept-far-more-immigrants-in-next-three-years/

https://www.nationalnewswatch.com/2020/10/30/open-arms-in-an-era-of-closed-borders-pandemic-era-immigration-plan-to-be-released/

https://www.centuryinitiative.ca/2020/10/30/statement-by-century-initiative-in-response-to-todays-announcement-on-canadas-new-immigration-levels-plan/

https://www.rebelnews.com/canada_to_increase_immigration_targets_after_covid_disruption

https://www.facebook.com/notes/migrant-workers-alliance-for-change/immigration-announcement-fails-to-ensure-fairness-status-for-all/10101179406532842/

Hyder: Canada needs to get its stalled immigration system back on track

The Canadian big business perspective, arguing that Canada should go back to the previous immigration targets given a larger population means more consumers and hence business revenues.

However, it focusses on GDP, not per capita GDP, it ignores the fact that previous recessions have hit hardest on recently arrived immigrants and have long-term impact on their earnings.

Moreover, an almost cult-like fixation on previously announced target without any serious reexamination of whether they remain appropriate is  incredibly short-sighted. The only interesting point is the the reference to Anna Triandafyllidou’s innovation proposal for virtual immigration (for knowledge industries), the rest is simply repeating previous arguments:

The effects of COVID-19 on Canada’s economy can be measured in many ways. Some are obvious: millions unable to work, thousands of firms forced to close their doors, more than $250-billion in emergency government spending.

Less obvious, but of potentially greater significance to Canada’s long-term economic health, is the impact of the pandemic on immigration.

Canada’s ability to attract newcomers to its shores has long been one of this country’s greatest strengths and competitive advantages. Immigration enriches the social fabric of the nation while boosting the economy, helping to offset a low birth rate and an aging population.

Immigrants bring energy, skills, new ideas and entrepreneurial spirit. They start companies, fill skill shortages, buy houses and pay taxes.

It’s no exaggeration to say – as Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, declared in a speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto last Feb. 28 – that the future of Canada “hinges on immigration.”

The minister couldn’t have foreseen it at the time, but less than a month later Canada responded to the global pandemic by temporarily closing its borders to all non-essential foreign travellers.

Overnight, the country’s intake of immigrants – which had been expected to hit 341,000 this year – slowed to a trickle.

In April, Canada welcomed just 4,140 new permanent residents, 85 per cent fewer than in the same month in 2019. Since then, the pace of admissions has gradually picked up, reaching 11,000 in May and 19,200 in June.

Still, at the current rate we can expect to see 170,000 fewer permanent residents entering the country in 2020 than planned, according to a recent report by RBC Economics.

The collapse in immigration means Canada’s population is currently experiencing its slowest growth since 2015. That will have important implications across many sectors, including residential construction, industries with labour shortages, and Canada’s postsecondary education system.

Canada currently ranks third in the world as a destination for international students. In 2019, 642,000 foreign students injected more than $22-billion into the economy, supporting 170,000 jobs.

The good news is that, despite the new coronavirus, Canadian officials are continuing to process new applications for permanent and temporary residence, albeit at a reduced rate due to physical distancing and other pandemic-related restrictions.

In addition, Mr. Mendicino has removed at least some of the obstacles standing in the way of would-be immigrants. Recently he introduced a special “one-time” pathway to permanent residency for refugee claimants who are working in front-line health and long-term care jobs.

He also announced that visitors to Canada who have a valid job offer will be able to apply for a work permit without the normal requirement to leave the country. The temporary policy is aimed at helping employers who continue to face challenges recruiting and hiring international workers during the pandemic.

Such measures are welcome, even though they won’t make a big difference to Canada’s immigration numbers.

There’s no getting around the fact that the longer the COVID-19 pandemic persists, the more difficult it will be for the country to meet its goal of more than one million new permanent residents between 2020 and 2022.

What can be done to close the gap? Anna Triandafyllidou, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration at Ryerson University, has proposed a workaround for highly skilled people who have a job offer in Canada but are unable to get here because of travel restrictions. Under the rules, they can’t obtain a work permit or a social insurance number until they enter the country, which means they can’t be paid.

The solution, Ms. Triandafyllidou says, is technology. Her idea is to issue digital work permits and temporary SINs that would allow these “virtual immigrants” to start working remotely for their Canadian employers while they wait for the health emergency to abate.

Beyond that, immigration must be a pillar of Canada’s postpandemic economic recovery plan. In November, the federal government is expected to table its next multiyear immigration plan. It should move to make up lost ground by raising the targets for 2022 and beyond. The incremental growth should emphasize economic-class newcomers – those admitted through Express Entry programs, the Provincial Nominee Program, Quebec’s programs, and other federal streams such as the Atlantic Immigration Pilot.

The demographic factors that drive Canada’s need for immigrants have not changed due to COVID-19. Neither, it seems, has public support for immigration. In a Leger poll this summer, respondents agreed by a three-to-one margin that newcomers will help rather than hurt Canada’s long-term economic recovery. The sooner Canada’s immigration system gets back on track, the better.

Goldy Hyder is the president & chief executive officer of Business Council of Canada.

Source: Canada needs to get its stalled immigration system back on track

Don’t make election about immigration, corporate Canada tells political leaders

Not surprising. Focus on the economic case (and economic class of immigrants) is where support for immigration is strongest:

Big business leaders worried about Canada’s aging demographics have been urging political parties to avoid inflaming the immigration debate ahead of this fall’s federal election.

The head of the lobby group representing chief executives of Canada’s largest corporations said he’s already raised the issue with political leaders who are shifting into campaign mode for the October vote.

With signs of public concern about immigration, Business Council of Canada president and CEO Goldy Hyder said he’s promoted the economic case in favour of opening the country’s doors to more people.

“We are 10 years away from a true demographic pressure point,” Hyder said during a meeting with reporters Thursday in Ottawa. “What I’ve said to the leaders of the political parties on this issue is, ‘Please, please do all you can to resist making this election about immigration.’ That’s as bluntly as I can say it to them.”

The message from corporate Canada comes at a time when public and political debate has focused on immigration, refugees and border security, to the point it could emerge as a key election issue, tempting parties fighting hard for votes.

A poll released this month by Ekos Research Associates suggested that the share of people who think there are too many visible minorities in Canada is up “significantly,” even though overall opposition to immigration has been largely unchanged in recent years and remains lower than it was in the 1990s.

Canada has been ratcheting up its immigration numbers and it plans to welcome more. The Immigration Department set targets of bringing in nearly 331,000 newcomers this year, 341,000 in 2020 and 350,000 in 2021, according to its 2018 report to Parliament.

As the baby-boomer generation ages, experts say Canada — like other western countries — will need a steady influx of workers to fill jobs and to fund social programs, like public health care, through taxes.

Thanks to the stronger economy, Canadian companies have already been dealing with labour shortages. Healthy employment growth has tightened job markets, making it more difficult for firms to find workers.

“Every job that sits empty is a person not paying taxes … We have job shortages across the country and they’re just not at the high end,” said Hyder, who added his members are well aware that immigration has become a tricky political issue.

“We’re worried about that in the sense that the public can very easily go to a xenophobic place.”

Hyder also brought up Quebec Premier Francois Legault’s election promise last year to cut annual immigration levels in his province by 20 per cent. Legault won the election after making the vow, even though Quebec faces significant demographic challenges.

Earlier this week, the Bank of Canada noted the economic importance of immigration in its monetary policy report. Carolyn Wilkins, the central bank’s senior deputy governor, said without immigration, Canada’s labour force would cease adding workers within five years.

“The fact we’ve got people that are buying things, that are using services, that are going to stores, that need houses — well, that creates a little bit of a boost to the economy,” Wilkins told a news conference in Ottawa when asked about the subject. “Certainly, immigration is a big part of the story in terms of potential growth, which will feed itself into actual growth.”

Hyder said he’s personally part of a group called the Century Initiative, which would like to see Canada, a country of about 37 million, grow to 100 million people by 2100.

The group was co-founded by Hyder and several others, including two members of the Trudeau government’s influential economic advisory council — Dominic Barton, global managing director of consulting firm McKinsey & Co., and Mark Wiseman, a senior managing director for investment management giant BlackRock Inc. Hyder was a business consultant before joining the business council and was once a top aide to federal Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark.

The Century Initiative wants Canada to responsibly expand its population as a way to help drive its economic potential.

“Demographics are not going to be relying on just making babies, we’re going to need immigration,” Hyder said. “We have to be able to communicate that from an economic perspective, but cognizant of the social concerns that people have.”

Source: Don’t make election about immigration, corporate Canada tells political leaders