Douglas Todd: The downside to increasing low-skill migration to Canada

Good overview of recent research on low-skill migration and the government’s repetition of the Harper government mistakes before correction after a few years:
Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper found himself in trouble in 2014 for jacking up the number of temporary foreign workers coming to Canada to work at places like McDonald’s and Tim Hortons.
Then-opposition leader Justin Trudeau, labour unions and the media went into overdrive — attacking Harper for pandering to the business lobby by inundating the market with hundreds of thousands of low-skilled temporary foreign workers, many of whom were vulnerable to exploitation.
To the surprise of many, Harper responded to the outcry. He sharply reduced the number of guest workers and brought in laws encouraging employers to improve working conditions and hire more people who were born in Canada or had become permanent residents.

Source: Douglas Todd: The downside to increasing low-skill migration to Canada

Douglas Todd: How does Indigenous reconciliation square with big business?

Understandable on the one hand that residents are critical of the lack of consultation but ironic that settlers did not consult Indigenous communities when establishing farms and cities:
Leaders of the 4,000-member Squamish Nation, who are behind one of the most dense property developments in Canadian history, have signed an agreement with Vancouver councillors saying one of the five aims of its 11-tower Senakw project is to “promote further reconciliation between the Nation and the City.”
But to what extent will this Indigenous-controlled multi-billion-dollar skyscraper project, which is unprecedented in North America, actually contribute to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples?

Source: Douglas Todd: How does Indigenous reconciliation square with big business?

Douglas Todd: People of Indian descent a rising force in the U.S. and Canada

While the understandable focus is with respect to those of Indian descent holding leadership and senior positions, there is a larger group of workers in such industries as agriculture and trucking. From a political perspective, the outsized influence of Sikh and other Indo-Canadians reflects their geographic concentration: 47 ridings in Canada have 10 percent or more South Asian residents (2016 Census).

List: VM Ridings South Asian 10 percent

India is on the rise across the United States and Canada — in education, high-tech and politics.

The CEOs of five of the most powerful high-tech companies in North America have origins in India. They’re heading Microsoft, Google, IBM, Twitter and Match Group (which owns Tinder).And people of Indian ancestry are punching above their weight in politics in the U.S. and Canada. “There may well be an Indian-American president before there is an American Indian one,” says The Economist.

The educational achievements of people of Indian origin are above the norm in North America. And their are among the strongest of any ethnic group in the U.S. and Canada. This is not to mention one study showing people of Indian origin are almost four times more likely to own a home than the average Canadian.

India is the second highest source country for immigrants to the U.S., where 4.6 million have Indian origins, or 1.4 per cent of the total. They are mostly from southern India and tend to live in the U.S. South and East.

In Canada, India is the No. 1 source country for immigrants by far, accounting for 30 per cent of all newcomers since 2016.

There are 1.4 million people with Indian roots in Canada, most of whom are immigrants. They make up four per cent of the population. Generally from Northern India, most live in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.

Even though many are already flying high in U.S. high-tech, the impact of people of Indian background on Canadian business, especially, is growing sharply.

The influence of Indo North Americans is destined to expand further. Let’s look at why.

The tech sectors in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are expanding on the strength of a workforce where two of five are foreign born. And U.S. immigration rules designed to protect homegrown workers means our southern neighbour is losing thousands of Indian high-tech experts and others to Canada.

With the U.S. restricting its coveted H-1B working visa (including with a rule that no one country can be the source of more than seven per cent of recipients), many computer specialists are among the more than 217,000 people from Indian who can work in Canada as foreign students (they make up 30 per cent of all international students).

Canada also accepted 128,000 people from India last year as new immigrants, many of them programmers. And it’s on track for a similar number in 2022. That compares to just 39,000 immigrants from India in 2015, when Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were first elected.

Such business success is made possible in large part because educational levels soar among those of Indian descent.

In the U.S. three of four of adults of Indian background have bachelors degrees or better, according to Pew Research. That’s the highest of any Asian immigrant group, with Chinese Americans coming in at 57 per cent. The overall bachelor’s degree average in the U.S. is 38 per cent.

In Canada, educational achievement is also pronounced. A recent Statistics Canada study by Theresa Qiu and Grant Schellenberg found 50 per cent of South Asian-Canadians (mostly from India) had bachelors degrees or more. The portion rose to 62 per cent among South Asian women.

The portion of bachelors degrees among Canadians with origins in South Asia is much higher than the 24 per cent for white men and 38 per cent for white women, as well as the 17 per cent for Latin American men and 28 per cent for Latin American women. One of the few ethnic groups scoring higher than South Asians are Chinese Canadians.

And wages reflect education levels. The median household income in the U.S. of Indian households is by far the highest of any ethnic-Asian group, at US$119,000, according to Pew.

The typical Chinese American household brings in US$82,000. The median household income across the U.S. is US$67,000.

While U.S. figures on housing are not readily available, a consumer survey by Vivintel, based in Toronto, found that South Asians, a solid majority of whom are from India, are almost four times more likely to buy a homethan the average Canadian.

“Home ownership is very important to South Asians … because they’re told by their parents that renting is just throwing away your money,” says Rahul Sethi, a 38-year-old director of Vivintel who immigrated to Canada from India with his family.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the rise of Indians in North America is their oversized affect on politics.And it’s not just because of U.S. vice-president Kamala Harris, who went to an English-language high school in Montreal after her scientist mother from India, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, got a job researching breast cancer at McGill University.

Even though Harris is a front-runner as a future Democrat presidential nominee, she’s far from alone in U.S. halls of power.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, who surveys Asian American attitudes from the University of California, maintains Indo Americans are far likelier than other immigrant groups to get involved in politics as donors, voters and candidates. They tend to favour Democrats by a margin of three to one.

Ram Villivalam, a state senator in Illinois, says having Harris running to be president gives confidence to Indo Americans. Pramala Jayapal, the first woman of South Asian descent to preside over the Congress, is now one of four influential Indo American politicians, dubbed the Samosa Caucus, in the House.

A similar movement is happening in Canadian politics.

The Indo Canadian population, like the Indo American, leans liberal-left. More than 38 per cent of respondents to a 2021 YouGov poll would cast a vote for the Liberals — twice the number that planned to go with the Conservatives.

One in five backed the left-wing New Democratic Party, the country’s third largest party, which has been lead for five years by Indo Canadian Jagmeet Singh.

More than 12 per cent of cabinet ministers in the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are Indo Canadian, including Harjit Sajjan and Anita Anand. At least 14 Liberal MPs are Indo Canadian.

This impact list goes on in politics, as well as in business and education. Indo North Americans are on a roll.

Source: Douglas Todd: People of Indian descent a rising force in the U.S. and Canada

Douglas Todd: SFU prof targeted by China for groundbreaking Uyghur research

Not surprising but not acceptable:
SFU professor Darren Byler has been frequently attacked by China’s state media, which accuses him of being an agent of the U.S. government. Something he denies.
During four groundbreaking expeditions into China, the latest in 2018, Byler has witnessed many colleagues and research subjects disappear into the mass “re-education” camps and forced labour factories endured by more than 1.5 million Uyghur Muslims.

The author of In the Camps: Life in China’s High-Tech Penal Colony, was interviewed during a downtown Vancouver conference about the clampdown in Xinjiang. It was attended by 60 people, including Uyghur Canadians, international students from China, Muslim academics and activists.

Participants at the Simon Fraser University event required Postmedia’s commitment to protect their identities, so their families would not be harassed or threatened by police in China. There are about 400 ethnic Uyghurs in Metro Vancouver, the largest group of any Canadian city.

China’s authoritarian leaders are engaged in a planetary campaign to challenge and intimidate anyone who points to the incarceration, mass surveillance and draconian clampdown of the Uyghurs, which the Canadian government has called a “genocide.”

The Global Times, a tabloid newspaper arm of the Chinese Communist Party, has accused Byler of being an “anti-China figure” who makes “fabricated” allegations about “genocide and crimes against humanity” in the Xinjiang region of western China, which is inhabited by about 11 million Uyghur Muslims. The professor is sure China’s agents have attended his classes.

Byler has been with Uyghur people on the streets of China when police have stopped them, taken their mobile phones and demanded, “What is the password for your phone?” A specialist in high-tech surveillance, he says China uses 9,000 police surveillance hubs to routinely search personal data for evidence of resistance and what they consider a dangerous commitment to Islam.

Facial recognition technology is widely used in Xinjiang. Byler has first-hand knowledge of Uyghur students who have studied in North America being detained in China after omnipresent cameras found them walking outside their confinement. Families are often broken up when a Uyghur whom authorities deem suspicious is sent to a work camp, many of which produce textile goods for the West. The U.S. and Canada have laws banning such goods, but many argue they’re ineffective.

A prolific author and widely cited scholar, Byler, 40, is among the Western researchers who argue that China’s Han ethnic majority has in the past decade been escalating a colonialistic internal effort to smear the Uyghur people and systematically erase their Indigenous culture and faith. Chinese authorities often label the Uyghurs as “separatists” and “terrorists,” as well as lazy and slow.

One frequent tactic of the state-controlled Global Times is to try to silence Canadian criticism of the treatment of Uyghurs by condemning this country’s residential-school system for Indigenous children, which the federal government began in 1881 and for the most part ended by the 1970s.

This month, The Global Times enthusiastically reported on Pope Francisrecently referring to Canada’s attempt to assimilate First Nations through residential schools as “a genocide,” even while the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has referred to it as “cultural genocide.”

The Global Times article cited how Canada’s Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls also called it a “genocide,” while reporting that last year “more than 1,100 unmarked graves have been discovered at former residential school sites.” Canadian media outlets now largely refer to them as “suspected” graves.

The Global Times and China’s diplomats are making a clear attempt to claim, “You in the West have no right to criticize us, because look what you did to Indigenous people,” Byler said. “They’re kind of saying, ‘You did it. So we are doing it, too.’”

While Byler believes Canada’s residential-school system was a colonialistic attempt at assimilation, he notes the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has formalized a decades-long process of restitution in Canada, unlike in Australia and the U.S. And definitely unlike 21st-century China.

During the several years that Byler, a German American who is now a permanent resident of Canada, has spent living among Uyghur people in Xinjiang, he came to realize how outward-looking and sophisticated they were before China accelerated efforts to wipe out their culture.

One of many of his research papers that is drawing global attention explores how Uyghurs had been keenly taking courses from 2004 to 2014 in the English language, with students developing a special interest in novels about totalitarianism, like Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell.

Han Chinese prejudices often portray Uyghurs as “backward,” so the language students especially devoured books about Black Americans like Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Barack Obama. The paper, co-written with an unnamed Stanford professor, reveals the Uyghur valued learning about a society in which members of a minority could hold power.

But the English-language schools were shut, and teachers Byler knew were detained, after a 2014 visit by President Xi Jinping.

Even though most attendees at the SFU conference demanded anonymity, Byler introduced one local Uyghur who was willing to be interviewed because he has already gone public as an activist. Now a high-school science teacher in Surrey, Kabir Qurban came to Canada with his family from Afghanistan as a refugee.

Since he has become a high-profile activist in Canada, including with his own websites, Qurban said that sometimes he has attended Uyghur events, such as weddings, where attendees have asked that he not sit at the same table with them.

In this era of facial recognition technology, the Uyghur Canadians fear Chinese authorities could catch them together in a photo with the staunch critic of China. That could easily lead to a brother, sister, mother or father back in Xinjiang getting harassed by police. Or worse.

“It’s unfortunate,” Qurban said, “but I have to respect their stance.”

Source: Douglas Todd: SFU prof targeted by China for groundbreaking Uyghur research

Douglas Todd: Why China’s woes matter to Canada

While China’s numbers have largely recovered to pre-pandemic levels, they have declined as a share of total immigration, compared to India in particular. And not convinced that attracting the “ultra-rich” will benefit Canada and Canadians (part from Realtors, luxury car dealerships etc):

China is in turmoil.

The once-roaring housing market of the world’s second-largest economy is collapsing.The regime’s harsh zero-COVID restrictions are causing bitterness and anger.

Beijing’s stepped-up quest for “common prosperity” has many worried their savings and assets aren’t being treated as actually theirs — and could be confiscated by Communist party rulers in the name of equality.

More people, especially the rich, want to escape.

In the past 30 years, Canada has been one of the top destinations for people from China seeking a financial haven and more stable lifestyle. China has long been Canada’s second-largest source country, after India, for new immigrants.

And the country’s recent outbreaks of both financial and social chaos are igniting more desire to get out. A global investment migration consultancy, Henley & Partners, estimates 10,000 to 13,000 ultra-wealthy residents of China are seeking to pull $48 billion out of the country this year.

Canada is a big draw. The Migration Policy Institute found two years ago that Canada was the third most-popular choice for Mainland’s China’s migrants. That was before this summer, when China’s real-estate sales dived by 59 per cent compared to 12 months earlier.

Now, the 2022 Hurun Report, which surveys the desires of high-net-worth Chinese, has found their No. 1 choice for a country to move to is Canada.

But there’s a problem. The people of China, population 1.4 billion, face increasingly strict homegrown barriers to starting a new life abroad.

The Hurun Report, which each year measures the desires of rich people from China, found that this year that Canada had risen to become their No. 1 destination for immigration. (Source: 2022 Hurun Report)
The Hurun Report, which each year measures the desires of rich people from China, found that this year that Canada had risen to become their No. 1 destination for immigration. (Source: 2022 Hurun Report)

That’s even while there is an emerging term for the exit-minded phenomenon in China — “run-ology.” It’s used widely online to capture both the desire to leave the country and tips on how to do it.

While many Chinese are no doubt happy to stay in their country of birth, many are seeking another shore because of intense frustration over the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.

And that’s not all. A deeply felt mistrust of Chinese leaders came to the fore his month when video emerged of tanks blocking the entrances to some banks in China, ostensibly to stop people from withdrawing their money.

While debate ensued between official Chinese media and Western news outlets over the exact purpose of the tanks, few disputed that China’s police have crushed mass demonstrations after depositors’ funds were frozen as banks have been investigated for fraud.

The backdrop to the bank-savings anxiety has been President Xi Jinping’s stepped-up efforts to develop a patriotic “common prosperity.” It’s already lead him to crack down hard on, among others, the country’s more than 600 billionaires.

One of many notorious cases centres on billionaire Xiao Jianhua, a Canadian passport holder who disappeared after being abducted in Hong Kong five years ago. He is now apparently facing a secret trial in China

China doesn’t recognize that Canada has any diplomatic influence in regard to Xiao. Even though Xiao gave up his Chinese passport because China does not allow dual citizenship, China is still treating him, roughly, as one of its own.

In a related move, Beijing has announced strict 2022 curbs on all “non-essential” overseas travel, purportedly because of COVID. In the face of a spike in outbound trips, leaders have cut the number of travel passports and visas it will issue to a fraction of previous levels.

It’s also harder to get money out of the country.Canadian legal specialist David Lesperance, who specializes in migration for the rich, says he’s receiving three times as many requests from China that he had last year. And Jenga, a firm that handles international money transfers, reports it has seen demand from China double in 12 months.

That’s especially worrying for China in light of its troubled economy. The mammoth speculative bubble that was China’s real estate market, which accounts for an incredible 30 per cent of the nation’s GDP, has been bursting.

China’s Evergrande, the world’s most indebted real-estate developer, is on the verge of bankruptcy. Construction on its new residential towers has halted. China’s housing crisis has wiped a trillion dollars off the value of the sector.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has expressed concern the dramatic downturn in China’s housing market will spillover into Western economies, as many Chinese citizens’ debt grows and an economically weakened China is forced to retrench. The vacancy rate in major Chinese cities is now 15 to 35 per cent, according to the journal Foreign Policy.

Many Chinese nationals who have held onto their assets and wealth are looking elsewhere to invest, even as their leaders make it a challenge. China is talking tougher about enforcing its foreign exchange controls, which allows citizens to send offshore only US$50,000 a year.

But Canadian mortgage broker Ron Butler is among those who share the “growing belief that more capital from China will flow out to other countries’ real estate.”

Yes, we are hearing capital controls are running hot in China. But we know that a workaround is always found and tightness eventually slackens.”

In addition, people from China who obtain foreign residency or citizenship can move money out of their country more easily. Immigration lawyers and consultants say that’s a prime reason for the attractiveness of Canada, which already has 1.8 million people of Chinese ancestry, about half of whom are from China, mostly living in greater Toronto and Metro Vancouver.

Ottawa has long generally welcomed outside money, which typically goes into real estate rather than other businesses. B.C., through its foreign-buyers tax, beneficial ownership registry and speculation tax, is now one of the only provinces trying to monitor such offshore wealth.

Last year, Canada approved 31,005 individuals from the People’s Republic of China as permanent residents. While by no means are all well-off enough to immediately buy a dwelling, that was a jump from 16,525 migrants in the pandemic year of 2020. It was similar to 2019. The pace of immigration from China in the first half of 2022 appears more rapid than ever.

Meanwhile, others from China who want to put money into Canadian real estate, but don’t want to give up their Chinese citizenship, have been opting for Canada’s popular 10-year multiple-entry visas, which permits them to live here six months at a time. Although the Immigration Department didn’t provide the latest figures, Canada had previously issued more than three million 10-year visas to Chinese nationals.

Whichever way you look at it, recent developments confirm that what happens in China matters to Canada.

Source: Douglas Todd: Why China’s woes matter to Canada

Douglas Todd: B.C.’s housing-addicted economy not sustainable, experts fear

Same could be said for Canada as a whole. Good observations by those quoted in the article (Don Wright, David Williams, Stephen Punwasi):

B.C.’s economy is not as healthy as it might appear, since it relies too much on housing and newcomers to keep it above water, say prominent economists and analysts.

The real estate sector makes up a much larger section of the B.C. economy than in the rest of the country. The B.C. economy is heavily reliant on large-scale flows of people arriving each year from other provinces and countries, say the specialists.

They maintain B.C. has not been effective at developing its resources, businesses and industrial capacity in a way that increases wages and improves productivity. This B.C. phenomenon, going on for two decades, puts demand pressure on housing prices.

Don Wright, former head of B.C.’s civil service, says there is a general feeling among British Columbians that the economy is healthy because unemployment is relatively low and government revenues stable.

But there is a distinct possibility the economy is not sustainable, Wright says.

B.C.’s trade deficit has been growing steadily since 2005. The province, he said, is “spending about $28 billion more per year than we are earning.”

Both Wright and David Williams, senior policy analyst for the Business Council of B.C., say the provincial economy is too dependent on large-scale in-migration to bring in capital, which fuels the housing sector and props up spending on goods and services.

Last year, according to the B.C. government, the province welcomed a record 100,000 new people. About 33,000 came from other provinces, which is the highest amount in three decades. The other 67 per cent arrived from other countries, a lower proportion than normal, and most chose Metro Vancouver.

B.C. has an unusual economy because it hinges so heavily on “outside money;” on new arrivals coming in to “buy real estate and support consumption with income earned elsewhere,” says Wright, an economist who gives presentations on the issue to Ottawa politicians and business organizations.

“In essence we are ‘exporting’ the right to reside in B.C.,” Wright says.

“This has become our largest ‘export industry.’ It accounts for more than twice the annual level of forest industry exports. In the short run, this injection of dollars does create the impression of a healthy economy, but how long can this go on?”

The business council’s Williams generally agrees. A tremendous amount of B.C. money is going into “housing-related consumption,” he says.

But investment dollars are not flowing strongly enough into such things as new machinery and equipment and intellectual property rights, said the business economist. Those sectors can much more add to the “economy’s future productive capacity” and potentially increase stagnant wages.

In-migration should not be seen as a cure-all for the economic woes of Canada or B.C., says Williams.

He questions the way Canada, particularly B.C., depends on “record immigration levels to turbocharge population growth and housing demand.” Canadian economists believe immigration numbers have an overall neutral effect on real wages and gross domestic product per capita.

According to Stephen Punwasi, of Better Dwelling, B.C.’s economy is almost twice as reliant as neighbouring Alberta on real estate, which accounts for 20 per cent of B.C.’s GDP.

That compares to an average of 13.5 per cent across the country, a proportion that is still much higher than in the United States. If B.C.’s construction industry is included, it adds up to almost one third of B.C.’s GDP coming from real-estate related services.

Canada, and especially B.C., are “addicted” to real estate-driven growth, says Punwasi, who maintains it’s an unhealthy dependence that won’t be easy to break.

Wright, who was NDP Premier John Horgan’s deputy minister until stepping down last year, cites the danger of over-relying on new arrivals.

When 100,000 people move into B.C. and buy houses and services “it creates the illusion that the economy is strong. But for me the question is, ‘Is it sustainable?,’” Wright says.

“Let’s say somebody from outside B.C. retires to Comox and buys a place. And they’ve accumulated a lot of net wealth over their life. Whenever they spend money, it’s money that’s not being earned in B.C. In the short term it’s not bad for the economy, because it creates employment when somebody goes out and eats at a restaurant.”

But Wright doesn’t think relying on imported wealth is sustainable — for two reasons.

The first is that “you only get to sell off a piece of real estate to somebody outside the province once,” he said.

“And another reason is it’s not socially sustainable: Young people cannot afford a house anymore.” And too many new real-estate units are not suitable for families.

“A whole generation is going to be frozen out of the housing market, unless they have a well-capitalized, generous bank of mom and dad.”

What might happen to B.C. “when the party stops?” Wright asks, referring to a time when newcomers stop bringing in tens of billions of dollars each year from beyond provincial borders?

B.C., he said, will need to restructure by strengthening sectors such as forestry and mining, manufacturing and high tech — all of which are capable of producing superior middle-class wages.

“We better know,” Wright says, “how to rebuild the standard of living of the next generation.”

Source: Douglas Todd: B.C.’s housing-addicted economy not sustainable, experts fear

Douglas Todd: Secularism surges in Cascadia, for good and ill

Interesting study cited:

It was not long ago the logo for British Columbia was “The Best Place on Earth,” emblazoned across an idyllic image of mountain peaks.

The “Best Place” slogan outdid even “Beautiful British Columbia” and “Super, Natural British Columbia” for boasting, for linking the evergreen-covered West Coast to a sense of sacred specialness.

Now a highly researched book delves into just how much residents of B.C., Washington, Oregon — a bio-region known as Cascadia — lean toward “reverential naturalism,” in large part because they live in what could also be called “the most secular place on Earth” (or at least in North America.)

Religion at the Edge: Nature, Spirituality and Secularity in the Pacific Northwest (UBC Press) explains that Cascadia is at the forefront of cultural shifts across the continent. The book details how non-religion is more embedded here than anywhere else in North America — and how that powerful secularism comes with sharp political inclinations, to the liberal-left.

The scholarly papers in Religion at the Edge probe the kind of theories that an eclectic team of Canadian and U.S. writers dug into in the book I edited in 2008, titled Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia: Exploring the Spirit of the Pacific Northwest (Ronsdale Press). The upshot is secularism has grown even more intense in Cascadia in the past decade, especially in B.C.

A public-opinion survey done for Religion at the Edge shows half of B.C. residents (49 per cent) now have no religious affiliation, while 44 per cent of the people in Washington and Oregon make the same claim. That contrasts with other polls showing, across North America, only about one in five say they have “no religion.”

Religion at the Edge is edited by professor Paul Bramadat, director of the Centre for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Victoria (who muses about “The Best Place on Earth” marketing); Pacific Lutheran University religion professor emerita Patricia O’Connell Killen (who contributed to Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia) and University of Waterloo sociologist Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme.

The book’s focus groups show how Cascadia’s non-religious come in many guises — from those who are increasingly hostile to church, mosque and synagogue, to those who still harbour some private spiritual sentiments toward things like yoga and nature reverence.

Religion at the Edge spells out the political implications of a population that is half secular. The non-religious, for instance, are more likely to support access to abortion, same-sex marriage and fervently protecting the natural realm.

However, there can be a darker side to intense secularism, including loneliness, excessive libertarianism and a tendency to “homophily,” which is a technical word for being attracted only to those who are similar to oneself.

Why are Cascadians so non-religious?

I was struck by the insight that the white working-classes of the Pacific Northwest have since the 19th century been passing on: a tradition of irreligiosity, as described by Tina Block of Thompson Rivers University and the University of Victoria’s Lynn Marks.

That captures my upbringing, in which my resolutely atheist Metro Vancouver family taught that religion was for kooks. I like to think I’ve outgrown that world view, with more understanding of philosophy, religion and spirituality.

Even though immigrants are generally more religious than North America’s native born, Trinity College, Hartford, professor Mark Silk (who also contributed to Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia) makes the important point the Pacific Northwest is more secular because certain ethnic subgroups have different attitudes to faith.

Black people are much more religious than the overall U.S. population. But Silk points out that, compared to the rest of the continent, there are far fewer Black people in Cascadia, especially in B.C. (only one per cent).

B.C., compared to the rest of North America, also has far more people of Asian origin (28 per cent versus 15 per cent across Canada and 2.8 per cent in the U.S.). And Pew Research polls show Asian people, particularly East Asians, are more likely to reject formal religion.

When it comes to politics, Wilkins-Laflamme’s confirms Cascadians who are non-religious are far less inclined to support the Canadian Conservative Party or the American Republican party. That helps explain why the Liberals and NDP tend to do well in B.C. and Democrats mostly hold sway in Washington and Oregon, especially in cities.

Along with a fervent libertarianism that sees little use for traditions or institutions, residents of Cascadia have been leading supporters of assisted suicide and many, because they find sacredness in the natural world, have turned into fiery activists against climate change.

Despite Cascadians’ many similarities across the Canada-U.S. border, one stark difference lies in Canadian and American attitudes to Indigenous affairs. First Nations and Metis issues have been near-ubiquitous in Canada for two decades, including in many churches, while in Washington and Oregon interest continues to be negligible.

Key findings of Religion on the Edge are summarized in five points by Bramadat and O’Connell Killen, who observe that in Cascadia:

• A “powerful story” is emerging “that frames the region not just as the best but as the most secular place on Earth”

• Certain forms of Christianity have been “relegated to the periphery”

• Some kinds of spirituality (Indigenous, Buddhist, Hindu) are romanticized

• Practitioners of yoga, evangelicalism and mindfulness are evolving creatively

• There is a “pervasive, distinctive and reverential approach to the natural world”

A lot of this may sound good to many North Americans, particularly those on the liberal-left.

But as the book points out, visitors to the “Best Place on Earth” have been known to remark, “It’s hard to see the sky in the summer because of all the smug.” And Cascadians’ openness to the spiritual, but not religious, could harden into a flat secularism “without any reference to the metaphysical.”

The contributors also found many residents of Cascadia, especially the increasingly non-religious young, feel burdened by consumer culture, high degrees of loneliness, tenuous social bonds, weak institutions, a reluctance to commit and a restless state of “searching.”

Even Cascadians’ emphasis on the sacred wonders of nature may come with ethical blind spots. As some authors ask, “Can the population care as much for people as it cares for orcas, trees and pets?”

Finally, while a highly secular, low-cohesion culture has rapidly become the status quo in the Pacific Northwest, contributors to Religion on the Edge suggest convincingly (as did the writers in Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia) that we are a bellwether for what will happen to the rest of the continent.

Source: Douglas Todd: Secularism surges in Cascadia, for good and ill

Douglas Todd: Why Canadian wages never seem to go up

Good summary of concerns regarding low GDP per capita growth:
There is a startling admission buried in Chart #28 of the budget released this month by Canada’s Liberal government.
The chart in Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s budget quietly acknowledges a forecast by the OECD, a club of mostly wealthy nations, that Canada will likely come in dead last in the next four decades in regard to GDP growth per capita.The downplayed chart, one tiny aspect of the 304-page document, serves as a warning that individual Canadians, compared to the citizens of 39 other economically advanced countries, will in the next decades likely suffer the lowest real growth in their wages.

Freeland puts the blame for tepid wages almost entirely on Canadian businesses, which she claims “have not invested at the same rate as their U.S. counterparts.” The finance minister then boasts that Ottawa’s policies on housing and immigration will “strengthen the middle class and leave no one behind.”

But more than a few people suggest they are doing the opposite. Why, when the country’s GDP is expanding, have individual Canadians not been getting ahead? Why is their wage growth projected to lag so far behind citizens of other nations? And why are millennials taking the brunt of it?

The OECD predicts Canadians will experience the lowest growth in real wages out of 40 advanced economies. A downplayed version of this chart appeared in the Liberal budget. (Source: OECD / B.C. Business Council)
The OECD predicts Canadians will experience the lowest growth in real wages out of 40 advanced economies. A downplayed version of this chart appeared in the Liberal budget. (Source: OECD / B.C. Business Council)

David Williams, policy analyst for the Business Council of B.C., is helping ring the national alarm bells.

“Past generations of young Canadians entering the workforce could look forward to favourable tailwinds lifting real incomes during their working lives. That’s no longer the case,” he said.

“If the OECD’s long-range projections prove correct, young people entering the workforce today will not feel much of a tailwind at all. Rather, they face a long period of stagnating average real incomes that will last most of their working lives.”

Ottawa’s economic strategy is based on several “shaky pillars,” which include using “record immigration levels to turbo-charge population growth and housing demand in major cities,” Williams said.

“The political class appears to have lost interest in efforts to raise workers’ productivity and real wage growth through higher business investment per worker.”

Toronto-based analyst Stephen Punwasi says Canada is on its way to becoming the “next Greece,” referring to the way Greeks’ personal incomes tanked more than almost anywhere else after 2009 because of the housing-mortgage-ignited recession.

“Canada has embraced cheap growth by way of residential investment and debt,” Punwasi says. Canada has been putting too much emphasis on home construction, he said, as well as on printing money at a faster rate than almost any other country.

Nowhere in Canada, or even in much of the world, does the economy rely on housing as much as it does in B.C., which has a lower GDP per capita than Alberta and Saskatchewan. Almost 30 per cent of B.C.’s overall economy is tied up in real estate and construction. But the housing sector struggles to grow the economy, or wages, like other industries, which are more able to innovate and export.

The Liberals’ commitment to record immigration targets focuses mostly “on the benefits immigrants provide to older Canadians,” Punwasi said, including in the form of “strong housing demand and tax revenues.”But he cautions that Ottawa’s policies often exploit newcomers, who end up coming to the country unaware of flat wages, especially for the young adults who make up the bulk of immigrants, foreign students and temporary workers.

Donald Wright, the freshly retired head of B.C.’s provincial civil service, notes discouragingly that six out of 10 Canadians recently toll Nanos pollsters they expect their standard of living to worsen.

“Isn’t it time we took Canadians standard of living seriously?” Wright asks in presentations to groups of Canadian Senators and to the Canadian Association of Business Economists.

In addition to Wright’s concern about Ottawa’s inability to promote technological advancement and productivity, he joins Punwasi in worrying that policymakers are over-relying on population growth and cheap labour. It’s not helping the middle classes, he says.

“It’s time for some nuance on immigration policy,” says Wright, who was B.C. Premier John Horgan’s deputy minister. While remaining pro-immigration, Wright hopes for a more thoughtful debate about immigration in Canada, otherwise anti-immigration populists could come to dominate, as they have in other countries.

As it is, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s economic plan relies on increasingly record-high immigration counts — of 432,000 in 2022, 447,000 in 2023, and 451,000 in 2024. That compares to 250,000 when the Liberals were first elected.These targets, far higher than those in the U.S. or almost anywhere else, will impact economic equity in Canada, Wright says. “The evidence is very strong that the demographic group most adversely affected by higher immigration is the previous cohort of immigrants.”

That’s in part because the largest group of immigrants is disproportionately those between 25 and 40 years old, which is the same cohort as the already large baby-boom echo, also known as millennials.

An increase in immigration at this time amplifies the challenges millennials are having, particularly in the housing market, Wright says. “So, even if there is a valid argument for raising immigration levels, this is being done approximately 10 years prematurely.”

What makes it all the more unsettling is that the corporate-backed organizations pushing Ottawa to hike immigration targets, such as The Century Initiative and the Conference Board of Canada, have acknowledged that higher immigration leads to lower GDP per capita.

“So why,” Wright asks, “has it become the core of the federal government’s economic ‘strategy’?”

Source: Douglas Todd: Why Canadian wages never seem to go up

Todd: Immigrants have long hungered to own property, Other takes by Punwasi, Mason, Ibbitson and Anglin linking housing and immigration

Starting with Todd’s piece, with the money quote being from Dan Hiebert: “First and foremost, immigration policy is, essentially, also a form of housing policy.”

My apologies for the long compilation but wanted to bring the various threads together.

In one sense, housing, like climate change, healthcare, and infrastructure is one of the major externalities that most advocates for increased and high levels of immigration either fail to address or do so inadequately:

In 1891 the government of Canada awarded the first Ukrainian immigrants to Canada, Ivan Pylypiw and Vasyl Eleniak, 160 acres of land to farm.

They were among millions of struggling newcomers from Ukraine, Scotland, Iceland, Russia, France, Italy and elsewhere who responded to young Canada’s offer in the 1800s and early 1900s to homestead so-called free land to log, ranch or cultivate. Many other newcomers snapped up better-quality land for $1 an acre.

Those original quarter-section grids of land are still in existence on land-title and zoning maps from Nova Scotia to Vancouver Island. They serve as a reminder of the way Canada used old-fashioned advertising to get out the word more than 200 million acres of land were available to willing homesteaders.

Those parcels of dirt, some of which had been processed through Indigenous treaties and others not, served as tantalizing beacons to many people who had never been allowed in their homelands — because of poverty or discrimination — to buy property.

That quest for land continues today, serving as one of the key drivers of the world’s property markets.

And Canada’s immigration story dovetails with global history, as outlined in Simon Winchester’s best-selling new book, Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World. It details how the lure of obtaining property — in Europe, Africa, North America and the South Pacific — has for millennia shaped societies.

While all kinds of people want to own dwellings and land, studies show immigrants are even more convinced their future lies in property. An Angus Reid Institute poll found 59 per cent of Canadians believe it is “important to own a home to feel like a real Canadian,” but the proportion jumps to 75 per cent for recent immigrants.

Several Canadian academic studies reveal the rapidity with which immigrants invest in the housing market, the majority doing so in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Newcomers also spend considerably more, on average, on housing than Canadian-born.

recent Vivintel consumer survey, for instance, found South Asians in Canada (nine out of 10 of whom are born outside the country) are four times more likely than the average Canadian to buy a home.

“Home ownership is very important to South Asians. There’s prestige with owning land, being a homeowner. A few years after you arrive in Canada, it’s also seen as a key way to grow income,” says Vivintel director Rahul Sethi, 38, who came to Canada with his family.

Numerous studies show buyers from China have been eager to obtain high-end property in Canada. Vivintel has found the country’s 1.8 million ethnic Chinese residents are predisposed to luxury purchases. Two reasons people from China seek property in Canada are they don’t trust their own government and there is no private ownership of land, only leasing, in China.

Despite Canada’s long history as a destination for those who yearn for a better life and more prosperity, real-estate analysts judged it “controversial” only a few years ago to suggest that immigrants put pressure on housing and real-estate prices. But it’s now universally acknowledged, including by the development industry.

Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has increased immigration levels to a record of more than 400,000 a year, said this month: “One of the challenges we’re facing in Canada is our population, with immigration and other things has been growing over the past years and housing construction hasn’t kept up, which is a real problem.”

Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program, confirms “the idea of being able to own land” is what has brought immigrants to Canada for a long time.

“There’s freedom and economic and social security in owning. Compared to being a renter, ownership gives you a new sense of privilege.” When democracies began emerging in the 1800s Yan recalls how many countries did not initially allow tenants to vote.

Home ownership, Yan said, appeals to many, both domestic and foreign-born, because it’s a form of wealth that can be passed down through generations, and homes provide collateral to take out more loans to buy more properties.

Canadian real-estate agent Sahil Jaggi, 36, an immigrant from India, recently made the news for leveraging his initially small purchase of a detached home into an empire in which he now holds 17 rental properties. Going against his own self-interest, Jaggi said governments should be placing surcharges on property investors like himself.

Canadian studies by UBC’s Markus Moos, Queen’s Andrejs Skaburskis, SFU’s Josh Gordon and others show immigrants on average move quickly after arriving into home ownership. Some buy Canadian properties at least in part with money brought from their homelands, which the scholars say can create a “decoupling” between local housing prices and average wages.

In ground-breaking studies, UBC geographer Daniel Hiebert found the typical value of a detached Metro Vancouver home owned by a new immigrant is $2.3 million, compared to $1.5 million for that of a Canadian-born person.

Home ownership is “an important milestone for immigrants in the path towards social and economic integration,” Hiebert said in his report, echoing others who maintain a stream of foreign capital into a relatively small number of high-end properties in Metro Vancouver has had a trickle-down effect, raising prices on most of the city’s dwellings.

Forty-one per cent of the population of Metro Vancouver are immigrants. The difference between the property values of long-term immigrants (a category which includes people who came to Canada before 1980) and “Canadian-born” owners is not as extreme as it is between those who arrived since 2009.

Still, Statistics Canada researchers Guy Gellatly and Rene Morissette found that the average price of a detached Metro Vancouver home owned by a long-term immigrant was 17 per cent higher than the average price of a house owned by a native-born resident.

The history of Canada, and the world, leaves no doubt immigration has a major impact on the availability and affordability of property. As Hiebert says in one of his studies: “First and foremost, immigration policy is, essentially, also a form of housing policy.”

Source: Immigrants have long hungered to own property 

Punwasi provocatively writes about a “snow job:”

Times are wild. Canadian home prices are so out of control that prices in Orillia, Ontario (at an average of more than $900,000) are now on par with house prices in Los Angeles. You can buy a single-family home in the entertainment capital of the world, with its legendary sandy beaches and near perfect weather, or spend the same to live in Orillia, which has several Tim Horton’s and that sweet casino. This is a point I made earlier this month in a now viral tweet that was meant to be a lighthearted poke at the housing issue. Millennials and other aspiring homebuyers felt it nailed their growing frustrations about the real estate market.

But some felt the need to explain that prices will continue to rise due to immigration. It’s something we’ve all heard before — millions of immigrants over the next decade will come for more opportunity. Often people will say Canada is getting half a million more per year going forward, as if the Prime Minister can just pop into the immigrant store and pick up a few hundred thousand. The assumption is Canada has been a great place to immigrate to in the past, and it will be going forward. Is that actually true?

Many believe Canada is still a great place to live with lots of opportunity and free health care. But the truth is, Canada’s reputation as a place of opportunity is fading. It’s prohibitively expensive to live here, wages aren’t stellar, and lots of other places have quality health care. Even so, Canadians assume immigrants will come at any cost. Somehow they have endless cash to drive home prices, but also don’t have any option other than Canada. Let’s take a look at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity immigrants can’t pass up.

Anyone who’s thinking of buying or selling a home, or has read a newspaper, knows Canadian home prices are outrageous. Last week’s interest rate hike doesn’t change the reality that home prices just increased at the fastest rate in four decades, outpacing that of any of our G7 peers. National Bank of Canada estimates the median urban home price was $732,600 in the last quarter of 2021. By their calculations, a minimum household income of $147,000 is needed to carry the mortgage. That’s nearly double the median household income, already a hurdle for professional couples. It’s a near impossible task for young adults or recent immigrants.

The sky-high cost of real estate is just one part of the issue. The cost of living in general is a problem, and it’s not about to recede, as inflation hits a three-decade high. The Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC) recently surveyed newcomers on their experience. The immigration advocacy group found that one in five plan to leave within two years. This is primarily due to the cost of living, which 64 per cent felt would be a barrier for future immigrants.

Put bluntly, Canada’s ambitious immigration growth plans are based on a country that no longer exists, a place where you can settle and enjoy social class mobility. Immigrants are finding themselves in a similar situation to Canada’s young adults. Signs of diminishing opportunity and bleak economic growth have begun to appear. At the same time, countries where immigrants traditionally arrive from are starting to catch up and offer greater social mobility.

Pressure makes diamonds, right? Defenders of the status quo argue that a high failure rate is the cost of buying into a hypercompetitive economy. Sure, many immigrants have an entrepreneurial spirit and will take a calculated risk. Does that describe Canada and will it in the future?

There’s no doubt Canada has historically been a great opportunity for immigrants. It boasts of its gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate, which frequently tops the G7. It sounds impressive if you don’t understand that Canada is the smallest member and that small numbers are easier to grow. Without adjusting for size, it’s unclear if the output of people grew or the number of people did. By measuring GDP per capita, we see this more clearly.

From 2000 to 2007, Canada was booming. The real GDP per capita averaged 1.6 per cent per year — remarkable growth for a relatively mature economy. It narrowly beat the U.S. by 0.1 points, topping the G7 at the time.

This was the Golden Age if you were young or immigrating to Canada. Housing was the most affordable in the past 40 years, and the country had the best economic progress in the G7. Moving here was like getting in on the IPO without having to do the turbulent seed rounds in the ’80s.

It’s not hard to understand why. A smaller share of income on shelter means more money for investment or consumption, and one person’s spending is another person’s income. Shelter is, by definition, a non-productive asset. It doesn’t matter if you spend $100 or $1 million; the home does the same thing for the user after it’s built. Investment and spending, in contrast, is how economies grow and wealth circulates.

The Great Recession is where Canada’s low rate addiction sent it spiralling. Our GDP per capita fell to 0.8 per cent per year between 2008 and 2020, failing to outperform the OECD average. Canada placed in the middle of the G7 for performance. It’s fairly common for people to think Canada managed this period better due to the lack of a housing crash. Most don’t realize real home prices in cities like Toronto had yet to recover from the early ’90s high. Home prices didn’t fall much because they hadn’t recovered from the last crash yet.

The opportunity for young adults and immigrants began to close during this period. Low rates were arguably needed to mitigate the Great Recession’s economic risks. However, Canada became addicted to cheap and superficial growth.

The Bank of Canada (BoC) has worked very hard to reduce interest costs: Traditional logic is that lower interest rates mean smaller payments and more cash flow. There’s only one hitch — that only applies to rational players in a balanced market. In reality, people’s emotions can get the best of them.

The BoC twice demonstrated they misunderstood the relationship between low rates and home prices. The first time was in the 2021 revisions to its primary forecast model. Like a Christopher Columbus of monetary policy, it had apparently discovered that credit influences home prices. They must have missed that whole U.S. housing bubble-thing.

The BoC reinforced the impact of low rates on rising home prices in a December speech. Looking at the past 30 years of home prices and mortgages, they found a trend. Mortgage rates consistently fell, but the cost of housing continued to rise. When “interest rates fall, many households simply adjust by borrowing more,” explained Deputy Gov. Paul Beaudry to a provincial regulator last November.

Best-case scenario, they had no clue what they were doing. This is a point I explained in further detail to Canadian Parliament’s Finance Committee, when invited to explain Canada’s high inflation.

What does monetary policy have to do with immigration? A lot.

If capital has improperly incentivized use, it creates economic inefficiencies. One example is residential investment, the portion of the economy covering home construction, major renovation, and land transfer costs — which reached 9.56 per cent of GDP in Q4, the last financial quarter of 2021. For context, this is almost 50 per cent higher than the U.S. at the peak of its real estate bubble. It’s accepted that the share of the U.S. economy devoted to building more housing during this time was reckless.

Here is a telling statistic: About 1 in 59 working adults in Toronto are realtors. Think of how many public schools you see in a week. Now realize you’re more likely to meet a realtor than a public-school teacher in the city.

Real estate investment has also diverted capital from the country’s real productivity. One area where this is showing up, often associated with the immigrant experience, is self-employment. The segment recently fell to the smallest share of employed people since the 1980s (13.7 per cent, as of March). Why spend capital on a risky business that can create jobs when you can, if you’re lucky, buy a condo?

The shift from fostering productivity to non-productive assets is attracting international attention. The OECD’s forecast for Canada shows GDP growth per capita of 0.7 per cent per year from 2020 to 2030 — significantly below the U.S. rate (42 per cent lower) as well as the OECD average (46 per cent lower). Canada would occupy the spot Greece held after the global financial crisis, which is a fun fact that won’t make the immigration brochure.

The slow growth has already set off alarms in Canada’s business community.

“Past generations of young Canadians entering the workforce could look forward to favourable tailwinds lifting real incomes over their working lives. That’s no longer the case,” said David Williams, who heads the Business Council of British Columbia (BCBC). 

“If the OECD’s long-range projections prove correct, young people entering the workforce today will not feel much of a tailwind at all,” he wrote in an analysis this past February. “Rather, they face a long period of stagnating average real incomes that will last most of their working lives.”


Canada’s openness to immigration is pitched as civic-minded global leadership. When you dig into the data, it looks more like a bait and switch — a cover for inbound colonialism.

Policy-makers are focused on the benefits immigrants provide to older Canadians. They often cite strong housing demand, and tax revenues to help with demographics. These aren’t selling points to come to Canada — they’re the reason Canada needs immigrants.

Canada’s historically endless supply of immigrants might dry up in the not-so-distant future. The country’s largest source of immigrants by far is India, the source of a third of arrivals. A distant second is China, followed by the Philippines and Nigeria. It turns out PwC has forecast those countries will be larger and wealthier economies in less than 30 years. The most sought-after talent wants an economy looking to foster and support them. An economy looking for half their income for taxes and a third for rent isn’t as competitive as you might think.

Yes, 30 years is a long time. Not as long as it might sound, though, and competition for Canada’s immigration pool will emerge quickly. In India, the World Economic Forum forecasts that 80 per cent of households will be middle class by 2030, and drive 70 per cent of the economy. The government is fostering a “founder’s mentality,” which will build the entrepreneurial mindset. As a result, the country will become a “playground for growth and innovation.”

China may have an even faster trajectory, according to The Economist. The country is forecast to pass the World Bank’s threshold for high-income countries by next year. If it does so, that would be declared in the mid-2024 update. That’s right around the corner.

These are just a couple of countries Canada draws immigrants from. It would be silly to think other countries aren’t competing for the same pool of talent. It’s downright naive to think they aren’t scouting Canada’s domestic talent too.

Canada was a great place to immigrate and can be once again with a little more planning. However, the country needs to stop treating immigrants as commodities. At some point in the not-so-distant future immigrants might start to feel like they’re being catfished with an early 2000s picture of Canada.

Instead, the country should focus on an environment where young adults thrive. Foster a healthy business and innovation environment, and Canada won’t need the hard sales pitch. People will flock here.

Ignore the environment and sell an opportunity that no longer exists? Forget about attracting immigrants. By 2030, Canada might be trying to figure out how to just retain its young adults.

Stephen Punwasi is a data analyst and the co-founder of the housing news site Better Dwelling.

Source: The Great Canadian Snow Job: With sky-high real estate and soaring inflation, is Canada selling immigrants on an opportunity that no longer exists?

Gary Mason’s short take on immigration and housing:

There are other issues that aren’t easily fixable. More than 100,000 people poured into B.C. in the last year. You’re never going to build enough housing quickly enough to satiate the soaring demand those kind of immigration levels create.

Supply issues do result in rising prices. Immigration is the lifeblood of this country, but it will continue to come at a cost, surging house prices among them.

Canada’s politicians know that it will take various complex solutions to make real inroads in addressing our housing crisis. But it seems they’re too gutless to go there.

Source: Politicians are selling us a myth on housing: that more supply will be our salvation

Lastly, John Ibbitson’s short take with a bizarre and frankly unworkable suggestion to address the contradiction between increased immigration levels for parents and grandparents and addressing an aging population:

Fifth, immigration levels should be kept high, with an annual intake above 1 per cent of population or higher, and skewed heavily in favour of younger workers. International students, temporary foreign workers – anyone young and willing to fill a vacant job should be offered permanent residence. Family-class immigration should be restricted to bringing in the people needed to keep economic-class immigrants from returning home.

Sixth, because those immigrants need somewhere to live, we need to increase the housing supply. The number of high-rise apartments grew faster than other forms of housing over the past five years. Since the census also slows strong population growth in city centres, this suggests densification efforts are working.

Those efforts should continue, as should efforts to expand the stock of low-rise apartments and of suburban houses, many with granny flats. As our immigration intake increases, we will need more of everything.

Mostly, we should be honest with each other. We’re old and getting older. Let’s admit it and deal with it, now.

Source: The 2021 census tells us Canada’s population isn’t aging – it’s aged. Here are six ways we can adapt

Lastly, a reminder by Howard Anglin, former senior staffer to Jason Kenney at both the federal and provincial levels, of the significant links between housing and immigration:

The important questions of politics rarely change, we just change the way we talk about them.

Consider housing prices: in the 1970s, politicians understood that the problem was, at its most basic level, one of supply and demand. Today, it seems we only ever hear about inadequate supply. Politicians talk about the need for more houses, but they’ve stopped talking about why we need them. What happened to demand?

With starter homes in Vancouver and Toronto selling for 14 times the average income, the concern is especially acute right now, but it’s not new. In 1976, economist Gordon Soules interviewed two young Vancouver politicians for a book on rising house prices. See if you can guess who they are:

Concerned Politician 1: “First, it is essential that we relate both the local and the national housing problems to our immigration laws. Are we in fact merely trying to create new housing, as well as new employment opportunities, just to keep pace with the yearly average of 200,000 immigrants that Canada is admitting every year?”

Concerned Politician 2: “Foreign investors, many speculatively, are driving up home prices beyond the reach of British Columbians,” and in an “ideal” world “most land would be owned by the government and leased to the people.”

Surprisingly, the first quote was from Mike Harcourt, the future mayor of Vancouver and NDP premier; the second, promoting socialized real estate, was from future Social Credit premier Bill Vander Zalm. Even more surprising, there was consensus across political lines that immigration policy was a factor in rising housing prices. Vancouver’s progressive mayor Art Phillips chimed in, telling Soules: “I maintain that the primary approach to solving the housing problem in the Greater Vancouver area lies in the immediate reduction and future control of immigration.”

Sometime between then and now, we forgot about the demand side of that most basic of economic equations. In the meantime, Vancouver has added 1.5 million new residents, and house prices keep climbing. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other factors involved.

Construction feeszoning rulessocial housing policiesregulations, and commodity prices have all played a part, as have internal migration and federal monetary policy, but it’s magical thinking to imagine that doubling the city’s population hasn’t been a major factor.

The air of unreality extends to federal politics. At the same time economists are warning us about an over-inflated housing market, and the Governor of the Bank of Canada is worrying openly that “recent rapid increases in home prices are not normal,” the federal government is planning an historically large surge in immigration.

For most of the last decade, the federal government under both Conservatives and Liberals admitted an average of 275,000 new permanent residents to Canada each year, and about twice that number of temporary residents. Now, against consistent public opinion, the Liberals are promising to raise the number to more than 420,000. That is the equivalent of adding a new Halifax every year, or a new Alberta over the next decade.

Except, of course, that with most newcomers gravitating to the largest cities, it really means more demand in the places that already have the most expensive housing markets.

At some point, we forgot about the demand side of that most basic of economic equations.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Immigration levels are not a force of nature beyond our control. Each year, the federal minister of immigration tables a “levels plan” in parliament announcing the total number of permanent residents his ministry will process that year. There is hardly any policy discussion about the optimal level inside government, and even less outside.

Considerations like housing or infrastructure or health care don’t enter into it. In its 41-page immigration levels plan for 2020, the Trudeau government didn’t mention either of these issues. Nor did it note, let alone discuss, the environmental and ecological impact of moving so many people to the one of the most carbon intensive countries in the world — a concern that once led David Suzuki to declare that “Canada is full.”

A new Public Policy Forum report by the economist and former head of the B.C. public service, Don Wright, corrects these blind spots. The report offers several ways the federal government can raise the Canadian middle-class standard of living, including by shifting “from immigration policy that is focused merely on increasing GDP to one focused on increasing GDP per capita” and by reversing the downward pressure on Canadian wages and the rising pressure on housing caused, in part, by current levels.

The report’s discussion begins, as all such discussions invariably do in Canada, with the assurance, in so many words, that the author is not Donald Trump. In a country that took public policy seriously this disclaimer wouldn’t be necessary, but this is Canada where, as Wright accurately observes, “the promoters of large immigration numbers are quick to label as racist, parochial or small-minded any questioning of larger immigration numbers.”

The accusations are nonsensical, of course. Justin Trudeau’s immigration policy in 2016 wasn’t racist because the annual level was lower than it is today, nor is the current level xenophobic because next year it will be even higher. And when Pierre Trudeau cut annual immigration in half between 1967 and 1972 and then by 60 percent between 1974 and 1978, he wasn’t being “parochial or small-minded,” it was just part of the normal fluctuations in immigration levels that used to track economic and political conditions.

Wright believes that “the optimal level of immigration” is not only “a legitimate question of public policy debate,” but it should offer “a much more nuanced set of policy ideas than ‘more people mean a bigger GDP.’”

It should, for example, include discussion of things like “GDP per capita and how income is distributed” — things that matter because they directly affect our quality of life. Things like the cost of housing, which is the single largest expense for Canadian families and determines how long they have to climb the property ladder before they can afford to settle somewhere and help build the neighbourhood relationships that are so important for personal happiness and the communities that are necessary for social solidarity.

It won’t come as a surprise to residents in Vancouver and Toronto, but it is still shocking to read that their cities are, according to a study by Demographia cited by Wright, “more unaffordable than any American city.” Of Canadian cities, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa fall into the study’s worst category of “severely unaffordable,” while Calgary is “seriously unaffordable” and the homes of lucky Edmontonians are “only moderately unaffordable.”

According to Wright, “[t]here are multiple reasons why Canada’s housing has become so unaffordable, but it defies credulity to argue that high levels of immigration will not exacerbate the growing unaffordability of housing in Canada.” This is because “[i]mmigration levels of between 400,000 and 425,000 per year (the current target of the federal government) means an additional demand for approximately 170,000 new homes each year.” And, of course, “[c]lose to 75 percent of immigrants settle in these six major cities.” Supply, meet demand.

Nowhere is it written that Canada’s population must increase, year on year, forever.

In response to sluggish real wages and rising housing prices, Wright commits Laurentian blasphemy and wonders “[c]ould it not be better in the near term to lower the level of immigration, while significantly improving support to new immigrants, giving them a better chance to more easily integrate into the economic mainstream?” He doesn’t get into specific numbers, but it is remarkable enough that he even asks the question.

Wright’s proposal is modest, the kind of plan that would have received broad bipartisan support in Canada until quite recently, and still would in most of our peer countries. It wasn’t long ago that respected figures on the left like Bernie Sanders denounced high levels of immigration as serving the interests of big business rather than domestic workers, and in 2017 progressive darling Jacinda Ardern ran on a platform of cutting immigration to New Zealand by up to 40 percent, in part to address housing pressures. (She didn’t keep her promise, but her government is once again talkingabout reforming post-Covid migration policy to relieve the pressure on housing, infrastructure, and the environment.)

An even more ambitious plan, one that would tackle the housing crisis head on, would aim explicitly for population stability.

Nowhere is it written that Canada’s population must increase, year on year, forever. It isn’t ordained in the constitution that Toronto and Vancouver must absorb hundreds of thousands of newcomers every year, or that their downtowns must bristle with cranes and condo towers and their suburbs sprawl a little further each year up the mountainsides, along the lakeshore, and into surrounding farmland and greenbelts. Relentless urban growth is the result of political decisions made each year in Ottawa. It is a choice, but it isn’t the only choice.

In two articles, from 2012 and 2017, Anatole Romaniuk, the former director of the Demographic Division at Statistics Canada, offered his vision of what a stable population would look like and how it would work.

Romaniuk begins by challenging the assumptions of “the populationist agenda which postulates that growing and large populations are the forces that move economies forward and project a nation’s international might.” Chasing “relevance” — one of the undefined goals of the Trudeau government’s Century Initiative — is a mug’s game. We will never come close to matching the populations of China and India and our international reputation has never have been based on our population. Besides, the government’s job is to boost domestic quality of life, not diplomats’ egos or the interests of the bankers and global management consultants advising it.

Like Wright, Romaniuk takes pains to establish that his proposal is not anti-immigration per se and certainly not anti-immigrant. Romaniuk, an immigrant himself, believes that “[a] liberal society by its very nature cannot be a closed society” and “[w]hile immigration is not a solution to all our social and economic problems, it can be a part of it.” He simply wants us to consider, probably for the first time in a generation, what is it we want immigration to do, and then design a policy to achieve it. In other words, he wants us to think of immigration policy as policy, the same way we think about taxes or research funding, rather than as a feel-good commitment without real-world effects.

Romaniuk runs through the data, well-known to most demographers and immigration experts but rarely acknowledged by our politicians and pundits, deflating the commonly assumed benefits of our current high — and the even higher proposed — annual immigration levels.

For example, multiple studies have showed that there is little, if any, link between increasing immigration and per capita GDP growth; that the earning gap between new immigrants and the Canadian-born has persisted or widened since 1980; that the poverty level of new immigrants is more than twice that of the Canadian-born (and has almost certainly gotten worse during the pandemic); and, contrary to the most popular justification — keeping our pension Ponzi scheme afloat — it has only a modest impact on population aging (according to StatCan, even the high assumption on immigration levels would only lower our average age by one year by 2036).

This is the sort of stubborn data that our politicians either ignore or dismiss in favour of inspirational stories of individual success, but which no amount of wishful optimism can refute.

Reviewing Romaniuk’s 2017 article, Dr. Roderic Beaujot of Western University suggests that it would be possible to stabilize our population through a mix of slightly higher birthrates and slightly lower, but still not insubstantial, annual immigration: specifically, “a cohort fertility of about 1.7 and a net annual immigration of about 0.6 per cent [would] produce about zero population growth in the long run.”

Such a policy would only require us to reduce permanent immigration to 225,000 a year — about the number of the late Chrétien years and still much higher than the G7 average — and would draw on recent pro-familypolicy proposals to modestly increase the Canadian birthrate to about where it was in 2010, or where it is now in the United States. It may even be that, by cooling the demand for housing, and thereby removing one of the reasons young Canadians often cite for putting off starting or having families, lowering immigration might itself play a small part in increasing birthrates.

Population stability alone wouldn’t solve the housing crisis. There would still be a need for some of the supply-side solutions that have been proposed, such as zoning for fewer detached houses, more infills, shared living spaces, and clearing away regulatory barriers to allow us to just build more, more, more, anywhere and everywhere.

But a future of denser, taller, more crowded, and smaller living units isn’t everyone’s idea of an affordable housing solution. So, as we work on the perennial problem of supply, perhaps we can remember a time, not long ago, when politicians talked seriously about the demand side of the equation as well.

Source: https://thehub.ca/2021-07-23/howard-anglin-the-one-factor-in-the-housing-bubble-that-our-leaders-wont-talk-about/

Douglas Todd: The painful demographics of homelessness

Some interesting data:

They are injured construction workers who need to kill the pain, ex-soldiers with trauma, spouses escaping conflict and First Nations members who can’t get housing on their reserves.

Such histories are common among the men who make up 68 per cent of all homeless in British Columbia, according to Judy Graves, who spent three decades as a champion for people forced onto the street and into shelters, including as the city of Vancouver’s full-time homeless advocate.

“Many men become disposable at certain times in their lives,” said Graves. They wind up surviving in shelters, in tents or couch surfing because their jobs or families have fallen apart and they have been struck down by despair or succumbed to addiction.

Graves put forth many reasons why men are so overrepresented in B.C.’s latest homeless count, which was released this month and focused more than in the past on demographics. The count discovered 8,665 people in the province without shelter, a rise of 11 per cent from 2018.

Many of the men, according to 25 counts across the province, come from the unusually high proportion of Indigenous people, former military personnel and Black Canadians who are homeless.

Almost two of five homeless residents are Indigenous, even though Indigenous people make up only one in 20 of the population. Six per cent served with the military or the RCMP, which makes them “vastly overrepresented” among those without a home.

For the first time, the provincewide count included data on race. While it found 63 per cent of the homeless are white people, which is roughly equivalent to the overall ratio, it discovered three per cent were Black people, even though only one per cent of B.C.’s population is Black.

South Asian people comprised only two per cent of the homeless, which is much lower than the overall cohort of 11 per cent. And East Asians, including ethnic Chinese, accounted for just two per cent, even though they make up 12 per cent of all residents. Graves owed such findings in part to “strong cultural support for families.”

As someone who has taken part in many homeless counts and continues to meet with street people across Metro Vancouver, Graves has talked with men from a range of ethnic backgrounds and nationalities who have ended up desperate for provisional shelter.

Many had become addicted to opioids after becoming repeatedly injured in construction, the military, policing or other physically dangerous jobs, which are mostly held by men, she said. “They get caught between their pain and being out of the workforce.”

A lot of men she’s come to know have also left their homes because of conflict with a spouse or partner, which is the reason 14 per cent of B.C. residents reported they’re homeless. “That’s a really big one.”

While there is already a large amount of government housing provided exclusively for women, including transition shelters for those facing domestic violence, Graves said there is none specifically for men, including for fathers and their children. She believes there should be.

“I think marriage break up is actually harder on men than women,” she said, explaining that many women quickly gain support from their social network, while men often turn to drinking alone. “Men really need support and counselling right after a domestic conflict.”

The Ministry of Housing did not respond directly to many Postmedia questions about homelessness, including why there are no shelters distinctly for males given the government’s emphasis on putting every policy through a “gender lens.”

Instead, spokesperson Sarah Budd maintained the NDP government believes homeless women are undercounted; so it wants to provide them with more housing.

Graves calls Victoria’s approach “reverse gender politics.”

One of the reasons, Graves added, that such a large proportion of Indigenous men and women end up on the streets, living in tents or in shelters is a lack of housing on reserves across Canada.

“A lot of the housing on reserves was built 40 years ago and is falling apart,” she said, noting First Nations people on reserves aren’t permitted to own their own dwellings.

“It was also built only for families and is often unbelievably crowded.” There are, she said, almost no small housing units on reserves for single people, who are the most likely to need a place to live.

The number of foreign-born people who are homeless in B.C. almost doubled compared to the last count in 2018, rising to eight per cent of the total.

But that is far below their provincial average, which has immigrants, refugees and those seeking permanent resident status making up one out of three residents. Graves suggested that foreign-born homeless people might be undercounted since those who have “uncertain immigration status” would tend to hide from counters.

“People have to be trained on where to look.”

The Housing Ministry said in this year’s budget spending on “housing and homelessness supports reached more than $1.2 billion a year for the next three years — three times the level of funding in 2017.”

Source: Douglas Todd: The painful demographics of homelessness