Adam Owen: Accepting more immigrants than we can handle is not actually compassion

The second article, more critical of the government’s plans, in The Hub:

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser recently announced a plan to welcome half a million new permanent residents annually to Canada by 2025. 

A laudable goal, and one that plays to Canadians’ positive attitudes towards newcomers and the diversity that has become a core part of our identity over the last sixty years.

A recent Environics survey of 2000 Canadians showed 69 percent support for current immigration records; cynically you might argue this is aided by humanitarian tales of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees and the positive press generally around immigration, but it’s likely more reflective of national pride in something Canada has historically done better than our peers. 

Beyond tolerance, we take delight in the cultural variety and economic benefits that accompany every new Canadian. It is a part of every elementary school student’s curriculum and an article of faith for many Canadians.

But while the minister’s plans are worthy of praise, that faith could be jeopardized by the troubling reality of capacity gaps in our ability to properly welcome new immigration. 

In too many areas, Canadian institutions and economies fall short of being able to effectively empower new Canadians, ultimately disadvantaging them and those who are already here. 

Consider the backlog of immigration files our government already has on its hands. 

Of the 2.6 million total applications for temporary or permanent residence or for citizenship in backlog, nearly 1.5 million fall outside the government’s own service standards.

Of the 40,000 refugees Ottawa committed to resettling in August of 2021, fewer than 23,000 had arrived by this past October. Procedural and bureaucratic barriers have left key allies hiding in fear—victims of an all too Canadian prioritization of process over results.

And then there is the deficit of our intergovernmental relations, the most glaring example being Quebec’s insistence on limiting its own immigration and being as unwelcoming as possible to specific communities. Beyond Quebec, a rise in provincial sovereignty movements across the prairies weakens the federal government’s ability to direct national immigration with a centralized strategy. In a sluggish economy with little growth, the new Canadian who could have been a tool could become a crutch if dropped arbitrarily, absent of a bigger picture. 

The list goes on. Our inability to recognize foreign credentials and work experience. A lack of accessible family doctors. And let’s hope the children of these new Canadians don’t get a sore throat or runny nose.

But the most pressing hurdle is our country’s housing gap. According to a Scotiabank report released in January, Canada’s population-adjusted housing stock is the lowest in the G7.

Provincial and federal governments seem to appreciate the severity of the issue; each making semi-regular announcements on policies to get more housing built. But whether we have the labour and materials needed to build sufficient housing to service our current needs is an open question—even before accounting for an additional million Canadians every two years.

Taken together, a picture emerges that’s difficult to stomach: eager newcomers being dropped into communities that can’t support them, by bureaucrats so behind schedule and without the time or apparatus to consult with provincial partners, that foresight and planning is an afterthought.

Imagine the disappointment they will feel, navigating that process. And imagine, too, the potential for our sunny disposition to newcomers to grow into something less welcoming. 

As more Canadians see their housing options dry up, it will be tempting for elements of both political fringes to position immigration as a scapegoat. With gaps in our ability to set immigrants up for success, the government would make it even easier for that message to resonate with disaffected Canadians.

Of course, one silver lining of rapid immigration increases in the near term is it will give us the opportunity to identify and fix these problems before the challenges that face us in the decades ahead. Even the most conservative accepted forecasts for climate change point to mass waves of migration from extreme weather and resulting conflicts. 

Large parts of Canada, blessed as we are with a geography that will be insulated from climate change’s worst effects, will almost certainly see much of that migration. Our ability and willingness to accept the world won’t determine whether they will come (they will), but it will determine what kind of a country we will be; whether we are the beacon our teachers taught us we were, or something worse.

This government’s intent to increase immigration is a fulfillment of one of the best myths we have about ourselves, but to stay true to that ideal, this government must uncharacteristically go beyond the announcement and fix the creaking institutions and economies that immigrants deserve to be welcomed with. 

Failure to do so isn’t fair to tomorrow’s Canadians or today’s.

Source: Adam Owen: Accepting more immigrants than we can handle is not actually compassion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are we ready to accommodate these folks?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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