Dr. John Samuel
It is often said that Canada is a country of immigration. However, about a third of immigrants Canada receives re-migrates either back to their old country or to the U.S. At the same time, there is a great reluctance on the part of Canadian governments to allow in a larger number of immigrants.
Lately, with the Conservative government in power, this reluctance has been re-enforced though Brian Mulroney, whose Tory government once ruled, can be considered to be the most pro-immigration Prime Minister Canada has had in recent years. During his time, the annual level of immigration doubled to 300,000.
Since that time, both the Liberals and now the Conservatives have ignored the importance of immigration levels. Between 2005 and 2007, annual immigration levels declined from 264,000 to 236,000! The Liberals at one time had proposed 1% of Canadian population as the “right” level for immigration, but did nothing to achieve it. They just made lip service to it.
The current Conservative Prime Minister had said (as past records confirm) that he does not want Canada’s ethnic make up to be altered significantly by immigration, despite the country’s below replacement fertility levels, rapidly aging population, small size of the population and about a million people well-qualified people waiting in the immigration queue.
Of course, immigration has its pros and cons. The pros were pushed at one time and the cons at other times. Nowadays, the cons are promoted by some whose views are very right wing, so much so one wonders from where these dinosaurs are appearing.
The arguments in favour of more immigration could be summarized as follows:
a) Canada owns the second largest chunk of real estate in the world – next to Russia. Though most of it is frozen most of the time, if a tenth of Canada’s land along the U.S. border is settled at the density of Holland (not a poor country), Canada can have 400 million people according to a McGill University study. How much good Canada could have done for the world, if the country (another super power?) had the kind of strength backed by 400 million people?
b) Canada’s population is aging rapidly and if the proportion of workers continue to decline in relation to the retired, who will pay for their pensions unless the retirees keep on working to their early graves.
c) Immigrants make more jobs than they take, according to a study in the 1980s of the Canadian government. Their entrepreneurship is significantly stronger than that of average Canadians, as statistics shows. Immigrants are job makers, not job takers.
d) Immigrants are more innovative and according to U.S. studies they have registered more patents than the rest of population proportionately. That leads to more productivity and prosperity in the longer run.
e) Immigrants, according to statistics, are likely to commit fewer crimes than the rest of the population.
f) Immigrants, with the exception of refugees, bring investment capital to Canada. As a result, all Canadians benefit.
On the other hand, the cons for immigration are:
a) Immigrants make our cities overcrowded. The economies of scale can be reaped by this way of settling, one could claim. Also, governments can and should provide incentives for immigrants to settle in smaller towns. There are many ways of doing this.
b) Immigrants earn less than the native born thus bringing down per capita income. However, even if they earn less in the initial 10 years or so, they still earn a lot more than what they would have earned in their former countries and therefore, would be more satisfied.
c) Immigrants are mostly non-white and create tensions by their presence in Canada. This is not the fault of immigrants. It is the fault of the receiving society and needs to be corrected. Canadians are living next to the only super power (despite the recent financial melt down) in the world where a black man has more than a 50-50 chance to become the next president of the U.S.
d) It needs resources to re-train and equip immigrants to make them productive. True. But it is much cheaper, and takes only a shorter period, than producing a child, bringing him/her up providing resources to feed, clothe, house, educate and train them.
e) More immigrants would exacerbate the problem of deterioration of the environment since someone in North America produces more pollution per capita than an Asian, African or Latin American – the areas from where they come. The response to this could be that a rise in living standards everywhere would soon eliminate this difference per capita re. pollution.
On balance, Canada could become a much stronger country with more immigrants than fewer.
(John Samuel is managing editor of South Asia Mail and has been a senior public servant in the Canadian government including the post of Chief of Immigration and Demographic Analysis. He founded and headed several community organizations and is currently an adjunct professor at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.)