Immigrants are our bread and butter and the census proves it
Haroon Siddiqui - The Star
to a friend
There are more of us — 33.47 million, according to the census. But far too many of us are aged 65 and up — 5 million. The proportion of seniors will, in fact, grow more rapidly in the coming years as the first wave of baby boomers reaches 65.
Therefore, we need more young people in the workforce. We need them for our collective prosperity and, especially, to pay for our pensions, old age security and health care.
Therefore, we need to make more babies. But we are not, to the extent we need to. Canada’s birth rate of 1.67 children per woman is well below the minimum of 2.0 required.
Therefore, we need to get more immigrants, which we are.
Immigrants already provide two-thirds of our population growth. By 2030, they will provide 80 per cent.
It is they who are primarily responsible for Canada having the fastest population growth among G8 countries, most of which are struggling to maintain population levels.
It is immigrants who are fuelling population growth in every region of Canada. Even Atlantic Canada is attracting immigrants.
It is they who are primarily fuelling the boom in population and real estate in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, the three metropolitan areas that account for 35 per cent of our total population.
It is they who are also responsible for the growth of smaller cities — the 33 urban centres where more than 23 million Canadians now live.
Ontario is still attracting immigrants but not at the rate it used to, for two reasons. Immigrants (and the Canadian-born, including Ontarians) go where the jobs are (in the West). Ontario has also lagged behind other provinces in matching immigrants to job vacancies and in helping to settle the newcomers.
Whereas Canada has always been dependant on immigrants, we are more dependent on them now than ever before.
This is well understood by governments and businesses, even if not by a noisy anti-immigrant rump that keeps railing against immigrants.
Yet we remain inept at managing immigration. The problems that have long plagued the system continue to.
Ottawa still cannot match the immigrants it recruits to the skills required in the workplace. By the time it gets around to identifying, interviewing, processing and landing an auto engineer in Canada, the auto sector has restructured itself and automated that job.
And Ottawa continues to recruit physicians who will never be allowed to practise their profession in Canada.
A new report by the Toronto-Dominion Bank urges the obvious: that Ottawa do a better job of matching immigrant talent to the requirements of the marketplace. This is best done by focusing on long-term demands of the job market.
Yet the Stephen Harper government has been doing the exact opposite: finding short-term solutions to labour shortages. It has done so by increasing temporary worker visas, as opposed to recruiting the right immigrants who would have a stake in integrating and becoming good citizens.
Short-term visas were once reserved mostly for migrant agricultural workers — about 25,000 a year from the Caribbean and Latin America. That was bad enough, given the complaints about exploitation and bad working conditions. But the Harper government has used that template for other workers, of whom about 250,000 have been admitted. This is not much different than Germany, Holland and others recruiting Turkish guest workers in the 1960s, and ending up with ghettoes of “foreigners” who never integrated because they were thought to be temporary workers.
The TD report makes a good suggestion: that the recruitment of temporary workers be left to the provinces, which know their labour market requirements far better than the federal government, and that Ottawa should concentrate on the long-term needs of the economy.
The corporate sector and the self-regulated professions also continue to be a hindrance. They still do not readily recognize foreign credentials and experience, despite repeated promises by politicians at both the federal and provincial levels. This has led to underemployment or unemployment for immigrants, whose skills we should be using to the fullest, for our mutual benefit.
Another study, by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, also released this week, lists “desperate” labour shortages as the No. 1 barrier preventing Canadian companies from being competitive.
Hundreds of thousands of jobs are going begging, as companies cannot find the right skilled workers, either among immigrants or among the aging Canadian workforce.
The problems are all well-identified, yet the solutions are hard to come by, either because of incompetence or lingering anti-immigrant prejudices.