It’s time to grow the country
Next year Canada will celebrate its 150th birthday, and, as we enter what is hopefully a positive new era with a new federal government, we have the opportunity to grow the country.
Over recent years, Canada’s annual rate of immigration has been around 250,000 new permanent residents per year. This represents comfortably less than one percent of the total population year-on-year. In order to ensure that Canada can take its rightful place as a serious player on the global stage, it needs to grow its population in a managed, thought-out, and sustainable manner that benefits newcomers and Canadians alike.
Alas, a country where more than 70 percent of permanent newcomers settle in three cities — Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver — is a country that cannot truly grow or maximize its potential. Not only are we not quite getting enough people, but those that are coming continue to settle in our largest cities, to the detriment of smaller cities, towns, and communities across Canada.
This point was recently driven home by former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna, who last month wrote in the Globe and Mailthat Ottawa should require a portion of new immigrants to live in Atlantic Canada, where the median age is now eight years older than in Alberta. A country that has regions in which the median age is coming up on a decade more than that which exists in other regions is a country that has a severe imbalance.
So how can we optimize economic immigration so that Canada, the country, benefits, rather than solely its largest cities?
If we are to retain a points-based system — and I believe we should — we should be thinking not just about the immediate consequences of individuals and families settling in Canada, but also how they will fare over years and generations.
Families bringing dependent children should benefit. These children ultimately enter the Canadian work force at the beginning of their careers, providing much-needed labour and creativity, while also enlarging the tax base.
Further, applicants with family already in Canada as permanent residents or citizens should also benefit. There should not be any affidavits of support or other hoops to jump through. If you have an immediate family member residing permanently in Canada for at least a year, you get points. This currently happens for Federal Skilled Worker eligibility, but should also be the case within the Comprehensive Ranking System.
As for employment, it is of course preferable if newcomers have a job on arrival, but it should not be the be-all and end-all. Newcomers with highly defined skill sets may have a job on arrival, but the whim of the market may result in them being out of a job not long after. Should we really go all-in on one job offer over the potential of an applicant during the course of his or her career?
The existence of something akin to an area of training list, which already exists in the Quebec immigration system, would provide an indication to candidates as to which professionals Canada needs and who is most likely to immigrate successfully. In being able to create and change the list on an ongoing basis, the government of Canada would have an increased role in adjusting the number of immigrants received in different occupations.
The other problem with placing so much emphasis on one job offer is that Canada, a vast country, will always have certain regions that are, at a given moment, more economically robust than others. This creates a rush towards those regions, which only serves to exacerbate the demographic and economic disparity between regions that I have already outlined.
Canada has an incredible opportunity to replenish and enliven its struggling regions, and believe me, there are many of them. If we can do that while also providing an up-front, clear, and fair immigration system to candidates, while also incentivizing employers and provinces to engage more deeply and consistently at the federal level, there is no limit to what we may be able to achieve.