Can we discuss immigration without sinking into accusations of racism and xenophobia? Probably not.
Does that mean we shouldn’t have that discussion? Certainly not.
While Canada has done a better job of integrating newcomers into its population than have countries in Western Europe, many of the problems could easily surface here. Now’s the time to nip it in the bud. That probably means drastically curtailing, or even halting, this country’s unsustainably high levels of immigration.
Canada currently admits 250,000 immigrants a year, the highest per capita level in the world. Government officials, however, can provide no good reason for doing so.
There are, on the other hand, plenty of reasons to curb that policy.
Promoting a political review of immigration is the goal of the newly-created Centre for Immigration Policy Reform.
The organization is calling for Canada to take in far fewer newcomers, debunking many of the myths surrounding immigration. That includes the idea that our falling birthrate means we need more people to maintain our way of life.
Growth is not necessary for prosperity, says board member Martin Collacott, a former ambassador and currently senior fellow at the Fraser Institute where he studies immigration and refugee policy, national identity and multiculturalism, as well as related national security issues.
In fact, large numbers of recent immigrants cost billions more in social services than they pay in taxes. This is not the way to fund the costs of an aging society, including health care and retirement expenses, he says.
Where immigrants once came to this country and found work fairly quickly, eventually achieving middle-class lifestyles, that hasn’t been the case for more than two decades. Increasingly, new immigrants are lagging behind
Canadian-born citizens and earlier immigrants.
That reality is borne out by a study released this week showing a growing income gap between even highly educated immigrants and their Canadian peers.
Experts at the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform expect the disparity to continue because immigration levels are out of sync with economic reality.
“We have the highest per capita levels in the world, for no good reason. It’s a political decision. It has no connection with our economic or demographic needs,” says Collacott.
The longstanding number of 250,000 is too many. A more workable target? No more than half, and probably much fewer, he says.
Canada needs to be more selective, according to the agency. There’s no use bringing people here unless they can contribute, especially when the economy is in rough shape. Unemployment levels climb, but the government makes no adjustment to the number of immigrants. Even educated and skilled migrants are often unable to find jobs in their fields, or any job for that matter. On top of that, even those deemed good candidates – those with professional education and skills – are unable to find jobs here.
“We have to make a better effort to make sure those we choose have a better chance of success,” he says.
Since we have a problem integrating the newcomers already here, perhaps it’s time to stem the flow.
Many of those here now are mired in poverty, unable to follow the path of previous generations of immigrants who achieved better lives. Instead, the influx of large numbers of immigrants – most of whom end up in our major cities, almost half to Toronto alone – causes all kinds of problems. Our infrastructure deficiencies are showing: traffic worsens, transit is stressed as commute times grow, the demands increase on health care and housing becomes scarcer.
“We think Canadians are still positive about immigration, but there are problems in our big cities,” says Collacott.
“We have to ask, ‘What are the benefits to the people already here?’”
If you live in an area where immigrants tend to concentrate, you’re more likely to be asking that question. Areas of Canada that don’t receive many immigrants have a higher opinion of immigration than do those areas that receive many of the newcomers, he says. Earlier immigrants, who are also feeling the economic pinch, are included among the ranks of the concerned.
Newcomers are said to receive billions more in assistance than they provide in tax revenues. The exact cost of immigration is a tough call, however, as the expenses are spread out among all levels of governments and other agencies. The costs associated with those who arrive under the family reunification category are by far the highest.
On top of the money that comes directly from your pocket to support demands on the welfare and health-care systems, high numbers of immigrants tend to help drive up housing prices while acting as a restraint on wages, says Collacott.
Some employers and landlords might be happy with the outcome, but it’s not beneficial to the average Canadian.
Looking at all these pieces, the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform wants to see a public debate on the issue, forcing politicians to take action. They can do so by pointing out all the ramifications and dispelling myths that are bolstered by those who stand to gain at the public’s expense.
“One of the objectives of our organization is to connect the dots.”