Election 2008 commentary by James Bissett:
Rather than climbing over each other promising to increase the number of immigrants to Canada, party leaders should acknowledge that levels are already too high
The Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, September 18, 2008
We sometimes complain about politicians who don't do what they promise to do after they get elected. Ironically, it is sometimes much better for the country when some of these promises are broken.
Let's hope, for example, that the promises made by our political leaders to raise immigration levels and provide more money for immigrant organizations are not kept.
Either our political leaders do not know that Canada is facing an immigration crisis or they care more about gaining a few more so-called "ethnic voters" than they do about telling the truth about immigration.
Canada is taking far too many immigrants and the leaders of all the parties are promising to take even more.
There are already close to a million immigrants waiting in the backlog to come here. They have all met the requirements and by law must be admitted. There is also a backlog of 62,000 asylum seekers before the refugee board and even if these are not found to be genuine refugees most will be allowed to stay. In addition, there are between 150,000 and 200,000 temporary workers now in the country and here again it is unlikely many of them will ever go home.
Despite these extraordinary numbers, the Harper government wants to raise the immigration intake next year to 265,000. The Liberals and the New Democrats have said they want even more, as much as one per cent of our population, or 333,000 each year.
These are enormous numbers and even in the best of times would place a serious burden on the economy and on the already strained infrastructure of the three major urban centres where most of them would end up.
Let's face the facts -- when there is a turndown in the world economy and dire predictions of serious recession or worse this is not the time to be bringing thousands of newcomers to Canada. In July of this year Ontario alone lost 55,000 jobs -- so what is the rationale for more immigration? The fact is there is no valid rationale. There is only one reason why our political parties push for high immigration intake and that is they see every new immigrant as a potential vote for their party. This is not only irresponsible; it borders on culpable negligence.
There are few economists today who argue that immigration helps the economy in any significant way. Studies in Canada since the mid-1980s have pointed out that immigration has little impact on the economic welfare of the receiving country and similar studies in the United States and Britain have reached the same conclusion. Comprehensive studies by George Borjas, the world's most renowned immigration economist at Harvard have shown that immigration's only significant impact is to reduce the wages of native workers.
Our politicians justify their desire for more immigrants by raising the spectre of an aging population and tell us immigration is the only answer to this dilemma, and yet there is not a shred of truth to this argument. Immigration does not provide the answer to population aging and there is a multiplicity of studies done in Canada and elsewhere that proves this.
Moreover, there is no evidence that a larger labour force necessarily leads to economic progress. Many countries whose labour forces are shrinking are still enjoying economic buoyancy. Finland, Switzerland and Japan are only a few examples of countries that do not rely on massive immigration to succeed.
Productivity is the answer to economic success, not a larger population.
Most Canadians assume that our immigrants are selected because they have skills, training and education that will enable them to enhance our labour force but only about 18 to 20 per cent of our immigrants are selected for economic factors. By far the bulk of the immigrants we receive come here because they are sponsored by relatives or because of so-called humanitarian reasons and none of these have to meet the "points system" of selection.
This is why over 50 per cent of recent immigrants are living below the poverty line and why they are not earning nearly the wages paid to equivalent Canadian workers.
It also explains why a study published this year by professor Herbert Grubel of Simon Fraser University revealed that the 2.5 million immigrants who came to Canada between 1990 and 2002 received $18.3 billion more in government services and benefits in 2002 than they paid in taxes. As Prof. Grubel points out, this amount is more than the federal government spent on health care and twice what was spent on defence in the fiscal year of 2000/2001. Isn't it time our party leaders were made aware of this study?
In the discussions about immigration we never hear from our political leaders about the serious environmental problems caused by the addition of over a quarter of a million immigrants each year. Most of our immigrants are coming from developing countries of Asia where their "ecological footprint" is tiny compared to the average Canadian but within months of arrival here the immigrant's footprint has increased to our giant size.
We have already experienced the impact mass migration has had on the health, education, traffic, social services and crime rates of our three major urban centres. It may be that cutting the immigration flow in half would do more than any gas tax to help reduce our environmental pollution.
If immigration is to be an issue in the election campaign then let us insist that the real issues be discussed and that our politicians contribute more to the debate than promising higher levels and more money to immigrant groups. Canadians and immigrants deserve better.
James Bissett is a former executive director of the Canadian Immigration Service.