Another week in Canada, another poll showing Canadians wary on immigration. This one coming from the CBC which had put to 3,100 Canadians: ‘do you think we should accept more refugees?’ and ‘do you think too much immigration is bad for Canada?’ Both got sizeable majorities in the affirmative; a result broadly echoed in poll after poll this past year.
And just like in those past ones, respondents of the CBC poll got a tut-tutting from migration minister Ahmed Hussen about how ‘we’re an aging society’ and ‘we need new workers’; his go-to talking point that seems to populate nearly every press release, speech, and official response his press office generates.
But in fairness to Hussen, the ‘greying Canada’ boilerplate gets a routine airing from nearly every corner of our elite establishment. At every chance they get it seems, big business, establishment columnists, NGOs, the other major political parties (including the Conservatives), bombard Canadians with the warning that if we get any greyer, our 2 trillion-dollar economy will collapse and social security will go bust.
So why are Canadians apparently unconvinced by this argument? Why are so many still nonplussed with a refugee program that’s now bigger than America’s (and not just in percentage terms, but in raw numbers) and with top-line immigration rates that are as high as they’ve been since 1913?
For one, importing millions of people from abroad every few years to try to “correct” the country’s demographic situation no doubt strikes the public as an incredibly blunt and drastic solution to a highly complex issue. After all, our supposed ‘greying crisis’ is due to the post-war baby boom when Canadian women were having four kids on average. How to offset such an unprecedented and one-off blip?
Experts agree. Economists George Borjas (Harvard), Paul Collier (Oxford), David Foot (U of T) and Byron Spencer (McMaster), to name a few, have all found demographic considerations in immigration planning to be futile. The US government has acknowledged as much. Ours too, in reports published by The Economic Council of Canada and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
Canadian economists Craig Riddell, Christopher Worswick and David Green write that it’s next to impossible to simply replace whole segments of the population. “The results are definitive”, they write; “[i]mmigration is not a means to substantially alter Canada’s age structure and impending increase in the dependence ratio… immigrants are just too varied in their age structure.”
Nearly as conclusive on the issue is Boom, Bust, and Echo co-author, Daniel Stoffman. He says stopping Canada’s aging trend “would require impossibly large increases in immigration.” In the case of the US, which has a similar aging profile as ours, he points to a United Nations’ report that calculated they’d have to increase immigration by 10 times just to make a dent.
But taking Hussen on faith, if fixing the worker-retiree imbalance is so important, why not treat it like other national problems and solve it ourselves? Instead of looking for an easy immigration fix that only puts a pause on the problem, we should pursue longer-term, structural solutions: like creating more apprenticeships and training programs; pushing young people into fields of study that have better income prospects; increasing labour-market participation by deterring employment insurance programs from keeping able-bodied people from re-joining the workforce, etc.
In actual fact, in the face of our aging trend, it might be best to do nothing. According to economists, whole segments of the job market are due to become redundant with the onset of automation and robotization. Those without jobs will include low- and semi-skilled areas, as well as high-skilled ones. The problem may not actually be that we have too few young workers, but too many.
Why else Canadians are wary on this argument is that it tries to justify a nation’s demographic overhaul on cold economic considerations. To talk about importing people to take the place of the children we’re not having is to reduce our fellow citizens, trusted neighbours, teammates and loved ones down to mere economic integers. Canadians are more than just workers and consumers. To ignore this is to say we’re replaceable; as if nations are just a sum total of individuals or a mere series of postal codes.
Finally, instead of denigrating an aging Canada, why not celebrate it? A big reason Canadians on average are older than before is because we now have far lower mortality rates and much longer lifespans. These trends are tied to our advances in medicine and our healthier lifestyles and they’re as clear a sign as any of our nation’s progress.
Canada’s “aging crisis” is routinely invoked by disingenuous special interests to push things like cutting private pensions or privatizing health care. Usually, however, critics call out these efforts for what they are, and push for alternatives that put the nation first. Why doesn’t this happen when the same interests call for the re-engineering of Canada’s population?
As polls apparently attest, the public is skeptical of the elite’s arguments for ever-higher immigration and social security alarmism. Perhaps Canadians know they’re just fine the way they are and don’t need fixing!
Robert Stewart is the PPC Candidate for Spadina Fort-York.
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