(Image Credit: pxhere.com, the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
Amongst the multiple things that built Canada, only immigration is treated as a Holy Cow. Regardless of changed circumstances warranting at least a relook at the policy & numbers, it is verboten to suggest that we do so, as we have done elsewhere.
After I wrote my previous article ‘The Coming Flood Of Immigration’, a friend responded by saying that (there is) ‘Lots of room in Canada… Calcutta has more people in one city than Canada’. Without going into the exact numbers, the statement is broadly correct. It is also a version of an argument that I have heard often, viz., that ‘Canada is a very big country’ (implying that there is room for many more people here than the current population). A little over a year ago, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said that Canada needs a new national policy to grow its population to 100 million. The idea isn’t new (there is even a charity working to have it adopted as official policy, ‘The Century Initiative’), but PM Mulroney’s endorsement does serve to lend it a lot of weight – for those who already agree with the idea.
Another reader pointed out that in light of Canada’s existing crisis on the housing front, increasing Canada’s population significantly would be a bad idea. This point had flashed across my mind while writing the article, but I did not delve into it – partly because the article was long enough already. As a side note, I should mention that my articles are typically 3 to 4 time as long as what is the norm in the mainstream media. For this reason (among others), I am deeply grateful to all my readers for generously devoting their valuable time to plod through my verbose explorations of various topics in my articles.
These responses, and others, made me realize that a separate article was necessary to show why our current policy on immigration needs a cold, hard reassessment. Unfortunately, much of the debate on this issue is mired in emotional arguments and pointing to facts that are no longer relevant. One of these arguments is that ‘Canada was built on immigration’. This is certainly true, but my question is whether our circumstances have changed sufficiently enough such that we need a departure from that past policy. In addition, there are factors that didn’t exist in the past (such as housing availability / affordability) that weigh heavily (or should) in deciding how much immigration is warranted if we want Canadians to continue enjoying the quality of life that everyone desires / expects. This has squarely to do with our capacity to add the necessary infrastructure and services that would maintain – if not improve upon – the present quality of life at a higher level of population. And lastly, a very important factor to consider is how our immigration policy influences the outcomes of the other policies that we have agreed are important for our present and our future well being.
PICKING A LANE
On that last point, what stands out for me first and foremost is that our policy on immigration (and the widespread sentiment for increasing our population to 100 million) is directly in a clash with our policy & push to reduce our CO2 emissions. Here is what I wrote about it over a year ago:
These numbers were off the top of my head. If we want more accurate numbers, then the per capita CO2 emissions in Canada were 15.5 tons in 2018 (see this link from the World Bank website), while the population in that year was 37.25 million (see this link of StatsCan). Taking that population to 100 million would mean an increase of 62.75 million. At the 2018 rate of CO2 emissions, that would mean an additional amount of CO2 emissions of 972.63 million tons every year. Of course, we expect that number of per capita emissions to go down (both via technological improvements and the policy of discouraging use of fossil fuels). As to how much this reduction will be in the next 78 years is anybody’s guess. But even if it were to drop to half of its 2018 level, the net addition to our CO2 emissions would be 197.63 million tons. So, even in that wildly optimistic scenario, we would be adding a material amount of CO2 emissions to the global total of emissions. However, being so optimistic appears to be a triumph of hope over experience; from 2005 to 2018, per capita emissions dropped from 17.1 tons to 15.5 tons, i.e., a mere 9.36%. Moreover, the low-hanging fruits have largely been picked. At some point, the law of diminishing marginal returns is bound to kick in, making it more and more difficult to achieve incremental gains in reducing emissions.
Curiously, the debate in Canada on this issue is dominated by talk of per capita CO2 emissions, without taking into account local factors such as weather and distances. These are important factors that cannot be brushed aside. For example, Qatar’s per capita CO2 emissions for the same year of 2018 were 32.4 tons, i.e., more than twice that of Canada (see this link from the World Bank website). But geographically tiny Qatar is largely a desert with a very hot climate, and its population is very small (only 2.85 million as of May 2022, see this link from the website of the Government of Qatar), so their total emissions are roughly a quarter of Canada’s. If the focus is on per capita emissions, Qatar is more worthy of ‘criticism’ on this matter. I wonder why we never hear in Canada about the very high per capita CO2 emissions of Qatar. Is it because their total emissions are much lower than ours? Or is it because doing so would be considered Islamophobic? In today’s climate of ever-increasing wokism, one can’t tell.
A SICKLY STATE
I have gone into the sorry state that our healthcare system is in, in a series of articles. In ‘Canada’s Healthcare Crisis’, we saw that the availability of hospital beds dropped by 64.3% between 1970 and 2019 (from 7.0 per 1,000 of population to 2.5), and wait times for specialist treatment increased by 124.7% between 1993 and 2019 (from 9.3 weeks to 20.9 weeks). In fact, the actual number of hospital beds went down by 54,000 between 1970 and 2019, from 149,000 to 95,000 – at the same time as the population went up by 77%. In a word, our healthcare system is in tatters and held together by duct tape.
So, the obvious question is: How prudent is it to seek to increase Canada’s population (whether to 100 million or to a ‘lower’ level) when we already have incontrovertible evidence that our politicians and other officials who are in charge of universal healthcare have made a total hash of keeping up with the rising demand for healthcare services? Let us not forget that they have achieved this feat while throwing 65% more money at it in population AND inflation adjusted terms, from 7.0% of GDP in 1975 to 11.6% in 2019 (see ‘Canadian Healthcare is NOT Underfunded’).
Further, as we saw in my article ‘Bitter Pills’, some 14.5% of Canadians do not have a family doctor (in technical / bureaucratic jargon, they use the term ‘primary healthcare provider’). From the accounts that I am seeing in the media, this situation is getting even worse in British Columbia now. Reportedly, nearly 1 million people there don’t have a family doctor, which is roughly 20% of the population.
As our population increases, all these problems will definitely get a lot worse. The point that I am driving at is that the immigrants of the future will suffer from this further deterioration in, and increasingly more inadequate supply of, healthcare services as much as the current Canadian population will. I find it morally offensive that we are encouraging more people to immigrate to Canada knowing that they will be able to enjoy a much-diminished quality of life (along with the rest of the Canadians) compared to now.
Let’s now turn to the other factor that affects our quality of life equally, viz., housing. Lately, this has been in the news a lot, both due to the crazy run-up in housing costs over the last few years as well as because of the sharp drop in housing prices in the recent months, as the Bank of Canada started ratcheting up the interest rates. But these are periods & events of an unusual nature and therefore should not form the basis of our analysis; it should be based on data from a period of normalcy (to the extent that things can be normal in these times).
Further, my focus here is on how the housing costs impact immigrants specifically. While we do know, intuitively, that a rise in population increases demand – and therefore the cost – of housing, it would be especially instructive to drill down on the data that shows the negative impact on immigrants in order to understand whether they are getting a good deal (or a raw one) out of our policy on immigration.
As reported by StatsCan for the year 2016, almost 40% of renters had a ‘shelter cost’ in excess of 30% of income. In comparison, only 16.25% of homeowners had a ‘shelter cost’ in excess of 30% of income. Let us remember that for the initial period after their arrival in Canada, close to 100% of immigrants are renters. Furthermore, they don’t have any credit history in Canada, and this may very well influence the amount that they have to pay as rent. At the same time, their income is at a considerably lower level compared to others (that is a separate topic in itself). This leads me to a hypothesis that needs to be studied scientifically, but it appears likely that among the new immigrant cohort, the ratio of renters paying more than 30% of their income is significantly higher than 40%.
If you think that is bad enough, it gets worse: another report by StatsCan shows that as of 2019, new immigrants were earning significantly less than their Canadian-born counterparts, by 20.7% (for men) and 23.8% (for women). Worryingly, this gap has widened over the two decades between 2000 and 2019. In 2000, new immigrant men were earning 20.1% less than Canadian-born, compared to 20.7% in 2019, and new immigrant women were earning 18.6% less than Canadian-born in 2000, compared to 23.8% in 2019. As we can see, the setback to men’s earnings (by about 3%) is modest (if that word applies here), while women have suffered far worse (by almost 28%).
With each such slippage in their incomes, the share of ‘shelter cost’ as a percentage of their income goes farther north of 30%. As their incomes slip farther behind their Canadian-born counterparts, new immigrants are increasingly left in a precarious position as they struggle to manage their budgets to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table. And if you think that is bad enough, it gets even worse.
On StatsCan website, there is an archived study (see this link) which concluded that the effect of “numerical wage reaction to migration-induced labour supply shocks (is that) a 10% labour supply shift is associated with a 3% to 4% change in wages.” This means that opening up the floodgates of immigration is going to make those very immigrants poorer. Historically, we were somewhat insulated against this because our immigration was focused on high-skilled prospective immigrants. In fact, this study mentions that aspect categorically:
Now that the government is set to bring in immigrants of ‘all skill levels’ (including via visit visa and temporary residency route, and not as ‘immigrants’ per se) as opposed to highly skilled ones, we can expect to see the ‘growing wage inequality’ that the study found in the US economy. I hope I have made it clear that it is the new immigrants who will bear the brunt of this ‘growing wage inequality’.
While it is true that Canada was built on immigration, it is equally true that immigration wasn’t the only thing that went into building Canada. Among those things, some were very good and worth being proud of even today, while others were not so good and worth discontinuing. In the former category, we have hard work, sacrifices, a never-say-die spirit, innovation, enterprise and (dare I say it) fossil fuels. In the latter category, we had slavery, dispossession of the local inhabitants, discrimination of all sorts (including one based on race) etc. We got rid of those negative parts (starting with the outlawing of slavery from 1834), while realizing that this is an ongoing process and the room to become a better society is always there.
The key factor in deciding whether something that contributed / contributes to building Canada is worth continuing (or discarding) is fairly simple: who does it benefit versus who does it harm? I find it extremely curious that we can (and do) have this debate in the most vigorous, vociferous and acrimonious manner possible when it comes to fossil fuels, but when it comes to immigration, saying that it may be time to *examine* whether the current high levels of immigration actually harm Canadians and immigrants alike is verboten. At the broader level, this is made possible because a whole school of thought has come into being which posits that a desire for lower immigration levels can only be a result of racism, xenophobia, white supremacy or some such nefarious motivating factor. It is never acknowledged that this ‘desire’ could be the result of a careful analysis of factors that impact directly on the health of Canadian economy and the quality of life of everyone (including immigrants) in Canada. In a nutshell, the debate has become emotional rather than being rational. But as we will see in the next segment, it is not just the pro-forever-rising-immigration-quotas side that is engaging in appeals to emotion.
THE ARCHIMEDES MOMENT
Of late, we have been hearing that some segments of the Canadian society are worried about white Canadians getting replaced by non-white immigrants. A recent poll by Abacus Data became the basis of a National Post article on ‘White Replacement Theory’. While I understand the concerns of these folks, I believe that they are articulating this in a singularly inept manner such that it harms their own objectives.
To start with, white people aren’t going to be ‘replaced’ so far as they stick around in Canada – nobody is going to take their place. What they are actually worried about is the dilution of the percentage of white population in Canada – and even this is a wrong way to look at this, in my view. What should matter is that we have a society composed of people who ascribe, as far as possible, to a cohesive set of beliefs while increasing Canada’s geopolitical competitiveness. It is necessary to clarify here that these beliefs (a) evolve over time (as they always have) rather than remain stagnant, and (b) may differ from each other without causing undue friction that erodes our unity and/or our global competitiveness. As should be clear from this, a Canadian’s race is irrelevant here. An historical precedent from India exemplifies this perfectly.
When Zoroastrians fled Persia (now called Iran) to flee Islamic persecution, their leaky boat reached the western coast of India, in what is now the state of Gujarat, at a place called Sanjaan. It was a tiny kingdom, and word soon reached the king that some foreigners had turned up on the seashore. Accompanied by his chief advisor and a retinue of soldiers, he visited the newcomers. Of course, language was a big barrier, but after they had understood that these were refugees seeking sanctuary, the chief advisor ordered that a sliver bowl and some milk be brought there. Then he filled the bowl with the milk right to the brim and showed it to the leader of the refugees. That leader understood what was meant: that this was a prosperous place, but there was no more room for more people there. He asked one member of his group to bring some of the powdered sugar that they had brought along with them, and poured it into the bowl full to the brim with milk. The milk did not spill over. His meaning was also clear, which the chief advisor understood: We will blend with the local population AND add to the quality of the local society just as the sugar has added to the sweetness of the milk in the bowl. Once this basic agreement had been reached, the two sides hammered out terms of agreement (despite the language barrier) whereby the Zoroastrians would get to retain their religious practices, but had to adopt the local dress and language. Today, the community of Zoroastrians in India is known as ‘Parsi’ (the name is likely derived from ‘Farsi’ meaning ‘of or from Persia’). They are as much Gujarati as every other group in Gujarat – although their Gujarati is a very specific dialect that sounds always mildly funny to the rest of the Gujaratis. Even though their community is tiny, they have had a vastly disproportionate impact on modern India in all fields including science, business and the arts.
Correspondingly, we should be looking for immigrants who can emulate those Zoroastrians and make Canada a better place in every respect. Individual ability to contribute aside, this process is also affected by the state that our infrastructure and other capabilities are in. But as we saw above, those capabilities are in no shape to make it better for the immigrants to improve their lives and make Canada a better place.
DETERMINANTS OF SUCCESS
While quality of life depends on many factors, I am of the opinion that housing and healthcare are the two pillars on which the entire structure stands. Any weakness in either of these two will impact greatly on the quality of life that members of a society are able to achieve. As we saw above, both these pillars are crumbling, and perhaps are even in a dilapidated state now. One would need to be ideologically zealous to believe that increasing the number of immigrants – which can often happen also via policies that aren’t about immigration per se – can be beneficial to either Canada or to the immigrants.
The other part of this equation is that people with more to contribute to the economy (via education and work experience that is valued in the job market) should be the ones that we want to come to Canada as immigrants. Instead, as the recently passed Motion M-44 asks the government to do, we are gearing up to accept foreign nationals ‘of all skill levels’. The federal government seems committed to acting on this proposal pronto – as CBC reported on June 11, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser is ‘working on a path to permanence for temporary workers’. This sets us – and, crucially, them – up for failure. The precise contours of the outcome will unfold over time, but we can be certain that the nature of that outcome will be disastrous for Canadians and future immigrants alike.