(Image Credit: Sharon Hahn Dalin via flickr.com; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
(Note: This is a guest column by Bhav Shah, who can be reached at email@example.com)
Views of a post-secondary student who arrived in Canada as a toddler two decades ago, on the challenges that lie ahead for young people in Canada, and possible solutions.
“Canada, what happened?” is a question I ask myself often. Reports of an increase in crime in our transit stations, stabbings, long lines to access basic services such as passports or long lines to see your family doctor or board a plane are things you believe happen in other countries but not Canada. I believe that there are many reasons for the economic and social problems in Canada today, but they can broadly be categorized into, too much demand, and not enough growth.
The government of Canada now invites over 400,000 immigrants as permanent residents per year with another 500,000 international students and temporary workers. Last year Canada’s overall population grew by over 1 million people! In contrast, when my family moved to Canada, we invited around 250,000 permanent residents and 100,000 people on non permanent status. While the government announced these increases, it did not however announce a parallel plan to increase the housing stock or health clinics to accommodate the larger population. In fact, that is one of the problems we face today. There is no coordination between various levels of government; the federal government sets immigration numbers, but the healthcare system, the education system, or the public transit system are all managed by the provincial or municipal governments. Controlling immigration numbers to housing starts is not a right wing or a “white” sentiment. The left wing NDP government of BC and its housing minister Ravi Kahlon – who himself is a visible minority – has desperately asked the federal government to tie immigration numbers to housing starts, as it is his government provincially who must deal with the challenges on the ground for all people immigrants and the native population.
The cold hard reality is that in Canada today we don’t have the economic growth needed to fund our expenditures despite high levels of both taxation and debt. We can debate what policies are needed to grow the economy, however what can’t be debated is that our economic growth is anemic. “Over the last ten years real GDP per capita grew just 0.8 per cent a year on average in this country, its lowest rate of growth since the 1930s.” (Cross, 2023). The government – regardless of the political party – cannot sustain in the long term a country with the social programs Canadians need and expect such as healthcare and infrastructure unless they dramatically grow the economy. Otherwise, we get the current situation, which is poorer service quality, higher taxes, higher debt which leads to higher inflation or a combination of all of those things.
Putting aside economic numbers for a moment, it is important to highlight the tremendous mental effect that the current situation places on the people. I come from a working-class immigrant family who struggled in the early years in Canada. However, due to tremendous sacrifices by my parents and the belief that in Canada anyone could get ahead, they eventually achieved economic and social success. My parents always reminded my brother and I that it didn’t matter what our economic situation was today or the colour of our skin, or the accent of my parents – because, armed with a Canadian education, hard work, and the free market economic system of Canada we could not only hope to do better than our parents but that we could have a better materialistic and social life than they did. While my personal situation isn’t as bleak as many other young people, I like them see no path forward to home ownership. The old saying of just move is also not possible, as in Vancouver there is a geographic land shortage while in Ontario small towns one hour or 1.5 hours away can also cost north of 1 million dollars. Even Calgary and Alberta more broadly aren’t as affordable anymore. More so than economic I believe that this feeling has created a sense of helplessness and a reduction of morale for many young people. If they are unable to manage their finances due to soaring housing costs, how will they then start families and contribute in other ways to their communities? Additionally, why will people take risks and start businesses or sacrifice, study, and work hard if at the end of their hard work they aren’t able to own anything and barely get by? You currently need an income of $268,000 to afford a home in Vancouver, $240,000 in Toronto, $99,000 in Edmonton. If you combine this economic struggle with the fact that the current government is erasing symbols of our country and telling young people that their country’s traditions and history are nothing to celebrate what you end up with is a bland society with low morale and no shared identity.
So how do we go about fixing some of these ills? First, I agree with the BC government that we must tie immigration numbers to housing starts. We must also increase home construction more broadly by changing the zoning laws in cities and develop on Ontario’s green belt. Next, we must reduce the red tape and recognize that Canada is a resource country and unleash our resource sector both the renewables and non renewables. Third, we should pursue what Ontario is now pursuing by allowing more private clinics to open while ensuring that new healthcare dollars are spent on health infrastructure and not wasted on administration. We need to give consumers a break by reducing taxes on home heating, natural gas, and groceries overall but also by eliminating the carbon tax. Finally, we must demand better from our bureaucracies and ministries. In the last 7 years employment in the public sector federally has increased by a whopping 31%. Despite this, Canadians are receiving poorer quality service. This sector needs to be reformed to ensure that we actually receive 30% better service. These changes will take a long time and they won’t fix all of our problems, but they will certainly be a step in the right direction to growing our economy and creating a better country.
Darshan’s note: This is a guest column by Bhav Shah, who immigrated to Canada as a toddler, grew up here and is now pursuing post-secondary education. The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. As I set up this website to become an independent voice in Canadian debates, I am also committed to helping other writers offer their ideas via my website. If you wish to publish your article here, please let me know by sending me a message through the Contact page. Thank you.
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