(Image Credit: Richard Arthur Norton via Wikimedia Commons; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
As the issue of housing / international students / immigrants heats up, one side is pretending to want to close the barn door, while the other side is pretending that the animals are still in the barn, so closing the door is unnecessary.
Old sayings have a way of being politically incorrect, and some of the old sayings in Gujarati are brutal in this regard. As I saw the CBC report quoting Immigration Minister Marc Miller as saying that “Canada is on track to welcome around 900,000 international students this year”, I was reminded of an old Gujarati saying that “In a village of cross-eyed people, the same date occurs twice”. The comment by the current Immigration Minister goes counter to the indication given by the current Housing Minister, who is the former Immigration Minister, to the effect that it would be worth considering putting a cap on the number of students that Canada brings in. Let us remember that in 2022, Immigration Canada issued 551,405 new study permits. Therefore, increasing the number of study permits to 900,000 in 2023 would amount to an increase of well over 63% in one year. Also, the total number of study permit holders in Canada as of December 2022 was 807,750. Some of these would be converted to work permits or would leave Canada, but this still means that by the end of 2023, the number of study permit holders in Canada will have practically doubled in a single year. The words ‘record’ and ‘unprecedented’ don’t begin to describe the enormity of this explosive growth.
As an aside, a third cabinet member, Ahmed Hussein, has also held both the Immigration and Housing portfolios in the past. Notwithstanding PM Trudeau’s ill-advised response that ‘Housing is not a core federal responsibility’ that he blurted out mere weeks ago, there is clear understanding at the federal level that immigration is one of the major determinants of housing availability / affordability. In light of that, I would be risking understatement if I said that the federal government has been reckless in granting study permits in recent years. Consider the following graph posted by Dr. Mike P. Moffat (@MikePMoffat on Twitter / X) in relation to Ontario, and then remember that the graph is only until 2022, after which there will be a further increase of 100%:
Before we proceed further, it is important to point to one fact that is widely known in the South Asian community in the GTA (and possibly other immigrant communities across Canada), but rarely whispered – if at all – in ‘polite conversation’ in the mainstream. The fact is that a very large percentage of people coming to Canada on study permits are not actually students. The policy, which seemingly does not have an upper limit of study permits being issued so that the sky is only the beginning, has become a convenient – if expensive – backdoor to immigration. At a recent media roundtable with CPC leader Pierre Poilievre, a reporter from a Punjabi media outlet spoke openly about bogus colleges where ‘students’ enrolled in bogus courses are only required to go to the college once a week (it is worth emphasizing here that she did not say ‘attend classes’, just ‘go to the college’). Clearly, the ‘study’ permit was only a means to come to Canada in hopes of gaining Permanent Resident status, and thence, citizenship. Of course, these ‘students’ would need to work to sustain themselves, but the recent relaxation in rules allowing them to work 40 hours a week off campus means that they are not restricted in being employed – at least, not legally. ‘College’ is only meant as an eyewash.
In fact, as far back as November 2019, Douglas Todd wrote an article in the Vancouver Sun in which he cited a StatsCan study / analysis which could not find indications that 30.5 per cent of people in the country on post-secondary study permits *IN 2015* were signed up that year at a Canadian college or university (Emphasis added). Mr. Todd’s article further states that “The StatsCan study… echoes the findings of an INTERNAL IMMIGRATION DEPARTMENT REPORT that revealed 25 per cent of would-be foreign students in Canada in 2018 were likely not complying with the conditions of their visa or were just not being monitored by school administrators” (Emphasis added). This is a shining example of how far our government functioning is dysfunctional (or hijacked by special interest groups). The analysis was done by a government agency, the findings of which were ‘echoed’ in a report of a different department of the government, both these were cited in a prominent media outlet, and yet, FOUR YEARS AFTER THE PUBLICATION OF THAT ARTICLE, absolutely zero action has been taken to root out this rot. A conspiratorial mind would say that this level of failure can only be intentional.
Another noteworthy thing here is that this malpractice appears to have started within a few short years of the current study permit regime being brought in by PM Harper. While I don’t mean to hold him responsible for the current mess, I am certainly reminded of something that I have said several times: Any government policy is always prone to the risk that its intended beneficiaries will utilize it for ends that have absolutely nothing to do with the stated objectives of that policy. The only recourse for the policy maker / administrator is to ensure that (a) the policy is structured to close as many foreseeable loopholes as possible and (b) any wayward use of the policy is severely dealt with, to act as a deterrent to others. Canada fails at both of these safeguards – we don’t think things through (mainly because nobody wants to be called ‘racist’) and we don’t deal sternly with people misusing the policy (because nobody wants to be called ‘racist’).
A ROOF OVER THEIR HEADS
In 2022, the population of Canada increased by 1,050,110, according to StatsCan. That is widely seen as an unsustainable number. And yet, in 2023, just the number of international students entering Canada will be nearly 86% of that record-breaking number of 2022. Let us remember that for the same year of 2023, the target for new Permanent Residents is in the range of 410,000 to 505,000. Some of these new PR’s will already have been in Canada (e.g., as international students). I am of the opinion that with new Work Permit holders and refugees included, we are looking at a population increase in 2023 to be between 1.5 million to 2 million. Even at the lower bound, this means that there will be 4,110 new people looking for a roof over their heads.
‘Family size’ is not the appropriate concept to calculate the number of housing units required for these new arrivals: a large majority of them would be coming to Canada singly. Still, if we take the average family size as 2 individuals, then we would need over 2,000 new housing units to be created *every day* to absorb this new population. For the year 2023 overall, that means 730,000 new housing units will be required. But, according to this CBC article on August 20, CMHC projects that at the current pace of building, we are on track to build 2.3 million homes by 2030. In other words, roughly one-third of the homes that are likely to be built in the next 7 years are needed this year itself. It is clear that the housing crisis will get a lot worse in the short term before it (hopefully) gets better in the medium term. That may, in fact, be an optimistic conclusion, because the same CBC article also says that according to CMHC, “5.8 million homes would need to be built by 2030 to restore housing affordability for Canadians”, which means that we are on track to build 60% fewer homes than are going to be needed. It may be fair to say that we are likely entering a period of generational housing crunch – and people are walking right into the thick of that crunch on the very day they arrive in Canada.
A few days ago, I was in the Sheridan College area in Brampton, and overheard a young man talking over the phone to someone who was, most certainly, a prospective tenant. The young man said that the rental space in question was ‘mattress space’ in a house located about 13 minutes’ walk away from Sheridan. The rent was $480 a month, and there was a $20 surcharge (I didn’t catch exactly what it was for). Then came the kicker: if the other guy wanted his mattress space to be on the main floor instead of in the basement, there was an extra charge of 3% of the total rent of $500. This reminded me of PM Trudeau’s statement ‘Sunny ways, my friend, sunny ways’ from 2015 after he won his first election (and only majority). Eight years on, getting a bit of sunlight is costing people 3% more in rent.
I caught this conversation because I can understand spoken Punjabi. For someone who doesn’t, this conversation would not have taken place at all – and THAT is where our mainstream media is on this issue (with exceptions like Mr. Todd’s article mentioned earlier). But that conversation brings a crucial question in focus: What does the expression ‘a roof over one’s head’ mean? Traditionally, we have operated on the unspoken assumption that ‘a roof over the head’ means that the person’s housing need is reasonably met. But having mattress space does not achieve that standard. Having a roof over one’s head is meaningful or not depending on what is under the roof.
The CBC article about Minister Miller’s statements quotes the National Association of Career Colleges as saying that “regulated career colleges provide efficient, high-quality, industry driven training for domestic and international students to produce the skilled workers Canada most desperately needs” including workers in the construction trades that build housing.
Close your eyes and picture this: a bunch of people are seated in plush chairs around a table. They have been tasked with crafting a response that would (a) cover all the bases and (b) push the contention that the level of intake of international students is not an issue at all. Each member of this team specializes in, respectively, the legal, political, financial and public relations angle of the response. Now open your eyes and read that statement again. It is perfectly rounded and spotlessly polished. It contains all the key words. It omits all the problematic areas where the policy is failing. There is nothing that you can grab to yank at the entirety of the statement. In layman’s words, the statement goes as follows: “We oppose any reduction in the number of international students that we sign on, now and in the future, at our sole discretion. Anyone who has an objection against this can go pound sand”.
On the other hand, Minister Miller is under pressure not to shrug off the serious concerns on the issue: “It is an ecosystem in Canada that is very lucrative and it’s come with some perverse effects: some fraud in the system, some people taking advantage of what is seen as a backdoor entry into Canada, but also pressure in a number of areas – one of those is housing”.
You will notice the complete absence of any hint of an admission that all this happened, over 8 years, on their own watch. Also – SOME perverse effects? SOME fraud in the system? SOME people taking advantage? As of 2015, nearly ONE-THIRD of the foreign ‘students’ weren’t here to gain an education. His own department concluded in 2018 that 1 in 4 foreign ‘students’ were probably not real students. When I read this statement, I started getting angry, but then I remembered that in Deductive Logic, the word ‘some’ is defined as ‘More than one but less than all’. So, as long as ALL of the individuals and entities in the study permit situation are not acting fraudulently, the Minister’s statement is technically correct.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Canada has opened the floodgates when it comes to allowing people to move here (as immigrants, work-permit holders, students / ‘students’ and refugees). The extreme extent of this situation was highlighted by the Twitter / X account @ShazieGoalie, who posted images of an international student where the latter openly mocks the system that let him into Canada:
To make matters worse, Canada opened these floodgates after decades of having closed the two gates on the other side of the demand-supply equilibrium, viz., Purpose Built Rentals (PBR) and Affordable Housing. Here is a chart showing the age analysis of PBR in Toronto, posted by the Twitter / X account @itsahousingtrap:
Looking at these charts collectively, it becomes clear that construction of large-scale apartment buildings fizzled out in Canada decades ago. Then, as credit became ever-cheaper and ‘quatitative easing’ flooded the lending market with currency (not to be confused with money), the function of creating rental properties was downloaded (or ‘democratized, depending on how you look at it) to the individual who could access this credit to purchase a condo unit or three to rent out. Or, depending on their choice, they can buy a detached home and rent it out to 20 individuals. In the meantime, the easy money policies encoutraged people to buy homes in excess of their financial strength, the unwritten understanding being that they would be able to meet their financial commitments by renting out their basements – or even the other rooms in their house. There are even images floating around on social media where the rental ‘accommodation’ is the furnace room or some other nook or cranny of a home.
This arrangement (if we can call it that) has given birth to a host of problems, some of which I mentioned in my earlier article ‘Does Multicultutralism Cause ‘Racism?’. But even this Wild West arrangement wasn’t anywhere near being ready to absorb the new people flooding in, so it has become routine to hear about 10 or 15 international students living in one basement. As the flood continues and rises, one shudders to envisage the living conditions that the new arrivals will have to endure.
A VOTE OF THANKS
As I am sure you have noticed, in this article, I have not presented any facts or data that are my own work. In particular, I am deeply grateful to Justice_Queen (@RE_MarketWatch) for providing me with much of the information, either directly, or via posts on her Twitter / X account or through the replies to her posts. This brings me to a crucial realization: All the data and analysis required to understand the current situation that we are in, and how we got here, is readily accessible – and in fact being shared generously by ‘ordinary’ Canadians whose only motivation is to share with others what they know. And yet, in policy making circles, it is the vested interests, lobbyists and activists (such as the NIMBY’s) who rule the roost. As a result, policy does not benefit from all the knowledge that is readily available, continuing instead further down the same disastrous path that brought us this mess.
Governments are fond of claiming that their policies are ‘evidence based’, but I don’t see any of the evidence on the housing crisis being factored into the housing and immigration policies. The ‘study’ permit market is so lucrative that the government dare not incovience that lobby by even an iota. In the meantime, construction of new homes on the mass scale that is required remains mired in a plethora of issues and bottlenecks, while the political will to do anything about the crisis is conspicuous by its absence. Until the nexus between the people / entities benefiting from the mess (on both the immigration side as well as the building side) and the government & bureaucracy is broken – nay, shattered – things will continue to go downhill. What we need is someone with the guts to make a bunch of extremely tough decisions regardless of the political cost of their decisions. Continue-ism has run its course.
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