September 23, 2019
Is Mass Immigration in Canada’s Best Interests – What’s the Story?
There was quite the stir a few weeks ago when billboards ran for a short time in various cities throughout Canada with a simple (but loaded) message – say no to immigration. The advertisements were linked to Maxime Bernier of the People’s Party of Canada. Bernier seemingly argues enough is enough and the consequences of mass migration are numerous including the pervasive view that immigration drives up housing prices. Is this true or political dog whistling? Let’s take a closer look.
What is Mass Migration?
Simply put mass (im)migration refers to the migration of large groups of people from one geographical area to another. As I understand the iteration being used in populist anti-immigration arguments, mass immigration is being posited as deleterious and negatively influential to domestic economic, social and political interests. In short, a flow that is more than what the country can bear especially when occurring at an unprecedented and exceptionally high rate.
What do the Immigration Numbers Say?
With an increase of 321,065 in 2018, new immigrants to Canada remain the ultimate force supporting population growth in the nation. Although “seasonal patterns” typically stifle growth in the final few months of the year, a staggering increase in Canadian immigration during this time propelled Canada’s population to 37,314,442 at the start of 2019.
According to the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Departmental Plan 2019-2020, Canada will continue to “strengthen the Canadian middle class” by welcoming new immigrants through a variety of programs. New immigration to Canada will eclipse over 200,000 admissions specific to the Economic category, wherein applicants are considered given their strong outlook as contributors to the Canadian economy. The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, projects positively as he remarks advantages for communities, national diversity and the economy, all while “…maintaining border integrity to preserve the safety and security of Canadians.” By 2021, the Government plans to admit 350,000 new immigrants, which will amount to roughly 1% of Canada’s total population.
The Rationale? Well, by 2026, the first Baby Boomers will Celebrate their 80th Birthdays
The relationship, perhaps, between increased population and number of deaths is self-evident. However, the unique socio-scientific calculations owed to the “Baby Boomers” are such that the above trend will be amplified as this cohort of Canadians continues to age. In fact, in the next ten years- or less- we will likely be facing the reality where deaths outnumber births in Canada. Most strikingly, however, is the birth-rate consideration: should fertility ratios decline (below 1.7 children/woman), the tipping point for deaths outpacing births nationally could be as early as next year: 2020!
Number of births and deaths in Canada, 1926 to 2056
Of course, the death-birth ratio is not specific to Canada. As countries around the world project and critically analyse aging population data, one of the key consequences related to immigration will be competition. Like Canada, countries with more aged populations will be seeking “young, skilled and mobile workers,” thereby driving competitive policy for these sought-after individuals globally. It becomes increasingly evident the value immigration has for our country, our economy, and our future: “[B]y increasing Canada’s immigration rate, the country aims to attract and retain overseas talent to support labour market shortages across the country.”
What is Really Driving Up Housing Prices?
There are a variety of factors which influence housing markets across Canada… not least of which includes, surprisingly, an aging population! As the population continues to age, and as life-span measures increase, the number of Canadians who own their homes will continue to climb as well. In a piece entitled Domestic speculation drives up house prices by Michael Mata other factors are highlighted:
“There’s a pretty straightforward reason why so many Canadians are being priced out of the property market, according to journalist Geoff Dembicki.
“Real estate speculators are snapping up properties and selling them once the price rises. They earn a huge financial return, pay little in taxes and price ordinary people like you out of your city,” Dembicki said in a recent article published in The Tyee.
It’s commonly assumed in Vancouver, and increasingly in Toronto, that the majority of these real estate speculators are foreigners. Yet recent housing data suggests that many, if not most of these speculators, are Canadian.
Far from discouraging speculation, the central bank appears to be encouraging it. Historically low interest rates set by the Bank of Canada make it relatively risk-free for speculators to borrow large amounts of money and invest it in real estate – driving up the prices of homes in the process.
Case in point: from 2005 to 2013, Better Dwelling calculated a 41% increase in borrowing in Vancouver. This was matched by a 41% rise in home prices.
“That’s a hell of a coincidence,” said Stephen Punwasi, founder of Better Dwelling. “There’s a deeper problem in the situation and I don’t necessarily think it’s all foreign buyers … We’re not building for people, we’re building for speculators.”
So, although foreign investment plays a small role there are many more involved contributory factors that exist and must be accounted for and addressed. Affordable housing is a staple of any human society and so we must look to the root causes and not rhetoric that will misdirect and delay meaningful reform.
Although vociferous and polarizing debate surrounding immigration levels and its impact may be fodder in the next Federal election it is not a new issue and it will stubbornly persist as base emotions of “us” and “they” can be stoked at any time. But as always it is important to separate fact from fiction (housing prices as one small example) in areas like immigration that transcend every layer of our society. If we can believe the numbers and there does not appear to be a reasonable basis not to, the need for immigration is not decreasing but becoming more vital to Canada’s best interests. This does not necessarily however equate to mass migration a term that in my view is used too loosely and often for the wrong reasons. In my next blog I will discuss the issue of employment gains and what role immigration is playing amidst complex demographic drivers that is bringing what once seemed like distant future concerning demographic projections into stark focus. The future is here.
Thank you for reading.