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Why immigration is a chequebook issue

October 16, 2015

By David Olive, The Star Business |

It is a universally accepted fact among Canadians that we are largely a country of immigrants. With less than one half of one per cent of the world’s population, Canada is the 11th largest economy. We’ve long known that this improbable success has much to do with the wisdom and tenacity of the earliest immigrants to settle this part of the planet, followed by successive generations of New Canadians.

Conversely, countries with far larger populations, but with aversions or hostility toward immigration and multiculturalism, or with perpetual conflict among ethnicities and religious groups seeking dominance or absolute rule, have almost invariably suffered.

The path former prime ministers Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau put us on — to not merely tolerate newcomers, but to embrace and celebrate the diversity of contribution they bring — is largely accountable for our unlikely high standard of living and status as a hotbed of innovation.
But we are at a crossroads, at which we can grasp the greater prosperity that diversity brings, or suffer the current dysfunctional immigration system that keeps so many aspiring Canadians from reaching our shores, and throws up roadblocks to New Canadians seeking to make their contributions.

The stakes of fixing our immigration system could not be higher.

  • Even with its current jobless rate of 7 per cent, Canada is coping with severe shortages of skilled workers throughout the economy. Among the most prominent examples are in health care; engineering; entrepreneurship and leading-edge business management practices; advanced construction methods; and scientific and technological research and development.
  • To thrive in the 21st century, Canada needs to become second to none in advanced practices. With a modest population of 35.7 million people, we cannot achieve that goal without the infusion of the unique talents and insights that New Canadians provide. Canada’s innovative culture means that we have the chance to repeat our contributions — our inventions of standard time, insulin, the world’s first stem-cell research, the smartphone and the fibre-optic backbone of the global Internet.
  • We must nurture centres of excellence. We already have concentrated excellence in financial services, aerospace and health care. We need to bolster our prowess in those fields, and nurture nascent centres of excellence in alternative energy, construction, transportation, agriculture and other technologies. That will require a continued infusion of the world’s best and brightest talent.
  • Canada is the world’s largest branch-plant economy. The key decisions about entire industries in Canada are made abroad. More newcomers from South Asia, the Pacific Rim and other regions of above-average entrepreneurialism are essential if Canada is to achieve genuine economic sovereignty.
  • Finally, we are in a global competition for immigrants. That contest will intensify. Worldwide, notably in mature economies and in China, the growth of retiree populations is outpacing that of the workforce. The populations of Japan and Russia have begun to shrink, and Western Europe can’t be far behind. Elsewhere, China’s biggest challenge over the next two decades will be managing a growing, perilous imbalance between its worker and retiree populations.

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