Written by
Lisa Lalande
Chief Executive Officer
Century Initiative

Why are population growth and immigration so important to Canada?

August 9, 2020

In Canada we enjoy tremendous social supports and programs, from our health care and educational systems, to our pension and unemployment programs, and our roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

Those programs are supported largely by tax dollars. Tax dollars require a healthy, employed and productive population, one that is creating jobs, earning paycheques and contributing through tax dollars, household spending, and investment.

Unfortunately, our working-age population is shrinking as the country ages. Over the long term, fewer people working means fewer dollars for the programs and supports that we value as Canadians. A recent report by the Brookings Institution reported that fewer babies will be born as a result of pandemic. The fewer babies that are born each year, the more immigrants who are needed to replace them. With our borders closed, we will need to make up for the loss of immigration this year.

It’s simple math – we need to take a long-term view now. We won’t be able to fix it later. So, if we do not take steps to address our declining population and shrinking work-force we are putting so much of what we treasure in this country at risk for future generations.

We need immigration, and we need to increase the number of immigrants coming to Canada over time.  At the same time we need to ensure that we have the critical social and structural elements required to make population growth manageable and successful.

There is no question that in addition to the economic contribution immigrants make, they also contribute to the country’s social fabric that we all benefit from. So, this approach is in our best interests as a country.

John Ibbitson’s article points to potential resistance to immigration that could lead to “increasing political polarization and the rise of populist third parties…”. It is possible that COVID-19 could further exacerbate xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, especially in very diverse urban centres (UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights).This is a legitimate concern – we are seeing examples of this in the news.

The key question is how deep and wide does this or will this actually go in Canada?

A 2019 Environics Institute survey showed that Canadians as a whole continue to be more positive than negative about the number of immigrants arriving in Canada and the benefits they bring to the country’s economy. Public concerns about whether newcomers are adequately embracing Canadian values and the legitimacy of refugee claimants did not increase from 2018-2019 they moderated. Immigration was not a top of mind issue for the vast majority of Canadian voters from any political party.

I believe that, when it is done right, most Canadians will embrace the notion of immigration and recognize the economic and other contributions new Canadians make to this country.

Canada has held a strategic advantage in the world – our openness to immigration as well as a culture of multiculturalism and diversity. We have recognized the importance of immigration to securing our future, and we are recognized for having one of the leading immigration systems in the world (OECD, Recruiting Immigrant Workers: Canada 2019). This has created a strong footing for us in the competition for global talent. Canada has the vision, tools and support to maintain this strategic advantage. And we should take it.

But this means that this is a job for more than just government. Organizations like the Century Initiative, as well as business and non-profit organizations, all have a role to play in making the case for the population growth and the long-term thinking, planning and action that are needed to make this happen.  And we need to work on these challenges NOW to put ourselves on course for the Canada we want tomorrow.