Census reminds us of importance of immigrants to Canada’s future

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – A growing labour force is vital to our economic performance. And the new census makes clear that we can’t have that without openness to immigrants.
Feb. 8, 2017.   Editorial
In recent years, the census has become a symbol of the old-fashioned notion that public policy should be grounded in facts and evidence. So now that the initial data of the 2016 census have been released, what lessons should policy-makers draw?

One is that Canada is doing something right. Our population grew by 5 per cent since 2011; there are now 35,151,728 of us. This rate of population growth, driven largely by immigration, is significantly higher than that of any other G7 country. It seems people want to be here, and no wonder. We are far from perfect, but we remain and are still seen to be among the most welcoming and opportunity-rich countries in the world.

The census results are heartening. Population growth is key to maintaining both the labour force and the sources of innovation and entrepreneurship we need for economic success. Open immigration policies, economic prospects and a still-strong social safety net have made Canada an attractive destination; our future prosperity likely depends on our keeping it that way. As our population ages, and our birth-rate declines, we must continue to welcome newcomers from all over the world, not only out of moral duty, but also economic necessity.

The census numbers provide a timely reminder of the importance of immigration to Canada’s future. Understanding this, the federal government flirted last fall with “substantially” increasing the number of immigrants Canada would take in this year above the current level of 260,000. It ultimately scrapped the idea amid polls showing public resistance, but fear and misinformation shouldn’t get in the way of smart policy.

There is a growing expert consensus that Ottawa will have to significantly boost immigration levels in the coming decades to offset the economic impact of our aging population. Some, such as the Conference Board of Canada, argue that our goal should be to grow Canada’s population to 100 million by the end of the century. But any significant increase will require that Ottawa invest in building its capacity to manage these large numbers. And what better time to start than today, amid a global migrant crisis and American retreat on immigration?

Still, it will not be enough simply to accept more newcomers. Governments of every order will have to work to increase the likelihood that immigrants will successfully integrate into the economy. On this challenge, too, the census has much to tell us.

Newcomers, along with other Canadians, are disproportionately moving to urban centres. Some 83 per cent of our population lives in cities, with 40 per cent residing in the country’s 15 biggest municipalities. Toronto alone accounts for 7.8 per cent of the population and is growing faster than the country as a whole. We all have a stake in the capacity of these cities to bear the pressures of their rising populations. Higher levels of government should focus their investments accordingly, not least on infrastructure and services to help immigrants integrate and succeed.

A growing labour force is vital to our economic performance. And the new census makes clear that we can’t have that without openness to newcomers. We need immigrants, more of them – and an investment in their success is an investment in Canada’s future prosperity.

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