With a falling birth rate, an aging workforce and a shortage of skilled workers, Canada depends on immigration. Instead of talking about building walls like our U.S. neighbours, Canadians acknowledge that immigration is essential to our prosperity.
So few dare question the official immigration policy, even as it becomes increasingly apparent that strong criticism is sorely needed.
Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen recently announced a new normal target for Canada of 300,000 new immigrants a year over the next 10 years – a total of three million. It will be Canada’s highest immigration rate in more than 100 years.
The effect of immigration on Canadian demographics has been phenomenal. Statistics Canada says more than one in every five Canadians is an immigrant.
Opting to settle in large urban areas, 70 per cent of recent immigrants live in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver.
There’s no reason to believe this trend won’t continue. Big cities have the amenities immigrants seek: employment, infrastructure and cultural communities that help them feel at home.
But numerous challenges created by unprecedented immigrant growth have revealed huge gaps in planning. Some cities haven’t been able to keep up.
Willowdale, a North Toronto neighbourhood, was identified by the province as a urban growth centre. A recent immigration boom there has the Toronto District School Board admitting that local schools are filled beyond capacity. And now, Ontario’s education minister has been told that the board can’t accommodate any more new children.
Ontario’s Places to Grow Act (2005) was intended to be proactive about population growth by identifying Greater Toronto Area neighbourhoods that could be developed further. These areas would see high-rise developments, improved public transit and more employment opportunities. Cities with urban growth centres were tasked by the provincial government with developing their own growth plans to co-ordinate efforts.
But most provincial and municipal planning was based on Canadian immigration in the low 200,000s a year. By increasing immigration rates to 300,000 a year over the next 10 years, the Trudeau government has made most of these plans obsolete. And an infrastructure and public debt crisis is a very real possibility.
When the federal government imposes higher immigration targets without the necessary consultation with the provinces and the municipalities that will receive these immigrants, Canadians have a right to demand answers from Ottawa.
Unfortunately, the provinces and municipalities have been mostly silent on what they perceive as a politically charged issue.
Yet there’s no denying that most cities are ill-prepared to handle this ramped-up influx of new Canadians.
British Columbia and Ontario recently took extraordinary steps to cool the real estate markets in the Vancouver and Toronto regions. Rapidly-rising home prices and scarce rental units sparked concerns about the affordability of living in these cities.
But by imposing larger immigration quotas, the federal government has added fuel to the fire. Creating yet more demand for housing will only push costs up.
Why aren’t the premiers of these provinces demanding better co-ordination from Ottawa when it comes to preserving the livability of their major urban areas? Why haven’t they spoken out publicly about the new policy?
Ontarians face provincial and a municipal elections next year. Hopefully, candidates will give voters an opportunity to weigh in on immigration.
But we need to avoid the immigration hyperbole we saw in last year’s U.S. presidential election.
Immigration will attract unsavoury comments and Canadians should avoid that unhelpful dialogue. But we should also avoid labelling as racist those who suggest we maintain our immigration rate rather than increase it suddenly. These tactics are just as objectionable as arguing to bar people of certain races, creeds or cultures from entering our country.
Immigrants have contributed greatly to the wealth and culture of our nation. We need to continue to grow our population through new immigration. But we need to do it carefully, steadily and with foresight.
The federal government hasn’t shown it’s willing to co-ordinate its ambitious plans with other levels of government. Throwing the door wide open without a solid infrastructure plan in place is taking a huge risk.
We have an obligation to new Canadians to ensure we’re ready for them when they arrive.
Maddie Di Muccio is a former town councillor in Newmarket, Ont., and former columnist with the Toronto Sun.