Record immigration is a yawn in Canada, and that’s a good thing

Sometimes it’s the dog that doesn’t bark. It’s the things that don’t happen (as in the story of Sherlock Holmes) that speak volumes.

This week, for example, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced Canada’s new immigration targets. We are already accepting a record number of newcomers, but the government wants to increase this even further. The target for next year is 465,000; for 2025, it’s half a million flat.

The reaction was basically: ho-hum. Amid new revelations from the Ottawa convoy protest inquiry and outrage over the Ford government’s latest bid for the notwithstanding clause, no one paid much attention (with one important exception, of which we will discuss later).

Certainly, no major political actor in English Canada has raised concern, let alone alarm. Large-scale immigration is massively popular. The three main national parties support ambitious goals and see no political gain in playing the anti-immigrant card.

It is a very good thing. Substantial immigration is good for the economy, especially when labor shortages hamper the economy. And turning immigration into a corner issue would poison the social climate and lead to no good results.

But it’s hard to overstate how unusual Canada is in this regard. Almost everywhere else, immigration is a very charged and divisive issue. Take, for example, Great Britain. Just this week, a migrant processing center was set on fire. And the country’s interior minister, Suella Braverman, has warned that the influx of people illegally landing on the south coast amounts to an « invasion ».

But in Canada, this dog does not bark. A Washington Post report on the new goals summed it up as follows: “Canada’s rhetoric contrasts with that of many leaders in other Western countries, where officials have talked about curbing immigration and cast migrants as an economic burden.

Before we get too worked up about all this, consider a few things. Canada’s geographic isolation means that there are not a large number of people entering the country illegally. If hundreds of people a day landed on our shores (as happened in Britain), I doubt the Canadians would be more tolerant than the British. And our immigration points system means we can choose most newcomers based on their ability to meet our economic needs.

So we have a lot of immigration advantages, but there are at least three flashing lights for the future. It is important to be alert before problems turn into crises.

First, it is far from certain that we will be able to achieve the Ottawa goals in an orderly and efficient manner. The immigration system was already overloaded before COVID hit and disrupted staffing. It’s now even worse, with a backlog that has now soared to 2.6 million people.

As a result, thousands of skilled workers already in the country have to return home because the system cannot process their applications for permanent resident status in time. It’s great to have goals, but you have to be able to achieve them.

Second, the arrival of a record number of immigrants can only create problems, at least in the short and medium term. This will increase demand for scarce housing precisely in areas where this is most acute, including the GTA, and put more strain on the healthcare system.

In the longer term, of course, the arrival of new, younger workers will help in both areas. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be obstacles along the way and the potential for resentment.

And third, the open arms attitude towards immigration is not shared equally across the country. The Quebec government said this week that it only wants 50,000 newcomers a year to ensure the French language is not under threat (well below the roughly 115,000 that the province’s population share would imply according to the new Ottawa objectives). Nationalist commentators warn that Ottawa is about to « drown » Quebec in a wave of Anglo newcomers.

This indicates an imminent confrontation between Ottawa and Quebec over immigration. But that’s just one reason why we shouldn’t be complacent about this potentially volatile issue.

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