In her economic and fiscal update, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland hinted at what to expect in the federal government’s 2022 budget. “Our national focus, once we emerge from COVID-19, must be growth and competitiveness,” she said.
Pulling Canada out of its economic malaise won’t be easy. The obstacles holding the country back before the pandemic – including shortages of skilled workers, a deteriorating investment climate and an aging population – have not gone away. In fact, the pandemic has only added new challenges, such as supply chain disruptions and growing inflation.
At best, most public- and private-sector economists expect real GDP growth to chug along at a lacklustre 2 per cent annually over the next three decades. They warn that jobs, government services and ultimately Canadians’ quality of life will be at risk unless policy makers act boldly to stimulate economic activity.
To break out of this 2-per-cent trap, we need the same all-hands-on-deck approach Canadians used to fight COVID-19. There will be no quick fixes or silver-bullet solutions. Improving Canada’s economic outlook will demand leadership, collaboration and, above all, ambition.
Part of the solution lies in Canada’s immigration system. Immigration has always been a source of growth and economic dynamism. And immigrants punch well above their weight when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship.
According to the Business Development Bank of Canada, immigrants are more than twice as likely as their Canadian-born peers to engage in entrepreneurial activity. Statistics Canada data indicate that immigrant-owned businesses are also more likely to implement innovative business practices.
Perhaps we should not be surprised. Many immigrants are risk-takers by definition, having left the familiarity of their country of origin to settle in Canada in search of opportunity.
Hanif Joshaghani is one such entrepreneurial newcomer. He spent 12 years in refugee camps in Iraq before settling in Canada. In 2016, Mr. Joshaghani co-founded Symend, one of Canada’s fastest-growing businesses, which uses data-driven insights to help consumers avoid defaulting on their bills.
Or consider the Basiri brothers: Meti, Massi and Martin. Raised in Iran, they arrived in Canada as students. In 2015, they co-founded ApplyBoard, now a multibillion-dollar company that operates the world’s largest recruitment portal for international students.
As policy makers chart an economic recovery in 2022, they should look to immigrants – our most enterprising population – to lead the way. Here are three ways to do it:
Support immigrants in their drive to succeed: Immigrants continue to experience barriers when it comes to starting businesses, raising capital and navigating government rules and programs. What’s more, organizations that help entrepreneurs are not always equipped to handle needs that are specific to immigrants. To help newcomers succeed, we can tailor existing support programs or create new ones to address newcomers’ unique financial and technical needs.
Prioritize high-potential newcomers: The federal government has taken several steps in recent years to align Canada’s immigration system with the requirements of a growing economy. For instance, the Global Talent Stream has helped fast-growing employers attract highly skilled newcomers. Yet Canada currently has no ready immigration pathway for entrepreneurial newcomers. We can address this gap by establishing a streamlined application process for high-potential immigrants, improving existing programs such as the Start-up Visa Program and recognizing self-employment as a qualifying work experience for permanent residency.
Keep Canada attractive: While Canada is among the most attractive destinations for foreign talent, its reputation has suffered in recent years. In a global race for workers, Canada cannot afford complacency. We must continuously strive to create and sustain the conditions that can attract and retain top talent. This means improving key dimensions of Canada’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, such as the availability of risk capital, R&D funding and university support. It also means ensuring that our immigration system is as client-focused as possible by simplifying administrative requirements and reducing processing times.
Canada is a land of opportunity. Thousands of immigrants choose to make this country their new home every year. But barriers to unlocking the full potential of this enterprising population remain. By working together to remove these obstacles, we can position Canada for a strong economic recovery by unleashing immigrants’ extraordinary energy, skills and ideas.
Lisa Lalande is CEO of the Century Initiative. Goldy Hyder is CEO of the Business Council of Canada.