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Canada and the United States are both led by governments of the centre-left. Both are facing elections in the not-too-distant future. Both are in big trouble in the polls.

And both have a major problem on immigration.

You can learn a lot about our country by looking at the one next door. So let’s do some comparing and contrasting.

Immigration, or more precisely irregular border crossing, has long been a big issue in American politics. But the past couple of years have brought something new: A growing number of people are crossing from Mexico, and rather than trying to evade authorities, they want to be detained so they can make a refugee claim. The entire U.S. southern border is Roxham Road.

Most people who cross are immediately released, pending an asylum hearing that is years – even a decade – away.

Last year, 2.5 million people came to the U.S. in this manner. Add in regular immigration, and the U.S. had net immigration of 3.3 million people in 2023. That compares with average annual immigration in the decade before the pandemic of just 919,000.

A report from the Congressional Budget Office finds the population surge is having both positive and negative effects.

On the plus side, the economy is growing slightly faster than it otherwise would have, because most arrivals are working age, and working. A free-market economy is a dynamic thing. Workers are wage earners and wage earners are consumers, so in good times, more workers feeds demand for … more workers. It’s a virtuous circle.

However, most new migrants to the U.S. have limited education and skills. Plus their numbers are growing faster than business investment in equipment and technology. As a result, they’re putting downward pressure on the bottom of the wage scale, and also driving down gross domestic product per capita. The Congressional Budget Office expects that impact to last for years, with GDP per person in a decade 0.8 per cent lower than it would have been.

How does Canada compare?

Between the third quarter of 2022 and the third quarter of 2023, Canada’s population grew by 1.2 million. Again, that U.S. figure is 3.3 million. But the U.S. population is more than eight times larger than Canada’s. So Canada’s immigration surge is equivalent to the U.S. accepting about 10 million people last year. That’s three times the actual U.S. level.

Or to look at it another way, 3.3 million arrivals in the U.S. is equivalent to about 400,000 in Canada.

But Canada had just under half a million regular immigrants last year, plus around 700,000 temporary residents. Even if we shut down the whole student visa and temporary foreign worker system, we’d still have a higher immigration rate than peak-year U.S. immigration.

And average U.S. immigration of 919,000 a year in the 2010s? That’s equal to a Canadian immigration of just over 100,000 a year – one-12th the Canadian figure.

In the U.S., the surge at the Mexican border may be the biggest barrier to President Joe Biden’s re-election.

Last fall, after more than 100,000 asylum seekers arrived in the Big Apple, Democratic Mayor Eric Adams said the influx would “destroy New York City.” That’s a serious exaggeration. But the city is strained. Its taxpayers pay to house homeless people, and renting thousands of hotel rooms is blowing a hole in the city’s budget.

Stories such as this are U.S. news staples, and not just on Fox News. A lot of voters are unhappy, and not just Republicans.

Mr. Biden and Democrats want to address this. This year, after Senate Democrats gave in to long-standing Republican demands and agreed to a tough border bill, the President said he would gladly sign it the minute it hit his desk.

Former president Donald Trump responded by ordering Republicans to kill the bill. He wants disorder at the border.

And Canada?

Our immigration surge – a mix of low-wage temporary foreign workers, schools peddling visas to aspiring low-wage workers, and refugee claimants arriving as alleged tourists from countries such as Mexico – is having effects similar to those in the U.S. Similar, but bigger.

On the one hand, GDP is higher than it would have been. But GDP per person has been shrinking since 2022. A country with a history of lagging productivity is lagging more than ever. Each piece of pie is getting smaller.

And population growth has been so large and fast that rental housing vacancies are at a record low, and heading lower. Rents are very high relative to wages, and unlikely to moderate any time soon. Ditto housing prices. Voters have noticed.

Mr. Biden can’t fix his immigration problem because Mr. Trump’s congressional minions won’t let him.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in contrast, has all the tools to rewrite the story he authored.

Most of what needs doing – downsizing but up-skilling the student visa program; eliminating temporary foreign work visas outside of agriculture and high-wage jobs; reimposing visa requirements on countries such as Mexico; returning permanent immigration to a focus on skilled immigrants – is up to the executive in the Canadian system.

If he wants to, the PM can make like Nike, and Just Do It.

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