Canada is experiencing a population boom.
Figures released recently by the federal government are quite staggering: the country grew by 437,000 new residents in 2022 and projections from Ottawa indicate that roughly 1.45 million more will join them over the next three years. According to a recent story in The Globe and Mail, since 2016, Canada has grown at nearly double the average rate of its G7 peers.
In most cases, however, it isn’t newborns enhancing our population growth but adults coming to Canada through our immigration and refugee program – a fact that has consequences far and wide.
For years we have been told that economic growth depends on robust immigration. Immigrants are needed to bolster a work force being weakened, even decimated in some cases, by the demographic bulge of boomers who are retiring. Also, immigrants are core to the Canadian identity, something of which we are unquestionably, and quite rightly, proud.
At the same time, it is fair to ask whether the pace at which we are growing is in our best interests. Or whether in attempting to solve one problem, we are creating others.
We may be about to find out.
For starters, we need to figure out where all the newcomers will be staying. In recent years, headlines have been dominated by stories chronicling the housing crisis in Canada, especially in our major cities. The lack of supply has been responsible for a spike in prices.
Douglas Porter, chief economist with the Bank of Montreal, recently said that the countries with the fastest population growth up to 2020 – countries such as this one and New Zealand – had greater house price inflation than those with stable populations or ones that decreased. If this is correct, one can assume house prices will only continue to reach levels that are unattainable for many, despite assurances from all levels of government that they are “on” the problem.
Supply can’t keep up with demand as it is, let alone meet the challenge of adding nearly 1.5 million more residents over the next three years.
The furious pace of immigration will also put enormous pressure on a rental market that is already making life unbearable for many with a tight supply and soaring rents. The problems that this level of population growth contributes to would likely not be as bad if these newcomers were moving to towns and cities that could use more people. But that’s not the case. The vast, vast majority of new immigrants are congregating in our biggest cities.
It’s also fair to ask what these intake rates will do to our already overburdened health care system. Yes, some of those arriving here will fill critical voids in our health care front lines, but not nearly enough to make up for those who are retiring or leaving the profession because of burnout. And not nearly enough to compensate for the population boom we are anticipating.
There are, for example, more than a million British Columbians without a family doctor, a number that is likely to only increase as more physicians retire and newcomers arrive each year by the tens of thousands.
There are also voices suggesting that massive immigration on the scale we are witnessing may not be the great economic elixir being promoted by the federal government and the business sector. In fact, David Green, an economist with the University of B.C., says this is a contention that turns out not to be true. His research shows immigration often lowers the wages for people competing with new immigrants for jobs.
None of this is an argument for stopping immigration, of course. It is an indisputable fact that immigration has enriched our country beyond any measure, making it the envy of the world. We are a more vibrant and culturally enriched nation as a result of it.
Still, you can be pro-immigration and question the pace at which we are currently welcoming newcomers. You can be pro-immigration and ask whether we are at a moment when it would be prudent to step back and analyze the situation, and see whether we are exacerbating critical problems for which we have not yet found solutions.
We should be able to have this conversation without fear of being labelled a racist or xenophobe. We should be able to have that conversation in the best interests of those already living here, and the ones yet to arrive.