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The Century Initiative, a non-profit lobby group, wants to see Canada’s population grow from 39.5 million to 100 million by 2100.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The chief executive of the Century Initiative says Canada “has reached the point of no return” when it comes to welcoming more immigrants, as its modelling shows Canada is on track to more than double its population to at least 100 million by the turn of the century.

But Lisa Lalande warned that existing high levels of public support for increasing immigration cannot be taken for granted.

“If public opinion shifts on immigration, policy will shift, and ultimately that will be detrimental to the future of the country,” she said in an interview.

The Century Initiative, a non-profit lobby group, wants to see Canada’s population grow from 39.5 million to 100 million by 2100. Ms. Lalande says more investment is needed to address problems such as housing shortages, so Canada “grows well” and can accommodate more people.

Current high levels of immigration and government policy decisions – such as making it easier for foreign students to get permanent residence – are putting Canada on track for the first time to meet or even surpass its target, the Century Initiative’s modelling has found.

Canada had record population growth of 703,404 people in 2021-2022, with immigration accounting for 94 per cent.

CLARK: Two solitudes emerging on immigration in Quebec

COYNE: 100 million Canadians by 2100 may not be federal policy, but it should be – even if it makes Quebec howl

Ms. Lalande said the Century Initiative was not just in favour of a numerical target. Its research examines housing, investment in infrastructure, and climate adaptation, and it is focused on “making sure we are making investments that accommodate the population growth.”

The Century Initiative, which was co-founded by former Liberal government adviser, Dominic Barton, became the target of sharp criticism in Quebec this month, with Premier François Legault saying its plan for 100 million Canadians was a threat to Quebec.

The backlash in the province followed the announcement of a federal plan for 500,000 more newcomers to Canada in 2025, with some claiming it was part of a government bid to implement the lobby group’s 100 million target.

Referring to the controversy, Ms. Lalande said that its polling shows support for immigration is growing in Quebec, along with the rest of the country.

A poll last fall showed that 69 per cent of Canadians disagreed that there was too much immigration, while just over one in four agreed. Quebeckers as a whole were no less supportive of immigration than Canadians elsewhere in the country.

The Environics Institute survey was based on telephone interviews with 2,000 Canadians conducted between Sept. 6 and Sept. 30, 2022, with an accuracy within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points in 19 out of 20 samples.

Those who felt there is too much immigration thought it posed a threat to Canadian or Quebec culture, will drain the economy and welfare system, or take jobs away from other Canadians.

The Century Initiative’s third annual “score card,” looking at how Canada is doing in achieving growth and prosperity, said this month that “these types of perceptions highlight the importance of continuing to build the public case for the benefits of immigration” and expanding the housing supply as well as improving infrastructure such as roads and public services.

“While there was strong support for immigration among Canadians in 2022, this situation is critical to monitor and could evolve alongside economic and societal pressures,” it stressed.

Ms. Lalande said Canada’s immigration program is admired by other countries, and “we actually do a good job in integration.”

However, people in smaller communities may be feeling “demographic shifts in a more pronounced way” than other parts of Canada.

She says Canada has “reached the point of no return” when it comes to increasing the population, and immigration is a way to plug job shortages, including in health care and retail.

“We are too late to say let’s put a pause on growth so that we can address all these issues,” she said. “Our demographic realities are such that we are already feeling closures of hospital emergency rooms. There’s some pretty serious issues. And immigration is one way to address them.”

Among the obstacles is getting foreign credentials recognized more swiftly so skilled immigrants, including doctors, can practise in Canada. Strides have been made recently, including making it easier for engineers to work in Ontario.

The scorecard found Canadians’ fertility rate remained low and the COVID-19 pandemic had led to a drop in life expectancy. It also found housing costs have escalated, while investment in infrastructure has declined.

“Without planned and strategic investments in infrastructure, population growth will put a strain on Canada’s economy, quality of life and well-being,” it said.

But Ms. Lalande says it’s wrong to blame the growing number of immigrants for the shortage of affordable housing and the rising cost of living, claims which have crept into the public narrative in recent weeks during the debate on immigration in Quebec.

“It’s easier to scapegoat, point the finger at immigration when there are much more complex issues, “she says. “You need to have that big picture.”

“Even if we pulled back nationally on immigration, we’d still have significant housing shortages.”

Even so, existing support for more immigration in Canada is not “something that we can rely on.”

“We can’t take that for granted,” she said. “It’s a Canadian advantage and we must seize on that advantage.”

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