by Tony Loffreda

Fact: Canada’s fertility rate hit a record low in 2020 at 1.40 children per woman.  

Fact: Immigration, not fertility, drove Canada’s population growth between 2016 and 2021 according to Statistics Canada 2021 Census results.

When you add all this up, it’s hard to dispute Canada’s assertive immigration policy.  After a record-setting year in 2021, during which we welcomed more than 405,000 new permanent residents (after a below-average year in 2020 due to the pandemic), Canada has set its sights on welcoming 1.3 million new citizens between 2022 and 2024.

The reality is immigration is pivotal to Canada’s growth. Without it, our economy could stagnate, services could be disrupted, revenues to the treasury could dwindle, and we could face additional hardships, namely further labour shortages.  

Thankfully, and to our credit, Canada is seen around the world as a land of opportunity and a top destination for immigrants and refugees. We should be proud of this stellar reputation despite the current backlogs in our system and challenges faced by many applicants who are seeking Canadian citizenship or work or study visas.

With respect to labour shortages, RBC noted last month that shortages will continue to hit companies after the next downturn. To counter this, as stated in its report, we’ll need to convince older people to work longer, maintain or boost the flow of immigrants, and find ways to make our existing workforce more productive.  Indeed, as I’ve argued before, it’s important for Canada to have a detailed plan to boost productivity, growth, and competitiveness.  Immigration will be a key component of any plan and we need to make Canada the most attractive destination for newcomers by giving them a fair shot at a good-paying job.

The Century Initiative, a non-partisan network with a mission to enhance Canada’s long-term prosperity, resiliency, and global influence by responsibly growing our population to 100 million by 2100, recently published a report on the impact of immigration on Canadian prosperity. The report reminds us that “immigrants are most likely to strengthen the labour market when they are positioned to do well.”  It is therefore incumbent on us to ensure we have in place the winning conditions to ensure proper integration, fair wages, affordable housing, and employment opportunities that fit the training, skills, and education of immigrants. 

As the Century Initiative concludes, “even if evidence points to a net positive impact on prosperity, Canada cannot afford to be complacent about investing in good immigration policy, selection, and integration.”  For Canada’s immigration policy to be successful, we need to properly manage the program.  As I’ve always said, manage activities and you get activities, but manage results and, yes, you get results.  You can’t manage results without proper, factual statistics.  What you measure improves!

Unfortunately, it seems we may have some gaps in how we keep track of some immigrants.  The CBC reported last week that the federal government doesn’t track migrant retention, and according to Statistics Canada, 50 per cent of international students had no tax records one year after graduation which suggests they likely left the country.  A survey by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship also shows us that nearly one quarter of new Canadians with a university education are planning to leave the country in the next two years.

Often, individuals from around the world choose Canada because they seek a better life with greater opportunities and a chance to raise their standards of living. However, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for them to reach that much sought-after gold-standard of living.  I’ve often said that integration is the key pillar within our immigration policy. However, it’s becoming clear to many that retention must also be addressed.  We need to monitor why international students are not staying in Canada and find innovative and creative ways of reversing that trend.  We could start by ensuring international credentials and diplomas are recognized here at home which would help match immigrants with jobs that meet their qualifications.

I know the problem is multi-faceted. Despite Canada’s overall and resounding success in matters related to immigration, there are still kinks in the system and ways to improve the way we recruit, integrate, retain, and support new Canadians and international students. We need a holistic approach to solving the various issues that plague our immigration program.  

The stakes are high, as Canada’s future prosperity and growth depends on it… and that’s a fact!