450,000 immigrants a year? Canada could do it, report suggests

October 3, 2017

By Erica Alini, Globe and News |

How many newcomers should Canada let in next year? We’re about to find out. Ottawa is set to announce the country’s 2018 immigration target by Nov. 1.

The federal government has already upped Canada’s immigrant intake to 300,000 annually, but could it – and should it – go even further?

That’s the question at the heart of a new report by the Conference Board of Canada, which forecasts the potential impacts of different immigration levels on the overall economy, income levels and public spending.

The findings might be disappointing for both supporters and critics of immigration. The pitch for higher immigration levels is simple: More people means more workers to fill up vacancies, entrepreneurs to create new jobs, and customers to buy things like cars and homes. Plus, immigrants are on average younger than native-born Canadians, so newcomers are – quite literally – an injection of fresh blood that helps pay for the ballooning expense of supporting our aging population.

The popular case against immigration is, perhaps, even simpler: Immigrants compete with native-born workers for the same jobs, tend to drive down wages, and weigh on the public social safety net.

Most economists would say the truth is somewhere in the middle: Over the long term, immigration doesn’t seem to have significant effects on either jobs or wages.

The results of the Conference Board of Canada survey are somewhat in the middle as well.

The authors look at several scenarios. At one end of the spectrum is the future Canada faces if it leaves the immigration target as is. That means letting in roughly 0.8 per cent of its population as newcomers every year. At the other end, is the prospect of ramping up the target to let in 450,000 immigrants per year by 2025, which would be about 1.1 per cent of its population, and leaving that proportion constant until 2040.

The 450,000 number comes from the federal government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth, which actually recommended aiming for that immigration level by 2021. The authors of the report, however, decided to “delay the increase by four years given the low probability that the federal government would have the operational capacity to ramp up immigration that quickly.”

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