Why Canadians need to debate immigration economics

July 27, 2017

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun |

Simon Fraser University political scientist Sanjay Jeram is bravely going where few Canadian scholars — and virtually no politicians — dare to go.

In the face of an unspoken taboo against seriously debating immigration policy in Canada, Jeram says the time has come for Canadians to start openly discussing the migration issues they’ve been avoiding.

Housing, employment, urban congestion, the welfare state and training are all affected by Canada’s immigration policies, says Jeram, who has a PhD from the University of Toronto, the city in which he was born and raised.

Instead of Canadians and the media getting worked up about race-related migration issues that Jeram thinks are largely irrelevant — such as the short-lived “barbaric cultural practices” hotline — he astutely urges discussion of the influence of immigration on economics.

‘’The hidden consensus in Canada is we don’t talk critically about immigration. The taboo against discussing it is very real,” said Jeram, who understandably believes Canadians are almost alone in this regard.

“(Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau campaigned on openness to immigration without limits. I have never heard him talk about the potential consequences that immigration has for overcrowding, housing, opportunities for domestic workers or the welfare state.”

Housing is on the top of Jeram’s immigration-issues list, since Metro Vancouver, Toronto and other cities are experiencing an affordability crisis.

The rental and housing markets in Canada’s cities are increasingly shaped, he said, by federal immigration policies, which have tended to bring to Canada two financially opposite groups of newcomers: the wealthy and those with low incomes.

Strong offshore in-migration into Metro Vancouver, including an influx of international students, Jeram said, has “created competition for low-end rental spaces in the city,” which is struggling with a shortage and exorbitant fees.

“There is also pressure on the higher end of the housing market” because of the arrival of many well-off immigrants and foreign investors, he said. “Money from the outside has turned middle-income properties into high-end properties.”

As a result, said Jeram, most of Metro’s millennial generation is being required to financially “stretch beyond the breaking point.” Most do not have pockets deep enough to buy detached homes or even condominiums.

“As a country, we don’t want to discourage foreign investment, but foreign investment in housing is not going to be productive or benefit us in the long run.”

He recommended new housing policies that restrict the “amount of foreign income, which is not produced in Canada, that can be used to purchase properties” in the country.

Since more than four out of five immigrants to Canada move to its major cities, added pressure is not only on housing, but on infrastructure, traffic and transit.

It contravenes human rights law to restrict the mobility rights of anyone in Canada, so Jeram thinks politicians should follow the lead of European nations and create incentives for immigrants and others to settle outside the Toronto and Vancouver metropolitan areas.

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