Canada is betting on immigration to fill the void left in its economy by the aging baby boomer generation. But not everyone agrees with the arrival of so many foreigners.
In early November, the federal government announced an aggressive plan to welcome 500,000 immigrants a year by 2025, for a total of 1.5 million new migrants. With this plan, Canada would receive 8 times more permanent residents each year -by population- than the United Kingdom and 4 times more than its neighbor to the south, the United States. A recent survey, however, shows there is also anxiety about welcoming so many newcomers.
Canada bets big
For many years, Canada has tried to attract permanent residents -immigrants who have the right to stay in the country indefinitely without being citizens- to keep the population and economy growing. Last year, the country welcomed 405,000 permanent residents, the highest number in its history.
The reasons have to do, in a way, with simple mathematics. Like many Western nations, Canada has an aging population and a low birth rate. This means that if the country wants to grow, it will have to bring in immigrants.
Immigration adds to the growth of the active population and by 2032 it is expected to also contribute to the increase in the country’s population, according to a government press release.
A unique place in the world
Today, 1 in 4 Canadians has arrived in the country as an immigrant, the highest number among the G7 nations. In the United States, known as “the melting pot of the world,” only 14% are immigrants.
Geoffrey Cameron, a political scientist at McMaster University, believes that while many countries, such as Canada, are grappling with lower birth rates and an aging population, the success of any immigration system depends on popular support. “The limiting factor for most countries is public opinion”, he says.
In the US, where the number of immigrants entering the country through the southern border has reached an all-time high, there is widespread concern about having more immigrants than jobs. In Canada, on the other hand, there has historically been very high support for immigration. “I think part of the reason is that there is a degree of public confidence that immigration to Canada is well managed by the government and is also managed in a way that serves the country’s interests”, Cameron explains.
That does not mean there are not problems with immigration
In recent years, the influx of immigrants at the US border has caused some controversy, and the emergence of a new right-wing party in 2018, the People’s Party of Canada, kept the issue in the national conversation in the run-up to the 2019 federal election. However, certain parts of Canada also have different views on immigration.
When the government announced its aggressive targets of up to 500,000 new immigrants a year (25% more than in 2021), the province of Quebec, which can set its own immigration limits, made it clear that it would accept no more than 50,000 a year. This would mean that Quebec, which has 23% of the country’s population, would only welcome 10% of foreigners. Quebec Prime Minister François Legault said he is concerned that more immigrants will weaken the French language in the province. “Already with 50,000 it is difficult to stop the decline of the French”, he said.
And while it’s true that Canada may have more room to grow, some places feel the pressure more. Big cities like Toronto and Vancouver – where about 10% of the population currently lives – have an affordable housing crisis. In a survey conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies among 1,537 Canadians, 3 out of 4 said they were somewhat or very concerned about the effect the new plan would have on housing and social services. Almost half (49%) argued that the targets were too high, while 31% argued that it was the correct number.