Diane Francis: Trudeau's foolhardy immigration targets

·3 min read
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the Liberal national caucus holiday party in Ottawa
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the Liberal national caucus holiday party in Ottawa

The Trudeau government aims to let in 465,000 immigrants next year, despite serious shortages in housing and health care. As a percentage of the population, this is higher than most other developed nations and comes at a time when the country faces mounting debt and is likely headed into a recession.

This demographic push began at a weekend gathering in 2011 in Muskoka, Ont., led by Dominic Barton, who served as global managing director of McKinsey & Company before becoming Canada’s ambassador to China for a time, and former BlackRock Inc. honcho Mark Wiseman. They then created a Toronto-based lobbying group called the Century Initiative, which aims to increase Canada’s population to 100 million by 2100. Given sagging birth rates, this would require Canada to accept at least 500,000 immigrants a year, if not more.

This is the plan that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is now executing. The group’s goals are to encourage policies that would increase the creation of “mega-regions,” increasing the population of the Greater Toronto Area from 8.8 million in 2016 to 33.5 million by the end of the century, the population of Metro Vancouver from 3.3 million to 11.9 million and the National Capital Region from 1.4 million to 4.8 million.

“The world is changing at a rapid pace, and Canada is falling behind. Our population is aging, we’re having fewer children and our workforce is shrinking. If we stay the course, Canada’s annual GDP growth will decline, along with our influence on the world stage,” the organization states on its website.

“Growing our population to 100 million by 2100 would reduce the burden on government revenues to fund health care, old age security and other services. It would also mean more skilled workers, innovation and dynamism in the Canadian economy. 100 million by 2100 is not just a number. It’s a vision for the Canada we want to build for future generations.”

But Trudeau’s attempts to bring in a flood of newcomers has only served to increase the burden on government to fund health care, old age security and other social services. The government has also done a poor job of bringing in more skilled workers. The result is that the provinces are forced to pay for health and other social services for our ever-increasing population, while the federal government refuses to help foot the bill, as we’ve seen in the recent debate over health care.

Trudeau’s immigration misfire is like his other pie-in-the-sky policies that have hobbled Canada’s economic development and halted investment in Canadian resources. Instead of pausing to assess the socio-economic damage caused by the COVID pandemic and the housing crisis, Trudeau is doubled down, increasing immigration from 405,000 last year to 465,000 next year.

Properly managed countries like Australia and New Zealand dramatically slowed immigration during the COVID crisis. Their governments have focused on immigrants who offer needed skills the day they arrive. New Zealand has also done a more effective job at tackling housing inflation, which contributes to housing shortages, by banning foreigners from buying residential real estate years ago.

The Trudeau government is economically clueless. Since 2015, it has spent like a sailor, put it all on the tab and squandered the country’s brief competitive advantage of lower corporate tax rates. The deadly combination of high housing costs and high taxation in Canada is why cities like Toronto and Vancouver have been unable to create world-class technology hubs. Instead, Canada exports skilled labour and technology brainpower to the United States, where taxes are lower, housing is cheaper and the weather is nicer.

The lesson is simple: good immigration is good a for a country, but poorly executed and excessive immigration is not.