Marco Mendicino: Immigration creates the jobs and growth that Canada needs

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino. PHOTO BY ADRIAN WYLD /The Canadian Press

From that famous expression “demography is destiny,” we can derive an enduring lesson about immigration in Canada. As we look back to the turn of the 20th century, through the post-Second World War boom, to the last half-decade, a clear pattern emerges: when our population grows, our economy grows, and all Canadians benefit.

This is why one of the keys to both our short-term economic recovery and long-term prosperity is the government’s 2021-2023 Immigration Plan, which puts our target for population growth at a little over one per cent. This growth is imperative if we want to leverage the advantages we have and keep Canada competitive on the world stage.

Newcomers are playing an outsized role in stepping up to fill some of our most acute labour shortages during COVID-19, including in health, agriculture and the trades. Thanks to them, countless Canadians have food on their tables, a roof over their heads, and the support that they need.

As we confront a second wave, an “all hands-on deck” approach is needed for our hospitals and long-term care homes. More than a third of our family doctors, nurses and pharmacists have already come from abroad, and the good news is that there are more international students in the pipeline. These heroic frontline workers will help us overcome COVID-19 and position our economy for recovery.

Business and labour leaders are among the strongest advocates for increased immigration. One in three Canadian businesses are owned by immigrants. In big cities and small towns alike, more than 600,000 business owners are self-employed newcomers, and over 260,000 of them have paid employees. To help spread these economic benefits across the country, our Atlantic Immigration and Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot Programs are helping to ensure we have the workers we need, where we need them.

“Immigration must be a pillar of Canada’s post-pandemic economic recovery plan,” writes Goldy Hyder, president of the Business Council of Canada. We agree, not only because of the urgent demands of our economy today, but because of the long-term demographic challenges that confront us tomorrow.

Our workforce is aging rapidly. In 1971, there were roughly seven workers for every retiree. Today that ratio is roughly 3:1. By 2035, there will only be two. At this rate, Canadians will have to pay over 40 per cent more for the same quality of health care that we rely on today. To reverse this alarming trend, we need more workers. And with declining birthrates, immigration is the way to get there.

The choices we make now will determine Canada’s economic prospects long into the future. A recent report by the Royal Bank of Canada observed that slowing immigration would lead to weaker growth. That’s because in addition to creating jobs themselves, immigrants are critical to the economy of the future.

Take innovation, where newcomers represent about half of all science, technology, engineering and math degree holders in Canada. We’ve already recruited 43,000 high-tech workers under our successful Global Skills Strategy. We also launched a Start-Up Visa Program, which has led to successes like ApplyBoard, a start-up from Kitchener, Ont., that has helped over 100,000 students from around the world apply to colleges and universities. Founded by three brothers who came here as international students, ApplyBoard was the first business under our Start-Up Visa Program to reach “unicorn status” — meaning it is valued at over $1 billion.

Economic migration isn’t at odds with Canadian compassion and the fulfilment of our humanitarian commitments. We will continue to be the world’s leader in refugee resettlement, including by broadening pathways for refugees with the skills to hit the ground running.

As we move forward, we’ve already shown that safe and orderly immigration is possible with strong health protocols and additional resources at the border. But we will also make the most of the talent and experience already within our borders. This includes temporary workers, international students and asylum seekers who, in many ways, are already putting their shoulder to the wheel. Their status may be temporary, but their contributions are lasting. We have a golden opportunity to recognize this and retain this talent by accelerating permanent residency for those aspiring Canadians who are already here, and helping them to put down roots right here.

“I can never count my blessings enough for what Canada and its people have given me” said Omair Imtiaz, a personal support worker at John Gillis Memorial Lodge in Belfast, PEI, who came to Canada in 2007. “This is my way of giving back to the community, giving to the most vulnerable.” On Canada Day, I had the privilege of attending Omair’s citizenship ceremony and welcoming him into the Canadian family.

Stories like Omair’s have echoed across many generations. Like so many others, he reminds us that immigration is not only about building a stronger economy, it’s also about bringing together communities that are defined by compassion, mutual respect and hard work.

This is the choice we can make, together, for our country, and it’s the choice we should make now, so that Canada’s destiny is not constrained by our demographics. Our plan for immigration growth before the pandemic happened was described as ambitious. Now it’s simply vital. Welcoming new members of the Canadian family means opening our economy to new opportunities for growth. We intend to do just that.