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The welcome-mat economy

Immigration a massive boost to province's finances, culture

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/3/2015 (1896 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.



What if every newcomer who was told "If you don't like it, go back to where you came from" actually did?

There is no way of knowing how many immigrants and refugees have heard the anti-immigrant line over the years, but if they all left, Canada would be in big trouble.

"We couldn't imagine it happening," said Pedro Antunes, the deputy chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada.

'With 250,000 immigrants (to Canada) a year, imagine all of a sudden shutting that down to zero'‐ Pedro Antunes, deputy chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada

Without a steady stream of about 250,000 newcomers a year replenishing the population, Canada's economy would shrink, the social safety net would fall apart, and standards of living would tumble, he said.

"With 250,000 immigrants a year, imagine all of a sudden shutting that down to zero," said Antunes with the non-profit, non-partisan economic think-tank. It's never studied the economic impact of losing immigrants because of the proven need for them.

"Canada has forever been built on immigration... Bringing more people in need of services and housing drives domestic economic growth," he said.

In Winnipeg, Ali Saeed arrived as a refugee more than 30 years ago with next to nothing and today owns several buildings and businesses, including the city's only commercial injera bakery. Injera is a spongy kind of flatbread from Ethiopia, the country he fled after being tortured in the 1970s. Today, Saeed has several employees, six kids, four grandchildren, has won human rights awards for volunteer work and his story is exhibited at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. He's privately sponsored more than 104 refugees who've raised families and are contributing to Manitoba's economy, he said. If Saeed could have gone back to Ethiopia, Winnipeg's population, human rights scene, employment, cuisine and tax base would've missed out.

But he wouldn't leave Canada. Saeed said if he was asked to, he would fight for it. He owes Canada everything, he said. "This is the place I found my freedom."

The niqab furor in Parliament and the Ontario MP commenting about a woman wanting to wear hers at a citizenship ceremony -- "If you don't like that, if you don't want to do that, stay the hell where you came from" -- is hurtful, Saeed said.

"I was very disappointed and humiliated by politicians who are depending on immigrants for support -- even financial support from immigrants working like me... How are you telling newcomers to go back to their country?"

Economist Antunes said Canada now has to compete for skilled immigrants with other developed nations, including Australia and the U.S. Immigration is what's backfilling retirements in an aging workforce.

In Canada, an estimated 1.2 per cent of the labour force is retiring, and that number is going to climb when the largest cohort of baby boomers now just turning 50 reaches retirement age, said Antunes.

"The front end of the boomers is just starting to retire. That trend is just starting to accelerate, and over the long term it's a pretty immovable trend unless we make a miraculous leap in productivity."

The Atlantic provinces have seen more deaths than births and Quebec is expected to be the next province to experience a negative birth rate, said the economist. Even if the birth rate picked up, it would take 20 years for those babies to join the workforce and to replace the retiring boomers, he said.

In the meantime, the retirement of aging baby boomers means a reduction in productivity and government revenue. At the same time, health-care costs will continue to rise as the growing number of aging baby boomers requires more costly services the older they get, said Antunes.

Immigration schemes such as the provincial nominee program have been successful in luring workers to settle in places such as Manitoba, he said.

"Winnipeg and Manitoba are benefitting from that with a very strong domestic economy."

Manitoba will be one of the country's leaders in economic growth this year, according to the 2015 forecast from the Royal Bank of Canada.

In its latest provincial outlook report released in December, RBC Economics predicts Manitoba will tie British Columbia for the second-strongest real gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2015, at 2.9 per cent. It predicts Ontario will lead the charge with growth of 3.1 per cent, while the Canadian economy is expected to expand by 2.7 per cent.


Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

Read full biography


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Updated on Friday, March 20, 2015 at 4:57 PM CDT: Alters penultimate paragraph - this year instead of next year.

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