Sunday, March 11, 2012

Immigrants key to economic growth


Megan Harris
Yesterday at 2:48 PM

To those who argue that the Canadian government should substantially reduce the net inflow of immigrants into the country in order to effectively tackle our stubbornly high unemployment rates are both misinformed and dead wrong.
The reality is the combination of Canada’s demographic profile and low fertility rate means future economic growth will depend entirely on a steady flow of people willing to uproot themselves and families to move to our shores. Simply put, Canadians are getting older and having fewer babies.
If you want to grow your economy, you need a stable cohort of young people who are willing to work.
That is not to suggest Canadians are not willing to work. It’s just that many of us grew up expecting to dictate our terms for giving employers the honour of paying us for our labour.
With the onset of the global recession in 2008 — coupled with the fragile state of Canada’s economic recovery — these expectations are out of whack. There are jobs out there but it’s a matter of resetting expectations.
According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate in February dipped to 7.4%, largely because 37,900 fewer people, the majority in Ontario, stopped looking for work.
At the same time, many employers are experiencing a persistent shortage of workers and can only fill the void through offshore hiring to keep their businesses afloat. This ongoing shortage of skilled labor points to a gap in both our education system and apprenticeship programs that are failing to produce job ready graduates.
Ontario’s unemployment rate is 8.1%. The Drummond report reveals that within the immigrant community, the unemployment rate is disproportionately high — almost double the provincial average: “In particular, very recent immigrants (in Canada for five years or less) were the most adversely affected by the global recession, registering employment losses in each of the last three years (2009, 2010 and 20118). In the first three quarters of 2011, Ontario’s unemployment rate for very recent immigrants remained among the highest in Canada (15.7%), behind only Quebec (18.6%).”
You might rightly question, why permit more immigrants to enter the country if the existing ones are not able to keep the jobs they are hired to fill in the first place?
The answer has many complexities. Among the reasons is the McGuinty government was slow to adopt changes in federal immigration programs that enabled provinces to strategically target their immigration programs to fill employment gaps. In fact, Ontario was the last province to launch a provincial nominee program (PNP). The negative implications on the economy are numerous and could hamper growth over time.
So, while between 2006 to 2010 Ontario’s immigration levels remained constant at 36.7% of all newcomers to Canada, they accounted for only 15.6% of growth in immigrant employment growth. A key factor, Ontario takes in a disproportionately high number of refugees to Canada — 56% in 2010. These new arrivals are most often less job ready and require more support.
Many employers used the recession as both an opportunity and an excuse to trim unnecessary overhead costs.
Ontarians must accept the new reality that landing their ideal jobs will take much longer than before. In the meantime, closing doors to immigrants is not the answer because they do the jobs most Canadians don’t want to do.
But the Ontario government needs to do a better job of attracting those immigrants that can hit the ground running and contribute to strengthening all aspects of Ontario’s future prospects.