Evidence of meeting #5 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was immigrants.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Patrick Grady  Economist, Global Economics Ltd., As an Individual
  • Herbert Grubel  Senior Fellow, Fraser Institute, As an Individual
  • Joseph Ben-Ami  President, Canadian Centre for Policy Studies
  • Thomas Tam  Chief Executive Officer, SUCCESS
  • Tom Pang  President, Chinese Canadian Community Alliance
  • Amy Casipullai  Senior Policy and Communications Coordinator, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

11 a.m.


The Chair David Tilson

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

This is the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. This is meeting number five. It is Tuesday, October 25, 2011. The meeting is televised today. It involves, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), study of the immigration application backlogs in light of the action plan for faster immigration.

We have three witnesses with us this morning. We have Patrick Grady, an economist at Global Economics Ltd.; Herbert G. Grubel, a senior fellow of the Fraser Institute; and Joseph Ben-Ami, the president of the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies.

Good morning to you all.

You each have up to eight minutes to make a presentation, and then the committee members will ask questions of you.

We will start off with Mr. Grady. Thank you for coming, sir.

11 a.m.

Patrick Grady Economist, Global Economics Ltd., As an Individual

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

It's an honour to be here today and to be able to talk to you about immigration issues.

The backlog is an important issue, but it's not the main important issue. It's really a symptom of an immigration policy in Canada that wasn't working and was generating large numbers of people who are not able to succeed in Canada's labour market. It is also something that was growing out of control, which caused the government to take action.

I give the government credit, with their Bill C-51, for amending the IRPA and implementing the action plan to do something about the backlog. But I think there are real questions about the effectiveness and the efficiency of the action plan.

First, there are many issues about the data on the backlog, and good data is necessary in order to make appropriate decisions. You have probably noticed that, unless they've given you additional data, the main official data was as of December 31 of last year; that was the data used for the consultations. There have been some selective updates provided, but it's very sketchy data and it doesn't really mesh very well with some of the other data. I find this a little bit of a puzzle.

But the global case management system has been implemented. I'm a little bit surprised that it can't produce reasonable data and data that will provide information on who the people in these backlogs are—their age, their sex, their education, where they come from—and various things about how long particular groups of them have been in the backlog. It's just overall data that is presented on the length of the backlog, making an unrealistic assumption that no new applications are accepted after March 31.

I think you have a hard job here. You really have to probe the government a bit more to get information out of them.

Then, of course, there's the real problem. If you consider the backlog to be the main problem, the government has met the objective to a certain extent, as they said, in that the pre-2008 federal skilled workers have been roughy halved. But if you look at the overall federal skilled workers in Canada and the applications that have come after that time, it has gone down only a teeny bit. And worse, the overall backlog is still over a million people. So there has been no improvement there.

The question this raises is why the backlog hasn't come down. I think it's obvious: the federal government doesn't really control the intake flow into the backlog; it only controls a small proportion. Quebec has its own program. The federal government has made commitments under the provincial nominee programs, which they think constrain it.

As a result, the federal government has been relinquishing its ability to control the total numbers under the immigration inflow. It has only been able to apply ministerial instructions to federally selected economic class immigrants mainly, the federal skilled workers and business immigrants, and the inflow of these has been cut down to a low level. The latest cutback was to 10,000 per year. There's a cap on the federal investor program of 700, and the cap was on each of the individual occupational categories. You can see that some of them have already been filled, and we're only three months into the year.

And then on the other hand the backlog of parents and grandparents has increased by almost a half, according to the recent data the minister gave, which showed that the backlog was 165,000, which was higher than the one they presented for the consultations. Wait times for parents and grandparents, with no new applicants, was already at seven and a half years, so it's probably much higher.

I'll make a few critical observations on the backlog.

I think the backlog has been cherry-picked by the government at this point by applying their ministerial instructions with respect to occupational categories and job offers. Although I don't have any data on this, I think those remaining in the backlog are likely to be the least desirable and least likely to succeed in the labour market. Not only that, but they're five years older now than they were when they started this process, and they were already disadvantaged in the labour market, so they're even in a worse position.

The cap on federal skilled worker applications and the occupational filter is really not a very good way to select immigrants who will make the greatest contribution to the Canadian economy. In my view, it represents an excessively bureaucratic approach to what is a serious economic problem: the poor performance of recent immigrants and the government's lack of success in selecting immigrants who will do well in the labour market. It excludes those who may be much more highly qualified new foreign federal skilled worker applicants in favour of the less attractive pre-2008 applicants. And while the arranged employment override is a step in the right direction, it's weighted in favour of temporary foreign workers and doesn't really seem to make very much of a distinction about the quality of the jobs of the people who are being admitted under the employment override.

Parents and grandparents.... Well, that's something that's very expensive for Canada. Just to give you a little bit of a number, Dave Dodge and Richard Dion did a study of the health costs in Canada. Their estimate was, taking men and women, that the cost per person between the ages of 65 and 84 would be about $192,500. If you just do a simple arithmetic calculation and apply that to the backlog, that would cost Canada $31.8 billion during the senior years of the people in that backlog.

Live-in caregivers is a program in the backlog. It's small at 29,000, but I find it very hard to understand why this program survives for so long and who the constituency for it is, given that the main beneficiaries are upper-income people who get a subsidy for taking care of their children in a very expensive way of at-home child care. Of those who come, 40% come to work for relatives. Then, unlike the other temporary foreign worker programs, these people get opportunity for full status after two years and they are entitled to bring in their family.

11:10 a.m.


The Chair David Tilson

One minute.

11:10 a.m.

Economist, Global Economics Ltd., As an Individual

Patrick Grady

One more minute? Okay, I won't get into this....

Herb and I did an estimate of the cost of immigration. If you apply our number to this backlog you get a cost of $6 billion a year, if you allow all these people in. Also, you can calculate, based on the Statistics Canada data, that if you allow everybody in the backlog in and they do just as well as the previous one million people allowed in, 26.4% of them--or 265,000--will go into poverty.

I think it's quite clear that the government's approach for dealing with the backlog isn't working. The caps are undermining the performance of economic class immigrants by excluding many wanting to apply for immigration now in favour of older immigrants who were taken in under less demanding selection systems. I think the government needs to restructure its immigration policy in order to maximize the potential economic benefits--

11:10 a.m.


The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Grady.

Mr. Grubel, thank you for coming.

11:10 a.m.

Herbert Grubel Senior Fellow, Fraser Institute, As an Individual

Thank you very much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here on the other side. As you know, I spent four years as the finance critic for the Reform Party, spending many hours in this room.

I'd like to note that I am both a professor of economics emeritus at Simon Fraser University and a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute. Neither institution has official positions on anything. I am here in my personal capacity as an economist.

I'd like to begin my presentation with a very radical proposition. The question before this hearing should be whether to get rid of the backlist altogether, not how to make it shorter.

The question about the best immigration levels to shorten the list involves a moral, bureaucratic, political, and practical morass. As you will have noticed already, no witness has produced any objective criteria for determining the number of immigrants. The reason is simple: there are none. All recommendations of numbers are basically arbitrary and driven by hidden moral and political motives.

Let me suggest that instead of moral and political criteria we should adopt the following fundamental principles: first, let us set policies so that immigrants benefit Canada, not so that Canada benefits immigrants; second, let us use our country's desire to help foreigners only after we have provided adequately for the many of our compatriots who need health care, caregivers, housing, special education, and so on. If we want to contribute to the welfare of foreigners, let us continue to admit genuine refugees and send foreign aid to the needy abroad.

My suggestions are based on the realization that there is almost universal agreement among economists that immigration has no significant positive effects on the incomes of Canadians. But if they come in large numbers, these large numbers depress wages and raise profits, effects that most us don't really support.

This traditional view of the merit of immigration that I have taught and written about for decades as a professor has become obsolete with the existence of the welfare state, in which everyone in Canada is entitled to a large array of social benefits and the progressive income tax system requires recent immigrants with average low incomes to pay fewer taxes than the average Canadian.

In a joint study with Patrick, we have estimated that these provisions of the welfare state are putting a fiscal burden of about $20 billion to $30 billion on Canadians every year. That's what we'll spend over the next 15 years to renew our navy. We spend this every year because of the selection procedures we are using to admit immigrants.

All traditional arguments about the merits of immigration are bogus and do not stand up to careful analysis. To mention just a few, immigrants are not needed to fill job vacancies. In fact, they can create shortages with their demands for housing, infrastructure, and doctors. Ten years' worth of immigrants require 5,500 new doctors. Where are we going to get them? Immigrants do not solve the problem of unfunded liabilities of social programs, and may worsen it. Their contributions to multiculturalism are marginal and at the borderline of becoming negative. Many countries without immigration are doing very well indeed economically and socially, from Korea and Singapore to China and India.

For these reasons, I recommend that we should adopt policies that bring into Canada only immigrants who pay taxes high enough or have access to funds that match the costs they impose on our social programs.

Before I offer some thoughts on a system for attaining this objective, let me present my radical proposal for dealing with the backlog. Simply pass a law that repeals the existing legislation, promising that anyone who pays a fee is guaranteed consideration for an immigrant visa. Dissolve the existing backlog by sending each applicant a letter saying, in diplomatic language of course, that "Parliament has decided that Canada is no longer obligated to consider your application; attached to this letter is a refund of the fee you have paid, including interest".

Parliaments pass this kind of legislation all the time: the Wheat Board will be dissolved; the gun registry will be scrapped; the national energy policy no longer exists. When I was in Parliament in the 1990s, transfers to the provinces were changed. I could go on, but the point is clear: no past legislation is immune from change or repeal by new Parliaments.

All such changes are accompanied by much opposition and debate, and sometimes it is very heated, but this is not something to be regretted or feared. It is intrinsic to democracy. Elections are the ultimate arbiter of the public on the merit of such changes.

Now to a brief discussion of an immigration policy that brings benefits to Canadians living in the welfare state. I suggest that immigration visas be issued only to Africans who have a pre-approved employment contract, at a pay that is at least equal to the average earned by Canadians and is subject to their passing normal health and security standards. Parents and grandparents should be given visas only if their offspring post a bond that is large enough to cover their expected cost of health care and pays for the living expenses they might need. Under these provisions, immigrants no longer impose a fiscal burden on Canada.

The principle underlying my proposal is simple and clear: let market signals, not politicians, technocrats, and vested interests determine who should be admitted and how many immigrants should enter Canada annually. Relying on market signals in the operation of the economy has served Canadians and the rest of the world well; it should do so for the selection of immigrants.

Let me conclude with some observations about the immigration policy. Recent opinion surveys show clearly that most Canadians are in favour of reduced levels of immigration or the maintenance of current levels. In considering these results, it is important to note that these sentiments are strongest in the country's largest cities, where immigrants have settled in the past—

11:15 a.m.


The Chair David Tilson

One minute, Mr. Grubel.

11:15 a.m.

Senior Fellow, Fraser Institute, As an Individual

Herbert Grubel

Yes, sir, I am on track.

—but where, importantly, also the largest numbers of parliamentary seats are at stake.

Through my own limited contact with immigrants, I have noticed they are very much aware, more than the average Canadian, of the cost that immigrants impose on us fiscally, through congestion and pollution, high housing costs, and other channels.

For these reasons, parties that embrace policy reforms of the sort I am proposing can expect electoral gains rather than losses in ridings in which immigrants reside in large numbers. To verify the correctness of my view, I urge politicians to make their own surveys and remain skeptical of survey results produced by organizations that may be supported by the immigration industry and allege that Canadians want more immigrants.

Thank you.

11:15 a.m.


The Chair David Tilson

You were right on the button. Thank you, sir.

Mr. Ben-Ami, you have eight minutes, sir.

11:15 a.m.

Joseph Ben-Ami President, Canadian Centre for Policy Studies

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to members of the committee for inviting me here today to speak with you.

We've been asked to talk about the growing backlog of applications for admission to Canada, but before addressing that subject I'd like to take a minute to say a few words about my own background and qualifications to speak on the matter.

As a first-generation Canadian, my experience and my family's experience is typical of most immigrant families. My father came to Canada in 1952 from a Europe that was only just beginning to recover from the devastation of World War II. He was admitted to this country as a farmhand, and worked on a farm not far from here for more than a year while he learned the language.

He eventually became a Canadian citizen. He acquired a trade and started a small business that at its height employed more than 20 people. He met and married my mother, and together they raised four children, who I hope are all productive members of the communities in which they live.

Before joining the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies I was the director of communications and later director of government relations and diplomatic affairs for the Jewish human rights group B'nai Brith. As most of you probably know, it is very much involved in immigration from both a policy and a practical point of view.

In short, I am here today not just as a spokesperson for a public policy think-tank, but as someone with a strong personal interest in the subject as well.

Mr. Chairman, we all know the numbers. The backlog of people qualified to come to Canada as permanent residents who are waiting for their admission to be processed now exceeds one million. Some have to wait for years before being admitted. This isn't a new problem. The blame can be shared by different political parties. The number of qualified applications for admittance has exceeded both immigration targets and our capacity to process those applications for more than a decade.

There are two possible ways to reduce this backlog. The first is to relieve the bottleneck by either implementing reforms that will reduce the time required to process individual applications, or directing sufficient resources to the problem area to ensure that even without reforms, the department has the capacity to process more applications than are being fed into the system. The second way is to throttle back the number of applications by reducing the number of people who automatically qualify for admission as a result of an individual's successful application. I place the word “selection” in quotation marks, because really there is no true selection process to speak of. That's a subject for another conversation, however.

Although there are no doubt many things that can and ought to be done to improve the speed and efficiency of the admissions process, we at the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies believe that the proper course of action for the government to take is the latter of these two: that is, reduce the number of people who qualify for admittance simply because an individual to whom they are related has been selected. Furthermore, we believe that the best and fairest way to accomplish this reduction is by limiting relatives, who automatically qualify for admission to Canada under the family class, to spouses or their equivalent and dependent children.

We don't make these recommendations lightly. There are, however, a few inconvenient and unavoidable facts that compel us to do so. Ladies and gentlemen, the plain truth is that we actually don't manage immigration well in this country, despite the rhetoric.

To begin with, despite all the talk about immigrants filling labour shortages, there remains no credible mechanism in Canada to ensure that admissions are prioritized to meet current and emerging labour force needs. And even if there were, it would be useless, because we don't address the issue of recognizing foreign credentials.

Let's say hypothetically that we identify a need for doctors, and the department is empowered to fill that need by admitting doctors, regardless of where they are in the queue. None of those doctors would be able to practise medicine--in other words, fill the need for which they were admitted--unless their credentials were recognized, and more often than not they aren't. This is a serious problem, for which no serious solution has ever been proffered. The result is that we have a flood of highly qualified immigrants who are unemployable in their professions.

Let's assume that credentialling is not a problem, and after reforming admission procedures we're able to process 350,000 people a year, as opposed to 250,000. Provincial governments are barely able to keep up with the escalating costs of health care associated with current immigration levels, when combined with an aging population. Adding an extra 100,000 people a year to the system requires long-term, comprehensive planning that just hasn't been done.

Education budgets are also a concern. Where does the money come from to build the schools that are going to be needed to educate the children of so many new residents, especially when provincial budgets are under so much strain due to growing health care costs? There is no plan there either.

What about the infrastructure that has to be provided to service new housing? Our urban areas are unable to keep up with the current rate of growth of their populations. Anyone who spends time in Toronto, for instance, will understand the effects of urban sprawl and existing transportation leaks.

Let's not forget unseen services such as water supply, sewers, sewage treatment. What would be the impact of increasing the number of new arrivals on this aging, and in some cases failing, municipal infrastructure? Once again, no plan.

These are issues that other levels of government, and ultimately taxpayers, have to contend with that rarely, if ever, are taken into account when decisions are being made here with respect to the number of people being admitted into Canada each year.

Consider something as simple as garbage. The challenge of garbage disposal, which is directly related to population growth, is reaching crisis levels in some of our urban centres. Yet I'll wager that nobody here has ever thought about the impact on this problem of maintaining current levels of admissions, let alone increasing them.

Then there's the question of social and cultural integration. The character, ladies and gentlemen, of immigration has changed significantly over the years. We in Canada have not adjusted to these changes. We have yet, for example, to resolve the conflict between our desire to respect the cultural integrity of immigrant communities and the pressing need to encourage members of those communities to abandon certain aspects of their cultures that impede their successful integration into the broader Canadian society.

This is just a small sampling of the issues that must be taken into careful consideration when deciding on the proper level of immigration, but which are not. The point is this, my friends: immigration levels cannot be set in a vacuum. They impact a wide range of policy areas at all levels of government. We believe that Canada's capacity to successfully absorb new arrivals is now stretched to the breaking point and beyond. It may be that we can increase that capacity, but that would require careful and coordinated planning by all levels of government, and that's just not happening.

11:25 a.m.


The Chair David Tilson

You have less than a minute, sir.

11:25 a.m.

President, Canadian Centre for Policy Studies

Joseph Ben-Ami

Until and unless it does, any policy that would result in an increase in migration to this country would be, frankly, irresponsible. Hence, our decision to recommend that the best way at this time to clear the backlog of applications for admission is to reduce the number of applications by modifying the criteria by which an individual could qualify for admission indirectly. In our view, this is a matter of putting facts before fantasy and reality before ideology.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

11:25 a.m.


The Chair David Tilson

Thank you.

Thank you to all of you. You've given some interesting presentations. I know that my colleagues will have some questions for you.

Mr. Opitz is first.

11:25 a.m.


Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Thank you very much. It's a very strong trio of witnesses today, and I welcome you all.

Mr. Grubel, welcome back. I know my colleague Mr. Weston follows in distinguished footsteps

And Mr. Ben-Ami, your characterization of your family coming here sounds exactly like mine, so it's a little bit of déjà vu for me.

My first question I'll address to all three of you in turn. The NDP has asked for a significant increase in the proportion of family members and refugees who we accept every year compared to economic immigrants. I would note that when the minister presented last week, he pointed out that family members currently constitute the highest number of immigrants who we let into the country, albeit through different streams. What would you comment on the NDP proposal?

Why don't we start with Mr. Ben-Ami.

11:25 a.m.

President, Canadian Centre for Policy Studies

Joseph Ben-Ami

Thank you very much for the question.

Yes, I mentioned the selection process. We don't really have a credible selection process. The fact is that only around 20% of people who applied for admission into Canada are “selected”, and everybody else qualifies automatically by virtue of some sort of relationship to the selected applicant. We don't think that's a very sensible way of selecting immigrants.

With respect to increasing the number of people who qualify for family reunification, look, in theory this is not a bad thing. We're not arguing that in principle we shouldn't be allowing parents and grandparents. We're just saying that if we're allowing parents and grandparents to come to this country, then we have to deal with the practical realities of it. We owe it not just to citizens who live here already but to new arrivals as well to ensure that we're able to handle the numbers of people and the characteristics of the demographics of the people who are coming here.

At this point in time, we set these numbers and we establish all these criteria in a complete disconnect from the realities on the ground. Listen, I can't give you a definitive answer, except to say that in principle it's not a bad idea. Nobody is opposed to it in principle. Certainly we aren't. But it has to reflect the reality on the ground as well. If we're not going to deal with those realities, then we have a responsibility to ensure that we're dealing with the levels of immigration and not expanding them.

One last thing about refugees: it's a totally different issue altogether, which none of us have really touched on, but we do have to consider the number of people who are being admitted to Canada not just as permanent residents, but as refugees and temporary workers as well. We let in a lot of people under temporary work permits in this country, and a lot of them actually don't go home after those visas expire. So that's another thing that should be taken into consideration.