Thank you, Mr. Chair.
As I haven't had a chance to speak to most of the members of the committee before—I think only you and Mr. Dykstra have been in previous meetings that I've been at—I'd like to give a quick background on my interest in immigration and my connection with it.
I was involved some years ago in programs for immigrants when I was the citizenship adviser for the Ontario government. I was responsible for services for English and citizenship classes, and teachers throughout the province. After that, I was sent by the Canadian International Development Agency to the Malaysian state of Sabah, where I spent five years training English teachers in Chinese schools. That gave me some exposure to the immigrant experience in other countries.
Later, when I worked for Foreign Affairs, I served as Canadian High Commissioner and ambassador in a number of countries where there were high flows of immigrants and refugees to Canada. For the last 10 years, I've been a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute. Then last year we formed a new group, the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform, to try to raise public awareness of immigration and refugee issues, and encourage informed public debate on these topics. I'm the spokesperson and chair of the advisory board.
Finally, on a personal level, I would mention that my parents are both immigrants. They're from Britain. My wife is an immigrant from Asia, and some of my in-laws are boat people from Vietnam, which gives me an interesting refugee perspective on issues.
I'll make some comments about the backlog in general, as well as the backlog of sponsored parents and grandparents in particular, since the latter is perhaps the most sensitive from a political perspective. With respect to the overall backlog, the problem has been developing for some years. Until recently, Canada had established annual target levels but not annual caps, which meant that the number of people applying to come here who could meet the requirements were often much greater than what we needed or could absorb.
In contrast, the U.S. puts an annual limit on how many people it will admit, and applicants are under no illusion that they may have to wait quite a long time to come in if they don't make the cut for the current year.
As Minister Kenney has pointed out, there's no shortage of people who want to immigrate to Canada. In 2008, the government wisely took action that gave priority to the applications of those who were most likely to succeed in Canada and benefit Canadians.
I would question the solution proposed by some that we raise our immigration levels in order to admit all those who are currently in the queue. There's abundant evidence that we're already bringing in far more people than we need.
I'm not going to have time to go through all the reasons why levels are much higher than they should be. I'll just mention a few.
To begin with, the prosperity of a country doesn't depend on a constantly growing population or workforce. Our prosperity depends on having sound economic policies that stimulate increases in productivity and make the best use of our existing workforce, including women, aboriginals, immigrants who already here, and older people.
Some claim that high levels of immigration are necessary if we're to meet our anticipated labour shortages. The fact is that we already have potential labour forces and the educational infrastructure required to meet all such shortages.
One figure that has been given, by Professor Marcel Mérette of Ottawa University, who's a demographer, is that if you raise the average age of current retirement of Canadians by one year, from 61.2 to 62.2 years, that's the equivalent of bringing in an extra 65,000 high-qualified immigrants. If you raise it to 65, you have a tremendous impact. There's evidence that people are already starting to retire later. That began long before the recession, but it's accelerating.
The Economic Council of Canada's landmark study of the social and economic impacts of immigration, which was done ten years ago, concluded that immigration was not justified in today's Canada, on either economic or demographic grounds. The study pointed out that almost all labour shortages could be met domestically if wages were allowed to rise, and more Canadians were attracted by the higher pay and acquired the training necessary to fill the gaps.
The head of the economics department of the University of British Columbia, Professor David Green, made the same points earlier this year. He told the annual Metropolis Conference that natural market responses to labour shortages, such as pay hikes, can be obstructed when immigration increases the supply of workers and thus reduces wages. If you're looking at immigration as a major driver of economic growth, you're looking in the wrong place. David Green, by the way, is also a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Just last week, a committee of the Labor government in Australia issued a report saying there was little evidence to support claims that immigration was an important driver of per capita economic growth or that it could alleviate the problems of an aging population. Similar conclusions were reached in a House of Lords report in the United Kingdom, in 2008, and in the bipartisan committee of the U.S. Congress, in 1997.
I mention these points to underline that while immigration has played a major role in Canada's development at various times in our history--and Canadians are justified in viewing it positively--there is nevertheless strong evidence that current immigration levels are far higher than what we really need and are very costly for Canadians. The cost was touched on by previous witnesses who pointed out that it could be as much as $16 billion to $23 billion a year. Not only should the intake of skilled workers be significantly reduced and more emphasis put on the training and employment of Canadians, but other programs should either be reduced or eliminated completely.
The live-in care program as a path to permanent residence, for example, is particularly ill-conceived and should be eliminated with a minimum of delay.
Neither the investor nor entrepreneur programs have much to justify them and the government has already begun some moves on that.
There should be concern over the rapid expansion of the provincial nominee programs. It's important that the provinces be consulted on immigration issues that affect them, but far too much authority has been delegated to them.
As for what to do with the backlog, the action the government has taken to date to deal with it makes a good deal of sense--give priority to those most likely to be a success and contribute to the economy--although I would qualify this by referring to my earlier statement to the effect that we're still taking in far too many immigrants, whether well-qualified federal skilled workers or not.
What I'd suggest is that given the unexpected length of time many in the queue will have to wait to get their visas, they at least be given the opportunity to cancel their applications and receive a full refund for the fees they have paid. There is a legal obligation to process the applications that have been made to date, but we never guarantee the particular timeframe for letting people in. I think the government is quite right in concentrating on those whom we need the most.
I'll conclude my remarks with a few comments on the sponsorship of parents and grandparents.
I think it's quite understandable that newcomers would like to bring their parents and grandparents with them, but bringing them into Canada is very costly for Canadian taxpayers, particularly with regard to health care. Based on data summarizing the average health care costs of different age groups in a study released by the C.D. Howe Institute earlier this year, the health care costs of the sponsored parents and grandparents who have come here since 1990 could amount to as much as $84.4 billion.
If you include all those who have come since 1980, the costs rise to over $103 billion.