That, in the opinion of this House, the government should ascertain whether current levels of immigration are sustainable in periods of high unemployment and slow economic growth or recession, and if it finds these levels to be unsustainable under such circumstances the government should develop a means of expeditiously adjusting immigration levels in response to economic conditions.
Mr. Speaker, since you have just read the motion I will not read it again. I happen to care very much about the precise wording of the motion. It was worded as carefully as one could in an attempt to hit the target. I would like to explain to the House where the genesis of this motion came from.
Once every four or five years members of this House go back to the people to seek re-election and others to seek election. During that process we have a very healthy experience of meeting the electors and hearing their concerns, not just by telephone or letters but right at their front doors. That is where they tell those seeking re-election and those seeking to be elected for the first time exactly what the score is from the perspective of the voter.
During the 1993 election I was dutifully electioneering in my riding with several other candidates from other parties. At that time we believed we were in the tail end of the recession. Statistically it is fair to say that we were and at least in my riding of Scarborough-Rouge River we were waiting for the economy to spin up again.
Many of my constituents asked me about the levels of immigration. They said if the unemployment rate is 11 per cent now it surprises them that we are taking in more immigrants this year than we did the year before and that the immigration levels are increasing.
My riding is 55 per cent immigrants. It is actually an immigrant receiving community and we are very proud of that. It is a very healthy, vibrant community and that augments our lives there considerably. There was a high level of intake of new Canadians.
A constituent said to me that she sponsored her sister as an immigrant last year. She was accepted recently and she is going to come but this is a terrible time for her to come because she is not going to find a job.
The economy is in such miserable shape around here. The metropolitan Toronto area was hit very hard by the recession and I do not think we have recovered the jobs that we lost four years ago. We are down considerably by 100,000 or 200,000 jobs.
She was expressing concern about the ability of her sister to find a job when she arrived in Scarborough and was suggesting to me, even though she and her sisters were current clients of the immigrant process, that maybe we did not have the timing quite right.
That combined with many other questions put to me at the door caused me to undertake to my constituents that I would raise in the House the question of immigration levels when the economy is not growing, when we have a weak economy. That is why the issue is here. Although the economy has improved somewhat since last year the issue is still a legitimate one.
A year later some events have overtaken the currency of that issue. It is worth pointing out that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has undertaken a very comprehensive and broad ranging consultation process with a view to establishing a long run, a 10-year plus immigration plan for Canada that will take us into the next millennium. That process has begun and it is continuing. It is comprehensive. Canadians will play a definite part in that and I am looking forward to that process continuing.
There are a number of questions raised in the consultation but I want to note two because they bear relevance to the subject of debate at the moment. Page 10 of the first consultation document it states while there may be increasing concerns about the
number of immigrants coming to Canada there is evidence to suggest that these concerns are linked as much to issues of unemployment and the economy as they are to issues of diversity. That is in the government's own discussion paper.
Another question asked on page 13 is a question not unrelated to the one we are debating here today: should immigration be managed in response to the business cycle or only on the basis of long term social goals?
Right there the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and those who work with him have asked the types of questions that are related to the motion we discuss here today.
Keep in mind that the motion addresses immigration levels in a weak economy; high unemployment and all of the other manifestations of a weak economy. It is clear that the issue has been addressed. At least if it has been addressed, it may not have been answered, but an answer is being sought from Canadians.
Let us use this debate to focus on that particular issue, the issue of immigrations levels in a weak economy, and hopefully make a contribution to the broader consultation now under way.
What are the issues related to this? In a weak economy some Canadians ask, at least the ones I spoke to at the doors did, if we are able to receive as many immigrants in a weak economy as we are in a strong economy. Looking back over the last few years: immigration levels in 1991, 206,000; 1992, 220,000; 1993, 245,000; and the plan for 1994 would have us receive 250,000. There has been an increase and that increase took place at about the same time as the recession sucked the growth out of our economy.
If one was unemployed in Toronto or Scarborough in 1993 during the election campaign and simply took note of an increase of 30,000 or 40,000 people in metropolitan Toronto as immigrants, one might legitimately ask whether their arrival will decrease one's ability to find a job. It is a legitimate question and it is one that I do not think the government has definitively answered. It is a question we ask here today.
There is something else going on here while the question is being asked and if we had 30,000 or 40,000 new Canadians in metro Toronto and they all started looking for jobs I think the unemployment rate would shoot through the roof, but it did not through that period. It went up in the recession but it never did shoot through the roof.
It is clear that the arrival of new Canadians does not per se on a person per person basis directly cause unemployment. Nevertheless, the question I have already acknowledged is a legitimate one.
We can look for the answer perhaps in some economic studies that have been done. There are some related economic studies which show that immigrants can create just about as many jobs as they would take as workers. The suggestion in some of these economic studies is that there is a balance.
When immigration increases, when the people come here to Canada to start new lives, they immediately increase the demand for goods and services. They in effect become a part of the marketplace that generates jobs. I suppose that particular piece of economic news is a good one.
There was a 1991 study by the Economic Council of Canada called Economic and Social Impacts of Immigration which states at page 62 that immigration may influence the incomes and job opportunities of existing residents. It also says the impact of immigration on unemployment is almost certainly negligible, at least over the long term. Even temporary effects seem quite unlikely unless immigration increases very rapidly.
Immigration appeared to be increasing relatively rapidly between 1991, 1992, 1993, but in any event it has at least addressed the issue.
There is another statement in that same study by the Economic Council of Canada which gives its recommendations as an economic advisory body. It recommends that the level of immigration be gradually increased above the average levels of the last 25 years to reach 1 per cent of the population, that is a 1 per cent increase on a gross basis by the year 2015. These levels would be reviewed every five years to verify that the integration of immigrants is being successfully managed.
While Canadians gain economically in terms of per capita income from more immigration, the gain is so small that it did not weigh heavily in our recommendation. Nevertheless, nearly every immigrant more than pays for himself or herself in scale economies and in lighter future tax burdens. These are positive things for our economy.
We note that there is hardly ever an effect on unemployment rates. Nevertheless, at the doors in my constituency the fear was there. It may not be a justifiable fear but Canadians are telling me they are worried about it.
I want to assume that in the discussion here the motion I have placed here is dealing with a period of high unemployment, weak or no economic growth, and a level of high immigration receipt. If you are from a community in Canada that did not have a lot of immigrants coming to it you would not care too much about the motion. You would not care too much about the issue perhaps. However, this is the way my constituents have put this to me.
Research on this subject also shows two earlier studies, 1977, 1982, which tended to suggest that there were materially recognizable costs with immigration.
However, those studies second guessed the methodology and the computer models which were then called TRACE, CANDIDE and RDX2. These are 20-year old economic models which I understand are not used any more. Therefore the results of those studies are certainly in question.
We leave the ascertaining of the economic impacts to the economists. I have referred the House to Economic Council of Canada study in 1991. There was another study done one or two years ago by the Mackenzie Institute. I take note of it because that particular body contributes quite a bit to public policy development in the country. Its conclusions are not always the conclusions that I would come to but they are a contributor.
On page 124 of the Mackenzie Institute study is a quote I want to mention because it was written by a current member of the House, the hon. member for Capilano-Howe Sound. The assessment in that document was that the economic effects of immigration on the welfare of resident Canadians tend to be positive. I wanted to note as clearly as I could that overall the immigration impacts are very positive for Canadians.
I would like to get back to what I think the focus of the House disposition should be. I and my constituents would like the government to ascertain whether high levels of immigration, when the economy is weak, impact negatively on Canadians especially in high immigrant receiving communities. I realize that an answer might not be forthcoming quickly and definitively but that is the issue we seek to have resolved.
If the government finds that it does have a negative impact then it should take steps to alter the immigration levels in a way that would nullify those impacts.
Last, I again want to recognize that the question will be addressed in the current consultation process. I hope that it will be done by the government, by officials in employment and immigration and with the assistance and in consultation with Canadians in a way which will recognize the concern that has been expressed by my constituents and in a way which will permit our immigration act and policies to serve Canadians in the best possible way for the decades to come.