­OPEN FOR BUSI­NESS

De­spite height­ened an­ti­im­mi­gra­tion rhetoric, the case for eco­nomic mo­bil­ity has never been stronger

Alberta Venture - - Thebriefing - CPIMAGES Rob­bie Jef­frey

>>> Amid a global refugee cri­sis kin­dled by the Syr­ian civil war, world­wide hos­til­ity to­wards free trade and free move­ment – Brexit, any­one? – and a U.S. pres­i­den­tial can­di­date whose most pop­u­lar pol­icy pro­pos­als in­clude ban­ning Mus­lims and build­ing bor­der walls, it’s lit­tle sur­prise that we’re wit­ness­ing a surge in anti-im­mi­grant and anti-refugee at­ti­tudes here at home. In the race for lead­er­ship of the Con­ser­va­tive Party of Canada, can­di­date Kel­lie Leitch has pro­posed to screen new­com­ers for “anti-Cana­dian val­ues.” A mosque in Cold Lake has been re­peat­edly van­dal­ized with graf­fiti read­ing, “Go home,” and that same slo­gan was spray painted on a garage in this writer’s home­town, not long be­fore two of the fam­ily’s ve­hi­cles were set on fire. This, in a prov­ince set­tled only re­cently by waves of Chi­nese, Pol­ish, Nor­we­gian, Ukrainian and Ir­ish im­mi­grants, to name just a sam­pling, and which spans three treaties with 45 First Na­tions.

But com­pas­sion and his­tor­i­cal prece­dent are hardly the only rea­sons to wel­come im­mi­grants. “Mi­gra­tion, no mat­ter how con­tro­ver­sial po­lit­i­cally, makes sense eco­nom­i­cally,” reads the in­tro­duc­tion to a new study from the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund, which but­tresses the long-held maxim that mo­bil­ity pre­cedes pros­per­ity. In ad­vanced economies, it says, a one per cent in­crease in the share of mi­grants in the adult pop­u­la­tion in­creases GDP per per­son by two per cent in the long term. And that’s not just an in­crease in the work­force-to-pop­u­la­tion ra­tio – it’s a gen­uine in­crease in labour pro­duc­tiv­ity, and it comes from both low- and high-skilled mi­grants. It ben­e­fits both the bot­tom 90 per cent and the top 10 per cent of earn­ers, too. That’s good news for Canada, where mi­grants make up about 25 per cent of the work­ing-age pop­u­la­tion.

Mi­gra­tion is cru­cial for an­other rea­son, too. As Frances Wool­ley, a pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics at Car­leton Uni­ver­sity, wrote for Maclean’s, for the first time in Cana­dian his­tory there are more se­niors over 65 than there are chil­dren un­der 15. Be­yond a tax base that will pay for those se­niors’ health care, think of the im­pact on the hous­ing mar­ket when there are “mil­lions more ‘fu­ture home sell­ers’ than ‘fu­ture home buy­ers,’ ” Wool­ley writes. “Im­mi­gra­tion at the present level of about 250,000 new per­ma­nent res­i­dents per year will fill the gap be­tween sell­ers and buy­ers at the ag­gre­gate level.”

Yet those who would close our bor­ders still dis­guise their case in eco­nomic terms. “What about the re­sources im­mi­grants need in the short term?” they ask, be­fore land­ing on the per­func­tory “now isn’t the right time” ra­tio­nale so com­mon in a down­turn. But data from the early 1990s re­ces­sion, when Canada didn’t tighten im­mi­gra­tion, show that while new­com­ers of­ten strug­gled to find or keep mean­ing­ful em­ploy­ment, they cer­tainly helped keep the real es­tate mar­ket afloat for those of us al­ready liv­ing here.

“I think the fear is that some­how there’s this zero-sum game if the new­com­ers are given cer­tain ben­e­fits,” says Stephen Carat­tini, CEO of Catholic So­cial Ser­vices, which has helped set­tle al­most 1,500 Syr­ian refugees (about 60 per cent of whom are chil­dren younger than 12) in Ed­mon­ton and Red Deer. “But for the most part, what we see is an ex­pan­sion of the econ­omy, a sort of rip­ple ef­fect flow­ing out. The new­com­ers still have to pay rent, buy school­books and buy food, so there’s an in­ter­de­pen­dence I think is very pro­found.” Imag­ine, Carat­tini says, the im­pact to our econ­omy when many of these Syr­ian refugees grad­u­ate from our high schools, col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties. There’s a great op­por­tu­nity for Al­berta’s ru­ral economies, too, many of which suf­fer from dwin­dling pop­u­la­tions and labour short­ages yet wel­come few new­com­ers. “What [refugees] want to do most is work,” Carat­tini says. “They have to work. There’s also an ac­knowl­edge­ment of a great debt of grat­i­tude – peo­ple want­ing to start work­ing so they can give back and not be a bur­den to the com­mu­nity they’re in.” Rather than de­spair at the in­fre­quent (but all-too-vis­i­ble) xeno­pho­bic out­bursts, Al­ber­tans should re­main stead­fast in our com­mit­ment to eco­nomic open­ness and tackle na­tivism with ap­peals to rea­son. The data are in our favour. –

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