For much of 2015 the attention of Canadians and our political parties has been heavily focussed on the plight of Syrian refugees and how Canada can help ease this humanitarian crisis.
Most of us welcome the federal government’s plan to accept 25,000 refugees in the next few months.
Some grumble at the cost — perhaps as much as $1 billion — of settling newcomers.
Others worry about security issues — how can so many potential immigrants be safely approved for entry to Canada over such a short time frame?
Immigrants fall into two distinct categories: those with the desire and financial resources, to pursue a new life in Canada for reasons ranging from lifestyle and education opportunities, to the desire to improve their economic circumstances.
The Syrian immigrants clearly fall into the second category —that of refugees.
Today, about one in five Canadians is not born in Canada. Over the past decade, Canada has accepted approximately 260,000 immigrants annually — of that number, only about 10 per cent were refugees in need of financial assistance.
Clearly, our immigrants have assimilated extremely well into Canadian society, making meaningful contributions to both our rich culture and our economic well-being.
In short, our experience with immigrants has been very positive.
Should we view this next wave of new arrivals any differently?
I would argue that not only should we welcome these families with open arms for humanitarian reasons, but also for selfish economic reasons. Yes, there will be transition costs, as these new residents arrive with barely more than the clothes they are wearing. However, history has shown us that immigrant refugees in particular, are highly appreciative of the opportunities Canada offers and very quickly became highly-productive, contributing members of society.
An even more compelling economic reason for embracing immigration is our aging demographic.
For the first time in history, the number of seniors in Canada has equalled that of our children under age 16.
Every year the decreasing proportion of those in the workforce struggles to fund the increasing cost of health care and other programs required to support our rising numbers of seniors. Unless we do something dramatic to change this trend, our children and grandchildren had best prepare for a much-delayed retirement, smaller pensions and a health care system under much greater pressure than it faces today.
There are solutions for this demographic conundrum. We can raise the birthrate dramatically and quickly — a not very-likely prospect when all current trends are in the reverse direction.
A more realistic option is to increase immigration well beyond our recent annual rate of 0.7 per cent of our population.
We should view the arrival of Syrian refugees as an opportunity — a small jump-start to increasing the younger demographic. If we fail, we can foresee significant future labour shortages, as well as a decline in our collective standard of living.
Germany, with a population of 80 million, faces similar demographic challenges. Chancellor, Angela Merkel clearly embraces the long-term benefits of accepting refugees — even at significant transition costs. Germany, in 2015, has accepted some 800,000 Syrian refugees — 32 times the commitment made by Canada.
Immigrants represent to our society, not a cost, but an economic benefit. Short-term transitional costs are quickly offset by the incremental consumption of accommodation, goods and services, and increases in tax revenues.
National security cannot be ignored. Yet, thousands land on our shores daily, most with little-to-no pre-screening. If the traveller has a passport and a plane ticket, he or she is welcomed. We do not let our concern for security impede our very lucrative tourism industry. In fact, we actively strive to increase tourism.
With the intense vetting process faced by potential immigrants, the security concern would appear to be much less of an issue, than for visiting tourists. In helping to ease a humanitarian crisis, we as a civilized society are doing not only what is necessary and appropriate but in the process, we are fortunate to be easing a significant demographic problem for ourselves — a great long-term benefit to Canada.
A retired corporate executive, enjoying post-retirement as an independent Financial Consultant (www.dolezalconsultants.ca), Peter Dolezal is the author of three books, including his most recent, The Smart Canadian Wealth-Builder.