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Is there Really a Looming Labour Shortage in Canada and, if there is, can Increased Immigration Fill the Gap?

Type: Research Studies
Date Published: February 1, 2003
Authors:
Research Topics:
Immigration, Labour Market
In its release of 2001 Census data earlier this month, Statistics Canada reported a growing reliance on immigration as a source of skills and knowledge. The covering statement goes on to note that recent immigrants represented 70 percent of total labour force growth over the past decade and could account for virtually all labour force growth by 2011 (Statistics Canada, 2003). The implied message for Canadians is clear: without significant immigration, Canada's economy cannot grow or, in the words of a Southam News national editorial published after a release of 2001 Census data last year, without more people we can't sustain our well being, let alone do better. Without our low birth rate, immigration is therefore vital.

This begs the question of whether Canadians need or want a larger population. But the government has no plan for how large a population the country as a whole should have and has certainly not asked the people of Canada what their preferences are in this regard. To say that we need a larger work force, however, is premised on the assumption that we need one because we are going to have a larger population. While it is probably safe to say that few Canadians want to see their communities diminish in size, there are probably many-particularly among those living in large metropolitan areas-who do not want to see their cities and towns become a great deal larger.

While arguments can be made both for and against population increase, the StatsCan statement that there is a growing reliance on immigration for growth in the labour force implies that we have no choice in the matter, that the population is going to increase, the work force must continue to grow, and we can only achieve this with large-scale immigration whether we like it or not. As for the fact that most of the recent increase in the work force has taken place because of immigration, this is hardly surprising since most of the population increase has occurred for precisely the same reason. The questions remain, nonetheless, as to whether we really need or want any such increases.
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