Demographic reality and immigration in Canada
by Michael Scott
The never-ending American presidential election cycle has focused on immigration and arguments raised against the country opening borders to refugees and other immigrants. Rather than discuss the merits of the protectionist popular appeal of Donald Trump with his “America First” slogans we, in Canada, need to be more aware of how important immigration is in terms of our population growth and worldwide competition. We should first compare Canada as an immigration destination with the Philippines as one of the principal providers of newcomers to the country.
As of September 29, 2016, Canada’s population is 36,370,686 compared to 102,642,935 in the Philippines. Canada is now ranked 38th in world population compared to 12th for the Philippines. The rankings have changed for both countries since 1965 when Canada ranked 30th and the Philippines 23rd. Canada has fallen five places and the Philippines increased by 11. In 1965 the median age for Canadians was 27 and this has increased to 40.8 in 2016. In comparison the Philippines had a median age of 17 in 1965 and 24.4 in 2016. The population of both countries is getting older but we need to be alarmed when the median age in Canada was set at 40 in 2010, 41 in 2015 and down slightly to 40.8 in 2016. We are not only falling in terms of our proportion of the world’s population but also becoming older as we speak.
Like in most first world countries, Canadians do not replace themselves. The fertility rates have dropped in Canada over roughly a similar reporting period. 1971 was the last time the replacement level of fertility of 2.1 children per woman was reached. Since that time, couples have not been replacing themselves. The current replacement level of fertility in Canada of 1.61 is roughly the same as that of 2011 and is up slightly from the low of 1.51 a decade earlier. It helps explain the rise in the median age to over 40 years of age, if we also consider that the average age for women giving birth is now over 30 years of age. We have not replaced ourselves for well over 40 years and have maintained a healthy population growth and place in the world economy through bringing in newcomers, both family members and skilled worker applicants.
It is important to note that over 300,000 newcomers arrived in Canada over the last year, the highest number since modern record keeping began. The 320,932 total number represented a rise of 33.3 per cent over the previous year. The arrival of Syrian refugees, which began in November 2015, partly explains the increase. More newcomers came through family reunification, skilled worker immigration and provincial nominations representing the largest components. Immigration Minister John McCallum has stated many times that the country wants to boost immigration as a way to alleviate the demographic challenges of an aging population and one that does not replace itself through birth rates. Statistics Canada reported, “The country had not received such a large number of immigrants in a single annual period since the early 1910s, during the settlement of Western Canada.”
These numbers represent a marked shift in Canadian demographics, with record numbers of arrivals contrasted with an aging population. There were 6.5 million Canadians over the age of 65 in July of this year compared with 5.8 million children. By comparison in 1986 there were twice as many children as people who were 65 years and older. Manitoba’s population increased by 22,147 people in the past year – its best growth since 1971. Many newcomers are prairie bound with 27.9 per cent of arrivals settling in the region. The share of immigrants who settled in Quebec and Ontario meanwhile was at the lowest levels in a long time, at 54.4 per cent. There are changes in the destinations and some of these can be attributed to the success of the provincial nominee programs in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador. All these provinces enjoyed record years for population growth. And Alberta ranked number two as a destination for new Canadians for the first time.
The numbers speak for themselves and undermine the protectionist attitude of Donald Trump built on the attitudes of keeping newcomers out. Canada needs newcomers to fuel our growing economy and to provide the tax base to keep our institutions healthy. Rather than looking for ways to build more walls to keep foreign nationals out we should be building bridges to bring in more. Thank you Pope Francis for these sentiments and also the Liberal government in Ottawa who are leading the way. Immigration is something Canada cannot do without.
Michael Scott BA (Hon), MA, is a 30-year veteran of Canada Immigration and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program who works as an immigration associate with R.B. Global Immigration Consultants Ltd. (204) 783-7326 or (204) 227-0292. E-mail: email@example.com.