Monday, 27 March 2017

On Immigration...

On Immigration...

By: Ryan Young

The most common theme I heard from my political colleagues this past weekend was: “What is Gerry Byrne smoking?”

The question comes on the heels of an announcement by Byrne on Friday that the Newfoundland and Labrador Government is planning to boost immigration by 50% over the next five years. The target is 1700 new immigrants by 2022, although like every Liberal “plan” so far, the announcement was high on spin and rhetoric but very low on details.

During the announcement, Byrne also stated that the plan will include attracting expat NL’ers who have left the province to come back. It’s nice for the Liberals to keep taking their cues from the old Clyde Wells playbook, but much like when Wells promised to bring every mothers son home (just prior to overseeing the largest out-migration in NL history) the statement carries very little weight when you consider the current economic state of the province and the fact that people are leaving in droves for better opportunities and less taxes.

When you look at the numbers, NL has the second highest consumer price index in the country, after only Alberta. What that means in simple terms is that we have one of the highest costs of living in Canada and it is trending up instead of down. We have come a long way from leading the country in growth. Our GDP is shrinking and by the end of the mess that will be harshly remembered as the “Dwight Ball Years,” unemployment in the province is expected to top 20%.
The numbers hardly seem to match up with Byrne’s assertion that now is the best time to move to Newfoundland. It should not be too much of a shock for people to see Byrne speaking so out of touch. After a long twenty years in Ottawa as an MP, Byrne himself came home to take a stab at provincial politics. According to him, 2016 was the best year of his political career. That was certainly a curious statement when you consider the hardships that his government has placed on the people of this province in the past year. I’m sure it was a wonderful year for Gerry and his Liberal cronies, but unfortunately the people he was elected to represent are experiencing their worst year in recent history, all because of the decisions that Byrne and his government made on their behalf.

Many people in this province have strong opinions about immigration. Some are very much in favor, while others are vehemently opposed. The reasons are varied, but I did not want to turn this post into a debate about immigration. The truth of the matter is that with a declining population, more immigration is likely needed to keep our tax base afloat in the years to come. The problem that I see when I look at the issue is not one of security but one of plain economics.

Traditionally our immigrant retention rates have been extremely low. A recent report indicated that less than 40% of immigrants that come to NL stay here to live and work. There are many reasons for the low retention rate. NL does not have any large ethnic communities compared to many other places in Canada. Many of our jobs are low paying and do not provide benefits. The cost of living here is very high, with very little support for families when it comes to things like housing, child care, and parental benefits.

With these things in mind, I think we have to approach immigration in a different way. Instead of trying to attract immigrants to replace all the people that are being driven away by the high cost of living, what we really need to do is create a positive environment in the province that will not only allow our own residents to stay home and flourish, but it will also provide a very attractive destination for potential immigrants to move and raise families, and thereby building our own ethnic communities.

It makes absolutely no sense to initiate a government program aimed at increasing immigration when the government has no obvious plan to tackle the high unemployment rates and cost of living. Why in the world would an immigrant want to come and live here and suffer under our regressive economic policies when there are so many better options out there for them to pursue? The only way it would work is if our government was paying subsidies for people to stay here. I’m not sure how much political capital that will earn them when so many native NL’ers are lined up at the ferry terminal each day to leave in search of the better life their own government promised, but could not provide.

What is likely to happen is that the government will spend millions on their immigration “plan” in the coming years, without addressing any of the real issues that keep retention rates low. This means that our tax dollars will be used to help bring immigrants in and get them established in the province, but when the benefits run out, they will likely move on and settle elsewhere in Canada and become productive tax paying contributors to another provincial economy. Personally, I find that hard to justify when we could use that money to improve social programs which would likely be more effective in the long run when it comes to attracting immigrants and keeping them here.

The scariest part about it all is thinking about who is sitting in the driver’s seat. So far, we have not seen any of the evidence-based policy that we were promised during the 2015 election campaign. What we have seen over and over are reactionary decisions, many of which have already been reversed when it became apparent that people were doing their own research that was not matching up with what the government was saying. I fear that this will be another example of this government wanting to do something for good publicity without really thinking through the consequences of their decisions. If they want people to start believing in them, they need to start making decisions based on good policy research and evidence, and not on what they think will win back a few votes in 2019.

At the end of the day, we certainly do need to have an open and honest discussion about immigration in this province. With an aging population and a growing out-migration rate, NL will need to find new ways to increase our tax base to provide the revenue we will need to pay for basic programs and services in the future. Unfortunately, just throwing a bit of money at the problem is not going to fix it. We need to re-think the way we support families in this province and we need to address the root causes of why immigrant retention rates are so low. Most importantly we need to make Newfoundland and Labrador a great place to live so that when we do attract people to move to this province, (or move home) we are able to keep them here to contribute to the economy in a meaningful way. 

Immigration does not have to be a dirty word for Newfoundland and Labrador, but in order for the masses to get behind the government's new immigration plan, they are going to have to convince people that they know what they are doing. We live in a dangerous world and people are wary of the unknown. If the government really wants this plan to work they need the people behind it and that will require a great deal of communication and discussion, neither of which are things that the Liberals seem to be fond of. It won’t be an easy sell.  

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent article and your points are very well made. Unfortunately most of these types of Government announcements seem to be based on getting media sound bites than well thought out policy or programs.