Canada's most precious resource

Canada is blessed with many natural resources. It’s both a cliché and a truism that our most important resource is our people. The reason we enjoy the quality of living and standard of life we do is because of the way generations before us transformed and tamed this wild land.
I cited a cliché previously. Here’s another one for you: Canada is a nation of immigrants. Therefore, any discussion around this issue can easily become emotionally charged. But given the importance of immigration policies to both our present and our future, it is irresponsible not to have an informed and rational discussion about optimal public policy.
Recently, I came across research from the Fraser Institute entitled “Immigration and the Canadian Welfare State 2011”. In its summary, the document cites one of the most important findings: “This publication provides an estimate of the fiscal burden created by recent immigration into Canada…The study concludes that in the fiscal year 2005/06 immigrants on average received an excess of $6,051 in benefits over taxes paid…the fiscal burden in that year is estimated to be between $23.6 billion and $16.3 billion…these estimates are not changed by the consideration of other alleged benefits brought by immigrants.”
The methodology, as far as I can tell, is virtually flawless. The current system costs native Canadians a lot of money.
Recall the report’s title. A nuanced reading suggests that the problem isn’t immigration—it’s the Welfare State. The writers acknowledge that the “textbook” case for free immigration is based on the assumption that government doesn’t engage in income redistribution. That is, hungry and talented people eager to make a better life create wealth that benefits everyone—themselves and the people there before them.
Except that the current cradle-to-grave security that many Canadians support (and I find repugnant—but that’s another column altogether) inevitably leads to the situation that exists today. Immigrants are provided all the wrong incentives and the selection process is driven by bureaucratic decision-making.
The Fraser Institute identifies the problem and provides a solution. It would like to see immigration policy driven by employer need. It uses the present NAFTA model, which allows a flow of workers between the US, Mexico and Canada as its template. Workers from other countries would secure valid employment contracts—in advance of arriving in Canada—and then after a “probationary” period, they would be allowed to pursue a path towards full citizenship. This would take the decision about who becomes a new Canadian away from bureaucrats and put it in the hands of the private sector.
Controversial? Yes. But if you indeed believe that Canada’s future depends to a great extent on who we select to join us, then it’s an idea that deserves serious consideration.     b2b
Toronto-based Michael Hlinka provides daily business commentary to CBC Radio One and a column syndicated across the CBC network.