It was an NDP Federal Council meeting in Ottawa many years
ago. Jack Layton
was showing off his candidates for a forthcoming federal
election, one of whom was a well-known Toronto Greenpeace
was quite a catch, underscoring the NDP’s environmental
credentials to the cost of the Green Party and, Layton
hoped, helping to reduce the Green Party’s splitting the
The candidate was entertaining questions off to the side
after a Council session.
I wickedly put a problem to
him, to see what he would say.
Canada was a northern country with a cold climate,
whose homes and buildings had to be heated, I explained.
We were already a high per-capita user of energy.
Did it make environmental sense to have a high rate
of immigration in the circumstances – higher than most
countries and with ever-increasing numbers – bringing people
to a cold, northern country from places where less energy
would be required?
Instead of giving me an answer, he lashed out.
“I’m not going to answer that question,” he replied.
“I know what you’re trying to do,” or words to that effect.
What I remember most vividly weren’t the words, but
how categorical and belligerent was the tone.
This isn’t a good sign, I thought.
Sure, it was a mischievous question – and aren’t
mischievous questions the ones that need to be asked? – but
not to field the question at all, or even consider there
might be a rationale for reducing immigration to Canada in
circumstances, revealed to my mind a troubling blind spot,
the kind of dogmatic and closed response that can only
diminish a political party….and diminish environmentalism.
Fast forward to the 2017 federal NDP leadership campaign.
I dropped by a Vancouver campaign stop by Niki Ashton
held in a small shop in the Downtown Eastside, in a riding
as left-wing as they come in Canada.
The crowd was largely young.
Niki, whom I liked, said the usual things about the
need to eliminate homelessness and the overbearingly high
cost of housing, a serious and pressing problem in the
It was a typical enough statement for an NDPer, but I
considered it patent hypocrisy, since it didn’t deal with the
pressure that large and increasing immigration numbers were
putting on housing, housing prices, and land prices in
If you had 35,000 to 40,000 new people arriving in Vancouver
each and every year – and there would be far more in the
future – the housing pressure was going to be unrelenting,
and homelessness, as well as the punishing cost of homes for
others who aren’t wealthy, would never be solved, for all of
the policy ingenuity (what about Vienna?) one might come up
certainly wouldn’t be solved in the near or intermediate
So I asked a question again.
How are you going to reduce the escalating cost of
housing in Vancouver without lowering the ever-increasing
immigration numbers and their pressure on the market?
I made it clear I wasn’t referring to the refugee
quota, the humanitarian component of immigration.
You could double the refugee quota and still
substantially reduce the overall immigration rate.
“That’s xenophobia!” somebody in the crowd shouted.
Rumbles of approval from the rest.
“There’s no room for xenophobia here,” somebody else
More rumbles of approval.
“There are some complexities, which we’ll deal with when we
come to power,” Niki said demurely.
At least, unlike the Toronto Greenpeacer, she didn’t
fly off the handle and did say something.
A couple of months later I was standing in a line outside
the York Theatre, a heritage location on lower Commercial
Drive, awaiting the opening of the doors for the official
Vancouver leadership debate.
A couple of NDP veterans, people who had been through
the wars, were in front of me.
I knew them – I also go back a ways – and we got to
mentioned how absurd it was not to tackle the pressure that
immigration numbers were putting on housing when the
immigration category that presumably really mattered for
left-wingers, the refugee quota, need not be touched and
could even be increased.
You’re forgetting something else, one of them said.
Many of the immigrants we’re getting are privileged,
not the downtrodden of the world.
Having a good education and being able to speak
English or French help get people in, skewing the immigrant
By the same token, we’re taking educated and skilled
people out of countries that need them more than we do.
I remarked wryly that one didn’t talk aloud about that in
the NDP. They
shrugged, saying without having to say that they weren’t
going to bother to talk about it out loud themselves,
Mind you, many immigrants fall into a
low-wage trap – another story.
The B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy
Alternatives (CCPA), in an analysis of the housing problem,
did identify the level of immigration as a significant
contributing factor, second only to foreign participation in
the housing market – foreigners buying up properties as
CCPA, however, never subsequently tackled the immigration
factor, as if it weren’t worth following up on even when tax
measures were taken by B.C. to cool the other relevant
factor, foreign buying. at least by a degree or two.
Cutting back immigration even on a temporary basis –
give ourselves a breather – until we closed the housing gap
and broke the housing bubble, was off the table as well.
Nobody on the left, it seemed, would address the issue, much
less address it squarely.
Meanwhile, the housing affordability crisis, in
Vancouver and Toronto, grew with a vengeance.
The addition of yet more and more people, and still
more people, at the same time, has become a sort of madness.
Some things are indeed taboo.
On the other hand, irrational taboos are meant to be
Buddy, can you spare a shack?
The historical failure of the left to face up to the
increasing level of immigration as a factor in making
housing unaffordable for many, if not most, in Greater
Vancouver has long bothered me.
Over and above a general egalitarian concern with
unaffordability, I’ve had a personal interest, knowing a
couple of people on disability allowance whose housing
options are highly restricted.
The impact of the spiralling cost of housing only hit
me in the gut, however, on reading an interview with writer
and poet George Bowering in the Vancouver Sun
protesting that young creative people – writers and artists
in particular – could no longer afford to live in the city.
Bowering and I are of the same generation and we’ve long had
our own houses, in my case going back 55-odd years.
The current generation of young writers and artists,
however – and even in later life most are of low or modest
income - are just plumb out of luck.
“These are my people being driven out of the city,” I said
to myself. “My
people,” I repeated the phrase again, for there I was, too,
young, poor, and with playwriting aspirations.
This was in the 1960s and 1970s, however, when there
was room for me and my crowd in town and no housing crisis.
Vancouver in those decades, moreover, was an
extraordinarily creative cultural place.
In 2019, the Eastside Cultural Crawl Society published a
report on higher rental costs, “A City Without Art,” on
artists being displaced or otherwise giving up on Vancouver.
“Pricedemic” is what they call the relentless rise in
the cost of space, its declining availability, and artists
It’s a class thing.
Not just wealthy offshore house- and condo-buyers but
also hundreds of thousands of others from elsewhere are now
being added continuously to Greater Vancouver, quite a few
wealthy or high-earning as well, adding pressure in turn to
the cost of housing, with writers and artists being squeezed
out because the housing interstices and studio space of an
open city are no longer there or are increasingly impossible
And what’s a city without its writers, artists, and poets?
The figures for buying a house or condo, or renting, give a
glimpse of what has happened.
The average price for a condo in Vancouver, based
on February-March 2023 sales, is now in the $892,000 range.
For a townhouse it’s $1.4 million.
A detached house cost an average $3.0 million. The
median price for a detached house, perhaps a more accurate
reflection of the market, is lower, at 2.35 million.
For all three categories (houses, townhouses, condos)
taken together, the median price is $1,516,000.
For Greater Vancouver, extending eastward to the
Fraser Valley and west to Bowen Island, the median price,
including tiny condos in the mix, is $1,185,000.
Shaughnessy – Rosedale would be a Toronto equivalent – the
median price for a detached house was $7.7 million and for
all housing taken together was $5.2 million.
This is consistent with patterns in U.S. cities
where higher urban densities are associated with worse
Rental rates follow the same pattern, increasing
particularly large increase was noted last fall.
Rent for one-bedroom housing in Vancouver, across all
housing types, as of October 2022, was $2,575, the highest
in the country and an increase in a year of 17 per cent.
For two-bedrooms it was $3,521, a year-to-year
increase of 16 per cent. The annual increase in average
hourly wages of employees in B.C., by comparison, was only
3.4 per cent for the same period.
House rentals of 4-5 bedrooms to accommodate large
families are in a much higher range, $5,000 and up,
requiring large household incomes to accommodate.
The highest listed 5-bedroom house in Vancouver in
late March 2023 was $17,800 a month.
Okay, we’ve always had upscale neighbourhoods and less
costly “working class” neighbourhoods. In this case,
however, those who are doing well but aren’t wealthy and so
are unable to manage purchasing a place in a neighbourhood
which their parents were able to afford, are moving into
those less costly neighbourhoods and pushing modest- and
low-income people further out, that is, if the upwardly
mobile person or couple doesn’t decide to move to Calgary
instead. I know
of a downtown lawyer, for example, no doubt earning
considerably more than most people, moving with his growing
family into the Main Street area, formerly as working class
as it comes, because he could not afford anything on the
west side. This
isn’t untypical, and each such purchase by someone in the
upper middle-class cohort helps to price out ordinary
House rentals in the former working-class neighbourhood have
followed the same trajectory.
Mind you, we’ve known for a long time that in Vancouver
proper we’ve slowly been creating a city for the
well-heeled, rather than a city with a mixed and diverse
population favoured by urban planners.
Based on median income and median prices, Vancouver
is the third least affordable place in the world, after Hong
Kong and Sydney, according to the latest figures available
(for the third quarter of 2022), from Demographia
Toronto is ninth.
RBC Economics, illustrating the point, reported
late last year that, at the end of the third quarter, 2022,
a buyer, in order to qualify for a mortgage on the purchase
of a typical home in the Vancouver area, needed to earn a
minimum of an “astounding” $268,000.
That was at the peak of the cycle, but even a major
decline won’t change the dynamics.
The annual income requirement the previous year, the
end of third quarter 2021, was $200,000 – a mere $200,000 –
just as depressing and impossible for most.
Notwithstanding that here and there, especially in
non-profit projects, some rental housing is provided below
market, adjusted to income, along with supported housing and
market-rate housing in the mix, the dominant trend,
especially for purchase, is towards unaffordability for
most, who are then forced to live further and further out
with often punishing commuter times.
Add to that the environmentally punishing automobile
commuting distance, hardly mitigated by the expansion of
Those moving out aren’t even necessarily low income.
A University of British Columbia professor, no doubt
with an income well above the median, is featured in a
newspaper article after buying a house in Maple Ridge at the
eastern end of Greater Vancouver while UBC, where he works,
is at the western end.
That’s a long way to commute, and a lot of gasoline
or electricity used up, and a lot of time out of his life.
It also violates the ideal of being able to walk to
work. No doubt he could have chosen something else, but he
wanted a house with a yard for his family and Maple Ridge is
what it came down to.
A Metro Vancouver growth plan through to 2050 inadvertently
underscores the point.
An urban analyst at Simon Fraser University, Alex
Boston, has pointed out the plan will be adding the
equivalent of a medium-sized municipality in its farthest
edges, where people will have to drive the most.
Home ownership, for many people, is slipping out of reach in
the suburbs as well, in this way, and to a degree even in
the exurbs like the Fraser Valley as far away as Chilliwack,
as “people move from Vancouver to Surrey, Surrey to
Abbotsford, [and] Abbotsford to Chilliwack,” as one realtor
The rising prices in the suburbs and exurbs outside
Vancouver proper follow a national pattern.
A Bank of Canada study covering Canada’s 14 major
census metropolitan areas (CMAs) through to the end of 2021
showed prices increasing even more in the suburbs than in
played a role, as more people began working from home, which
What is surprising, however, is the extent of the
gain, with housing 80 kilometres from city centres only 11
per cent less expensive than in the city centres themselves,
as different from a 37 per cent discount in 2016.
Don’t be misled by the rhetoric about “compact housing,”
either, if the above phenomenon of suburb and exurb pricing
isn’t enough of a caution.
It’s not that compact housing isn’t a good idea, it’s
that no matter how much compact housing you might build in
these circumstances, the spread will continue.
The idea of compact housing, after all, is that you
eliminate the spread, stopping and tearing down suburban
housing, turning the land back to agriculture, and reducing
(The only place I know where anything like that has happened
was in declining neighbourhoods in Detroit following an
extraordinary decline in population and the inability of the
city to properly support all of its neighbourhoods, leading
ultimately to bankruptcy.
Urban farming replaced derelict buildings here and
can’t call that compact housing, however just making the
best of abandonment.)
Geographical history, then, has reversed itself.
In the olden days, workers lived close to their work
– the mine, the sawmill, the paper factory.
The owner or the manager lived up the hill at a
distance, although not necessarily very far away.
Now, in Vancouver and no doubt Toronto as well,
that’s been turned upside down, with the average worker
facing longer and longer commutes.
This is where we’ve arrived.
On the one hand: a city largely for the rich with the
convenience of preferred location.
On the other hand, others who find that so much of
their income is going to their mortgage or their rent that
they don’t have the discretionary spending for much else,
and yet others with longer and longer commutes that eat into
their discretionary time, including the time to participate
in any democratic exercise.
Nor is this to mention a low-wage underclass whose
spending options have long been severely limited.
Think of Thomas Piketty’s analysis of wealth and class and
how the disparity with the majority of people grew so large
over time. Now
imagine a geographical, urban metaphor for it, with
differences in housing and location also growing larger and
larger over time, and you have a Vancouver slowly losing its
demographic diversity, as I’ve already noted.
The vector of home owners relative to renters with modest
incomes increases the inequality further, with owners’ home
value appreciating while renters keep paying more and more
indefinitely without anything to show for it.
A normal pattern would have the renters save for a
down-payment on a home, but both lines in the vector
militate against it: The ever-increasing cost of buying
raises the amount for a required down payment, while the
ever-increasing cost of renting reduces the ability to save
for the down-payment to begin with.
Well known veteran Vancouver newspaper columnist, Pete
McMartin, described it as a “coming class war” – “the huge
gulf between owning a home and renting one, a gulf [that]
will not only bedevil the next generation, [but] will grow
wider in generations to come.”
Multiple home ownership, with homes being bought as rental
investments, adds another wrinkle to the trend towards
McMartin touches on this, too, pointing out that
“multi-property owners held between 29 and 41 per cent of
the housing stock in Ontario, B.C., Nova Scotia and New
Brunswick circa 2019 and 2020, and the transfer of that kind
of wealth will be life-changing for generations.”
He noted that his children will eventually inherit from
himself and his wife, including the value of their home, but
what about the others who aren’t so lucky?
McMartin cited Tsur Somerville, director of the UBC Centre
for Urban Economics and Real Estate, on the underlying
That’s the thing I’m most worried about:
the division between the landed owner occupying class
and everybody else. And in this economy, the rich are
You can’t have a democracy where there is a stark, huge
difference in the wealth and opportunity for one group where
their parents are homeowners and wealthy and between the
people who are not. Our society is based on the idea that
you have a reasonable opportunity for self-improvement — you
know, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. But you can’t
pull yourself up by your bootstraps
if your boots are nailed to the floor.”
Earnest attempts to offset the trend are no match for the
pressure of so many new people.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, in the last federal
election, for example, promised 500,000 “affordable” homes
over 10 years, or 50,000 a year on average, and this was
considered an extraordinary commitment, even on the part of
someone with no chance of actually becoming prime minister.
At an average family size of 2.5, this would
accommodate 125,000 people annually, a figure which now
appears to be almost incidental, given 450,000 to 500,000
additional people annually from immigration alone, not even
counting other international arrivals.
This isn’t to mention, either the severe backlog that needs
to be looked after, especially for those most in need.
A disability spokesperson in Vancouver, for example,
commenting on the last federal election campaign, complained
bitterly about the lack of attention given to badly needed
affordable housing for the disabled, and particularly for
the indigenous disabled whom he personally represented.
Not a word, though, from Singh or from such community
about reducing our high immigration levels for a
while to reduce the pressure on availability and costs, nor
about reducing the number of foreign students and temporary
foreign workers which also contribute to that pressure.
Justin Trudeau, almost single-handedly with his inflated
immigration numbers, has imposed a virtually intractable
housing problem on the Lower Mainland and has done so with
smug assurance, ignoring the downstream effects, because
nobody politically has taken him on over it.
Culture of cities: Vancouver nears the tipping point
The pressure on housing, stoked by the high immigration
levels, also affects the culture of cities. The planning
imperative is no longer what kind of city or cities we would
like to have, but how to create more housing.
Whatever side of the debate about high-density you
may be on – are we going to have high rises everywhere in
the end or are there other options? – the debate has become
The pressure for housing, and the high prices now
deeply embedded in the cost of land, dictate the answer.
One of the first instances of what this meant for community
planning involved the small suburban city of Port Moody, at
the eastern end of Burrard Inlet.
The plan called for removing up to 65 per cent of the
existing tree canopy and putting up mid-rises of nine to 14
storeys where only three to six storeys were allowed.
The B.C. minister responsible for housing at the
time, David Eby, told the City of Port Moody to get with it,
as if blocking the development would be immoral.
More housing is crucial, Eby explained.
This made sense from where he sat, but what about
Port Moody’s community plan and sense of itself?
That, now, is routinely dismissed as NIMBYism whether it is
or not, as if localism and community, and municipal
government which is their political expression, should be
Some change is good and some bad; some necessary and some
not so. The
change here, though, is becoming more and more forced and
mechanical, with community planning set back on its heels.
Eby moved on from his unhappy message to Port Moody to all
the other municipalities in Greater Vancouver, lecturing
them for not doing enough to match zoning to population
growth and hinting that if they did not shape up, the
province might have to intervene, albeit he’d rather not be
forced to do so.
“Eby wields the hammer,” read the newspaper headline
reporting on his speech on the subject.
Watch out what you wish for.
The pressure on community planning, if not by a hammer, then
by a vise, was building all the while, as plans for more
high rises and massive projects touched off controversy and
Vancouver, for example, approved the “clearcutting,” as
urban historian Michael Kluckner put it, of a huge swath of
mid-town – 36 streets by 15 streets, or 540 city blocks
altogether (the Broadway project).
Not everything would go down – the Vancouver General
Hospital complex and some major office buildings, for
example, are within those boundaries – but quite a lot will.
In the same vein, the Squamish First Nation, along
with a private developer (and an Ontario pension plan), is
erecting 11 highrise towers, some of them 59 storeys high,
on a narrow piece of land in Kitsilano, about as plain case
of overdevelopment as one could imagine (Sen̓ákw).
And so on, with more and more to come.
Critics of these developments – and there is a lot
to criticize, both conceptually and in detail – were
inevitably accused, by proponents, of NIMBYism and, in the
case of Sen̓ákw, racism.
The first victim of the pressure of immigration on
Vancouver, in these developments, is the organic growth of a
city and its neighbourhoods, and the quality and diversity
of life that goes with it.
Bureaucratic decision-making, with the routinized
steps of online public consultation (the context and the
questions bureaucratically devised) and speaking
opportunities at council meetings (whose arguments can be
ignored), takes over.
In the case of Sen̓ákw,
lying outside of Vancouver’s jurisdiction, the plan surfaced
more or less as a fait accompli, although up to
10,000 residents are envisaged. The absence in the plan of
land for a school or community centre – essential amenities
– and building an access road through a valuable public park
(non-Squamish land) were apparently considered neither here
Kluckner has been particularly scornful, comparing
mega-projects like the Broadway plan to the ones Vancouver
rejected in the 1960s and 1970s, which at that time involved
a notorious proposal for a thruway through Strathcona and
Chinatown into the heart of downtown, and which was promoted
by the master planners and establishment of the day.
The rejection, due to fierce protest, and the
consequent saving of neighbourhoods, helped make Vancouver a
great city, one admired elsewhere in North America.
Move forward, now, to today’s mega development
Kluckner comments: “With the extreme arrogance of architects
and planners, they’re saying, ‘We can build a city.
We can just do it, because we know what we’re doing,’
as opposed to a city being this thing that evolves
slowly....[where] some old things remain and some new things
are built, and it evolves in an incremental way.”
Former planner Yvonne Harris talks of demolishing
trees and sound to create heat islands of concrete, steel
and glass, following an “unlivable” strategic regional plan.
Luthar Wiwjorra, a retired urban designer and
architect, remarks that “Vancouverism,” the nickname for
Vancouver’s brilliant urban model, “is vanishing in the
shadow of condo towers, rampant greed and
over-densification.” He condemns the “anesthetized esthetic”
being produced by the “same steel and glass frontages,
facing each other up to 50 storeys high along city streets,”
with the population already living in Vancouver “seen as a
“There will never be enough density,” he argues, “no
city in the world can win that particular race.”
As long as the numbers from inflated immigration
continue, however, all this discussion, whether on target or
not, falls by the wayside.
The unaffordability crisis from the population
pressure fills the air like a virus and infects everything,
smothering intelligent resolution.
Patrick Condon is an internationally known professor
of sustainable urban design at UBC.
In 2021, he came out with a book called Sick City,
covering mostly developments elsewhere, but the metaphor is
apt, now, for Vancouver as well.
In such an infected city with the virus all around,
dysfunctional aberrations are inevitable.
Developers who, in even healthy cities, are often
prone to be pushy, realize they can go even further – lobby
and finesse extra margins and rezoning even more than usual
– and sometimes get away with it, which adds to the
A developer brings forward a proposal for downtown
Vancouver that not only requires rezoning, but also
conflicts with city policies and rules, in their case a
policy restricting residential development in the central
“The proposal significantly contravenes council
approved policy and disregards the public trust and policy
framework established by council,” the staff report says.
Citing the need for more rental housing, the
developer airily dismisses the planning staff as “a
bureaucracy just looking at their big policy bible, saying
‘No, no, no, thou shall not pass.’”
Another proposal “significantly deviates” from
height limitations set out in the city’s view protection
guidelines, casting shadows on an important shopping street
in violation of existing rules and interfering with views of
the downtown skyline and the North Shore mountains.
No matter on that one, too.
Why not test the community’s rules in the
Or take a Langley case, where a developer of
six-storey apartments, in accordance with the official
community plan and after the project was sold out, then
decided to apply for rezoning an additional piece of the
site for a 45-storey tower.
You might call it chutzpah, but it’s really a case of
taking advantage of the virus in the air.
Or take Sen̓ákw.
Even a project where the land is under control of a
First Nation requires social license.
Notwithstanding reconciliation and the social license
it provides, can you imagine the developer behind the
scheme, Westbank Corp., bringing forward the Sen̓ákw overbuild in a
healthy Vancouver unaffected by the
pressure around it?
Or even the Squamish Nation trying it on its own,
without regard to the surrounding impact?
Or take a West Vancouver example.
A developer is building high rises at a
transportation bottleneck – the north end of the Lions Gate
Bridge. A density
transfer, providing for extra density, has been approved,
the project trading on the shouting for affordable housing
for people working in the municipality, although most of the
housing will likely be affordable only for those with
better-than-average incomes, like teachers, firemen, and
After construction has begun, and notwithstanding the extra
density, the developer then applies for an additional five
storeys each in the two towers (ten storeys overall).
Of the 298 homes, only 11, owned by the district
itself, will be for supportive housing.
The approval goes through, like a mudslide through a
Vancouver proper itself, though, is the saddest
case, because of how great a city it has been.
The Vancouver of demographic variety, that generates
liveliness and a mix of classes, lifestyles, outlooks, and ideas, has
now been on the road to destruction for some time.
It may just be at the beginning of that road
historically speaking, taking the long haul into account,
but that’s where the current road leads.
There are other considerations, too, having to do
with highrises when lower profile buildings lend themselves
more to quality of life, especially for families.
Then there’s the high “embodied” carbon emissions of
concrete-intensive and glass high rises compared to low-rise
building of six stories at most.
According to a Wikipedia
entry (List of tallest buildings in Vancouver), Vancouver
has more residential highrises per capita than any other
city on the continent.
Maybe Vancouver – the Vancouver with its unique
ambiance and its demographic mix – is further down the road
to destruction than we think.
Waiting for affordability: waiting for Godot
Such projects, for all their size, are not going
to resolve the unaffordability crisis, either.
To right the balance in the housing mix and defuse
the crisis, most of the new housing should be below market.
Otherwise, Vancouver even more so than now will be
just a playground of the rich.
The opposite to righting the balance, however, is
built into these developments.
Take, for example, the giant Oakridge Park luxury
project – 3,323 “homes” covering more than three million
square feet, of which only 13 per cent, however, fall in the
“affordable” category, with the rest going to luxury buyers,
including offshore buyers, who presumably had bought before
the current restrictions..
Similarly, a 39-storey tower going up at Broadway and
Granville, with 223 units – in effect, the first part of the
Broadway plan – has designated only 20 per cent for
“below-market” rents, which would qualify as affordable.
(Then, again, the City of Vancouver’s redevelopment
policy, itself, requires only 20 per cent affordable.)
Ditto for Sínàkw, nicknamed by one wag as the
Burrard Beast: Only 20 per cent of their units at most will
be “affordable,” (although, even then, not affordable for
lower household incomes).
Another developer, seeking City of Vancouver
approval for a huge 47-storey tower downtown, grandiosely
boasts of its provision for below-market “workforce
housing,” affordable for households with earnings between
$39,200 and $78,500 a year.
Based on the median household income in the city of
$82,000, perhaps 40 or 45 per cent of city households would
currently fit in the developer’s special category.
To reflect this same ratio in new housing, we’d be
looking at, let’s say, 40 per cent of units at least in that
category in the projected tower. To make up for the shortage
of affordable housing relative to more available, but more
expensive, housing, the allocation to the special affordable
category should be even greater, say 75 per cent, just to
pick a figure.
Instead, it’s only 21 per cent, and the question arises,
too, of how big those units would be relative to the rest of
An officer of a development company whom I know
has argued that developers are under pressure themselves –
the cost increases in the industry, on top of other
requirements, has made making money, especially in
Vancouver, extraordinarily difficult.
Whether it’s the developers’ lack of elbow room or
their maximizing profit that is at work, however, affordable
housing in their projects remains limited and raising
building heights remains a regular stratagem.
Vancouver and also Greater Vancouver, of course,
have high-rise towers after high-rise towers, and housing
prices are still sky-high.
Patrick Condon has pointed out that Vancouver itself
has added more housing units per capita than any city in
North America over the last 30 years, yet housing prices
have increased faster than in any other North American city.
Adjoining municipalities like Burnaby, Coquitlam and
Surrey also have seemingly endless new high-rise towers –
over 45 storeys is a growing fashion – and hence added
capacity, while affordability only gets worse...gets worse
in the metropolitan area which is already the third least
affordable city in the world.
Pushing the rock up the mountain
Meanwhile, David Eby, now premier of B.C., is doubling down
on the municipalities to allow for quicker growth of
housing, in an all-out effort to fix the housing problem.
The irony is that, like Sisyphus, he is not going to
be able to push that particular rock up to the top of the
mountain, no matter how hard he tries.
The pressure on the cost of land of so many new
people will keep pushing the rock down.
So will the accelerating effect of just trying to meet the
construction requirements, where costs have gone up
radically – 45 per cent in the last five years in Greater
Vancouver and a whopping 77 per cent in the GTA.
Between the two factors – land and construction – the
cost of providing housing in Greater Vancouver has probably
more than doubled in the last 10 years, increasing at a rate
of 15 per cent annually in the last two or three years
alone, making both public and private initiatives vastly
more costly, and militating against truly affordable new
To make matters worse, the volume of new households
generated by the large immigration numbers is outstripping
the economy’s ability to accommodate them and existing
residents at the same time.
The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, in a
report October 2022, concluded that B.C. would have to
double the number of attainable housing starts to get the
supply to where it needs to be by the end of the decade.
Ontario, which is the largest immigration destination
in Canada, is even in worse shape, likely to see more new
households formed than houses built in that time.
The author of the report, a CMHC economist who should
have seen things coming, allowed that he was surprised by
the severity in the two provinces.
Dan Hiebert, professor emeritus of geography at UBC,
recently explained that Canada would have to build 1.36
million more houses and apartments right off the bat,
pronto, just to reach the average homes-to-population
rations of the OECD.
Extra housing to accommodate the flood of new
arrivals would be on top of that.
And if that weren’t enough, Justin Trudeau keeps on
increasing the number of immigrants, hiking it from 400,000
plus annually to half a million.
When Eby began the frantic drumbeating for new
housing, the figure for new immigrants arriving in Greater
Vancouver was an estimated 30,000 to 40,000.
That had already changed by the end of 2021, when the
net inflow of people to B.C. that year was 100,797.
Of that, 33,356 people came from other Canadian
provinces and territories.
The remaining 67,141 were from abroad, the largest
number of whom would have ended up in Greater Vancouver.
Not all of them would have been immigrants; net
non-permanent residents like “temporary foreign workers” and
net foreign students would be in the total.
In the subsequent year, that is 2022, the inflow into B.C.
from international migration increased to 150,783, of whom
98,763 were non-permanent residents.
Canada’s population overall increased by
1,050,110 people, almost all – 96 per cent – from
Eby has mentioned what lay behind what he was facing – the
federal immigration policy.
No wielding of the hammer on that one, however. The
new housing minister, Ravi Kahlon, has belatedly gone as far
as arguing with Ottawa that immigration should be tied to
housing availability, but without his tackling the
underlying premises that are impelling Trudeau and company –
without even following through openly on his own argument –
he hasn’t, as of this writing, made much headway.
The taboo is great.
Nor is Eby the only one who shies away from speaking
directly to the root issue.
Almost everyone, with some exceptions, publicly tearing
their hair out over housing unaffordability or what the
attendant pressure is doing to Vancouver, avoids mentioning
the “i” word as something that needs to be tackled first and
foremost, in the same way that everyone, except a little
boy, wouldn’t say out loud that the emperor had no clothes.
A routinized political left stuck in its incestuous trap
The circumstances are all too obvious.
The number of outsiders coming into B.C. and
especially Vancouver is making housing for many
unaffordable, now reaching a crisis point.
The attendant high cost of buying a home, at the same
time, is further entrenching inequality.
The pressure is also steamrolling community planning
and slowly destroying the culture of the city.
There’s a parallel impact on health care, as I’ll
The logical, and necessary, first step is to vastly reduce
the numbers coming into the country, while protecting the
humanitarian element, namely the refugee quota.
The taboo being what it is, however, no political leader,
federally or provincially, has stepped up to the plate,
effectively vitiating a proper political discussion
Why hasn’t the left faced up to this issue and given it
political voice – shown leadership on it and debunked
extraneous and diversionary arguments?
Douglas Todd, a liberal Vancouver Sun
columnist and feature writer, who came to prominence as a
writer on religion as it happens, has taken up the
immigration beat as well and, in literate and
well-researched items, has questioned our silence on the
negative impact of the large and rising immigrant levels,
especially when it comes to housing prices.
This, for a humanitarian liberal like Todd, took
independence of mind, but he has stayed with it and has
continued to unpack the issue.
The left, by contrast, is in its own incestuous trap on the
subject, witness the cries of “xenophobia” I ran into when I
simply questioned the impact of the level of immigration on
the housing crisis.
What’s more telling, though, is the left’s failure to
understand what underlies immigration to Canada and the
It’s not humanitarianism, but economics.
That it might be dubious economics doesn’t discourage
Indeed, immigration to Canada has always largely been
argument is that immigrants boost the Canadian economy and
are even needed to keep the Canadian economy going.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser was quite straightforward
about this in a statement to Reuters late in 2021: “Canada
needs immigration to create jobs and drive our economic
recovery,” he said, point blank, as if simply saying so made
it true. And as
the Reuters reporters commented, Canada, in following this
policy, targets high-skilled immigrants who bring in money
as well – and, the reporters also noted, compete for
desirable housing in the process.
Fraser has since doubled down on his message box, again
without in fact making the case and again without addressing
housing affordability and additional pressures on health
Nor is Fraser, with his boosterism, alone.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, in that 2017 Vancouver NDP
leadership debate I mentioned, said exactly the same thing,
that we’re dependent economically on immigration.
Since then, the need for immigrants to keep the
economy going has become a mantra, repeated casually at
large – an “economic imperative,” a National Post
columnist called it, for example – to which has recently
been added a sub-mantra: the need for immigrants to fill
unfilled job positions.
It’s economics, and unquestioned economics, again.
Economics, though, has been a leading rationale for
immigration to Canada all along, going back to the days when
Chinese labourers were brought to Canada to help build the
When I was a federal NDP candidate in what was then
Vancouver-South Burnaby, in 1997, I decided I had better get
a handle on immigration, although it wasn’t a primary
interest of mine.
My riding had a lot of Indo-Canadians and
Chinese-Canadians, and I had a couple of Indo-Canadian
organizers on my team for whom immigration was on their
minds; they were first-generation immigrants themselves.
The only expert I could find who had done serious work on
the issue, however, was an economist at SFU.
This puzzled me.
Wasn’t the supposed humanitarian rationale of
At least, that’s how we thought of it on the left.
Wasn’t the demographic mix of immigrants important?
The economist, instead, carefully tracked the overall
economic benefit of immigration or the lack of it.
For example, did the taxes paid by immigrants
outweigh how much they drew on government spending?
(At the time, I recall, they marginally did, although
as family reunification proceeded, that began to change.)
His justification of immigration levels was based on
I gradually came to realize that an economist specializing
in immigration wasn’t so misplaced an expert after all.
Immigration as a function of labour is the norm
(“labour” meant here to include highly sought-after
professional skills as well as low-wage labour).
It’s important to realize that open immigration to serve
economics isn’t left-wing at all. The free movement of
labour is a part of classical right-wing neo-liberal
doctrine, complementing free trade.
If community is harmed or destabilized by the
application of the doctrine, whether by free trade or
inflated immigration levels, “So what?” says the
market-doctrine right-winger, “it’s the market at work.
You shouldn’t object.”
It’s not surprising, then, that one of the instrumental
influences behind hiking the level of immigration to Canada
and hiking it again was the federal Advisory Council on
Economic Growth, circa 2017, replete with neo-liberals and
nobody as awkward as even a pale socialist or
environmentalist to show any dissent. The Council was
chaired by Dominic Barton, a former McKinsey and Company
management-consultant senior executive.
McKinsey also provided the council’s research and
resources, for free, ensuring the framing of the Council’s
work was in line.
In a scathing article on both Barton and McKinsey, November
2022, National Post columnist Terry Glavin goes into
McKinsey’s “corporate depravity” and Barton’s role as the
firm’s global managing director from 2009 to 2018.
Glavin cites a recent book on McKinsey, When
McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World’s
Most Powerful Consulting Firm.
The Advisory Council on Economic Growth, under Barton,
recommended, among other things, annual immigration to
Canada of 450,000.
(Glavin, himself, wrote that the 500,000 figure later
announced by the federal government came from the Council.)
Another recommendation by the Council was that Canada aim
for 100 million people by the end of the century.
This was without reference to the environment.
between another 60-odd million people in a northern, and
also high-consuming, country and its impact on global
warming and the environment is not part of the neo-liberal
doctrine on this score – justifying immigration for economic
reasons outside of the environmental context – is no
different, schematically and ideologically, than justifying
increased oil sands production and otherwise boosting the
oil patch overall for economic reasons.
The 100-million target now has a custom-made lobby, the
Century Initiative, co-founded by Dominic Barton and, as in
the case of the Advisory Council, with untramelled
neo-liberal connections, in particular to BlackRock, an
American multi-national investment company based in New York
There’s a further irony underlying these other ironies. The
economic rationale for immigration – the majestic
declaration that newcomers are the key to the future, the
very mantra – is faulty taken by itself.
In previous times, aggressive immigration policy in Canada
at least had a larger purpose.
I’m thinking of the vigorous immigration policy of
Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton at the turn of the
last century, with immigrants from continental Europe to
help populate the West.
One could even argue that the Chinese labour for the
Kamloops-Port Moody (Vancouver) section of the CPR was for a
greater purpose – a transcontinental railroad binding the
nation together and protecting British Columbia from an
What we have today, on the other hand, is just distortion of
the B.C. economy (through inflated real-estate and
construction industries), distortion of the community
(through the severe shortage of affordable housing in
Greater Vancouver and, I’m guessing, the GTA as well), and
yet-to-be-calculated environmental harm.
Metro Vancouver, and
with it, British Columbia as a whole, are economically
addicted to residential construction.
It’s false to claim that increased immigration is essential
to the Canadian economy in any ordinary sense; the evidence
doesn’t sustain that and it doesn’t meet the standard of
Let’s take the economic argument for inflated immigration –
that it’s needed to keep the economy going – piece by piece
and deconstruct it.
Theoretically, it’s simply nonsense.
There is nothing to stop a stable-population economy,
or one with a slowly growing population, from functioning
it’s arguable that the more stable a population, the more
focus can be given to employment engagement, training and
education, and downstream allocation of the workforce in
order to produce the maximum economic, social and
environmental payoff per capita and, at the same time,
enhance the quality of life.
It also begs the theoretical question of whether Canada –
and every country in the world – needs to keep compounding
its population growth forever and ever, until Doomsday, if
they wish to prevent their economies from falling apart.
The world’s population, then, would have to increase
to 15 billion people, and then 20 billion, and so on, just
to keep economically afloat – a notion that we know is
In the here and now, the argument for inflated immigration
to Canada is also a counterproductive notion, economically
speaking, because it measures by mass rather than by per
capita economic performance and quality of life.
Canada (using the
International Monetary Fund measure, including Hong Kong
with its own entry) is 24th in the world rankings of GDP per
capita, adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP), as of
Denmark, which has strictly limited immigration, is 10th.
Iceland, quite isolated, is 15th, Norway 6th,
Switzerland 5th, the U.S. 8th, and so on.
All the Scandinavian countries are higher than
Canada, but so are Austria and Taiwan.
Singapore is second.
In 1986, just prior to immigration to Canada spiking, Canada
was 15th; we’ve lost nine places since.
Our GDP per capita in 1986, again adjusted for
purchasing power parity, was 89 per cent of the American
one; since then it has fallen to 77 per cent.
Perhaps more instructive are the IMF’s projections through
to 2027, where Canada is projected to fall to 28th place,
and will also have lost, once more, a few percentage points
to the U.S., which itself is predicted to fall a few places
in the IMF rankings next to others.
By way of explanation, the OECD has Canada dead last,
among the 38 OECD members, in GDP per capita growth 2020-30
(and also dead last for 2030-60).
The above are average per capita figures for each country.
They don’t take into account inequality.
The Scandinavian countries, all of which have higher
GDP per capita than Canada as I’ve mentioned, also have a
much more egalitarian distribution of income and wealth,
which translates into a relatively much larger, more robust,
and healthier middle class.
Don Wright, former deputy minister to B.C. premier John
Horgan and a Harvard-trained economist, takes this one step
further, in a recent paper for the Public Policy Forum.
Wright points out that by counting on immigrants and
foreign workers for low-wage jobs, average per capita income
and what goes with it (from quality of life to per capita
tax revenue) are lowered and the professed desire to help
the middle class is betrayed.
He references stagnant real wages, its direct
relationship to housing unaffordability, and the
coincidental ascendancy of neo-liberalism.
Raising the per capita standard of living should be
the goal, he argues.
He goes on to debunk the argument of the open-ended need for
more and more labour.
“When businesses complain about having difficulty
finding enough workers,” he writes, “what this really means
is that they cannot easily find the workers they want at a
wage they want to pay. But, within reasonable limits, this
is a good thing. It forces employers to pay higher wages,
provide better working conditions and drives the creative
destruction that leads to higher productivity, more valuable
products and better business models.”
A subsequent study, in Policy Options, by three
labour economists at McGill, University of Waterloo, and
Carleton respectively (Fabian Lange, Mikal Skuterud, and
Christopher Worswick) elaborated on the argument, focusing
in particular on the economic case against low-wage
temporary foreign workers.
The city of Vancouver illustrates how increasing the growth
of population doesn’t mean increasing economic well-being on
a per capita basis, which is the measure that counts (“It’s
GDP per capita, stupid,” Wright quips, in his otherwise
In measuring economic well-being, one has to take into
account, at the same time, Vancouver’s extraordinary cost of
housing next to the rest of the country.
Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham pointed
out last October, 2022, that in Gatineau, Quebec – which, at
38th in median household income, was one notch above the
city of Vancouver – homes cost $332,000 and rent was $900 a
Halifax, 40th in the median-income list just below
Vancouver, homes were $348,000 and rent, in the same census
report, was $1,170.
In Vancouver, the median housing purchase price
(including condos and townhouses) was $1.45 million and rent
was $1,570, using the same comparative measures.
The economic well-being of Vancouverites, and especially of
renters, continues to decline relative to others, and
relative to others abroad, hindered rather than helped by
the scale of immigration inflows.
Trudeau talks politically about fighting for the middle
class, but his immigration policy effectively works against
Canada and especially Greater Vancouver having a large and
healthy middle-class base.
The law of unintended consequences, or rather the
consequences of naivety, are at work in another way: the
Vancouver Board of Trade has pointed out that B.C.
businesses are having difficulty attracting talent because
of the alarming cost of housing.
The sub-mantra that we need inflated immigration levels to
fill unfilled jobs nevertheless keeps resurfacing, cited as
a given by both so-called experts and by politicians when
desperate to rationalize the consequences like the housing
David Eby himself, just before being sworn in as B.C.
premier, mentioned it by way of explaining why he needed to
act aggressively on housing, implicitly accepting the
federal Liberals’ rationale for so many new people.
It overlooked how the necessary adjustment in the labour
market would happen, per Don Wright’s thesis, as if there
were no alternative to the neo-liberal ideological fix
behind the excessive immigration level currently.
Remember “TINA” – “There Is No Alternative” – the
sardonic description of Margaret Thatcher’s neo-liberal
ideological dogmatism? We’re getting a variation of the same
neo-liberal TINA mantra now, but on the Canadian immigration
Well, here is the alternative, as would happen in a normal
economy, spelled out in a few easy steps.
Jobs are posted and if they’re more important
relative to other jobs, the market or public allocation
rises until they’re filled.
(We have a current living example of the phenomenon:
the B.C. government dramatically adjusting upwards the
compensation of general practitioners, in order to attract
more doctors and medical graduates into general practice.)
At the same time, other jobs that cannot compete,
because they’re relatively unimportant or not important at
all, so that they don’t have sufficient competitive draw on
the market or on public revenue, disappear. (We have
innumerable living examples of that, too, with the ongoing
creation and destruction of private businesses; 57 per cent
of new businesses fail within 10 years).
Over time, one ends up with a far more productive
economy and a far more appropriate economy that dynamically
follows market demand and public need.
There is no better time than now to get started on framing
public policy accordingly.
How mad mantras work
Mantra, however, overcomes reason.
It’s not just that Immigration Minister Sean Fraser
and the rest of the Liberal cabinet keep repeating the
mantra – that inflated immigration is necessary for the
that, with the NDP incapacitated by its cultural trap, there
is no political pushback, so the mantra incrementally
An opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun early in 2022
illustrates how this entrenchment works.
It was written by a former newspaper columnist.
What caught my attention was the devastating case the
writer made about immigration numbers and the housing
housing gap was “massive,” he declared.
We’re well on our way to creating a permanent class
of Canadians who will never be able to own a home of their
own on a normal salary.
He called the number of people coming to Canada
“staggering” for a country of 37 million.
He documented the quite dramatic shortfall in
He made it clear that Ottawa’s injection of $14
billion into fast-tracking affordable housing construction
wouldn’t be enough by itself (and given the cost of building
new housing, it would in fact fall far short).
He went even further.
He noted Canadians are going into debt as never
before to buy a home, further driving up prices and keeping
affordable housing out of reach.
He then went still further, articulating a “deeper
problem,” a sort of “national malaise” being generated in
future generations by what was happening.
He cited a poll showing that 80 per cent of Canadians
ages 18-28 worry they can’t afford a home in their city, and
50 per cent have given up ever owning a home.
He suggested, if we were to avoid not having enough
homes for millions of Canadians in the near future, that
Canada would have to rely on the “Minister of Everything,”
cabinet minister Chrystia Freeland, with the housing file,
to become a “Super Developer” – akin, presumably, to
Superman flying through the sky and laying low the bad guys
The comic-book metaphor unintentionally suggested in turn
that the prospect of Freeland and the federal government
going “POW!” to the housing crisis was itself comic-book
It was about as evocative a case as could be made for
cutting back on immigration, at least until the country’s
housing crisis was resolved and we had recovered some
semblance of normality.
Did he say that, however?
Not on your life.
That’s not how fictitious mantras work.
The federal government’s policy of stoking economic
growth through immigration was “purposeful” and “smart,” he
said. He had
no trouble with the immigration numbers, he said, being an
The Canadian economy is clearly benefitting from our
growing population, he said.
Or take Sean Fraser, asked by a reporter about the link
between the immigration numbers and the housing crisis.
Expanded immigration, Fraser replied, will bring in
workers who will build more housing (and presumably solve
the problem), about as smarmy and silly an answer as one
It of course hasn’t worked so far; logistically it’s
an extraordinary fantasy (the immigration system doesn’t
work with that kind of laser-like perfection, far from it),
and all that aside, new workers and their families
themselves require housing and health care, not to mention
the needs of all the other immigrants that are part of the
The problem compounds itself.
Nobody, however, called Fraser on it, whereby his
simply repeating the mad mantra was enough to make it pass
Nevertheless, the public, in an inchoate way, is connecting
the dots. A
Leger poll November 2022 found that 75 per cent of Canadians
were very or somewhat concerned that boosting immigration to
the 500,000 mark would result in excessive demand for
housing as well as health care and social services.
A Leger spokesperson suggested the government might need to
do a better job explaining the benefits of immigration to
It was an unusual remark from a polling firm because
effectively it says the government is right and Canadians
are irrational, which bias is definitely non-U for a
pollster, but another indication of how the mantra works and
It's also off-base in another way:
The government has in fact inculcated into Canadians,
over and over again, just how great and important boosting
the immigrations numbers is and made vocal opposition to the
What’s surprising, in the circumstances, is that the
public seems to have a mind of its own.
Breaking the addiction
Reducing immigration would also involve, as it happens,
slowly weaning ourselves in B.C. from what has become,
without our paying too much attention to it, an economic
overreliance on the real estate and construction industries,
one created by the pressure of excessive immigration and
other foreign arrivals – the “turbocharging” of population
growth and housing demand, as a business economist described
The metaphor “addiction” for real estate and residential
construction in B.C. is now common parlance among observers
of the industry.
The B.C. economy has become malformed.
Let’s start first with the real-estate industry, both a
progenitor and intermediary of housing construction.
About 20 per cent of B.C.s GDP is reliant on real
estate, almost twice the figure for Alberta, and well over
the 13.5 per cent across the country, which itself is a
significantly higher percentage than in the U.S.
The allocation to residential construction and
related costs is on top of that, so that almost a third of
B.C.’s GDP is swallowed up by housing.
The knee-jerk reaction of Trudeau and company to unfilled
jobs is that we need immigrants to fill them – a faulty
logic, as Don Wright has explained.
It’s also, strategically, exactly backwards.
Yet more immigrants means yet more housing required,
which means feeding the addiction and eating up still more
of the labour force, distorting the B.C. economy further.
Keep in mind, too, that the extra indebtedness resulting
from the inflated costs of home acquisition and of rents
means a diversion of spending and investment for productive
already happened, with B.C.’s international exports falling
from 34 per cent of GDP in 2000 to 23 per cent currently.
An economist at the B.C. Business Council notes that
a tremendous amount of B.C. money is going into
housing-related consumption, but investment dollars are not
flowing strongly enough into such things as new machinery
and equipment and intellectual property rights, although
those sectors can add much more to the “economy’s future
productive capacity” and, potentially, to increasing
Breaking an addiction is never easy, exactly because it is
Unlike most addictions, however, in this case there
is a ready, common-sense instrumentality for doing it:
reducing Canadian immigration to a barebones level while
maintaining the refugee quota, and incrementally making the same adjustment for foreign
students and foreign workers, at least until the housing
crisis and the threat to urban planning are resolved.
To summarize: The inflow of immigrants and foreign workers
at their current excessive level is not necessary for our
economy to prosper.
The claim that it’s necessary is a neo-liberal
legend, bubbling away because nobody has had the wit to
challenge Trudeau on it.
We can see, however, with a bit of distance, it’s
just an outlandish idea.
Indeed, on a per capita economic basis, and in
matching work most productively to market demand and public
need, our excessive immigration level has a
Health-care crisis and other downstream effects
Once this is understood, and only when it’s understood, can
we get a proper handle on what a sane immigration policy
should look like and what the costs of our current excessive
immigration level truly are.
I’ve mentioned some of those costs already: the disastrous
spiking, in the B.C. Lower Mainland and other centres in
B.C., of housing prices and rents; the deepening of
inequality to which this lends itself; the invidious attack
on the quality of life in the future by the bullying of
community planning; the progressive loss of demographic
variety in Vancouver proper and spreading into neighbouring
municipalities; the corresponding damage to the urban
ecosphere in which writers and artists can flourish; the
burden on all of us, in higher taxes or lost services, for
the ramped-up cost of land and buildings for public housing;
the environmental folly of bulking up population in a
We’re also, with our minds now open, able to look at other
connected crises fully in the face.
Take, for example, the crisis in medical care.
Roughly six million Canadians don’t have access to a
family doctor, up from 4.6 million just a few years ago in
2019. In B.C.
taken by itself, an estimated 700,000 to 850,000 people, or
14 to 17 per cent of the population, don’t have a general
Another comparison: OECD data shows the number of doctors
per capita in Canada is well behind that of peer countries
like France and Germany.
Proof Point, an RBC online public-policy bulletin, estimates
that we’ll be short 43,900 doctors by 2028, and another
29,351 doctors short to reach the OECD average.
We don’t need statistics, however, to inform us we’re in
reality is omnipresent.
To aggravate the situation, recruiting and retaining
health-care staff, for Greater Vancouver in particular, has
become more difficult because of the shortage of affordable
Is there a connection to 300,000 immigrants per year coming
to Canada annually, and then 400,000 a year, and soon to be
500,000 a year, plus 808,000 foreign students (“study permit
holders”), plus 777,000 temporary foreign workers (as of the
end of 2021, with more now), on the one hand, and people
without a doctor, on the other?
Immigrants and foreign workers and students aren’t
medically invisible; they use medical and elder-care
services, too, and so they should.
Their policy-generated excessive numbers, however,
can’t have helped but contribute to the crisis, yet no
prominent politician that I know of has even asked the
question of whether there’s a connection, much less if an
adjustment to the immigration numbers should be made
Facilitating the qualification and entry into practice of
foreign-trained doctors, which is now being stepped up, will
only fractionally remedy the shortage (foreign-trained
doctors already represent 30 per cent of practitioners in
Moreover, unless such doctors entering the country,
and nurses as well, are genuine political refugees, we’re
taking them from other countries that have trained them and
need them even more than we do, not exactly a defensible
policy – the last thing to which humanitarian left-wingers
should be a party.
It constitutes an aid program from needy countries to
rich ones, as has often been pointed out.
Ditto for nurses.
B.C., a single province and only the third largest by
population, had 5,200 nursing vacancies last spring and
estimates it will need 26,000 new nurses by 2032.
Among other initiatives, attracting foreign nurses
has become a major focus – wrong-way foreign aid again.
Training more doctors and nurses ourselves, in the meantime,
takes time, for which at least a breathing space with lesser
immigration numbers just makes common sense.
Or take the current brouhaha about the rising cost of
Inflation proper has suddenly become a big issue, with
endless discussion about rising grocery and gasoline prices,
oligopoly in those two sectors, the impact of the war in
Ukraine, price gouging and greedy profiteering, the
breakdown in the supply chain triggered by Covid, slow-downs
and financial adjustments in China – you name it – but they
pale in comparison to the burden placed on working families
and the marginalized by compounding house prices and rents.
This takes us back to our inflated levels of
immigration in turn.
None of this can be properly discussed, or discussed at all,
until we bury for good the neo-liberal legend that we need
immigration to keep our economy going.
Trade in foreign students
The trade in foreign-students, with its rising numbers, has
contributed to the spiralling cost of housing in the same
way as the high general immigration level, and has been
rationalized ideologically in the same way.
Canada, at its pre-Covid peak in 2019, had 642,000 foreign
British Columbia alone had 145,000, most of them in the
Ontario had 307,000.
The two provinces’ part of the total for the country,
moreover, was far above the ratio for their part of the
Canadian population as a whole.
They were also the regions suffering from crises of
affordability in their housing sectors.
The trajectory of the foreign-student numbers also
followed in time the trajectory of the affordability
problem, tripling in the decade to 2019.
Is there a correlation?
You would have to be an exceptional contortionist to
argue there wasn’t any.
We’re now not just back to the previous record level, but
have now far surpassed it, with 808,000 foreign students
(study permit holders) in the country.
Cutting back the number of foreign students to what it was
before the spiral began, and freeing the housing
accommodation they have taken up, would meet an appreciable
part of the federal NDP‘s target of 500,000 in 10 years all
by itself. Of
course, no such change is going to occur, for crudely
economic reasons having nothing to do with humanitarianism
or international fellowship.
When I was a university student, at Queen’s University,
albeit in another era, foreign students were few, but really
meant something culturally.
I myself remember just three, in the Faculty of Arts:
from Britain, the Netherlands, and India respectively, the
latter student becoming a close friend.
I can picture the faces and vividly remember the
personalities of all three, more than sixty years later. The
Britisher was an exchange student, and that, too, had a
deeper meaning – of reciprocity and cross-cultural sharing.
Indeed, when one learned of a foreign student in
those days one first thought of an exchange student; that
was how the interaction and sharing often occurred.
There was also, going back in time, the classic cases of
foreigners from third-world countries coming to study in the
West in order to take their newly acquired training back
home with them.
Perhaps most important of all were those studying
administration and law, picking up, at the same time, an
understanding of citizenship and “human regard” that
underlay constitutions, the rule of law, and commerce in a
Foreign students now, on the other hand, are just another
industry, like construction or pulp and paper, and the
commercial rationale for it is quite explicit and well
understood – to enable high schools, colleges and
universities to “sustain themselves financially…[to
generate] revenues to fund their operating expenses,” as one
website dedicated to immigration has put it.
The description, mind you, is missing a few key
qualifying phrases on the industry’s rationale, for example
(1) funding university operations “in the style and with the
executive compensation to which their administrators would
like to be accustomed”; (2) “without having to compete for
public funds along with others”; and (3) “without adjusting
by restraining spending in line with domestic student
numbers.” Not mentioned, either, are the foreign students
who are simply contributing to private operations and not in
any way helping the revenue flow of public education.
There’s a starkly mercenary underside to the foreign-student
industry, too: the recruiting agencies who, like immigration
consultants, feed in the trough the Canadian government has
provided for them.
The large number of foreign students in Canada isn’t
something that has happened spontaneously, but is the result
of aggressive and organized recruiting by thousands of
agents in what has been described, variously as a “dirty
business” and “trafficking in students.”
The trafficking, predictably, has become
progressively more sophisticated, rationalized, and
capitalized as its money-making prospects were seized upon.
It now involves “aggregate recruiters” – “venture
capital-backed companies [that] work on a simple, disruptive
model: sign up thousands of agents and hundreds of colleges
and universities, then act as the go-between, making it
easier and cheaper than ever for institutions to sign up
students at scale.”
The above citation comes from an eye-opening article in the
September/October 2021 issue of The Walrus magazine,
“The Shadowy Business of International Education,” by
Later, in October 2022, the CBC’s the fifth estate
ran an item on just how sordid the trade in foreign students
can be and the phenomenon of public colleges, particularly
in smaller or northern communities in Ontario, partnering
with private colleges for foreign students in Toronto, and
splitting the take in fees.
One such private college in Toronto had an enrolment
of 4,900 students whereas its two-storey building had a
capacity of just 420.
The public college, remote from Toronto, benefits by
the windfall revenue while Toronto ends up with still more
foreign arrivals and the pressure they add to Toronto’s cost
When the largest part of the foreign-student trade was with
Chinese students, the families they came from were mostly
well-heeled and where, among other things, in Vancouver,
expensive houses were sometimes bought in students’ names or
the names of their mothers who accompanied them.
With the best part of
the trade having shifted to India, more and more cases are
cropping up of less-endowed families, including those in
rural areas, falling to the unscrupulous salesmanship of
recruiters and sometimes literally mortgaging the farm to
send a child here.
The foreign-student industry is not, in fact, needed in
just a convenient evasion of responsibility that leaves
governments, their tax regimes, school administrators,
universities, and university personnel off the hook.
It’s a choice we’re making.
On the one side, well-heeled university and college
administrators; profit-driven and sometimes profit-obsessed
owners and managers of the private colleges in the trade;
well-heeled and undertaxed wealthy Canadians, often using
tax-avoidance measures at the cost of the public purse and
of greater funding for public universities and colleges;
often well-heeled foreign families back home who can easily
afford to pay the shot for their offspring studying in
Canada; aggressive agents and recruiting companies, and some
well-heeled venture-capital investors also extracting money
from the pot.
On the other side, well downstream, are working Canadians,
especially in Vancouver and Toronto, faced with oppressive
increases in housing costs to which the high number of
foreign students contribute.
Keep in mind, also, that when demand outstrips
supply, even a small fraction in extra demand can play a
large role in boosting prices.
The left, in making the choice in favour of the former
rather than the latter – for that, indeed, is what they have
done, by their silence – betrays its own values.
You’ll notice I haven’t yet mentioned the alleged net
benefit to Canadian students, in the way of lower tuition
fees because of the higher tuition revenue from foreign
depends on how any net benefit is calculated.
First, foreign students in unaffiliated private
colleges don’t benefit Canadian students at all.
Second, one needs to subtract from the gross profit
in the trade the outlay in recruiting commissions,
relatively minor in percentage terms but still significant
(according to the Ontario auditor general, Ontario’s public
colleges paid more than $114 million in commissions to
recruiters in 2020-21).
Third, the increase in foreign students incrementally
requires an increase in physical plant and those costs.
Fourth are the additional administrative costs; the
inflow needs to be managed.
Fifth, the larger size of Canadian schools can’t help
but generate, over time, larger compensation to executives,
from presidents down.
Sixth is the loss of economy measures that may have
been taken were there not such additional gross revenue.
Whatever the final net revenue is, however, it would pale
next to the externalities: the trade’s contribution to the
spiralling cost of housing in Vancouver and Toronto; the
parallel additional cost attached to public-housing
initiatives, and the cost of any physical expansion of
university and college campuses, plus the added tributary
costs of the housing squeeze like intractable homelessness
and, with many of the homeless, the justice-system and
health-system costs that go with it.
And the final irony:
The excessively high cost of housing, to which the
trade in foreign students has contributed, is now
boomeranging on the foreign students themselves.
The Vancouver Sun ran an item last fall on a
foreign student finding it impossible to find housing at a
rent she could afford.
This also affects out-of-town Canadian students:
While they might gain in a lower tuition, they will lose in
the higher cost of housing.
For example, and I admit that it’s just anecdotal, I
know of a disabled University of Victoria student from the
semi-rural Sechelt peninsula who has not gone back to school
this last fall.
The difficulty of finding suitable housing at a manageable
price, on top of the disability which she also has to
manage, was just too much for her.
This isn’t to mention just how mercenary and sordid much of
the foreign-student trade is.
There have always been foreign university students in Canada
and Canadian students abroad, especially at the
post-graduate level, as part of the academic mix.
The foreign-student industry, however, is a
different, and crassly neo-liberal, animal.
Using the year 2000 as a benchmark, based on study-permit
holders, the number of foreign students in Canada should be
cut back 85 per cent.
That would still give us 123,000 visiting foreign
students, quite a large number in itself.
Using an earlier, more natural academic mix as a
benchmark, the reduction called for would be even greater.
The CCPA, for its part, isn’t connecting the dots.
The CCPA’s Monitor magazine special issue on
inflation (September-October 2022) notes that “students are
finding it increasingly difficult to find affordable housing
while also dealing with the rising cost of living.”
The rising cost of housing, though, is in itself, by
far, the most important element of the rising cost of
living, and not just for students.
The Monitor doesn’t, however, explore the role
that the large and ever-increasing number of foreign
students plays in contributing to the unaffordability of
housing for low-income students.
The same issue reported that in B.C., low-income households
spend 80 per cent of their income on rent.
There wasn’t even the shadow of a hint, however, that
lowering the excessive level of immigration, at least
temporarily, might be advisable in the circumstances – might
at the very least be considered.
The taboo rules.
A coda on foreign students: Some of them, because of the
rising cost of housing to which their numbers have
contributed, are now showing up in food banks in Greater
Vancouver, at the same time the foodbanks, for the very same
causative reason, are being overburdened, with record client
volume including, for the first time, significant increases
in users who are employed.
The mechanical neo-liberal government response has
been to lift the limit, for foreign students, of 20 hours
per week of paid work, effectively making them part of the
temporary foreign workers program, with its negative impact,
in turn, on wage levels in the low-wage stream.
At the same time, restrictions on temporary foreign workers
proper (TFWs) have been loosened and that, together with the
greater use of the International Mobility Program (IMP),
where no labour-market impact assessment is required, has
meant their numbers have skyrocketed.
From 2000 to the end of 2021, TFWs (including IMPs)
increased seven-fold, from 111,000 to 777,000, and unlike
the olden days, they’re not all agricultural workers in
rural areas; most in fact wouldn’t be.
A TFW working in Vancouver or Toronto needs to live
somewhere, adding to the pressure of housing just like
The federal government has now decided to allow TFW spouses
and working-age children to work here, boosting the numbers
further without any balancing measure.
More telling, the government has ended the moratorium
on the hiring of temporary foreign workers in regions where
the unemployment rate exceeds six per cent, amounting to a
confession that the main purpose of the program isn’t to
fill labour gaps but to keep wages down.
These developments, including the provision for longer
stays, give the lie to the “temporary” in “temporary foreign
more and more people have realized, from economists to those
trying to protect TFWs from abuse, the use of TFWs is now a
permanent business strategy to minimize labour costs rather
than a temporary measure to address a temporary shortage.
The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia,
Oman, and Qatar, please welcome Canada to your ranks.
Now you see community, now you don’t
Why is Justin Trudeau so fixated on increasing immigration
exponentially when doing the opposite, in the circumstances
makes such ordinary, practical sense?
How can he so blithely crank up housing
unaffordability in Vancouver and Toronto and its negative
social consequences, levered by the ascending immigration
It’s not because of humanitarianism.
Refugees make up only about 15 per cent of
immigration totals, based on the years 2017-2021, although,
presumably, the recent influx of Ukrainian refugees will
temporarily raise that percentage.
The largest immigration category by far is
“Economic,” the actual formal name of the category.
Economics, further, is always cited by the government
as the rationale for the high immigration targets.
Newspaper columnist Terry Glavin attributes Trudeau’s
fixation to his being enamoured of the “next big idea”- the
projection of 100 million Canadians put forward by
ex-McKinsey operative Dominic Barton and the neo-liberal
advisory council on economic growth that Trudeau appointed.
It helps that the political left, which should be taking him
on, is silent on the issue, so that Trudeau’s naivety and
pretensions are protected.
None of that adequately explains, however, Trudeau’s
indifference to the consequences.
It's as if he were missing a social gene.
Trudeau was once cited by a New York Times reporter
as saying, “There is no core identity, no mainstream in
are shared values — openness, respect, compassion,
willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to
search for equality and justice.”
Canada, Trudeau said, “could be the first
This goes back to his father’s antipathy to Quebec
nationalism, but takes it to a neo-liberal extreme where
open borders for money, goods and services, and labour are
the rule, which is what a post-national order means.
It’s akin to Margaret Thatcher’s declaration,
reflecting her neo-liberal convictions, that “there’s no
such thing as society.”
Therein lies the missing clue.
The upshot in this case is that adequately meeting the need
of Canadian citizens for affordable housing, an expression
of a cohesive community, is overridden by the pressure of
outsider numbers caused by Trudeau’s unremitting fixation on
Nor is a post-national state going to bring us equality and
justice, for all of the prime minister’s words.
The gap in the affordability of housing, and perhaps
most of all in the ability to buy a house, only accentuates
Nor is that the only dimension of inequality and the causes
True equality and justice, for example implementing a
thoroughgoing wealth tax Thomas-Piketty style, requires a
cohesion in society that can only come from deep feelings of
community, in turn only possible at a country-wide level in
the social solidarity of a nation state.
The same goes for the cohesion that’s going to be
required to make the collective sacrifices coming down the
pike if we’re to save the planet environmentally.
This is all the more the case with the ethnic mix we have in
sense of belonging to a particular nation together needs to
be reinforced rather than downplayed and dismissed.
Left-wingers know this.
Unlike Margaret Thatcher, they see community rather
than unrestrained markets as the leading instrumentality of
people living together – or, as Karl Polanyi might have put
it, we’re primarily social animals, not economic ones.
By the same token, left-wingers also look to the
nation state as a defence against detached and impersonal
globalization holding sway.
Let’s not forget the bitter lesson that Polanyi articulated
for us in The Great Transformation – that allowing
adherence to market dogma to take precedence over people’s
sense of community and its obligations, and generating
social dislocation in the process, leads to fascism.
It was to explain this rise of fascism that Polanyi
wrote the book in the first place, going back to before the
In Polanyi’s historical narrative, which ended in the
interwar period, the operative factor, dictated by market
ideology – in that interwar period leading to fascism – was
adherence to the gold standard, which forced the economies
of several countries to the wall.
The crisis in housing affordability in Canada has the
same feel to it.
The market dogma at play in this case is the free movement
of labour underlying immigration’s economic category.
The early signs: an edginess and disaffection in
many low-income young people – a cohort that in B.C. would
normally vote NDP federally or perhaps Liberal, but many of
whom now, astonishingly if you didn’t realize what was
happening, are talking Conservative and Poilievre.
It’s hard to imagine fascism coming to Canada, but
would we really be all that surprised if Poilievre pulled a
Trump, as he effectively did with his support of the
so-called, misnamed “truckers’ protest” in Ottawa?
There’s yet another dimension to Trudeau’s perspective on
the immigration question to keep in mind.
Complementary to his neo-liberal downgrading of the
nation state is a downgrading of the integrity of
mentality, and the ideology behind the mentality, are the
same in both cases.
On that one, unfortunately – the integrity of citizenship –
left-wingers in Canada have been missing in action, and for
the same reason that they have been silent about the
inflated immigration numbers: taboo and sloppy,
One is reminded of Tommy Douglas’s maxim: “The
trouble with socialists is that they let their bleeding
hearts go to their bloody heads.”
Take the late (except in Quebec), but not lamented,
Immigrant Investor Program, where an applicant with a
certain wealth and willing, also, to lend the federal
government a certain amount of money interest-free for five
years, was granted, with their family, immediate and
unconditional permanent resident visas and eventually became
eligible for citizenship.
The interest earned on the loan was then to be
redistributed among the provinces, by the federal
government, to fund economic growth, giving the program a
certain economic gloss.
The Harper Conservative government belatedly canned the
program two-and-a-half decades after it was established.
A related “entrepreneur” program, open to scam from
the beginning, was eliminated at the same time.
The government’s explanation: the investor
“immigrants” were not maintaining sufficient ties to Canada
and ended up paying significantly less taxes than other
economic immigrants in the long term; the program also
produced limited economic benefit for Canada.
None of this was a surprise for anyone who understood human
The fundamental problem of the program, though, was quite
allowed people to buy citizenship – a mercenary
commercialization of the underpinning of a community. The
program was treated by applicants that way, too.
“A breezy path” to citizenship, an immigration
consultant shop described the scheme.
Nor was this breezy path marginal.
When the program was wound up, 65,000 applications
were left in the queue.
The NDP, through all those years, barely uttered a murmur
about the program.
The dealing in foreign students as a way of selling
citizenship is a little less direct, but essentially no
Wealthy, and sometimes not so wealthy, families send
children to Canada ostensibly for education but often,
primarily, to establish a beachhead for their own
citizenship and the later citizenship of family members.
Nobody who knows the scene has any illusions about this.
“The entire system…is built around the false premise
that education…is the primary aim for most students,” The
Walrus article explains.
“Everybody knows it’s just a pathway to PR [permanent
residency],” a student from India comments.
“That’s what the government is encouraging. That’s
what the agents are selling. Any way you slice it, everybody
is in on this.”
The trafficking, then, is not just in foreign students but
also in passports.
Maybe the most egregious example of undermining the
integrity of Canadian citizenship is “birth tourism,” where
pregnant Chinese women come to Canada, most prominently to
Richmond BC, to deliver their baby, automatically making the
baby a Canadian citizen.
“And it’s 100% legal,” trumpeted a Hong Kong news
As one might predict, this one, just like the
foreign-student industry, has generated a growing marketing
and brokerage business promoting the scheme and indulging
customers with all-in services, including “birth houses” (26
of them at one count), plus boasting of the downstream
financial and citizenship benefits of having a “Canadian”
child. The only
task required of the pregnant woman: producing the money.
This isn’t to mention the problems of unpaid bills (and
other public costs) and the pressure on hospital capacity
for local residents.
At one point, a quarter of all deliveries at Richmond
General were birth tourism.
“That’s not a hospital anymore,” commented a
well-known local personality, radio talk-show host, and an
immigrant himself, Jas Johal.
“It’s a passport mill. ... It’s open season. … It
fundamentally mocks our system.”
It’s a dubious business, in short, and doesn’t lack for
critics, but don’t expect to find the federal NDP among
them. On the
contrary, Jagmeet Singh accused those who raised the issue
of being guilty of “division and hate.”
Such accusations are a familiar Singh, and Canadian
left-wing, reflex deriving from their more general mindset
Ditto for the mindset behind Singh’s declaration that Canada
needs immigrants to keep the economy running.
At root, this is not just a statement about
Implicit in the declaration is that Canadians by themselves,
including all our immigrants to date and children of
immigrants, are incapable of effectively keeping an economy
going on our own.
We don’t have what it takes, it seems; we need
others. Call it
a case of reverse xenophobia: putting down Canadians.
Mind you, the neo-liberal legend about economic
necessity, advanced by Sean Fraser speaking for Justin
Trudeau et al., says the same thing in spades.
If Singh had said we had a humanitarian obligation to accept
refugees from around the world, it would have been a
The left in Canada should be taking the lead in debunking
the phoney legend that immigration is economically necessary
for the country, but unfortunately Singh and his caucus are
so buried in their lazy orthodoxy on the subject, such an
idea, it appears, would never occur to them, much less go as
far as being discussed.
Just too many people
As I’ve argued, Canada should severely cut back on its
immigration numbers and similarly on the numbers of foreign
students and so-called temporary foreign workers, and I’m
loath to risk distracting attention from that focus.
Still, my original question, the one having to do with
global warming, needs at least to be touched on:
Why are we bringing
more and more people into a northern country with such a
high per-capita use of energy, not to mention of the earth’s
other resources as well?
A Port Moody letter writer in the Vancouver Sun,
Derek Wilson, with a longtime interest in sustainability,
put the question in plain terms.
The net inflow into B.C. in 2021 of 100,000 people,
forming about 40,000 households, may emit upwards of 720,000
tonnes of new greenhouse gas emissions annually.
The province at the same time, however, is committed
to reducing GHG emissions by 40 per cent by 2030.
“If provincial population growth and achievement of
climate targets are incompatible,” Wilson asks, “then how
does the provincial government propose to resolve this
The 720,000 extra tonnes of GHG emissions are, of course,
only for the increase in population in the one year, 2021.
At the same rate of population increase, with the
overall Canadian immigration target being jacked up even
higher, the extra GHG emissions from population increase in
B.C. will hit 7,200,000 tonnes annually by 2030, just
from the population increase in a decade.
Add to that the extra “embodied” GHG emissions, over the
lifetime of buildings, from the construction of concrete and
glass high rises, which Vancouver and neighbouring
municipalities have turned to in order to increase housing.
Those particular B.C. questions, however, aren’t the most
important global-warming questions stemming from population
predominant climate question is “What are we going to do
with the world just having too many people (of which the
pressure of emigration is a by-product) and why are we
avoiding the subject?”
This avoidance defies elementary reason.
William Rees, a professor emeritus at UBC, is the ecological
economist who, together with one of his PhD students,
developed the concept of “ecological footprint” analysis by
which to estimate what populations the ecosphere can sustain
while respecting the environment and the need for
Rees, together with an American system analyst Megan
K. Seibert, calls for a “radical societal contraction and
transformation,” including a global one-child strategy, “to
reduce the global population to the one billion or so
people [my italics] that can thrive sustainably in
reasonable material comfort within the constraints of a
non-fossil energy future and already much damaged Earth.”
(See “Through the Eye of a Needle: An Eco-Heterodox
Perspective on the Renewable Energy Transition” published in
the journal Energies, July 2021.)
For context: The world’s population has just passed the 8
billion mark and isn’t expected to peak until it hits close
to 10 billion – the lowest estimate I’ve seen is 9.73
billion – before it begins to decline.
(China’s population has already begun to decline, but
then China, in the last 40-year period alone, added a net
400 million people, more than the entire population of the
Rees allows that two billion, rather than one billion, might
be an acceptable target in the circumstances, and he has
cited “one to two billion” in the past, but the longer the
current burden is placed on the ecosystem of the planet, the
less capacity it will have in the future, and time is
Stephen Emmott, a renowned U.K. computational scientist,
arrived independently at the same general conclusion.
Emmott, in 2013, came out with a book, Ten Billion,
analyzing the impact of this population growth.
He concluded that we have already gone past the point
of the earth’s carrying capacity.
The degradation of the earth’s ecosystem is such that
we have entered into a vicious cycle, with the threat of
When Emmott’s book was written, we were only at 7 billion.
We can’t expect, either, that technological change is going
to save the planet.
There is a growing literature that alternative energy
paths for the future and other stratagems are themselves
unsustainable, inadequate to the task, or just plain wishful
thinking, including much ballyhooed hydrogen and
dematerialization, and the prospects for nuclear fusion.
There’s another problem for the
A decline in birth rates, in their argument, will
come about through rising standards of living and
modernization – the “economic-development and
poverty-eradication” track. That in turn, however, means an
ever-increasing use of resources, including energy, and the
additional emission of greenhouse gases.
Once you take the step of facing the need to control global
population your perspective changes on virtually everything
else. Talk about
reducing emissions, useful and necessary as such a reduction
might be, without however talking about reducing the world’s
population, is seen, now, as extraordinarily naïve.
Stopping the resurgence of coal, a key focus at
Glasgow (COP26), without facing the need to reduce the
world’s population, is so much blah, blah, blah, setting
aside that Glasgow didn’t even get agreement on phasing out
coal. And so on.
The perspective also frames many international events
differently – events like civil strife, ethnic discord unto
genocide, and population movements, including the flow of
migrants to borders where they are met, effectively, with
guns, whether held by Hungarian soldiers or U.S. border
Such events beg the question of what role overpopulation
plays in what, on the surface, seems to be caused by
There’s a need here for a whole new journalistic and
academic discipline: tracing strife, tension, barbarity, and
population movements to overpopulation.
Crowds of migrants, often with children, far from home, with
scarce resources, at unfriendly borders or in small boats
crossing the Mediterranean or the English Channel, or wading
across the Rio Grande River, is dystopian by its nature, but
also foreshadows much more profound dystopia to come.
Stephen Emmott once mentioned
asking a highly intelligent young scientific colleague of
his what the colleague might do about the ecological
disaster we’re facing.
“Teach my son how to use a gun,” the young man
This brings me back, again, to Canada, a country supposedly
committed to global survival.
Externally, Canada should be focusing first of all on
reducing the world’s population, through instrumentalities
like aiding women’s liberation and birth control.
The U.N.’s sustainable development goals (SDG) have
just such objectives:
universal quality primary and secondary education,
including the elimination of gender disparities, by 2030,
and corresponding universal access to “sexual and
reproductive health-care services” [read “meeting the need
for contraceptives”], including family planning.
A 2020 article in Lancet, the British medical
journal, projects that if those objectives were met, the
world’s population would decline to 6.29 billion by 2100,
seemingly dramatic, but just roughly where it was only 20
The chances of those instrumental objectives being reached
by 2030, and of achieving the 2100 demographic result, are
miniscule to nil as things stand.
Canada, for its part, has hogtied itself on the
issue. You can’t
very well preach such doctrine to other countries and expect
to be listened to when you yourself are bulking up your
population – indeed, aiming to more than double it to 100
million – and doing so for putatively quite selfish economic
reasons, as our politicians never seem to tire telling us,
mistaken as their economic calculation might be.
The root ecological problem for Canada is even more basic,
however: the high energy and other resource use that any
increase in Canada’s population represents.
The measure for the burden we place on the planet, or
“ecological footprint” (EF), is average productive hectares
(gha) – the annual amount of biological production for human
use and human waste assimilation,
per hectare of biologically productive land and fisheries.
The per capita EF in wealthy countries is
approximately 6.0 gha, in Canada’s case, amplified by our
proportional share, globally, would be 1.6 gha per capita.
Low-income countries average 1.0 gha per capita.
From both a global and domestic point of view, the
logical immigration policy for Canada, ecologically
speaking and everything else being equal, would be for
Canadians to emigrate to low-income countries.
This isn’t, of course, going to happen.
At the very least, though, we should stabilize our
population, and that means cutting back immigration
The profound irony is that Canada should be doing that
anyway, for its own social and economic reasons.