If they are coming, we should want our share
I read awhile ago that after WW2 when Canada was expected to settle 1.5 million European refugees (equivalent to 4.7 million today relative to population size), the New Brunswick Premier at the time told the Prime Minister he wasn’t interested. He worried we had too high unemployment and we would have a hard enough time re-integrating the NB boys coming back.
I have written before that I believe that decision was likely one reason why New Brunswick’s economic growth never really reached the national level of growth for decades after. These immigrants were ready and raring to go. They wanted a fresh start in Canada. They were a main driver of economic growth.
I know there is a segment of my readers - and lots more - that still believe we should be focused not on GDP growth but on GDP per capita growth. They are not big fans of immigration at least in larger numbers because they believe it holds down wages and disincentivizes productivity investment.
I think we can improve productivity without cutting our workforce demand off at the knees.
Anyway, someone told me that Doug Ford was aggressively looking to attract a large number of Ukrainian refugees. The Canadian Immigration Minister used the term ‘unlimited’ earlier this week. He said we would attract “a limitless number of Ukrainians to come to Canada to live, work or study here for up to two years” and there is talk of permanent settlement for many of them.
Well, New Brunswick should want its share. According to IRCC, New Brunswick has been settling around 200 Ukrainian immigrants (PR) per year since the 2016 Census. At that time we had 340 residents who were born in the Ukraine. So, let’s assume some outward migration - but let’s say there are 700-800 Ukrainian born residents in New Brunswick right now. What is reasonable? 2,000 to 3,000 or more?
Several considerations. One, unlike many of the eastern Europeans that have settled here in recent years, there is no expectation that the Ukrainian refugees will speak English (or French).
Two, they are looking to reunite refugees with relatives already living in Canada so we should engage the population already living here.
Three, like the approach in Germany, we should be asking New Brunswickers to open up their homes to host the newcomers. There is virtually no housing available right now in much of the province - even if they have money. If we get a sense that many want to stay long term and get their PR, we can develop a serious plan to expand housing.
Four, hopefully this doesn’t short change the thousands of economic immigrants looking to get into New Brunswick right now. Obviously the priority will be the refugees but we need the economic migrants as well.
I heard someone on the TV this week saying we should give as many of them PR as want it. The truth is that no matter how highly you think of Canada, not every refugee would prefer to live here. I have heard anecdotal stories of a number of current refugees that have really struggled here and would prefer to go home.
I would suspect that if the Ukraine goes back to some kind of ‘normal’ many would choose to go back. Refugees flee their countries because they feel there is no other choice. Economic migrants choose to move to advance their career, family goals, etc. If they want to stay we should be welcoming. If they want to go back home, ditto.
Finally, I hope Russia gets things figured out. As far as I can tell, the country has a fairly good education system. It has lots of natural resources. It has a number of large urban areas with clusters of industry, education, research, etc. I’m not sure why they don’t want to pull an Estonia and become a country that is embracing democracy, markets and openness. All that cyberespionage capacity could easily become cybersecurity capacity and Russia could be world leader.
This should raise the quality of life for all citizens over time. I’m not going to litigate all of the issues - the oligarchs, the view that Russians need an iron fisted leader, yadda, yadda, yadda. I have over 40 books in my library on Russia - from Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s What is to be done? (and Lenin’s of the same name) to a recent biography of Putin. I don’t claim to have any special insight but at a fundamental level, with the right institutions, government and a little good will, why couldn’t it emerge as a kind of Canada - cold but prosperous?