The Canada brand has never been hotter, but the immigration question brings with it complexities ranging from language obstacles and the provision of sufficient housing, to ensuring we’re equipping our cities with the right policies and programs that will enable newcomers to thrive.

By Lee-Anne Goodman

Panelists Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief Planner, City of Toronto; Kate Subak, Executive Director, Century Initiative; Tiff Macklem, Dean, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. (Martin Lipman/PPF)

Canada is having a moment — immigrants are clamouring to come to a place that now stands in stark contrast to Donald Trump’s America, and they’re poised to inject a shot of prosperity into the Canadian economy.

That’s the consensus of a panel on population and prosperity at the Public Policy Forum’s economic Growth Summit that took place on April 20 in Toronto.

“Canada needs more people,” Kate Subak, executive director of the Century Initiative, told the summit on Thursday.

“We have a historic opportunity; I believe that Canada’s brand has never been stronger. People want to come to Canada. But we have work to do … population growth is a tough sell.”

Video: Watch the full session

The debate on immigration is riddled with misinformation on issues ranging from jobs to national security and Canada’s ability to help newcomers integrate, Subak said, and so public education is critical.

“The job-stealing immigrant is a myth,” she said. “We know that new arrivals start more companies than people who are born in Canada.”

What’s more, she added in response to a question from the floor from federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, immigrants are in better health than Canadians.

“We know for a fact that people who come to Canada are more healthy than people who are born here for the first 10 years that they’re here,” Subak said, noting that means they help reduce provincial spending on health.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen listens to the panel before posing questions.

Jennifer Keesmaat, chief planner for the City of Toronto, told the summit that Canada should welcome immigrants in part as a way to spread its message of inclusivity around the world.

“Should we grow? Yes! We should grow because we’re doing a good thing in the world and the world needs more Canada,’’ she said. “We want to build a country based on inclusion … we’re a beacon to the world.”

Tiff Macklem, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, said he’s seen a significant uptick of applicants from abroad for the fulltime MBA program at Rotman.

“The Canada brand has never been better … this is a moment in time for Canada to attract the best global talent,” he said, praising Ottawa’s specialized visa for high-tech talent.

But he argued it should be even easier for people to immigrate to Canada, particularly full-time students like those studying at Rotman and other distinguished schools.

“People are looking at Canada like they’ve never looked at it before and we need to capitalize on that,” Macklem said.

But there are challenges, Keesmaat said, pointing to Canada’s urgent need for improved infrastructure — particularly public transit and affordable housing in Toronto — and its potential impact on immigrants.

“We can’t say no and we don’t want to say no, but on the flip side we have to move into hyper-speed in terms of delivering on the infrastructure that we require,” Keesmaat said.

The panelists, with moderator Marta Morgan, Deputy Minister Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, explain why the myth of the “job-stealing immigrant” is a factual inaccuracy.

Public transit is critical for new immigrants to access education and jobs, she said, and their chances of success are diminished if they have no way to get around, no affordable places to live and no way to easily access schools.

“We’re really back on our heels right now,” she said.

Nonetheless, Subak said, bringing in more immigrants is critical to Canada’s future prosperity.

Without an influx of immigrants, she said, “our population will fall and our GDP will fall with it, and the promise of Canada will also fall.”

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