With surging house prices and a dwindling workforce, "Canada has work to do," he says
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) chief executive Victor Dodig has called for Canada to overhaul its immigration policy, pointing out that increasingly expensive housing and restrictive foreign credential regulation has hollowed out the government’s immigration policies.
“Being welcoming … doesn’t just mean accepting newcomers,” Dodig said in a statement. “It means ensuring that when immigrants arrive, they can thrive and participate fully in society and the economy. On this score, Canada has work to do.”
The CEO’s statement came in time for the federal government’s new immigration level plans, including an updated outline of the number of immigrants the country will accept per year. Canada currently hopes to accept 447,055 new permanent residents in 2023 and 451,000 in 2024.
Dodig, himself the son of immigrant parents, called for bigger numbers to counter Canada’s aging workforce and labour shortage, the Financial Post reported. Immigration drove nearly 85% of the country’s workforce growth in the 2010s according to Statistics Canada. Despite this, immigrants’ skills remain underutilized, with the number of university-educated immigrants working in jobs requiring a degree dropping from 46% in 2001 to 38% in 2016, compared to the majority (60%) of Canadian-born workers.
While the government has promised to temporarily remove a cap on work hours for international students beginning November, experts agreed it would take much more to overcome the shortage of workers. Dodig noted that surging house prices worked against Canada’s recruitment efforts, alongside relatively low wages, the Financial Post reported. Dodig proposed building more rental housing and ‘strategic’ use of government land to pave the way for more homeownership and housing stock.
The CEO also committed to raising CIBC’s minimum wage from $20 to $25 per hour by 2025 – an initiative he urged other companies to follow in recognition of both the need to attract talent and to “[provide] a wage that can contribute meaningfully to household finances”.
Bank of Novia Scotia vice-president and head of inclusion and resilience economics Rebekah Young said that while housing affordability was a problem for everyone in Canada, newcomers tended to face higher costs to rent or buy a home given recent trends in prices.
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Dodig also called for provinces and territories to speed up accrediting workers who had learned their professions or trades abroad. Otherwise, these workers would remain “unable to contribute as much as they want and as much as Canada needs”.
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Young said it was too early to say that the demand to move to Canada had ‘materially’ waned. Still, she agreed that the government had to address services that could attract others to a Canadian life, including better housing, education, and access to health care.
“Decisions and actions taken today will determine if Canada remains a destination of choice down the road,” she said.