Big bank CEO using his influence to turn spotlight on issue as record number of newcomers poised to arrive
Victor Dodig, chief executive of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, said Ottawa’s decision to significantly increase immigration levels without first shoring up housing supply risks triggering the country’s “largest social crisis” over the next decade unless something is done soon to resolve the issue.
“New Canadians want to establish a life here, they need a roof over their heads. We need to get that policy right and not wave the flag saying isn’t it great that everyone wants to come to Canada,” Dodig said at event hosted by the Canadian Club Toronto on Feb. 14. “The whole ecosystem has to work. If they can’t get a house, if they can’t get a doctor, if they are struggling to get a job, that’s not so good.”
Dodig has decided to use his influence as the head of one of the country’s most important companies to put a spotlight on a complex subject that he thinks some might be taking for granted. While the issues Dodig raised are routinely debated at think-tanks and on social media, policymakers could find it harder to ignore the persistent arguments of the head of Canada’s fifth-largest bank.
In October, Dodig published a commentary in the Financial Post that called on the country to overhaul its approach to immigration, arguing that the objective of adding to the labour pool — necessary for future economic growth in an aging society — must consider the conditions that await new Canadians on the ground, including the cost of housing, the availability of basic social services and the ability of non-Canadian professionals to get credentials to work in their fields.
Immigration plays a key role in Canada’s labour supply, accounting for 84 per cent of the growth in the total labour force during the 2010s, according to Statistics Canada. But the country’s decision to increase its immigration targets for the next three years at a time when housing prices have been on the rise has been criticized in some quarters.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s governments wants to bring in 465,000 permanent residents in 2023; 485,000 in 2024; and 500,000 in 2025 as it looks to tackle labour shortages. The numbers are higher than last year’s plan, which targeted 447,055 newcomers in 2023 and 451,000 in 2024.
The federal government is also expected to introduce new tools this year to better help the immigration system target sectors such as health care and construction that have the highest need for labour.
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Data from Statistics Canada show that the skills of newcomers are regularly underutilized. For instance, the number of university-educated immigrants working in jobs requiring a university degree fell to 38 per cent in 2016, from 46 per cent in 2001, compared to 60 per cent for Canadian-born workers.
At the Canadian Club event, Dodig talked about how doctors from abroad are forced to depend on ride-sharing apps for survival instead of catering to an “unbelievable long line of people waiting for doctors, for procedures” in Canada. “We should just advance those folks and not meet them in an Uber and say what do you do: I am a doctor from Iran and I can’t find a job here,” said Dodig, whose father was a refugee who came to Canada in the 1960s.
Dodig said that while the government has taken a number of steps to improve the issues that have troubled the country’s immigration system, some challenges that immigrants face today continue to reflect the ones that his parents faced decades ago. He talked about how his father struggled to find a decent job. “I think that still holds true for immigrants today. He was unskilled and for those that are coming with skills, many of the skills aren’t being recognized,” said Dodig, adding that the job obstacles of today are “soft trade barriers.”
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