Blogs & Comment

David Suzuki’s immigration stance isn’t xenophobic, but here’s why it’s wrong

His remarks don't hold up to scrutiny.

(Photo: Holger Motzkau/Wikipedia)

(Photo: Holger Motzkau/Wikipedia)

You may have heard: David Suzuki thinks Canada, the second largest landmass in the world, is full, and we should halt immigration (except in humanitarian cases).

Former Immigration Minister Jason Kenney wasted no time pouncing on Suzuki’s comments, going so far as to call them “xenophobic.” That’s not exactly a fair criticism, which is a shame, because there are plenty available. Suzuki is not anti-immigrant; he’s anti-immigration. There’s a difference. That said, he’s still wrong.

The spat began when Suzuki replied to a remark about an Australian environmental group that opposes immigration on the grounds that population growth increases natural-resource drain. Here’s what he said to the Paris-based weekly, L’Express:

“Oh, I think that Canada is full too! Even if it’s the second biggest country in the world, our usable land is reduced. Our immigration policy is enough to make you sick: we pillage the countries of the south by depriving them of their future professionals and we want to increase our population to help our economy grow. It’s crazy!”

Suzuki is essentially arguing two things. First, that immigration is bad for the environment because it contributes to population growth. And second, that our immigration system hurts southern nations. I’m not convinced either claim holds up to scrutiny.

Claim No. 1: Immigration is bad for the environment because it adds people

Were Canada its own planet, Suzuki’s argument would make a little more sense. Alas, the Great White North is big—but not that big. Resource consumption is a global concern. Meaning what matters is international population growth. And immigration from poorer countries, where fertility rates are high, to developed nations, where they are low, would, if anything, have a slowing effect. Indeed, studies show immigrants adopt the lower fertility rates of their new countries within a couple generations.

Canada’s current fertility rate is 1.6 children per woman. By far, our top three immigrant-source countries are India, China and the Philippines. China is roughly on par with Canada, but the fertility rate in the Philippines is 3.1 births per woman; in India, it’s 2.6. In certain African countries, it’s far higher. What it boils down to is this: On average, and by no small margin, families that move to Canada will contribute less to global population growth than they would have had they stayed home.

Claim No. 2: Immigration is bad for southern nations

Let’s consider the Philippines for this one. What Suzuki is referring to is known as “brain drain.” Basically, high-skilled workers leave their country for better opportunity elsewhere. Consequently, the nation loses some of its best and brightest, or so the argument goes. It’s a debate that’s been going on in the Philippines for decades. Others have argued there are more than enough skilled workers to fill these roles. The cost of brain drain, therefore, is hard to measure, if it even exists. But what we can quantify is the amount of money that’s being sent back home from immigrants working abroad. Remittances account for 10% of the Philippines’s entire GDP. The country would suffer immensely were countries like Canada to close their doors. Most of this money is spent on basic necessities like food, benefitting both families and local businesses.

But Suzuki was right about one thing: immigrants do help our economy grow. I call it a win-win.