The Honourable Joe Volpe, Publisher
TORONTO - Maybe there’s hope. Since we printed an interview with a well-established builder of repute on February 16, (“Canadian builder sounds the warning bell”) a steady stream of comments questioning the merits of Canada’s demographic and immigration policy has been flooding our editorial desk.
The Corriere Canadese has been writing about these for the better part of 3 years. Its articles and columns have always been accompanied by data, charts and graphs derived from reputable sources in Europe and Canada – including Statscan and [formerly] Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Last week, the latter department released total immigration numbers and source countries. We converted them into a ten-year graph to better illustrate the impact.
They seemed to confirm the assertions made in the February 16 article: that Immigration policies do not address the needs of the one industrial sector that still creates wealth and prosperity in Canada – Ontario’s Construction Industry.
The Sector needs to replace a skilled and aging workforce. And there is a shortage of workers - primarily men - willing and able to embark on “a career” that may rely on physical talents but is financially rewarding for those committed to learning and to precision.
Thursday, I accepted (on an off-the-record basis) an invitation to a meeting of Union Officials and a number of medium-sized builders and subcontractors concerned that this shortage would delay delivery of contracted work, drive up prices, force builders to increase their “poaching” of each other’s workers and destabilize the sector.
One medium-sized subcontractor, a community activist and philanthropist, protested that he has taken to enticing former tradesmen out of retirement: “the youngest is 69 years old, two others are 72, come check my records. Service Canada is making it virtually impossible for me to do my own recruiting; the bureaucrats know best, I guess.”
All were quizzical about decisions by bureaucrats in respect of their applicants. They in fact asked if there was a rhyme or reason behind immigration policies that lead to the graph published in our Thursday (March 2). Or indeed why the Province is incapable of training young people for their sector and validating their work and their dignity for choosing that career.
It was a rather egalitarian room - people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds whose “camaraderie” was born out of relationships built on construction site, where value and respect is earned through quality workmanship and timely performance that considers the needs of the next tradesman to complete the job. Everyone needs housing and the goods, products and services associated with it.
Canada is a big country. There is room for everyone who wants to build and develop a society. But a fact of life is that many of the “trades” have traditionally come from Southern and Eastern Europe.
Immigration Canada over the last ten years has focused on other people and other skills.
On seeing the chart, the most common expression was, “is this why we cannot get people prepared to work on a construction site?” Less than 2/10 of one percent (4.233) of immigrants came from Italy; a marginally higher percentage from Portugal (5.439). The total number from Eastern Europe (21.511) was roughly equivalent to that from Jamaica (22.693), whose total population, 2016, was only 2, 900,000 – is it any wonder that Union officials could complain that the number of available workers from Jamaica is “drying up”.
The meeting was not just a grousing session. Everyone was looking for suggestions on how to fix their “economic problem”. The first step, was to find some mechanism to keep the workers they had, and that includes the “undocumented” ones the “visa overstays”. Second, to be allowed to recruit their own workers, since Immigration Canada seems to have other priorities not founded on the Builders’ needs.
On the first score, there is a “pilot project” to regularize the roughly 60,000 “illegal workers in the GTHA’s construction industry. It’s all “hush-hush”, so far.
On the “recruitment” side, the government needs to gets its collective head around the “how to do it”, and soon, before it begins to wear the consequences of its predecessor’s policies.