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Friday, May 25, 2012

Population and Politics in North America: Canada


The second largest country in the world (Russia is first).  9,9 million square kilometers (3.8 million square miles).   If you move from east to west you will cross no fewer than 6 time zones. Shares a border with the third largest country, The United States.

About that border - I'm old enough to remember a time when Americans and Canadians crossed over that border with relative ease and very little formality.  My first visit to our northern neighbor was when I was a teenager and all I needed was my Washington State driver's license.  These days everyone needs a passport,  though frequent border-hoppers can apply for something called a Nexus Card.  Another interesting fact about that border is that Canada and the U.S. have been jousting over the exact location of that border since the 18th century.  They even set up something called the International Boundary Commission in 1925 to settle disputes. Nonetheless in 2012, the CIA World Factbook lists the following maritime boundaries over which the two countries are still negotiating: "Dixon Entrance, Beaufort Sea, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Gulf of Maine including the disputed Machias Seal Island and North Rock; Canada and the United States dispute how to divide the Beaufort Sea and the status of the Northwest Passage but continue to work cooperatively to survey the Arctic continental shelf."

Given its geography, Canada has some very interesting population statistics.  It is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world with only 3.5 persons per square kilometer (it's 118 persons per square kilometer in France and around 80 in the U.S.). In 2011 Canada had a population of 34 million and a literacy rate of nearly 100%.  Its fertility rate is shockingly low (below replacement) at 1.58 children per woman (only slightly higher than Germany).  On the other hand life expectancy is very high at 81 years for the population overall and 84 years for women (yes, it's the men who drag that figure down).   The other very high figure is the net migration rate (difference between those immigrating and those emigrating) of 5.65 migrant(s) per 1,000 which is the highest rate of any country in North America.

So here we see a sparsely populated country with a low birthrate, low population, low population density, high life expectancy, high literacy, skilled workforce, a pretty decent economy (it has a trade surplus with the U.S.) and abundant natural resources (forests, water, minerals, metals oil and gas).  A country like this on the prowl for human capital and, sure enough, immigration is a top priority for Canada.

Unfortunately Canada sits right next door to another country of immigration that is also thirsty for human capital, the United States.  The book, The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy by Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock describes centuries of rivalry between the two nations for migrants.  In the era when both were chasing the same target population (Europeans) it got downright dirty with negative marketing by immigration agents:
Another grievance frequently aired by Canadian agents was that American agents engaged in misrepresentation of both their own country and Canada. It was alleged that they desseminated false reports of the rigours of life in Canada as a way of diverting people to the United States. Similarly, Canadian agents claimed that American agents provided a deceptively false picture of their own country, promising abundant employment opportunities for workers of all descriptions.
In addition to this intense competition both countries also went about trying to poach each others citizens.  U.S. immigrants agents and consuls actively promoted the U.S. to Canadian, leading to Norman McDonald's accusation that they "almost depopulated whole counties in Nova Scotia alone."  It should be noted however that Canada returned the fire and made a strong effort to get its emigrants back by sending agents to spread the word among their expats in the south about opportunities back in the home country coupled with very attractive incentives to return (land grants, travel assistance).  Canada also waged campaigns to get Americans to move north and succeeded in attracting skilled workers, cattlemen (lots of cowboys) and farmers.  This tradition continues in the 21st century with Canadian provinces actively seeking American workers today in some of the U.S.'s most depressed cities.

There have also been at least two major political migrations from the United States to Canada.  In the period after the American War of Independence (1783 - 1812) Loyalists (those who supported the British) fled to Canada where they were given land grants and other compensation. It's estimated that about 40,000 of the 62,000 dissenters loyal to the British Empire preferred to stay in North America as opposed to returning to the British Isles.   In the last century it was the Vietnam War that spurred an exodus of Americans draft evaders, deserters and dissenters to the north.  Official figures are hard to come by - Canada only shows around 16,000 Americans (mostly young men) in its official immigration statistics for that era.  The U.S. reports nearly 300,000, "209,517 cases of accused draft offenders and 100,000 less-than-honorable military discharges for absence offenses."  The true figure is somewhere in between but note that in January of 1968 Canada revised its immigration policy to legally allow deserters and draft evaders from foreign armies to immigrate and apply for residency.  Clearly that made Canada a choice destination for Americans who strongly disagreed with U.S. policy and decided to vote with their feet.  Very embarrassing for the U.S. and even with the pardon announced by then President Jimmy Carter in 1977, very few people applied and even fewer returned to the U.S.

Today both countries swap citizens as a matter of course. The North American Free Trade Agreement is a factor as is the reality that a lot of the international migration in the world today is regional:  Europeans moving to other countries in Europe, Africans moving around Africa and North Americans circulating among the nations of North America.  Proximity is important.  So is opportunity.  After the worldwide economic meltdown Canada had a lower unemployment rate than the U.S.and according to this recent article from CNN, "Canadian officials say the number of Americans applying for temporary work visas doubled between 2008 and 2010."  Since both countries tolerate dual citizenship, the number of duals (and families with some members holding one or the other citizenships) likely numbers in the hundreds of thousands (if not millions).

The immigration rivalry continues.  Neither country can really make immigration policy without taking into account the policy of the other.  In times past they vied for farmers and skilled laborers.  Moving into the 21st century both want that population of young highly-skilled migrants and both are casting much wider nets and looking to countries other than Europe for people.  Up until now the U.S. was winning the race but there are indications that this may not be true in the future.  The recession and a political system that has not been able to channel the raucous national debate over migration to make coherent immigration policy have taken its toll.   Most immigrants to the U.S. come through family reunification policies (476,414 were immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and 148,343 were economic migrants in 2010).  Immigrants to Canada mostly come through a skill-selection process (76,561 economic migrants applying for permanent residency versus 48,482 family class in 2010).  It is also instructive to look at the net migration rates.  The U.S. has a net migration rate of 4.18 migrants per 1,000 people which is very good. Canada's, however, is even higher at 5.65 migrants per 1,000.    Something to watch and I sincerely hope that researchers like Hristina Petrova come up with more comparative studies such as this one.

Tomorrow we'll take a much closer look at the other country of immigration in North America:  The United States.


Anonymous said...

Hi Victoria
Don't know if it is still the case, Canada had a questionnaire and point system for according immigration visas - a very lengthy procedure that could take more than a year. I know several young Frenchmen and women who have seen Quebec as a solution to the unemployment dilemna in France. They were even willing to put up with the long, cold winters! They love their new life in Canada.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi there,

Thanks for the comment and for stopping by the Flophouse. From what I've seen the Canadian system is still geared more toward attracting those highly-qualified migrants. Some indication that the U.S. is worried about its numbers are the various initiatives coming out of the political campaigns in this election year. Even the die-hard anti-migrant Republican candidates are for programs that would "staple a green card to every foreign graduate's diploma."

Thanks for bringing up Quebec since I didn't talk about it. That province has its own immigration authorities and operates a little differently from the rest of Canada. When my daughter applied for her study permit she did go through the Canadian Embassy here but she had to obtain something called a CAQ (certificat d'acceptation du québec)

My daughter by the way is back home for the summer. She is in love with Quebec, Montreal and her school there. She's using some of her free time now to look at graduate schools and she's leaning toward staying in Canada. And she says the winters weren't bad at all - the snow was a nice change from rainy Versailles winters. :-)