Stephen Harper: “This is the first government in Canadian history that, faced with a recession, did not cut our immigration.”
By: Amanda Coletta on
Stephen Harper, Prime Minister and Conservative candidate for Calgary Southwest, in the Globe and Mail leaders debate on September 17, 2015
This is not the first government in Canadian history to keep immigration uncut during a recession. During the 1990-1991 recession in Canada, the Mulroney government increased the annual immigration level.FactsCan Score: False
In the Globe and Mail leaders debate, Stephen Harper claimed his is “the first government in Canadian history that, faced with a recession, did not cut our immigration.”
Another top Conservative has said similar things. In a 2012 speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto, Jason Kenney, then immigration minister, said that despite instability in the global economy, Canada was “maintaining high levels of immigration.” This, according to Kenney, stood in contrast to the practices of “many other developed countries” and to what “Canada did before in its history.”
What do the numbers say?
We’ll note that dating a recession is an inexact science, as economist Mike Moffatt explained in Maclean’s. But one measure comes from the C.D. Howe Institute, which published a list of recessions in Canada since 1926 (page 10). We use this list here, along with statistics from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
During at least one recession, in 1990-1991, the data show Harper’s statement is false.
The recession that hit in the early 1990s lasted just over two years and saw the unemployment rate rise to 11.3 per cent, a sharp increase compared to 1989, when unemployment was 7.5 per cent. In power during this period was the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney.
Here are the immigration levels for the recession period, according to a 1996 CIC report (page 4):
Updated figures, which show the same upward trend, can be found on the CIC website.
Before, during, and after the 1990-1991 recession, the Canadian government did not cut total immigration. Instead, the annual number rose.
A few other sources confirm the same.
In a 1996 paper, economists David Green and Alan Green noted that since 1920-1921 (the first recession following the First World War), the “absorptive capacity” of the economy guided Canada’s immigration policy. According to this principle, the rate of absorption depends on the ability of the economy to provide new immigrants employment at the prevailing nominal wage. As a result, the authors write, “from that time [post-WWI] until 1990, every major increase in unemployment was accompanied by substantial cuts in immigration.”
Jeffrey Reitz, an immigration professor at the University of Toronto, explained that a policy shift occurred in 1990. “Mulroney made a specific point of keeping immigration open in a recession,” Reitz said by email. “He said he wanted to maintain the international perception of Canada as open to immigration, and not subject to fluctuation.”
That Canada deliberately kept immigration levels steady during the 1990-1991 recession is echoed in a 2014 report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The authors noted that 1990 was “the first test of the new policy of acyclical immigration targets,” or an increase, instead of a decrease, in immigration during a recession.
Mulroney kept immigration uncut and rising when a recession hit in the early 1990s. Harper’s claim to lead the first government in Canadian history to do so during a recession is false.