Monday, March 28, 2005

B.C. needs to plan for a non-white future

VICTORIA - It's time to shed our Canadian politeness and talk a bit about how immigration and demography are changing our society.
StatsCan has just offered a sharp reminder of how big the changes are, forecasting that by 2017 one in three British Columbians will be members of visible minorities. In Vancouver, more than half the population will be visible minorities -they will be the visible majority.
We're lousy at talking about these developments in Canada, for fearing of sounding unwelcoming or even racist.
But the kind of changes are sweeping, and affect every aspect of life in every community in the province. As a society, we need to be making more of an effort to make sure the new Canada works for everyone. Communities and businesses need to do some thinking about what the changes mean for them.
Immigration is a good and necessary thing. Given our aging population, and declining birth rates, we need more people to maintain our workforce and to continue to develop our economy. And given that we are almost all the descendants of immigrants, it would also be churlish to slam the doors shut now.
But the changes are still momentous, and reach across every area of our society.
StatsCan set out to look at the face of Canada in 2017 -only 12 years away. The coming changes are huge, and their impact far-reaching.
Consider one aspect, the impact on the labour force and employers.
In barely a decade, one-in-three people in the province will be members of visible minorities.
But the percentage in the workforce will be much higher. StatsCan notes that by 2017 the median age of the visible minority population will be 36, compared with 43 for the rest of the population.
Thanks to immigration, youth and higher birth rates, the minority communities will supply tomorrow's workers. By 2017, for every 100 visible minority people old enough to retire, there will be 142 ready to start working. For the rest of the population, for every 100 people retiring only 75 will be reaching working age. The base is shrinking.
We're looking ahead to a very different workforce, in terms of first language and cultural values, and smart employers will be preparing.
Businesses need to consider the potential changes in their market. Today about 20 per cent of British Columbians are members of visible minorities. Substantial, yes, but not necessarily critical. But in barely a decade the number will double, from 870,000 to 1.7 million. Business that don't understand the market, and respond effectively, will lose out.
Communities face their own issues. StatsCan projects almost all the visible minority population growth will be in Vancouver. Across B.C. the visible minority population will increase by some 900,000. About 80 per cent those people will be living in Vancouver. (That's understandable. My grandparents came here from England, and settled in parts of Toronto where they felt comfortable, where red, white and blue bunting appeared on doors for important holidays.)
So if, as StatsCan predicts, one in four Vancouver residents will be of Chinese descent in 2017, it;s to be expected that newcomers from China will settle there.
But the implications for the rest of the province are significant. Communities need people, to start businesses and fill jobs and shop in local stores. If towns and cities outside the Lower Mainland are missing out on the largest source of population grwoth, they need to address the problem, stressing the quality of local schools, or cultural diversity or economic opportunities.
We're skittish about all this, we polite Canadians. We have a vague, laudable commitment to multiculturalism and unity, but we don't often pay much attention to the details of the lives of people who come here, and how they change the country.
But our society is changing, in dramatic and exciting ways. We have a chance to look ahead and make the very best of this opportunity.
Footnote: The reluctance of visible minority members to settle outside Vancouver should be a major issue for discussion. StatsCan projects that Vancouver will gain almost 800,000 new visible minority community members between 2001 and 2017. The province's regions will gain 32,000 people. That's not enough to revive communities already facing population losses.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In all due respect, this is great. My only concern is how this will affect canadian women, knowing how set back some countries are where women issues come in. The same countries these people come from. Entering Canada, but not really adapting or accepting canadian customs. Not really integrating with canadians on the social scene. Set on not so much into their religious ways as more into dictarorship customs (ex; vails on women's head). The very reason why, is insulting and degrating to me as a women. That is why I choose not to immigrate to these countries. What will this mean for canadian woman in 25 years ? Will this be a setback? Alot of those countries do not believe that women have any rights.