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Canada on track to outpace G7 over next 50 years: Who is going to deliver the goods?


The world has started to notice Canada, and now it wants everything we produce, and quickly.  This once cold sparsely populated poor cousin of the United States is suddenly on the global radar.  From its enormous oil reserves, almost limitless potential for production of renewable energy resources, strong and stable financial system, and its technological ingenuity, Canada is quickly becoming a global economic power.  Gross Domestic Product per head in Canada is now higher than in the United States and the Canadian Dollar is likely to be added to the short list of global reserve currencies.

In short, despite those who may suggest otherwise, Canada’s economic future is extremely bright.  In fact, the International Monetary Fund recently stated that it expects Canada’s economic growth to be the highest among the G7 over the next 50 years.  Canada’s policy sensibility, ingenuity, as well as its raw material deposits will ensure that we continue to climb the charts of the most affluent nations in the world.

Time to sit back and enjoy the ride? Not quite

Canada’s good fortune has paradoxically left in its wake a major problem. Just as the demand for everything Canadian continues to grow, the country’s labour market is rapidly shrinking. Specifically, the so-called Baby Boomers are not so quietly beginning their exit from the labour market. This means that the proportion of the working population to the population of those who are retired is dropping.

The problem is evident across almost all sectors of the economy. Just this past weekend, the Toronto Star reported on the fact that condominium projects in Toronto are experiencing increasing completion delays. The problem is simple. Canada does not have a deep enough pool of skilled workers to respond to fluctuations in industry demand. The problem has created major constraints in our ability to produce goods. For example, the Toronto Star reports that although 25,000 condominiums were scheduled to be completed in 2012 only half that amount will likely be delivered. Worse still, a chronic skill shortage means that Toronto can likely at most produce 15,000 condominiums per year. Setting aside the recent talk of a glut in the condominium sector, this number of units is simply not enough in a city that consistently receives an additional 100,000 residents per year.

While permanent resident immigration, the type to which we as Canadians are most familiar, will remain a major source of labour market replenishment, the current annual intake of permanent residents – approximately 250,000 individuals – is not and will not be enough to solve the skills shortage problem or to sufficiently supply the labour market. In particular, unless permanent resident numbers are increased significantly, employers will be forced to hire temporary foreign workers to fill the gap.

Employers would accordingly be wise to become familiar with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program as it will likely form a part of a multi-pronged strategy to meet the demands for labour. The program, jointly run by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada, is designed to facilitate the entry of workers to fill genuine skill gaps in the Canadian market. The program accordingly presents a unique opportunity for employers to ensure that they can deliver the goods they promise in a timely manner.

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