Comparing Apples to Apples
At first blush few would challenge the proposition that Canada is a very good country in which to live and plan a future.
In the past few days alone our good fortune has been twice recognized. A report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked Canada second on a quality of life index among the 34 major industrialized countries surveyed. We scored at or near the top in areas such as housing, education, health, and life satisfaction. The one blemish on our record and what prevented us from gaining the number one spot is that voter turnout in Canada leaves something to be desired. Although in truth that may say more about our politicians than the Canadian people. The second kudo comes from the Institute for Economics and Peace, which just produced its Global Peace Index for 2011. Canada was considered the eighth most peaceful country out of 153 nations examined. To put our ranking in perspective, the U.S. comes in at the 85th position.
These kinds of international surveys appear with some regularity and tend to reinforce a certain sense of smugness that has become part of our national character. The fact is that we still have a considerable way to go in extending the same quality of life opportunities to all Canadians, regardless of their ethnicity.
Here’s an example of what I mean. A recent study conducted by Simon Fraser University economist Krishna Pendakur showed that Canadian-born visible minorities earn less than their similarly qualified white counterparts. More particularly, a Canadian-born visible minority man earns about 18% less than a Canadian-born white man with similar education and experience. The research also suggests that the wage gap has actually increased from 1970 to the present, which puts into doubt our self-image of a society that is becoming more comfortable with diversity.
There is evidence to suggest that more recent immigrants to Canada have a tougher time gaining an economic foothold in our country than immigrants of the past. This should not be the case because the newer arrivals are better educated and trained than those who came before them. So what gives here? Well, for one thing, in the past few decades immigrants to Canada are much more likely to be from a visible minority community. Before then, Canadian immigrants, for the most part, were white…just like the employers doing the hiring. I have always felt that measuring the economic performance of new immigrants against that of the Canadian population as a whole is simply the wrong test. What we ought to be comparing is how these newer arrivals fare against visible minority Canadians. I’m guessing that the earnings gap will in large part disappear.
We should stop explaining away the discount on immigrants’ wages by reference to their lack of English or French proficiency and foreign education/training. This is nothing more than a red herring. If these reasons were valid then you would expect well educated Canadian-born visible minority males to be earning the same wages as their white counterparts. But as the studies have shown, they are not.
Immigrants to any country have always known that they would have to work harder than the local citizens in order to do well. However, until recent times immigrants to Canada also expected that their children would have the opportunity to succeed economically in a way that would make them indistinguishable from other Canadians. Maybe that’s no longer the case.