Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave a very telling speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this past week and I have to say that I was quite pleased with what the Prime Minister had to say. Putting aside politics and possibly a hint of a condescending tone, listening to the speech one could see the subtle underlying theme that was its guide: a recognition and acceptance that Canada has an aging population and is beginning to face, and will continue to face, a demographic crunch for the next few decades. Without going into some of the policy proposals that have come out as a result of his Davos speech, which have caused a bit of a stir in Canada, Mr. Harper indicated that Canada needs to face this emerging, aging reality.
Being in Davos against the backdrop of the ongoing European debt crisis, Mr. Harper laid out what he felt was needed to be done both for Canada to remain relatively unscathed from ongoing global economic uncertainty and for the European states to bring themselves out of their current quandary. Whatever the path taken to deal with the crisis, as either a central player such as the EU or as a smaller actor like Canada, it will not be easy as there are certainly many choppy waters still ahead. However, simply because there is a crisis does not mean there are no opportunities that can be taken advantage of if one looks closely. I do not study business but even I know that the ability to adapt in challenging times allows one to be much better positioned when the prosperous times come around. The question is then what will states do to adapt now in order to thrive further down the line?
On Monday, the statistical office of the European Union, Eurostat, released its new employment numbers, indicating that the 17 member Eurozone’s unemployment rate had reached a record 10.4%. The numbers get much worse when looking at Europe’s younger generations. In Spain a whopping 25.9% of those aged 15-39 with a post-secondary degree were unemployed. In Greece the number stands at 25.8% while in Ireland is at 22%, Latvia 17.8%, UK 13%, France 12.1% and the list goes on for both Eastern and Western Europe. In Canada the most comparable set of numbers provided by StatsCan is 25-44 with an unemployment rate of 4.9% in 2011 with a post-secondary degree.
The global economic crisis had a devastating effect on unemployment numbers within certain countries and age categories whereas the ongoing European debt crisis is not helping bring those numbers down. Simply put, in Europe there is a wealth of highly educated, relatively young, potential workers whose education up to and including university has been paid for. I am not suggesting that we open the flood gates, as youth unemployment also needs to be dealt with in Canada. However, I believe the saying goes something along the lines of “never miss an opportunity to take advantage of a crisis.” Immigration will not be the silver bullet to solve all of the problems of the gradually approaching demographic squeeze, as Mr. Harper noted in his speech, however it is part of the solution. If Mr. Harper or any other political leaders for that matter are serious about addressing the issue that will hamper Canada’s ability to compete economically in the future, engaging in smart, targeted immigration is need. This expands the talent and labour pool for certain sectors and broaden the population base for certain regions of the country is part of the adaptation process that Canada needs to make in this time of crisis to stay ahead of the game.