Inevitably, any serious converstaion about Canada’s economic well-being leads to the topic of immigration.

The reasoning is simple enough. Canada’s population is aging and our birth rate is falling. If we want to preserve our quality of life, sustain our standard of living, we must remain a destination of choice for those who seek new opportunities in new lands. We rely on their diverse talents and ideas. We need their energy and ambition.

Making room for newcomers is one of Canada’s strengths – indeed it’s a point of pride and one of the ways our nation stands out in the world. Our major cities are global villages. About 250,000 people come to Canada every year. One-fifth of our total population was born beyond our borders, and increasingly from nations where English and French is not a native tongue.

But it’s not enough to open our doors. We must also welcome people in. Help them succeed. In this regard, there are troubling trends in today’s workforce.

Many newcomers are in positions that underutilize their skill sets. What’s more, they represent larger swaths of the unemployed than Canadian-born individuals. It is costing our economy billions of dollars in lost opportunities. Not to mention the social outlays associated with these outcomes.

There are many contributing factors. This report focuses on one of the most fundamental: language and literacy skills. Deficiencies here represent some of the biggest barriers that individuals come across as they attempt to secure a job and or build a career. These barriers must be torn down.

The good news is this challenge has been recognized by policymakers at all levels of government. Indeed there has been no shortage of responses, and we are certainly hopeful they will have a positive impact. But, as the report’s author and TD economist Craig Alexander rightly points out, we are unable to evaluate them at this point because additional investments are required to monitor the progress being made.

Furthermore, greater effort must be made to align Canadian literacy standards with international ones. This would help put our challenges and opportunities into a global context. In all of this, the simple message is you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

This is not a time for the private sector to shrink or shrug. Given our nation’s reliance on immigration, this issue impacts productivity levels, and in turn, our competitive position in the global economy. Business must step up and make the necessary investments.

Our aim of this report is to draw attention to challenges at hand and encourage conversation with policymakers and
stakeholders. It is the second installment of our literacy papers, and reflects TD’s broader commitment to improve literacy outcomes in Canada, something we deeply believe is a passport to prosperity.

As always, policies come with price tags. Undoubtedly there are costs associated with the recommendations made in the following pages. But our focus is not on the costs, it’s on our country, namely what kind of country we want to be. Our view is clear: Canada must be a nation that unlocks human potential; free of obstacles that limit aspiration, discourage success, and alienate us from others. For a growing number of Canadians, whose own success is inextricably linked to our nation’s well being, literacy is the key.

Frank McKenna
Deputy Chair,
TD Bank Financial Group

Click here to read the entire report.

Reference: TD Bank