This article has been published in the Vancouver Sun on October 2nd, 2017. It is found at http://vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/opinion-curb-immigration-to-let-housing-catch-up-to-demand
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is one of the most scenic recreation areas in Canada, if not the world. A 500 meter walk from the road reaches a small turquoise lake, an exhilarating five kilometer hike after two hours and an altitude gain of 400 meters reaches a second, a further 30 minutes a third lake. The path goes through an ancient forest, across avalanche chutes covered with slide alders and is bathed in the sound of rushing waters from a nearby creek and waterfalls.
The views from the lakes are spectacular. Evergreens line the shores and the waters reflect the sight of the large glacier descending from the 2,700 meters high Joffre Mountain. The highest lake is so close to this glacier that one can see serrated columns of ice and occasionally thundering falls of ice and rocks.
On this year’s Labour Day Sunday my wife’s and I drove to the park, where we encountered a traffic jam near the entrance and a long search for the last spot in one of three parking lots. The wait for the use of the single toilet at the start of the trail was 20 minutes. An RCMP officer at the scene told me that these conditions prevailed also during weekdays in the summer.
On the hiking path, we stopped every few minutes to let lines of younger and more vigorous hikers pass us. As we found out later, these hikers had parked on the side of the road, obviously willing to pay the tickets that a large sign had announced. It simply made more sense for them to pay this fine than to drive 3-hours back to Vancouver without stopping at the Park. Most unpleasant were the large crowds at the prominent viewpoints at the lakes, which offered standing room only and were bathed in loud chatter spoiling the normal silence of the environment.
Such unpleasant overcrowding of the Joffre Lakes Park is typical of all recreational facilities in the Lower Mainland. It also afflicts the region’s roads, bridges, public transit, hospitals, schools, universities and water supply and most importantly, Vancouver’s housing market.
What causes these problems? The simple answer is that for these facilities demand exceeds supply, but for the design of remedial policies, the fundamental but also more difficult question is why is there this excess demand?
Currently, the most popular answer is a shortage of investment in housing and infrastructure. Governments for some time have adopted policies to remedy this situation. The very existence and growth of the excess demand is clear evidence that these policies are inadequate and are likely to remain so. The relief from recently announced increases in publicly subsidized housing will quickly be overwhelmed by the torrent of additional demand for it.
Popular are also policies designed to reduce demand. They are focused on the housing market and involve taxes on foreign buyers, raising the cost of mortgages and reducing regulation. These policies at best have had only transitory effects on demand for housing. More investment in infrastructure has been promised by all parties at every election but obviously has failed to eliminate the problems.
However, there is one simple way to reduce demand. Lower immigration from the present rate, which sees about 250 new immigrant families settle EVERY WEEK of the year in Greater Vancouver. This rate of increase has brought the total population of British Columbia from 2.2 million in 1972 to 4.8 million in 2017. The projection that it will reach 6.0 million in 2037 strongly suggests future worsening of excess demand.
Parliament could easily reduce the number of immigrants temporarily from the present national 300,000 per year to 50,000. While in place for perhaps five years, the construction of housing and investment in infrastructure can catch up with demand. Thereafter, the number can be raised again but only to a level equal to the economy’s absorptive capacity marked by the sustainably matched demand and supply in housing and of infrastructure services.
Canadians really face no costs resulting from such a temporary reduction in the number of immigrants. Politicians proposing this policy run the risk of electoral losses from some powerful interest groups, but these could easily be exceeded by the gain in votes from suffering Canadians who benefit from it and let the politicians know about their preferences.