Doug Ford must apologize and plan for a steady flow of new workers

World-class engineers, mathematicians, scientists, and, yes, professional doctors, accountants, and veterinarians. These are the professional workers who bring world-class talent to Ontario, where the best and brightest reside. None of these are what we…

Doug Ford must apologize and plan for a steady flow of new workers

World-class engineers, mathematicians, scientists, and, yes, professional doctors, accountants, and veterinarians. These are the professional workers who bring world-class talent to Ontario, where the best and brightest reside.

None of these are what we have today.

In fact, the population of professionals in Ontario decreased by over 4,000 residents from 2015 to 2016.

Could that be because too many of them have stayed put after the 2003 government-imposed Citizenship and Immigration moratorium on immigration permanently removed prospective immigrants from the active job market?

Perhaps too many doctors took jobs in other provinces because they couldn’t find them. It is here, in this province of seven million, that many people are forced to drive long distances to work — once as far as two hours from their hometown.

Then there are the 35,000 doctors and other professionals waiting on retirement to their vast, yet often unrecognized, paychecks.

Recently the high-paid chairs at Ontario’s well-respected research institutes fell in line with their peers across the country by supporting the supply-side prescription of their much-maligned provinces, once again leading the greenfield investment charge in Ontario’s fastest-growing regions.

Recent research from the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity in Toronto found that it is the great majority of Ontarioers who feel less satisfied with the quality of their health care.

While nationally the percentage of physician spending on the largest five diseases has stagnated, across the lakes in Ontario the proportion has risen, indicating that the focus on primary care is not delivering the care it should.

Last month my colleague Ravi Dhar opined in the Sun that the case for immigration is falling on deaf ears. “If jobs are not finding people, it’s their own fault. They need to get to work,” he added.

They should too, but the scale of dissatisfaction in Ontario would suggest that anyone who suggests immigration is the solution needs more than a proper apology to do their jobs.

True to his pledge to turn off the green-lighting spigot on greenfield investment, my friend E.J. McMahon of Queen’s University is right to worry that we are growing a brain drain in spite of expanded funding by our provincial government.

We now have an unemployed population of 35,000 professionals, including chief executives of technology and innovation companies. Each year about a thousand doctors depart Ontario.

Together they amount to a net migration loss of about 7,600 people a year.

An estimated 1.5 million doctors are on call in the greater Toronto area alone.

Far from facing a deficit in our social services, we now face a deficit in our ability to attract skilled doctors who would drive up our already rapidly-growing population of 7 million.

While the federal government has been praised for empowering provinces to reduce wait times for health care, this allowance has limited scope, with Ontario singled out for special attention.

Ontario has more doctors per capita than the rest of Canada combined. As for nurses, we just reported that in the past three years we’ve experienced a decline in nursing staff of over 10,000.

As provinces’ premier, Doug Ford will face a lot of pressure to take in immigrants. He needs to understand that being a servant of the people, rather than a servile supporter of federal governments, means something.

The new Ontario Progressive Conservative government will face opposition from the past 20 years in Ottawa to its efforts to provide relief to our towns and cities.

Doug Ford will need to be equally if not more compassionate, especially for his heartland citizens, than his predecessors at Queen’s Park. He should accept that the gaps in our most necessary professional worker pools are real, and that meaningful action, as much as warm words, will be needed.

Doug Ford needs to be willing to listen to data before he talks. Ontario should never forget that high-skilled immigrants are not only a boon to any province — they are a boon to Canada.

Doug Ford should apologize and plan accordingly. The consequence will be no shortage of new workers for Ontario when Canada’s largest and most prosperous province fields fewer.

Alan Cross is a professor of economics and a member of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity. This column was first published on his blog on May 22nd.

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