- Andrea Diaz Cardona
- BBC News World
“Canada? But there the cold is unbearable and the country is empty…”
Anyone who has immigrated or is thinking of moving to the North American country has certainly heard this type of comment from someone else.
And it is also very likely that the person mentioned subsidies or aid offered by the Canadian government as reasons for immigration.
But how much is all this true? BBC News Mundo, the BBC’s Spanish-language service, analyzed three myths about immigration to the country.
1. Is the cold unbearable?
The answer is yes and no: it’s very cold, but it’s not necessarily unbearable.
In Canada, winters are long and, in many cases, quite snowy, but there are several factors to consider before making generalizations.
The first thing is that the climate is not the same in all regions. Canada is the second largest country by territory after Russia, with 9.98 million square kilometers stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
Therefore, the climate varies according to the location and its proximity to the coast and the North Pole.
The most rigorous winters, for example, “occur in the center of the country, in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, because they are the furthest from the oceans which, by not freezing, help to keep the coasts a little warmer”, explains Phil Austin, Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of British Columbia.
On the other hand, on the west coast, where Vancouver is located, the winters are less cold and with less snow.
“In Vancouver, the wind comes from the west, from the Pacific Ocean that never freezes, it blows over warmer waters. The only time you have real snowstorms is when the wind comes from the Arctic and it brings very cold air, which is rare” , he adds.
The places with the most adverse weather are in the north of the country, where the provinces of Yukon and Northwest Territories are located, which, due to their proximity to the Arctic, are very cold, have a lot of snow and darker days.
Another important factor in relation to winter is the amount of sunlight, as the intense cold does not mean that the days are darker.
The question then is what each one prefers: less snow and at the same time less light, or a lot of snow and clear skies.
“In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, for example, you can have very clear days with clear skies and the sun reflecting off the snow, while in Vancouver there is almost no snow during the winter, but you don’t see much sun either”, explains the professor.
“A lot depends on the person’s personality type, whether they prefer sunny days or if their mood is affected by grayer days.”
And finally, we must consider that winter influences Canada’s infrastructure and culture, as well as the way of life. Therefore, the cold is far from being a factor of paralysis or confinement.
Artificial heating is available everywhere, cities where it usually snows have snow removal systems to avoid roadblocks, and there are many interconnected places so you don’t have to walk on the street.
This is the case with the Montreal metro. Several stations are connected to shopping malls, educational institutions and public offices through underground passages.
Added to this is the culture of winter sports; children, for example, often learn from an early age to practice different sports and, thus, have several outdoor leisure options during the cold months.
“For someone like me, who immigrated from the US 30 years ago, it was amazing to see the importance of hockey in Canada. It really is almost a religion and that’s why they celebrate and put skating rinks in their parks and backyards” , says Phil Austin of the University of British Columbia.
“They really make winter a crucial part of their identity.”
Austin cites as an example the large skating rink that the Rideau Canal turns into in Ottawa, the country’s capital.
With 7.8 kilometers and free access, it offers fun and an alternative way of getting around the city center.
Given that Canada has had a regulated immigration policy for several decades, with which it seeks to attract foreign labor, the belief has spread that it is a depopulated country, where there is a lot of land and few people.
But this is not entirely true.
“Canada’s problem is not the size of the population, but its structure. That is, it’s not a problem of how many people there are, but of the conformation of the population in terms of age”, explains Diva Marcela García, PhD in Demography from the Autonomous University from Barcelona.
This is explained because the country “has a low birth rate, so there are fewer people in the early stages of life, while mortality occurs later thanks to its high level of quality of life and universal access to health”.
“These two factors make it a country with a very aging population,” he added.
In other words, in Canada there are people of all ages, but there are more people over 65 than there are children growing up.
This becomes evident when analyzing the fertility rate, an indicator that measures the number of children a woman has throughout her life.
“The global replacement rate is 2.1 children per woman, an estimated number necessary to ensure the sustainability of the population. In Canada, the number of children per woman has been below 2.1 for at least 20 years”, argues Garcia.
According to United Nations data, that number is currently 1.47 in Canada. Thus, the country’s strategy is to attract immigrants of working and reproductive age who contribute to the growth of the young population in the medium and long term, simultaneously contributing to the labor market and social security.
3. Is it true that they give many benefits?
The first thing to clarify is that saying that the government gives “gifts” is problematic and imprecise.
Immigrants have access to some subsidies, but these are not necessarily given in cash and are subject to several factors.
Canada is divided into provinces, each of which has an autonomous local government and therefore manages its own budget.
In this way, depending on where the immigrant lives, he will have access to the assistance offered in the region. And that depends on your profile.
“In general, there are no direct economic subsidies for immigrants in Canada,” says Alejandro Hernández, PhD in Sociology from Carleton University.
“In contrast, Canada, since the 1990s, has supported integration through third parties. It selects agencies that promote integration and settlement services in provinces and communities. The budget must be continually requested and renewed by these agencies.”
The most common services are usually support and advice to enter the world of work.
Those who immigrate to the country receive, for example, assistance in organizing documents such as a resume and letter of intent, as well as training to focus on the profile and prepare for the selection processes. In this case, beneficiaries do not receive money.
One example is Quebec, a French-speaking province that is also the only one that has complete autonomy in regulating immigration.
“There is some direct support for immigrants there, which is more related to a nationalist question and the command of French”, adds Hernández.
As in that territory there is an interest in preserving French as the first official language (English is as well), if the immigrant studies French full-time and face-to-face, “he can receive CAN$ 205 (about R$ 785) per week, more transport support,” Hernandez said.
To join this program, the immigrant must meet a series of requirements and must commit to the obligations of the academic curriculum. It should also be taken into account that the values and conditions of this program may change depending on the government.
Another type of help that some organizations offer is legal advice and the translation of documents for those who need to validate their title.
There is also support aimed at adapting to winter, with snow sports courses at more affordable prices for new immigrants.
It is also possible to find programs and institutions that manage donations of furniture or clothing to make life easier for newcomers, but again, people must apply to these types of programs and go through certain filters.
Finally, it is important to clarify that those who are permanent residents of Canada can access other types of subsidies offered by the government to the general population, not exclusively to immigrants.
It is aid for studies, for alimony or for economically vulnerable people.
These supports vary for each province and some filters and conditions have been established that must be fulfilled.