DAVE’S DIGS: Taking a closer look at the ‘taxpayer’ argument against refugees

The notion of irregular migrants as economic burden is a myth

Anyone who spends time on public social media forums like Campbell River Rant, Rave and Randomness will notice a strong current of anti-refugee sentiment.

One of the chief arguments from those outraged about asylum-seekers is that taxpayers are footing the bill for their presence in Canada.

Much of this is thinly-veiled racism. But let’s take the question at face value. How much do programs associated with irregular arrivals actually cost in tax money for a working-class person?

The issue came to the fore after the release of a November report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimating the total and projected federal costs related to migrants arriving at Canada’s southern border.

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The total amount worked out to about $350 million per year, not counting future transfer payments to help provinces and local governments with costs such as temporary housing and so on.

But let’s take this figure – roughly $1 billion over a three-year period – as a point of departure.

I put the question to Iglika Ivanova, senior economist and public interest researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), a progressive think tank.

She did the math. The answer? A working-class taxpayer would likely contribute less than ten bucks a year. That’s an estimate, of course, a back-of-the-envelope calculation.

But if gives you a sense of what’s really at stake here.

We’re speaking about less than two pints of beer plus tip at a pub. Or at least that’s an example that come to mind for me.

How does one arrive at that figure? Ivanova took the example of a single person without dependents who makes roughly $35,000 per year, without any tax exemptions.

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Assuming this person spends all their after-tax money on items subject to GST and PST, their total tax burden is just below $9,000, factoring in EI contributions and so on, Ivanova said.

Overall, that’s a big chunk of their income, roughly 25 per cent.

But that amount goes towards all of the social services we take for granted.

“Firefighters, roads, health care, schools – all these things cost a lot more than refugees crossing the border,” Ivanova said.

As for the federal government’s estimated $350 million per annum in managing the flow of migrants, it’s worth about one-tenth of one per cent of the entire federal budget, according to Ivanova.

So, returning to the individual in our thought experiment – who makes about as much as a junior reporter at a community newspaper – that hypothetical taxpayer’s contribution to the program would be $9 a year.

For someone making $40,000 a year, the contribution would be $11, she said. To the people who are still angry about those sums: consider what’s at stake for the people you would turn away from the Canadian border.

As of Sept. 2018, more than half of refugee claims by irregular arrivals were either from Haiti – the poorest country in the Americas – or Nigeria, which has surpassed India for having the highest number of people in extreme poverty.

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First of all, these are poor people and they need help. Second of all, the people who make the difficult journey from a place like Nigeria are enterprising people, and studies show that immigrants and refugees strengthen economies.

Granted, everyone feels that taxes are too high. But why not shift that burden to those with money to spare?

Ivanova noted that numerous policy measures could shift the tax burden from people who are struggling to the people who can afford it. Examples from the CCPA include cracking down on corporate tax dodgers and going after offshore tax havens.


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