In April last year, less than a month before general elections in Canada, the country’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper campaigned in the Toronto suburb of Brampton with an unusual figure: Bollywood star Akshay Kumar. The Prime Minister’s wife Laureen Harper also briefly danced with the actor.
Harper’s wooing of the Indo-Canadian community paid dividends as additional seats in the Greater Toronto Area and led to his previously minority Conservative government securing a majority in the Canadian House of Commons, the country’s equivalent of the Lok Sabha.
What was more significant was that Harper had to connect with the community since it is fast emerging as a major demographic group in Canada, with projections indicating it could become the largest ethnic group in the country by mid-century.
In addition, by accounting for over 3.6% of Canada’s population of nearly 33 million, the Indian community already has its highest per capita population across Western nations in this country, higher than its share of the populations of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. As Rana Sarkar, President of the Toronto—headquartered Canada-India Business Council or C-IBC, said, “In terms of Indian diasporas in OECD countries, it is true that in terms of proportion it’s by far the largest, five times the size of the US population.”
Demographers have assessed the 2006 census in Canada to say that the South Asian population in the country has already overtaken that of the Chinese. Éric Caron Malenfant, one of the authors of the 2010 report by the Government agency Statistics Canada, titled Projections of the Diversity of the Canadian Population: 2006 to 2031, said, “Actually, what was observed in 2006 it was already the case in the census: The number of people from the South Asian group was higher than the Chinese population. This will continue to be like this according to the projection scenario we did recently.”
Those were the projections for 2031, in which the team from the Ottawa-based Demography Division of Statistics Canada estimated that under low and high growth scenarios, the South Asian population would number between 3.2 million and 4.1 million by 2031 and the Chinese population would
range between 2.4 million and 3.0 million. As Malenfant pointed out, the South Asian community by 2031 “would almost double” to between 8.1 and 9.2% of Canada’s population, whereas the Chinese population would remain between 6.1 and 6.7%.
Two factors account for this growth rate – immigration certainly, but also that South Asians have a fertility rate higher than the Canadian average of 1.7 children per woman, while it is lower than average for Chinese women.
As Indian immigrants account for the lion’s share of the immigration from South Asia, there is a real possibility that they alone could become the largest ethnic minority in Canada by 2050 if not 2031.
Immigration experts believe new rules that Canada is expected to introduce next January, may actually foster higher rates of immigration from India.
Ravi Jain, a partner at the Toronto-based immigration law firm, Green and Spiegel, said that further changes to the current points system will encourage immigration of younger people in the 18 to 35 age bracket with strong English language skills. “Obviously people from India are going to be well served by this focus. I don’t think that will necessarily be the case for the Chinese. Indians are in good shape going forward.”
Kalyan Sundaram, executive director of the Canada India Foundation, believes this is a net positive trend for relations between Canada and India, “by virtue of numbers and ability to influence the direction in which India and Canada work together.”