We draw attention to, and begin to consider the implications of, the severe restrictions on emigration by Canadians to the United States introduced under the US Immigration Act of 1965. These restrictions came into effect in 1968 and lasted until mobility began to increase to some extent under the free trade agreements in the early 1990s. This is an unusual episode in Canadian history, the implications of which for the Canadian economy and for Canadian public policy appear to have received little attention. We assemble evidence that suggests that the near closing of the border led toward uncoupling of Canadian and US labour markets and to a decrease in the elasticity of labour supply in Canada. Implications for Canadian fiscal policy of a decline in labour elasticity are then derived using a model of equilibrium fiscal structure. We show that these predictions, including heavier taxation of labour income and an increase in the overall size of the public sector, are consistent with what occurred over the two decades after the near closing of the US border, as well as with the partial reopening following the free trade agreements. The analysis continues by acknowledging additional factors that determine the structure and size of the public sector, and by considering the near closing of the border in a broader historical context. We conclude with a prediction about the future course of Canada-US migration policy that follows from our analysis.

49th parallel, Average marginal tax rates, Canada, Elasticity of labour supply, Emigration policy, Equilibrium public policy, Fiscal structure, Immigration to United States, Income inequality, Size of government, Tax mix, Top income tax rates, US immigration act 1965
Canadian Public Policy
Department of Economics

Davies, J.B. (James B.), & Winer, S. (2011). Closing the 49th parallel: An unexplored episode in Canadian economic and political history. Canadian Public Policy, 37(3), 307–341. doi:10.3138/cpp.37.3.307