Welcome to August … summer flies by so quickly, doesn’t it? Soon, in less than three months, the leaves will have turned and we Canadians will be going to the polls.
I see, in an article in Le Journal de Montréal, that “Le chef du Parti populaire, Maxime Bernier, promet d’installer une clôture sur le rang Roxham pour mettre fin à l’immigration illégale et compte réduire drastiquement le seuil d’immigration au pays s’il est porté au pouvoir en octobre prochain.” Building a barrier at one crossing will do little except to make a few anti-migrant activists feel a bit better; the migrants will, quickly, find a new crossing site … what then, a new wall?
But his heart is in the right place … on the single issue of illegal migration, at least. We don’t need any illegal migrants; we don’t want any illegal migrants; we need to renegotiate the terms of the Safe Third Country Agreement with the USA to close the legal loophole that prevents us from sending many (most?) illegal migrants back to the USA ~ but the USA is, very likely and understandably not terribly keen on moving that to the top of their Canada-USA issues list; President Trump is, most probably, very happy to see an outflow of migrants, many of whom had some sort of legal status in the USA, to Canada.
M Bernier also promises to reduce the “immigration threshold,” by which I assume he means targets and quotas for regular, legal, properly screened immigrants. According to him, the current immigration target of 350,000 new immigrants risks intensifying “social tensions.” Therefore, he suggests something must be done to reduce the number of newcomers. Really? Are the generally hard-working, mostly law-abiding and usually culturally sophisticated Chinese, Indian and Filipino communities the cause of social tension in Canada? I don’t think so. I believe that there are social tensions in Canada and I believe that some of them are caused by some people, including a few immigrants, some refugees and many migrants, who are perceived, at least, to be:
- Scamming Canada’s generous refugee rules;
- Abusing Canada’s (the provinces’) generous social services;
- Finding it very difficult or even refusing to adapt to established Canadian norms and values;
- Demanding special treatment and “rights” that seem to infringe upon the rights of others; and
- Harming innocent people when (often racially based) gangs act violently.
I don’t know how real of extensive those problems are. I do know that some, probably a great many Canadians believe they are real and all-pervasive.
Several weeks ago, I mentioned some of the problems that Toronto, and other big cities, face because of gang violence. There is no doubt that we have social tensions that have some ethnocultural roots. I said that “in some neighbourhoods “young men of colour” are killing one another and innocent people are being killed as collateral damage.” Does being a “young man of colour” make one a recent immigrant? Of course not. The high-rise “ghettos” from which many of our social tensions spring were built in the 1950s and ’60s and many of the people who live there have done so for two or even three generations. They have done so because we, all of us, failed to help them integrate, fully, into Canada’s mainstream. There is blame on all sides but part of the problem was that we did not, in the past, screen immigrants as well as we do now and we have always had a different standard for refugees. A few immigrants and some refugees have great difficulty in adapting to Canada, most do not. During the 1960s and ’70s, Canada welcomed many new immigrants who came to fill jobs that many Canadians did not want to do … that still happens, of course, but now we are more careful about ensuring that new immigrants have the education, skills and adaptability to advance in our society.
A Canadian immigration lawyer posted this somewhat dated still useful graph:
As you can see immigration from Europe (the solid light blue part in the middle) has shrunk, steadily, over the years while immigration from Asia (including the Middle East (the solid dark blue)) has grown rapidly to displace it. Immigration from other sources remains fairly consistent.
Racism is still a problem in Canada. I am 100% certain, based on observation, personal experiences and the available data, that black and brown-skinned people are more likely to excluded from mainstream Canadian society than are blue-eyed, fair-skinned people like me or even Chinese-Canadians, like my wife, and Filipino-Canadians and Indo-Canadians, some of whom are dark, too. That’s just a sad fact of life, but it goes some way to explain why “young men of colour,” even when they might be third-generation Canadians are still “disadvantaged.”
But racism isn’t the only problem. Some communities don’t want to integrate into the “mainstream” in some significant ways. But that’s always been the case, too: Orthodox Jews, for example, remain “different,” but they still succeed ~ yes, there are Jewish criminals, but they are even successful at that! Some Muslim Canadians experienced severe discrimination in the wake of 9/11, and some of them then withdrew, deeper, into their own “community,” but, unlike the longer established Jewish-Canadian community it did not offer as much support and protection. The result has been that some Muslim-Canadians are perceived to be less than wholly committed to Canada. That’s not true, in my experience, but the perception is out there because it is true for a very tiny minority.
The bigger issue is that we, the Big WE, Canada writ large, does not have a coherent sense of itself. We are, of course, deeply divided on linguistic grounds … the two solitudes are real; we are also divided, and this shows in political preferences, on a regional basis. Both federally and provincially, BC and Ontario swing from left to right, sometimes farther left in BC and sometimes farther right in Ontario … the prairies are conservative and Conservative (in many shades), except when they switch to the NDP, Québec swings between the Québec Liberals (who are, sometimes quite distinct from their federal confrères) and the Québec nationalists, Atlantic Canada also swings between Liberals and Conservatives. We do not have a two-party system like America and Australia or even a three-party system like Britain, we have a four-and-a-half-party system, like no one else on earth. But those are features, not problems or limitations … what we need to do is to find what unites us, and it’s only a few big things, and focus less on what divides us.
What does unite us?
We are, by and large, a cautiously progressive, liberal people that believe, deeply, that we, individually and in our “communities” have rights which the government must defend for us. We are, therefore, classical English liberals (seeking our individual rights) in our heads, but we have, simultaneously, in our hearts, a firm and highly illiberal belief in the “rights” of communities (especially linguistic and religious communities) and in the state.
We believe in the rule of law; we believe that the law ought to treat us all, governors and governed alike, fairly and equally.
We trust institutions … mostly, even though we suspect that big banks and insurance companies and so on are trying to cheat us. Inexplicably, to me, we believe that governments are, somehow, “good,” while private institutions are, if not exactly “bad,” somewhat less good.
We have strong social-democratic desires … we believe in “sharing and caring” even if, individually, we are less generous than we think others ought to be. This leads us to the notion that the state should play the major role in “sharing the wealth,” by “taxing the rich” ~ by which most of us mean anyone who has more money then we do ~ and then helping those in need. We seem oblivious to the costs and inherent inefficiencies of large, public institutions which grow and grow, consuming more and more of the resources we hoed they would redistribute to others.
Because we are all those things ~ progressive liberals who trust in big government and so on ~ we need to keep growing the Canadian economy so that we can continue to afford the entitlements and benefits that we have come to expect and which we expect the public sector, the state (using our tax dollars) to deliver. But we are not producing new Canadian workers/tax-payers on our own ~ we, the Canadians living in Canada right now, regardless of race or creed, do not produce enough children to even maintain our current population, much less to grow it. In order to just keep as many working-age, tax-paying people as we have now each Canadian couple must have 2.1 children ~ that’s just a statistical fact, don’t bother trying to argue about it ~ but we only have about 1.7 children per couple ~ that’s just another fact ~ so, starting soon, without new immigrants, our population will shrink, our tax revenues will shrink and we, individually and in our “communities” will receive less than we do now and a lot less than we want.
There is a way to solve that problem … it is the way we have been using for 100+ years. We welcome new immigrants.
We are not going to, suddenly, start having children; everywhere in the world people are having fewer and fewer children; as people get more and more prosperous they have fewer and fewer children ~ it’s just another fact. Some governments, including Québec, tried to raise e.g. family allowances but it never worked, not in Québec and not anywhere else, either. The only practical way to grow our population is to import people.
Now, we import bananas and papayas ~ things we don’t grow here ~ so there’s nothing strange about importing people, too, since we don’t grow enough of them on our own. 100+ years ago we advertised for Eastern European “sod-busters” to open the Canadian prairie …
… now we need a different sort of worker, more sophisticated and better educated, to maintain our modern, largely urban “systems.”
And that, I think, is what Maxime Bernier doesn’t get … well, he likely does get it, but he is appealing to the worst instincts of hundreds of thousands of people who are afraid of someone with darker skin or a different eyes shape.
He is right to want to stop, not just slow, but stop, illegal migration.
He is wrong, on every sensible ground, to think that we can “get by” with fewer immigrants. His “concern” about social tensions is nothing more than a “dog whistle politics” appeal to racists.
He doesn’t even address the problems of refugees.
I know I’m repeating myself but, there are three separate and distinct issues: immigration, refugees and illegal migrants. They need three separate and distinct policy solutions.
Maxime Bernier is on one right track re illegal migrants. His Trumpian “build a wall” solution is naive and simplistic but it is also politically appealing.
Justin Trudeau’s instincts to make Canada more open to more immigrants is also right, but he cannot be trusted to manage an increased influx of immigrants in a fair, non-partisan, even selfish manner that puts Canada’s needs first.
No one is dealing, seriously, with the global refugee crisis.
Like it or not, immigration, illegal migrants and our refugee policies and programmes are all going to be issues in the upcoming election campaign. Maxime Bernier is taking the wrong path, a path that leads into darkness. Justin Trudeau will offer “sunny ways” but nothing of value. It is up to Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives to tell Canadians the truth, even if it is not what some (many?) may want to hear and to propose sensible policies and programmes that serve Canada’s vital interests and, at the same time, do what we can to alleviate the world’s refugee crisis.