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Is Boosting The Immigration Target To 300,000 A Good Idea?

The Liberal government has set a target of 300,000 immigrants for 2017- that's a 40,000 increase over 2016. A backlash over immigrants, including illegal ones, is fuelling Donald Trump's campaign in the U.S., and there are also tensions in Europe over immigration. Is Canada immune to this type of anti-immigrant feeling? Is boosting the number to 300,000 a good idea? Richard Mahoney, John Capobianco and Tom Parkin are in the ONW Salon.



Richard Mahoney:

Immigration policy is one of those issues. While we content ourselves and sometimes pat ourselves on the back for the wonderfully tolerant, pluralist society we are, we see intolerance driving the rise of a backlash in our neighbours to the south. Not only do we see Donald Trump's terrible and frequent attacks on "others" - Mexicans, Muslims etc. - but we see the rise of the so-called alt-right and a minor white supremacist renaissance of sorts.

Europe has always had its challenges in this regard but anti-immigration sentiment gets mixed up there, as in the US, with other issues, including economic stagnation, a system that seems tilted to benefit the well-to do, and an almost pastoral wish for the way things used to be, or the way people wish they used to be.

Canada is not immune from these sentiments and we ought not to self-congratulate too much. Our past and our present both show examples of racism and intolerance. That said, we are a nation founded on the idea of accommodation. From that grew a sense of pluralism. That was helped along by the fact that a young nation needed new people to survive and grow. So they came - first from England, France, Scotland and Ireland. Then from central and Eastern Europe. Then from Asia, Africa.

For the most part, each wave has found a way to integrate and succeed. The Canadian economic success story, such as it is, is really a product of that. Trade and immigration, mixed with common Canadian decency and sense that resulted in accommodation and integration, is our equivalent of a magic bullet. It is the secret sauce of Canada, really.

So this week's announcements of new immigration targets going forward, featuring an increased target of 300,000 for 2017, is the latest step. While many will debate whether that is too ambitious, evidence tells us, if anything, it is not ambitious enough. But, given what we have observed elsewhere, I think it is a sensible increase that will allow for integration, and allow our leadership to continue to make the case as to how important this is to our economic success.


John Capobianco:

The issue of immigration levels in Canada and whether the recent announcement by Immigration Minister John McCallum will create any backlash in this country is timely and of major importance, given what we are seeing not only in the U.S., but in Europe as well.

Here is what is happening: Minister McCallum tabled in the House recently the government’s 2017 immigration levels and the plan is to accept a total of 300,000 new permanent residents for next year. This number will include 172,500 skilled workers, businesspeople and caregivers; 84,000 sponsored spouses, partners, children and parents; 40,000 refugees and protected persons; and about 3,500 people on humanitarian or compassionate grounds. This breakdown is important to note since the vast majority of immigrants the government is seeking are skilled workers and businesspeople.

This is consistent to what Finance Minister Bill Morneau (and Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains) have been saying, or at least his Advisory Council on Economic Growth, which released recommendations stating that annual immigration should actually be increased over a five-year period by 50% to 450,000 from 300,000. Minister McCallum disagreed, but where they did agree is that here is a need for skilled workers.

This is where the Conservatives will also agree. CPC Deputy Immigration Critic Tom Kmiec (Alberta), agrees in principle with the target but wants more details on the plan to bring in the right people to meet the regional labour needs. Of course, what might work in Alberta will not work in New Brunswick; the same with Ontario vs. Quebec. The NDP, well they want a higher target number.

Looking at immigration just in terms of numbers is not appealing to many - instead we need to take into account what kinds of workers Canada actually needs in the various areas.

As Richard notes above this country was built on immigration and we should embrace it. My parents came from Italy in 1960, not for a better life for them, but because they wanted my brother and I to have a better life here than we would have on the farm where they were raised in a small town in Italy. So goes the story for millions of Canadians - that is the story we want to remember and hold on to.


Tom Parkin:

I believe Canada’s unique history, and the delicate balances we have always had to manage, have assisted us in moving forward as a country open to the world and generally unafraid to admit newcomers.

It is true that the Acadians were expelled from Nova Scotia and the land was resettled from Britain. But, after the battle of the Plains of Abraham and the France’s withdrawal from Canada, French-language speakers throughout Quebec – and through the French-speaking communities elsewhere – were not expelled or purged.

And with responsible government, the emergence of democratic principles and the fact of the American Revolutionary government, I believe our development as a tolerant country was sealed. French and English speakers had to co-operate to succeed. No government has ever ruled Canada on English-Canada votes alone. Preston Manning tried it – if failed.

We are not even remotely a homogenous culture, like England or France. We do not consider speakers of our other language to be alien invaders, as do wide swaths of Americans about Spanish speakers. We have experienced the benefit of diversity for generations. And this is good, because our economic success depends on integrating well – there, I said it – with the world.

First, we can see from Japan the effects of a low-birthrate (which we have) and no immigration: permanent recession. And we all see – whether we agree or disagree with the exact model of trade agreement – that as a large and resource-based economy, it is to our advantage to have strong links around the world.

Is 300,000 next year the right number? I am no expert, but I would say this: we should be allowing immigration to our country at an even pace so that our economy can accommodate new Canadians. In my experience, we have not reached the upper limit yet.


Richard Mahoney:

I think Tom is right when he says we have not reached the limit yet on the number of new immigrants that our economy can accommodate. I gather from the Minister of Immigration, John McCallum, that he heard cautious support from Canadians in his consultations across the country. 2016 and 2017 will see a significant jump - about 40,000 - in permanent resident admissions.

There is an immediate cost to our systems to integrate the newcomers. Settlement agencies will require additional funding. English as a Second Language and training programs will need help too. And we live in tight fiscal times.

That said, we can't afford not to do this. The basic demographics of our society mean that if we want growth, if we want workers to build a large enough economy, pay enough taxes to support our social systems and new workers to fund our pension plans, then we need to increase the number of new immigrants we accept. Relying on Canadians already here won't suffice - the math is not there. We are fortunate that our leaders by and large understand this. With a few exceptions, they don't run on intolerance or whip up xenophobia. And when they do, they are widely denounced, even by those in their own party (hello Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander!)

When you watch the rise of Trumpism and the failure of those in his own party who disagree to stop it, we ought not to be complacent about this. It is in all our interest to become evangelists for tolerance and pluralism. That is who we are. That is why our country works. And it might just be a model for the rest of the world, warts and all.


John Capobianco:

So much has changed in the world that has had enormous effects on how the world views immigration - from the time my parents came here and when the governments of the day were far more accepting of immigrants from all over the world, to now. It is not comparable.

Way before 9/11, but certainly as a result of 9/11, the world became acutely aware of the enemies who will do anything to destroy freedom, and that has caused many governments to re-evaluate their immigration policies, including Canada. However, unlike the U.S., where this has become a fear-mongering debate issue by Donald Trump, we are not there and we won't get there.

But because terrorism has continued and has spread around the world, and includes home-grown terrorists who are citizens of the very country they terrorize, this has caused the U.S. and Canada to be more vigilant about their respective immigration polices. You certainly see it in the U.S., but even here during the last election campaign and with the current CPC leadership contest where candidate Kellie Leitch and some others are debating the issue of proper screening for those who want to come to Canada.

Canada already has a screening process, but some feel there needs to be a stronger test to ensure assimilation to Canadian values happens sooner than later.

As a son of immigrants, I value immigration and support immigration as most of us do. I do think with the world the way it is now, we shouldn't be naive or refuse to have a healthy debate about how to make it work better.


Tom Parkin:

After the collapse of the Hapsburg’s and Ottoman’s multi-national empires, Europe was generally remade along ethnic boundaries (with the exception of Yugoslavia) and the liberal nationalist idea. The United States, with its Manifest Destiny policy, felt an absolute right to push back the Mexican boundary and settle the land.

Canada was not created this way – though there were efforts. The Metis of Western Canada were uprooted and expelled as Canada grew west, but the hanging of Louis Riel created a torrent between French and English speaking Canadians – resonating far beyond the Metis communities.

And I wonder whether the remnant of this resonance is driving Canada’s search for reconciliation – rather than the approach we continue to see in the United States.

John, I think the Conservatives will come to agree the anti-immigrant pandering of some candidates is a major error. Should someone of that ilk win the Conservative leadership, there will have to be a considerable rebranding effort (viz: Patrick Brown and the challenges of that game).

And the Liberals, I fear, Richard, will think our unique history somehow makes us better than others and that we are some perfect people with some perfect gift we can bestow on others. We can’t. That’s the attitude the masters of the residential schools carried.

The Liberal theory of “Canadian values” is no less vexatious than the Conservative one we hear from Kellie Leitch. It just has a happy face on it.

It is logically impossible to be an evangelist for moderation. We are not a model for the world. We are simply Canadians, coming from our unique history, struggling with our problems, with our own injustices, unfairnesses and successes – and moving ahead.

Similarly, the question of immigration and our future can't be an ideological question. Or one of absolutes. It is a question of practicality and accommodation. Like our common law system, it is a question of reasonableness and constant change as Canadians change.


Richard Mahoney is a lawyer with deep experience in politics and governance.  He is a former senior advisor to the Rt. Hon Paul Martin, a former Campaign Chair and President of the Ontario Liberal Party. John Capobianco is a Senior Partner and National Public Affairs Lead at FleishmanHillard. He has been a Conservative strategist with over 30 years of political activism at all three levels, including as a former federal Conservative candidate. Tom Parkin is a veteran NDP strategist and a frequent commentator on national issues. 




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