Canada is known as a multi-ethnic, multi-culture country friendly to newcomers. Even during the past 10 years of the Conservative rule, new immigrants were arriving in Canada constantly every year. Immigrants have been increasing rapidly since the Liberal Party took power a year ago. When antipathy is rising toward immigrants in the U.S., Britain and many other countries — as shown by the Donald Trump phenomenon and Brexit — Canada is increasing the immigration target for years to come, and even relaxing regulations on incoming temporary foreign workers is being discussed.
According to the latest Statics Canada report of its annual population count, in the past year to July, 320,932 immigrants landed in the country, the largest annual number since at least July 1971, when comparable records started. That is a steep 33.3% increase over the previous 12 months, the fastest growth in nearly three decades. In 2015, 240,844 immigrants came to Canada.
These immigrants include Syrian refugees, who began arriving in Canada in November 2015 as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise during the campaign. At last count, Canada had welcomed 30,862 refugees, with thousands more still to be processed.
Statics Canada says that Canada had not received such a large number of immigrants in a single annual period since the early 1910s during the settlement of Western Canada. The country’s population subsequently rose 1.2% in the year to 36.3 million (preliminary estimates), or an increase of 437,815 people – the biggest gain since 1988-89.
Despite such sharp increases in the past year, Immigration Minister John McCallum has said he wants to boost immigration levels substantially in the coming years to help alleviate the demographic challenges of an aging population. The government’s immigration target was about 300,000 immigrants, a jump from 240,844 immigrants in 2015. McCallum said that Canadians support higher levels, adding that he would expand the temporary foreign-worker program so that more temporary foreign workers can come to work in Canada.
(In fact, aging of Canada’s population has been progressing fast, if not so fast as Japan’s. A record number of Canadians — six million — were at least 65 years of age as of July 1, compared with 5.8 million children. By comparison, in 1986, there were twice as many children as people who were 65 and older. Immigration is a critically important policy measure to sustain Canada’s economic growth.)
However, the federal government’s own internal polling has shown that most Canadians are satisfied with current levels (which, at the time of the poll, were around 250,000). In a Nanos Research survey conducted for The Globe and Mail in August, 39% of respondents said the government should accept fewer immigrants in 2017 than this year, while 37% said the country should receive the same amount in 2017. Only 16% said the target should be increased – although two out of every three respondents support the government plan to accept more refugees. (Globe and Mail, Sept. 28, others)
With the 2017 immigration plan set to be announced in November, Canadian news media are asking in their editorials and opinion pieces whether the country needs more immigrants. (Globe and Mail, Sept. 20)
Politicians have also been alarmed. Not only Conservatives, who are generally cautious and reluctant toward immigrants – and often against or even anti-immigration – but also some Liberals, who are usually more open to immigrants and foreign workers, began expressing their concerns over and even opposition to the government’s immigration plan. Canadians worry that, in an uneasy economy, new immigrants might take their jobs, if the pace of newcomers landing in the country continues accelerating. Liberal politicians from such constituencies, as well as conservative citizens and politicians who worry Canadian tradition and values may be undermined by the immigrants’ big inflow, are cautioning about the fast expanding immigration.
Against such a backdrop, Kellie Leitch, the Conservative MP and candidate for her party’s leadership, caused a stir recently when she e-mailed supporters with a questionnaire asking them whether the federal government should screen potential immigrants for “anti-Canadian values.” (Globe and Mail, Sept. 4)
Ms. Leitch was immediately criticized by her peers and media for proposing “a value test for immigrants” and “playing identity politics.” Her proposal ng smacks xenophobic, anti-immigration and racist, upset colleagues said. “What Ms. Leitch is toying with — a government that tells people what to believe and how to think — is itself anti-Canadian,” the Globe and Mail editorial (Sept. 4) said.
Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose, as well as one of Leitch’s opponents in the leadership race, slated for next May, MP Michael Chong criticized Ms. Leitch’s proposal as being outrageous. Mr. Chong called it “dog-whistle politics,” the kind of messaging meant to prick up the ears of those who fear immigrants will become the enemy within. Some suggested that it reminds people of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal of “extreme vetting” for would-be immigrants to undergo. Another Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier offered a reasonable criticism, saying “the best way to promote Canadian values is to provide new immigrants with economic opportunities to help them integrate into society.”
The harshest words have come from former Conservative leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former policy director Rachel Curran. She called Ms. Leitch’s proposal “really dangerous politics” and “actually a pretty Orwellian path.”
Canadian media pointed out that it was not the first time Ms. Leitch proposed such fear-mongering identity-politics tactics. They reminded readers of her role during the 2015 federal election campaign in promoting the Conservative Party’s disastrous proposal for a “tip line” for reporting “barbaric cultural practice” — which alienated even Conservative supporters for the police-state tone the proposal gave. Worse, the Conservative Party’s campaign also included a proposed ban on the niqab, a face covering worn by some Muslim women, during citizenship ceremonies. These political gaffes rescued Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, which had been badly trailing in the campaign, boosting it to the October victory.
Conservative politicians have been so upset by Ms. Leitch’s proposal and trying to neutralize its effects so desperately because they fear that her “anti-immigration” proposal could shatter to pieces their somewhat successful efforts over years to improve the image of their party as an “anti-immigration” or at least “immigrant-unfriendly” party. In order to win in the next general election in 2019, any party needs to win support of immigrants and their children, and new immigrants’ support is especially important, as four out of 10 Canadians are now immigrants and their children today.
The federal government’s 2017 immigration plan on how many newcomers Canada will welcome is to be announced in November. The Trudeau government is also considering possibility of relaxed rules for temporary foreign workers to make it easier for companies to hire them — sometimes at ordinary Canadian workers’ cost — and allow those temporary workers to become permanent workers after the four years of stay. A “season of immigration politics” is now here.
By Yoshikazu Ishizuka, Senior Consultant, TOCS