Open Mic: On the issue of immigration

This month’s community forum discussed immigration, an issue much in world news of late, as well as historically central.

This month’s community forum discussed immigration, an issue much in world news of late, as well as historically central to our national identity.

Regarding the latter, the United States identifies as a melting pot assimilating newcomers, whereas Canada’s proclamation has been of creating a cultural Mosaic. Such phraseology presents differing interpretations of what we can expect of arrivals and vice versa.

Participant suggestions that acquisition of English (or French) language capability and acceptance of cultural norms were bare minimums yielded minor tempests about Richmond area commercial signs and Muslim Hijab doctrine. In turn, consensus arose that greater effort (and investment) should be made to educate especially immigrants with little experience in democracy.

In my opinion, however, such efforts will always trend toward political manipulation – learning (or not learning) about politics by osmosis is more Canadian than the indoctrination many refugees are fleeing.

Similarly, the financial cost of incorporating foreigners was raised as a budgetary concern. It is purported that settlers make a net contribution to GDP, in no small part due to possessing superior drive than the coddled values of native born first-world residents.

As someone who can tailor most numerical outcomes to the politically correct presuppositions of whomever commissioned the study, I’m not as willing to accept this politically correct premise as most, but as an economist I see a deeper issue.

The Canadian population is aging on average and thus our social security programs require an influx of younger workers to maintain solvency. Which is among the reasons the previous Conservative federal government shifted the emphasis in favour of economic immigrants.

The Stephen Harper government aimed for 260,000 to 285,000 new permanent residents in 2015, with approximately 60 per cent via skilled or in-need worker programs. (The family stream has averaged 26 per cent of new arrivals lately and the refugee class 9.5 per cent).

Liberal campaign promises included not only the pledge to bring in 25,000 displaced Syrians, but also to double the number of applications for the parent and grandparent sponsorship program. And most Canadians agree, either by dint of coming from immigrant stock themselves or because it is simply the right thing to do, that such figures – less than 0.8 per cent of our population – are not problematic.

Unstated in such a rationalization, though, is the implications on living standards being faced in much of Europe presently.  Sweden, for example, has had an open door policy for refugees for most of the past 40 years. As a result, that country of 10 million took in 163,000 asylum seekers in 2015 alone – with the same or more expected to arrive in 2016.

Were Canada to incorporate equivalent percentages, more than half a million relatively unskilled arrivals per year would unmistakably impact national finances.

To this end, a Swedish member of parliament complained, “Our own population, our own elderly people who’ve been working 40, 50 years, who grew up here, they have to pay a lot more. So now we’re discriminating against Swedes for the benefit of immigrants who have no respect for our country.”

Analogous concerns arising from policies mandating freedom of movement across borders imperil the European Union. U.S. presidential candidates have also made illegal immigration a campaign issue, though arguably more as a strategy to attract underemployed voters than to actually ‘get Mexico to pay for a big wall.’

Regardless, geography, circumstance and not unimportantly the industriousness of previous generations have allowed Canada to be perhaps a bit naïve in regard to striving for a fair immigration policy. But as the international community, and economy, changes, so must our thinking evolve.


–  Mike Shields grew up locally and hosts SFU’s Philosopher’s Café Sessions at the ACT, 7 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month.


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