Canada Needs Fewer, Not More, Immigrants
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, October 8, 2005

Traveling the Trans-Canada Highway heading west, you soon get the economic measure of a place by whether it is a one-Tim or a two-Tim town. When you reach a mega-Tim town, you know Canada’s coffee-and-doughnut culture has achieved its apotheosis.

It’s hardly surprising that the city that spawned some of Canada’s greatest hockey would also boast a large Tim Hortons prominently situated in its downtown core. These are boom times, after all. Canada’s Gateway to the Tar Sands has succumbed to urban sprawl and everything that goes with it – the need for more infrastructure, services, skilled labour and places where workers can, in the time- honoured tradition, grab a quick repast. “Over the next five years, Alberta will need 400,000 skilled workers,” says Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel. “We can find 300,000 of those internally but that leaves a shortfall of 100,000.”

You can’t say the politicians aren’t on the case. Alberta announced a tripartite federal/provincial/municipal deal this week designed to fast track immigrants to the province. Immigration Minister Joe Volpe is particularly eager to help. By increasing Canada’s immigration levels to as much as one per cent of Canada’s population within five years, he is undertaking to add an extra 100,000 immigrants a year – up from current numbers of around 230,000. “We’ll have to be creative about getting immigrants to western destinations,” Mandel allows. “We used to get 10,000 a year but now it’s down to 6,300. We’re a very multicultural society but it is difficult to attract immigrants when your image is a province of mountains and cowboys.”

Mayor Mandel is right to worry. Toronto and Vancouver attract approximately 40 and 20 per cent of Canada’s immigrants respectively, with the rest spread between Montreal and a few other cities. Why? According to Daniel Stoffman, author of Who Gets In, What’s wrong with Canada’s immigration system and how to fix it, the politicization of an immigration system that stacks urban ridings with well organised ethnic voting blocs is the overriding factor.

For instance, it was Brian Mulroney who made high levels of immigration permanent, the highest per capita in the world. Previously, immigrants arrived to build railways, clear land and create industry where and when as needed.

Of course Mulroney merely completed a job begun by Liberals already expert in the art of expanding and commandeering the ethnic vote. In the 1970s they set three goals: family reunification, refugee protection and economic development. The problem, says Stoffman, “is that the third goal conflicts with the first two: immigrants selected for their skills outperform the host population economically, but immigrants related to someone in Canada or who make refugee claims tend to under perform the existing population.”

Family-class immigrants encouraged by an open-ended sponsorship system also by-pass Canada’s rigorous selection criteria. According to Stoffman and contrary to official statistics, less than a quarter of all immigrants qualify in the skilled or independent category.

The net result is geographic concentrations of those ethnic groups best able to work the sponsorship system. “Politicians love chain immigration,” says Stoffman, “whereby someone sponsors his parents, who then sponsor other offspring, who then sponsor fiancés …” Easier to mobilize on voting day, they are also disproportionately poorer and more socially vulnerable than the rest of the population.

Stoffman makes a strong argument for reduced immigration and refugee acceptance levels if only because it is impossible to perform adequate security checks on large numbers. Further, increasing immigration to one per cent of the population means that, every five years, one million immigrants will be added to the ten million who currently populate Canada’s three major cities. What infrastructure and environmental burdens will that impose?

Stoffman wants governments to reassert the national interest instead of partisan concerns, and to reclaim the immigration file from the publicly funded industry stakeholders who monopolize it. The larger conclusion he invites is that family-class immigration be restricted and that sponsorships be discontinued.

The demands of national security, public safety and social cohesion are reason enough to consider this change in policy direction but it could also prove effective for helping places like Edmonton attract skilled workers and integrate them more rapidly. The coffee-and-doughnut culture is a sign of where the jobs are. Now, as in the past, meaningful work and mobile immigrants will prove the best foundation for a successful immigration policy.

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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