Time for an immigration time out
Published in the Ottawa Citizen, July 26, 2008
It's the Hail Mary pass that could break the public opinion logjam and create Canada's next majority government. Experts agree Canada's immigration system is out of control but is there a political party with the courage to implement a moratorium on new applications until its backlogs are cleared and new policies are in place?
In Vancouver, the one in four students who now need English as a second language courses are stretching resources and making it harder for all students. In Calgary, as in Toronto and Vancouver, gangland killings -- often organized on ethnic lines -- are now routine. In Toronto, the need for police patrols in school hallways is a clear indication of failed immigration policies and failed families too often toxically combined in too many neighbourhoods.
In Quebec, Hérouxville spoke to the growing unease all Canadians feel about these and other developments.
So it is with some relief and perhaps some cause for celebration when two of Canada's most respected think tanks address our concerns with frank analysis. In a timely convergence of east meeting west, Vancouver's Fraser Institute recently sponsored its second annual immigration conference in Montreal even as Montreal's Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) published its paper comparing Australian and Canadian labour market outcomes for degree-qualified migrants.
Organized by former diplomat Martin Collacott, the Fraser Institute's collection of Canadian, French, American and British experts skewered every orthodoxy associated with high rates of immigration.
No, Canada doesn't need to expand its internal markets, globalization has given it plenty elsewhere; no, immigrants are not net contributors to the economy, rather they are costing Canadian taxpayers billions while driving wages down in concomitant income categories, including the professions; no, immigration won't address the revenue vacuum created by an aging population, not unless it reaches stratospheric levels. Why not just raise the retirement age?
And no, it is not up to governments to provide industry with endless supplies of cheap labour -- temporary or permanent -- when industry itself should be improving productivity and paying our own workers proper wages. It was temporary workers who caused the problems in Europe, remember?
(In the U.S., I might add, it's 12 million illegal Mexican immigrants who have expanded an underclass costing billions in social and incarceration costs, who have become a large factor in the subprime mortgage crisis that's damaged American fiscal credibility.)
So no, we don't need more immigration and furthermore it isn't racist to say so. Better we take a time out, ensure the immigrants we've got do well and figure out what we want to do next. Canada has in the past "turned the tap on or off, as needed," James Bissett, a former head of Canada's immigration department, told his Montreal audience.
But even if we did need more immigration, there's a better way to do it.
As Lesleyanne Hawthorne reveals in her paper for the IRPP on Australian and Canadian labour market outcomes, the key is to screen immigrant applicants for language skills and professional credentials before they immigrate, like Australia does. If that overqualified taxi driver had been screened before he arrived, it would have been apparent he didn't have the credentials to practice medicine in Canada. Who does best in Canada and Australia? Immigrants with English-speaking backgrounds from British-based education systems but, conspicuously, Australia attracts the majority of those.
Beyond the nuts and bolts of immigration policy, larger questions remain. What happens to a country with a rapidly rising number of first-generation immigrants who have no attachment to its land, its history and languages, its culture or its political institutions?
For now, a commodities boom and immigration-fuelled real estate markets have distracted Canadians from the deterioration now underway in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal -- cities which currently receive most of the million-plus immigrants who arrive in Canada every few years.
MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.