press and opinions

Immigration in Canada

  • / Apr 17, 2012 / by Tom Denton /
  • [This talk was given by Tom Denton to the Probis Club of Winnipeg at the Hotel Fort Garry on April 17, 2012.]

    My topic today is “immigration”. This could easily be a two-semester course at one of our universities. For the brief time we have today I’d like to focus on two things.

    First is the turmoil created by the unexpected Federal announcement last week that it was going to take back the delivery of immigrant settlement services in Manitoba and British Columbia. This could effectively wreck a carefully constructed, clever and successful immigration strategy that Manitoba has been able to build over the past fourteen years. Everywhere I have gone in the past few days I am confronted by people with concerned questions about this, so I felt I had to talk about this with you today.

    Back in the late ‘nineties the Federal Government wanted to off-load responsibility for immigrant settlement services, and offered a financial carrot to the provinces to take it on. Most provinces smelled a rat, and refused – but Manitoba’s Filmon government of that day saw an opportunity.

    Most of Canada’s annual inflow of about a quarter million immigrants was heading for the big centres of population – Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and with sizeable numbers also heading for Calgary and Edmonton. Meanwhile 45 percent of the urban centres of Canada were quietly recording population losses at every census – a concern for Canada’s six smaller provinces that were unable to attract their share of immigrants.

    The smaller six knew instinctively that the fundamental bulwark and engine of prosperity is people, and that with an aging and a declining population they would not be able to hang in with the prospering “big four” provinces.

    Manitoba is a uniquely entrepreneurial and self-reliant province. It is also a province that pulls together in the face of any challenge. We all know that and see the evidence often, whether in business, education, the arts, sports or environmental issues. We do things together here and we do them well.

    Manitoba seized on the opportunity, using the proffered Federal money to build strong immigrant settlement services, and later to blend that with the federally-offered opportunity that allowed our Provincial Government to build its Provincial Nominee Program and give us the most successful provincial immigration program in Canada. I can tell you as a fact that this dual achievement is widely recognized.

    From maybe three thousand immigrants a year we have watched numbers grow to about 16,000 immigrants last year . We have been on track to reach 20,000 a year by 2016. Meanwhile we have retained just about the lowest unemployment rate in Canada, proving once again that immigrants don’t take jobs – they make them.

    Not only has Winnipeg grown, so have other urban centres like Neepawa, Brandon, Morden, Steinbach and Winkler. Thirty percent of our immigrants have been settling outside our metropolis, spreading prosperity in their wake. I have been invited to make speeches across Canada to describe and explain Manitoba’s immigration success.

    And settlement success too. The Manitoba Government has developed strong settlement programs and services, extending them into rural centres and also into many community centres in Winnipeg where they have been welcomed and supported by the wider NGO and volunteer community. It’s been another collaborative Manitoba success story.

    Now all of this is threatened. It started last year when the Federal Government announced that it was putting a cap on our Provincial Nominee Program, would limit it and would not allow us to expand it further. It has been the principal engine of our remarkable immigration growth, and now the Harper government has reined it in. Last week they hit the other successful piece of our program, the settlement piece, and without any consultation or apparent consideration of what this will do to the program, have as you know announced that they will take back their funding and use it to deliver the program themselves. Is the Harper government acting like a schoolyard bully taking back his marbles and spoiling the game, or is there something more at play here?

    Immigration Minister Kenney’s comments here yesterday put a somewhat different spin on this, and I find this very interesting. Apparently the funding formula in the initial deal that had Manitoba putting up a quarter of the settlement funding got thrown wildly out of whack when our immigration program became wildly successful. It became a really bad financial deal for Ottawa and they found themselves paying 97 percent of our settlement costs instead of the 75 percent they started with. As an increase over what was paid in the initial years, the federal cost went up 450 percent, to $36 million. Our Provincial Government, by enjoying the unanticipated results of the original formula, sticking on the face of it with its own paltry $1.5 million contribution while enjoying the fruits of a population surge, was looking like a dog in the manger. Mr. Kenney had his excuse to take back his marbles. So he exercised his right to end the deal.

    If you can follow the bouncing ball, today Manitoba is saying, yes, but we spent lots of money on immigrant settlement and integration in other ways – up to $20 million a year.

    The decent and the mature thing would have been for Ottawa to have had a conversation with Manitoba about it first, before dropping the bomb. This is where another larger agenda may have entered the picture. My sense of the Harper government is that it takes strong positions with little in the way of consultation. It tends to an autocratic style rather than a consensual one. So here we have a unilateral intent for Ottawa to take a more controlling and uniform stance on immigrant settlement programs across Canada anyway, and Manitoba has played right into it, in the Kenney version, by shamelessly milking the federal cow as long as it could – and getting caught out.

    Manitoba claims “unfair” - and I think it is. But Mr. Kenney with his usual pugilistic stance, and good on debating points, has his whipping boy to help him justify what he was going to do anyway.

    We shall have to wait and see how this all shakes out, and maybe a kinder and wiser consensus will emerge; but meanwhile many good people who have put their lives into this work and been successful at it have not only had their livelihoods threatened but the excellence of their work placed in jeopardy. I hope we here in Manitoba, in our own inimitable way, can salvage some of this, despite Ottawa.

    Immigration is a shared Federal-Provincial jurisdiction under the British North America Act. Through the Filmon, Doer and Sellinger governments, our Provincial Nominee and immigrant settlement programs have fitted well within the larger context of Canadian policy. Now, for whatever reason, this sword has fallen to sever cooperation – and it’s a shame. It will hurt Manitoba. I repeat that there was apparently no forewarning, no consultation. This cannot be a hallmark of good or wise government in a federal system. In any event, the rosy times are over.

    But something far more serious is happening around immigration policy, and this is the second point I want to make. It is a philosophical point. While Minister Kenney has brought it front and centre in a very clear way, it goes back for years through many previous governments, whether Liberal or Conservative.

    Let me ask you some questions. How many of you are yourselves immigrants or are descended from people who came to Canada as immigrants since 1867? How many are not? How many of you think your immigrant forebears would have had difficulty qualifying under Canada’s current immigration rules? I have heard several federal immigration ministers of the past admit candidly that their ancestors would never have qualified if they had to meet the tests of today.

    So is there something wrong with this picture?

    What are we doing with our immigration policy? What ought we to do with it? The latest immigration act was passed in 2002 and says it very clearly, as did the one before it. Canada’s immigration policy is a “labour market strategy”. Its clear purpose is to bring in the “right” immigrants to meet perceived shortages of labour. It is a strategy that focuses on the short term, on market needs and financial cycles. It says nothing about the longer term, about nation building or strengthening families - it’s all about supplying our industries.

    And of course we are facing acute labour shortages for two simple reasons: the big postwar population bump, the baby boomers, is hitting retirement age, and they and their children never did produce enough babies. We still don’t produce enough babies to replace ourselves and like most European countries, without immigration we will cease to exist in 100 or so years. Do the math.

    The only northern hemisphere democracy that is producing babies at the necessary population replacement of 2.1 live births per female is the United States. We’re down somewhere around 1.5. The US is also letting in about four times as many immigrants a year as we do. Project this for the next forty years and you will find that by mid century they will have increased their numerical superiority over us by another 100 million people. How will we sleep with this elephant?

    So just as we import machines, food stuffs, clothing, and raw materials we also import people as just another necessary commodity to keep the economy humming and Canada surviving.

    We are having trouble rounding up enough of the right stuff, however, so we bring in temporary foreign workers to fill the gaps. And still we keep the lid on the total number of permanent residents we let in each year – about 250,000. Minister Kenney himself was quoted as saying in January that Canada needed three times that many immigrants each year to satisfy our long term demographic imperatives, but that Canadians would never accept that many. I think he’s wrong. Not all Canadians are that dull-witted, if informed of the realities and invited to see the possibilities.

    As we keep the numbers down and try to cherry pick the ones we let in, there is collateral human damage. The waiting list of parents and grandparents is said to be 150,000 – and we let in maybe ten percent of that or less each year. Most will die before they can get here. There is no longer any possibility of sponsoring ones brothers or sisters, let alone one’s cousins or nephews or aunties. Not even one’s own adult children are welcome unless they can qualify on their own. We emphasize human fodder for our industries, not human relationships. It is a very short-term view and an ugly one. It has moral and ethical deficiencies that nobody seems to talk about.

    Is this the best way to build a nation? It wasn’t the way we built when our ancestors arrived, and we’ve done pretty well with that human capital, both in terms of national prosperity and in terms of national character and values.

    Behind all the rules and the hoops to get into Canada is one great overriding reality not reflected anywhere in our immigration policy. More than eighty percent of all who come here, regardless of the qualifying silos we make them fit, are choosing Canada – not because it is so wonderful – but because they are connected to someone already here. It’s the elephant in the room. “Relational immigration” is what drives the demand and yet it is little reflected in our policy.

    With our current policies and hurdles we focus on only the short-term and practical side. What about the moral side? In the past fifteen months, without any exaggeration, I have personally turned down the sponsorship of about 6,000 relatives of Winnipeggers. They are refugees living in squalid circumstances in camps and slums of the Third World and being supported with remittances from here. But there is no capacity in Canada’s current rules to let them in.

    I could fill you with horror stories of human tragedy, of families kept apart, rejected by Canada, for another hour. They weigh daily on my conscience because there is rarely any remedy. Whether as an ordinary human being or as a Christian I cannot justify the institutional cruelty that I have to countenance every day.

    What are we doing with this current immigration policy and for our country? We are looking at Canada as a business where we control growth to maximize earnings. There is no vision in that. Our forebears were building a nation. One hundred years ago Sir Wilfrid Laurier contemplated a nation of 100 million by the year 2000. We barely made a third of that. We sit astride a colossal land mass, the second largest nation by geography on the planet and one rich in resources; yet we have a tiny population. Great Britain has almost 30 million more people than Canada with a land mass equivalent to less than forty percent of Manitoba. We have become a cautious and timid people, comfortable in our skin and with no vision – at least that is apparently how successive federal governments have seen us.  

    Whether they are right or not I leave to you to answer.

    I challenge you to do something about it.

    Tom Denton is executive director for sponsorship at Hospitality House Refugee Ministry.