press and opinions

Some immigration issues for the activist

  • / Nov 28, 2011 / by Tom Denton /
  • Social Activist Law Student Association

    Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University

    Halifax, N.S.

    Tom Denton, Class of ’58 – speaking notes

    Immigration is fraught with emotion and its issues are in the media almost daily.  It has a high-profile federal minister, Jason Kenney, who seems to be riding this horse for all it’s worth, provoking comment and controversy at every turn.

    He has been accused of trying to remake Canada’s immigration policy as he focuses on bringing in skilled immigrants.  Not a fair criticism.  Canada’s immigration policy has been described in the enabling legislation for a long time as a “labour market strategy”. It’s not about building the nation demographically, or socially, or politically, or compassionately, or internationally, it’s about supplying workers for the machines.  Mr. Kenney is doing precisely what the legislated policy contemplates. It’s not a Harper government policy; it’s been around for years.

    I happen to think this is a small-minded, mean-spirited and fundamentally flawed policy that lacks any semblance of a national vision and dooms us to frustration and mediocrity – but there it is.


    What are some of the complaints we hear?  Here are seven 

    - There is a mismatch between the skills immigrants bring and the jobs that are available.

    - There are geographic market differences that exacerbate this mismatch.

    - The elitism implicit in the skilled immigrant policy keeps out the type of immigrant that historically built this country, and would still do so if allowed in.

    - The workers we need and are not getting with our elitist criteria, are being supplanted by temporary foreign workers that bring another slate of problems

    - The provinces, that are always closer to the ground and better able to see their individual labour market needs, are being frustrated by the caps being placed by Ottawa on their Provincial Nominee Programs.

    - The immigration preference being given to some provincial nominee program-designated persons like students or temps is a form of queue jumping.

    - Waiting for years to get here, because of the queue, is no way to start the successful resettlement of a skilled worker now frustrated and delayed in their career path.

    Those are some of the labour market issues and you may think of more.

    What about some of the humanitarian issues?  Here is another list of seven

    -Parents and grandparents are kept waiting so many years in the processing queue that they die.

    -Paranoia over the possibility of bogus marriages keeps legitimate unions separated  for long periods and sometimes forever.

    -Challenges to CIC decisions on a humanitarian and compassionate basis are decided by essentially the same people that made the decision in the first place.

    -Sole-officer rejection decisions overseas find no mechanism in the legislation for their appeal.

    -Despite the willingness of Canadians to rescue and sponsor refugees through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees program, there is a cap on the number allowed in each year.

    -The once vaunted quality of mercy that suffused immigration policies and saw us provide a haven and new hope for many is now strained through a sieve that effectively rations it.

    - On the other hand, is our policy preference for elite immigrants enticing those who might better stay home to help their developing country?


    Are there any elephants in the room, any major factors that might inform immigration policy yet seem to miss out on public perception? Let me suggest seven elephants. 

    - Most immigrants come here, not because we’re the most wonderful country on the planet, but because they’re related to someone already here.  I call it “relational immigration” and it accounts for well over eighty percent of immigration.  Despite this driver, we force people to jump through irrelevant (to them) hoops and pick a silo of qualifications into which they can fit in order to get here.  Sort of like Cinderella and the glass slipper. Instead of using this driver to build Canada , current policy seeks to limit and frustrate it in every way possible.

    - The Private Sponsorship of Refugees program is not really driven by the generosity of Canadians.  That might account for five percent of the inflow.  It’s driven by the demand of former refugee families now here, who want to rescue their relatives from similar circumstances. It’s “relational immigration”. This demand far exceeds the capacity of the sponsoring system and provokes a competition for the available spaces.

    - Another driver of “relational immigration” demand, at least of its volume, is the fact that twenty percent of Canadians are foreign born. This is almost unique in the world; only Australia matches us. The US sits at about 13 percent. That’s a lot of people who might want to bring in their relatives.  Small wonder there are 1.5 million (according to Minister Kenney) waiting in the queue to get here – in a system that only allows in 250,000 a year. It’s mainly frustrated family reunification.

    - By contrast, only three percent of the world’s population lives outside the country in which it was born. Most people stay home, presumably by preference. Our Inuit people stay in the north, in desolate little communities, despite having the mobility right to move to the bright lights of Winnipeg, or Halifax.  The same goes for most of the planet’s people.  They’re not waiting, bags packed, for a chance to get into Canada.

    -  But how about the fact that eight percent of Canadians don’t live here; they live abroad? That’s a huge number, nearly 3 million. Who are these people and what do they say about our country and its vaunted wonderfulness? How might this inform immigration policy?

    - What about our demographic indicators? Demographers have known for years that a birth rate that has now slipped to 1.5 live births per female is a recipe for ultimate extinction of this nation unless we have immigration.  250,000 a year won’t do it.  Minister Kenney said in a recent speech that the demographic imperative suggested we should be bringing in three times as many as we now are (I would have thought maybe double) if we are to maintain our population in the long run.  But Mr. Kenney thinks Canadians wouldn’t accept this number, nor our economy absorb it.

    - Canadians seem comfortable with the gentle growth of our national population numbers, unaware of the sword of retirement and death that hangs over us as the baby boom generation ages.  They seem unaware that while our big cities grow and flourish, 45 percent of Canada’s urban centres are in population decline right now.  In Nova Scotia you must know this.


    There is another, an eighth elephant that sits just beyond our borders: the USA. But it’s clearly an elephant in our room too.  We can smugly say that our rate of immigration as a percent of existing population is higher than theirs – quite a lot higher. But that is a dangerous illusion.  In absolute numbers they bring in about four times as many a year as do we, and their birth rate is currently 2.1 (lives birth per female). Project this to 2050 and a country that today exceeds us in population by about 277 million or so, may by then have increased its lead by as much as another 120 million.  What might that portend for our control of our own resources, even for our national independence?


    Let’s try to apply an analytical tool to the immigration issue and ask ourselves some questions. It’s a final list of seven.

    - What ought our goal to be with immigration policy – nation maintenance or nation building?

    - If nation maintenance, are the current strategies appropriate or the best ones?

    -  If nation building, how big ought we to aspire to be in the context of our geography and our resources?

    - Is an expansionist policy in conflict with a world concern about too many people on the planet, or does our largely empty geography make us a special and a different case?

    -  Whether nation maintenance or nation building, is a “labour market strategy” the best way to proceed?

    -  Is a labour market strategy lacking in ethical and humanitarian values?  Is it or is it not shortsighted? Does family formation and strengthening have a role to play?

    -  In a nutshell, our immigration system is intended to be pragmatic. Is it really, or is it naïve? Is it clever or is it simple-minded? Is it fair and ethical or is it discriminatory and even cruel? Does it or should it build Canada or should it simply maintain it?