Metropolis Conference 2018 Reflections #Metropolisyyc

Overall, Metropolis remains a great venue to connect and reconnect with people active in immigration and integration. I thought I would share my overall impressions and reflections (these have also been shared with the organizers).

The plenaries were a mixed bag. One of them was excellent: a session with Calgary Mayor Nenshi, Brooks Mayor Morishita and Calgary Catholic Immigration Society’s Fariborz Birjandian on the role of the province and municipal governments, that provided lots of insights of integration at the local level. The contrast between a large city like Calgary and a small city like Brooks (population of 15,000) and how they approach similar issues was of particular interest.

The other plenary of note was on immigration futures, although it largely did not live up to its billing as most of the speakers were more in the here and now than in the future.

Irving Studin (Institute for 21st Century Questions) reiterated his 18th century geopolitical perspective on the need for a larger Canadian population,  Martha Hall Finlay (CEO Canada West Foundation) talked about the need for better immigrant preparation prior to landing, Senator Yuen Pau Woo provided a good overview of the politics of immigration, noted that anti-immigrant positions were sometimes cloaked in discussions on national security and housing prices and that immigration policy had to grapple with the fact that increasingly people have transnational lives, and Rubin Nelson (Foresight Canada) delivered a rambling almost end-of-days perspective on the need for a paradigm shift. Nelson was however the only dissident voice on the need for increased immigration levels, arguing for a return to 250,000 given that reflected current absorptive capacity.

I raised a question that has preoccupied me for some time: how do we factor into immigration policy the ongoing and increasing impact of automation and AI on labour force needs? Why do virtually none of those advocating increased immigration even acknowledge this aspect? Why do they assume that previous patterns of  “creative destruction” will repeat themselves? Both the audience and most panelists acknowledged the validity of these questions and I followed-up with some of the panelists.

The weakest plenary was the opener: a real yawn fest with most researchers talking about their projects and plans with no real results or lessons to share (Lori Wilkinson of U of Manitoba a rare exception as her remarks were more practical and Umit Kizilton, DG Research and Evaluation at IRCC brought home the relevance of this research far better than the researchers and SSHRC). This was more suited to a workshop for academics than the service provider organizations that form most of the attendees.

The other weak plenary was on the similarities and differences among NAFTA countries with respect to immigration. The session largely avoided the elephant in the room: the impact of Trump administration policies. The moderator ensured no questions from the floor by posing innocuous safe questions, possibly given risks that awkward questions or comments from the floor would occur. I also had the impression that the plenary was more of an infomercial for the second NAFTA country immigration conference.

One other comment: the diversity of plenary speakers (21 including moderators): 15 men, 6 women (in a conference where the majority of participants are women). Visible minorities representation was strong however: 6 out of 21.

The three workshops I organized — citizenship (data, narratives, and Focus Canada 2018 results), multiculturalism economic, social and political data, and how to debate immigration — had strong attendance and interest, particularly the immigration debate one with between 80-90 attendees (standing room only).

Citizenship: Nice contrast between my data rich presentation on Census citizenship data and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation’s Lilian Ma’s similarly data rich presentation of the Environics Institute Focus Canada 2018 public opinion tracking, and that of Yasmeen Abu-Laban, who discussed how citizenship narratives are changing as part of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

Needless to say, IRCC officials present challenged my interpretation of census naturalization data showing a decline which allowed me to explain the logic and data behind the analysis.

Lilian Ma was challenged on whether Canadians are honest in their replies to such surveys in which she replied, effectively, that not sharing xenophobic attitudes reveals something positive in terms of social norms; in the past, people were very willing to express openly racist views.

Presentations below:

Census 2016 and IRCC Data: What it Says About Naturalization

Environics Institute Focus Canada 2018 – CRRF Metropolis 2018 Presentation March 22-2018

Multiculturalism: Considerable interest in the data I presented even though it was a lot to digest. Dan Hiebert nicely complemented my analysis by sharing some of his detailed neighbourhood mapping, again reinforcing his earlier hyper-diversity analysis of how mixed many neighbourhoods are. Annick Germain reviewed how Montréal-Nord has evolved over time as a lower-income area that has attracted many immigrants, including the recent wave of Haitians coming from the US, the impact of a younger immigrant population compared to an older non-immigrant population and the ongoing story of two Quebec’s, one diverse centred around Montreal and the more monolithic population elsewhere. Questions she raised included whether the relatively high unemployment rates for visible minority 25-34 year olds I highlighted reflected that many were still students, and what would be the impact of increased immigration and full employment on public opinion (and in which direction).

Multiculturalism in Canada: What Census 2016 and Other Data Tell Us (in process of being revised given some good feedback received prior to and during Metropolis.

Immigration debate: I was really pleased how this worked out as I had some worries in terms of how more conservative views on immigration of Mark Milke and to a lessor extent, Raj Sharma, might land on the pro-immigration crowd at Metropolis, with Annick Germain being the moderate voice. However, both Mark and Raj effectively used humour in making their points, without sugar coating, and exposed participants to their perspectives.

The audience challenged some of their assertions and positions but did so in a focused and respectful manner. Again, this was incredibly well attended, with lots of positive feedback from those I talked to.

A lesson that it is possible to get outside bubbles/echo chambers.  I believe we need to do more of these kind of conversations to improve our understanding of different perspectives.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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