Kurl: Canadians are now confronting how generous we really are

While overall support for immigration remains high, and Canadians believe in the economic benefits of immigration, valid to ask how these macro numbers will continue to hold up should the asylum seeker numbers continue to grow and the government measures, current and likely those under consideration, do not result in a decline:

This is soon to be our summer of our discontent, disagreement and discomfort, as Canadians watch increasing numbers of people claiming asylum try their luck at undesignated border crossings

Discontent over Justin Trudeau’s government’s handling of the file. Disagreement over how it should be handled, and discomfort over the realization that despite the often-proffered narrative of Canada’s endless, unconditional welcome of newcomers, we’re wary to say the least, about this phenomenon.

As they try to escape the ever fear and uncertainty of Donald Trump’s ever-tightening restrictions on immigration, and spurred on by that now infamous prime ministerial tweet, they do so by circumventing Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which denies entry to those who have already claimed or obtained status in the United States, by crossing into Canada not at airports or other, staffed border crossings, but anywhere they can, along thousands of kilometers of unmonitored perimeter.

Who doesn’t remember the iconic photograph early last year, of a smiling Mountie lifting a little girl in a pink coat over the U.S.-Canada border near Hemmingford, Que? What came to national attention as something of a curiosity – and for many a representation of the “best of Canada” – has since given way to pointed questions about how officials plan to deal with the tens of thousands and counting who are seeking to make a home on this side of the 49th parallel.

When the issue again dominated headlines last fall, slightly more than half of Canadians (53 per cent) said the country has been “too generous” to the border crossers, more than eight times as many as those who said Canada hasn’t been “generous enough” (six per cent). Politics drives those opinions: past Conservative voters are overwhelmingly more likely to say this, although it should be noted that at least 40 per cent of 2015 Liberals and yes, even past New Democrat voters agree.

As to where they wanted government focusing its attention, seven-in-10 said they’d prioritize assigning more staff to monitoring and securing unguarded parts of the border. The rest (30 per cent) said they’d prioritize assisting those seeking asylum.

Little wonder then, that at the time, the majority (57 per cent) disapproved of the Liberal government’s handling of the situation, including one-third of his own party’s past voters.

Even less wonder, for reasons practical and political, the government which last year rejected calls to suspend the STCA, is now calling on the U.S. to agree to amendments that would have it apply to the entire length of the border.

How did we get here? Didn’t Trudeau proclaim that “diversity is our strength?” Wasn’t the popularity of his stance on accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees part of what convinced centre and centre-left voters to spur the Liberals to a majority?

The thing is, feel-good rhetoric is easier to accept when a complex issue isn’t staring you right in the eyeballs. Before this, incidents of irregular asylum seekers suddenly reaching our borders were largely limited to a handful of boats that managed an arduous ocean journey; Indian nationals arriving off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador in the ’80s. Migrants from Fujian arriving in the late ’90s. Sri Lankans who made a similar trip about 10 years later.

Not until now have we had to answer uncomfortable questions about how welcoming we really are. The vast majority of people in this country (79 per cent) have said our immigration and refugee policy should give primacy to national economic and workforce needs over those in crisis abroad (21 per cent).

Given the more than 150,000 economic class immigrants who came from every corner of the world in 2016, diversity is indeed our strength. What Canadians perceive as a government weakness, however, is equating diversity with an open invitation followed by an ill-prepared response, to unchecked migration as Canada confronts its own mini-Greece moment.

via Kurl: Canadians are now confronting how generous we really are | Ottawa Citizen

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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