HYDER: No crisis with newcomers arriving in Canada

Good commentary by Goldy Hyder of Hill+Knowlton Strategies and board member of the Century Initiative.

Perhaps more important is that this appeared in the Toronto Sun to provide a different perspective than their usual contributors (just as the Star and Globe could benefit from a broader range of views):

Over 25 years ago, I wrote my master’s thesis on how the crisis label applied to public policy is both an opportunity for governments and a problem for its citizens.

The example I used to make the point was the “refugee crisis” generated by the dramatic boat arrival of 174 Sikhs off the coast of Nova Scotia in August 1986. This was preceded in equally dramatic fashion by 155 Tamils also arriving on a boat a year earlier.

In the first case, the government of the day responded with openness, generosity and willingness to embrace those who claimed to be fleeing persecution.

The public response was less generous, particularly upon learning that the boat and its occupants were in fact arriving not from India (hardly a refugee producing country) but in fact a safe country (Germany) that could have and should have applied its own refugee laws to determine legitimacy of the claims.

An RCMP officer standing in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., advises migrants that they are about to illegally cross from Champlain, N.Y., and will be arrested, Monday, Aug. 7, 2017.

When fate afforded the government a do-over upon the next boat arrival, the response by the same government — clearly feeling both duped by the circuitous manner in which the first boat arrived, and with the full knowledge of public sentiments on such arrivals — was to label the issue as a “refugee crisis.”

This dominated headlines, debate in Parliament and the public’s attention. It allowed a government under pressure on other issues to leverage the advantages that a “crisis” label affords any government: Namely the public’s demand and expectation that the government will — as a matter of priority — focus on and put an end to the “crisis.”

In 2018, history is repeating itself.

It was no more a crisis in the aforementioned incidents than there is one today from a purely statistical perspective. But that didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now.

There are many reasons we stand to be worse off if the debate heads in the direction it currently is driven by emotion, stoked by political agendas on both sides.

Canadians, I believe, are smarter than that. But, they must be heard.

We know our history. Unless Indigenous, we are all immigrants. What we cherish as a value is fairness and rule of law. We do not like our generosity and compassion to be abused.

While much attention goes to how the so called “alt-right” or those labelled racists, the fact is that masks what is taking place much more broadly in society albeit less overtly.

In the modern era, these debates cannot be suppressed, nor do they function uncomfortably underground. Rather, they play out in the open and that, frankly, is an opportunity.

Migration in all its forms has long been used as an issue to debate because it is deeply personal and goes to who we are as a people and as a nation. We need to be reminded from time to time about the role immigrants, refugees and migrants (not all the same thing) have played in making Canada what it is today.

We know study after study has proven time and again that immigrants put more into the system than they take out of it. Yet, people here in Canada, and in many other countries, are reaching a point of saying either “no more” or “not so many.” Whether there is a crisis or not (there isn’t), this is an opportunity to hear the voices of Canadians, left and right and those in between to understand what is driving their emotions.

If there is one thing I have learned about we Canadians, it is this: Given the right information, provided an opportunity to speak and be heard, there is a collective wisdom in the Canadian public consciousness that usually gets the answer right in the end.

Source: HYDER: No crisis with newcomers arriving in Canada

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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