John Ivison: Neither left nor right should politicize Canada’s immigration system

Naive to expect that parties will not politicize immigration and related issues.

The question is how they do so, what language they use, and the extent to which and how they virtue signal and practice identity politics.

The major parties largely stay within reasonable bounds. Bernier, as Ivison notes, does not:

The personal pronoun is best avoided, even by opinion columnists. In this instance it is necessary, to provide some context.

I was in a sombre mood on Remembrance Day, having posted a tribute on Twitter to three generations of my family who wore a uniform so I didn’t have to.

As I scrolled through the flotsam on my feed, I came across a tweet by Maxime Bernier, the former Conservative leadership candidate who recently broke away to form his own party. He was lamenting the case of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row charged with blasphemy and who, after being acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, is now at risk of extra-judicial assassination.

Bernier was quite rightly decrying the “barbarism” on the streets of Karachi. But he twisted his condemnation for his own political ends, calling for the need to “protect our society” from a threat that patently does not exist on the streets of Canadian cities.

“Radical multiculturalism is the misguided belief that all values and cultures can co-exist in one society. They cannot,” his tweet said.

The tweet came across as a transparent ploy to attract support by espousing views which, if sincerely held, he kept to himself for 15 years as part of a government that regularly expanded the number of immigrants coming to Canada from countries like Pakistan. The fact that he expressed such intolerance on Remembrance Day amplified its effect.

Some time later, I came across a video of two Eritrean children who were new to Canada and were discovering the sheer delight of their first snowfall. With Bernier’s comments still disturbing my mood, I rattled off a tongue-in-cheek retweet: “This is the kind of extreme, radical multiculturalism we’ve been hearing about. Clearly, a grave threat to our way of life.”

My comment touched a nerve, going viral with about 10,000 people “liking” it. Some people got into the spirit of it: “They are going to take our spots on the toboggan hills — I’m afraid there won’t be enough snow left for the rest of us,” wrote Rudy Reimer, not entirely seriously.

On reflection, perhaps it sullied something that should not have been politicized. “Too bad you had to use such a happy, carefree occasion to take a political swipe at some conservatives who have a genuine concern over Canada’s immigration policy,” Eric Nissen responded.

Many, many people criticized me for glibness, and, in turn, federal immigration policy, accusing it of importing “criminals and terrorists.” The father was probably busy making a bomb, one brave individual wrote behind the cloak of a ridiculous pseudonym.

The 2019 election will be won by the party that can best address the anxieties voters are feeling about the affordability of housing, wages and the cost of living. But as this little incident highlighted, deep political cleavages over cultural diversity are hardening as the consensus over mass immigration comes under increased pressure.

The nation is split on the issue as never before in recent memory. Research by Abacus Data suggests there is a 55-45 per cent divide between those who think immigration is a net positive versus those who think it is a net negative.

Conservative voters are most concerned — 63 per cent agreed with the statement that immigrants are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and healthcare. But so did 32 per cent of Liberal supporters and 42 per cent of NDP voters.

The divisions and anxieties may not be as sharp as in the U.S. and parts of Europe, but Canada is not immune from the culture wars.

I’m an immigrant but I have concerns about the risks of the system being politicized. The Liberal Party is intent on raising the proportion of family-class permanent residents and refugees because it plays well in certain ridings.

There are also legitimate concerns about the integrity of the system as migrants seeking a better life stream across the Canada-U.S. border. The number of Nigerians claiming refugee status in Canada surged by 300 per cent in the first six months of 2018. Further, there very real worries that the models used to set immigration levels in the coming decades have not taken account of artificial intelligence and its impact on labour markets.

But these are not the concerns we are hearing from Bernier. “We must start pushing back against this politically correct nonsense that is destroying our society and our culture,” he said in a speech in Calgary last weekend.

Is our society being destroyed? Is Remembrance Day under threat? It didn’t seem that way on Sunday, as millions of Canadians paid their respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifices for our freedoms.

Bernier was using ultrasonic messaging, playing on a prospect frightening to many Canadian-born voters: that they will end up as a minority population in their own country.

Canada has long been said to suffer from a range of neuroses, from separation anxiety to an inferiority complex. But the real fear for many in English and French Canada in 2018 is that “the elites” are ignoring their concerns in favour of protecting the rights of minorities. Gains for immigrants are seen as losses for the native-born, who already see themselves as being under financial pressure.

There are racists and fascists out there — I spent a busy morning blocking them on Twitter. But most people who feel unease at higher immigration levels don’t see themselves as racist. Many could be persuaded to reassess, if our leaders could articulate a vibrant Canadian cultural identity that benefits from newcomers.

We certainly need a rallying call more convincing than Justin Trudeau’s contention that “there is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada” — the world’s “first post-national state,” as he told the New York Times Magazine.

The former is demonstrably untrue, the latter gibberish.

It requires real leadership to articulate and promote the consensus that still exists over cultural diversity. Canadian identity is built on hockey, maple syrup, snow and lumberjacks. But it goes beyond that, as Shane Koyczan noted in his wonderful poem, We Are More.

Canada is “an experiment going right for a change,” he wrote.

“We are an idea in the process of being realized,
We are young,
We are cultures strung together,
Then woven into a tapestry,
And the design is what makes us more
Than the sum total of our history.”

Amen to that.

Source: John Ivison: Neither left nor right should politicize Canada’s immigration system

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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