Douglas Todd: Drawing Canada’s party lines on immigration in this election

Likely better to await the formal party platforms for the specifics (or absence of …):

The United Nations reported last year that Canada is the fourth most accepting country in the world for immigrants.

Working with pollsters from Gallup, the UN tallied each country’s quotient for tolerance by asking residents of each nation whether it was a “good thing” or “bad thing” that immigrants were living in their country, were becoming their neighbours and marrying into their families.

While Canada came out close behind No. 1 Iceland and ahead of the Netherlands, Australia and the United States (ninth), some of the least-accepting countries for migrants turned out to be Pakistan, Greece, Poland and Egypt. The polling showed residents of populous India and China were not as hostile to newcomers as those in South Korea, Israel and Russia, but were still highly wary.

Canadians’ relatively welcoming approach to migrants is the backdrop to this federal election campaign, in which each party’s different approaches to immigration policy are quietly but increasingly bubbling to the surface, as a modern-day record proportion of Canadians — roughly half — now tell pollsters that Ottawa is allowing in too many immigrants.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is nevertheless standing on his record of welcoming asylum seekers, hiking immigration levels by one-third and increasing international students and guest workers by half. The Conservatives’ Andrew Scheer, meanwhile, stresses that immigration is a positive for the country and that “sadly, under Justin Trudeau, a record-high number of Canadians believe that immigration should be reduced.”

The NDP’s Jagmeet Singh has made it a priority to allow in more parents and grandparents of Canadians and further increase Ottawa’s immigrant-settlement funding for Quebec. The leader of Canada’s fourth most popular party, the Greens’ Elizabeth May, has promised to erase the temporary foreign workers program.

Most Canadians don’t want the kind of overheated immigration conflicts that have occurred in some countries. But specialists such as Simon Fraser University political scientist Sanjay Jeram say it’s healthy for Canadians to not avoid the issue, since it affects housing, employment, urban congestion, the welfare state and training programs. And UBC political scientist Antje Ellermann has said our immigration policy history is potentially vulnerable to public pushback.

“Populism is a consequence, not the cause of political dissatisfaction,” Ellermann said. “Canadian immigration policy has traditionally been dominated by the government and civil servants, and rarely engaged the public in meaningful ways. (That makes it) vulnerable to popular challenge.”

Canadians certainly have diverse opinions on migration. For instance, the Angus Reid Institute found 32 per cent want to keep the current refugee levels, of about 50,000 per year, while 18 per cent say they should increase and 40 per cent say they should be lower.

Canadians show similar variations on the federal “family reunification” program, which typically brings in older immigrants sponsored by relatives. Angus Reid analysts say Canadians are expressing “pushback” on this program out of concern such newcomers are “more taxing on the nation’s social services.”

Here’s more on how the four main political parties are handling migration issues:

Liberals

In a close race with the Conservatives, Trudeau is not talking a great deal about specific immigration policies, says Ipsos pollster Darrell Bricker, who notes the prime minister has mostly been questioning other candidates on whether they are tolerant.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has been more assertive. Highlighting how the Liberals have brought in a record number of international students, he recently confused education experts by boasting there were 721,000 such students in Canada in 2018. His officials later clarified the actual figure for Dec. 31, 2018, was 573,000. Hussen has also this year accused some of his political critics of being un-Canadian.

One of Trudeau’s rare forays into migration-related policy during the campaign occurred in Metro Vancouver, where there is a housing crisis. Trudeau pledged to follow the B.C. NDP and institute both a Canada-wide foreign buyers tax on housing as well as a speculation tax aimed at “satellite” homeowners, who earn most of their wealth outside the country, where it’s not subject to Canadian income tax.

Conservatives

After releasing his party’s immigration policy in May, Scheer has been low key on the potentially hot topic. Yet the Conservatives are airing ads that feature Scheer with the tagline “I’m voting for a fair immigration system.”

This month an Ipsos poll found 42 per cent of Canadians believe the Conservatives are best suited to handle immigration policy. That compares to the Liberals at 16 per cent, NDP at nine per cent, Greens at two per cent and the People’s Party of Canada, which wants to reduce immigration levels to 150,000 a year from the current 320,000, at 11 per cent.

The Conservatives have vowed to “set immigration levels consistent with what is in Canada’s best interests.” The party claims it would be more bold than the Liberals in clamping down on the thousands who have made irregular border crossings into Quebec. And this week Scheer promised to launch a national inquiry into “corrupt” money-laundering, both domestic and foreign, in the real-estate industry, which he said is inflating housing prices.

NDP

Singh is putting a strong emphasis on family-reunification programs, with the NDP saying it “will end the unfair cap on applications to sponsor parents and grandparents.” The party would also “take on unscrupulous immigration consultants.”

Even while Quebec Premier Francois Legault has cut immigration levels by 20 per cent, Singh has promised to have Ottawa respond to a lack of workers by giving the province $73 million more each year to settle newcomers. Critics, however, point out the federal government already sends Quebec four times as many taxpayer dollars to settle each immigrant than it sends to B.C. and Ontario.

Greens

The most surprising thing in the Greens’ policy is a commitment to end the temporary foreign worker program, which brings in about 100,000 people a year, while allowing more of them to become permanent residents. The Greens also say they want to define the term “environmental refugee,” turning it into a new category within Canada’s immigration system.

Even though the UN has verified that Canadians are among the world’s most welcoming people, it’s clear the complexities of immigration policy are still an issue, with politicians trying different ways to appeal to the public’s diverse opinions.

Source: Douglas Todd: Drawing Canada’s party lines on immigration in this election

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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