Ben Woodfinden: Canada’s aspiring populists aren’t actually all that radical – Immigration excerpt

Really telling, whether in Conservative leadership debates or this commentary by Woodfinden, just how much all political parties, save for the PPC, have accepted the Century Initiative, the business community, education institutions and other stakeholders arguments for increased immigration to address – or at least to appear to address – an aging population.

While on the right, this may reflect a legitimate fear of being labelled xenophobic or worse, on the left, hard to know why they raise some of the issues raised by increased immigration in terms of labour markets and conditions, housing shortages, environmental and climate impacts etc.

Of course, real politik, the battleground ridings in the GTHA and BC’s lower mainland, with majority or significant numbers of immigrant and visible minority voters, also plays a role.

But these voters also face the same issues and impact of large scale immigration, and I continue to wonder whether the current approach and general consensus will eventually fracture and change, as Woodfinden also raises:

Take for example the great third rail of Canadian politics: immigration. The rise of populism around the world in recent years has many competing explanations, but a backlash against immigration is a common theme in many of the places where populism has caused political earthquakes. Poilievre, nor any major candidate in the race, has shown absolutely no interest in touching this. If anything, he has embraced the political consensus on immigration, making direct pitches and appeals to immigrant communities. This is probably a political necessity given the diversity of ridings in areas like Toronto that anyone who seeks to form government will need to win.

But the present moment might well be ripe for a populist challenge to this consensus. Over 400,000 immigrants came to Canada in 2021, a record number. Yet with a growing number of younger Canadians locked out of the housing market due to skyrocketing prices, it’s a surprise a political entrepreneur hasn’t come along and pointed out, rightly or wrongly, that Canada’s high levels of immigration are likely to keep propping up what feels like to many young Canadians an economic pyramid scheme in which they pay exorbitant amounts for housing so that older Canadians can retire. While the PPC have made such arguments, and while you will see this kind of sentiment bubble up on social media, it’s probably more widespread than we generally assume. Thus far no serious figure has challenged the status quo on this.

Arguments in favour of immigration are often framed in economic terms. We need these immigrants to keep our population growing and to support an ageing society. But of course, there’s no real challenge or consideration given to the deeper reasons why this is necessary, namely that we need high levels of immigration because of our low, and still falling, birth rates. Our discourse and politics just accept this as a fact, given that having children is just entirely a personal choice. To suggest that we should try and increase birth rates and that having children and starting families are a social good we actively ought to be promoting and encouraging seems beyond the pale. Bring this up, and you’ll inevitably get accused of being a secret white supremacist who is motivated by racial concerns. For many pundits and elites, it is simply inconceivable that anyone could be legitimately concerned about birth rates and thus must have ulterior motives. 

Source: Ben Woodfinden: Canada’s aspiring populists aren’t actually all that radical

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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