Public opinion on migration could sour amid food insecurity and climate change

My latest:

The inter-related pressures of food insecurity and climate change will increase migration pressures within and between countries, as Parag Khanna argues in his book, Move. While this is mainly with respect to the Global South, even more temperate zones are being affected as recent extreme weather events, such as storms and flooding in developed and developingcountries alike, have demonstrated. Managing these pressures could be very difficult.

From an immigration perspective, there are some realities that need to be considered. First, increased political and social polarization – driven by social media and political tactics at both national and international levels – is resulting in greater misinformation and disinformation.

A potential tie-in is the increased economic and social inequality within countries and the ongoing reality that in many countries, immigration is divisive politically. While Canada may be a rare exception to that divisiveness, irregular arrivals rather than more managed immigration tend to provoke more negative public reactions.

Migration policies and programs of the Global North are largely designed for the benefit of receiving countries, with little to no attention paid to the needs of sending countries and potential migrants. Developed countries largely focus on their skilled labour-force needs, thus contributing to a “brain drain” for sending countries while the developed countries also benefit from getting lower-skilled migrants for less attractive work. Health care is but one example where developed countries encourage migration of skilled doctors and nurses, and less-skilled personal support workers.

Public opinion generally but not exclusively favours more “familiar” migrants with perceived shared values. This has recently been seen in the case of Ukrainian refugees in contrast to other groups from places such as Syria. While consistency of treatment for refugees – wherever they come from – is the ideal, the political reality is more complex as governments respond to pressures from specific constituencies and interest groups.

There is also generally greater public support for economic immigrants, who contribute directly to the economy, than for refugees and asylum-seekers, because the benefits of the former are more clearly perceived.

Canada’s immunity to anti-immigration rhetoric reflects our relative geographic isolation, selective immigration policies and our political system. All of these make it impossible to win elections without the support of immigrant-origin citizens.

As we have seen in earlier incidents of migrant ships arriving off our coasts and the ongoing debates over irregular arrivals at the Roxham Road crossing in Quebec, Canadians react negatively when immigration is perceived as unmanaged and migrants appear to exploit loopholes, with exceptions for perceived hardship cases.

The government’s ambitious immigration targets (increasing from 341,000 pre-pandemic to 500,000 by 2025) enjoy broad support among stakeholders and have so far attracted little to no criticism by mainstream political parties. (Quebec, which selects its economic immigrants, is far more restrictive.)

The government’s ability (arguably inability) to deliver on its targets has become an issue with large backlogs across all immigration programs. These pressures will increase in the event of large-scale migration due to food insecurity and climate change. More important, Canadian public opinion is likely to sour, as we have seen in other countries.

There are ways that both operational and public opinion pressures could be managed. These include providing greater support to countries with food insecurity and climate change issues to reduce pressures on receiving countries. While it is not possible to reduce long-term pressures, the impact can be made more gradual, allowing more time to prepare and increase capacity.

Given that the key to public support is the perception that migration flows are being properly managed, migration and refugee flows need to have orderly processes and procedures. This is clearly easier for less politically polarized countries such as Canada. But even Canada can expect its border control and immigration regimes to be tested more and more as migration pressures increase and geography becomes a less effective barrier.

Linking immigration to a country’s interests (for example: labour shortages) will be more powerful than general humanitarian messaging. Policies and programs that triage food and climate refugees based upon their ability to contribute to the receiving country’s economy and society may be better received than those without such selection criteria.

Stories that focus on individual situations have greater influence than more overall analysis for the public. For example, the death of the young Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi galvanized support for accepting more refugees during the 2015 Canadian election. More recently, the death of Iranian Mahsa Aminiin the custody of that country’s “morality police” galvanized protests in and outside Iran.

Given that the response to individual stories is short-term, broader evidence and analysis are needed for longer-term public opinion support.

Globally, longer-term migration pressures are similar to climate change in terms of the political challenges at national and international levels. However, the Global Compact for Migration provides only a framework in contrast to the legally binding Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The longer history of global and national environmental debates and negotiations has resulted in greater political consensus about the need for international co-operation to address climate change.

Issues related to climate change are largely economic in terms of the changes required while international migration is as much about more complex social change as it is about simple economic change. We see this in various debates over immigration and national values.

Current narratives have focused on economic benefits of immigration. Shifting the focus toward a greater balance between sending and receiving countries will be extremely difficult because of polarized public opinion and politics.

Source: Public opinion on migration could sour amid food insecurity and climate change

Racism and the need for a national integration commission

My latest, complements my earlier Increasing immigration to boost population? Not so fast.

Protests by communities affected by prejudice, discrimination and racism appear to be on the rise, as evidenced by the Black Lives Matter, and the Indigenous-led Cancel Canada Day and Land Back advocacy movements. These are in response to deaths by Black people and Indigenous youth in police custody, and anti-Muslim, anti-Asian and anti-Semitic hate incidents and crimes in both Canada and the United States.

At the same time, there has been greater understanding amongst most Canadians regarding systemic issues and broader support of individuals and groups most affected. But government and societal responses have been largely reactive, involving symbolic measures such as summits, funding and communications initiatives.

The 2021 summits on Islamophobia in response to the London killings and on antisemitism, following increased tensions between Israel and Palestine, are examples that did little to reduce hate incidents. The most current evaluations of the multiculturalism program by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and Canadian Heritage (2017) highlight the limited evidence as to the effectiveness of government programming.

Why aren’t current approaches working? These types of targeted initiatives generally preach to the converted, and thus have limited reach and impact. They often understate the diverse experience within communities, and how racism intersects with gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic ancestry, mixed identities and class. The problems are complex and multi-faceted, and there are no easy or quick solutions. Summits, conferences and even parliamentary hearings are designed for the short-term, and do not commit the time and resources for in-depth examination and discussion of fundamental issues.

While these approaches respond to the community and political needs, a deeper examination of the common issues across all groups and a more integrated approach is needed.

Racism is a concern in Canada, present and future, given the rapidly increasing Indigenous and immigrant-origin population. An in-depth and independent examination of the issues, challenges and possible solutions is needed, and there must be broad consultations and engagement with all affected groups.

What would be some of the requirements for such an enquiry?

The overall approach should be akin to the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, held between 1963 and 1969. At that time immigrants formed about 16 per cent of the population, compared with 21.9 per cent in 2016.

Canada has changed dramatically since 1963, and an enquiry would have to address the impact of today’s increased and more varied diversity. Immigrant source countries have shifted away from Europe, which was the source of 61.6 per cent of recent immigrants in 1971, compared with 11.6 per cent in 2016. Christian affiliation declined from 78 per cent of immigrants who arrived prior to 1971 to 47.5 per cent of those who arrived between 2006 and 2011. One-third of those arriving between 2001 and 2011 identified as Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist. LGBTTQ issues were not discussed in the 1960s, and the major gap in employment equity legislation and reports is an indication of this silence, even though these groups have become more visible and accepted. And more Canadians have complex, mixed identities, reflecting this increased diversity within and between different groups.

Essential aspects of an enquiry

While it should be established by the government, the enquiry’s deliberations and recommendations should also be independent and nonpartisan.

It needs to have a broad mandate that includes research, independent studies and public consultations on barriers to inclusion. We have more than enough research and data by sociologists, political scientists and economists regarding the socio-economic, education and health disparities of different groups.

However, more interdisciplinary research and analysis by social psychologists, neuroscientists and policy-makers is needed on how bias and prejudice form, which groups are most vulnerable and why, and the most effective ways to counter prejudice, discrimination and hate.

It would need to have an adequate budget and resources to fulfill its mandate, comparable to other major commissions.

It would have to adopt a broad intersectional lens, not looking at individual groups in isolation but at the inter-relationships among gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic ancestry, mixed identities and class. It would have to look at minorities and majorities within each group and the degrees of inclusion and exclusion within and between them.

The consultations would have to be designed to go beyond the normal advocacy groups, and include more diverse and marginal voices to help break down the silos and identify commonalities. It is important to recognize that Canadians are affected by immigration and diversity in different ways, depending in part on their socio-economic status, workplace and education. And while this is not without risk, the consultations need to include individuals and groups that have some discomfort with increased diversity or have been negatively affected by immigration.

The enquiry must look not just at bias, discrimination and racism between the “mainstream” majority and minority groups, but also at that between visible, religious and gender minority groups. In other words, it must break away from the simplistic dichotomy that has mostly characterized the current diversity and inclusion discourse, which does not adequately reflect Canada’s present and projected diversity.

Practical solutions and approaches should be the focus; ones that can be implemented by governments and organizations over time; and where progress can be tracked, measured and reported. The tracking of the progress of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action could provide a model.

Canadians, long-established and newcomers alike, are increasingly coming to terms with our legacies of injustice against Indigenous peoples, as well as against racialized, religious, LGBTTQ, and other minorities. Despite considerable progress in removing legislative and other barriers to inclusion, the effects of these legacies linger in ongoing inequalities and inequities.

While many Canadians are reaching out and supporting communities that experience hate, the increase in hate crimes and incidents against individuals and groups indicates we cannot be complacent.

Reducing the influence of the more extreme groups that undermine social inclusion and cohesion would be a key aim. Developing practical recommendations to do this would be an important first step.

As we saw with Quebec’s Bouchard-Taylor Commission, there is a risk that a broad enquiry will provide space for those with more xenophobic views. However, not allowing any space for those with immigration and diversity concerns would mean missing those who need to be reached.

Canada depends on immigration to address an aging population, and it also needs to provide better opportunities for younger Indigenous populations, so a comprehensive national enquiry is needed to ensure that we have the evidence-based knowledge to reduce bias, prejudice and discrimination so all Canadians, whatever their origin, ancestry or religion, can fully participate and contribute.


My latest: Increasing immigration to boost population? Not so fast.

In Policy Options:

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney recently called for a government white paper on immigration to support the Century Initiative’s advocacy in favour of a Canada of 100 million people by 2100. Immigration is seen as the most likely way to address Canada’s aging population and ensure there are a sufficient number of working adults to pay for increased health care and other costs of seniors, with calls for more than 80 per cent of Canada’s population growth to be due to immigration.

In many ways, this has parallels with the Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada initiated under a Liberal government in the early 1980s that paved the way for the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement under the Conservative Mulroney government.

While a comprehensive and independent look at our immigration policies and programs is merited, any such review should take a critical look at Canada’s current and future needs, what fundamental questions need to be asked and the realities of what an increase would entail across Canadian society.

In the short term, we need to consider what the experience of past economic downturns tells us about immigrant economic outcomes. Statistics Canada’s Feng Hou gave a presentation in January of this year regarding the labour market outcomes during the COVID-19 lockdown and recovery. That presentation pointed out that following the 1990-91 recession, many recent immigrants were unemployed and under-employed, leading to criticism that Canada was overselling immigration. In contrast, immigrants arriving around the time of the 2008-9 recession were largely unscathed. It is too early to tell whether immigrant outcomes will resemble the deep and prolonged impact of 1990-91 or the minimal impact of 2008-9.

However, given what we know about which sectors (hospitality, travel, retail) and which groups (women, immigrants and visible minorities) have been most affected during COVID-19, how confident should we be that these sectors and groups will bounce back quickly? Will increased immigration exacerbate the difficulties these sectors and groups face? How likely is increased immigration to result in improved working conditions and equality for those we now recognize as “essential workers?”

In the longer term, it is striking the relative lack of attention regarding what sectors and workers are more likely to be vulnerable to automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and remote work, particularly in the context of setting a target some 80 years from now. Will professionals such as accountants, lawyers and other white-collar occupations become increasingly replaced in whole or in part? Will increased automation and AI result in “creative destruction” and new industry and job creation, or a further hollowing out of manufacturing? Will improved remote working technology lead to more offshoring and reduce the interest of moving and immigrating?

Only 8.7 per cent of recent immigrants settle outside our major urban areas. How realistic is the call for more immigrants to settle outside our major cities and urban areas? While the Provincial Nominee Program has had some success as have the various pilots (e.g., Atlantic, Northern and Remote), most new immigrants tend to settle in the larger provinces and urban centres. Government efforts to encourage immigration to francophone communities in English Canada continue to fall short of targets.

There are a number of other medium- and longer-term issues that will need to be addressed to successfully manage such growth.

To start, will governments invest in the public and private infrastructure needed to accommodate such growth, ranging from roads, transit, housing, health care, utilities and parks? Doug Saunders, in Maximum Canada, makes the convincing case that large-scale immigration requires these investments, along with other measures such as zoning to increase population density. However, experience to date suggests that Canadian governments have not done so, hampering growth and quality of life.

Canada already has difficulties meeting its climate change commitments. How likely is it that Canada will be able to do so with a significant increase in population creating further urban sprawl? Even if Canada manages to reduce emissions on a per-capita basis, a larger population will mean an overall increase in carbon emissions.

Will the general consensus among provincial governments in favour of more immigration increasingly confront the reality of Quebec’s reduced percentage of the Canadian population and the consequent increasing imbalance between population and representation in our various political and judicial institutions? How will Indigenous peoples, the fastest-growing group in Canada, perceive increased immigration, compared to addressing their socioeconomic and political issues?

The coalition that the Century Initiative is building in favour of increased immigration across the business community, non-governmental organizations, academics and others is impressive. The business community interest is clear: more immigrants mean more customers. But for any review or commission to be meaningful, it needs to engage with a broader group than those who already favour increased immigration and focus on per capita, rather than overall, growth.

Moreover, such a review has to question the fundamental premise that more immigration will “substantially alter Canada’s age structure and impending increase in the dependency ratio” when the available evidence suggests it will not.

A white paper that largely replicates the group think of the Century Initiative and related players rather than a much-needed more thoughtful and balanced discussion would be a disservice to Canadians.


Amid languishing numbers, Canada’s #citizenship process needs to be modernized

My latest:

COVID-19 upended all aspects of immigration policy and programs, requiring government flexibility with respect to documentation, time limits and other requirements. In many ways, this has been beneficial as it required rethinking processes and procedures and adapting to a more online world.

Citizenship was no exception, exposing the underlying weaknesses of citizenship program management: extensive paper-based processes and a dated IT infrastructure.

While Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) consistently meets its immigration targets (with the exception of during the first pandemic year), the number of new citizens has fluctuated widely over time, reflecting resource and administrative weaknesses. This is in contrast to the steady increase in the number of new permanent residents (figure 1).

For 2020, the number of citizenship applications declined 26.5 per cent (from 268,608 in 2019 to 197,472 in 2020). The number of new citizens dropped over twice that number – 55.9 per cent (from 250,083 to 110,214). Finally, new permanent resident applications declined by almost half at 45.9 per cent (from 341,175 to 184,615). Overall, as immigration numbers continued to grow, the naturalization rate of immigrants has declined.

Citizenship is simpler than the myriad immigration programs, and, unlike immigration, falls under exclusively federal jurisdiction. While changes to citizenship are more straightforward, it is a lower priority at both the political and bureaucratic levels than other IRCC programs.

While IRCC was quick to recognize the advantage of encouraging immigration from temporary residents already present in Canada during the pandemic, it initially shut down the citizenship program despite applicants already being in Canada and known to the department.


The 2021-22 IRCC departmental plan notes how the department later responded through virtual citizenship ceremonies, piloting on-line knowledge testing and e-applications. Working with the citizenship program in 2008, during an orientation visit to the Sydney, N.S. processing centre, I was shown a large room of paper files that still had to be entered into the tracking system.

Budget 2021 includes $428.9 million over five years “to develop and deliver an enterprise-wide digital platform that would gradually replace the legacy Global Case Management System” to “enable improved application processing and support for applicants, beginning in 2023.” This would be a welcome change if my own experience is any example.

Modernization should result in more informative and timely citizenship information (currently, the government reports on the monthly number of new citizens by country of citizenship). However, there is no public reporting of monthly citizenship applications, province of residence or demographic data such as age, gender or immigration category, in contrast to most immigration datasets.

Modernization also needs to be accompanied by a meaningful citizenship performance standard, based upon the percentage of permanent residents who become Canadian citizens within five to nine years of arrival. This compares to the current and rather meaningless standard which uses the number of all immigrants, whether they arrived five or 50 years ago.

A more ambitious approach, albeit riskier, would help citizenship applicants by pre-populating their forms with permanent residence data and documentation (for example social insurance numbers and tax returns). With exit information now being collected from air carriers, determining whether an applicant has met residency requirements is more straightforward. Overall, applying for citizenship should become a largely automatic process. One could even go further and ensure invitations to apply are sent automatically to eligible applicants to encourage citizenship take-up.

Citizenship education

The IRCC also needs to deliver on existing commitments, including publishing the update to the citizenship guide, first promised  in 2016. A change to the citizenship oath to reflect Indigenous treaty rights is currently before Parliament. The government appears to have walked back from its 2019 election commitment to eliminate citizenship fees as this was not included in the 2021 budget.

The delay in releasing the revised citizenship study guide, Discover Canada, provides an opportunity to reflect on whether more efforts should be made with respect to citizenship education beyond the revising guide and holding high-profile citizenship ceremonies (e.g., at public locations such as a hockey arenas).

Given government plans to increase immigration and provide more pathways for less-educated and lower-skilled persons to become permanent residents, there is a greater need for citizenship education.

The 2018 evaluation of the IRCC’s settlement program indicated that while “Settlement clients reported having knowledge of Canadian laws, rights and responsibilities, …only employment-related services had a positive impact on the level of knowledge.” The 2020 evaluation of the citizenship program revealed that test “Pass rates are lower among applicants with less education and lower language proficiency.”

These evaluations, and census data on naturalization, confirm the need for greater citizenship preparation and training to help new Canadians better understand the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, particularly in the context of an increase in immigration numbers. Current training offered by settlement agencies and public institutions narrowly focuses on citizenship test preparation rather than a more fundamental understanding of Canada.

Consideration needs to be given to expand the current focus on early arrival integration to include citizenship preparation, either on a stand-alone basis or integrated into language training at intermediate levels, with the curriculum based on, but not limited to, the new citizenship study guide. This would facilitate civic integration, particularly those with less education and language proficiency, and should help address the decline in naturalization among recent arrivals.

COVID-19 continues to provide opportunities to rethink government programs and services, with immigration and citizenship being no exception. While existing government policies and processes make change complex and difficult, IRCC and other departments have been able to make some practical changes to improve existing processes and requirements to attenuate some of the impacts of COVID-19 and pave the way for further changes.

For citizenship, modernization of the IT infrastructure and related processes is key to addressing long-standing inefficiencies and deficiencies in the program. Broadening settlement programming to support more vulnerable groups becoming Canadian citizens should be viewed as part and parcel of increased immigration objectives.


Fear and discomfort shouldn’t block anti-racism efforts in schools

Some interesting practical suggestions towards greater inclusivity:

In 1920, Duncan Campbell Scott, then-deputy superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs is quoted for suggesting that his goal was to “get rid of the Indian problem.” Scott’s solution was to expand the residential school system forcing Indigenous people to assimilate. One hundred years later, the legacy of residential schools continues to impact Canada’s current school systems. Research shows that Indigenous children across the country continue to experience systemic racism by their peers, teachers and the larger community. Needless to say, shaming and assimilation persist today.

Over the past 16 years, I’ve worked in education in various roles as a teacher, board lead, university course director and now as a vice-principal. Throughout this time, I’ve noted many advancements in championing Indigenous education and narrowing the Indigenous achievement gap by increasing graduation rates. But time and time again, I’ve also noticed deep discomfort and fear among educators when it comes to addressing anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism in schools.

“I don’t feel comfortable!”

For the most part, educators want to have a positive effect on their students. But when asked to participate in creating that change by addressing racism, I’ve witnessed some who squirm and say they prefer not to “rock the boat.” For systemic racism to be dismantled in Canadian schools, however, we need to address the discomfort and fear that some educators feel in disrupting anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism in schools.

For example, during a staff meeting at a Scarborough school where I previously worked, an administrator asked staff members how racism was being spread at school. Was it the curriculum? Our choices of books? The way we speak to students? I thought these were excellent questions to ask to encourage self-reflection and to prompt discussion about potential areas for improvement. In response, however, there was a long silence.

By comparison, I asked colleagues at different schools if race-related conversations were also happening during their staff meetings. For example, looking at race-based data and examining in-school practices that might hinder Black and Indigenous students. Most said yes, but added that they were led largely by Indigenous, Black and racialized educators.

Why are some white educators so uncomfortable? Perhaps it’s fear that openly and honestly engaging in these critical conversations may result in being labelled “racist” or “insensitive.” That said, many racialized and white educators do want to speak up. They are on a journey towards unpacking their racist ideologies or internalized oppression – but they don’t know how and where to begin or what language to use. Sometimes, it helps if a critical friend engages them in discussion. But this responsibility usually falls on Indigenous, Black and racialized people, which is problematic because the work of becoming anti-racist is a personal journey that doesn’t involve others.

“ I do not feel safe”

This makes me wonder what the union’s role is in protecting racialized teachers from microaggressions and unintentionally or intentionally racist remarks. Whose safety matters when having these discussions? What role will the union play in dismantling racism at Canadian schools?I’ve witnessed colleagues respectfully correcting white educators for saying: “I do not think racism is that bad in our school…is it?” Unfortunately, some have complained to the teachers’ union that they “do not feel safe” or feel “attacked” whenever they’re corrected for making a racist or problematic statement.

There’s also significant discomfort among educators when it comes to using anti-racist language when teaching elementary students. I’ve consistently heard some say that children at this age have “tender minds” or are “too young” to learn, and that “we don’t want to instill fear” in them. Yet research suggests that kids begin to perceive racist ideologies from the age of two. That’s why anti-racist education shouldn’t be just one lesson or unit plan. Instead, it needs to be embedded in everyday practices, starting from kindergarten. And if a student uses the term “racist” incorrectly, teachers should take that as a learning opportunity to address the class.

“I have good intentions!”

There is no doubt that educators have good intentions for student safety when participating in school board-wide events, such as Orange Shirt Day, Remembrance Day and Treaty Week. But what happens when these events cause harm to students?

For example, the purpose of Orange Shirt Day is for educators to teach students about the cultural genocide committed against First Nations, Métis and Inuit children, so it’s an opportunity for the school community to unite in the spirit of reconciliation. Specifically, students learn that the RCMP forcefully removed Indigenous children from their families and communities, as the Canadian government’s goal was to “kill the Indian in the child.”

That’s why, on Sept. 30, they read about Phyllis, a residential school survivor from Northern Secwpemc in British Columbia. As the story goes, Phyllis’ grandmother bought her an orange shirt to wear to St. Joseph’s residential school, but when she arrived, school officials took her shirt away. As a 6-year-old, Phyllis expresses that she felt worthless and like no one cared about her.

Despite this focus on Phyllis and other Indigenous residential school survivors, though, their experiences are often decentered on Orange Shirt Day. How? I’ve seen students receive handouts with the sentence starter, “I matter because…” Students’ responses, which ranged from “I am lucky I have a safe school” to “I have a mom and a dad,” are all valid but the voices of Indigenous people are erased in the process. It’s essential that educators focus on Phyllis’ story because only then can Canadians move forward towards reconciliation. For example, educators can dive deeper into researching residential schools’ objectives, and then explain how they were wrongly informed by white supremacist ideologies.

Another board practice we need to reimagine is “spirit days” like Crazy Hair Day, which can be problematic if students choose to wear an Afro, cornrows or Native long braids as a costume. Students also learn that this type of hairstyle is “crazy,” which dehumanizes Indigenous and Black people for the sake of “making school fun” or “keeping old traditions.” What’s more, Sikh and Muslim students can’t participate in these activities because some wear a turban or hijab, so they’re automatically excluded.

Educators need to understand that some school traditions promote racism, sexism, classism and other forms of discrimination against marginalized groups. We can no longer say, “But we’ve always done it this way” or “It’s a school tradition.” For example, hold a spirit day when students identify acts of kindness among their peers and compliment them, or wear their favourite piece of clothing and share why it’s special to them. This would enable students to participate without having to assimilate or adhere to antiquated norms.

It’s time to involve students in critically rethinking past practices and reimagining new inclusive school traditions. Educators can no longer hide behind fear when Indigenous, Black and racialized students’ lives depend on it.

Source: Fear and discomfort shouldn’t block anti-racism efforts in schools

The impact of COVID may make it difficult to attract immigrants compared to other G7 countries, making it difficult to meet the targets set for 2024.

Howard Ramos, Dan Hiebert and I have been looking at COVID-19 impact on immigration (my last monthly update can be found here:

One of the research questions we have is whether or not a country’s ability to manage or control COVID-19 will impact on its relative impact to potential immigrants. Out initial analysis is below, published in Policy Options (the updated slides can be found in the previous post):

Statistics tracking infections and deaths during the COVID pandemic show that Canada is faring better than all its G7 allies, save for Japan. Yet, it is doing far worse than the top five immigration source countries that it draws newcomers from. Canada cannot assume that it looks as attractive as it once did to newcomers, suggesting that it may be time to act proactively to meet ambitious immigration targets.

In October, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino made an ambitious announcement to bring 1.2 million newcomers to the Canada over the next three years. If it the country has a shot at meeting those targets, it cannot not sit back and simply expect those numbers to happen.

Immigration is driven by a complex set of push and pull factors that incentivises migration. Put simply, source countries have attributes that make life look more attractive abroad and host countries have features that attract newcomers. For instance, a weak economy or poorer quality of life at home compared to good jobs and good health abroad.

The lingering impact of the COVID-induced downturn is flipping traditional push and pull factors on their head. In past economic downturns and recessions, for example, recent immigrants suffer the most and this means we need to consider the inequalities that might get triggered by returning to recent levels (340,000 in 2019) too quickly, which the federal government’s plan largely ignores. This is not to mention how Canada’s health care system looks compared to other countries in addressing the pandemic.

The statistics may weaken the perceptions of potential immigrants of Western public health, social welfare programs and quality of life advantages. Take for instance COVID-19 infections-per-million from July to January 2021 as an example. If you look at the top-five immigrant-source countries to Canada (India, China, Philippines, Nigeria and Pakistan) all have far lower rates of infection than the G7 which are among the countries that compete with Canada for newcomers.

Although there may be undercounting of COVID infections and deaths in non-Western countries, rates would have to be five or more times higher to change the trends we report here. We do not believe such issues are significant enough to change the overall picture that rates in G7 countries are among the highest in the world.

Rates of infection can be taken as a proxy of a number of factors. They reflect the strength of a country’s social welfare system, its healthcare system and the quality of life it can offer newcomers. Polling of immigrants to Canada time and time again show that quality of life is a reason people move to the country and it is also seen in polling on specific regions, such as Nova Scotia. Rates of infection put this all into question.

The situation is even more stark when looking at deaths-per-million over the same period in 2020. Again Canada’s top immigrant source countries all have lower rates of death compared to the G7. On this front, again, Canada tends to look better than its G7 allies. But when regions of the country are examined in more depth, Quebec has worse outcomes than other immigrant destinations and has some of the highest death rates in the world.

The degree to which Canada is to vaccinate may also become a factor, given its sluggish start compared to the UK and U.S. but higher than immigration source countries. Such statistics put into question whether traditional immigration destinations can offer the quality-of-life immigrants seek and this may change mix of the push and pull factors that drove migration before the pandemic.

The statistics put into question the ability of the West to offer strong public health and social welfare safety nets. Dampened perceptions of the West’s advantage will likely impact the speed at which countries recover from the pandemic, the pace at which they can get their economies back to speed and thus their relative attractiveness to immigrants.

In this context, the federal and provincial governments may well need to revise immigration targets downward, at least in 2021. The mix may also need to be revisited given that the economic immigration streams prioritize the higher skilled where one lesson from the pandemic is the essential nature of lower-skilled service jobs. At the same time, Canada’s attractiveness compared to the U.S. will likely decline under the Biden administration, which is of particular importance to the tech sector.

The government cannot take for granted that the push and pull factors that drove migration before COVID will remain the same in the new normal. Instead, Canada needs to act boldly and proactively if it has a chance to returning to being a key player in attracting newcomers.


Do Canada’s most powerful federal posts reflect the country’s diversity?

My latest, with Jerome Black, examining which benchmark should we use regarding visible minority representation in political institutions: overall population or citizenship-based population:

The inclusion of Canadians from visible minority groups in the country’s major political and socio-economic institutions is an important indicator of the success that Canada can claim as a multicultural nation, and ultimately a measure of the nature and distribution of power and influence within the country. But how to properly assess the level of inclusion for particular groups?

Where data exist, this is a straightforward task. To contextualize whether genuine integration and inclusion have occurred requires identifying the percentage of the overall Canadian population that the visible minority group occupies, and comparing that number to the group’s representation in a particular sector. A small or non-existent gap between the two percentages would suggest a more positive interpretation about the incorporation of visible minorities while a larger deficit would imply the opposite. Still, the analysis can be done using different population benchmarks. (Note that the term visible minority is used here to match the language used by Statistics Canada in the collection of census and other data.)

We wanted to take a close look at the overall percentage of visible minority candidates and MPs over the last three general elections; and the percentages per visible minority group. We also wanted to see what percentage of appointed officials (senators, judges, Governor in Council (GiC) appointees and public servants) were from visible minority groups.

There are two benchmarks used here – one is using the overall population, and the other is using the portion of the population that are citizens. The latter’s importance stems from the requirement that the candidates of political parties hold citizenship.  Similarly, the requirements for most political appointments and public service hiring are citizenship-based. While GiC appointment requirements vary by organization, given residency, knowledge and experience requirements for full-time positions, citizenship would appear to be the default criterion…

Continue Reading: Do Canada’s most powerful federal posts reflect the country’s diversity?

Contact tracing must not compound historical discrimination

Good discussion of some of the issues involved:

Governments seem likely to adopt tracing apps as a part of the new normal in the fight against infection during a pandemic. This week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa had “a number of proposals and companies working on different models,” and that “there are possibilities around using voluntary measures.” Unfortunately, the use of these tracing aps will not be genuinely optional or voluntary for most users. Perhaps more importantly, the technical frameworks that are currently under development must be configured in such a way that the historical discrimination of minority groups is not compounded by governments’ implementation of tracing policy.

Research suggests that these apps will be installed on mobile phones and designed to work in concert with smartphone operating systems to alert the phone’s owner if they have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. The apps will probably rely on the opt-in COVID-19 tracing technical frameworks that were jointly announced by Apple and Google, and let individuals reveal their COVID-19 status as well as potentially inform them about people or places that carry higher risks of infections.

A significant amount of attention has been given to the privacy and security issues associated with these apps as well as whether the tracing apps will be sufficiently accurate to warrant using them in the first place. If governments approve their use, there may be strong legal or social pressures for individuals to use them and so it is critical for policymakers to start developing equitable policies and not justify the adoption of apps on the basis that individuals have opted-in to their use.

Opt-in mechanisms are intended to give individuals control over how their personal information is handled. Apple’s and Google’s operating systems already let individuals choose whether to share their information when they install a new game or productivity app on a device. These companies’ health surveillance functionalities will replicate this existing freedom of choice model. COVID-19 related proximity information will not be collected or shared without a smartphone user having first consented to the activity.

Meaningful consent to these companies’ health surveillance must involve giving individuals a certain level of understandable information about a tracing app’s data practices. However, policy-makers cannot be focused exclusively on a narrow understanding of consent. They must go further.

Government compulsions to opt in

Governments may decide that contact tracing apps can help to contain COVID-19’s spread once sufficient testing is available for both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases. If public safety officers are tasked with enforcing social distancing or self-quarantine orders they might demand that individuals reveal their COVID-19 status. The possibility of such an encounter with law enforcement officers, in particular, will implicitly encourage Canadians to use tracing apps. With an unlocked phone in hand, officers may go on fishing expeditions to search for potentially unlawful communications or activities.

Officers asking about individuals’ COVID-19 status may be particularly concerning to minority groups subjected to carding or to enhanced and often illegal searches. Members of over-policed groups may also feel particularly compelled to opt in to using COVID-19 apps due to concerns about how police will treat them if the apps are not installed.

Moreover, tracing apps may not be optional if individuals must reveal their COVID-19 status before entering government buildings or using public services or spaces. In such circumstances, it is conceivable that individuals would be compelled to use the apps to obtain licenses, use public transit or pass through public parks.

Private business and compulsions to opt in

Private organizations will likely have clients reveal their COVID-19 status before entering a store. If you must show your status to enter a grocery store, it is no longer optional. Sometimes clients may be unable to reveal their status – they may not own a phone or have lost it and be unable to purchase another – or they may not want to reveal their status on the basis of potentially negative consequences. For example, clients of food banks may be unwilling to reveal their COVID-19 status at all and be motivated to present fake information to avoid the chance that they will be prevented from accessing a food bank for food.

Employers may also want to know their employees’ COVID-19 status to protect or manage their workforce. Any employee who has been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 might be barred from the workplace until they undergo self-quarantine or receive negative test results. Where employers lack robust stay-at-home policies or if accessing a worksite is a condition of continuing to receive a salary, there is a risk that individuals will attempt to evade health surveillance.

Towards inclusive policy options

Canadians have demonstrated a relatively high-degree of trust in their political and health leaders throughout the pandemic. However, trust in law enforcement bodies and health bodies is considerably lower for some. The technological infrastructure being developed by Apple and Google will not resolve these historical tensions. If governments choose this path, then they must face these tensions directly.

First, governments should not empower police to view individuals’ COVID-19 status but, if they do, they must prevent officers from turning status checks into smartphone fishing expeditions. As well, public officials who review an individual’s tracing app should be required to record and publicly report the gender and ethnicity and provide an explicit rationale for assessing their COVID-19 status.

Second, policy-makers must work with organizations representing historically disenfranchised groups to develop policies which ensure members of the public can reliably access government buildings and services. Anti-poverty, homeless and addiction advocates should be consulted to determine how government services and infrastructure can continue being offered to persons who may lack access to smartphones or for cases when they may be COVID-19 positive or potentially infected.

Third, governments could subsidize the costs associated with an employee’s self-isolation or self-quarantine. Not all employees have paid sick leave that extends to self-isolation or benefits that cover the entirety of an employee’s sick leave over the course of recovering from COVID-19. Without generous sick leave policies, employees may be motivated to find ways to be at work even if their app indicates they are ill.

Fourth, any government-sanctioned tracing app must provide information for Canadians to meaningfully opt in to any health surveillance. Privacy commissioners and health officials could be tasked with ensuring that apps clearly and accurately explain an app’s anonymization measures, how COVID-19 risk assessments are generated and disclosed and the effectiveness of the app in tracing the spread of the disease.

It’s clear the apps that use Apple’s and Google’s technical frameworks are unlikely to be truly voluntary or opt-in. While neither company’s promised frameworks are presently available for developers to use, this does give policy-makers time to design ones that are inclusive. It is time they start their drafting and planning for this hypothetical tracing app future so that, if it does come to pass, any policies will avoid compounding historical discrimination.

Source: Contact tracing must not compound historical discrimination

More research needed to break down job barriers for racialized Canadians

While the specific suggestions have merit, I think it would be more productive to focus on the effective of existing policies and programs in addressing gaps and challenges:

To improve understanding and pathways for progress, researchers should continue and expand work in several areas, including the following:

  • more disaggregated data to allow us to better understand the experience of different populations within the categories of “visible minority” or “immigrant”;
  • greater focus on the impact of bias, discrimination and systemic barriers in the employment system rather than focusing solely on how job seekers can be better “adjusted” for the labour market;
  • a better understanding of who does what in areas like language training, bridging and other occupational programs, so that we can develop better data on what works for whom;
  • greater examination of how policies in the selection of immigrants, in settlement support and in training programs affect newcomers’ opportunities, and of how these policies can be aligned with employers’ needs; and
  • more examination of ways to promote innovative employer practices to recruit, advance and create inclusive environments for newcomers and racialized Canadians.

The great number of underemployed newcomers and racialized Canadians represents a significant opportunity for Canada’s employers and for the economy more generally. By further investigating these questions, we can help to ensure that all Canadians are able to seize, and benefit from, the opportunities presented by a future of work that is more diverse and inclusive.

Source: More research needed to break down job barriers for racialized Canadians

What policy issues will define our next 40 years of publishing? Policy Options at 40

Good and useful contrast by Jennifer Ditchburn between what has changed and what has remained the same:

Flipping through back copies of Policy Options from 1980, the year the magazine was founded, there’s a distinct feeling of déjà vu.

There are headlines such as,

“How Best to Live with the United States;”

“The Liberal Vacuum in the West;”

“Canada Needs to be Self-sufficient in Oil.”

The State of the Legislative Process in Canada”

“Since the election there has been more bemoaning than ever of the structural malformation of the Canadian body politics, with one main party rootless in Quebec and the other almost alien to Western Canada,” wrote founding editor-in-chief Tom Kent, the legendary public policy thinker and journalist, of the two main parties.

“What is worrisome is the strengthened fear that the fundamental reason why it seems unchangeable is that people in both those regions increasingly doubt whether federal politics matter much anyway.”

In 1980, as in 2020, the country was in a period of intergovernmental malaise and coming out of an election. The first referendum on Quebec sovereignty was held in May 1980. The notorious National Energy Program was inaugurated that year, and Pierre Trudeau, prime minister at the time, opened the 32nd Parliament with not a single Liberal MP from BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan, and only two in Manitoba.

By the fall of 1980, Trudeau had announced his intention to approach the United Kingdom unilaterally to seek the patriation of the Constitution – sparking more than a year of constitutional negotiations with premiers, and mobilizing Indigenous leaders to make sure their treaty and inherent rights were respected.

There is always something bizarrely comforting about spotting familiar patterns in Canada’s past: How many times do we hear the phrase “plus ça change, plus c’est pareil” in reference to our political history? Meanwhile, people who weren’t yet born during the years of the National Energy Program or The Night of Long Knives can reference those grievances and find the echoes in our contemporary frictions. Yes, old policy and political mistakes can cast long shadows.

But here’s the thing: Canada in 2020 is nothing like the Canada of 1980, and we should be careful not to use old maps to orient ourselves as we move into the next decade. Our country is more urban and suburban, more ethnoculturally diverse, and also getting proportionately older.

Susan Gibson, then with Ontario’s Status of Women Council, wrote in 1980 about the hiring and promotion of women in the public service that, “it is clear that substantive improvement in the status of women Crown employees still lies in the future.” At the time, Gibson said there were no women deputy ministers in Ontario, and only 1.38 percent in senior positions. By 2017, women accounted for 30.4 percent of Ontario deputy ministers and about half of other executive levels, according to an employee survey from that year.

Reading through those issues of Policy Options from 1980, a few things were notably absent.

John F. Graham, the late Dalhousie University professor and economist, was the only person that year to discuss environmental concerns.

“We now…face the prospect in the not very distance future of very low, zero, or negative economic growth resulting from a combination of exhaustion of natural resources and suicidal environmental damage,” he wrote.

The impact of technology is referenced, but in the “boob tube” style of the 1980s – which was to bemoan the impact of television on Canadian public discourse. Who could have envisioned the way our lives and our economy would change with the advent of the smartphone, social media platforms and advancing artificial intelligence?

Indigenous rights and the Crown’s treaty obligations do not figure in the numerous articles about federalism and intergovernmental affairs. Although a vast amount of work remains to be done to fulfil the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to restore a true nation-to-nation relationship, decolonization was simply not a topic of policy conversation in non-Indigenous circles 40 years ago.

Plus ça change, well, ça change.

Yes, we are in another phase of discontent within the Canadian federation, but it is impossible to consider this time in Canadian history without also looking outside of our borders. Where the issues eloquently explored in this magazine in 1980 dealt principally with federal-provincial, industrial and Canada-US policy, almost all the challenges before us today have a global dimension.

While the federal government and the premiers tussle over carbon pricing and support for the energy sector, the overarching question is whether the world’s nations collectively will act quickly enough to curb the catastrophic rise in global temperatures. (The results of the COP 25 conference in Madrid last month bode poorly.)

The suitability of the equalization program and stabilization fund are on the First Ministers’ agenda, but the bigger picture about the Canadian economy hinges on the disruptive forces of automation, artificial intelligence and the impact of climate change down the road. As the federal government’s foresight agency Policy Horizons pointed out in a recent report, it’s unclear what skills workers will need in the future, and also how taxes will be collected as jobs becoming increasingly virtual.

Yes, Canada’s relationship with the United States remains a perpetual policy preoccupation, but now it is overlaid with concerns over how to fill the vacuum Washington has left in international multilateral institutions and counterbalance the growing influence of China.

Even when we talk about the health of our democracy, the future leadership of the Conservative Party, and other Canadian political issues, we have to consider the wider context of disinformation and borderless social media platforms, populist trends worldwide, and the microtargeting of voters through the use of their own data.

Over the next year, we will be re-publishing some of the articles that appeared in 1980, along with responses to the material from 2020. As the current editor-in-chief, I can’t help but wonder which issues just barely appearing on our radar now will be fundamentally shaping Canada in the years to come.

Source: What policy issues will define our next 40 years of publishing?Policy Options at 40