Canadian politicians are playing a dangerous game on migration: Craig Damian Smith

While I find Smith overly alarmist in his assessment (the dynamics if immigration debates in Canada are very different from those of Italy, reflecting the different geographies, histories and politics), his warnings about the need for care in political and public discourse are valid:

Canada has joined the club of states embroiled with irregular migration.But our challenges are not unique, and we have two decades of European misadventures with irregular migration to guide our response. Unfortunately, Canadian politicians are following a well-rehearsed script in which crisis responses to anti-refugee sentiment undermine liberal values, limit policy options and open us to blackmail by hostile neighbours.

I have spent several years studying Europe’s relationship with irregular migration, most recently on a six-week trip that included looking at the Italian government’s hardline policies.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini came to power on a promise to expel 500,000 migrants, and has spent his short tenure repealing services, criminalizing migrant rescue NGOs, fostering xenophobic nationalismand undermining European solidarity.

Salvini, also serving as deputy prime minister, blames migrants for longstanding Italian social problems like youth unemployment. In June, Tito Boeri, head of the Italian pension agency, clashed with Salvini on a very simple point that immigration was needed in light of an aging workforce. Salvini responded by stating that the tenured economist “lives on Mars” and that evidence-based arguments about demographics “ignored the will” of Italians.

This kind of populism has troubling parallels in Canada. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has blamed asylum-seekers for longstanding affordable housing challenges and ended cooperation with the federal governmenton the issue. His stonewalling and scapegoating to foster a crisis in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election are well-worn tactics.

Fears trump facts

Anti-immigrant populism trades on two interrelated trends. First, facts matter far less than voters’ feelings; second, as Daniel Stockemer from the University of Ottawa puts it, scapegoating migrants pays off at the ballot box. Ruling parties are caught in a bind since governments that want votes should be responsive to their citizens. But responding to anti-immigrant sentiments means policies with negative economic, social and security outcomes.

Ruling parties in Europe have tried to thread the needle by getting tough on irregular migration while maintaining open asylum systems. They must show voters that they’re doing something when their political challengers claim they have lost control of borders and undermined public safety. Statements by Michelle Rempel, the Conservative Party of Canada’s immigration critic, about irregular migration are thus wholly unoriginal.

Xenophobia fosters false opinions. Many Italians believe foreigners comprised 26 per cent of the population, when in reality it is only nine per cent. Similarly, a recent Angus Reid poll found Canadians overestimated the number of asylum-seekers by almost 60 per cent. The majority said Canada was too generous, and that the current situation represented a crisis despite the swath of Liberal ministers and range of credible experts saying the opposite.

Crises demand action

Crises demand extraordinary measures. Seventy-one per cent of respondents in the Angus Reid survey would devote resources to border security if they were in charge. Only 29 per cent said they would focus on assisting arrivals. Respondents were more aware of the asylum issue than any other in 2018. But as in Europe, Canadians’ strong opinions are based on feelings rather than facts.

The federal Liberals have reacted by shuffling the cabinet and appointing a tough-on-crime ex-police chief to oversee the issue. But Bill Blair has been named Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction. While this might seem like a savvy move, bundling migration with security narrows the range of options to reactive and counter-productive policies that exclude economic and social interventions. When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Not to be outdone, the Conservatives would extend the Safe Third Country Agreement to the entirety of the border, meaning asylum-seekers could be turned back anywhere.

Securitizing borders is expensive, rarely works for long and undermines refugee protection. It also results in more criminality. Prohibition in the face of high demand fosters black market supply. Illicit economies and more dangerous routes also make migrants vulnerable to human trafficking.

What’s more, criminalizing migrants reduces policy options. Politicians in Europe are obsessed with “breaking” smuggling rings, with little interest in the supply/demand logics that drive them. Irregular migration becomes more spectacular, offering politicians fodder to escalate the response. This leads to right-wing parties framing migration as a civilizational threat, the starkest examples of which can be found in Austria, Hungary and Italy.

Maxime Bernier’s tweets about “extreme multiculturalism” and the “cult of diversity” were cribbed from European populists. His break from the Conservative Party in favour of forming an intellectually and morally authentic right-wing party was right on script.

Despite Conservative attempts to brush off Bernier’s defection at the party’s recent policy convention, a far-right fringe party could bleed voters. If Europe offers any lessons, the Conservatives will likely mimic Bernier’s arguments.

That both Andrew Scheer and Michelle Rempel supported far-right activists to score points against Justin Trudeau is telling. So is the fact that Conservative delegates voted for ending birthright citizenship based on apocryphal stories of citizenship tourists.

Canadians like to believe we are exceptionally tolerant. Environics pollster Michael Adams argues that Canada is particularly resistant to xenophobic populism, partly because of our immigration history. But the current situation reveals a different story: Canada’s openness is more about exceptional geography.

In a 2017 study, Michael Donnelly from the University of Toronto found that Canada is no more tolerant than similar countries, and argued our resistance to populism is because we’ve been spared migration crises. That’s no longer true.

Frays the social fabric

What can be done? The government inherited a broken refugee system from Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, but the Liberals must address unsustainable backlogs in asylum processing, which cascade through the system and decrease people’s trust in its efficacy. Conservatives must ask whether scapegoating asylum-seekers for votes is worth the cost. It frays the social fabric, and will leave them holding the bag if they win the 2019 election.

Political discourse matters. The migrants and asylum-seekers I interviewed this summer told me time and again that Salvini ascension had changed the mood. People routinely approach them in the street to tell them that their time is up and they’ll be expelled to Africa. Italian nationalists have shot migrants in the street. Recall that the Québec City mosque shooter was motivated by xenophobic nationalism. It can, and has, happened here.

All of this might sound like the moralizing of a university researcher (from Toronto, no less), so I will conclude with a national security rationale. Canada’s 2019 federal election campaign will coincide with dates for ending Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of migrants in the United States. While some might choose to come here, the more troubling option is that Donald Trump could send them our way.

Beggar-thy-neighbour policies can be used to exacerbate migration crises, and Trump is nothing if not a zero-sum thinker. As Kelly Greenhill from Tufts University has shown, states routinely use “engineered migration” to coerce or deter their rivals. Turkey did it to Europe in 2016, securing an extra three billion Euros with a threat that it would allow hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers into Europe.

It would take a profound willed ignorance to assume Trump is beyond engineering a migration event to deflect public opinion at home, influence the Canadian elections or leverage trade concessions. Politicians from across the spectrum have a duty to ensure Canada is not exposed to that kind of blackmail, particularly not for gains at the ballot box. That means de-escalating the rhetoric and co-operating to ensure we have our house in order.

Sanctuary cities: Why it’s harder for Trumpism to take root in urban Canada – Adams and Norris

 Adams and Norris on how greater urbanization in Canada provides a degree of resilience to Trump-style politics:

In early 2007, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani led the pack of would-be Republican nominees for president, but some worried he was “too metropolitan” for heartland voters. On Saturday, another famous New Yorker, Donald Trump, marks his first year in the White House. Paradoxically, the Manhattan magnate’s supporters are overwhelmingly rural and small-town folks.

Big U.S. cities such as New York and Los Angeles – and even smaller places such as Miami and Dallas – loom large in imaginations far beyond America’s borders. As for Canada, we suspect most people around the world tend to imagine the country as defined more by wilderness than urban life.

Despite the lower profile of Canadian cities, however, they arguably exert more pull in the country’s political life than U.S. cities do south of the border. American cities are culturally potent but politically constrained.

One reason is that a greater share of Canada’s population is clustered in a smaller number of cities. America’s 10 largest cities contain just 8 per cent of the country’s population. The proportion of Canadians who live in Canada’s 10 largest: 31 per cent. That clustering in a relatively small number of places is even more evident when we include the suburbs. If we look at the census metropolitan areas of the top 10 Canadian and U.S. cities, we find about a quarter of Americans (27 per cent) and more than half of Canadians (55 per cent) living there.

But it’s not just the fact of urban living that matters; it’s also the nature of the cities. Canadian cities are some of the most diverse on Earth. The populations of two of its largest, Toronto and Vancouver, are almost half foreign-born and more than two-thirds first– or second-generation Canadian. Our cities are largely products of postwar immigration. The past half-century has been especially important: Canada retired its explicitly racist immigration policies in the 1960s, moving to a points system prizing education and language proficiency, leading to huge inflows of talent, energy and youth from around the world.

The United States also had considerable (but proportionally smaller) migration inflows over the same period, which affected cities profoundly. But U.S. cities were also being shaped by forces related to slavery and segregation. In what’s called the Great Migration, millions of black Americans fleeing the violence and oppression of the Jim Crow South moved to northern cities such as New York, Milwaukee, Detroit and Chicago. In many urban neighbourhoods, as black residents moved in, whites moved out to monocultural suburbs – a pattern sometimes called “white flight.” Redlining – denying services to residents of certain areas – housing discrimination and other racist practices also contributed to the de facto segregation of ostensibly integrated cities. The effects of these policies remain to this day.

It’s true that poverty is racialized in Canada and that this is reflected in some of the residential patterns we see in and around big cities. But Canada never had a demographic upheaval on the scale of the Great Migration, which saw the internal movement of about six million Americans. The story of ethnic concentration in Canada is a nuanced one, shaped directly by discrimination in some cases – and indirectly by economic circumstances born of discrimination – but also often driven by people choosing to be close to others of their own background. Ethnic enclaves can support shops with offerings from “home,” as well as community and religious gathering places. The thriving Chinese community in the affluent Toronto suburb of Markham and the South Asian community in Surrey, B.C., for instance, were formed more by affinity than discrimination (which is not to say their residents don’t experience discrimination – just that it didn’t compel them to live where they live).

Destiny and geography

Another quality that differentiates Canadian cities from American ones is that they are connected to a system – and, importantly, a culture – of economic equalization. Although provinces are responsible for health and education, the federal government redistributes resources with the aim of ensuring that all Canadians enjoy comparable levels of service. This ideology shapes the political culture of provinces and cities as well; when disparities are revealed in the levels of service available to people living in different parts of a larger jurisdiction, Canadians tend to agree – at least in principle – that this is unacceptable.

Americans, with their greater skepticism of government and their greater attachment to local control, are less likely to believe that all Chicagoans, for instance, should enjoy the same quality of services. The fact that excellent schools funded by a strong tax base can be just a few miles away from struggling schools with crumbling infrastructure probably doesn’t thrill most Americans, but it is part of their economic and political tradition. Politically viable responses to such inequity (school vouchers, innovative charter schools) tend to be rooted in more individual choice and more entrepreneurialism, not more redistribution of resources and greater social solidarity across social and geographic boundaries.

The composition and characteristics of each society’s cities have important political implications. In Canada, it’s difficult to win a federal election without winning over immigrants and their children, a powerful presence in many urban and suburban ridings. In the United States, for presidential candidates, the diverse urban vote is useful but not make-or-break. Equally important, the urban vote isn’t always diverse; it can be monocultural. Redrawing electoral boundaries can allow candidates to ignore certain people and still win. North Carolina’s lawmakers have twice been ordered by judicial panels to redraw that state’s electoral map because of extreme gerrymandering – one according to voters’ partisan affiliations, another by race.

As for the U.S. Congress, the composition of the House of Representatives, like our House of Commons, largely reflects the distribution of the population. But the U.S. Senate – much more powerful than our largely advisory upper chamber dedicated to sober second thought – gives hugely disproportionate powers to rural states: Wyoming (population: 585,501) has the same number of senators as California (population: 39.25 million). Indeed, the 26 least populous states, whose 52 senators constitute the majority, represent less than a fifth of the country’s population.

When all these factors are combined, they result in a Canadian political landscape where cities matter enormously and an American political landscape in which it’s possible for national political actors to work around cities.

Canada has racists and racism, and like elsewhere, some of them are feeling emboldened by recent political events. But the mechanics of our political institutions are such that, at the national level, courting the dominant-culture majority at the expense of smaller ethnic or religious groups is a dangerous game, as the Conservatives learned in 2015. In the United States, it can be a winner.

Many factors differentiate Canada from the United States. Our history, our institutions, our values, our public policies are all distinct. The fact that so many of us live so close together in a small number of diverse – in a few cases hyper-diverse – cities is one of the key factors that makes a politically dominant Trump-style backlash on a national scale in this country unlikely.

via Sanctuary cities: Why it’s harder for Trumpism to take root in urban Canada – The Globe and Mail