McDougall wins battle to increase immigration— Minister sees new source of voters for Conservatives
HUGH WINSOR. The Globe and Mail. Toronto, Ont.: Oct 24, 1990. pg. A.1
Ottawa ONT — BY HUGH WINSOR Parliamentary Bureau OTTAWA
Immigration Minister Barbara McDougall has won a major cabinet battle by convincing her colleagues that increased immigration will be good for Canada economically and provide the Conservatives with a new source of voters, sources say.
Despite concerns about the social and financial impact of increased immigration and doubts about the country's ability to assimilate new arrivals at the current rate, Ms McDougall will announce tomorrow that Canada will begin accepting up to 250,000 immigrants a year.
This is a substantial increase over the authorized level of 175,000 for the current year (which estimates suggests will be surpassed by about 25,000 people) and a large jump from the levels in place when the Tories took power. (In 1984, immigration had dropped to a decade low of 84,000 landings.) To win her case, Ms McDougall had to convince the other senior minister from Toronto, Finance Minister Michael Wilson.
In the short run, Mr. Wilson has to worry about the budgetary impact of up to $500-million in additional costs to the federal government over the five years of the increased immigration. Ottawa currently spends about $135-million a year directly on immigration reception services.
He was also concerned about criticism from provincial governments, which argue that they will be stuck with additional education and social- program costs without any offsetting increases from the federal treasury.
The pro-immigration argument cites the additional taxes that the provinces will collect as the result of increased economic activity.
However, given the ambiguity of the economic arguments, Ms McDougall carried the day by stressing the benefits to the Progressive Conservative Party from increased immigration, especially in urban areas such as Southern Ontario.
Ms McDougall's own riding of St. Paul's in downtown Toronto is extremely sensitive to immigration issues, and the political aspect of the issue is underlined by the fact that the minister's principal policy adviser on immigration is her chief of staff, Ruth Archibald, who used to be a full-time Tory organizer.
Creating new potential links to the Conservative Party echoes a theme taken up at the last national Conservative convention by the minister responsible for multiculturalism, Gerry Weiner. He talked about ways the Tories could try to make inroads among ethnic-minority voters, who have long been considered partial to the Liberals.
The new targets would not include the 30,000 to 40,000 a year who have been arriving in Canada claiming refugee status, an influx that is adding to the burden of the backlogged Immigration and Refugee Board.
Providing language training, adjustment allowances and other reception services, as well as recruiting, screening and processing the additional immigrants, will have a substantial impact on the government's finances.
The cabinet established the immigration levels for the next five years, as required by legislation, after a major consultation process undertaken by the Immigration Department and hearings by a special parliamentary committee.
Some ethnic-minority and multicultural groups have advocated a target equal to 1 per cent of the Canadian population (about 265,000 immigrants a year) while other witnesses have urged caution.
The cabinet, at Ms McDougall's urging, decided to override a recommendation by the Commons committee to hold immigration levels steady until language and other services can accommodate the increased levels.
The new levels will be justified on humanitarian and demographic grounds, including a concern that the Canadian population will begin to decrease early in the next century because of the low reproduction rates of today's families.
But included in the internal debate about increased immigration was a consideration of the political potential for the Conservative Party in establishing stronger links with the ethnic communities.
Questioned about these potential links, Ms McDougall said in an interview that “the day is long gone when immigrants or any particular group are captive of any one political party,” and she acknowledged that in the cabinet discussions she talked about an immigration increase in those terms.
Any party is not doing its job if it fails to reach out to the new ethnic groups, she said.
Although the Immigration Department produced a study that emphasized the positive economic aspects of more immigration, other studies questioned the over-all (or macroeconomic) impact.
There have also been concerns about the social impact of injecting more people from Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Caribbean and Africa at a rapid rate.
As the department's background papers for the consultation exercise pointed out, 70 per cent of Canada's immigrants currently come from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Thirty years ago, 80 per cent of all immigrants came from Europe or countries of European heritage.
The practical aspects of these concerns were felt in the dispute over allowing Mounties of Sikh extraction to wear turbans and in the controversy over whether Sikh students should be allowed to carry ceremonial daggers to school.
Some of these reactions amount to racism, Ms McDougall said, and “we have to be vigilant about that. The Sikhs have lived in Canada peacefully for 100 years and we have to bring some balance to that.”
The government is stressing the potential long-term benefit from increased immigration, citing Statistics Canada data suggesting that immigrants bring with them up to $6-billion for capital investment and have a higher rate of self-employment than native-born Canadians.
The statistics cited by the department also suggest foreign-born people of working age are less likely to receive social assistance than other Canadians and that foreign-born residents of Canada have higher average incomes and lower unemployment rates.
But a major study of immigration by the Economic Council of Canada questions the over-all impact. ECC economist Neil Swan told the Commons committee that his tentative results suggested that “the economic impacts of immigration are not nearly as large as the public generally perceives them to be, whether positive or negative.” He said decisions about immigration should be made on non-economic grounds.
Ms McDougall acknowledged that the measurable impact of more immigration may not be large, “but what doesn't show up in the economic measures is energy, optimism, capacity to work hard and all of those things that immigrants bring wherever they come from. . . . I don't think you can measure that, whatever the academics might say.”
Two recently published studies conclude that a shift in the qualifications of recent immigrants means that earlier calculations about economic impact should be reassessed.
Shirley Seward, director of research for the Institute for Research on Public Policy, told the Commons committee that she had changed her mind about the adaptive capacities of immigrants after studying the most recent census.
Because of the shift from independent immigrants (who are selected on their ability to contribute to the Canadian economy) to family-class immigrants, “there are groups which will face difficulties,” Ms Seward said.
She said many of today's immigrants are now employed in declining industries, and she questioned whether they have the skills or the language capacity to find new jobs easily.
Donald DeVoretz, an economist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, has developed statistics that question the traditional assumption that immigration is an engine for economic growth.
Because most of the immigrants who have come to Canada since 1978 (when the family class was introduced) are less educated and less able to speak English or French than their predecessors, their earnings have dropped dramatically.