A LABOUR DAY MESSAGE FOR CANADA’S LABOUR PARTY
By Tim Murray
The results of the latest Angus Reid Institute poll of immigration sentiments was like a bucket of ice water thrown in the face of Canada’s political class. Pundits and professional politicians of all stripes affected shock and dismay over the ARI finding that half of Canadians surveyed would prefer that the federal government reduce its current immigration intake targets.
Given the fact that historical polling data of the past 40 years has suggested that the number of Canadians who favour the status quo or an increase in immigration has, despite fluctuations, consistently remained over fifty percent, this most recent data evidence reveals, in ARI’s words, “a notable change.” They continue, “As immigration targets have risen from 260,000 to 310,000 between 2014 and 2018, so too have the number of people saying there should be fewer immigrants to Canada: one-third (36%) said this in 2014, half (49%) say it now.” http://angusreid.org/Canadian-immigration-trend-data
Among the many key findings was that at least four in ten of supporters of all main political parties, favoured reduction. That includes 39% of both NDP and Liberal supporters, and 67% of Conservative supporters. And for every one Liberal or NDP supporter who wanted to see immigration levels increased, four wanted to see them decreased.
If one reflects on these findings, one can only marvel at the sharp contrast between the wishes of ordinary supporters of all parties and the agenda of the political parties they vote for, the parties who claim to represent their will.
When Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s government recklessly escalated immigration quotas in 1991 purely for political advantage, the other parties fell in step. Hyper immigration became a bipartisan position, and in the Harper years, all parties more or less agreed to the one percent solution. That is, the federal government should aspire to take in annual numbers of immigrants equivalent to one percent of the national population. While Stephen Harper made strides in that direction, Justin Trudeau has raised the bar toward the stratosphere. From roughly 250,000 per year upon assuming office, 300,000 migrants per year became “the new normal’ in 2017, or rather, the permanent floor below which no future Immigration Minister would go. From there it rose to 310,000 for this year and promises to rise to 340,000 in 2020. That will make it about 0.9 per cent of the population. As the late Karen Carpenter would have put it, “We’ve only just begun.”
The Angus Reid poll indicates in unequivocal terms that eight in ten Canadians feel that they are helpless passengers on a runaway train. And three in ten want the engineer to take it no faster, while five in ten of them—49% to be precise—want him to stop and then go into reverse. These poll results stand as an indictment of the Canadian political system and of the oligarchic leadership of all of its major parliamentary parties.
But for the NDP, the judgment is even more damning.
The reason is simple. Alone of all parties, the historic mission of the NDP , and its predecessor, the CCF, WAS to defend and advance the interests of Canada’s ordinary working people. And to do that, the leadership of this party should have the same fundamental grasp of labour economics that CCF founder J.S. Woodsworth did. Woodsworth understood better than any union or political party, that the best friend of the working man is a tight labour market. He understood that the wages and working conditions of ordinary workers was adversely affected by any policy that would grow the labour pool beyond a level which exceeded the demand for labour. He realized that nothing hurt them more than the importation of cheap foreign labour in tough times. For that reason, he favoured a “tap on, tap off” immigration policy. When the economy was growing, the federal government was justified in turning the tap on. But when the economy was shrinking, it had a moral responsibility to turn it off. And if it rebounded, but high interest rates, tariffs and permanently cancelled pipeline projects were on the horizon, as they are now, under Woodsworth’s watch , the tap would remain off until the coast was clear and the economy securely on its feet. In other words J.S. Woodsworth, the fabled democratic socialist, was an immigration restrictionist.
Not so this contemporary crop of parliamentary social democrats, obviously. Not so the NDP leadership. Not only have they lost contact with the grand traditions and principles of the NDP and CCF of the past, not only have they lost touch with the wisdom of Woodsworth and the socialists of his generation, but they have lost touch with the desires and views of their own supporters today. Especially the 59% of working poor, the people with a high school education or less who, according to Angus Reid, want to see immigration drop. Samuel Gompers, the famous American union leader who helped the Canadian Trades and Labour Congress with money and organizers, was right: “Immigration is, fundamentally, a labour issue.” And a party that claims to speak for the working class must take a particular interest in a labour-friendly immigration policy.
The Angus Reid poll on immigration carries a Labour Day message for the NDP. The message is as clear as it is simple. It is a message that the party hierarchy will continue to ignore at its peril:
More than three times as many NDP supporters want to see immigration levels reduced as want to see them increased. 74% of NDP supporters do not want to see immigration levels increased.
Translation: STOP HURTING US.