Immigration Must Be An Election Issue

Immigration must be an election issue

Ambassador James Bissett
Canadian Centre For Policy Studies
September 10, 2008

In his September 6 column in the National Post, Robert Fulford wrote that the forthcoming election was one that was going nowhere. One of the reasons it may be going nowhere is because some of the most important issues facing Canada are not going to be discussed. One of the most critical of these is immigration. Canada is facing an immigration crisis but immigration policy will not be on the agenda of any of the political parties.

In the so-called ethnic ridings each of the parties will promise to keep immigration levels high and will repeat the myth that we need immigration to combat our aging population and keep the economy growing by supplying desperately needed skilled workers for our labour force. Most economists in Canada and elsewhere have concluded that immigration does little to enhance the economy and that immigrants cost more in the benefits they receive than in the taxes they contribute. However, our politicians are not concerned about facts they are concerned about votes and see every new immigrant as a potential voter. What counts for our politicians is numbers.

There are now almost one million people waiting in the immigration backlog. All of them have met the requirements and by law must eventually be issued a visa to come here. Most of these immigrants are coming from Asian countries: China, India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Iran. Many of them are the parents or grand parents of people already living here. Furthermore, the Conservatives have promised that next year they plan to raise the annual immigration intake to 265,000. The Liberals and the New Democrats want even more. They believe we should be accepting 1% of our population, or in other words, 330,000 newcomers annually.

These are high numbers and added to them are thousands of so-called temporary workers who are brought here by employers to fill temporary needs. Many of these workers are unskilled and few will go home when their visa expires.

Canadians are led to believe that most of the immigrants and temporary workers are selected because they have skills, education and training that will enable them to contribute to our (and their) economic welfare. The fact is that only about 17% of our immigration intake is selected for economic reasons. The remaining 83% come to Canada because they have been sponsored by their relatives or because they are refugees, or there are humanitarian reasons for admitting them. Its little wonder then that 51% of those immigrants who have landed since the early 1990s are living below the poverty line.

Few Canadians would oppose uniting immigrant families or would reject genuine refugees, but it is unlikely they would approve a policy that resulted in over 80% of the immigration flow consisting of unselected family, refugees and humanitarian cases. If this is the rationale for our immigration policy then it is wrong headed – and worse – it is ineffectual.

There are more effective ways of helping resolve global refugee and humanitarian problems than by immigration. Augmented developmental assistance and increased financial contributions to international refugee organizations would be more useful. More to the point, our politicians do not justify the high numbers on humanitarian grounds but tell us immigration is for the benefit of our economy and our labour force – and this is simply not true.

It is likely the coming election will focus on the state of the Canadian economy and possibly on the environment, but although immigration impacts adversely on both of these issues immigration will not be raised as a subject of debate or discussed at all.

There seems little question that we are headed for a recession or worse. Already Ontario has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs and is slipping into the unenviable ranks of the have not provinces but no one is suggesting that perhaps it would be a wise course to slow down the enormous intake of immigrants. Every study about the impact of immigration on the labour force demonstrates that it lowers the wage rate of native workers but has insignificant effect on overall economic prosperity.

Canadians are known to have one of the largest ecological footprints of any country in the world and every immigrant who enters Canada from Asia within several months acquires a similar size footprint as the average Canadian. The extraordinary high levels of immigration since the early 1990s destined to Canadas three major urban centres of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, have caused serious environmental problems: traffic congestion, garbage disposal, escalating health, education and social welfare costs, as well as rising crime rates. Sadly, the stress on an already eroding infrastructure caused by massive immigration is a subject that cannot be discussed because of an ideological hang up about multiculturalism and diversity which for some reason now symbolizes the twin pillars of the new Canadian identity.

Time is running out for Canada and unless immigration becomes an issue that can be openly and vigorously debated as an important issue of public policy we will find that without knowing it our country has been radically changed. There are those who might believe this change to be necessary and beneficial and they may be right, but surely it is important enough to be discussed at the political level during an election campaign.


James Bissett is a Distinguished Fellow at the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies. He is the former head of Immigration Services in Canada and was Canada's ambassador to a number of countries, including its last in Yugoslavia.