Immigration Then and Now
By Bill Walton
Sunday, August 16, 2009
I followed the short exchange of ideas on immigration earlier this summer between the Mayor and a Nugget correspondent with my surname, Walton (no relation), with some interest. The question of immigration then hit the national headlines when Canada suddenly required visas of Mexicans coming into our country. How many and what kind of immigrant we welcome may again become an election issue when Count Iggy call us to the polls.
Our Mayor remarked on how important it was to have diversity in our population and reflected on how many of the family names in the city spoke to the success of former immigrants. Ms Walton offered comments on how the GTA was rapidly changing, and in her opinion, not always for the better, because of the current influx of immigrants.
Before the Second World War, most of our immigration flowed from Europe with only small numbers of people from other jurisdictions. These people had their roots in Western culture and they soon adapted to or adopted the Canadian way of life. They accepted the need to learn English or French, understood the workings of British Common Law and found a church, usually Christian, similar to the one they left in their native land.
Touting our model of the mosaic lifestyle, these immigrants had little problem starting clubs that allowed them to keep their folk dances, style of dress, music, foods and so on. They were successful in creating a new home, comfortable in the Canadian way of life. After the War, a new flood of immigrants came, again mostly from the European countries. These people knew the Canadian model and wanted to live here, enjoying the peace and security of Canada. However, this pool of immigrants dried up as Europe settled into a more stable post-war era.
Believing we needed a steady flow of immigrants to keep the economy growing, we began to look for workers from other continents. Where once we looked for people who would fit into the established Canadian way, we now, in a liberal frame of mind, accepted political refugees whose focus was on escaping from their native land, not coming to a place to work and raise their families. Canada became a destination of convenience, rather than a new homeland. These people did not come from countries whose lifestyle, education and philosophies were steeped in the Western culture. Theirs would not be a ready fit into our country.
Where once immigrants knew they would have to adjust and adapt, many of this new generation of immigrants seems to consider our country an extension of their old country. They wish to keep the old ways, religions, traditions and even laws. That these imported actions conflict with the old Canadian values matters not a whit, indeed, our liberal-thinking constructs support the rights and freedoms to such an extent that value systems we once proudly touted are changing our culture. How does one square the right to freedoms of speech and assembly with the Tamil Tiger demonstrations in the past spring? Labelled as terrorists by our government, we still allowed them to disrupt our lives. It is the new Canadian way. One begins to understand why the Americans are leery of us as they mount cameras along the border.
We cannot turn the clock back to the days when immigrant families had a sponsor who assured the State that they would look after the newcomers until they got on their feet. Our system now pays the immigrant families until the time they find a job and can support themselves, a system that begs for abuse. Economic refugees see Canada as haven if not a heaven where you gain the rights of citizenship the moment you step into the country. Indeed it may be a heaven but to those who placed a value on the old Canadian way of life, it is, as Ms Walton said, not always so.
Do we need the large number of immigrants we accept? When our unemployment rate is staggering in some parts of the country, one wonders. However, the capitalist system, under which we labour, requires an endless growth by the consumer. We need the people who arrived here with nothing but a suitcase to buy into the system and keep the economy rolling. If the suitcase is full of money, so much the better. As our population in the West ages and discovers that it does not need more consumer goods, we have to bring in people to take up the market slack. It is no longer our immigration policy to offer a home for the displaced or needy, but a consumer-driven economic policy.
Whether we agree with the present system or not, the door to Canada is not only open, it has been removed from the hinges. Our old value systems are being replaced and only time will tell whether we are headed for a new Dark Ages or Nirvana. The Age of Reason has slipped our grasp and we have latched onto the Age of Consumerism. Welcome to the global village.