Britain votes on and Canada refuses to discuss immigration
Ottawa Bureau Chief,
Astral Media Radio
Wed, 2010-05-05 21:32.
Today Britons head to the polls to elect a new government and new will be a likely outcome. After 13 years of Labour rule it appears Gordon Brown will be sent packing the question is, will David Cameron squeak out a slim majority or will his Conservatives find themselves in the same territory as their Canadian cousins, a minority government.
Gordon Brown's fate was likely sealed long before he ever met Gillian Duffy but the long time Labour voters question on immigration and Brown's later dismal of her as a bigot, while still wearing a microphone, seems to be the defining moment in the Scotsman's demise. Immigration is a big issue in Britain, not just because certain neighbourhoods in Sheffield have been transformed into South Asian ghettos but also because of mass migration from places like Poland. Unlike Canada, Britain is not a country based on large-scale immigration; the last decade of record intake is probably the biggest change in ethnic make-up since the Normans conquered England in 1066.
All of the parties have policies on immigration, the Conservatives want to reduce the total number back to the level of the 1990s, Labour wants to introduce controls based on the Australian points system and the Liberal Democrats are calling for both an amnesty program for illegal immigrants and a National Border Force to enforce the law. What is refreshing is that unlike Canada, Britain is having a debate about immigration, one central to their election campaign; here in Canada the only debate is how many more can we take.
Regardless of party, federal politicians in Canada are of a uniform position, immigration is always good and the more the better. The current immigration minister, Jason Kenney, currently under fire for tinkering with the system, is perhaps the most pro-immigration politician I have ever met, right after his official critics who say we need more, more, more. In Canada the question you cannot ask is, are we taking in too many immigrants?
Now just to stop and address the idea that I may be writing this because I am racist or anti-immigrant, there are a few points to get clear.
1. I am not advocating reducing immigration numbers, just pointing out the lack of debate on the issue in this country.
2. My entire family is made of immigrants, until my own children were born I, along with my brother and sister, were the only ones in my family lineage born in Canada. Tracing my family tree in this country still means calling my mother.
In the first nine months of 2009 Canada accepted 195,803 new permanent residents, this includes family class immigrants, economic immigrants and refugees. On top of that Canada also allowed an additional 311,580 temporary residents which includes students, foreign workers and “others.” Combined, that means that Canadian communities needed to accommodate, on a temporary or permanent basis, an additional 507,383 people in less than a single year. The numbers are up from 2008 when the total was 515,034; up again from 2007's total of 429,649 and far in excess of the 2006 tally of 370,000.
Think about that, each year Canada needs to settle a population that is equal to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, three times the size of Oakville, Ontario or three and a half times the population of Prince Edward Island. That kind of mass settlement program places tremendous strain on the local municipalities that provide services, it places tremendous strain on the school systems and health care systems. And it places tremendous strains on the immigrant families themselves.
When my parents came to this country in 1968 the average immigrant worker caught up to their Canadian born counterpart in terms of pay within five years, that figure is now greater than 10 years. The past twenty-five years of Canadian immigration policy has failed immigrant families in a key marker, the ability to make a better life.
We need an immigration policy and system in Canada that works for immigrants and works for the country, right now I'm not sure we have that and none of us will be sure about that until we have a full and frank discussion on the issue.
Brian Lilley is the Ottawa Bureau Chief for Astral Media Radio. Follow Brian on Twitter.