New Lobby Group Aims To Stir Serious Debate On Immigration Levels

New lobby group aims to stir serious debate on immigration levels

By Norma Greenaway
Postmedia News
September 27, 2010

OTTAWA—-The federal government should consider cutting the number of immigrants accepted in Canada and avert the kind of anti-immigrant sentiment wave hitting parts of Europe, says a founder of a new immigration lobby group.

James Bissett, a former Canadian diplomat, said Monday the group wants to challenge the conventional wisdom that immigration is needed to fuel Canada's economic growth and to fill current and future labour shortages.

“Why do we feel we have to keep bringing in large number of migrants to fill our labour needs when there are large numbers of Canadians, aboriginals and other Canadians, out of work?” Bissett asked in an interview.

He was speaking on the eve of the public launch Tuesday of the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform, a group that boasts some prominent public servants and former diplomats. Among them are Derek Burney, a one-time adviser to Stephen Harper and a former ambassador to Washington; Martin Collacott, a former ambassador and senior fellow at the Fraser Institute; and businessman Peter White, a former top adviser to Brian Mulroney.

Bissett said the group wants to provoke what it considers a long-overdue debate on the merits of bringing in about 250,000 immigrants and upwards of 175,000 temporary foreign workers each year.

“It may be a completely hopeless task we've gone out on here, but we'd like to raise the profile of the issue and get people to think about it a little bit and ask questions,” said Bissett, a one-time ambassador to the former Yugoslavia who spent much of his career working on immigration issues in Ottawa and abroad.

“We shouldn't wait until, you know, an extreme right-wing party rises up and starts saying, 'Get rid of immigrants.' ”

Bissett said he wants to believe that wouldn't happen in Canada. But, he added, nobody would have thought anti-immigrant parties would make the inroads they have now made in Hungary, the Netherlands and other European countries, he said.

The most recent breakthrough was in Sweden, where the Sweden Party snagged 20 seats and six per cent of the vote after running a campaign that depicted immigrants as threatening and on the dole.

Bissett said the new Canadian group is not anti-immigration or anti-refugee. There will always be a need for newcomers in Canada, he said.

But it does want to stir debate about how many immigrants Canada can absorb while still providing the newcomers with the economic and social security they seek.

He argued new studies have suggested recent immigrants are not doing as well as immigrants who arrived 25 years ago.

Bissett blamed the decline on an overpopulation of immigrants, and said all future immigrants should be selected almost exclusively on whether they have the skills to fill labour voids.

Bissett said the group expects a tough uphill climb, in part because all four federal parties fall into the camp of promoting immigration.

“In the late '80s and early '90s, politicians realized that in order to win the ethnic community vote, they had to appear very pro-immigration,” he said. “They began to rise immigration levels (regardless of) whether the economy indicated they were required or whether there were shortages.”