Canada’s position as a world leader on immigration has stalled in recent years as protectionism politics has crept forth in gathering waves. To stay at the forefront there must be a constant regeneration from within. Like the successful hockey team that rests on its laurels, Canada is at risk of being overtaken by ambitious rivals investing in modern ideas that render previous policies outdated.
But now Canada is on the cusp of returning to its position as a country that welcomes immigrants and refugees, accepts them into society and gives them a new start. As many countries are witnessing a rise in nationalist debate, illustrated by the UK’s departure from the European Union and Donald Trump’s ever-more realistic US presidency bid, Canada, through its young and iconic prime minister, leads a pro-immigration government.
John Ralston Saul, president emeritus of PEN International and co-chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, makes some key policy suggestions in his recent essay as part of The Globe and Mail’s Six Degrees: Experiments in Pluralism series.
He calls for modern policies that reflect Canada’s history as a country built on ‘the wealth of public education’.
To Saul, himself the descended of a great-grandfather who came to Canada as an indentured child after being left by his parents on the streets of London, this means a society built from top to bottom on welcoming new immigrants, quickly calibrating them with a social system and way of life, and giving them all the tools they need to thrive and, in doing so, add economic benefits to the Canadian economy.
Saul writes: “Canada has been built in good part by people who arrived in need, received some form of support, and reinvented themselves.”
Saul’s Ideas on How Canada Should Facilitate Integration of Immigrants
- More teachers and smaller class sizes, so that new immigrant children are not lost in a sea of different cultures without the kind of guidance needed to properly adjust.
- More mentoring programs like Pathways to Education to give children and parents ‘the support of established citizens’.
- More and better diversity programs in schools, colleges, universities and governments that mirror the type available in large corporations.
- Courses on how our bureaucracies work, on regulatory structures, on business law, on the culture of business in Canada.
- Readily available advice on building professional networks from chambers of commerce and business schools, broken down to the basics of how business works in Canada. Saul urges Canada to catch up with the likes of the Netherlands and Finland in this respect.
- Using the skills of newcomers, from recognising overseas qualifications to taking advantage of foreign language competency in a global business arena.
- Follow in the footsteps of Germany by setting up clear, efficient equivalency rules for immigrating professionals. It is one thing to encourage equal treatment of immigrants and another entirely to build equal treatment into the law.
Saul points to studies which confirm that immigrants are significantly more likely to set up their own businesses as a basis for his argument. He builds on this by suggesting the way Statistics Canada figures on business ownership work means that after a generation, a business is Canadian. It means there is no tracking of businesses started by second, third and fourth-generation immigrants.
Saul writes: “My own sense is that the way we do our numbers is causing us to miss a revolutionary phenomenon – the rebirth of an economy of multigenerational, private, family-owned corporations.”
He could also further build on this argument. Statistics Canada figures also show that the children of immigrants outperform their Canadian counterparts in terms of both high school and university graduation. Canadian-educated immigrants are everywhere in Canadian society, doing important jobs which help drive the economy.
Contribution of Immigrant Children
|Admission class||Graduated high-school (%)||Graduated university (%)||Average earnings ($)|
|Privately sponsored refugees||91.2||31.7||43,900|
|Refugees landed in Canada||91.4||29.4||35,400|
|THIRD GENERATION CANADIAN (OR MORE)||88.8||24.4||46,100|
Figures: Statistics Canada
Additionally, there is a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which confirms immigration boosts foreign investment by developing strong bonds with other nations. Syria may not be in a position to invest in Canada in the present day, but with close to an estimated 50,000 refugees likely to have permanent residency by the end of 2016, links between the two countries will endure for decades. Evidence shows those links lead directly to investment in Canadian businesses.
Even more fundamentally, working population figures from Statistics Canada show how the Canadian-born labour force is declining, and that gap is being filled by immigrants. This means Canada’s future economic growth will rely more on immigrants coming in to fill the shortfall.
Saul is vehemently against the type of residency-by-investment policies that are increasing in popularity globally. He makes a sound argument that selling residency and citizenship is an ethical clash with welcoming refugees, but acknowledges there is also the need for a balance with economic immigration.
Canada currently has no meaningful investment program at the federal level, following the scrapping of the Immigrant Investor Program and the unpopular introduction of the Immigrant Investor Venture Capital Pilot Program. Meanwhile, the provincial Quebec Immigrant Investor Program is as controversial as it is successful. If a federal-level program was carefully formed with the right balance of terms and conditions, it could have a positive impact on the Canadian economy. There could also be an opportunity to use some of the generated funds to assist Syrian refugees or other groups in crisis. If the benefits were large enough, a well-administered Canadian investment immigration program has its place. Saul fails to address this reality.
Saul also has strong views on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program because of the lack of a pathway to residency and citizenship. Again, this is a program that has its place, if administered correctly. There is no doubt it has been misused in recent history, but if the regulations are properly enforced it acts as a key labour force provider.
The suggestion by Saul and others that temporary foreign workers should be given a pathway to permanent residency appears short-sighted. Migrant workers and Canadians alike must be protected against exploitation by employers. However, low-skilled foreign workers who choose to apply to work in Canada must do so knowing that their relocation has a finite term and those who cannot find a permanent pathway to Canada through existing programs, will be required to leave afterwards.
Saul concludes by stating that immigrants who come to Canada, regardless of how they get here, are motivated to reinvent themselves for the new beginning they are being offered. Our social policies are now required to match that effort. Only then can the true benefit of being the world’s leading immigrant-welcoming society, be truly realised.
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