Everyone has an opinion about immigration. That was clear as Canadian political leaders debated the subject Monday night. It is a major issue in Canada’s federal election. An emotionally charged one.
The truth is that immigration is one of those issues that shouldn’t be a matter of much debate. Canada needs immigrants. We have a big country and a small population. It isn’t as if we don’t have the room.
We also have a low birthrate. If baby boomers like me want to be kept in style in retirement residences and then nursing homes, we need more workers, more people paying taxes.
It often seems though that it is the origin of the immigrants that is at issue, and their ability to become “like us.” Which is where the interesting question begins, where the national debate should begin: do we only want Canadians to be people like us in terms of skin colour language and culture? Or are we open to change?
I’ve never been a fan of change. My life seems to be full of it. Too much at times it seems.
I understand why some people feel threatened as Canadian society has changed and evolved. Our immigrants aren’t coming only from Europe anymore. They are from the Philippines, from India, China, as well as refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa.
There is a perception that foreigners are taking Canadian jobs. Well, immigrants are no longer foreigners, they are Canadians born in other countries. The way our immigration system is set up, they are most likely here because they have job skills Canada needs. (That is not necessarily true for refugees, but they are a small percentage of those who come to our country.)
What do we want Canada to become? Are we willing to consider that we may need to accommodate a new official language, maybe add Mandarin or Arabic to English and French?
The American model sees the United States as a melting pot. If you move there you must suppress your original culture and forget your language. Canada has always been a mosaic. We celebrate multiculturalism and diversity. Has that changed?
Before the election period started, there was already a campaign warning people against “mass immigration.” No definition of course as to exactly what that means.
The Liberal government trying to be re-elected did increase the number of immigrants Canada expects to open the doors to 330,000 people this year, up from about 275,000 five years ago. There may be reason to debate what numbers should be accepted, but that is hardly “mass immigration.” Is it more than Canada can easily assimilate into our culture? Nobody really knows yet.
As we debate the issues in this federal election, let us try to do so rationally. I understand that is a lot to ask. Immigration levels can have an impact on society, they should be discussed. But before we do that, we need to ask what type of country we want. It really isn’t about immigration; it is about who and what we want to be.
What sort of Canada do Canadians want? I don’t think the majority of people have thought that through. Until they do, immigration will remain a divisive election issue.