Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More to Immigration Than Importing Labour

Small-minded views on immigration threaten Canadian identity

Of the many things Canadians take in pride in about their country, multiculturalism is generally one of them.

Naturally, not everyone agrees with multicultural policy. In particular, many conservative-minded Canadians oppose multiculturalism because they feel it undermines the traditional Canadian identity -- one these particular individuals view as predominantly European and white.

Meanwhile for many Canadians multiculturalism seems to be largely irrelevant. Instead, they view immigration simply as an economic tool -- one in which they can find extra bodies to fill jobs.

Speaking alongside Leon Benoit in Lloydminster, Jason Kenney notes that he expects the current economic climate in Canada to reduce levels of immigration. Regardless of this expectation, the Conservative government is working on ways to streamline the immigration process in order to admit more workers to Canada.

Kenney and Benoit were in Lloydminster to discuss precisely that initiative.

"It’s a chance to meet people who are key in the community and figure out what the federal government can do to help them make sure the economy stays strong in this region," Kenney said. "Across Western Canada, we’re talking about tens of thousands of jobs that would go unfilled, businesses that would go down and bankrupt if they could not find temporary workers."

"Immigration is the sort of thing you just don’t want to do a short term knee-jerk reaction, you want to plan for the medium term, and that’s what we’re doing," Kenney explained. "We consulted industry and all of the provinces just a couple months ago and they all said we should probably keep levels about where they’re at now."

Of course, there's a serious problem with treating immigration mainly as an economic tool.

While it is a reality that immigration needs to be economically sustainable, acting recklessly upon some of the other preferences reportedly expressed -- toughening refugee policies and reducing government funding for groups serving minority communities -- would imperil multiculturalism in Canada.

Toughening refugee policies too much could result in refugees who deserve to be allowed into Canada based on merit being turned away. Reducing the funding for groups that serve minority communities would make it harder for new arrivals to adjust to Canadian society -- ironically, one of the concerns Kenney raised while in Lloydminster.

Reducing immigration to a mere economic tool is a formula for a more insular, parochial Canadian society -- one of the absolute last things Canada needs.

It seems that Jason Kenney and Leon Benoit may not fully understand this.

"People were asking about serious issues … and problems that need to be solved," Benoit added. "We have accomplished a high percentage of things that I recommended as critic, things I saw were wrong."

"Does that mean there’s nothing to do? Well you heard tonight: there is."

While Canadian immigration policies are far from perfect, the government needs to be very careful regarding which reforms it chooses to pursue.

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