Canada’s Recent Immigration Policies, Recession and Globalization

By Author: Admin | November 20, 2010

The Great Recession has contributed strongly to the development of xenophobic anxiety on the part of many Canadians. During times of economic duress, it is not uncommon to direct fear, doubt, etc. on enemies both foreign and domestic, both real and imagined. Witness, of late, the Federal Government’s attempts at limiting immigration, either through hard caps of skilled workers, the crackdown on in-Canada spousal sponsorships, required (yet illegal) language testing for all economic migrants.

Frequent readers of this blog have probably augured that this government is particularly uncomfortable with the idea of immigration. Further, they also believe that their apprehension is a reflection of the apprehension of the population as a whole. While it is likely that the Conservatives are merely playing to their reactionary base (those individuals who read the Sun for the articles and not for its, er, page three assets), they have nevertheless gambled that the average Canadian no longer cares about Canada’s role in protecting those who are desperate enough to pay everything they have to get on a leaky boat to travel thousands of kilometres to a place they know almost nothing about.

First, an historical context. After World War II, Canada had the world’s fourth largest navy, and fourth largest air force, and was seen as an influential middle power. In the post-war period, Canada took on human rights obligations in accordance with the signing of international treaties. Canadians took pride in their country’s internationalist approach during the Cold War period. The break-down of state Communism in the 1990s left an ideological vacuum, for which nationalism (ethnic and otherwise) duly filled in all of its myriad reactionary forms.

(Aside: Nationalism is a primitive form of arbitrarily defined ethics. It requires an “other”, characterized intermittingly as nefarious or incompetent, for which the “self” is viewed as superior (morally, physically, and intellectually). This “ideology” has been used to justify any number of objectively heinous acts in third world countries, and in Western society has been fairly moderate, yet obnoxious, in implementation. In times of collective stress, it is natural for a society to intellectually regress to an atavist state.)

“Preserving the national character” has been a frequent justification for limits on immigration, but it relies on a semblance of a cohesive national self-identity. Canada’s history of two nations, one English, one French, precluded the adoption of that justification, since their nationalistic sentiments were mostly aimed at each other (when they were not aimed at the United States). While other Western countries in the past twenty (20) years have erected barriers to immigration (legal and literal), Canada has assumed a very tolerant stance (by comparison) of immigration. More recent curbs on immigration have been justified by socioeconomic reasons – the protection of domestic jobs from foreign individual competitors, specifically.

As I have previously mentioned, the recent Canadian resentment towards refugees is a product of the frustration of economic loss of jobs to China and India. Just as the US textile industry moved from New Hampshire, to North Carolina to South Carolina, to Mexico, to Central America, and then to the Far East, Canada’s textile industry had a similar migration: from Kitchener/Waterloo and then to East Asia.

To study global business today is to witness the rise of India as an aggressive economic power in the world,  not to mention the phenomenon of China becoming the world’s workshop.

The subject of the growing power of China and India is recognized by the educated classes in North America and has been felt initially by the blue collar job holders in Canada and the US in an obvious way (i.e. the loss of jobs due to low wage arbitrage).  However, the cheap cost of long-distance communication has caused many white-collar jobs in North America to also become vulnerable to labour arbitrage (such as legal services.)

Canada’s reliance for exports on a very shaky US economy has exacerbated fears of many Canadians.  Even relatively large liberal cities such as Toronto have seen this fear manifest in the election of a plainly right-wing Mayor whose blithely expressed views vary from uninformed to astonishingly callous.

However, while recent trends are understandable in the greater context of current events, history, etc., they are not justified. Recent proposals intent on limiting immigration serve only to sate collective fear, lacking any empirical evidence of harm caused. People who leave their country to claim refugee protection may or may not meet the definition of “Convention Refugee,” but they do not run around murdering, maiming, stealing, etc. en masse. Most are not criminals, they are desperate. Desperate enough to pay everything they have to get on a boat and travel across an ocean, even though there is a possibility that the boat may sink or they may be ordered overboard by a greedy smuggler not wishing to make the whole trip. It is doubtful that such people would be dissuaded by detainment in Canadian prison. Thus, if the intention is to lessen the burden of Canadians by those who don’t deserve protection, why would detainment (which can cost $40,000/year) be preferable to allowing them to work and live on their own while they await the outcome of the proceeding?

The currently tabled refugee legislation should be examined in the following criteria: “is the problem credible or imagined?” and “if credible, does the proposed solution solve this problem?” As I have stated, the fear of “criminal” refugees running amok is almost entirely imagined by the reactionary and xenophobic press, and, even if it were true, locking up the “safe” individuals indiscriminately actually fosters more of a burden on Canadians than they experience under the current “lax” system. Thus, at best, this bill is merely an opportunity for the government to grandstand in front of the Conservative base – at worst, as I have stated previously, it is an opportunity for Canadians to seriously consider privatizing prisons to hold these people, which would make some well-connected people very wealthy at the expense of the Canadian taxpayer.


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