Monday, March 30, 2009


No doubt daunted by his near-death experience at the hands of the coalition as well as the impressive emergence of Michael Ignatieff as his chief opponent, Steve Harper is getting ready to leave office. The signs are unmistakable.

In a democracy such as ours, when a government believes it has not long to go before the people kick its ass out of office, there is a certain protocol it follows. It makes patronage appointments of its people to boards, commissions, the bench, etc. with unseemly haste and efficiency. An example was the orgy of eighteen Senate appointments made by the Prime Minister just before Christmas after having been nearly done in by the coalition. Near its end, a government also promotes some of its stalwarts into sinecures of the public service or international institutions, with cushy jobs, generous pensions and so forth. An example of this is the attempt to foist the callow and inexperienced Peter McKay onto NATO as its Secretary General.

When it believes that it is about to be gassed, a government also embarks on enacting policy on the fly in order to implement some of its cherished beliefs before being confined to the trash-heap of history. This is what Harper seems to be doing at the moment through his motor mouth surrogate Jason Kenney, Canada’s Immigration minister.

Kenney has called for a new policy requiring that new immigrants to Canada be competent in speaking one of Canada’s two official languages. The view is that immigrants are happier if they can communicate in the language of their adopted homeland. Furthermore, the theory goes that if they don’t speak the language of their new home, they are at an economic and social disadvantage.

That may be true, but so what? I grew up in a community of not more than 800 souls where almost everybody was just off the boat or first generation born Canadians. If they spoke English at all, it was usually with an accent. It was a community comprised primarily of unskilled immigrants from the four corners of Eastern and Western Europe. They came over to make a better life for themselves and their families and to provide new and better opportunities for their children. They were not doctors, engineers, or professionals. They were hardscrabble labourers who worked with their hands and their backs. Most knew not a word of English or French when they arrived in town, unless they happened to be from the U.K., France or Belgium. There were some who never learned how to speak any of our official languages. This was particularly so of women who were not in traditional workplaces. They were mothers and homemakers who were pretty good at what they did. With the husband bringing home the pay cheque and the homemaker taking good care of the kids, these families produced significant numbers of engineers, geologists, school teachers, doctors, lawyers, professors, and people with great technical skills. This process for new Canadians continues to this very day. The vast majority of immigrants to Canada are the salt of the earth. They come here to work and to make a better life for their families. They have succeeded magnificently, and continue to do so.

What Kenney is really doing, no doubt with the support of his leader is trying to enact some Reform/Alliance driven pipedream about getting the “right” immigrants into this country. As though we have not got the “right immigrants” coming into this country as we speak. As though indeed, we have been getting the “wrong immigrants” over lo these many years that we have been taking in immigrants.

There is nothing wrong with our immigration policy. It ain’t broke! Canada is bringing in people who are taking the biggest risks of their lives to seek a better life for their children, and they are prepared to work like hell to attain it. No labour is too menial or too difficult for them so long as they are confident that they are getting ahead and that their families will have a better life than had they continued to reside in their homeland.

The lunatic fringe of the Conservative party is comprised of the Reform/Alliance crowd inflicted on this country by Preston Manning, Stockwell Day and now Stephen Harper. Jason Kenney is their poster-boy. This element of the Conservative party has never been comfortable with immigration of the unskilled who spoke a foreign tongue, and who had nothing to offer except blood, toil and sweat to get ahead. Those Conservatives have not learned that it is precisely those immigrants who have made this country as great as it is today by instilling the values of hard work, sacrifice and respect for education into their children and grandchildren. It is not by accident that Canada stands at the forefront of the family of nations in terms of its standard of living and strong institutions. And for that we should always thank a generous and understanding immigration policy that has made that possible.


WesternGrit said...

Great post Darryl. I might add that these immigrants are precisely the ones that it is easy to scapegoat for "stealing our jobs"... I mean, in a country with a severe doctor shortage, or where few of the working class end up University Professors, it is hard to convince "Joe Public" to hate them... Now if you have someone of a different "color" or "accent" "taking" an assembly line job, or a construction job, just when these jobs are on the wane... look-out! Or, at least, that's what the Reform Party (ie the "Rablerousing Party", aka the Conservatives) are hoping to do. This is a last ditch effort to "convert" suburban white GTA'ers, etc.

Sure he is playing to the grassroots, but in trying economic times, there is something much bigger afoot here... and much more insidious.

Ted said...

Having lost all credibility on economic conservativism, having done nothing to turn the tide of encroaching federalism, having abandoned all conservative democratic and senate ideals, Harper has but one way to re-energize the base and that is to go social conservative. That is why you have a new run at the gun registry and Harper and others showing up at free-gun-giveaway gun group nights, anti-gang legislation (that duplicates existing legislation), irrelevant and miniscule changes to sentencing rules (like no "time and a half") and of course Kenney all over the place with his immigration changes. As Coyne put it in his headline the other day: "Red meat! Get your red meat, here!"

In the worst of times, some people choose to rise to the occasion and strive for a higher purpose. Others turn to their baser, uglier, tribal instincts. And in this case for the higher purpose of saving their own jobs.

Koby said...

"That may be true, but so what?"

There are billions of reasons. Allowing 250,000 people to immigrant to Canada every year is hugely expensive. Now given who fast Canada’s population is aging, this is something that has to been done. Indeed, Canada needs to increase the number of immigrants it allows in if it is to avoid those pitfalls. However, there is no excuse for not revamping the immigration system to insure that those immigrants to Canada succeed economically and socially. If we continue down the road that we are going, the ease at which we were able to attract people to Canada will be diminished and more importantly the willingness of the population to accept such numbers will decline. The situation in Europe should a warning to us all.

In addition to placing a greater emphasis on language, Canada needs to greatly reduce the number of refugees it takes in, limit family unification to spouses and dependents under 18. Only 55% of non principal skilled applicants in the 25 to 44 age group are working after 2 years!

So the problem is not what Kenney says about language. No the problem is that the Conservatives do not practice what they preach. The number of guest workers allowed in has exploded since the Conservatives came to power and whereas the typical guest worker was once an American transferred to a branch office in Canada, the fastest growing category of guest worker is now the unskilled type with poor language skills. Of course the Conservatives have not done this directly. In true Conservative fashion, they have turned over a greater percentage of the immigration file to the provinces and Western provinces in particular have used the program to undercut labour. The Canadian tax payer has paid through the nose to have cheap labour sent in from other countries for the sole purpose of cutting wages of the Canadian tax payer. Forget Conservative talk about such provincial programs bringing in much needed skilled workers, this was the kind of positions Alberta was hoping to fill through its guest worker programs this summer: Front desk clerk, short order cook, baker, maid, assembly line worker, server, buser, bellhop, valet, and cafeteria worker, laundry attendant, pet groomer, general labourer, and hair dresser. All that is required of such would be immigrants is that they score 4 or 24 on the language assessment. In other words, they can still be functionally illiterate and still get it in. Alberta is not alone, it looks as if some contractors will be able to use guest workers (primarily Mexican) on the extension of the federally funded Vancouver sky train extension; Canadian federal stimulus money could be flooding into Mexico.

It takes a great deal of chutzpah to talk about wanting to avoid “the kind of ethnic enclaves or parallel communities that exist in some European countries” and then go about encouraging the very thing that led to the creation of these communities in Europe, viz., importing gobs of unskilled guest labour.

Darryl Raymaker said...


I agree entirely. The Reform/Alliance crowd have been codewording against nonwhite immigration for years and its started again. It has always been part of the raison d'etre of the movement, and now they want to do something legislatively about it before its too late.


I also think that they are now confident that there will not be an early election, and so why continue to make nice. They are back to the basics of a mean and intolerant movement.

Over the long haul the 250,000 who immigrate is not hugely expensive. They all become taxpayers soon enough. Their children are likely to go on to higher learning and become taxpayers as well, and the growth of population means the growth of the economy. To talk about the expense of bringing them in and adjusting to the country is being 'penny wise and pound foolish.'

Furthermore, our immigration policy has proven time and time again that immigrants "succeed economically and socially." There is always a period of adjustment and there are some that don't make it. Some make it further than others. But immigrants who fail are few and far between, even if they come from the low end of the economic ladder. That has been the history of our immigration policy in Canada.

I am of the view that unskilled and unlettered immigrants are as good and as valuable as any other kind of immigrant to this country. As a matter of fact, they work harder and expect less and are happy in the process because they have got the hell out of the hell hole that was their historic home.

I do not like the idea of immigration to drive down the price of labour, and I oppose immigration for that particular reason. However, generally immigration is necessary for economic growth which benefits all Canadians.

"Ethnic enclaves" or "parallel communities" are two different concepts. Broad scale immigration does lead to harmless ethnic enclaves. Some would call then ghettoes - for not more than part of a generation. After that, they are out and about. "Parallel communities" amongst immigrants is a fiction. It presupposes that there is a challenge to the existing order of things by immigrant enclaves, which overwhelmingly is not true. That is not to say that there is not crime within those communities, but crime is within all communities.

And, by the way, thanks for reading my blog.

Jose said...

Very good posts. Daryl, being one of the offspring from the Pass immigrants that you mention leaves me with mixed emotions when it comes to Immigration. If there are unemployed Canadians, how can one use guest workers from Mexico in Vancouver using Fed funds? Can "locals" not be used or sent to Vancouver, or is this a Union ploy to get funds into the Union Pension fund?

Not all of the present immigrants are productive and many soon learn to use the welfare/program system very quickly. Had a look at Bow Island/Brooks area lately? I see the same type of immigration trend emerging in Canada that has now rendered the USA a "boiling pot" and not an immigration melting pot as in the old days.

Times have changed as have the types of worker needed in Canada. So too have the expectations of the immigrants and the various benefits available to them. This is what causes some of the ill feelings towards the immigrants.

There is nothing wrong with targeting a certain group of workers, professional or not, to meet the job demands. This has to lead to some degree of selectivism.

Regarding Harper, it appears that he has had a little of the Obama influence rub off on him -- really leaving him a confused person!!

Darryl Raymaker said...

I disagree with many of your conclusions. There have always been unemployed Canadians - even when your forbearers came to this country. Nonetheless, they came here and made a life for themselves and the unemployed Canadians - most of them - made a life for themselves. Besides, only until recently in Alberta for example, there was absolutely full employment and the circumstances were right for guest labor. I acknowledge that it is more difficult now, and that speaks to the issue of whether guest labor at this point should be shut down. But Guest labor is different for immigration.

As to the productivity of some new Canadians and their propensity to use the welfare system - I put it to you that they are as productive as anyone and if they use the welfare system it is for a short time only. Whether it be Brooks, or anywhere else, these people have taken enormous risks and want to succeed and they will. Stop being misled by the xenophobic right wing. They were around trying to exclude your forbears when they came over.
Things have not changed for hardscrabble immigrants to this country. What has changed is the people who came from similar roots who are being bamboozled by intolerant and xenophobic Canadians. Shape up!