(January 2001) Without twist, turn, or recount, Canada’s Liberal Party handily won a new majority in parliament on Nov. 27. The party’s policies, including encouraging a level of immigration twice as high as in the United States relative to population, will therefore likely continue. But the difficulty of maintaining a high level of immigration surfaced during the recent campaign, when an opposition politician’s off-color remarks demonstrated that not all Canadians support extending a perpetual welcome mat. And a recent global conference on immigration revealed that some immigration analysts have reservations of their own.

The Liberals, led by Prime Minister Jean Chretien, have established an annual immigration goal equivalent to 1 percent of the population. With Canada’s total population of 31 million, that percentage would translate into approximately 300,000 immigrants per year, compared with levels of around 200,000 in recent years. The Liberal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Elinor Caplan, last year requested funding for more immigrants but was denied by the cabinet, perhaps because the Immigration and Refugee Board is swamped: It has a backlog of 25,717 cases, and it takes more than nine months to process an applicant.

To help make her case, Caplan has stressed the need to pursue a “human capital” model of immigration, one that attracts newcomers who are good for the economy because they are well-educated and bring valuable skills. Agreeing that there are abuses of the refugee and asylum policy, Caplan is fond of saying, “We have to close the back door to open the front door wider.”

On the campaign trail, a political opponent focused not only on the doors but also on the occupants already inside. Betty Granger, a member of the Canadian Alliance party (at one time only 12 percentage points behind the Liberals in opinion polls) was running for a seat in Winnipeg. She said an influx of Asian students — an “Asian invasion” — has put pressure on the university system and prevented “our own Canadian students” from getting into university programs in Vancouver and Victoria. Although Granger dropped out of the race after making the remark, it indicates tensions are developing, especially in the cities that have absorbed most of the immigrants.

Foreign-Born as a Percentage of the Canadian Population in Metro Areas

Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Considered Opinion

Outside the political arena, researchers are trying to take a dispassionate look at the impact of immigration on Canada. In particular, members of the International Metropolis Project are providing insights. The project brings together researchers and members of policy organizations from 20 countries to strengthen immigration policy through applied academic research. At the Fifth International Metropolis Conference, held in Vancouver Nov. 13–17, many aspects of immigration relevant to Canada came under scrutiny.

Reviewing some economic aspects, Jean-Pierre Voyer of Social Research and Demonstration Corporation in Ottawa suggested that governments of many developed countries put misplaced emphasis on skilled immigrants in the policy debate. He asked: “Why focus on skilled immigrants if there are no signs of general skill shortages in Canada?” He said that while sectoral shortages in certain industries might warrant looking to skilled immigrants in specific areas, shortages do not justify putting skills ahead of all other considerations, such as family reunification or humanitarian grounds.

Voyer noted research shows that the performance of recent immigrants in Canada is deteriorating, despite their reportedly better skills and language facility. Don DeVoretz, an economist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, has found, for example, that the economically active foreign-born earned $1,372 less in 1996 than their Canadian-born cohorts and consumed more public services than the Canadian-born.

And regardless of what’s best for Canada, illegal immigration, which all Canadians can agree to oppose, may thwart public policy. Jonas Widgren, director of the Austrian International Centre for Migration Policy Development, implied that smugglers might soon be in a position to determine immigration levels. Trafficking, Widgren said, now generates revenue equivalent to that of the international rubber trade and will soon equal the international coffee trade — a $50 billion a year industry as measured by total global retail sales.

Half-Way Response

Caplan introduced a revamped Immigration Act in April 2000 (called the “New Immigration and Refugee Protection Act”) that would have cracked down on human smugglers and refugee claimants who are criminals. That legislation started through the legislative process but died when elections were called in October. The proposed Immigration Act, however, did not toughen rules for granting refugee status and even expanded immigration allowable under Canada’s family reunification category by increasing the age at which dependent children could be sponsored.

During the campaign, Caplan succeeded at labeling the Canadian Alliance as “anti-immigrant” after the leader of that party proposed detaining refugees and quickly returning those whose claims were denied. Now that the election has ended, maybe the Liberals will not only open the front door to immigration a little wider, but also open discussion of an issue that has elbowed its way to the fore.

Allison Tarmann is editor of Population Today.

Canadian Immigration by Top 10 Source Countries, 1999

China 29,000 15%
India 17,415 9%
Pakistan 9,285 5%
Philippines 9,160 5%
South Korea 7,212 4%
Iran 5,903 3%
United States 5,514 3%
Taiwan 5,461 3%
Sri Lanka 4,719 2%
United Kingdom 4,476 2%

Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Facts and Figures 1999: Immigration Overview, 2000.

Canadian Immigration by Metropolitan Area, 1999

Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Facts and Figures 1999: Immigration Overview

Reports and Articles

Roderic Beaujot and Deborah Matthews, “Immigration and the Future of Canada’s Population,” Discussion Paper No. 00-1 (London, Ontario: Population Studies Centre, University of Western Ontario, January 2000). Accessed online on the website of the Population Studies Centre, www.sscl.uwo.ca.

Monica Boyd and Michael Vickers, “100 Years of Immigration,” Canadian Social Trends, Autumn 2000 (Statistics Canada Catalogue No. 11-008): 2-12.

Don J. Devoretz, “Canada’s Brain Drain, Gain or Exchange?” Vancouver Centre of Excellence, Research on Immigration and Integration in the Metropolis (RIIM) Commentary Series #99-01 (Vancouver: RIIM, July 1999). Accessed online on the RIIM website, http://riim.metropolis.net/frameset_e.html.

Don J. Devoretz and Samuel A. Laryea, “Canadian Immigration Experience: Any Lessons for Europe?” Discussion Paper No. 59 (Bonn, Germany: Institute for the Study of Labor, September 1999). Accessed online through the Social Science Research Network Electronic Library, http://papers.ssrn.com/paper.taf?ABSTRACT_ID=180536, on November 6, 2000.

“Recent Immigrants in Metropolitan Areas: A Comparative Portrait Based on the 1996 Census” (Series examining immigrants in the Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver Metropolitan Areas), prepared by Informetrica Limited for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, May 2000. Accessed online on the website of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, www.cic.gc.ca/english.

World Migration Report 2000 (Geneva: International Organization for Migration, November 2000). Press release and ordering information accessed online www.iom.int on Jan. 8, 2001.

Additional Resources

Metropolis Project
“An international forum for research and policy on migration, diversity and changing cities.”

Metropolis Canada

Statistics Canada