“Most Canadians in favour of limits on immigration: poll,” read a recent headline in the National Post. It sounded ominous, perhaps an early indication that attitudes are hardening towards newcomers even as Canadians navigate the shoals of tough economic times, post-recession. Add to this a growing number of voices urging caution, including the Ottawa-based Centre for Immigration Policy Reform which has several eminent names on its panel of experts.
Meanwhile, arguments for and against immigration continue to pile up in bookstores. Gilles Paquet, professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa, has just written a book, “Moderato Cantabile: Toward Principled Governance for Canada’s Immigration Regime.” In this rather dense title, he calls for a lower level of immigration, without specifying how many may be too many.
The government is right in closely tracking public opinion on the subject of immigration and it is perhaps no coincidence that there are a growing number of polling firms that include questions relating to newcomers in their surveys. However, some of these questions can be quite misleading, like this one that was asked by Forum Research Inc. of 1,755 respondents on March 6 and 7: “Should Canada accept all qualified immigrants who want to enter the country, or should we limit the number of immigrants allowed each year?”
Most Canadians don’t follow immigration policy and would not readily know precisely how many permanent residents are accepted into Canada every year. Generally speaking, their estimate would be much higher than the quarter-million who have actually arrived annually for over a decade now, just as most of us believe Canada provides a lot more dollars as international aid than we actually do. We want to be known as a generous and hospitable people, but our self-image does not always match our giving.
Given this, the survey question appears to imply that Canada has an open-door policy that accepts everybody who shows up at our border or at our ports. That is simply not true, just as it was not true a hundred years ago, although immigration controls have gone up considerably. We have also strengthened our refugee acceptance policy in recent years. Unfortunately, the newspaper headline tried to summarize the survey responses to a poorly-worded question.
Canada could not possibly take in all those who would want to settle here. By way of illustration, there are a total of 214 million international migrants – 3.1 per cent of the world population – according to the International Organization for Migration. As a receiving nation, since before the turn of the century, we have tried to aim for an annual intake of one per cent of our national population, but have always fallen short. No Immigration Minister has ever suggested that Canada should accept “all qualified immigrants who want to enter the country” – at least not over the last 100 years – and no one ever will. – New Canadian Media