Friday 8 September 2017
Immigrants: Canada-style or UK-style?
In a pungent post Ian Dent describes the UK government's apparent plans to control immigration once we've left the EU as "a programme for comprehensive economic self-harm in order to satisfy the most mean-spirited elements of the national personality."
That "another world is possible" is revealed in an article on the Canadian approach to immigration in the September issue of Prospect.
According to the article, by a Steve Bloomfield, Canada's policy of welcoming immigrants goes back a long way. Novelist John Ralston Saul is quoted as saying that when his family first arrived in the 1840s "they were given 100 acres each, some horses, cows, seed for two years and some cash." They had the"advantage" of being white as did most of the 50 000 Loyalists who had fled from the American Revolution. Canada's welcome was, like Australia's, racist until the 1960s, when a Conservative (!) government introduced a more liberal approach and accepted, even promoted, a multicultural Canada.
Canada now takes in a target of 300 000 immigrants per year, just short of 1% of the existing population, and a proportion similar to the 588 000 who arrived in Britain last year. All parties in Canada, and, crucially, the press, support this level of immigration; provinces and cities compete to host them; overseas diplomatic missions actually help would-be citizens to apply; a government minister even visited China last August to persuade more people to come. A committee set up by the finance ministry has recommended that the annual total should be increased to 450 000.
The rationale behind this recommendation is that, even with 300 000 migrants annually, Canada's population growth will stall. The committee estimates that, without the increase, Canada will slip from being the 11th largest economy in the world to the 29th, more or less equivalent in world influence to Romania today.
The most obvious objection to Britain's adopting a similarly welcoming policy to immigrants is that we are a "crowded little island" whereas Canada, with a geographical area 40 times the UK's , has plenty of vast open spaces. The objection does not, however, hold water. Most of Canada is uninhabitable, most Canadians, including the immigrants, live in the large cities along the southern border with the US. Toronto has a higher population per square kilometre than Birmingham, Montreal's density is more or less equal to Manchester's and, at 5 492 per sq.km, Vancouver has just 1 more than London's 5 491.
Nor is Britain's culture more in danger of being "crowded out." About one in five people living in Canada were born elsewhere: one in seven in the UK. These proportions rise to around 50% in in Toronto and Vancouver, compared with 41 % in inner London.
The key difference between our two countries is not one of size or economics, but of acceptance of multiculturalism, which both the political parties and press support in Canada, but which is vilified by much of Britain's press, to which the right wing of the Tories is vigorously opposed and to which the Labour Party, which at one time promoted the international brotherhood of man, is at best ambivalent.
It's the politics which make us the "nasty country," not the economic limitations.
After sheer xenophobia, much of the popular opposition to immigration in Britain, and particularly that of many Labour supporters, is justified the idea that immigration has a depressing effect on the wages of the native workers. Vince Cable claims that, while he was Business Secretary, no fewer than nine studies crossed his desk, all of which found that the impact was "very little" and that "overseas workers have been complementary rather than competitive to British workers." According to Sir Vince, the publication of these studies was suppressed by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, because she was not happy with the message they would send out.