Immigration: Canada’s strength and weakness

Immigration: Canada’s strength and weakness
By Michael Lashley

Do we have the vision, creativity and determination as citizens and residents of Canada to turn our dysfunctional immigration policy structures into valuable opportunities for economic growth that brings with it balanced social development, an ecologically sustainable economic model and an inclusive style of governance?

A few days ago, I put a pointed question to the president of the university which has developed the most successful “educational” experiment I have ever seen. This experiment achieved success by combining education, business development and innovation.

My question was: “Now that this experiment has been so hugely successful, why is this formula, which so clearly demonstrates how schooling is supposed to be conceived and structured, not being adopted more widely in our education system?”

He remained calm, kept his beaming smile and replied in words equivalent to: “Because people don’t like change!”

It is in this simple and direct reply that we can find a positive path forward in our country’s approach to immigration. We need to identify strong and convincing reasons to overcome our resistance to change: change in the thinking that underlies our immigration system and change that engages our immigrants more inclusively in our processes of policy improvement and innovative thinking.

Do our politicians have the intellectual open-mindedness and the courage to turn political and electoral opportunism into social, economic and political opportunity in a country that is going through two years of uninterrupted electoral campaigns?

Over the years, I have always been wondering whether Canada is the country in the world in which the highest percentage, the largest volume and the widest variety of imported high-quality human resources are under-utilized and, worst of all possibilities, outright wasted.

The consensus among academics, think-tank analysts and journalists critical of Canada’s immigration policies seems to be that pointed allegations of industry favoritism, non-verification and non-enforcement are just the surface cracks. The deeper issues have been identified as inherent in the thinking and intent.

On the one hand, immigration policy should not be conceived primarily as an economic issue and more specifically a labor issue. And the economic aspect of the rationale for immigrant selection based on the growth needs of specified occupations is faulty because the priority areas of specialization selected may not be valid for more than a few years.

Rather, immigration policy is to be structured on a balanced platform that includes society building; a mix of skilled, semi-skilled and less skilled workers; family reunification; a humane regime for protected persons (legitimate refugee claimants); transparent and humane graduation mechanisms for permanent residents to become citizens and for temporary foreign workers to become permanent residents; equitable and humane wages coupled with social, health and health insurance benefits for temporary foreign workers.

I cannot stress enough how much progress we deny ourselves as a society when we remain closed to change. Why do we keep moaning and groaning that our industry, our economy and indeed our whole nation is lagging in innovation and competitiveness?

Are we also suffering from a toxic blend of intellectual blindness and complacency that refuses to include in the mix the thinking derived by our generations of immigrants from values, policies and experiences lived in over 120 countries?