From 2008 to 2013, Jason Kenney, currently the leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, then a member of Parliament with the Conservative Party of Canada, served as Canada’s minister of citizenship and immigration. During his time as the head of the federal immigration department, Kenney implemented many comprehensive reforms to Canadian immigration law, most of which remain in place today. He also reached out to visible minority communities across Canada. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, he noted that immigrants often reflect conservative ideals, stating that “you observe how these new Canadians live their lives. They are the personification of Margaret Thatcher’s aspirational class. They’re all about a massive work ethic.”
Unfortunately, political parties that bear the conservative banner have either abandoned, or seem close to abandoning, this embrace of immigration. From a political standpoint, it is not difficult to see why this is occurring. At the federal level, supporters of the Conservative Party of Canada appear to have a greater discomfort with visible minorities than supporters of other political parties. According to a 2017 EKOS survey, in response to the question “forgetting about the overall number of immigrants coming to Canada, of those who come would you say there are too few, too many or the right amount of visible minorities,” 64 per cent of Conservative Party of Canada supporters said “too many.” This was more than double the next highest political party whose supporters had the same answer, which was the Greens at 31 per cent.
In many ways, what is transpiring in Canada’s centre-right parties mirrors what is happening to centre-right movements across the Western world, where traditional conservatism is being, or risks being, influenced by ethnic nationalism and populism.
This is depressing.
Canadian immigration legislation and policies reflect conservative values. Conservatives should have confidence in Canada’s immigration system and hold it up as a model to other countries.
What do I mean by conservatives?
Before explaining why conservatives should feel confident in Canada’s immigration system, it is necessary to note that white nationalists will not be.
In 2017, the top 10 source countries of immigrants to Canada were, in order, India, Philippines, China, Syria, the United States, Pakistan, France, Nigeria, the United Kingdom and Iraq. The top three countries represented almost 40 per cent of immigrants to Canada. Clearly, white nationalists will not like this.
However, as many frustrated conservatives frequently need to explain nowadays, being a conservative doesn’t mean they are white nationalists.
So, what is a conservative?
In his article, Ten Principles of Conservatism, the conservative political theorist Russell Kirk enumerated 10 principles of what conservatives stand for, and it is the beliefs that Kirk describes that I am using as my definition of what a conservative believes in. These are belief in (1) moral truths, a strong sense of right and wrong, and the importance of a society that does not become based on the gratification of immediate appetites, (2) adherence to custom and gradual, rather than rapid, change, (3) precedent, (4) that any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences and not short-term emotional appeal, (5) individuality and equality of opportunity rather than conformity and equality of outcome, (6) that a just and free society will necessarily mean an imperfect one, (7) the importance of private property, (8) voluntary community rather than involuntary collectivism, (9) checks and balances on power and whims, and (10) that individuals and societies should always ask how they can promote the above.
Why conservatives should support immigration
The CATO Institute, an American think tank dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace, lists five reasons why immigrants are advantageous to the United States that are equally applicable, if not more so, to Canada.
First, given their willingness to migrate for personal benefit, immigrants are self-selected on the basis on motivation, risk taking and work ethic.
Second, immigrants generally come to Canada during their prime working years, contribute to the workforce and make net contributions.
Third, immigrants fill niches in the labour market where demand is highest relative to supply.
Fourth, immigrants arrive with extremely high skill levels relative to the general population.
Finally, the children of immigrants tend to reach high levels of achievement and integration.
Canada’s immigration system reflects this.
Why Canada’s immigration system is advantageous
Almost 60 per cent of immigrants to Canada arrive in economic immigration programs. Unlike in the United States, these programs are merit based, with prospective migrants typically being ranked against each other, with only the top invited to apply.
In Express Entry, for example, Canada’s largest economic immigration program, immigrants are assigned points based on age, education, experience, fluency in English or French, pre-arranged employment and familial ties. Those selected for immigration readily integrate into Canada’s increasingly globalized and technology-based economy.
In 2017, the top 10 occupations of people who immigrated to Canada through Express Entry were, in order, information systems analysts, software engineers, computer programmers, administrative assistants, marketing professionals, university professors, financial analysts, management consultants and advertising professionals.
Almost half of Canada’s economic immigrants who obtained permanent residency were already working in Canada when they submitted their immigration applications. These were individuals who took the risk of travelling to Canada to work under various foreign worker programs with no guarantee of being able to stay, succeeded in finding skilled employment and, due to a combination of other human capital factors, successfully immigrated. They exemplify the hard-working, immigrant persona that both the CATO Institute and Minister Kenney describe.
The next largest immigration cohort consists of those arriving through family reunification programs, at just under 30 per cent. These programs ensure the preservation of the family unit while protecting Canadian taxpayers from social assistance costs. Canadians sponsoring their spouses and common-law partners must enter into an undertaking with the Canadian government to repay the costs of any social assistance that their immigrant partners receive for three years after they immigrate, even if the relationship breaks down. For those who sponsor their parents or grandparents, the undertaking is for 20 years.
The promotion of individual responsibility is also reflected in Canada’s humanitarian and refugee resettlement programs, which roughly constitute the remaining 15 per cent of immigrants to Canada. Around 62 per cent of refugees who are resettled in Canada are privately sponsored. Conservatives should be proud that in recent years tens of thousands of Canadians have voluntarily come together together, generally in groups of five, to help resettle refugees.
On the moral front, Canada’s immigration system imposes on immigrants far stricter sanctions for criminal conduct than it does on citizens. An immigrant will face deportation if they are convicted of a federal offence punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of at least 10 years, of any federal offence for which they receive a term of imprisonment of more than six months. It does not matter what the actual sentence is, but rather the classification of the offence. For example, a single conviction for a DUI, theft over $5,000, possessing a fake ID and dozens of other offences will result in the possibility of deportation. Conservatives may lament seemingly lax sentences in Canada for certain offences. Canadian immigration officials are much less forgiving.
The Trudeau impact on immigration
But what about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau? Has he opened the floodgates and ruined Canada’s immigration system as some suggest in the wake of illegal migration? The answer is no.
While overall immigration levels to Canada are rising, they remain relatively constant as a percentage of the population, at under one per cent. Indeed, at some point, even those most cautious about a rapid increase in the intake of new arrivals will need to balance their apprehensions with the fact that the worker-to-retiree ratio is set to decrease from 4.2:1 in 2012 to 2:1 by 2020.
It is true that there has been a recent increase in people crossing into Canada from the United States to claim asylum. Prime Minister Trudeau’s tweet that Canada “will welcome those fleeing persecution, terror & war” may or may not have contributed this. However, the Prime Minister has not uttered similar statements since and his government has since attempted to dissuade people from crossing into Canada illegally.
Indeed, now that the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada has started to refuse many of these refugee claims, some asylum claimants are illegally sneaking back into the United States. Their choice to do so rather than remain in Canada without status highlights the fact that, contrary to popular perception, Canada’s immigration system is quite strict on those who remain in the country without status.
Canada’s immigration system is working
Of course, Canada’s immigration system is not perfect. No system is. However, conservatives should have confidence that overall Canada’s immigration system is working. The leaders of Canada’s centre-right parties should be alienating, rather than seeking votes from, xenophobes and those uncomfortable with visible minorities. Rather, they should be vocally embracing Canada’s immigration system and educating Canadians as to why they should be confident in it.
As Minister Kenney noted, immigrants embody conservative ideals, and in addition to being principled, adopting such a position would likely gain much more support than the party risks losing otherwise.