A Haitian family walks to cross the U.S.-Canada border into Quebec from New York Aug. 29. CNS photo/Christinne Muschi, Reuters

Cathy Majtenyi: Time to separate fear from fact

By 
  • October 23, 2018

The victory of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) in the recent Quebec election reflects the growing acceptance of political parties vowing to tighten immigration policies and numbers. 

“To better welcome immigrants, we should admit 20 per cent fewer of them, while maintaining resource levels,” says the CAQ’s platform.

CAQ wants to make it mandatory that all immigrants learn, and be able to speak, French. In addition, they must pass a “Quebec values” test if they wish to remain in the province. The party also promised to ban “all persons in position of authority, including teachers,” from wearing religious symbols such as turbans and crosses. 

It’s tempting to attribute the CAQ’s anti-immigrant stance to a rocky history in which a surrounding English-speaking Canada continually threatens to swallow up Quebec language and culture. 

Ironically, if the CAQ sticks to its guns on its anti-immigrant promises, it’s very likely that Quebec’s relationship with the rest of Canada will suffer. CAQ’s policies clash with Ottawa, since deportation falls under federal jurisdiction.  

In the policy debate, it’s important to separate fear from fact and take the long view. 

When new immigrants and refugees arrive in Canada, it’s true that many of them require immediate assistance. But it’s a situation that changes over time. 

According to a recently-reported internal immigration department document, government-assisted refugees struggle during the first 10 years of living in Canada, earning less than $20,000 annually. But that average annual income rises to around $50,000 after they’ve been working in Canada for 25 to 30 years, surpassing the earnings of the average Canadian. 

Newcomers’ fate also improved in Quebec, where the unemployment rate among immigrants dropped from 11.3 per cent in 2013 to 8.7 per cent in 2017. 

Immigrant children outperform their Canadian-born peers in educational attainment. A 2016 StatsCan report found that children of immigrants in the business and skilled worker classes and children of refugees all reached higher average levels of education than third-generation Canadians. 

After being in Canada for a decade or longer, immigrants tend to create businesses at higher rates than among people born in Canada, says another 2016 report co-authored by Statistics Canada. 

It’s a question of short-term investment versus the long-term dividends.

A May 2018 Conference Board of Canada study asks the question: “What would happen to the economy if Canada shut its doors to immigrants completely?”  

A small national population and an aging workforce pose long-run challenges to the Canadian economy. The study predicts that pretty much all of Canada’s population growth will come from immigration by 2040; at the moment, 71 per cent of the country’s population growth is due to immigration, says the report.

The report predicts that Canada’s potential economic growth would drop from 1.9 per cent to around 1.3 per cent per year without immigrants. 

Moving beyond strictly economic terms, newcomers build on the richness of the Canadian mosaic. They bring values that were once widely respected in Canada, such as the sanctity of life, the importance of strong, cohesive families and regular attendance at places of worship.

Yes, Canada needs effective, balanced policies that are fair to both newcomers and the Canadian-born. But let’s not allow fear to steer the debate. Let’s not automatically view newcomers — especially the vulnerable — as a threat, but rather as a possibility. 

“Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age,” says Pope Francis in his World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2018 message.

(Majtenyi is a public relations officer who specializes in research at an Ontario university.)

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