Mounting frustration over the governments’ mishandling of Covid is causing many Canadians to consider leaving Canada, and some already have. As immigration brings more people seeking better life to Canada, the structure of society will change fundamentally.
By now, the various fronts on which people are facing extremely adverse conditions owing to the Covid-related measures are well-documented, reported and commented upon. However, there isn’t much material on the long-term impacts of these adversities on the Canadian society as a whole.
This issue is perhaps for qualified sociologists and other experts to ponder, but as lay people, we can make some hypotheses. The starting point for one such hypothesis is easy to arrive at:
In a world where international mobility of people is at a much higher level than was the case in the preceding century, how would people react when a large number of them perceive that their quality of life in the place where they live is declining as a trend?
It is worth bearing in mind that barring exceptions, a decision to move to another country is primarily motivated by a desire for a better quality of life. Further, the decline in the quality of life in one’s country has to be sufficient enough to render another country as a more desirable place to live. And finally, this decline should be perceived as both irreversible and continuing by a critical mass of people in order for each individual to be confident that their decision to move to another country is the right one.
Over the past three months or so, I have come across many people on social media and elsewhere musing about relocating to the US. Their numbers, by no stretch, constitute a statistically significant sample of the Canadian population, so I am careful not to draw any firm conclusions from them. However, the unusual-ness of the sentiment does lead me to ask a ‘what-if?’ question to myself; usually we hear about such sentiments the other way round, viz. Americans declaring that if (insert the name of presidential candidate here) wins the election, they would move to Canada. The Americans that we hear about in this context are mostly entertainers, celebrities or other public figures, but that could be because the media chooses to focus on them rather than on the hoi-polloi.
However, this time around, intense frustration with the way things are going in Canada appears to have caused this sentiment to flow in the opposite direction. So far as I have encountered this, a large majority of these people are multi-generational (or ‘old-stock’) Canadians. I think one possible reason why ‘immigrants’ (a curious term to refer to ‘new-stock’ Canadians, given our claim that Canada is a country of immigrants) are not represented in this group in large numbers is that they are in a different stage in the process of setting down their roots in Canada. Therefore, getting uprooted so soon after picking up their roots from their country of origin may not be feasible for them for a variety of reasons.
IF the premise that this sentiment is widespread enough for us to call it a phenomenon is true, our next step should be to examine its long term impact on the Canadian society, and by extension, on its politics.
At the start of the 18th century, the Mughal Empire was at its zenith. The death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 was followed by its rapid collapse, and by the middle of the 19th century, it had shrunk so much that the ‘emperor’ ruled only over the area within the Red Fort at Delhi. Vast areas of the empire, initially ruled by local kings and chieftains, were later taken over (officially or otherwise) by the British East India Company.
The people in India called The East India Company as ‘Company Bahadur’; the term ‘bahadur’ means ‘brave’, and was a suffix commonly applied to the names of prominent men of the nobility class. The priorities of ‘Company Bahadur’ were very different from those of the Mughal Empire and its descendant states, and this divergence naturally caused a re-juggling of the power structure among the local population. The most pronounced negative impact of this reshuffling was on the formerly prominent class comprising nobility and intellectuals. Mirza Ghalib was one of them. Today, he is regarded as the greatest poet ever of the Urdu language, but in his lifetime, he never received the success that he richly deserved. He was one of the very few people in the Indian subcontinent who realized the long-term consequences of the culture-shift that was taking place around him. People of high learning and ability were being pushed to the margins, and feeding the Company Bahadur’s insatiable appetite for loot was taking precedence. Reflecting on this, he wrote:
Yoon hi gar rota raha Ghalib, to ae ahl-e-jahaan
Dekhna in bastiyon ko tum, ki veeraan ho gayin
“If Ghalib is kept in this lamentable stage for long, O people of the world, you will watch this place turn into a wilderness”.
Irrespective of how many people leave Canada (for whatever reason), Canada is unlikely to become a ‘wilderness’ in the dictionary sense of the term. This was also the case in the Indian subcontinent in the time of Ghalib, and of course he knew it. So the question is, in what sense did he use this term that would also make it relevant in our current context?
I think that in a figurative sense, ‘wilderness’ means the opposite of ‘a desirable place to live’.
The assessment of a place as ‘desirable to live’ is, of course, subjective. Moreover, Canada has consistently ranked high in the list of countries deemed ‘desirable to live’ for a long time. Therefore, it is going to take a long period of deterioration for it to acquire the opposite designation generally. However, Canada did acquire it several decades ago, in the eyes of people living in prosperous countries in Europe and elsewhere. This may make many Canadians feel uncomfortable, but is borne out by the data for immigration in the past 40-odd years; almost all of it is from the Third World.
So, assuming that there will be an exodus of disenchanted multi-generational Canadians to other countries (chiefly the US), it will not have a noticeable impact on the overall number of people living Canada. In fact, such an exodus would open up room for the government of the day to further increase the annual immigration quotas, and thus endear itself to even more voters, and to a greater degree. But such a development would change the composition of the Canadian society in terms of people’s expectations regarding governance. Those who leave Canada would be doing so because they felt that their expectations were gravely betrayed by their governments’ performance, whereas many of the new immigrants would find the same level of performance by governments to be a major improvement over what they had in their country of origin. In the language of the workplace, the ‘deliverables’ demanded of the politicians would get diluted. As it is, we don’t set a high bar for our politicians on this score, although their ineptness is afforded cover by partisan bickering among the electorate. Continued bungling of response to Covid, leading to mounting frustration with governments that results in an exodus of Canadians to the US & elsewhere would, ironically, create even more conducive environment for inept politicians to thrive. More worryingly, this environment would have the effect of creating a feedback loop, leading to further rounds of frustration, exodus and dilution.
One crucial difference between countries of the First World and those in the Third World lies in the respective governments’ ability (or even willingness) to deliver ‘social goods’. If a politician were to be a prospective employee, these ‘social goods’ would be their ‘deliverables’. A politician’s / government’s performance on these ‘deliverables’ determines the quality of their ‘governance’.
While the various failures of Canadian governments on their ‘deliverables’ in the context of Covid are disastrous, we at least have the silver lining that they are of an episodic nature, rather than systemic (although there is an argument to be made that the episodic failures were the result of systemic weakness). If these episodic failures cause the more demanding of Canadians to leave Canada, while immigration brings in less demanding new Canadians, we will eventually but inevitably get governments that will have even less ability (or willingness) to deliver ‘social goods’. And as we saw a little earlier, that is what distinguishes the First World from the Third World.