On the eve of the Minister Marc Miller announcing new annual targets for immigration, public opinion is starkly at odds with the prevailing narrative. Will he ‘listen to the people’?
GOOD / BAD NEWS
Two polls came out recently showing a sharply lower support for immigration among Canadians. As reported by the Toronto Star, one poll concluded that the view that “immigration has a positive impact on the economy of Canada” is supported by 11% fewer Canadians compared to last year, and is now at its lowest level since 1998. Notably, this poll was conducted for the Century Initiative, which has been advocating to increase Canada’s population to 100 million by the year 2100. I don’t believe I have seen any calculations justifying these neatly round numbers (100 and 2100 respectively). My opinion is that these are (a) stemming from a subjective, ideologically held belief and (b) designed to create a psychological effect on people’s minds via their roundness. In light of its stated goal, Century Initiative must have found the results of this poll to be bad news. On the other hand, for anyone who is worried about the negative impact that the rapid increase in Canada’s population is having on a whole range of fronts, such as housing, healthcare, infrastructure and other services, this poll offers good news in the form of a hope – however faint – that the Immigration Minister may finally be forced to lower the annual targets of immigration.
While the sharp increase in housing unaffordability in recent times has brought the housing issue to the forefront vis-à-vis immigration, it is worth noting that many people (including yours truly) have been cautioning about this for a long time. Here is a screenshot of my post on Twitter (now X), from April 2021:
Also noteworthy is the fact that my focus in that post was on the total CO2 emissions of Canada, and the increase therein due to immigration; I brought up ‘housing & services’ as additional factors. Two and a half years later, those ‘additional factors’ are at the top of Canadians’ concerns. The fact that these issues (including CO2 emissions) have rarely – if ever- featured in the immigration debate is indicative of how disjointed / siloed our public discussions are over major issues that have a direct bearing on our future. This is, of course, a collective failure – but a lion’s share of the onus must be put on the heads of the members of our punditocracy / commentariat / academia.
The Toronto Star being what it is, their article tries to pin this public sentiment (of lower support for immigration) on ‘misinformation’; it quotes one Jack Jedwab, President of the Association for Canadian Studies and Metropolis Canada (which conducted the other poll), as saying that “Those sentiments are fuelled in part by the lack of knowledge among Canadians of the country’s immigration landscape… The misinformation speaks to the need to better educate and inform the public about Canada immigration” (emphasis added). In other words, if you think that we have too much immigration, it is because you don’t know the facts about immigration, and this can be remedied by them explaining to you why and how you are wrong. This statement, although coming from a third party, is of a piece with the current federal government’s article of faith that any public opinion that it athwart its plans (designs?) can be tackled via communication – regardless of what the facts are. I believe that in the early period of the government’s tenure, their term for this was ‘deliverology’: convincing people that the policies were working even when they weren’t.
Here, I am reminded of my study of Deductive Logic, in which my professor told us that “If your logic is defective, you conclusion will inevitably be wrong, but if your premises are faulty, you at least have a random chance of arriving at the right conclusion”. I think that is what is going on here: people (or more correctly, the poll respondents) may wrongly believe that the number of immigrants is already 500,000 a year (in reality, it is 465,000 & will become 500,000 in the year 2025), or that Canada received over 250,000 refugees a year (the correct figure is 76,000), but that does not invalidate their opinion that immigration is too high. You just have to look at the housing situation (as, I suppose, the poll respondents did) to arrive at the correct conclusion. Regardless of whether the number of immigrants is 465,000 or 500,000 – or indeed even 1 million – whatever that number is, it is too high in comparison to our capacity to absorb that number. In other words, the poll respondents are smarter than the policy wonks because they are taking an overall view of the situation. In other, more blunt, words – we have the wrong people in or near the centres of political power.
The above point is made indirectly (and perhaps inadvertently) by none other than Lisa Lalande, CEO of the Century Initiative (with its goal of taking Canada’s population to 100 million by the year 2100), who said that “… the data is a “clarion call” for proactive economic planning, improved integration services and investments in infrastructure such as housing in order to preserve the confidence of Canadians”. I would go further and state that the correct term here is not a ‘clarion call’ but rather an ‘alarm bell’. What we have on our hands is veritably a 7-alarm fire on the housing front (my forthcoming article will go into this in detail, but suffice to say here that in my view, barring a severe crash in prices, housing will remain unattainable for most Canadians for at least one generation). In light of Ms. Lalande’s remark, I think it is highly inappropriate of the Star to try to paint the results of the polls as stemming from ‘misinformation’.
Things like economic planning, integration services, housing and other infrastructure should be at the very foundation of immigration policy. The fact that Ms. Lalande characterized the poll results as a clarion call is a sad reminder (but only to those who already knew) that that hasn’t been the case for a while. It is highly disturbing that after decades of pursing an aggressive immigration policy, we are at a point where our immigration policy is disconnected from ground realities. The reason for this is not far to seek – it lies in a phenomenon whose most recent manifestation is seen in the policy on ‘assisted dying’: from a valid starting point on which there is widespread agreement, the policy gets hijacked by vested interests and quickly becomes a grotesque caricature of its former self. Pertinently, the pernicious ways in which this policy morphs were warned against by many people (in case of MAiD, some of these people were advocates for disabled people and for people with mental health issues).
In the case of immigration (in which term I include the policies of work permits and study permits) the policy has been accordingly hijacked – for a long time – by a motley crew. Employers looking for cheap labour, shysters peddling Canadian citizenship via ‘education’ and immigrants wanting their whole village to immigrate to Canada are heartily supported by politicians chasing votes, cheap popularity, virtue-signaling points and donations for their party / campaigns. These are only some of the members of these motley group. In addition, there are many Canadians who have convinced themselves that anyone expressing doubts about the levels of immigration are evil racist monsters. But the fact is that immigration stopped working in favour of immigrants a long time ago, to an extent where it is now racist to bring over people from other countries, knowing that they will face a future of immense hardship and suboptimal quality of life.
It is noteworthy that the whole debate around immigration happens largely around the contention (which is bogus, in my view) that immigration benefits the Canadian economy. What most people ignore – willfully or otherwise – is whether immigration works for immigrants themselves. As I pointed out in my earlier article ‘Immigration Does NOT Increase Prosperity’, the compounded average growth rate in per capita GDP, after adjusting for inflation, in the decade 2012-2021 was lower by a whopping 84% compared to the decade 1961-1970. The chart showing this calculation is worth repeating here:
Clearly, immigration has benefited neither immigrants nor the rest of the Canadians – but I have not seen this fact being advanced by anyone in the public sphere. I don’t know what is worse – that the punditocracy / commentariat / academia is blissfully unaware of this startling fact, or that they have been so thoroughly captured by the prevailing narrative that they haven’t even thought about this possibility.
THINKING V/S SLEEPING
One day, I was watching a YouTube video of a Pakistani talk show featuring a senior journalist by the name of Hassan Nisar. The lady interviewing him asked why Pakistan was lagging behind so many other nations in development. Hassan Nisar replied that it would be wrong to view nations as ‘advanced’ or ‘lagging behind’ in development. He said that the correct dichotomy among nations is those that are thinking versus those that are sleeping (in Urdu, his statement had a rhyming quality to it: ‘sochti huyi ya soti huyi’). To elaborate his point, he gave two examples that we would consider ‘humdrum’ in any other context: liquid soap and the upside-down design of bottles of shampoo etc. He said that these innovations bring tiny improvements in our lives that, cumulatively, enhance the quality of life in a significant manner. The way these innovations were brought about was by someone observing a problem and then thinking about how to resolve it.
When it comes to many important policies, I would put Canada in the ‘sleeping nation’ category. There are carefully crafted – but detached from reality – narratives that prevail because they appeal to a lot of Canadians at the emotional level. Some of these policies involve their perception of safety, e.g., gun control. Many of these narratives make them feel nice about themselves. These are ‘noble’ opinions to have, and not having them makes you a lesser mortal, perhaps not even a human. So, as I await the Immigration Minister’s announcement, I wonder if it will be tailored to appeal to those who want more immigration (because it can only ever be a good thing, and never mind the phrase ‘too much of a good thing’), or it will take into account the facts that the people who prefer to remain grounded in reality consider to be important. To be honest, I am not holding my breath.
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(Image Credit: ‘Juggernaut v/s Colossus’ by Chris via flickr.com; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons License)