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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Too much, too soon

By DANIEL STOFFMAN
Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Jul. 26, 2003

The current Globe and Mail series, The New Canada, is fascinating and informative. Yet, on one important aspect, immigrants, it contains two glaring, unexplained contradictions.The first has to with the economic performance of recent new arrivals. The articles report that no country in the world is as welcoming to newcomers as Canada. Yet, today's influx of immigrants, including well-educated ones, ''do not make the same economic progress as their predecessors did decades ago.''

How can this be? Canada, or so the proponents of mass immigration claim, has an impending skills shortage of one million workers. As the articles rightly point out, prejudice against newcomers is at an all-time low. In such circumstances, today's immigrants should do far better than their predecessors, not worse.

It is true that immigrant economic performance has tumbled, paradoxically at the same time as barriers to immigrant advancement have disappeared. A Statistics Canada study released last week revealed that the poverty rate in 2000 among immigrants who had arrived since 1995 was 36 per cent, compared to 24.6 per cent in 1980 of those who had arrived in the previous five years.

The reason is simple: supply and demand. Canada gets twice as many immigrants per capita as the two other leading "receiving" countries, the U.S. and Australia. Until the end of the Trudeau era, immigration levels were moderate and fluctuated according to labour market conditions. Brian Mulroney introduced permanent high levels, which stayed in place even during economic downturns. The Chrétien government has continued this policy.

The chief victims are the most recently arrived, who tend to compete with each other in the same economic sectors. A recent U.S. study found that a 10-per-cent rise in the number of immigrants depressed the wages of earlier immigrants by 4 per cent. As the Statscan data show, the same phenomenon is at work in Canada.

Canada has a high rate of both unemployment and underemployment. A highly educated group, the 6.5 million members of the baby boom "echo," Canada's second-largest population cohort, is currently entering the labour market. Meanwhile, many older technology workers are out of work.

It's not surprising, therefore, that recent skilled immigrants as well as unskilled newcomers are having a rough ride. True, their lack of Canadian experience puts them at a disadvantage. But if Canada really were "desperate" for people, as the more frenzied advocates of current immigration policies claim, the new skilled immigrants would be snapped up to occupy jobs suitable to their qualifications.

Recent immigrants are not doing as well as previous ones because their services are not in demand. Canada does not have a labour shortage nor is Canada short of people generally. Canada has one of the higher fertility rates and younger populations among the industrialized countries. Yet it is the only country whose government deems the universal phenomenon of population aging a crisis that must be remedied by immigration.

Because of these policies, entire job categories such as cab drivers and cleaners are now occupied almost exclusively by immigrants under the absurd justification that they "do the jobs Canadians won't." The reality is that they do jobs Canadian-born people would gladly do, but won't do for low wages. Without ever explicitly admitting it, Canada is using high immigration levels to keep wages down. The result is increased poverty among immigrants. That's part of the new Canada too and it's nothing to be proud of.

The second contradiction in the New Canada portrait concerns multiculturalism. The Globe series tells us that "what is remarkable is how quickly immigrants buy into the Canadian way of life." Indeed, so eagerly do newcomers embrace their new identity that whatever ethnicity they or their parents brought with them is being submerged into a new "ethnic group called Canadian." Buying into the Canadian way of life so totally that one's ancestral ethnicity is abandoned for a new one is not multiculturalism. It's old-fashioned assimilation.

Being Canadian no longer means, if it ever did, being white and Christian. But it does mean speaking English or French and embracing the values of a secular, democratic society. Multiculturalism's more extreme advocates have a problem with this, but the offspring of immigrants don't. "Within a generation, children of immigrants have virtually identical values as other young Canadians," according to The Globe's survey.

Diversity refers to superficial differences such as skin colour or dress. Culture is more profound. Canadians today embrace diversity and nobody need feel embarrassed about speaking with an accent or dressing differently. But that does not mean Canada is multicultural. If it were, newcomers would feel free to practise polygamy and female circumcision, and to stage cockfights. But these practices conflict with Canadian culture and are not allowed.

If Canada were multicultural, then third and fourth generation Canadians would speak Italian, Chinese, and the dozens of other languages their ancestors brought with them. They don't. The children of immigrants often retain some of the ancestral language. The grandchildren almost never do. If you don't speak Italian, you don't have much Italian culture. You're probably one of the 39 per cent who claimed "Canadian" ethnicity on the 2001 census.

This percentage increases in every census and it's a trend the advocates of hyphenated Canadianism are powerless to stop. Bad immigration policy, however, can impede the integration of newcomers. A study in B.C. found that children in some schools are having trouble learning English. The reason? All the kids in these schools speak the same foreign languages, so English is never heard in the halls or playground. Some of these children were born in Canada.

The solution is not more ESL teachers. Kids don't learn English from teachers. They learn it from other kids. But they can't if the other kids don't speak English. If the flow of new immigrants were more moderate, this problem would disappear.

Stating repeatedly that Canada is multicultural doesn't make it so. The same is true of the uniquely Canadian belief that rapid inflation of the population of our major cities through the world's highest immigration level is beneficial.

As the New Canada series demonstrates, young people often behave in unexpected ways. This is as true of the foreign-born and their children as of other Canadians. In order to understand how immigration is changing Canada, we need to begin looking at it realistically rather than through the prism of an antiquated mythology.

Daniel Stoffman's book on immigration, Who Gets In, was runner-up for the Donner Prize for best book on public policy and the Shaughnessy Cohen award for best book on politics.



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