Columnists

Immigration’s the elephant in the room

Politics in an advanced democracy is not much different than politics in a less advanced democracy, as in contemporary Russia, save for the niceties of how the political contest for the prize of forming government is conducted.

It is during an election campaign when the mechanics of democracy becomes more or less visible. The players ­— politicians and parties — descend from their elevated perch of authority, rub shoulders with the common people for votes, and massage their message through the media.

The media is the fourth estate and technically distant from parties and politicians. But technicality aside, members of the fourth estate and politicians are in each other’s incestuous embrace most of the time.

There is a tacit understanding among politicians and mainstream journalists not to rock the boat excessively during an election. Consequently, politics in an advanced democracy becomes a learned art in deception, evasion and obfuscation of any issue that is, or might prove to be, explosive.

An explosive issue is one that reveals the widening gap between the voting public and political players, including the media.

One of the explosive issues in Canadian politics, as it is in other western democracies, is immigration. Since 9/11, this issue has become important or, it might even be said, vital in discussing the future shape of the country in terms of its inherited cultural and political values.

Most Canadians recognize the unprecedented immigration numbers over the past several decades, and the composition of newly arriving immigrants, have adversely and unduly accelerated the pace of changing the country’s profile.

While immigration as an issue demands the most serious public discussion, it is the elephant in the room that all major parties and political leaders, with the collusion of the fourth estate, have done their best to evade.

In per-capita terms, Canada receives the largest number of immigrants —­ in addition to refugee claimants and workers on temporary visas —­ every year of any western democracy.

At an annual rate of more than a quarter million, Canada has received 1.3 million immigrants during the past five years.

The consensus of the elite — political players, the media, the government bureaucracy federally and provincially, immigration lawyers and other interest groups ­— is that immigration is beneficial in terms of Canada’s aging population and declining birth rate.

Anyone questioning this consensus is muzzled by the fear of being publicly labelled a bigot. Hence, the consensus prevails despite the assumptions supporting it being rather weak and tenuous.

Recently, however, a new organization, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform (immigrationreform.ca), dedicated to publicly discussing this near taboo subject was launched.

The role CIPR has assumed for itself is providing information and education to Canadians on the whole spectrum of issues related to Ottawa’s immigration policy, or the lack thereof.

And in respecting here the principle of full disclosure, I am a member of the advisory board of the CIPR.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron spoke recently about the ill-effects of open immigration, and the need to reduce immigration numbers. Similarly, in the U.S., immigration is an explosive issue.

So it is in Canada, and the need for public discussion cannot be postponed, evaded, or fudged indefinitely.

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Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen

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