Tuesday, 2 November 2010

How Not To Take it Personally

It has become impossible to discuss immigration and multiculturalism without being accused of belonging to one of the two "camps" with equally misguided and misinformed positions on these two phenomena.

In the last Lacking Credentials posting, I said I was going to discuss immigration and how it relates to challenges Toronto is facing. These same challenges are also present in Canada's other two metropolises, Montreal and Vancouver, who with Toronto continue to be the destination for the majority of immigrants. While immigration has enormously benefited these cities and the country up until now from a cultural enrichment point of view, the fact that overinflated property values, insufficient infrastructure, and runaway sprawl are problems that all three of the cities have in common points to evidence that immigration may be a common denominator and the status quo is therefore no longer tenable as a policy. But in order to discuss what is wrong with immigration, what its unintended consequences are, and why what worked in 1975, 1985, 1995, and 2005 cannot and will not work in 2015, we must first debunk the six myths which are chiefly responsible for the polarized debate. This debate makes it impossible to talk about the issues surrounding immigration, which I am very excited to write here today in this uncensored space. I will attempt to roughly explain how the debate gets framed before going on to the entrenched myths.

On one side, the debate features what I will call “immigration reactionaries”. They do not require an explanation because they attempt to shut down every critique/discussion of immigration with some form of one of the six myths, of which detailed descriptions are to follow. The other side features what I will call the "old guard", whose ideas about immigration coalesce into a poisonous cocktail of taking our jobs, causing unemployment, not integrating into our culture, sneaking in here just to scam government entitlements, and harboring terrorist/foreign/religious extremist/undesirable elements within their ranks. I'm not saying these thoughts apply wholesale to all anti-immigration people, but the verbal and written knives that come out over blocking the Gardiner Expressway, honour killings, new mosques, and the like tend to be these sorts of insinuations (At least they are usually restricted to insinuations here. In America, Michael Savage and Lou Dobbs have made fortunes perpetuating these ideas for hours on the air every day). The "old guard" cannot help but feel alienated and annoyed travelling through kilometres of built up areas with malls, business parks, churches and plazas where everything is in chinese, or by walking into a lobby of a major companywhere 15 guys are waiting to do business wearing turbans and chattering loudly in the sitar - y airs of the Indian sub continent.

Personal opinions and preferences aside, I want the reader to understand two things. First, I am not proposing any new rules/reforms/changes for anybody who is already here. Please do not mistake me as some Canadian incarnation of Jean Marie Le Pen & Le Front Nationale or the British National Party or Allianza del Norte (all Extreme right European parties who advocate mass expulsion of immigrants). Too often attempts to initiate dialogue result in people taking what they perceive as an assault on their dearly held values, whether its multiculturalism or pre-immigration Canada personally, and accusing the other of belong to the side that they find toxic. But neither of these "values" reflect reality nor will they ever again. So let's look at the six myths, and my request to you today, reader, is PLEASE, not to take any of this personally.

1) We Need Immigrants to Compensate for our low birth rate

This is totally ridiculous. The notion that a nation needs to expand or at the very least maintain its existing population is a couple of decades old at best. It is a sort of perverse Malthusianism, which I believe like the brilliant but premature theories of the man who thought population growth was outstripping food supply in the early 1800s will be proven dubious. It is a companion to the dying and soon to be discredited paradigm of unending growth, which anyone realizes is physically impossible when they stop to think about it. There were so many demographic factors at play in the past (societal mores and religion demanded large families, and plagues, wars, famines, and lack of medical technology ensured natural selection and sustainable population growth) that to pine today for the high birthrates of yesteryear is absurd. There is simply no incentive other than pure masochism for the majority of people to have four to ten kids anymore. Most people find two quite satisfactory and higher education levels and individual autonomy have made none, thank you, a viable option. This has made all western democracies well below the 2.2 threshold needed to sustain population growth (Canada’s is 1.7). Not to mention that life expectancy has increased triplefold and the planet’s population has increased exponentially. But higher birthrates make some of our odious anti-immigrant fellow citizens excited because they create an illusion of racial purity which is thus less threatened to be watered down by foreigners. That silly racist crap aside, I fail to see how a society who has more people tomorrow will by extension have less problems than it has today. Yes, you say, but we'll need them to pay for all the healthcare/entitlements of all the old people were going to have, or else how will we pay? And I'll answer your question with a question: What makes you think you can convince people who aren't even born to be worker bees for their whole lives? How do you know they won't opt out of the system? Or transform the way the system works entirely when there are no jobs or oppurtunities or any choices to interest them? Or leave? Future planning of the population makes no sense because nobody can predict the future. Do you agree with the analysis about our country that came out of the Globe in the summer around the annual Couchiching conference about it needing three times more residents (100 million) to realize its potential? It was an audacious take on Myth #1 - a vision for the country's future generations' slave labour to carry the load of the generation(s) from a different time who bankrupted us. But of course, the koolaid drinker doesn't think it will be so bad because they've injected plenty of hazy science fiction fantasy into their analysis about how "innovation" and "technology" are going to transform our 100 million strong capitalistimegalalopolis into a star trek dream. Good luck with that.

2) We Need to Attract the World's "Best and Brightest" to foster innovation and keep our enomony strong

I’m sorry, MBA grads, for my heresy, but this is really bizarre. What we have fostered is a perverse and now widely accepted idea is that two parties can serve their own narrow interests and parlay it into a saccharine phrase that confuses people.

Why don't the world's "best and brightest", if they really are that, stay where they are and use their talents to the betterment of their homelands, since they can probably make a bigger impact there than here? Probably because they are attracted by better wages, better social services, more efficient bureaucracy, "world-class" universities, and the ability to consume conspicuously without attracting the ire of their fellow citizens or having glaring inequality rankle their consciences once they achieve success. I understand its a no-brainer for them. What I don't understand is how its a no-brainer for Western countries to poach economically productive people from societies that have a shortage of them when we have plenty of unproductive people right here, sitting around watching TV, eating pepperoni sticks, driving to the reserve to get a shipment of native cigarettes to sell to their friends, taking their 4 wheelers or dirt bikes out for rides in the bush, or whatever the hell else these people do. I believe it might be easier to work on transforming our society's "failures" into successes than skimming the "cream" or the "successes" of other societies. Of course that would require real effort and ingenuity, so count this country out, and I also suspect that our governments prefer not to acknowledge the relative term of societal "failures". Not only does it reflect badly on them, it threatens their hegemony which is maintained by the "failures"' apathy and ignorance. It is cheaper for them (or at least, they have made a conscious or unconscious calculation that it is) to buy these people off with welfare, disability or whatever and recoup part through BLS (Booze/Lottery/Smokes) taxes, write part of society off so to speak, and use an offshore advantage, rather than to work towards making the existing society function to its full potential. In this way, our governments actions are similar to those of Western multinationals who have orchestrated the massive migration of low wage, low skill jobs we've witnessed over the past 20 or so years.

3)Diversity and Multiculturalism are one of our strengths

I agree 110%. So, if we are so open minded, why do we restrict it to a few cities? Why don't we dramatically increase the diversity of destinations we send our immigrants to? While a few "non old-stock" (i.e., non white) people can be found in most communities of various sizes across Canada now, the majority of immigrants are still directed to the greater Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver areas. The remaining are invited to check out Calgary, Edmonton, Winnepeg, and Ottawa. Often they are allowed to move freely to another city where they think there may be more oppurtunity after spending just a couple months where the government decides to place them. I am of the opinion that our three major cities are overcrowded and underserved by infrastructure, and our next seven biggest cities are not there yet but will get there soon enough if the status quo is maintained.

Meanwhile, Thunder Bay, Timmins, Petrolia, Repentigny, London, Windsor, Red Deer, Brandon, Kelowna, Regina, Prince Albert, Charlottetown, Saint John, Corner Brook, Trois Rivières, Saguenay, Peterborough, Belleville, Kingston, Yorkton, Lethbridge, Prince George, Port Alberni, Sarnia, Gaspé, Moncton, Brooks, Sherbrooke, Ingersoll, Woodstock & Aylmer are all Canadian communities with comparable services to the big cities, but probably not the same cultural amenities, and are all open for growth, residents, and business. And if you're not asking where these places are, you're probably asking why would anyone want to live in any of them.

It sounds harsh to say, but I’ve seen most of these places and I can tell you they get the short shrift. The first seven cities I mentioned, along with Quebec City and Halifax, are home to 80% of Canada’s population. These other places, while retaining “city” status, have complexes in their minds of being eternally marginalized, ignored, scorned, disdained, and forgotten, because they pretty much are in the collective consciousness, by bigger provinces, bigger cities, and the nearest metropolises they sit in the shadow of. Big city media and the country’s intelligentsia pretend these places are equal with that sea to shining sea crap, but for the most part consider them as part of a sort of abstract romanticized group of seven painting, not places they would consider visiting or god forbid, living in. I recently was fortunate enough to attend a symposium the NFB hosts in communities across Canada, and the president said where we were (Kitchener-Waterloo tri-cities) was the first place out of seven he went where such sentiments of inferiority were not voiced. And I've only named a handful of such places. If you jump to the defence of immigrants and ask why should they live in them I answer: for the same reason regular Canadians live in them. These are Canadian communities. And they did apply to immigrate to Canada, right? If you say there's no jobs or way for them to earn a living there, I say, they'll figure it out. Don't worry about them. It can't be as rough as what they're used to. And won't the lousy money they make working at tims or driving a taxi (which many of them seem to do, despite having left phds and successful businesses behind) go a lot further in places where the cost of living has not been totally blown out of the water by real estate speculation?

I agree that multiculturalism, in a cost benefit analysis, has overall made society better and more interesting to live in. So why don't we practice what we preach and make it a country wide phenomenom, instead of paying lip service to it and only allowing it to exist in large cities which are already extremely diverse. This will help reduce the rural /urban divide our country faces, because small communities will be less homogenous and thus more attractive, and both sides will have one less caricature /negative attribute to write each other off with. It will make growth occur more evenly instead of in places already bursting at the pants, providing relief to the city and reinforcements to the country, which has lost enough kids to the city already.

4) We are historically known as a compassionate/helpful society and we need to give the world's downtrodden a chance to enjoy our prosperity/oppurtunities

If only that was true. The immigration "points" questionnaire virtually ensures that 90% of successful Canadian immigration applicants belong to the world's elite. Not the billionaire elite, the people who are elite relative to the majority of the world's population. They are folks who can answer yes to a few of these questions,

1) Do you have cashable assets over $30,000?
2)Do you know English or French?
3) Do you have post secondary education?
4)Do you know people/have family in Canada?

If the answer to any of those questions is "yes", than you probably are already among the elite in the 150 poorest out of 200 countries on Earth. Hell, how many born and bred Canadian citizens do you know with 30 grand cash lying around? The government effectively mitigates any risks it assumes bringing you here by assuring you meet these requirements, especially the fourth one of you having a network here because you can just depend on them while you get set up. And it is always at their discretion to say no to your application. Even with this test passed, the first little while is no day at the beach. Cash dries up like nothing, knowledge of a language is not fluency, credentials are not recognized, and your relatives are assholes. Hence Margaret Wente’s lamenting every four columns that immigrants are seriously dragging us down. All she is saying, and all I’m saying, even though we would no doubt disagree with each other on many points, is a conversation needs to be had. And the notions that we are helping people by bringing them here and that life is a breezy picnic in gold plated park once you get here have both become a little too entrenched in their broader acceptance for my liking.

What ever happened to showing up with 10 dollars in your pocket and not 2 words of English to speak of? Well, although our popular mythology loves to lionize this story, because most of us know some old person it applies to, and to use it at the same time to demonize today's "lazy" "entitled" "ungrateful" immigrant communities, you will not find it here in Canada anymore. Today's immigrants are not your grandmothers immigrants. In fact, your grandmother's immigrants who are the elder statespeople of your family would have a hard time even getting in the queue today. And its not that we were wrong to let them in; nothing could be further from the truth. But let's stop the misty eyed bullshit and quit talking like that's still reality.

The only poor and downtrodden we still help are refugees and the only way you can get in line there is if you are in immediate danger/jeopardy and can prove you are experiencing personal/political persecution. The government decides according to its mood and this queue is backed up for about 30 years, which is better than nothing but hardly reflects a “tired, huddled masses” policy. The government’s ever tightening filter on the majority of immigration is reflected by many of the demographics who became predominant from countries who have had large amounts of immigration to Canada, such as Indian-Canadians (mostly high caste) and Chinese Canadians (the majority from Hong Kong and Canton province, historically in the last century the more capitalist and prosperous part of China, and Canada is one of the main places many of them parked their money after the British pulled out and ceded to the communists in ’97).

I picked up an issue of Canadian Immigrant magazine on the Go Transit one day and learned that there is a whole industry of lawyers, consultants, advisors, and lobbyists who have interest in perpetuating the status quo and want to keep the mill turning year after year, damn the consequences. The magazine was not destined to a lost broke person wandering the streets looking for a meal; it was telling immigrants how to get on leasing cars, purchasing real estate in new subdivisions, and investing in Subway and Tim Horton’s franchises as soon as possible. In other words, to pump new foreign money into a defunct status quo that is being sold as the safest, most secure, most practical and most desirable investment to people who think they’ve hit the jackpot. When you see these articles, you realize how far from the ideal we have truly strayed, and that politicians are in bed with these guys the same way they are with real estate developers and resource companies, literally auctioning off our country’s future and spending the proceeds like drunken sailors. But how many lifelong Canadian citizens read Canadian Immigrant? It’s easier just to stick with what you were told in 1975.

5) We are a nation of immigrants

Oh yes, my favourite. This is what we’ve always done so why don’t we just keep continuing on doing what were doing. I love how in this knowledge innovation cutting edge economy the barricades fly up like F-14s as soon as the prospect of doing anything different comes up. Well, this is all we’ve ever done so…let’s just do what works. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Great. Except, as I hope to have demonstrated by now, the policies that allowed most 1st generation immigrants to come to Canada do not exist in those forms anymore. I agree that you can’t help but feel they were lucky, especially if they’re successful now, while others’ window of oppurtunity has been missed, but let’s be realistic. We’re still a small country, not on a lot of people’s radars, and we can’t just be great unless we learn to start talking about how and why we do things, which has become verboten. On this subject The left accuses the right of bigotry and intolerance, which nobody other than maybe Rob Anders openly exhibits anymore, and the right accuses the left of being naïve, bleeding heart, and ripe for exploitation. Hence the NDP’s accusation of “un-Canadianess” Ms Wente mentions (what pathetic intellectual laziness!)

If we are always a nation of immigrants, when will be able to take on collective responsibility as citizens?

6) Questioning our immigrant policy will fuel anti-immigrant backlash and intolerance

Certainly not. Canada is the only Western country with no extreme right wing party. Yes, there are a few underground neo-nazi chapters, but there are no openly racist, anti-immigrant parties or candidates on ballots. This makes us literally an anomaly amongst our peers. Could high unemployment and social unrest turn the tide? No, because the die is already cast. There are so few racist people in this country, barely any in the younger generations, and the millions of children of immigrants who grew up here are indistinguishable in speech and culture from “old stock” kids. “Ethnic” people will not make viable victims or scapegoats in this country. And because there is no Canadian extreme right figure to speak of who is a household name, it is difficult to imagine a political entity coming out of nowhere built solely on those repulsive ideals.

The greatest threat to Canadian social stability /cohesion is the complacency of resting on the laurels of the social model that we’ve built, and that’s true for immigration, health care, levels of government, resources, whatever. The biggest mistake is defining any subject as a taboo, including immigration. The racial harmony in Canada is truly an accomplishment and I’m not worried about race riots as much society’s eventual inability to manage itself and take care of people because of poor planning, lack of foresight, and refusal to have a conversation. After all, when you start an experiment its not like you just keep pouring new things in the beakers and turning up the bunson burners forever and ever. This isn’t some I was here first garbage. This is a request to ask why, how, and for what we bring 250,000 people a year into the country, stick them in big cities, and wait for a good amount of them to join in the speculation.

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