Rob Ford didn’t start it, but he was characteristically inflammatory when he responded to a question on the expectation that a majority of the recent Tamil refugees may be coming to Toronto. Echoing the sentiments of many, Ford said: “We can’t even deal with the 2.5 million people in the city. I think it’s more important that we take care of the people here now before we start bringing in more.”
This response by Ford, the leading candidate in Toronto’s upcoming mayoral election, predictably brought a firestorm of responses from the other high profile candidates invited to participate in a televised debate last week. Leaving aside the question of whether someone expressing such an unsophisticated view should be mayor and the fact that immigration is not within the purview of municipal government, the relevant point is that immigration is growing again into a hot button issue or, as politicians like to call it, a ‘wedge’ issue.
Blame the recession. Blame 9-11. When times are hard, frustrated people look for a scapegoat. Moreover, the tendency to take our lead from our neighbours to the south in situations such as this cannot be underestimated. That obviously includes the musings of some politicians; Ford is not the only one. So just as America has declared war on immigrants – or at least some immigrants, be they Muslims or Mexicans – significant numbers here are latching onto a simmering anti-immigrant sentiment.
It is no secret that recent immigrants to this country have a harder time finding fair-wage employment than native-born Canadians. While in decades past there was a shorter transition time from the initial adjustment period to the mainstream, the latter half of this decade has seen a slowing of that pattern.
Currently, Toronto’s unemployment rate is hovering near 10 per cent while Ontario’s unemployment rate is just below nine per cent. The existing recessionary climate is all the more shocking since it was only as recently as 2008 that Canada’s national employment rate was at a 33-year low of 5.8 per cent.
So, yes we understand the underlying unease behind the knee-jerk blaming of newcomers to Canada, which even some newcomers are caught up in, suffering as they are from the brunt of the unemployment crisis.
Understand, but disagree. For, what becomes lost in the emotionalism of job insecurity and hard times is the hard data that still prove Toronto is the economic hub of this country. It is no coincidence that it is also the place where significant numbers of immigrants settle, for the two aspects are manifestly linked.
When we think about people like Jamaica-born Michael Lee-Chin and Raymond Chang or India-born Arjun Sharma we recognize the heights to which some immigrants have ascended in this country and this economy. Not only for themselves but also for the thousands of jobs they create through their enterprises that employ both immigrants and Canadians.
That is the reason Canada has long welcomed people from other lands. And it isn’t only those high profile individuals who are creating the new economy that has made Canada a member of the Group of Eight (G-8) top economies in the world. Immigrants do not only come here looking for jobs, they also look for opportunities to create and build businesses. New Canadians start up and run thousands of small and medium-size businesses across this city. Take a walk around Yonge and Bloor – in what is considered the heart of the city – or in just about any other sector of this city on any business day and notice who is running the many stores and services.
Let us also recognize that with a faltering U.S. economy, the influx of immigrants to Canada gives us growing leverage in the global market which is, and will be, to our increasing advantage going forward.
Finally, despite all the rhetoric about how much immigrants cost the government, the fact is that the government receives more revenue on average from immigrants than the Canadian average.
So let us not confuse emotion for reality. Times are tough, but dumping on immigrants is not the solution.