Sunny Ways, My Friends . . .
If you were to consider the question ‘who are the foremost statesmen in Canadian history?’, you might well end up with a handful of household names, among them Macdonald, Laurier, St. Laurent, Pearson, Trudeau (Senior), and Mulroney. These were the individuals who were ambitious enough to grow the country, not to mention fortunate enough to be surrounded by a team capable of doing so and a population urging them on.
Canada’s latest Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has the opportunity to eventually rank among the aforementioned names. Indeed, he has already started down that path.
What struck me throughout the recent federal campaign, as well as on election night and over recent days and weeks, is that Trudeau has a tremendous sense of history, an awareness of time, place, and opportunity. But it is not so much his venerated father that he is invoking; rather, he has consistently alluded to a time more than a century ago when Wilfrid Laurier served as Prime Minister.
Laurier, who won four straight elections between 1896 and 1911, had a vision for Canada’s place in the twentieth century: grow the country. It was Laurier — who Trudeau quotes frequently, even during his victory speech — who governed during a time when Canada welcomed the largest number of new immigrants in its history.
In 1902, Laurier told an audience that “We are a nation of six million people already; we expect soon to be 25, yes, 40 millions. There are men in this audience who, before they die, if they live to old age, will see this country with at least 60 millions of people.”
Alas, two World Wars, a decline in fertility rates, and a succession of governments that feared outsiders meant that today, 113 years later, Canada’s population is barely half of what Laurier projected it might be by the middle of the twentieth century.
Trudeau, however, may have the opportunity to fulfil Laurier’s vision. Remember, an expanded population is not an end-in-itself. We shouldn’t summon our collective energy into welcoming millions of newcomers over the coming years and decades merely for the sake of it. More people means growing markets, locally, nationally, and internationally. It allows our universities and institutions to perform the best research, it increases the number of jobs available as infrastructure needs to be built or updated, and it opens up opportunities for Canadians and newcomers alike.
With a majority government with representation in each province and territory, a cabinet that is representative of the make-up of the country, and a population that yearns for a more ambitious agenda than the one served up by the Harper Conservatives, Trudeau is in a position to maximize the potential of our vast and fertile land and its inhabitants, present and future, and harness that in a spirit of cooperation and entrepreneurship. If he gets it right, his government could enable Canada to become a genuine world leader.
The Liberals’ proposals on the Citizenship and Immigration file should be music to the ears of individuals who see the potential greatness of Canada (not to imply that it is not already great — it is). Under Trudeau, the Liberals have pledged to make family reunification a core priority, increase the number of refugees settled in Canada, and amend the federal economic immigration programs, which the Conservatives made so dependent on the involvement on the whims and interests of the private sector.
An ambitious but doable immigration agenda would bring the spouses and common-law partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to Canada quickly and efficiently, while also doing the same for dependent children, parents and grandparents.
Ambition also means seeing the value, from a humanitarian, economic and social viewpoint, of refugees being settled in Canada. The recent election had candidates who were the sons and daughters of refugees from Vietnam and Hungary. Indeed, our new Minister of Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef, arrived in Canada aged 11 as a refugee from Afghanistan. Why should future representatives not be of Syrian or Iraqi ancestry?
Lastly, “Real Change” means making Canada the most attractive destination for economic migrants and giving them real incentives to make Canada their new home. It means giving international students in Canada a clear path to permanent resident status, rather than moving the goalposts after they’ve arrived and requiring them to receive an invitation.
Overall, real change needs to become a reality. We’ve waited long enough to become a big player in the twenty-first century, and we want newcomers to join us in fulfilling Canada’s true potential. Maybe one day we will cheer as a Canadian with an Asian, Latin American, or West African name shoots a puck to score the winning goal for Team Canada at the Olympics.
As I sit here in my office on a beautiful early November morning in Montreal, the sun is beaming off glistening leaves that have fallen across the streets and parks below. Fresh from a welcome change in government, I’m reminded of that old Laurier refrain that Justin Trudeau used to open his election night victory speech.
Sunny ways, my friends, Sunny ways . . .