For the faint of heart
When Justin Trudeau and his cabinet colleagues ambled through Ottawa to be sworn in this time last year, the new Prime Minister was much-quoted for repeating the line “sunny ways”. This, of course, was an allusion to Wilfried Laurier, the Liberal PM whose lengthy term in office a century ago is deemed by analysts of all political stripes to have been a roaring success, principally because Laurier had a vision to grow the country.
Part of that growth — arguably the main part — was immigration. Laurier didn’t so much as grow Western Canada, he completely revolutionized what Western Canada was through immigration. Pre-World War 1, Laurier and his government welcomed hundreds of thousands of newcomers annually to a country of just a few million. He projected that within a few decades Canada’s population would be more than 60 million.
But guess what, it’s barely more than half of that today. Now, increasing a population isn’t just an end-in-itself, of course, but empirical studies show that doing so within the context a mixed market economy, such as Canada’s, raises living standards across the board.
The current Finance Minister’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth recently submitted a report that develops this point, and similar sentiments have recently been espoused by esteemed commentators such as Andrew Coyne, who wrote this week that ‘More than a century after Sir Wilfrid Laurier grandly declared the twentieth century would be “the century of Canada,” Canadians may at last be ready to take him up on it.’
But this week, somebody in cabinet got cold feet. The Immigration Minister, John McCallum, had gone on the record as saying that he wished to “substantially increase” overall immigration numbers, but he also let slip that he was receiving push back from his cabinet colleagues. Well, we now know who won that tug-of-war — the 2017 Immigration Plan targets the same number of new immigrants as the 2016 version: 300,000.
Not only that, but economic and family sponsorship categories were higher in the mix. This is good in and of itself, but it meant that refugee and protected persons categories were down. Indeed, if you put on a blindfold and if you didn’t know which party had one last year’s election, you might have guessed that the Tories had edged it.
This all said, let’s remember that this is the beginning of year two of a long majority mandate for the Liberals, who may subsequently go on to win another election. There is still time to channel Laurier’s vision. However, for the moment it’s steady as she goes, and Canada misses another opportunity to join the major leagues.