Canada’s looming federal election could put immigration in the spotlight
This year could be one of the most important years yet for Canadian immigration, and not just in terms of numbers.
Canadians are scheduled to vote this fall to elect a new federal government and, for the first time in recent memory, it’s expected that immigration will be a central issue.
On one hand, this could be a good thing for Canada’s Liberal government, whose generally pro-immigration policies have been a central focus of its four years in power.
Liberal policies have helped keep Canada open to foreign talent at a time when the United States and others are closing their doors. The year ahead is a case in point: Canada expects to welcome nearly 331,000 new permanent residents this year under the Liberals’ multi-year immigration levels plan — an increase of almost 21,000 over 2018’s overall target. Admissions through Canada’s economic programs are projected to account for roughly 58 per cent of this target.
This open door has not gone unnoticed by foreign entrepreneurs, skilled workers and students, a growing number of whom are turning to Canada as a safer, friendlier option to the United States under President Donald Trump.
Where the Liberals are vulnerable, however, is their handling of the influx of nearly 40,000 asylum seekers across Canada’s border with the United States since January 2017.
The Liberals’ chief opponent, the Conservative Party of Canada, has pinned this spike in claims on a tweet from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that same month that proclaimed ‘To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.’ The tweet came out the day after Trump’s first executive order banning refugees and visitors from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, all of them Muslim-majority countries.
The months since have seen thousands of foreign nationals facing possible removal from the U.S. trek north to an unofficial border crossing at the New York-Quebec border and claim asylum in Canada, overwhelming the government’s capacity to process them in a timely manner. Thousands of claims are now waiting to be heard, with wait times stretching from months into years. Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer, Yves Giroux, said the total cost for the asylum claims process was about $340 million in 2017-2018 and is expected to rise to $396 million in 2019-2020.
The Conservatives have repeatedly called the situation a “crisis” over which the Liberals have lost control, one that is putting the integrity of Canada’s border and immigration system — and the safety of Canadians — at risk. Crisis or not, it’s a message that polls suggest is resonating with a growing number of Canadians.
A new Ipsos poll of 2,001 Canadian adults found that nearly half of respondents don’t believe those claiming asylum are really refugees but are instead coming to Canada for economic reasons. It also found that, while more Canadians see immigration as a positive for the country than those who see it as a negative, six in 10 believe the government is hiding its true cost from taxpayers and that immigration is putting too much pressure on public services like health care, transportation and education.
In their bid for a second mandate in October, Trudeau’s Liberals will have to address these concerns and lead Canadians to a new understanding of how immigrants — and asylum seekers — benefit Canadian society.
Canadians remain by and large in favour of immigration — this is not an issue. But the integrity of our borders and immigration system are issues, and the Liberals have a job to do to restore public confidence in them in the run-up to this fall’s scheduled election.