Despite glaring differences in general ideology, mainstream political parties have been forced to share what seems like a consensus on the value of immigration in promoting economic and social well-being. Many have attributed this to the introduction of anti-immigrant rhetoric from the political fringe but a closer look at the tone and specific policies in each platform reveals fundamental differences in approaches to immigration.
Encouraging Economic Migration
Despite promising ‘’modest and responsible increases to immigration’’ the current Liberal government has remained vague on its target number of newcomers. According to its immigration levels plan, released in 2018, the Liberal government intends to grow the number of immigrants from 330 800 people in 2019 to 350 000 in 2021. While its election platform fails to disclose new targets for the next four years, the party promotes a focus on highly skilled people.
This focus on ‘’building a stronger Canada’’ and ‘’keep[ing] the economy growing’’ is targeted towards small, rural municipalities in which immigration experts claim a shrinking workforce – due to an aging population and urban migration – prevents employers from meeting their current demands and growing. To this, the Liberal party also presents plans for a ‘Municipal Nominee Program’ which would allow communities, chambers of commerce and local labour councils to directly sponsor permanent immigrants. This focus on economic migration is one of the more consistent aspects throughout party platforms, as the Green Party plans to eliminate the Temporary Foreign Workers Program to instead address labour shortages by establishing paths to permanent residency and the New Democratic Party (NDP) promises to improve compatibility of foreign credentials.
Where the parties do tend to diverge is on key issues including the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) and irregular border crossings.
Much of Andrew Scheer’s performance this campaign has been focused on discrediting Trudeau’s leadership and presenting himself as a more responsible alternative. As such, the Conservative platform does not present a drastically different immigration system or targets. Rather, it emphasizes a ‘crisis’ of irregular migration and actually blames Trudeau for the ‘’record-high number of Canadians [who] believe that immigration should be reduced’’ and for ‘’undermin[ing] the consensus that immigration is a positive thing for this country.”
The Conservatives accuse the federal government of mismanaging border crossings at unofficial points of entry such as Roxham Road. To this, the Liberals charge the Conservatives with fear-mongering by turning what is actually a challenge into a crisis. Canada received about 50 000 refugee claimants in 2018. While that is about double the amount received in 2016, the UNHCR’s Canada representative Jean Nicolas Beuze argues Canadaians should put this into context stating: ‘’When we’re speaking about a crisis, a crisis of refugees does exist. The big numbers remain in the developing world, whether it’s Bangladesh, Uganda, Lebanon – those are the countries that are facing a refugee crisis.”
Canada has two separate processes for admitting newcomers: the immigration stream, which includes refugees resettled from abroad, and the asylum stream. While the immigration process generally has a waitlist for permanent residency and then citizenship, this does not apply to asylum seekers. Additionally, although the STCA mandates asylum seekers to ask for protection in the first safe country they reach, this agreement also does not apply to those who cross into Canada at an unofficial border post and make an in-land claim. For this reason, many of those seeking asylum cross at non-designated points, rather than official crossings where they would be automatically directed back into the United States.
The Conservatives have accused asylum seekers of using this ‘loophole’ in the Safe Third Country agreement to ‘jump the queue’ by crossing the border at unofficial point. The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers have challenged this claim stating: ‘’Refugees have a right – protected by international law – to seek asylum, whether they arrive by foot, boat or plane. There is no queue.” Additionally, while Canada does set an annual target for refugees – 43 000 in 2019 – this figure is not a cap.
Scheer has not responded to challenges to his imagined ‘queue.’ When asked, a Conservative spokesperson did comment that resources should be spent on the most vulnerable, not on those who “made it to a safe country like the United States.” In 2017, when Canada saw the first major influx of irregular border crossings at the US-Canada border, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that made it easier to deport immigrants without due process and drastically expanded who was prioritized for deportation.
In contrast to the vague promise made by the Liberals to ‘’modernize’’ the STCA, the NDP and the Green party have promised to suspend and terminate, respectively, the agreement. They argue that the United States can no longer be considered a ‘safe country’ and terminating the agreement would reduce the need to cross at unofficial points of entry.
For a different reason, the Bloc Quebecois also intends to scrap the STCA. In collaboration with the Premiers of Ontario and Manitoba, Quebec has pressured the Liberal government to review its policies on border crossings outside of regular ports of entry and compensate provinces for the impact of refugee resettlement. This aligns with BC plans to give Quebec veto powers over federal decisions to expel refugees.
For the Peoples’ Party of Canada (PPC), its immigration policy is predicated on the claim that ‘mass immigration’ in Canada has caused a national identity crisis by threatening the ‘‘cultural character and social fabric’’ of Canada. Canada’s tumultuous history of migration and settlement from all over the world challenges this attempt to construct a uniform identity, tied down to our current borders. The party also cites a 2011 study from the Fraser Institute, which itself relies on 2006 census data and a sample of tax filing information taken between 1987 and 2004, to claim immigrants cost taxpayers are ‘’absorbing nearly the same value of government services’’ while generating lower wages than non-immigrants.
The PPC’s platform aims to address this by significantly reducing the number of immigrants Canada accepts to between 100 000 and 150 000/year, accepting fewer resettled refugees and abolishing the family reunification program for parents and grand-parents. Of the six parties vying for seats this election, then, the PPC has the most anti-immigration stance.
While it may appear at initial glance that Canada’s main parties largely agree on immigration, serious divergences in policy and message appear when the platforms are more profoundly examined.
This article is part of a week-long series on the parties and their platforms ahead of the 2019 Canadian general election. See here for the rest of our election coverage. For information on how to vote on October 21st, click here.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.
Cover photo designed by Lauren Hill.