When the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal dis­course tends to­ward themes of clo­sure and iso­la­tion­ism, it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing all the tan­gi­ble good open borders can bring

Sharp - - CONTENTS - By Ka­mal Al-so­laylee

Ka­mal Al-so­laylee on the ben­e­fits of open borders, global think­ing, and the shrink­ing power of mak­ing ar­gu­ments with facts.

AT A CA­SUAL SUN­DAY DIN­NER IN SUB­UR­BAN TORONTO this sum­mer, the guest list in­cluded a young woman of Ital­ian mother and Pak­istani fa­ther and her part­ner, with one par­ent from Turkey and the other from the Ba­hamas. The hosts were of Ital­ian back­ground, and I moved to Toronto two decades ago from the United King­dom af­ter grow­ing up in Egypt, Le­banon, and my birth coun­try of Ye­men. That evening, I got home just in time for the Bul­gar­ian door­man to hand over to his So­mali col­league, but not be­fore I stopped to pick up the Sun­day pa­per at the cor­ner store, where the Kash­miri em­ployee was watch­ing an In­dian soap opera on his lap­top. While all this sounds like fod­der for an episode of Aziz An­sari’s Master of None on Net­flix (or a “Di­ver­sity Is Our Strength” Lib­eral Party cam­paign ad), it’s also the story of the ev­ery­day lives of mil­lions in this coun­try.

Noth­ing could be more Cana­dian or as symp­to­matic of the world we live in to­day than this amal­gam of cul­tures, coun­tries of ori­gins, and per­sonal his­to­ries con­verg­ing on a city as large and as wel­com­ing as Toronto.

The move­ment of peo­ple (as well as the phys­i­cal and in­tel­lec­tual goods and ser­vices they pro­vide) is as an­cient as trade along the Silk Road or, even fur­ther back, the ex­o­dus of the first hu­mans out of Africa into other con­ti­nents. Since the mod­ern era be­gan, this re­dis­tri­bu­tion of peo­ple and re­sources hasn’t al­ways been fair or le­gal — let’s not do a Hol­ly­wood and white­wash colo­nial­ism or slav­ery — but our world would be un­rec­og­niz­able and im­pov­er­ished to­day with­out those who chal­lenged the tyranny of borders and those who sought to stop the tide of free move­ment. But that’s ex­actly what’s hap­pen­ing in many parts of the world we once called free.

Po­lit­i­cal forces from both the far left (anti-glob­al­iza­tion ac­tivists) and the far right (anti-es­tab­lish­ment and anti-free trade) have found a com­mon ground in cham­pi­oning nar­rowly de­fined con­cepts of na­tional sovereignty. To those who voted for Don­ald Trump or in favour of Brexit in 2016, dif­fer­ent races and for­eign-made goods are the hills on which they’re will­ing to die. To the rad­i­cal left, glob­al­iza­tion has ex­ploited work­ers in the de­vel­op­ing world while putting pres­sures on wages and job se­cu­rity in the man­u­fac­tur­ing cen­tres of the In­dus­trial North. To date, Canada has been spared the worst of this lat­est “trend” — and at times pol­i­tics does echo fash­ion

— but as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­opens NAFTA and pulls out of the Paris Cli­mate Ac­cord, there is a grow­ing risk of an iso­la­tion­ist mind­set gain­ing a foothold here.

The chal­lenge fac­ing any­one ad­vo­cat­ing for a world of mo­bil­ity and ex­change of cul­tures is to make a com­pelling case for open borders and a con­nected econ­omy to those who feel left out of the ben­e­fits of glob­al­iza­tion. How do you tell a fac­tory worker whose shifts have been cut in half or a depart­ment-store em­ployee who saw her pen­sion dis­ap­pear af­ter 40 years of ser­vice — or a re­cent grad­u­ate patch­ing to­gether a liv­ing from one con­tract to an­other — to not lose faith in a sys­tem that has dashed their ex­pec­ta­tions for a mid­dle-class life?

Be­gin with facts, while they still have cur­rency. Sev­eral stud­ies, in­clud­ing one by the Con­fer­ence Board of Canada in 2016, sug­gest that cur­rent im­mi­gra­tion lev­els to Canada will have to be in­creased from 250,000 to just over 400,000 an­nu­ally in or­der to meet growth ex­pec­ta­tions and to com­pen­sate for an ag­ing work­force. In two decades, Cana­di­ans over 65 will make up al­most one quar­ter of the pop­u­la­tion. Our un­em­ploy­ment rate re­mains rel­a­tively low — 6.3 per cent cur­rently — and many sec­tors, from tech­nol­ogy to ser­vice to con­struc­tion, re­port se­ri­ous labour short­ages. A ro­bust econ­omy de­mands peo­ple to work in it.

Of course, what should concern us is that new­com­ers get fair com­pen­sa­tion and eq­ui­table treat­ment at the work­place. The Bul­gar­ian door­man I re­ferred to ear­lier is a clas­si­cally trained mu­si­cian who had to take a job below his qual­i­fi­ca­tions to sur­vive. He’s been at that front desk for al­most 10 years now, and his chances of tran­si­tion­ing out of ca­sual work are slim.

If re­sis­tance to open borders on eco­nomic grounds can some­times be worn down by ap­peals to facts and fig­ures, the cul­tural as­pects re­quire a more sus­tained ef­fort. One un­for­tu­nate mark of an es­tab­lished com­mu­nity is to pull up the lad­der af­ter its mem­bers have climbed. Whether that com­mu­nity is Euro­pean or South Asian — many brown vot­ers favoured Brexit to pun­ish the “job-steal­ing” Poles — ac­cept­ing and wel­com­ing peo­ple who look dif­fer­ent re­quires leaps of faith and other acts of hu­man em­pa­thy. We mis­take our sense of be­long­ing in Canada for an own­er­ship of the land, which can be toxic and in­sult­ing to our Indige­nous pop­u­la­tions.

At the rate the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is push­ing a pro­tec­tion­ist agenda, ex­pect the U.S. econ­omy to slow down and its role on the world stage to shrink. In fact, the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund up­graded the out­look for Canada this sum­mer, al­most in the same breath it down­graded the eco­nomic fore­cast for both the United States and the United King­dom. The ben­e­fits to Canada are im­me­di­ate and will play out in mul­ti­ple sec­tors. Toronto is now the fastest grow­ing mar­ket for tech tal­ent, cre­at­ing 22,500 jobs be­tween 2015 and 2016, com­pared to San Fran­cisco’s 11,540 and New York’s 5,370. Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a boom in in­ter­na­tional ap­pli­ca­tions and this aca­demic year will see an in­crease of 25 per cent in ad­mis­sions from stu­dents who have de­cided that in­sti­tu­tions in the U.S. and the U.K. may not be as safe or as wel­com­ing. Since Canada of­fers a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship to in­ter­na­tional stu­dents af­ter grad­u­a­tion, the in­tel­lec­tual ben­e­fits of glob­ally and lo­cally trained minds — in­no­va­tion, con­nec­tions to home economies and in­dus­tries, among oth­ers — will give us a lead­ing po­si­tion on the world stage.

None of the above ig­nores the gen­uine fears that many Cana­di­ans have about their fu­ture. I teach univer­sity stu­dents and I know how anx­ious many of them are about a world that looks and feels very dif­fer­ent from what they or their par­ents knew. Talk of turn­ing a chal­lenge into an op­por­tu­nity feels hol­low and too much like HR speak. But re­treat­ing into dis­cred­ited no­tions of su­pe­ri­or­ity of some faiths and races over oth­ers is not the an­swer. We need to fix the in­equities of the econ­omy and the more ruth­less as­pects of glob­al­iza­tion be­fore we slam doors that a few cen­turies or decades ago were opened wide for our an­ces­tors.

Just ask the Ital­ian grand­par­ents of the hosts of that multi-eth­nic din­ner in Toronto. They crossed a sea and an ocean and the borders of sev­eral provinces to make a life for them­selves and their chil­dren. In time, they shared their good for­tunes (and fine food) with neigh­bours and friends. And isn’t Canada in­fin­itely bet­ter for it?

“How do you tell a fac­tory worker whose shifts have been cut in half to not lose faith in a sys­tem that has dashed their ex­pec­ta­tions for a mid­dle-class life? Be­gin with facts.”

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