Immigration based on foresight, not fear
Douglas Gibson crossed the border from the United States into Canada on Sept. 8, 1967 - broke, with only a vague idea of what he wanted to do for work. That was sufficient for the Canadian border official of the day.
Today, the ability to cross borders and remain in the country of our choice (or necessity, in some cases) is a far more complicated, if not impossible, task. In an era of global terrorism, real or imagined, it is understandable why national perimeters have grown less porous. There are, however, more malevolent reasons why nations, cultures and groups of all sizes choose to keep people out.
More than the threat of physical terror, the fear of rising environmental and economic instability has awakened a possessive reaction in many, leading them to hold firmly onto whatever they can, while they can be it land, jobs or their sense of identity. As that fear takes hold, an increasingly black and white understanding of the world emerges. A ‘with us or against us’ kind of mentality becomes ever-present and middle ground erodes faster than the notion of middle class.
Helen Delfeld illustrates this behavior in Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in the United States. Trump’s move, deplored by Democrats and Republicans alike, follows on the heels of his refusal to denounce White Nationalists and their overt displays of hate. Part and parcel of the same bigotry, Trump has become a spokesperson for a growing number of Americans who feel threatened by the world’s instability, and look around to the nearest person that looks unlike them to lay blame.
Living in a country with advanced social safety nets and a government acknowledged pursuit of diversity, it is all too easy for Canadians to assure ourselves that exclusionary practices are left south of our border. In introducing President Obama to the House of Commons in June 2016, Trudeau remarked:
"The North American idea that diversity is strength is our greatest gift to the world. No matter where you are from, nor the faith you profess, nor the colour of your skin, nor whom you love, you belong here. This is home."
These words were, at once, a heartwarming message to thousands of arriving refugees, and a rebuff of Trump’s racist, anti-immigrant position. In reality, our arms have not been quite as open as Prime Minister Trudeau would lead us to believe. In the case of refugees, we have simply assigned a limited number of agents with open arms. Such is the case with the Esmaeels, the Syrian family of six shoved around by war. They are languishing as refugees in Jordan awaiting the green light to come to Baddeck.
In recognizing the economic potential of interprovincial and international migration (see the work of the One Nova Scotia Coalition), the Province of Nova Scotia has taken significant steps to offer incentives to external populations willing to relocate and work here. The recent announcement of a two-year deal between the Cape Breton Partnership and the Province of Nova Scotia to attract skilled labour is but the latest example of such laudable efforts.
At the same time, our federal threshold for admission remains low – sector-identified skills or deep financial pockets must accompany anyone applying for permanent residency or citizenship. All else, need not apply. The concern of admitting net-negative contributors to our economy is so high that our tolerance for risk – our willingness to accept individuals without proven track records – is low.
Avoiding unnecessary pressure on our welfare system is prudent; however, we must be willing to take a chance on lesser known quantities. As it stands, our own regulatory bureaucracy is so stringent that many immigrants admitted with professional skills are left performing remedial tasks. While living in Toronto, I met many a foreign-trained doctor driving a cab.
If the young Douglas Gibson who came to Canada in 1967 tried to enter today, he would almost certainly be denied long-term stay. Yet, that young man grew up to be a Canadian great, president of a major publishing firm and the launcher of many great Canadian authors’ careers. His net contribution to the economy has certainly been positive.
I know of several individuals in our county who are currently seeking permanent status in Canada, specifically, so they can live and work here in Cape Breton. There are no guarantees of their future worth, but I see bright, honest working individuals, each with fires in their bellies. Moreover, they are good human beings with positive, caring attitudes. Qualitative, not just quantitative characteristics, must be taken into consideration when building the future we want.