Anti-im­mi­grant par­ties thriv­ing across Europe

But Canada’s elec­toral sys­tem all but pre­cludes that here, writes Herbert Grubel.

Vancouver Sun - - OPINION - Herbert Grubel is a pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics emer­i­tus at Si­mon Fraser Uni­ver­sity.

The Ger­man fed­eral elec­tions on Sept. 24 pro­duced an elec­toral earth­quake. The coun­try’s rul­ing coali­tion headed for 12 years by Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel lost its ma­jor­ity, mainly be­cause of the suc­cess of the na­tion­al­ist/ anti-im­mi­grant party Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD), which won 97 seats, up from zero in the pre­ced­ing elec­tions. On Nov. 16, Merkel made the un­prece­dented an­nounce­ment that she had been un­able to form a new gov­ern­ing coali­tion and re­fused to head a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment, pre­fer­ring a new elec­tion in­stead.

Na­tion­al­ist/anti-gov­ern­ment par­ties in other coun­tries of Europe also have gained much sup­port from vot­ers. The percentage of the to­tal vote and the num­ber of seats gained in these coun­tries af­ter the most re­cent elec­tions were: Switzer­land 29.4 per cent and 65 seats out of 200; Den­mark 21.1 and 37/179; Aus­tria 26 and 51/183; Fin­land 17.7 and 38/200; Nor­way 15.2 and 27/169; Nether­lands 13.1 and 20/150; Swe­den 12.9 and 49/349; Ger­many 12.6 and 97/631.

In France, the Na­tional Front re­ceived 13.2 per cent of the vote this year, more than the gains by the AfD, but be­cause of the coun­try’s elec­toral sys­tem won only eight out of 377 seats in par­lia­ment. In Poland, the Law and Jus­tice party re­ceived 37.6 per cent, and with a ma­jor­ity of 235 out of 460 seats has formed the gov­ern­ment. Na­tion­al­ist/anti-im­mi­grant par­ties have also been suc­cess­fully at­tract­ing votes in the Czech Repub­lic, Hun­gary, Bul­garia, Latvia and other former Com­mu­nist coun­tries of East­ern Europe.

Vot­ers dis­sat­is­fied with their coun­tries’ im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies also played im­por­tant roles in the vic­tory of the Bri­tish ref­er­en­dum that led to Brexit, and of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in the United States.

The plat­forms of Europe’s na­tion­al­ist and anti-im­mi­grant par­ties ap­pealed to vot­ers who had per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences and learned from me­dia re­ports that im­mi­grants were re­spon­si­ble for many grow­ing so­cial and eco­nomic ills in their lives: the num­ber and scope of ter­ror at­tacks and crim­i­nal acts; threats to cul­tural and re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions and prac­tices; the cost of hous­ing; the crowd­ing of schools, hos­pi­tals and pub­lic spa­ces; and the scarcity of jobs.

The es­tab­lish­ment politi­cians in the coun­tries with strong na­tion­al­ist and anti-im­mi­grant par­ties ob­vi­ously have not been able to counter these views by claim­ing that their sup­port­ers are racist, xeno­pho­bic and fas­cists and that they do not un­der­stand the large ben­e­fits brought by im­mi­grants: the elim­i­na­tion of labour short­ages; re­duc­tions in the fi­nan­cial prob­lems of so­cial pro­grams; in­creases in global sol­i­dar­ity with needy peo­ple in the rest of the world; and the ben­e­fits of greater cul­tural and re­li­gious di­ver­sity.

Cana­dian politi­cians and in­tel­lec­tual elites have been ig­nor­ing the growth of na­tion­al­ist/ anti-im­mi­grant par­ties in Europe. The cur­rent gov­ern­ment has in­stead in­creased the planned an­nual num­ber of im­mi­grants from the re­cent 250,000 to a high of 360,000 by 2020.

It seems that this policy is out of touch with the views of the pub­lic. An An­gus Reid poll in the mid­dle of 2017 found that 57 per cent of Cana­di­ans agreed with the state­ment that “Canada should ac­cept fewer im­mi­grants and refugees.” The lat­est an­nual poll by the fed­eral De­part­ment of Im­mi­gra­tion re­ported in Novem­ber that in­creas­ing num­bers of Cana­di­ans hold nega­tive views about the cur­rent level of im­mi­gra­tion.

Why the per­sis­tence of the dif­fer­ence be­tween gov­ern­ment and pub­lic views on im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies? The an­swer is that Canada uses the first-past-the-post sys­tem to al­lo­cate seats. In Europe, most coun­tries use pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion to as­sign seats, which en­abled the cre­ation and suc­cess of the na­tion­al­ist and anti-im­mi­grant par­ties.

Canada’s es­tab­lish­ment par­ties will not aban­don the present elec­toral sys­tem. Their as­sured pro­tec­tion from anti-im­mi­grant par­ties brings too many op­por­tu­ni­ties to use im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies to buy the votes of em­ploy­ers of cheap im­mi­grant labour, the firms and pro­fes­sion­als want­ing larger do­mes­tic mar­kets for their out­put, the real es­tate and con­struc­tion in­dus­tries, the com­mu­ni­ties of re­cent im­mi­grants and the im­mi­gra­tion in­dus­try of lawyers and con­sul­tants — even as they know that the pub­lic dis­ap­proves of the mass im­mi­gra­tion they cre­ate.

The ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans who want to see fewer im­mi­grants will have to wait a long time be­fore they get their way.

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