Feds work to boost support for immigration
Campaign uses facts, stories to counter ‘harsh, negative tone’
With immigration shaping up to become a wedge issue in next year’s federal election, the Liberal government is trying to promote the upside of immigration to Canada.
Amid the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in Canada and abroad, Ottawa is hoping its new online initiative can spark a constructive conversation on immigration that is based on facts and personal stories.
But at least one critic is already slamming it as a “propaganda campaign.”
Through #ImmigrationMatters, launched in November, the immigration department is inviting the public to submit and share immigrant success stories in their communities, and is posting these accounts — some with links to media stories and others provided by immigrant settlement agencies — on the campaign website and social media outlets.
The campaign includes a tool kit to help people find and spread positive immigrant stories with “key messages” to highlight newcomer contributions. People can also order #ImmigrationMatters buttons or business cards for use at local events to promote immigration.
“We need to do a better job of reminding Canadians of the argument for immigration, why immigration is essential not only to the local community but to our collective prosperity,” Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told a recent public forum in Toronto.
“We need stories, therefore, to show that in the vast majority of cases, newcomers succeed and their children succeed as well, how newcomers embrace our values and celebrate our freedoms, because that is one of the reasons they chose to come to Canada in the first place,” said Hussen, who is himself a refugee from Somalia.
An immigration department spokesperson said this work has been added to the existing staff workload at no additional salary cost, though one casual part-time employee was hired to support story production for videos. Extra operational costs on contracts are expected for up to $27,000 for research, analysis and writing services while $20,779 has been incurred so far under a video con- tract for a series of stories.
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel calls the new initiative an “ill-fated attempt” by the Liberal government to make Canadians believe everything is OK on the immigration front.
“The government knows that they have mishandled the immigration system. Instead of trying to solve the problem, they are trying to take the easy path. I don’t think Canadians are buying it,” Rempel told the Star.
Since coming to power in 2015, the Liberals have made bold moves to boost immigration by welcoming 60,000 Syrian refugees and committing to raise the annual immigrant admission to 350,000 by 2021 from 300,000 last year.
Although the country’s response to the Syrian humanitarian crisis received overwhelming public support, since then, the surge of asylum seekers crossing the border from the United States — 35,000 since early 2017 — has some Canadians questioning whether Canada has welcomed too many immigrants.
An Angus Reid Institute poll in the summer showed almost half of Canadians felt Ottawa’s 2018 target of 310,000 newcom- ers to Canada was too high, just as the opposition Conservatives hammered the government for mishandling the influx of refugees from the U.S.
Rempel said the majority of Canadians, regardless of their political leanings, are in favour of immigration, but only if the process is “lawful, co-ordinated and fair.”
“The government shouldn’t be spending money on some propaganda campaign when they should be fixing the (refugee) situation that is eroding public support to begin with,” she said, pointing to a Parliamentary Budget Office report this week that warned the cost associated with so-called irregular migration would reach $340 million and keep rising. The #ImmigrationMatters initiative includes “key messages” to help guide public conversations about immigration, including that:
Immigrants contribute to the economy and create jobs for Canadians;
Immigrants are thoroughly screened and respect our laws;
Immigrants integrate fully into Canadian society.
A senior immigration department official told the Star the idea for the campaign came up more than a year ago, partially inspired by the minister’s penchant for storytelling, and has nothing to do with next year’s election.
“It’s unrelated,” said the official, who spoke to the Star on background. “This has been going on for a year and will go beyond the next election. We just want to have an honest and open conversation about the role immigrants play in our country.”
Ryerson University politics and public administration professor Myer Siemiatycki praises the government’s effort to push back the “overflow” of negative messaging about immigration both inside and outside Canada.
“The immigration discourse has taken a harsh, negative tone, where immigration equals bad and equals problems. This campaign reminds Canadians that immigrants bring a lot of upsides and positives to Canada by looking at the facts and records. It’s an important undertaking,” Siemiatycki said.
“There is no question personal stories and individual vignettes are extremely powerful. Combined with fact-based context, these stories matter and are the best way to get the message across.”