Toronto Star

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.”

 ?? NATHAN DENETTE THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals received widespread public approval for the handling of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015.
NATHAN DENETTE THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals received widespread public approval for the handling of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015.

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