Canada’s consensus on immigration and diversity is at a breaking point and Conservatives are to blame
A small business owner creating jobs in small-town Saskatchewan; a man who helps disadvantaged and low-income youth affected by drug violence in Glengarry; a couple who runs a meals-on-wheels franchise to feed Edmonton’s most vulnerable residents.
These stories are featured on the government of Canada’s new #ImmigrationMatters website. It’s part of the Liberal’s new strategy to proactively promote and showcase the benefits of Canada’s welcoming immigration system and our commitment to diversity.
Reading these stories is a powerful reminder of the importance of immigrants to our country. It also shows how Conservatives have successfully undermined our national consensus on immigration and diversity to further their electoral agenda.
Up until recently, establishment political parties and elites more or less supported the notion that a relatively open immigration policy was a net benefit to Canada, or at the very least not harmful.
Yet we now find that consensus on immigration, openness and diversity collapsing.
This erosion began with Harper’s rhetoric against immigration fraud, cuts to health care to refugees, the framing of citizenship as a privilege rather than a right, and the “barbaric cultural practices” snitch line.
Radicalized far-right media organizations like Rebel Media and the Toronto Sun have broken from major news outlets by attacking legal asylum seekers and refugees, spreading outright lies, misinformation and demonizing minorities.
Conservatives under Andrew Scheer have demonized refugees, fear mongerered about immigrants, and promoted racist propaganda.
Maxime Bernier launched a full-frontal assault on diversity, questioning the multicultural idea that has been a core Canadian value. Far-right fringe elements sense an opportunity and are moving quickly to assert power within Bernier’s fledgling organization.
Whether they persuaded people or activated hidden latent racial animosity within Canadians is unclear. But the result is undeniable and all too predictable.
Polling by Angus Reid shows Canadians generally do not support increasing immigration. Going back to 1975, Canadians almost always said immigration levels should stay the same. But extremist rhetoric has turned the public hostile. Historical tracking by Angus Reid shows a record 49% of Canadians say we should decrease immigration levels. This is a 14% rise since 2014. Even more concerning is that people who believe immigration levels are acceptable has plummeted from 48% in 2014 to 31% in 2018.
Other factors such as a rise in hate crimes throughout Canada, led primarily by the far-right, illustrate the growing challenges we face.
Conservative supporters are being radicalized at a far higher rate than Canadians.
69% of Conservatives oppose current immigration levels compared to 39% of Liberal and NDP voters. 84% of Conservatives say too many people are seeking asylum through legal border crossings. And a poll by Abacus Data shows border crossings are the number one issue for Conservatives.
It remains to be seen whether attacks against refugees and immigration are a vote-winner. Around the world, rightwing parties have weaponized immigration, using it as a tool to attack left-wing opponents and win elections.
The Liberal response to date is also worrying. More investments are needed to support aslylum seekers and the creation of a Ministerial portfolio responsible for “border security” was an unnecessary concession to the right. The latest high-profile campaign to build support for immigration is more encouraging. A full-throated defence of diversity and immigration is needed. This is not only the most practical approach, but also the moral one.
Attacks against refugees and immigrants are a relatively new feature in Canadian politics. But under Andrew Scheer, Conservatives sense an opportunity, launching an unprecedented campaign to sow fear and doubt about our immigration and refugee system. These attacks will continue to fray our national consensus and support for openness and diversity.
For the sake of our country, let’s hope Conservatives and the far-right don’t succeed.