February 14, 2004
“Make Manitoba Your New Home” the government Web site courting immigrants says. “Manitoba Welcomes Newcomers.” But most potential immigrants aren’t listening, and for good reason. Canada only welcomes the well-off, or the well-skilled, as contributors to the economy. Manitoba, as do other provinces, sets the bar so high for immigrants that most native-born Canadians – if they had to qualify to remain here as productive members of the economy – would be deemed undesirable and deported.
Canada’s elitist immigration policy was lamented in a 2002 brief to the federal government by the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, which has seen the city’s once-robust Jewish population diminished by one-quarter. “The ‘pass mark’ is too high for most skilled individuals,” the federation’s vice-president, Leslie Wilder, told a parliamentary committee in an unsuccessful attempt to dissuade the federal government from introducing new restrictions that would further discriminate against all but the highly skilled.
“Our initial survey indicates that those who have already come and integrated into our community in the last several years would not pass. Most people would not qualify even though they are in fields with job opportunities in Winnipeg and have the resources to apply. Indeed many of those born in Canada with higher levels of education would also not be eligible under the new point system, even though their skills are in demand.”
Under the government’s new selection criteria, even young university graduates fluent in English and with work experience often won’t qualify to become immigrants to Canada. Most blue-collar workers are frowned upon; the unskilled need not even consider Canada, unless they’re refugees or have some other dispensation. Those who are cheerfully welcomed – specialized professionals and the monied – will tend to settle in large centres able to support professional niches. That will be adequate to ensure growth in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, whose high-tech, information economies already attract three-quarters of Canada’s immigrants. But the absence of a balanced immigrant workforce, able to fill bread-and-butter needs across the country, will lead to a slow death for smaller cities such as Winnipeg: Without fresh blood to rejuvenate their rapidly ageing population, these cities’ economies will decline and the cities will decay.
Barring the unskilled and uneducated from Canada harms Canada. The great waves of immigrants who came to Canada a century and more ago, making cities such as Winnipeg great centres of commerce, were mostly poor and low-skilled. Likewise, after the Second World War, waves of peasants from Italy, Portugal and other southern European countries came to Canada with next to nothing in their pockets. Seventy-five percent of these post-war immigrants filled low-income jobs – the men often worked in construction and in maintenance, the women as seamstresses and domestics. They helped build our country as they built new lives for themselves. By the mid-1980s, their children’s higher education matched the Canadian average. Today, these immigrant groups are affluent and successful – Italians have Canada’s highest proportion of home ownership at 95% – and their children have become successful businessmen, professionals and academics.
Although Canada’s history repeatedly shows ambitious, hard-working newcomers – skilled or not – have been a credit to the country, our government bureaucrats bar entry to the unskilled immigrant. In the process, the bureaucracy stunts the development of Canada as a whole and especially threatens that of our smaller centres. A ready supply of farm workers would help the labour-intensive farm belts around cities, more factory hands would help our manufacturing industries compete, more construction workers would ease shortages that delay the completion of major engineering works across the country.
Low-skilled workers also help us meet shortages in skilled occupations. A large and affordable supply of cooks, maids, gardeners, charwomen, nannies and other domestics would free up time and talent in the non-immigrant workforce: Parents would less often need to take a day off work to mind a sick child, single working mothers would have less frantic mornings without having to rush to drop their child off at the daycare each morning. The immigrants themselves, though poor, would create jobs for the native-born population: Immigrants come not only with hands that produce goods and service, they come with wants – for food, shelter, clothing and entertainment – that home-grown Canadians can satisfy.
If Manitoba really wants immigrants to make Manitoba their home, it can start by welcoming newcomers without making a diploma or a cheque book a prerequisite for applying. The Jewish immigrants that Winnipeg’s Jewish Federation would recruit would do just fine, as would the immigrants recruited by the city’s other ethnic organizations.
Give them a genuine welcome and they will come.
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