Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The "New Siftonism": Conspiracy Theorising on Bill C-50*

* This post is a slightly modified version of a comment I left at Dr. Dawg's, in the thread of his post deploring the craven Liberal capitulation before Harper's new immigration bill, C-50. I thought my own readership might enjoy reading it (given how much I enjoyed writing it!).

Just an historical note: Clifford Sifton was Wilfrid Laurier's Minister of the Interior and is famous for having spurred the waves of European immigration that populated the Canadian West in the early 1900's.

Suspicion of "Conservative" motives concerning Bill C-50 began with its introduction. The responsible minister, Diane Finley, must take credit for at least some of this suspicion, as her public justifications for the bill have underlined the desirability of reducing the immigration caseload (i.e. reducing immigration) and of giving the minister the unilateral power to deploy quotas and other preferential criteria in the selection process. Overall, the thrust of the bill seems designed to make immigration more functional in the purely econometric sense.

Frankly, such a move would be at least somewhat consistent with traditional Canadian immigration policy, which, at least since the days of Clifford Sifton's "hardy peasants in sheepskin coats", has treated immigration as an economic question, not a humanitarian one (which has conventionally been exclusively the province of our refugee policy).

Of course, slipping backwards into an avowedly racist immigration policy would likely be welcomed by some in the CPC, but I think the bill is motivated by considerations that are more politically selfish than they are racist. I would be willing to wager that the CPC is trying to give itself enough flexibility to enhance the inflow of emigrant groups from the former Soviet Block/Warsaw Pact while strangling or drastically reducing emigration from the more traditional sources.

"Conservative" operatives are clearly eager to destroy what they see as the Liberal Party's grip on the "immigrant vote" (an allegiance which is often sustained through two or more generations). Of course, the CPC could simply attempt to replace the LPC in the hearts of voters whom the Liberals have already cultivated, but importing a new, large and powerful immigrant class composed of people who are already responsive to the CPC's world-view would be a brilliant bit of lateral thinking (and the CPC is chock-full of strategically-oriented policy wonks, Stephen Harper not least among them).

Among the world's impoverished diaspora, Central and Eastern Europeans are the most naturally libertarian: they distrust all collectivities. Yes, Africans, Caribbeans, Chinese, and Arabs may be, as a rule, deeply distrustful of the state because of nightmarish experiences with state-sponsored violence and corruption, but their identities are often driven by other collective ties (e.g. of clan, tribe, ethnicity, or large extended family); this fact means that they are often willing and eager to offer allegiance to the state when it shows itself to be benign and that they do not always have the Randian individualist passion that the CPC values.

Central and Eastern Europeans, though, distrust all communities; communism destroyed not just faith in the state and its institutions but faith in the family and friendship also (in fact, it largely destroyed the very experience of family and friendship). The motto by which life is lived by Ukrainians, Romanians, Poles and Bulgarians is "Trust No One". My own experience with recently-arrived Central and Eastern Europeans (which is fairly extensive, as the University of Ottawa boasts a huge body of international students) suggests that they have a burning entrepreneurial drive, an aggressive individualism and an almost desperate need to achieve (on every plane--financial, intellectual, and cultural). Their vehement anti-socialism often shows itself as an enthusiastic pro-Americanism which, while not quite as uncritical as Harper's, is much closer to it than the Canadian average.

Ultimately, the Mitteleuropean diaspora represents an ideal target group for the CPC, and Harper would be insane not to do everything he could to enhance its currently modest Canadian presence. It would not change the electoral dynamics in the short term, but its long-term effect could be to institutionalise those CPC values which are yet far from being in the Canadian mainstream.


Ryan said...

Excellent post. I've actually found Canada's immigration policy, in many ways, a watered down version of what you have proposed. While we do our fair share of humanitarian work, there has always been that tinge of self-serving personal interest in our immigration policy. Just the fact that we have a high level skills requirement makes it somewhat suspect.

I occasionally wonder how taking Doctors and the like, trained and supported in foreign countries--usually people on the higher end of the standard of living scale in those countries--and bringing them here to drive our taxis etc. I wonder why we can't train our own citizens (asides from the cuts to students admitted into medical programs in the early 90's) while setting a much more exclusively humanitarian immigration policy at the same time.

Ryan said...

I wonder at the ethical dimension of poaching skilled workers, that is.

Ryan said...

After all, we complain about our own "brain-drain" to the good old US of A.

Sir Francis said...


...there has always been that tinge of self-serving personal interest in our immigration policy.

Absolutely. Canadian immigration has always been an essentially for-profit industry--even more so during the days of the huge landing fees (which could add up to tens of thousands of dollars, payable up-front, no less).

Progressives tend to be uncritically pro-immigration, and for good reason: it is unquestionably a huge boon to our society, fiscally and culturally. At the same time, we need to be alive to how damaging it is to the feeder nations when we skim off their best and brightest (adding insult to injury by making them wash dishes and deliver pizzas for a living) while salving our consciences by throwing some crumbs of development aid to a few "deserving" nations. There's something of the Pharisee about it all.

Dr.Dawg said...

Good for you, and a very interesting hypothesis. I wonder if we dug around whether we'd find some corroboration? Quite possibly...

Ryan said...

I'd hate to say it, but you may be right about progressives and immigration. A friend of mine who knows my progressive views told me I sounded a bit xenophobic when I said "we should train our own Doctors" rather than depending on foreign nationals.

ACSial said...

I'm simply amazed at the hypocrisy of NDP, Liberal and Green party-types, who--claiming to be pro-environment--push for mass immigration. The staggering urban sprawl problem is caused by the intake of over a quarter million immigrants a year, period. No amount of fanciful New Urbanist planning will arrest the loss of farmland and greenspace caused by a bulging population, mostly fuelled by immigration. Aside from ethno lobbies (like Olivia Chow's constituents), the real push for mass immigration comes from Canada's powerful housing and development industry. All of this talk of addressing labour shortages and the pension system are bogus. Canada needs a hard cap on immigration and population, like proposed in the UK.

We can't be a safety valve for the developing world. Countries like India and Pakistan need to adopt responsible population-control policies and not offload their population surplus on North America. The environmental movement also needs to get a spine--not like the Sierra Club, who accepted over U.S.$100M (from David Gelbaum), to NOT discuss immigration. Aside from the sprawl problem, we have immigrants unable to function in either of our official languages, gangs (e.g., the aptly-named Fresh Off The Boat Killers), hitherto unknown social ills like honour killings, clitorectomies, and khat and doda addicts.

What we need IS an uncensored debate on immigration.

Adam C. Sieracki