Every year the Toronto polling company Decima Research asks 1,500 Canadians whether or not
they think the federal government should adopt an “open door” immigration policy. And every year Canadians reply with a resounding “no.” Decima’s latest poll, conducted in September, showed that 68 per cent of Canadians opposed the idea of throwing open the country’s doors to job-seeking for-
eigners. As a result, when Immigration Minister John Roberts announced last week that he was cutting immigration levels by about 10 per cent, he was able to count on broad public support.
Indeed, Roberts won almost unanimous backing from the country’s major power blocs for his “Canadians first” approach to jobs. With almost one in nine Canadians out of work, organized labor endorsed Ottawa’s efforts to keep new competitors out of the job market. And the business community applauded the move on the grounds that fewer immigrants mean fewer potential candidates for the country’s crowded welfare and social benefit rolls. Only individual ethnic groups, the church and humanitarian agencies protested Roberts’ move.
The government’s annual Nov. 1 setting of immigration levels consisted of three separate announcements. First,
the immigration minister offered new Canadians the assurance that they will still be able to bring in their immediate families. The inflow of husbands, wives, dependent children, parents and other relatives makes up about 55 per cent of the immigrant population, and Canada has maintained its commitment to family reunification even in times of economic hardship. Next year an estimated 50,000 relatives will join their families in Canada.Then, the minister confirmed Canada’s willingness to take in refugees
from the world’s trouble spots. Although the location and intensity of international crises vary from year to year, refugees normally make up about 20 per cent of annual immigration.
Finally, the minister dealt with the group over which the government exercises the most control: independent workers chosen on the basis of their skills and their work history. Along with their families they make up about 25 per cent of total immigration. For the past two years the government has curtailed that inflow severely. For 1982, it originally announced that it would allow as many as 25,000 workers from abroad into Canada, then it reduced the limit to a maximum of 10,000. Now the government is cutting the level further still for next year, to between 6,000 and 8,000 workers. Said Roberts: “Although the economy is improving and the rate of unemployment is down, I am continu-
ing the restriction on selected workers from abroad to protect jobs for Canadians.”
Roberts’ initiative is part of a pattern throughout the Western industrial nations. The United States and Australia, the other two main havens for immigrants, are also tightening their immigration procedures. And in Europe some countries, such as Switzerland and West Germany, have resorted to the more drastic step of forcing “guest workers”—foreigners with temporary work permits—out of their countries.
Furthermore, the government was under pressure from both business and labor to restrict immigration. Said Canadian Labour Congress spokesman Murray Randall: “It is fair neither to prospective immigrants nor to Canadi-
ans without jobs to allow very many immigrants into the country.” Sam Hughes, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, told Roberts over lunch on Oct. 25 that the country’s largest business lobby was looking for a middle course between choking off immigration and opening the floodgates.
Even some of the older, more established immigrant communities, such as the Italians, lauded the minister’s plan. “I sympathize with the government,” said Laureano Leone, vicepresident of the National Congress of Italian Canadians. “With millions of unemployed, they have to satisfy the currents in society.” But more recent arrivals,
such as the East Indians, Africans and Chinese, criticized the cuts as discriminatory, harsh and disappointing. Ping Jen Chiu, secretary of the Chinese-Canadian Association, said that the restrictions would destroy the dreams of many residents of Hong Kong who are scrambling to get out of the colony before the British lease expires in 1997. And Ranjit Hall, executive director of the National Association of Canadians of Origins in India, said that the stricter limits would only compound the miseries of prospective immigrants in India. The Canadian Council of Churches added its voice to the outcry. Said associate secretary Roger Cann: “I cannot figure out why they want to cut back— it does not make sense.” Still, the protests were scattered, and Roberts was confident that cutbacks would cause no major political problems.
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