What is immigration for?
I don’t mean what are immigrants for. I myself have lived hither and yon over the years, and at a personal level I vaguely feel individuals who aren’t a charge on the state ought to be able to move around the world with reasonable ease. As it happens, Canadians do this a lot. You can meet the Dominion’s finest in Brussels, Delhi, Hong Kong, almost anywhere on the planet. And I’ve yet to be in a taxicab anywhere on earth and be told by the driver, “We’re now passing through Little Canada.” Canadians emigrate as individuals.
* The Future of Canada?Â
But in the western world “immigration” is a phenomenon distinct from “immigrants.” For a start, it’s not about the immigrants, but about the host society. At some point, most advanced democracies decided that mass immigration was a virtue regardless of who’s coming and any economic or other consequences. This is a relatively novel way of looking at a nation-state. A few years back, Hedy Fry sneered that she couldn’t see why people were making such a fuss about illegal immigrants given that the first white men hadn’t asked permission from the people who were already here, either. Which in its delegitimization of the Canadian state, not to mention its other implications, might be considered somewhat inflammatory. Yet Ms. Fry was a minister of the Crown and no one seriously expected M. ChrÃ©tien to reprimand her. By contrast, to question immigration in even the most cautious way is to risk being demonized as a racist. Canadians see themselves as a nice people, and so even to raise the subject of immigration feels like an assault not on distant foreigners so much as on our self-image.
But here’s the thing. Whatever the virtuousness of immigration, a dependence on it is a sign of profound structural weakness, and, when all the self-congratulation about celebrating diversity has died down, that weakness ought to be understood as such. For example, the other day Statistics Canada released its 2006 census figures, and the press coverage was mostly the usual boosterism–“Canadian Census Sees Cities Surging” (The Globe and Mail). This is true: we are an increasingly urban nation. But it is not the most salient fact from the numbers. Canada, reported the CBC, “had the highest population growth rate among G8 countries.” Also true, and closer to the core statistic. Of the 1.6 million new Canadians added to the population between 2001 and 2006, only 400,000 came from natural growth–i.e., kids. The other 1.2 million–i.e., 75 per cent–came from immigration.
Compare this to the United States, where over 60 per cent of population increase comes from natural growth. That’s to say, this is not a good-news story but a bad-news story. Canada remains demographically weak: the American fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman is enough to sustain the population even without immigration; the Canadian fertility rate of 1.5 children per woman leads to steep population decline. Ten million parents have seven-and-a-half million children and 5.6 million grandchildren and 4.2 million great-grandchildren: an inverted family tree. You can imagine what shape Canadian social programs would be in under that scenario, and that’s before Junior decides he’d rather head south than pay 70 per cent tax rates just to prop up medicare for Gramps and his buddies.
* Migrants or Refugees?Â
So immigration seems like an easy way to pick up the slack–until you unpick what the census is actually saying, and The Globe and Mail and CBC are so artfully avoiding. If native Canadians (if you’ll forgive the expression) are already a 25 per cent minority in the country’s population growth, they will be a small and ever smaller minority in the Canada of the future. Indeed, they’re already at such a low demographic ebb that it calls into question any kind of trans-generational inheritance: “Canada” is in danger of becoming merely a zip code. The novelty junkies have a point: maybe it is time to rewrite that “home and native land” lyric.
Prior to the boom of the nineties and oughts, the all-time blockbuster immigration year was 1913, when 400,000 “new Canadians” arrived. Whether they looked at it like that is another matter: most of them were British subjects moving from one part of His Majesty’s realms to another. In that sense, it was not “immigration” at all, or not as currently understood. The 2006 census numbers take as a given that the Canada of the 21st century will be a project built almost exclusively by foreigners.
Not only is the Canadian state insouciant about this ultimate outsourcing, it welcomes and celebrates it. For example, anti-monarchists such as John Manley and Brian Tobin routinely build their case on the line that in an ever more diverse Canada immigrants from Syria and Belarus can’t be expected to relate to the Royal Family. This would be a very curious argument even in countries with robust immigration traditions–that a foreigner admitted by the state at its discretion should have the right to decide not which of his old country’s customs he was going to retain but which of his new country’s customs he was prepared to accept. It would ring very odd in most places–go on, get a job in Saudi Arabia, and try the same line on their royal family. So, when we buy the Manley-Tobin pitch, we’re essentially accepting the principle of reverse assimilation, the obligation that Canadians assimilate with immigrants rather than the other way round.
* Moving to Canada soon, (and they won’t be dental floss tycoons..)
And thereby lies great peril. Not for the Queen. She’ll get by, whatever Canadians decide. But the Manley-Tobin line raises some very interesting questions. If our Liberal grandees are so convinced new Canadians won’t accept the Crown, what other features of our inheritance will they also reject? How many Canadians will be saying “eh?” in 20 years’ time? Or following hockey (assuming there are still any hockey teams up here)? How many will recognize “Sir John A. Macdonald”? What would such a nation be remembering on Remembrance Day?
Commenting on the latest census trends, the Toronto blogger Mark Collins remarked that “it’s not one’s grandfather’s Canada.” Mr. Collins was referring to the accelerating urbanization of the country, but it might be truer to say that contemporary Canada is a land without a grandfather, a land without an inheritance, and that the remorseless shrivelling of a continental nation a mari usque ad mare into half-a-dozen megalopolises is merely a symptom of that. According to StatsCan, 93 per cent of immigrants who arrived between 1991 and 1996 live in urban centres. Again, this is a point of divergence with Canada’s neighbour: in the U.S., the population is moving to exurbs and rural districts. That, in turn, helps explain the healthy fertility rate: America is one of the cheapest places in the developed world in which to find a four-bedroom house with a big yard. Who wants to raise three kids in a city apartment?
So Canada’s urbanization seems unlikely to do anything for that near European fertility rate, but it will inevitably place strains on our constitutional settlement. Can six metropolitan areas still be governed as a confederation of ten provinces? To be sure, the CBC will conjure the usual fantasies–wacky sitcoms about a lovable Janjaweed militia living on Newfoundland, et cetera. But the reality is that nothing but nostalgia will justify maintaining the Atlantic provinces as separate jurisdictions, and how nostalgically inclined the multicultural utopia of Greater Toronto will be inclined to be is anybody’s guess.
In 1913, when those 400,000 newcomers arrived, we knew more or less who they were. We have no very clear idea who the 300,000 or so immigrants per annum of the next few years will be. We assume it’s like those Immigration Canada posters from 1997 marking the 50th anniversary of Canadian citizenship and showing people of many lands holding hands around a globe: Canada is like a neat stamp collection, with one of everything. In practice, it’s not like that. There will be more of some, less of others. Will the Chinese decide there’s greater economic opportunity at home? Will fading European populations prefer to spend their sunset years far from the turbulence of the Continent? Will the recent upsurge in French Jews emigrating to Quebec continue? Or will it degenerate further into, as Le Journal calls it, Montrealistan?
Well, StatsCan is rather coyer on those details. But that’s the reality: the Canada of tomorrow will be built by who shows up. For the sake of multicultural virtue, we decided to outsource the future. Nothing much to do about it now except hope the gamble pays off.