Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Canada's birth rate declined 25% from 1980 to 1998. Sometime before 2025, “home grown” population growth will reach zero. Canada's economic well being will need to be fueled by an influx of skilled and able new citizens, at rates unmatched since the 1950’s. More than 200,000 immigrants arrive annually, and the Prime Minister recently announced that this number will rise by 100,000 - almost three times the U.S. rate on a per capita basis. This year, according to Statistics Canada, the proportion of "visible minorities" will rise to 16% of the national population, up from 12% in 1996. By 2016 the number will rise to 20%.

Immigration will become a major social issue, as many in Britain, Holland and Germany will testify. While most think of Canada as being good at managing diversity and think that we have a strong history of multiculturalism, the growth of immigration will challenge these assumptions. Diversity and multiculturalism only work as policies when immigrants represent a small portion of the population. When immigrants become the major source of economic growth, as they will, then the encouragement of diversity becomes the root of cultural politics.

What happens is this. Because we cherish diversity, we encourage the creation of cultural enclaves. In these enclaves immigrations from the same nationality “cluster”, share a language and build a cultural community which is vibrant, rich and all embracing. Newspapers, events and activities are all arranged in the language and style of the “back home” community. Soon, schools are created which teach in the language and within the culture of “back home”. It becomes possible to live in a country without speaking its language or engaging its culture, because the “home” culture is strong enough to support fast growing cultural communities.

Efforts are then made to secure separate legal rights – rights to such things as Shiri’a courts upholding a version of Islamic law – and differential access to employment, through quota’s allocated to ethnic groups. Race relations laws are then strengthened to protect diversity. What this then leads to is a strengthening of other legal rights to protect diversity – employment law, for example. In going down this path we weaken integration.

Given that, by 2020, we will have two people working for each person who is retired – down from four at the present time – there will be strains on our public services, especially health and education. There will also be demands for improved economic performance, especially given our near zero levels of productivity growth. Immigrants will take command of these issues and challenge the assumptions on which our current public systems are based. They will also gain more control of our economic affairs.

It is this that is at the heart of the debate. We should encourage and do all things possible to encourage and enable integration and give less emphasis to diversity, while respecting racial differences. This requires us to develop and strengthen our cultural institutions, systematically promote a strong sense of Canadian history and culture and focus on the development of language skills.

Integration is not a popular policy to pursue – liberals tend to think of it as patronising and it can be used as a blunt instrument. But why should we encourage the development of Muslim schools or Indian communities to develop an educational system for Hindu children? We need to systematically pursue integration while respecting religious and racial differences. It is a difficult challenge, but an issue we had better grasp soon.

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