A version of this column appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, October 10, 2002.  I think I would write it a little differently today.

A recent report on Canada’s immigration policy, by Martin Collacott of the Fraser Institute (excerpted in “Policies favour Liberals at Canada’s expense,” Sept. 24), was supposedly intended to stimulate debate about immigration. It is, however, a misleading and dangerous piece of demagoguery which proposes that we evaluate each human life by how much money it earns.

Canada’s immigration policy is one that is divided for analytical purposes into different classes: business, skilled worker, family, other. There is also a class of refugees who do not fall under regular immigration classes.

It is obvious from their names that the purpose of the first two classes is related to economics. It is equally obvious that the family class is not intended to relate to immediate economic needs. Contrary to what Mr. Collacott claims, the numbers in the economic class of immigrants have consistently been close to double the number of family-class immigrants. So much for the notion that the immigration policy gives family class “priority.”

But this analytical framework also obscures the truth. Could Canada attract business and skilled-worker immigrants if they were told to leave their spouses, children and parents at home? Only if they were desperate. (The Chinese Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act were the products of similar thinking applied to one country of origin. It destroyed families and caused enormous hardship for Chinese immigrants.)

To estimate the worth of a parent, a child or a spouse by how much “added income” they bring in, as opposed to the proven social and cultural worth of family and support networks to any individual’s productivity and effectiveness, would seem ludicrous. Yet that is what the approach in the Fraser Institute report proposes.

To accept this argument is to open the door to a debate on what to do with our own children and aging parents. Are they not also simply a drain on the government purse? Canada’s obligations under international human- rights laws, not to mention our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms, would preclude us from preventing families from being reunited or from choosing to take care of children.

The partisan political element in this analysis cannot be ignored. It is claimed that the Liberal party is responsible for allowing in large numbers of immigrants so the immigrants will vote for them. Yet the largest wave of immigration in this country’s history occurred in the period 1910 to 1914. Is it Mr. Collacott’s claim that their descendants voted Liberal because they “remembered” what regime their ancestors came in under? Besides, almost all came in under the Conservatives of Sir Robert Borden (1911-1920).

An examination of immigration fi-gures in the 1980s and 1990s also shows it was the Liberals who reduced immigration and the Conservatives under Brian Mulroney who restored immigration to the levels that have been maintained under the Liberals of today.

It is nonsense to claim that one party is more pro-immigrant than the other. While it is true that the Liberals have maintained power for longer periods than other parties in Canada, surely no reputable historian can claim this is primarily due to their generosity to immigrants. What is more likely to be true is that there is an association of the Liberal party with multiculturalism policy.

Finally, Mr. Collacott claims to wish to protect a “tolerant multiracial” Canada from the dangers of immigration and to prevent strife. In other words, we should be intolerant of the parents, spouses and children of immigrants in order to build a more tolerant society. Could this be an oxymoron? It’s a little like excluding black immigrants in order to protect our society from anti-black racism.

Let’s by all means have a real debate on immigration, on the numbers we need, on the measures needed to exclude criminals and terrorists, on the balance between rights and security. But let’s not indulge in a fake exercise to mask partisanship posing as a fear that our tolerance is a danger to our “tolerant, multiracial society.” 

Raj Rasalingam is president of the Pearson-Shoyama Institute for Inclusive Policy Development.

Rubin Friedman is a member of the institute’s public policy advisory board.