Immigration is good for this good country

canada-mapGeographically, Canada is a big country, the second biggest in the world after Russia, then closely followed in size by the United States, China and Brazil.

However, Canada is not a big country in terms of its population, far from it: on a list of the 50 most populous countries in the world it stands 38th, with a population of 35,362,905. That’s a little more than Morocco, but less than Sudan.

Canada is also widely regarded as one of the most developed and richest countries in the world, a member of the G7 group of the world’s most industrialized countries.

It is also, I think it’s fair to say, regarded as one of the most civilized countries in the world, in the best sense of that word. It has become in the last 50 years especially, one of the most culturally diverse countries where people of virtually every nationality, religion – or none – live together in peace.

Canada is not without it’s problems, that is certainly true. As I’ve often said, it is a work in progress, but it works.

Politically, Canadian voters elected a Liberal federal government in October, 2015, defeating a Conservative government that was increasingly viewed as culturally divisive. A Liberal government was re-elected in October, 2019, but with what we call a ‘minority government,’ less than a majority of the 338 seats in the parliamentary House of Commons.

Even that was a surprise to many observers because some of the shine had gone off the Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after several controversies. The Conservatives appeared to have a good chance of winning the 2019 election, but Conservative leader  Andrew Scheer’s poor response to questions about his position on such things as abortion and gay rights cost him votes, especially in some of Canada’s big cities where the Liberals won most of the seats. However, on election night as the results became evident the electoral map also showed a country divided. Especially worrisome was the fact the Liberals won no seats in two western provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan; and in Quebec, the separatist Bloc Quebecois added 20 seats.

Since coming back into power in 2015 the Trudeau, Liberal government has celebrated and encouraged diversity. One of its first actions was to speed up the arrival of 40,000 refugees, mostly from war-torn Syria .

Meanwhile, after the election of Donald Trump as President of the U.S. in November, 2016, thousands of refugees, fearful of Trump`s anti-migrant, anti-refugee attitudes and threats, began crossing the Canada-U.S. border at a number of so-called irregular locations. Hundreds crossed in the middle of a harsh Canadian winter, and some suffered severe frostbite as a result. That was surely a measure of the desperation they were feeling. Canada’s response was humanitarian, including emergency and ongoing medical treatment, while giving those desperate people access to the legal process provided for asylum-seekers. They were not simply sent back to the U.S., nor should they have been. But it proved to be controversial. Many Canadians were supportive, but a significant proportion disapproved.


A Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer helps an asylum seeker take the last  step into Canada

I believed then, as did many other Canadians, that those people looking for asylum in Canada were, and are still, right to be afraid of the fate that might await them in the U.S. And if by some chance, Heaven forbid, Trump survives impeachment in 2020 after a `trial`in the U.S. Senate, and worse, is re-elected this coming November, he will likely feel emboldened to get even tougher on refugees awaiting due, legal processing in the U.S. He has already shown little if any respect for legalities.

Canada may yet see another increase in the number of migrants and refugees seeking asylum here, along with other immigrants. Since, I first wrote an earlier version of this post in 2016, it has been one of the most popular. Those readers have been from countries from all parts of the world, including the U.S.

Canada welcomes several hundred thousands of immigrants annually from every country in the world. Not much more than 400 years ago, the territory now called Canada was for thousands of years the home of many First Nations (Indigenous people). Despite the oppression and injustices they suffered during much of the age of contact with newcomers of European descent and their governments, First Nations are a fast-growing segment of the Canadian nation, and asserting their Constitutional rights to great effect. And so it should be.

Until about the middle of the 20th Century most Canadians could trace their ancestry back, first, to France, and then the British Isles, especially Scotland. Toronto, now Canada`s largest city with a population of more than two million, was a buttoned-down, provincial backwater known for its up-tight WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) culture, or lack thereof. But I have lived long enough to see Toronto, my place of birth, become one of the most multicultural cities in the world, a city where people of every culture in the world live together. And, as I said just the other day to a couple visiting my area from Toronto, I’m proud of my home town, and I’m proud to be Canadian.

There are issues, of course, related to immigration; there always has been and there will continue to be, on both sides of the attitudes that initially cause a degree of animosity. As a child, my late mother remembered going for a walk with her grandmother in the west-end of Toronto. It was in the late 1920s. They came to an industrial location where a sign hung on the entrance gate. It said, “Help Wanted.” But it also said, “Scots and Irish need not apply.” For the record, the name of the company was, ironically, Dominion Bridge; ironic, because Canada`s official name is the Dominion of Canada.

The name Canada, by the way, is derived from a First Nation (Iroquoian) word, Kanata, for ‘village.’ So, basically, Canada is a multicultural, global village. The late, great, Canadian media philosopher, Marshal McLuhan, would smile.

Among the reasons why immigration is a good thing for this good country, are the many social programs that help bridge the income gap to give, hopefully, all Canadians their best chance of finding their way to personal success, in the best sense of the word. Life is a journey of self-discovery, after all, on the way to becoming the best person we can be — for our own sake, and for the sake of the world in which we live.

Canadians are justly most proud of our country’s universal medicare system. We do not live in fear of financial ruin if we suffer a serious illness or accident. That kind of stress, on top of the health crisis itself, is not healthy. But Canada’s health-care system comes at a large cost for a geographically big country with a relatively small population, and many other economic priorities.

Currently, large proportion of Canada’s population are members of the “baby-boom generation,” people who were born in the years after the Second World War when Canadian soldiers who had served overseas came home. During those post-war years Canada had one of the highest birth rates in the world. The birth rate also spiked as the soldiers went overseas during the war years. I happen to be one of those pre-boom “boomers.”

With the boomer generation now approaching and reaching its senior years, concerns have been raised about health-care costs reaching unsustainable levels, to the extent of there being little funding left for other government programs and priorities.

Canada is facing other important challenges: negotiating and re-negotiating international trade agreements, the need for increased defence spending, improved living conditions for isolated First Nation communities, to name just a few. I suppose it’s no wonder health-care funding is hard to find on the high-priority Canadian agenda. But it should be.

But the funding crisis looming for health care appears to be – to coin a phrase related to climate change – an “inconvenient truth.”

Indeed, that phrase was used in 2012 to describe the approaching crisis, after the Conference Board of Canada, a non-profit organization, organized a Summit on Sustainable Health and Health care. The final report was titled, The Inconvenient Truths About Canadian Health Care, and included the following:

“Rising health care costs and public funding for the existing system are limiting public investments in other areas that could make us a more effective, equitable, and successful society–particularly among and between generations. Health care costs are rising toward 50 per cent of provincial budgets and are crowding out spending on other priorities. Interestingly, on the margin, health care services are not a major determinant of the health of a population – social and economic factors and resulting individual behaviors are the primary drivers. As such, an argument can be made that a dollar invested in improving the economic and social factors affecting population health has more impact than an additional dollar invested in our health care system – particularly when the system remains focused on the acute care aspect of health care.”

Life expectancy in Canada continues to rise, according to the latest (2016) Statistics Canada analysis. Based on a birth year of 2012, it is 80 years for men and 84 for women. In the early 1950s it was 66 and 71 respectively. Life-expectancy analysis takes into account various statistics, such as the rate of infant and child mortality. The fact that has been in steep decline in Canada and other developed countries for many years is a major reason for the continuing increase in life expectancy, thanks largely to advances in health care. The down side is that as people live longer their health care needs increase, which puts more financial pressure on the system.

It’s interesting to note life expectancy is higher in Canada than in the U.S. where it’s 76.3 years for men and 81.2 for women, for people born in 2015, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. That’s actually a slight drop from the year before.

The boomer clock continues to tick. Time is running out for the action needed to save Canada’s universal health-care system.

In the long run immigration is an important part of Canada’s economic future, including universal health-care funding: a larger population prospering and sharing the cost of supporting that and other social programs of this good country.

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