With the likelihood of another Federal election looming over Canada’s Conservative government, winning immigrant voters will make all the difference at the polls.
As the Liberal Party of Canada re-groups and inches closer to electing a new chief executive on Dec. 2, 2006, Liberal leader hopefuls are counting on the “immigrant vote” to lead their party to victory once again.
The Liberal Party of Canada knows that if it wishes to assume power they’ll need to tap into Canada’s vast and ever-increasing immigrant constituency, and re-vamping the current Canadian Immigration system has been emphasized in many platforms in the latest Liberal leadership race, most notably in the proposed initiatives presented by Liberal leadership hopefuls Joe Volpe, Gerard Kennedy, Maurizio Bevilacqua, and front-runner, Michael Ignatief.
Canada currently takes in an average of 260,000 newcomers a year, a number which Mr. Ignatieff, says should be increased to “at least” 350,000 newcomers per annum. He feels the current immigration processing system is too cumbersome and is not properly matching applicant qualifications with skill shortages and is also not doing enough to help foreign professionals qualify for practice in their field of expertise in Canada.
He has also gone on record stating that Canada needs to expand the family-class portion of its immigration system, which allows Canadians to sponsor family members who want to become permanent residents of Canada.
The Liberal Party of Canada has traditionally fared well with Immigrant Canadians, however Harper’s Conservative government is attempting to challenge conventional wisdom and position itself as Canada’s new “Party for Immigrants”. The Conservatives understand that if they wish to win the battle for majority status, they’ll have to take the fight to the streets of Ontario’s populous immigrant communities.
In fact, since being in office, the Prime Minister has signed-off on at least a half-dozen policy initiatives which directly affect Canadian Immigrants. “The bar is [set] higher for us,” says Goldy Hyder, a Conservative strategist, in reference to his party’s bid to shed any pre-conceived notions of intolerance once associated to it.
Mr. Harper has also claimed that he believes Canada’s cultural diversity is its “greatest strength”, and has reiterated his government’s commitment to “preserving and strengthening the cultural diversity that makes us strong”. There’s no question that Mr. Harper wants to portray his government as “immigrant-friendly”. His government is clearly encouraging a more “grass-roots” approach to electioneering and is engaging Canada’s ethnic constituency at the community level.
Demographically, Canada is being re-shaped by immigration. Assuming no changes occur to the current levels of immigration, fertility rates, or internal migration patterns, the next twenty years, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) will swell from five million to seven million people; Vancouver will see its population almost double in size from its current 1.6 million citizens to 2.8 million, and Ottawa’s population will also hover above 1.2 million from the 830,000 people it now has.
A report released by the organization sponsoring this event, Canadian Employee Relocation Council (CERC) states that immigration has accounted for over 70% of the growth in Canada’s labour force since 1999. In fact, Canada welcomes more immigrants per capita than any other immigrant-receiving nation.
“More and more, the role of immigration is important,” Richard Barnabe, deputy chief statistician for Statistics Canada says. “According to our projections, growth will depend solely on the contribution of immigration by about 2015-2017. However, while metropolitan areas such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver are benefiting from the current immigration paradigm, rural areas and western provinces, such as Manitoba and Alberta, are struggling to convince people that there is a pleasant alternative to living in the Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver triumvirate.
Amid the current air of international terrorism, Canada has often been chastised for its perceived leniency regarding its immigration industry. Political pundits have suggested that Canada “close its doors” to immigrants as a preventative security measure. Prime Minister Stephen Harper however, has gone on record defending Canada’s current immigration policies, noting his commitment to a multicultural Canada.