Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Half an Hour, Jul 08, 2016


The following is a set of questions and my responses to a Canadian government request for feedback the future of immigration in Canada (it would be nice if these surveys had a 'blog this' button; in the mean time they advise that the results will eventually be posted on, which of course I support.

  • How many newcomers should we welcome to Canada in 2017 and beyond?
I don't want to fix on a specific number that might be interpreted as a maximum, but I strongly encourage increased immigration into Canada
  • How can we best support newcomers to ensure they become successful members of our communities?
This second question would require a book. I think we should be drawing on community support and community organizations more, because in the case of the Syrian refugees resources that were available were untapped. I think that we should encourage settlement in the Maritimes, if possible, as this region is insular and depopulated and would benefit from the infusion of new people; make it clear federal resources are flowing into these provinces (and hence helping the locals). The obvious support services are language training in the official language of their choice, housing and basic income, employment support and placement, other education, access to health care, etc.
  • Do we have the balance right among the immigration programs or streams? If not, what priorities should form the foundation of Canada's immigration planning?

No we do not. We are currently favouring people who can buy their way into Canada. The points system is recognized internationally as a fair approach, however, we should understand that people who have not benefited from economic activity are equally viable immigrants. We should greatly increase our support for refugees. We should support students on student visas, focusing on people in developing nations who would not otherwise have access to further education.

  • How can immigration play a role in supporting economic growth and innovation in Canada?
If you look at the enormous wealth in supposedly 'poor' nations generated simply by virtue of their human resources, this question would not be necessary. Adding more people supports additional development in Canada, and we can show that this development is possible without generating poverty and inequality as seen elsewhere. Immigration is basically an economic stimulus program; our resources are focused into the lowest income strata, where it is more likely to be spent (we should expend similar resources on the lowest income strata already resident in Canada, and especially First Nations). As we work to improve the strengths and abilities of newcomers, they will devise strategies for economic growth and innovation (we don't need to manage it for them, just create opportunities). Services developed for newcomers - such as innovation zones or business development hubs - can be made available to all Canadians. Our economy will grow best not by giving more money to companies that are already successful, but by helping new companies take root and flourish.
  • Should there be more programs for businesses to permanently hire foreign workers if they can't find Canadians to fill the job?
I don't agree with programs designed to help business hire foreign workers. When they say they "can't find Canadians" what they often mean is they can't find people willing to work at the wage they are offering in the location (often remote) offered. These programss for business are effectively business subsidies, and I would rather see subsidies reach people directly, rather than support otherwise unviable business models.
  • What is the right balance between attracting global talent for high-growth sectors, on the one hand, and ensuring affordable labour for businesses that have historically seen lower growth, on the other?
Again, the purpose of immigration is not "ensuring affordable labour". This is an approach to immigration that will fail, and will spark resentment among people whose wages will be depressed as a result. I'm not sure what business you mean that "have historically seen lower growth" but usually, it seems to me, they are agricultural or resource-based. I would rather see Canada focus on creating value-add to these resources to stimulate growth, which would be a result of immigration where people create their own companies or products, and would not be a result of creating a lower-income workforce, which would simply encourage existing businesses to harvest and export, leaving a minimum of value in Canada. With respect to high-growth sectors, first, the fact that they are high-growth suggests that they do not need additional support, and second, a more generous immigration policy, as recommended above, would address this need.

  • How can immigration fill in the gaps in our demographics and economy?
I don't know what you mean by "fill in the gaps" but it vaguely suggests we use immigrants for janitors and McDonalds clerks. I would rather see companies pay these employees more money, and therefore do not see employment shortages in these sectors as "gaps". I don't think that there's some sort of demographic 'balance' we should be seeking. It's hard not to be offended by this question.
  • What Canadian values and traditions are important to share with newcomers to help them integrate into Canadian society?

Canada is not a 'melting pot' and so it is important to understand that we do not expect newcomers to 'fit in' to the dominant religion and culture. Having said that, we are a nation based on "peace, order and good government," and so it is paramount that newcomers accept that they will be subject to the law of the land. We expect peaceful and orderly conduct. This in Canada is established by various legal codes and in particular the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which should be respected by all Canadians. We allow and embrace the fact that people have different religions, different cultures, and different ways of life, and we negotiate difference and conflicts between these peacefully, by rule of law. Nobody has the right to impose their way of life or cultural beliefs on another. Ideally, we would like to have people embrace these differences. Our freedom to be ourselves, and our sharing and compassionate society, are defining features of Canada, and we would hope people embrace this in the same spirit in which it is offered to them.

  • Currently, immigration levels are planned yearly. Do you agree with the thinking that planning should be multi-year?
I think immigration should be planned as a capacity rather than according to targets. Think of the immigration system as a flow, an incoming stream of people that is supported on an ongoing basis. We should be looking (and adjusting) how many immigrants we can support per day, rather than per year. Targets create ebbs and tides of immigration, which alternately underuse or strain capacity. 

  • What modernization techniques should Canada invest in for processing of applications?
I'm not really sure what modernization techniques would be appropriate because, first, I don't know what level we're at, and second, a lot of this depends on the capacity of other countries to support our system, and this varies a lot. probably there is no single standard. We shouldn't do silly things like require police records from countries where there is no functional police, or paper records from a country that is fully computerized. Importantly, Canada should recognize that it is not a part of the United States and that American policies and procedures are neither relevant nor necessary. I did not appreciate having by full background information shared with the United States when it happened about five years ago; as a native-born Canadian there was no demonstrated need, and no right to this information had been established (I do benifit occasionally by being TSA pre-approved on flights).

  • What should Canada do to ensure its immigration system is modern and efficient?
To stay modern and efficient we should make the investment. We should research and test new technologies and processes, running pilot programs, and implementing incrementally rather than all at once. We should offer full training and support to officials required to implement the new technology, and fully document the new processes and procedures to enable people offering support systems outside government to adapt and upgrade.

  • Is there any rationale for providing options to those willing to pay higher fees for an expedited process?

Offering an expedited process for a higher fee runs contrary to the manner in which we run Canada in general (or, at least, it should). People who are right do not have special rights or preferred access to government services. In the same way, the payment of fees should not secure premium access to health care, preferred outcomes in court cases, or modifications in public policy. There are sometimes good grounds for an expedited process, and these grounds should be made clear, and an efficient application process should be able to make this adjudication. 

  • Is it important for Canada to continue to show leadership in global migration? If so, how can we best do that?
It's not that we're showing leadership in migration; there is no preferred level of migration. Rather, we should be showing our commitment to the rest of the world, our willingness to share our wealth and our good fortune, and our desire to see a better world for all. We should be clear that we would like to do as much to support people living in their home country as to those wanting to or needing to relocate to Canada. We need to offer an example to show how good governance and a generosity of spirit can overcome the tensions inherent between different nationalities and cultures.

  • How can Canada attract the best global talent and international students?
I don't think we should be interested in attracting "the best global talent and international students" - immigration is not about raiding other countries for their most valuable citizens. In any case, I'm not even sure how to define "the best". Usually the most reliable predictor is wealth, but I would be very unhappy with a system that selected immigrants according to their wealth. I think that as an alternative we should look for those who would benefit most by immigrating to Canada. In a sense, we should be looking for potential, not existing achievement. 

  • In what ways can Canada be a model to the world on refugees, migration and immigration?
The way we can be a model, therefore, is to offer a different approach to immigration. We do not approach immigration in a selfish manner, though we do recognize the benefits that will accrue to the nation as a whole when we support immigration. We do not think of immigrants as cheap labour, or a permanent subclass, but we welcome them into the fabric of society, embracing (rather than tolerating) their culture, background, and individual perspective. We are interested in immigration from a human development perspective, and our priority is to support and improve the lives of immigrants, in the sure knowledge that they will pass on the same benefit to other Canadians, and to the world at large. 

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Mar 30, 2021 6:57 p.m.