Immigration in the Canadian Election

By Dan Cadman on October 2, 2015

The 2015 election cycle has descended on Canada, pitting the ruling Conservative party, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, against the Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, the movie-star handsome eldest son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

As in the United States, the subject of immigration has taken on added dimension in the struggle for electoral victory between the parties. Also as in the United States, it is confounding liberals and progressives with a certain amount of popular backlash among voters that, at least prior to the actual casting of ballots, is redounding in favor of the Conservatives. Some are even speculating that it may result in an upset win against the Liberals, who had earlier held a comfortable margin of support.

How has this happened? To the extent that there has been damage to the Liberal cause, one wound has been self-inflicted by Trudeau himself; the other has struck like a bolt from the blue.

The latter case involves a strong and adverse public reaction to the case of a Muslim woman who entered Canada legally in 2009 and who, despite rules to the contrary, steadfastly refused to remove her hijab (head covering and facial veil) even for her naturalization. News media describe the woman, Zunera Ishaq, as calling it "a trivial and minor issue" though clearly it is nothing of the sort to her given the amount of time and trouble she has gone to in order to fight the rules. And although she has prevailed in the courts of law, it is a different story entirely in the court of public opinion, apparently to the point of significantly increasing Conservative party numbers in electoral polls.

The other matter involves Trudeau's promise that, if elected, he will undo regulations put in place by the Conservatives that require Mexican nationals to obtain visas in order to enter Canada. Trudeau asserts that the requirement has caused an estrangement in Canada-Mexico relations that he wants to reverse. But in a case of apparently muddled thinking, he also made this statement in relation to Mexican nationals: "We need to ensure that Canada is a country that is accepting refugees who are fleeing persecution from all sorts of places around the world for all sorts of different reasons."

One wonders why the Mexican government would look favorably on Trudeau's notion that Mexicans should be given refuge or asylum in Canada, implying as it does that Mexico persecutes its citizens. How will that position aid bilateral relations between the two countries?

Undoubtedly Mexican officials will dislike it, but they may choose to turn a diplomatic blind eye should Trudeau's party win and the reversal take place — for the very practical reason that remittances to the home country from Mexicans abroad are a significant source of income for the nation. According to a July 2015 article in the Global Post, Mexico gets billions more dollars from expatriate remittances than it does from oil exports: $2.2 billion in May alone.

Whether the change in polling numbers in favor of the Conservatives is a transitory fluke, or whether it will follow them into the booth with Canadian voters remains to be seen. But, as in the United States, immigration and how government handles it, is playing a significant role in the minds of the electorate.


Topics: Canada