Necessity Is the Mother of Invention - and Realism: Canada's Wake-Up Call

By John Rhodes on September 17, 2013

"Necessity is the mother of invention." Aesop's insight continues to be true in the various facets of life — both personal and societal. For immigration and immigration policy, too, necessity is the mother of invention. Actually, it is perhaps more accurate to say, in the case of immigration, that "necessity is the mother of realism". Necessity can be a reality check — much as we see in the Biblical story of the prodigal son, whose hunger (necessity) prompts his "coming to his senses" (Luke 15:17).

Our neighbors to the north, known for their peaceful juxtaposition and quiet reserve, and also known as a nation that proactively promotes multiculturalism, because of necessity are re-evaluating their approach to and standards for immigration. An interesting recent Wall Street Journal article highlights this.

Multiculturalism is indeed an important part of Canadian identity, and has officially been so for over four decades. In 1971, the Multiculturalism Policy of Canada was proclaimed, making Canada the first country in the world to officially implement a legislative framework for multiculturalism. In 1972, a position for Minister of Multiculturalism was established. In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms explicitly and deliberately articulated multiculturalism as intrinsic to the Canadian experience. In 1988, the federal government passed the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, giving official multiculturalism a stronger legal basis by consolidating existing government policies and practices into legislation. Additionally, the act established agencies in support of the policy, such as the Canadian Multicultural Advisory Committee. In 2002, to recognize and celebrate the diversity of the population, the federal government proclaimed June 27 of each year as Canadian Multiculturalism Day.

Now, is not the ideology of multiculturalism linked to high levels of immigration? Nations that have low levels of immigration and are thus more culturally homogeneous are much less inclined toward multiculturalism. Canada has traditionally had very high rates of immigration, higher even than those of the United States (relative to the size of the population). As the article states, "Canada accepts more immigrants per capita than any of the Group of Seven most-advanced economies." Canada's numerous and, more recently very culturally diverse, immigrants eventually led to the emergence, in Canadian society, of the ideology of multiculturalism.

What is now being observed regarding immigrants is, of necessity, obliging Canada to revisit its immigration policy, one of proud but indiscriminate welcome, and to begin to revisit its understanding of multiculturalism. What is being observed? "A growing economic chasm between locals and many of the immigrants that Canada's old applicant-screening system selected. ... In the 1970s, new immigrants earned 85 percent to 90 percent of what the Canadian-born did. That had fallen to between 60 percent and 70 percent by 2006, according to a study by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, a nonpartisan Montreal think tank."

The focus has always been primarily on economics, much as the comprehensive immigration reform being proposed in the United States has. But the Canadian experience has proven such focus to be insufficient. One cannot isolate economics. Economics is one dimension of the multi-dimensional experience of well-being in a societal context.

Arthur Sweetman, an economics professor at McMaster University of Hamilton, Ontario, and co-author of the Institute for Research on Public Policy study, says that "There is a fear that as immigrants fall behind, social cohesion will deteriorate." Such thinking, however, stems from misreading the study results and from misreading what a society is. It is the other way around. When there is no social cohesion, immigrants fall behind economically. Hence, what the Canadian government is now doing. Necessity is indeed the mother of realism. Canada is becoming more socially realistic. "Canada's new points system places greater emphasis on an immigrant's fluency in the nation's two official languages. It weighs how closely applicants' qualifications match Canadian credentials", and it "gauges adaptability: factors such as time spent previously in Canada". The term assimilation has reappeared. And "by some measures, public opinion also appears to have tilted away from Canada's traditional open-armed multiculturalism."

In a December survey, 70 percent of respondents said too many immigrants are not adopting Canadian values, up from 58 percent in 2005, according to Environics Institute, a Toronto research group.

"We are reproducing ghettos of immigrants and migrant workers and diluting Canada's traditional values to accommodate immigrants who will not integrate," said Salim Mansur, a University of Western Ontario political-science professor and immigrant from India.

The government is tackling these developments straightforwardly. For example, the guide given to aspiring Canadian citizens now emphasizes Canada's historic ties, such as to the British monarchy

All of this is, of course, much to the dismay of multicultural ideologues. Can we not safely presume, however, that such ideologues are probably not greatly confronted with the social disarray that can result from their own ideology? Many of those I know live comfortably in a world that is not multicultural, from which, from afar, they decry the wrongdoing of those trying to promote a unified society, a society in which there is necessarily assimilation.