“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt in his inaugural address, 1933
When times are tough, people do retreat into fear. Especially, I believe, when people are unwilling to believe in their leaders. What follows is a tendency to shrink the connections we trust, to circle the wagons and to distrust the people outside of the circle.
It is simple fearfulness that has made Canadians lose their trust in Canada as a land of immigrants, and to diminish the value we place in our diversity.
Government polling on Canadian attitudes toward immigration is extensive, and detailed. If the government doesn’t seem to like Statistics Canada very much, they still place a high value on watching our opinions on the issue of immigration.
I say that’s a good thing, because good leaders need to know if a seed of social unrest is taking root or becoming organized, so they can move positively at its early stages.
And that appears to be the case today, both in the rise of perceived fear and in the use of leadership in the face of those fears.
Broadly painted, new polling on our attitudes toward immigrants is still positive, but that support is falling as hard economic times continue, without concrete indications that things will get better soon.
A majority of Canadians — 56 per cent — still say immigration has a positive effect on the economy, but that’s a drop of 10 points in just two years. Only 40 per cent of Canadians today believe immigration has a positive effect on culture, and that’s a drop of 16 to 18 per cent from two years ago.
These figures are from an internal government survey, whose results were released in an access to information request. In other words, it’s information we are entitled to have, but only if we force the government to reveal it to us.
The surveys also say that Canadians are generally satisfied with immigration levels as they are, without knowing the real numbers. But when we are told the real numbers, more and more of us are saying that 250,000 immigrants allowed into the country each year is too many.
If you’re the immigration minister, what do you do with that?
Jason Kenney decided on Wednesday to keep the doors open, in the face of rising fears that immigrants are taking too many of our jobs or are diluting our national identity. He’s set the new quota at 260,000, and he’s reinforcing rules to filter in a higher proportion of people with skills and training, and those with resources to become entrepreneurs here.
That’s because Kenney has to go with the facts on the ground, rather than cede to our fears.
Immigrants are not taking too many of our jobs.
Despite our current high national unemployment rate, Canada is short of skilled workers. In Newfoundland and Labrador, a region with a high potential for growth, the St. John’s Board of Trade recently used crisis language to beg the government to open its doors.
The TD Bank says the federal immigrant quota needs to be raised to 350,000 in four years, to offset the looming demographic change in the nation as baby boomers start reaching their 70s.
This, even though the bank knows — and Kenney knows — that most immigrant families in Canada are not wealthy by any means.
My own ancestors were “dirt poor, but land rich” when they arrived in Canada. And likely, so were yours. They got a chance to succeed and they did.
The economic situation when FDR won his first term of presidency in 1932 was pretty bad, a lot worse than it is here today.
But he recognized that in hard times, people still need to stay rational and stay positive.
That didn’t happen in Europe, where fear expressed itself in racial hatred.
I take it as hugely positive that our government chose to look past the rising level of fear in our society, rather than to feed it for quick political gain. It gives you something to believe in.
Greg Neiman is a former Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.com. Email email@example.com.