Power of the immigrant vote
Friday, October 03, 2008
As Canada moves closer to election day, our most topical issues are being debated with increasing intensity. The subject of immigration isn't among them. Given its relevance in modern Canadian society, this seems curious.
Perhaps some answers can be found in the Sept. 29 Issues & Ideas article by James Bissett, former executive director of the Canadian Immigration Service. In it, he wrote that "there is only one reason why our political parties push for high immigration intake, and that is they see every new immigrant as a potential vote for their party."
A rather bold statement, but perhaps he's on to something.
The fact is, our mainstream political parties have been buying immigrant votes for decades. The Liberals have been most successful in using immigration to their electoral advantage. A 2005 poll found that 44 per cent of minority community members identified most closely with the Liberals, compared to six per cent identifying with the Conservatives. In the 15 ridings in Canada with the largest immigrant populations, the Liberals claimed victory in every one.
Economically speaking, there has yet to be a study produced showing a positive economic contribution from Canada's immigration policies. There does exist, however, a 2005 study by a Simon Fraser University economics professor pointing out that the 2.5 million immigrants who came to Canada between 1990 and 2002 received $18.3 billion more in government services and benefits in 2002 than they paid in taxes. All major parties advocate an increase in annual immigration numbers. The New Democrats are calling for an annual increase from 237,000 to 333,000. The Conservative party numbers are more modest, while the Liberal party recommendation is 490,000 immigrants annually by 2016.
A 2004 government-sponsored study, Counting and Courting the Immigrant Vote, states that "at no other time in our country's history has the foreign-born elector been so fundamental to whether there will be a majority or minority government in Canada." Perhaps it's time for immigration to take its rightful place among Canada's primary political issues.