Canada is a nation of immigrants. Immigration enriches our nation and is at the core of who we are.
When I was in high school, one of my friends hosted an exchange student from France for three months. At the end of that time, we had a farewell party, where the tearful French student said she would miss Canada and Canadians. To lighten the mood, we started joking about how Canada was just a place where visitors gathered, and none of us were actually Canadians. Then we went through the group one by one, and as it turned out, many of us were in fact, immigrants ourselves (including me), and most of those who weren’t were children of immigrants. Only one person in the whole group was a Canadian born to Canadian-born parents.
As a child I played in the Portuguese community downtown and participated in Ukrainian language and cultural activities. My best friends in high school were either immigrants or children of immigrants; Koreans, Lithuanians, Chinese and Polish growing up in the west end of the city. Every spring, all of us left school with a Caravan passport, so that we could participate in the festival of cultural diversity in the city. I loved going to all the different pavilions, sampling the food and watching the brilliantly costumed dancers from seemingly every country on the globe.
In 2008, when I walked to Ottawa for climate justice in a trek that ended up coinciding with the federal election (it wasn’t planned that way), I was invited to attend a talk by John Raulston Saul about his book, A Fair Country. He observed that Canada was a metis nation whose national character was built on a foundation of First Nations values of equity and compassion. Consecutive waves of immigrants were welcomed here from countries where they lacked opportunities, and in Canada they were able to thrive. It is a powerful and satisfying image of our nation.
But today, we have reversed that pattern. Our immigration laws demand the most educated and best skilled members of other nations. We bring them here and set them to work doing our most menial tasks. India and Ethiopia are robbed of their doctors and engineers so that they can drive our taxis for us or paint our homes. And so many cuts to public services have meant that immigrants find it harder to integrate into the Canadian fabric.
Our demands for immigrants should match our needs. If we need taxi drivers and plumbers, we shouldn’t be demanding lawyers and doctors. And if we bring in doctors and lawyers, we should find a way to put their skills to better use. The worst thing is that Canada actually needs more doctors. We have fewer doctors per 100,000 people than many developing countries.
We must also do a much better job of helping immigrants to adapt to Canada, and to find a place to fit into our rich cultural fabric.
Canada will remain a nation of immigrants. The question is who those immigrants will be and what we will do for them. I would like to see a greater focus on family reunification and refugees, bringing those people to Canada who most need to be here and will most appreciate the welcome. I would like to develop a dialogue with each immigrant community to better address their needs. I would like to work with Provinces and professional associations to facilitate the recognition of foreign credentials.
I would also like to recognize environmental refugees. There are currently some 50 million environmental refugees in the world, and they go unrecognized yet are just as desperate as war refugees. This number is certain to grow in the future with climate change, and we need to take responsibility for our share of creating the problem. I wrote the Green Party policy on environmental refugees, which was adopted by the membership in Pictou in 2009.