The Canadian Condition?

By John Meyer
Volume 3, Number 2 (Winter 1992-1993)
Issue theme: "The role of the churches in population growth, immigration and the environment"

Canada's status is one of severe economic doldrums combined with political disfunction. Our unemployment rate is close to 12 percent and our debt levels are considerably higher than those of the United States. Attempts to arrive at new power-sharing agreements between the federal government and the provinces via the Charlottetown Consti-tutional Accord have been repeatedly rejected by the voters.

In the midst of all this, immigration is still being pushed to 250,000 per year - a proportional rate more than double that of Australia and triple the legal rate in the U.S.

The Accord was designed and agreed to by most of the power groups in the country including the federal and all provincial governments. A new constitution flowing from it would have diluted federal powers still further and would have granted some groups of citizens a greater set of rights than others. The Accord itself was a canvas of broad brushstrokes with very little in the way of technical structure. The technicalities were just beginning to be worked on by lawyers and bureaucrats as Canadians were going to the polls.

Fortunately, the Accord was rejected, not only by the majority of Quebecers but by the majority of Canadians as well (which must have proven extreme-ly frustrating to the separatist movement). The rejection was a slap in the face for the 'elites' of the country since most of them had endorsed the package. It has left a great many issues up in the air, but in the mind of the majority that is apparently better than resolving them in the manner proposed.

I spoke with the federal negotiator on immigration several days before the referendum and received the impression that there was no sense whatever of what the practical implications were going to be. If the provinces had gotten greater control over immigration, it would have made any kind of population policy impossible. Worse, lobby groups could focus on one province and, in effect, create an open-door immigration policy for the entire country since once admitted to one province immigrants cannot be restricted to live in a particular area. (The European Community faces a similar scenario.)

In terms of implementing an integrated policy for immigration, population, and the environment, the accord would have required unanimous consent from all 11 governments. Unwieldy - to say the least.

Whatever strategic and operational problems exist for immigration would also exist for any issue of concern to the nation state as a whole. Economic policy, health, environment, etc. - the current state of government in Canada might well be chaotic but ratification of the Accord would have made the country definitely impossible to lead and govern.

The Good News

We may be politically handcuffed but there is increasing improvement in terms of population/ environment consciousness. Very useful studies have come out of Australia and Switzerland. The Swiss study is a semi-technical analysis of resource flows and environmental assets in an advanced, resource-importing country. The Australian study is much broader and represents the sort of fundamental examination of the issues of population, immigration, international responsibility, and resources that has been avoided in Canada. This is not a technical study but by merely addressing all of the basic issues, the 'growth ethic' is left quite naked. Following this study, and in the middle of a severe recession, Australia cut its immigration by over 50 percent. This represents a major change for what was once a frontier nation.

Both of these studies are extremely useful for embarrassing the Canadian government about its denial of the existence of links among population growth, the environment, and immigration. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in Washington has produced an excellent study 'Crowding Out the Future.' Although extremely useful, and sophisticated in many ways (including spectacular graphics) it would be far better for our purposes if it had been published by the U.S. government.

The Toronto Star published a landmark series of articles by Daniel Stoffman on immigration [See page 134 of this journal]. These articles challenged many of the 'growth ethic' assumptions. If the Star is finally willing to publish critical analysis and a demand for the best information, then we are indeed living in a changing world. A cynic might note that Stoffman does not work for the Star, but they were obliged to publish his work because he won the Atkinson [founder of the Star] Fellowship in Public Policy.

'We are starting to see more

environmental activists climb aboard

the population issue. ...The trend is

starting in distinct fashion.'

There have been an increasing number of articles along the lines of 'where are we headed?' in diverse publications. This whole issue may be starting to open up the way it has in Australia, and to a lesser degree in the U.S.

We are starting to see more environmental activists climb aboard the population issue. There have been no major organizations making policy statements, but the trend is starting in distinct fashion. Several groups in British Columbia have shown strong interest in population growth and have started to circulate material from Zero Population Growth. Population issues in Canada are clearly on the minds of many of our leading environmentalists and it is only a matter of time before the 'P' and the 'I' words emerge as mainstream topics.

Preparations are beginning in Canada for the 1994 U.N. Population Conference in Cairo. A number of government agencies as well as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) will be presenting Canada's position on various population issues. Unlike the U.N. Conference on Economic Development in Rio de Janeiro, where population was largely left off the agenda, it will be front and center in Cairo.

How it will be dealt with is another matter but the initial signs are very hopeful. NGOs will have a greater voice in the government's policy statements than was the case in Brazil. Population in the Canadian context is becoming more and more of a regular topic within environmental groups. They may not be taking positions on reducing immigration, but they are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of greater numbers of people on the environment.

To gauge public attitudes and to find out if there was any support for the government's immigration policy outside of the media and special interest groups, ZPG-Canada commissioned a national poll on the ideal population size, environmental impact, and immigration. Some of the questions and results, with comments, are as follows

* Canada's population is currently 27 million. What do you think the ideal population of Canada should be?

Less than 27 million 12.8%

About the same 34%

Between 27 and 35 million 29%

More than 35 million 18.3%

No opinion 5.8%

Comment Support for the government's position is only 18.3% since its immigration policy will take us to over 39 million by 2030.

* Do you agree or disagree with the idea that growth in the Canadian population has lead, at least in part, to decline in the environment?

Agree 51.8%

Disagree 43.4%

Don't know 4.9%

Comment In effect this means that 25 percent of the people surveyed associate population growth with environmental decline in Canada. We would have been encouraged by 10 percent!

* Do you agree or disagree that immigration should be used as a way to increase Canada's population?

Agree 45.5%

Disagree 48.2%

Don't know 6%

Comment We decided to make a French/ English breakdown for the answers to this question since Quebecers see an erosion of their power-base due to high levels of immigration into the remainder of Canada.

Francophones who agree 51.8%

Anglophones who agree 40.1%

Francophones who disagree 39.6%

Anglophones who disagree 54.8%

Comment It has been the policy of the Quebec government to work for a higher share of immigration. The fear of being 'out-immigranted' is reflected in these responses since a higher percentage (52.8% vs 46%) of French speaking respondents want to see the Canadian population remain the same or decline.

* The current level of immigration into Canada, which is 250,000 persons per year, may increase Canada's population by about 10 million people in some 40 years. Do you think that this level of immigration is

Too high 32.4%

Somewhat high 23.5%

Just right 28.9%

Somewhat low 6.4%

Too low 2.7%

Don't know 5.9%

Comment Once again the polling of the general population shows them to be against mass immigration.

The Bad News ZPG Input Refused

at Immigration Bill C-86 Hearings

The parliamentary committee heard 72 oral presentations but refused ours. Only one group advocated lower levels - we think - and no one addressed environmental impact. Public interest and public opinion were not represented. The covering letter of our report asked how the committee avoided the legal requirement for an environmental impact study. There has been no reply as yet. Mr. Valcourt, the Employment and Immigration Minister, seems to think privately that levels should increase to 700,000 per year! Despite this, there is a sense that the government is desperately trying to find a way to cut levels (recalling 12 percent unemployment and enormous budget deficits at all levels of government) without being ripped apart by the media. The format might be to increase the refugee flow while decreasing the overall levels.

The media is beginning to equate opposition to immigration with right wing extremism, citing the attacks in Germany and the activities of anti-immigration activists in the American Southwest. On the other hand, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation is trying to put together a program on the effects of political correctness on the racism debate. Not too many people will line up to be on the show since the only experts on racism charges are those making them. I expressed a willingness to be a participant if the scope of the discussion was widened to include the effects of racism charges when they are used as a way to preclude any debate or dissemination of information on a broad range of topics - such as population growth, immigration and the effects of too many people on the environment and the economy. The CBC did not widen the perspective and the program may or not proceed.

'Population and immigrant numbers

are beginning to be discussed and I think

more people are willing to listen...'

Angus Reid, a highly regarded polling organization in Canada, and part of the large Southern media chain, refused to run ZPG's population and immigration questions. The questions were established and the fees agreed to when the management pulled the plug the day before the questions were supposed to go into the field. Basically, they did not want to get involved with a poll linking the sacred cow of immigration to decline of the environment, nor with a group which would publish the results showing very little public support for current policy.

Many people in Canada are aware that some-thing is fundamentally wrong and they look for answers. Population and immigrant numbers are beginning to be discussed and I think people are more willing to listen to discussion of the subject more than at any time since the early 70s. They may not support positions of caution, but they are starting to ask questions.

Generally, Canadians expect our economic hard times to remain for the foreseeable future - which means that interest in issues of population and immigration can only grow. Change will not be rapid, but it may be possible to follow Australia's example within three years.

About the author

John Meyer is executive director of ZPG-Canada (Zero Population Growth)

and reports from Toronto for The Social Contract.