Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Statue of Snobbery

Posted by JJ in Golden Tacks (Saturday April 1, 2006 at 6:28 pm)

Those who came in steady waves to the shores of New York last century were greeted by a towering monument, on whose base a simple message read:

“”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Canada had its smaller share of this great bounty of new settlers, but it took time before the many cultures they brought with was elevated to the status of a founding myth.

The contributions of these immigrants cannot be measured until one of two things ends: their lineage or Canada; but the impact of the ideology of multiculturalism which resulted from their arrival is felt deeply whenever questions regarding immigration arise.

A sore point arose this past week, as government plans to crack down on illegal immigrants were deftly represented as an attack on a particular ethnic community. The prospect of such an interpretation is serious enough to draw a specific denial from the Minister of Immigration, who pointed out that deportations of illegal migrants were neither faster nor more directed than under the preceding government. The former Liberal Minister of Immigration, Joe Volpe, claims, as might be expected, that his government was ready to “tackle immigration issues”, but talk is cheap (and the Frigid Wonk is grateful for that).

Two issues loom large in Canadian immigration policy:

All aspects of the system work relatively slowly. This has been a long-standing complaint from skilled workers, those already here hoping to sponsor family members, and refugees. It must be recognized that while the government sets targets for immigration, it does not necessarily meet them. There’s a difference between talk (cheap, remember?) and action, and governments are expert in exploiting it.
While skilled workers are sought, they often have difficulty in getting their credentials recognized locally. This has been a long-standing problem, and despite repeated recognition of the problem, little changes (talk/action).

What’s most interesting is that these problems have nothing to do with the deportation of illegal immigrants — at least, not at first. Regardless of whether they are gainfully employed, settled, or otherwise ensconced in Canadian society, those who do not or will not do things legally can’t credibly complain when the law turns against them.

At second glance, though, there is a connection, and it has to do with the recognition of credentials.

Skilled workers, the largest opening for would-be immigrants, must meet certain criteria to enter Canada. One might expect that these criteria would be designed to indicate priorities for hiring, so let’s take a look at those.

The “Education” factor, worth 25% of the evaluation, rates Master’s and PhD degrees highest, with 25 points, and apprenticeships with the equivalent of high school lowest, at 12 points, among educated skill sets. One would logically conclude from this ranking that Canada’s greatest need is for people with Master’s and PhD degrees, and lowest for labourers.

Have you ever heard the one about the PhD driving a taxicab? Is it because her credentials weren’t recognized? Could it have anything to do with the fact that Canada, like most other developed nations, has a greater need for labour and skilled trades than it does for advanced degree holders? Illegal immigrants filter into the building profession because that’s where they’re desperately needed; and the present system of selection militates strongly against these workers — they wouldn’t likely qualify if they tried.

But wait a moment — doesn’t Canada need doctors? Well, yes, that’s true, but the major problem in that regard isn’t finding doctors — it’s finding funding for those doctors in the public health care system; and it isn’t going to be resolved by immigrant doctors, because they won’t work for any less than other doctors where rates are set provincewide.

The government has recently begun to respond to the diminished prestige of trades with advertising, but after years of lavishing attention on Universities (without improving them in any perceivable way), it’s a hard sell. Like other Western nations, more students aspire to university education than we need workers with such training; and Universities have responded by increasing their class sizes.

Post-secondary education in Canada is a complex picture (and a debate for another time), but one thing should be clear: Canada doesn’t lack for University graduates. What it lacks are labourers and those committed, like the waves of immigrants before them, to a dream of a better life.

But immigration policy, guidelines, and selection misrepresent these needs. Rather than rewarding the dreamers, the builders, and those who need a new beginning, it rewards abstract thought and people already accomplished in their homelands. The storied pomp is welcomed with open arms; and the huddled masses left behind. In elevating the cultures of their past, Canadians have put their achievements beyond the reach of mortal men.

This narrow-minded elitism is the disservice done to those now being deported, because their perseverance, desperation and diligence is precisely what Canada most needs. But its head is turned to other things, and the descendants of hard-working settlers lift up their noses, not a guiding lantern, at the sight of their forebears.

Does Canada need a statue to remind it of its heritage? A poem? What will it take to kill the obsession with technical policy and begin the work in earnest? Vague cries for recognition of credentials are no solution, neither is haste. Canada must reexamine its own history and ask itself what it is that it wants to be.

So long as immigration policy fixates on elitist achievement, it will continue to lure the accomplished and devoted alike into disappointment. Only by recalling the humbleness of its past and the beauty of opportunity can it come to recognize the glories of the future in a hammer and the unbreakable language of a hopeful smile.

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