Liberals launch pro-immigration campaign to calm 'anxieties' as Conservatives turn up heat
'We cannot take what we have for granted,' Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says of anti-immigration surge
The federal government has launched a campaign to "communicate" the benefits of immigration and push back against what the minister in charge of the file calls "anti-immigrant, anti-refugee rhetoric."
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said Canada's immigration system is well-managed and, for the most part, selective. As long as Canadians see the benefits of immigration, he said, they support it.
"We cannot take what we have for granted. The anti-immigrant, anti-refugee rhetoric that is all around us — we are not immune to that," he said during a speech and question-and-answer session at the Canadian Club in Toronto.
"This is the challenge before me and all of us — to double down on immigration, but also to really, really communicate, and listen carefully and communicate the real benefits of immigration locally. Because if we don't, it's going to be difficult for certain people who have anxieties about the economy and about their future to see immigration as a positive thing."
The new communications campaign comes as the Liberals continue to be hammered by the Opposition Conservatives over border security and the government's handling of asylum seekers crossing into Canada outside of regular border points. The Conservatives have declared it a "crisis," while the government insists it's a challenge that is being capably managed.
As part of the federal initiative, Hussen launched the "Immigration Matters" website, which provides information on how the system works and how immigration offsets the economic effects of an aging population by meeting the economy's labour needs.
The initiative comes a day after Hussen announced increased immigration levels, setting a new target of 350,000 for 2021. That's up 40,000 from this year's target of 310,000.
Surge in global migration
Hussen said we are now living in a world where the word "immigrant" evokes starkly different responses as global migration reaches levels not seen since the Second World War.
He said Canada is isolated from the pressures of global migration patterns experienced in countries like Germany, where hundreds of thousands of people have arrived to claim asylum.
"We've been sheltered by three oceans and our border to the south. But as we've seen with growing numbers of asylum seekers crossing irregularly from the United States between ports of entry ... we're starting to see some of the challenges faced by others, although the numbers pale in comparison," he said.
Hussen said Canada must be vigilant in ensuring that newcomers integrate successfully, while listening to the legitimate concerns of people who fear immigrants will take jobs from Canadians. The government says its communications efforts will present statistics and showcase success stories to show that immigrants help the economy and create jobs for Canadians.
Immigration critic Michelle Rempel said Canadians' confidence in the immigration system has been eroded by the Liberal government's handling of asylum seekers illegally entering the country outside official border points. They see that as a "blatant abuse" of Canada's social programs and a sign of the government's misplaced priorities, she said.
"Where Canadians have lost support for immigration over the last year stems from the fact that (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau has created a new permanent stream of entry into the country with a zero-day wait time, which has no sort of criterion on who can enter it and places a great burden on Canada's social welfare programs," she said.
Trudeau's approach to the immigration file has been "unfocused, unplanned and ill thought out," she said.
Wrongly blamed for housing crisis
Asked about the impact of asylum seekers on Toronto's housing situation, Hussen said newcomers are being wrongly blamed for a long-standing affordable housing shortage that existed before the current wave of border-crossers.
"To suggest that asylum seekers have contributed to a crisis with our shelter system I think is really misleading, it's very dangerous and it doesn't withstand scrutiny," he said.
The federal government has given Toronto $11 million to defray the costs of resettling asylum seekers, part of a $50 million package for Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba — the provinces most affected by those entering Canada outside official border points.