Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday August 19, 1999
The Real Problem in Immigration
It’s a political non sequitor. Some federal Liberals are pushing for much higher immigration quotas to address Canada’s growing labour shortage. Of course we need more immigrants to join our workforce and society, but increasing the target won’t accomplish that goal. What makes the authors of this idea think that higher targets will be met when we repeatedly fall drastically short of the current target of 225,000 immigrants per year?
Before any numbers are increased, the government must repair or replace inefficient and broken policies and systems that hinder effective and humane immigration application, re-settlement and training. Or, as Vancouver -based population researcher David Baxter, puts it: “We certainly don’t need them (more immigrants) this instant, and if they did it right now, it wouldn’t have any impact anyway because the pipeline is really congested.”
There is no doubt that within the next decade Canada will need more immigrants to replace our aging workforce. Population experts predict that by 2003 the nation’s death rate will exceed the birth rate. Aside from being a matter of economic survival, increased immigration brings the less tangible benefits of social and cultural enrichment, not to mention fresh ideas and energy.
But the sad fact is that our government is already struggling to deal with the 170,000 newcomers that arrive here every year. Settlement programs and services for immigrants and refugees are taxed to the maximum. Prospective immigrants often wait two to three years while applications make their torturous journey. Families often wait for similar periods while their relatives struggle to bring them to Canada. The federal department of citizenship and immigration is overworked and underfunded. Case workers are overloaded and burned out.
And how many times do we find immigrants working in jobs they are hugely overqualified for because licensing and regulatory bodies deem their professional credentials to be worthless? We have a critical shortage of nurses, but foreign-trained nurses are working in the service industry. Engineers, doctors, and dentists are driving taxis when they would be more productive and happy in their chosen professions.
So, to Citizenship and Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan and to her colleagues dancing around the idea of increasing targets, we say: Get your priorities straight. Overhaul the department, ensure it is cost-effective and has adequate resources. Streamline the application system and ensure families can join their loved ones in a reasonable time. Deport those who need deportation. Work with professional accreditation groups and the provinces to ensure foreign-trained workers have access to skills upgrading programs. Do all this, and then report back to Canadians that you’ve repaired the immigration system. Only then should targets be increased. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial, A10, 8/19/1999)
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Immigration, then and now
In 1999, my cartoon alongside the Hamilton Spectator editorial “The real problem in immigration”, depicted immigrants sprinting towards the doors of opportunity in Canada, unaware of the menial jobs that awaited them.
Now, a quarter-century later, revisiting that cartoon reveals a simpler time, where the struggles portrayed seem straightforward compared to today’s complexities. The jobs depicted are no longer exclusive to newcomers; simply put, they are shared challenges faced by Canadians, particularly young people, with a lot less the chance of upward mobility available to them in 1999.
Economic imperatives, system overhauls, and infrastructure strains are shared threads in the societal fabric. The doors of opportunity, while still open, now reveal a more intricate tableau, where the struggles of immigrants mirror those of their Canadian counterparts.
As we stand in the present moment, the cartoon serves as a bridge between past and present, reflecting the shifting dynamics of immigration. It encapsulates not just the challenges faced by immigrants but the shared humanity that binds us in the face of evolving landscapes.
In the ongoing narrative of Canadian immigration, where the challenges faced by newcomers and citizens intertwine, that cartoon remains an observer, reminding us that true opportunity lies in the collective journey we embark upon together.
Where are they now? Mentioned in the editorial, Elinor Caplan, born in 1944, is a Canadian businesswoman and former politician. Her political career began in 1978 when she was elected as an alderman on the North York municipal council. In 1985, she secured a seat in the Ontario legislature and was appointed Minister of Health. Caplan transitioned to federal politics, winning the Thornhill riding in 1997 and serving as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Later, she became Minister of National Revenue but left cabinet in 2003. Despite her notable contributions, she did not seek re-election in 2004. (Graeme MacKay January 18, 2024)