What really fuels immigration

Tuesday 4 October 2005, by Murray DOBBIN

Murray Dobbin says globalization chickens coming home to roost

The word out of Ottawa that the Liberal government intends to increase immigration by 300,000 is a good news story that hides the bad. Canadians to their credit strongly support immigration, especially when compared to Americans. Seventy-three per cent of us have a favourable view, compared to just 42 per cent of people in the United States.

There is obviously nothing wrong with increased immigration but we should be aware of what’s actually driving it.

The immigration numbers aren’t being increased out of any altruistic goal of enhancing our cultural diversity. It’s driven by the social impact of Liberal economic policies. More immigration is needed because of a widely predicted labour shortage, the result of the lowest fertility rate in Canadian history (1.5 when 2.1 represents the replacement rate).

Economic globalization’s chickens are coming home to roost both in Canada and in the nations of the global south. It has been called the race to the bottom and as it implies, it is a race every worker loses.

While Canada is supposed to compete internationally based on its comparative advantage, pressure from corporate lobbyists would have us compete by lowering wages as well. They succeeded with Paul Martin as finance minister. His policies of "labour flexibility" had the desired effect of stagnating real wages for almost a decade.

The social consequences have been devastating. A Health Canada study has described the pace of work in Canada "completely unsustainable." The National Work-Life Conflict Study, released in July, 2002, revealed that in 1992, 38 per cent of the work force was "highly stressed." By 2002, that number was 55 per cent. Family life is "virtually non-existent" said the study, and families are delaying having children, and having fewer of them.

This is the consequence of a neo-liberal ideology that has turned common sense on its head. Thirty years ago full employment and high wages were societal goals and it was simply assumed that the economy served society at large. Today there is no talk of full employment and Canada has the second highest percentage of low wage jobs of any OECD country.

Neo-liberal conventional wisdom now poses the question: what is good for the economy? The answer is maxed-out workers, vulnerable families and minimal government. While Canadians sacrifice their health and family life in the interests of "the economy" the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO work their perverse market magic on the global south, reducing it to a source of raw materials and cheap labour. The resulting desperation fuels the desire to emigrate to the West.

Canada’s pursuit of global competitiveness thus includes "externalizing" the costs of educating its work force.

We cut university funding and allow tuition fees for working and middle class students to skyrocket, denying access to many. And then we poach the educated people of the global south, (40 per cent of immigrants to Canada have university degrees) robbing desperate countries of the people they need to build modern societies. IMF and World Bank policies mean these countries can’t afford to pay their own university graduates a decent salary.

Just because the federal government is unethical in poaching third world graduates doesn’t mean it cannot also be incompetent. When graduates do arrive here, welcomed because of their credentials, they too often find the credentials are useless. Doctors and engineers end up driving cab in Toronto or Montreal. And even when they do get work in their fields, immigrants (even after 10 years here) receive pay well below that of their Canadian counterparts - "labour flexibility" of a different colour.

So long as Canada supports the destructive policies of the World Bank, the IMF and WTO we should open the door to those affected by these policies and ensure they can actually work.

But most people in developing world would prefer to stay in their own countries provided they could make a decent living, enjoy reliable government services and feel secure in their neighbourhoods. The global race to the bottom makes that impossible. Maybe we should try imagining a race to the top.


Murray Dobbin is a Vancouver journalist. His latest book is Paul Martin: CEO for Canada?

Toronto Star

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