Douglas Todd: The narrow view from the migration sector bubble

Todd on his experience at Metropolis (I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with him, as I always find his columns of interest).

His critique about the Metropolis bubble could of course be repeated with respect to most conferences. As could his critique of attendees being dependent of government cheques. Being dependent on private sector funding doesn’t make one more objective.

However, all that being said, it is a valid critique that Metropolis does not include a wide range of perspectives in both the plenaries and workshops, something that the conference organizers, as well as individuals like me who organize workshops, should keep in mind.

As well as the general point that one should be mindful of one’s bubble, and make efforts to get outside it, whether as Todd did by coming to Metropolis or ensuring that one’s media includes a range of perspectives (the main lesson that I learnt working under former Minister Jason Kenney as recounted in Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism):

I just spent a few days with Canadians who work with immigrants, refugees, international students and other migrants.

The almost 1,000 people at the 2017 Metropolis Conference in Montreal are on the front lines of an effort central to a country with arguably the world’s highest per capita in-migration.

Each year, Canada spends roughly $1.2 billion on the so-called “settlement sector.” Its mission is to assist more than 300,000 new immigrants and refugees a year while supporting 325,000 foreign students and more than 300,000 temporary foreign workers.

Migration is a mass phenomenon in Canada, unlike in most nations. Many settlement workers live in the cities that draw most migrants: Foreign-born people make up 23 per cent of Montreal’s population, 45 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s and half of Greater Toronto.

Workers in the settlement-sector form an influential Canadian subculture. One person at Metropolis affectionately referred to them as “activists with pensions.” Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen spoke twice and told them they greatly influence public policy.

I began wondering, however, how much these upstanding people represent the Canadian population. Do their values correspond at all to opinion poll results or with the issues Canadians follow through the media?

The vast majority at the taxpayer-funded Metropolis conferences live on government paycheques or grants. They are in the Immigration Department, the Heritage Department, public research universities and taxpayer-financed non-profit organizations.

Their theme is humanitarianism. Metropolis participants repeatedly said Canada should bring in more immigrants, refugees and foreign students, migrants are a “vulnerable population” and taxpayers should spend more on them.

Borrowing from Canadian scholars Keith Banting and Will Kymlicka, it’s fair to say almost all at the 19th national Metropolis event would be among the one-third of Canadians who unconditionally support multicultural, refugee and immigration policy. I did not hear disapproval.

They would definitely not be among the slightly smaller proportion of people that Banting and Kymlicka found at the opposite end; those opposed to Canadian-style immigration and multiculturalism.

It’s also not likely many attendees would be in the middle group of Canadians — the roughly 40 per cent (domestic and foreign-born) who generally support official multiculturalism, but with conditions.

Given what I witnessed, and the titles of hundreds of Metropolis presentations, critical discussion was muted. Orthodoxy seemed to reign.

It’s understandable. A lot of livelihoods, research grants and vested interests are at stake.

And, anyways, most attendees seemed keen on what they do. A few, indeed, seemed boastful.

There were basically only two things attendees would criticize.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told Metropolis delegates they greatly influence public policy. But to what extent do they reflect a cross-section of Canadians?

One was the alleged shortage of funding for settlement organizations, refugee agencies and foreign students. As a keynote speaker said, “We always have to do more.”

The second thing subject to criticism was the “media” and, by extension, Canadians themselves. Each was occasionally referred to as “tolerant” but more often chastised for being xenophobic.

Source: Douglas Todd: The narrow view from the migration sector bubble | Vancouver Sun

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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