Sunday, August 9, 2009

Unemployment continues to climb...let's blame immigrants

The numbers for June are out, another 45,000 jobs lost. Our national unemployment rate remains unchanged at 8.6%, the result of many people simply giving up on the job market. For those old enough to remember previous recessions, the finger pointing should be familiar...let's blame immigrants.

Its easy to be liberal minded and progressive in boom times, but when stress hits that's when people start showing their true colours.

The irony is that we're all either immigrants ourselves or descended from them, excepting of course those whose heritage can be linked to Canada's First Nations. But when the economy isn't producing enough jobs to keep everyone employed there's a tendency to look for scape goats, and recent immigrants provide a convenient target.

Think of it in terms of an elevator in an office tower.

Its 5 o'clock and people on the 20th floor anxiously get on, eager to get home. At the 19th floor the elevator stops to let more people in, while those already on glance at their watches and the newcomer feels like an outsider to 'the group', retarding their progress to the bottom floor. When the elevator car stops again at the 18th floor those who got in at the 19th pass from one camp to the other. They join the first group in checking the time, making the new arrivals feel like intruders...and so it goes until the lobby is reached.

Its not just tension in the job market causing stress, there's a fear that immigrants will change Canada...remaking it in the image of their foreign homelands. Conservative voices are already taking this message to the public, stirring up fear that our hockey loving, Tim Horton's swigging way of life is in peril.

The Calgary Herald ran a story yesterday:

More than hockey at stake in this game

The writer of the article dissects the findings of Lethbridge sociology professor Reg Bibby who finds that Canadian immigrants don't share a passion for skating around on an ice rink while chasing a small rubber disk. The author branches off beyond hockey however to our broader culture, in ways that strike me as designed to stoke our collective xenophobia. Here are some quotes from the Herald article:

...immigration patterns are reprogramming our national DNA.

They bring their own expectations, prejudices, cultural quirks and acquired behaviours. Some mindsets work well here; some, those favouring female circumcision for example, we can do without.

But, while all people are equal before the law, all cultures are not equally valuable.

It strikes me that we're seeing a shift in attitude. Canada for the past 50 years or so has developed a reputation for being welcoming to immigrants, from every corner of the globe. These 'new Canadians' have always contributed to our society, often starting out in job markets shunned by those of us with deeper roots here. Taxis, cleaners, security guards, kitchen help and countless jobs that qualify as menial and low paying labour....we find these vocations dominated by people who've only recently arrived on our shores.

The goal posts are being moved slowly, but there can be little doubt they're being moved. Restrictions placed on Czechs and Mexicans have already generated headlines, with new rules affecting those from the Congo, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Afghanistan and Iraq sure to do the same.

Despite so called "expert opinion" that the recession will soon be behind us, I think we're in for a long period of overall economic decline. I'm hoping that Canada will maintain its long standing reputation as a welcoming country, where immigrants are encouraged to participate in a tolerant society free of systemic racism and hatred.

No doubt there will be political interests looking to prey on the xenophobic fears of some. Those who are progressive and liberal minded have a responsibility to balance the scales.

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