Are Canadians really open to more migration in the future?

With COVID-19 disrupting travel, shutting borders, and redefining what is essential work, Pandemic Borders explores what international migration will look like after the pandemic, in this series titled #MigrantFutures

How are we to make sense of Canadian immigration policymaking during the COVID-19 pandemic? On the one hand, the Trudeau government has pledged to increase both its already ambitious admissions target for 2020 and its annual immigration levels in the next three years. The government’s expansive immigration strategy has earned the praise of immigration boosters while generating little in the way of skepticism (let alone criticism) from opposition parties. For the most part, public opinion has also fallen into line. Yet, paradoxically, the Government of Canada’s open approach to migration of all kinds has been marked by unprecedented territorial closure.

The same contradiction is evident among Canadians: their ongoing support of official multiculturalism has also coincided with increases in racist discrimination. A frank appraisal of Canada’s immigration policy must acknowledge the juxtaposition of aspirational openness, on the one hand, and de facto closure and growing hostility, on the other. Doing so makes it clear that any hope of returning to business as usual after the pandemic may be misplaced.

Canada has earned a global reputation for administering an expansive immigration policy. Bucking the global trend toward greater restrictiveness in the years following the global economic crisis of 2008-09, annual admissions rose steadily under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s right-of-centre governments from 2008 to 2015. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s centre-left Liberal Party governments have introduced even more ambitious targets. These significant increases in immigration levels have been supported by all of Canada’s major political parties. Canadian governments, regardless of their partisan orientation, have also stood firm in their support of Canada’s policy of official multiculturalism, even as leaders of other liberal democracies have cast multiculturalism as a failed and dangerous experiment. Recent efforts to strike a more restrictive stance on immigration, notably by the populist People’s Party of Canada in the 2019 federal election, have come to naught.

This post was originally published on Radio Free.