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The Globe and Mail

On immigration, Canadians are welcoming but realistic

Encouraging immigration is a self-serving policy, not a philanthropic endeavour. Developed countries need immigrants, especially when they're plagued with declining birth rates and a rapidly aging population.

Germany desperately wants to increase its work force, and will benefit from the harsh austerity measures it has been forcing on Southern Europe, since it's now receiving a flood of educated and unemployed young Spaniards and Italians driven into exile by the collapse of their economies.

Japan, on the contrary, is paying a high price for its steady refusal to accept immigrants. (Until recently, it was almost impossible to obtain citizenship, even for Koreans who'd lived in Japan for generations.) Japan is still the third economic power – for the time being – thanks to its brain power and work ethics, but it faces a declining future if it clings to this xenophobic philosophy.

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So it's troubling that a recent survey conducted by Forum Research for the National Post shows that as many as 70 per cent of Canadians are in favour of restricting the number of qualified immigrants accepted into the country. Even 66 per cent of those whose parents were born outside Canada agree with restrictions, a result that shouldn't be surprising since many sons and daughters of immigrants have the same interests as old-stock Canadians: They're preoccupied with their own future and they don't necessarily want to face increased competition in the labour market.

There's a caveat, though. The survey's main question contained a huge bias. It asked respondents whether Canada should "accept all qualified immigrants who want to enter the country" or should "limit the number of immigrants allowed in each year." Quite naturally, most people rejected the first option. Even the most generous and open-minded countries (and Canada is undoubtedly in this tiny category) couldn't afford such an open-door policy. If the question had offered a choice between two reasonable options, my guess is a majority would have favoured a greater opening to qualified newcomers.

The other results, though, seem quite credible. If virtually everyone agrees that immigrants should be allowed to bring their spouses and dependent children with them, a strong majority opposes allowing in the immigrant's extended families (parents, grandparents and grown children).

Predictably, such a measure is opposed by 76 per cent of those affiliated with the Conservative Party. But it's also the case for 61 per cent of those whose affiliation is Liberal, even though extended family reunification has been a standard policy of Liberal governments. Fifty-four per cent of those who identified as New Democrats also objected to this policy.

This will reinforce the Harper government's determination to restrict the rules of family reunification, which is actually a sound policy. The right to live close to your grandparents or grandchildren is not a fundamental right, especially not in North America, where many people live far from their parents and must fly to visit extended families. Family reunification should be restricted, as a general rule, to members of the nuclear family. No country should feel obliged to take several generations of older, unskilled immigrants.

The Forum Research survey shows that common sense prevails on other issues, too. Almost two-thirds of Canadians agree that immigrants "must abandon their native cultural values when they conflict with Canadian cultural values," but almost the same proportion are in favour of allowing dual nationality. The general picture depicts Canadians as a welcoming, yet realistic, people on immigration issues.

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