A database search suggests that the first article in a mainstream Canadian news outlet that criticized the United Nations' new migration compact appeared on the Toronto Sun website on Nov. 30.
That document – officially the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration – is now a high-stakes controversy from which both Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau hope to profit. One of them is making a mistake. But right now, it’s hard to know who.
Liberal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, along with representatives from more than 160 other countries, has signed the agreement in Marrakesh. Mr. Hussen called the compact “an effective way to address the challenges that migration can bring."
This may well be true. But had it not been for the conservative media and Official Opposition sounding the alarm, most of us would never even have heard about the compact, much less Canada’s decision to join it.
Parliament hasn’t debated or voted on the agreement; the government hasn’t bothered to consult Canadians on whether they oppose or support it. This is foreign policy conducted in the dead of night.
However, there is one significant problem with Mr. Scheer’s claim that the compact will “erode our sovereign right to manage our borders." The problem is that the thing is innocuous, a succession of bland paragraphs promising to promote this and consult on that.
The document stresses that it is not legally binding and “reaffirms the sovereign right of States to determine their national migration policy and to govern migration within their jurisdiction.”
There is a foolish clause on “sensitizing and educating media professionals.” Otherwise the document mostly commits states to sharing information, fighting human trafficking and abiding by the rule of law. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Except that’s not how others treat the document, pro and con.
Pro: Former Canadian Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, who is now the United Nations Special Representative for International Migration, called the compact “one of the defining projects of our generation,” which "will remain the reference for all future initiatives dealing with cross-border human mobility.”
Con: The United States – well, of course, with Donald Trump as President – Australia, the Dominican Republic and Chile have not signed, along with Israel and a clutch of countries in Eastern Europe, where migrants are deeply unpopular. Rightly or wrongly, some analysts see things in those bland paragraphs that could force countries to increase their immigration and refugee intake.
This is one reason why the Conservatives are making such a big deal of the accord. Another is that demonizing the compact fits with a narrative they wish to construct: that the Liberals have lost control of the immigration system, that tens of thousands have streamed across the border illegally and that now the government is surrendering sovereignty to a dysfunctional, even corrupt, United Nations.
The truth is that, over the past six months or so, the government has managed to greatly reduce the flow of asylum claimants entering Canada from the United States. And, as I and wiser minds read it, the migration compact surrenders not a jot or tittle of Canadian sovereignty to the UN.
But many Canadians do worry about losing control of the border. This doesn’t make them anti-immigrant; it just makes them anti-uncontrolled-immigration. And even those who support increased immigration may shake their heads at the Liberal inability to manage major files. As the Tories might put it, the Liberals can’t build a pipeline, can’t control the border, won’t balance the budget.
But on the immigration issues, at least, this strategy comes with great political risk for the Conservatives. More than half the population of Mississauga is not Caucasian. Fifty-three per cent of the population of Richmond, B.C., is ethnic Chinese.
If suburban immigrant voters decide that the Conservatives have become anti-immigrant, even nativist, they will shun the party and the Conservatives will lose the next election. You cannot win at the federal level without substantial support from immigrant voters. There are just too many of them.
The Liberals take pride in how they’ve handled immigration and are happy to campaign on it. The Conservatives think the Liberals are vulnerable on immigration and are happy to campaign on it. Who is right? It will take an election to find out.