Immigration- A Tension Between Status Quo and Change

As of January 1, 2020, all applicants for permanent residence under an economic stream in Quebec must pass the “values test” to receive an attestation which is a condition of […]
Published on April 24, 2020

As of January 1, 2020, all applicants for permanent residence under an economic stream in Quebec must pass the “values test” to receive an attestation which is a condition of being granted a Selection Certificate. The test and an accompanying guide have been designed to promote Quebec’s values, rights, and freedoms, with the aim of better integrating immigrants into Quebec’s society. 

Public policy is both a result of public opinion and results in the shaping of public opinion. Policies are therefore a consequence of tension between status quo and change.

Perhaps the most contentious contemporary public policy challenges around the world are in the areas of immigration, national identities, and nationalism. Modern societies are changing faster than any time before in history, evolving and reshaping communities, values, and relationships. Post-World War II liberalism provided the impetus for creating systems and policies for overcoming inequalities and injustices, laws for mitigating conflict and social injustice, and internationalism resulting in the formation of the United Nations, World Bank, International Criminal Court, to name a few. 

But the world has changed dramatically over the past two decades.  Many of the post-war policies, perceived as being imbued with universal values and having enduring sustainability are now being challenged.  Thomas Friedman’s international bestseller, The World is Flat, published in 2005 is not the shiny idea it was a mere fifteen years back.1  In fact, Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, published five years earlier, seems to have been a more accurate prediction of the world we live in today.2  

This clash of civilizations is today the idea that forms the basis of nationalistic movements around the globe. Trump’s credo “America First, Modhi’s “India First”, Erdogan’s politics rooted in de-secularization of the Turkish state, and even Aung San Suu Kyi’s move from international freedom fighter to defender of communal and religious nationalism, signals a dangerous abandonment of the values that defined the egalitarian liberalism of the last half-century.

The question is: do these leaders reflect the opinions of their citizens or are the opinions of their electorate a reflection of the policies espoused by their electorate? In the end, the answer may not matter much. The consequences are a withdrawal of the world order, nationalistic insularism, and promotion of ideals of cultural superiority. But ailments must be viewed with the aim of treating both the symptom as well as causes, and this emerging nationalistic clash is no different.

The rise of nationalism is the symptom. The causes, while complex, may be more evident than we choose to believe; partly because recognizing the causes amounts to an admission of the failures of liberalism.

Perhaps at the root of this rise of nationalism is a fundamental failure of politicians to understand the notion of culture and its centrality in the lives of their citizens. History should have taught us that culture cannot be designed like a tapestry or quilt; rather it is the reactionary manifestation between individuals and those that surrounded them. We can see it, feel it, and touch it, but more than that, we know it. It is what ties us to the land, to emotions of sympathy, empathy, attachment, and purpose. It is emotional intelligence.

Liberalism has tended to promote culture as a concept that is universally connected, tailorable and exchangeable. While liberalism defends the notion of cultural appropriation, liberalism has also created policies that tear at the cultural boundaries that define us. There is a dissonance of intent and consequence. 

Following the Second World War, national identities were fairly well understood, partly as a consequence of the postwar order, but also due to the emergence of the cold war period. New economies and industries were emerging, and the future looked bright. While internationalism was resulting in increasing connectivity across the globe, developed nations were fostering alliances and offering assistance to third-world countries. The West provided a model for democracy, industrialization, innovation, and social order. And immigration from developing societies to the West provided a ticket to a brighter future. 

Immigration during this period, the three decades (50s-70s) following the Second World War, was characterized and influenced by very different factors than immigration of the latter three decades (1980s -2000).  

Earlier immigration, undertaken primarily by ships and early commercial air travel, was expensive and understood to result in long-term separation from family and countries being left behind. Immigrants understood that they were entering a new culture within which they would have to adapt – to see it, feel, it and touch it; but more than that, to know it by learning new ways of expressing emotions of sympathy, empathy, attachment, and purpose – to develop a new emotional intelligence. This provided for a natural evolution of integration, both by the host and immigrant communities; integration resulting in the development of naturally developing social cohesion.  

Integration, however, has become a negative term today, and liberal policies on immigration have resulted in what are perceived by too many to be open borders, to anyone, from anywhere, and without discretion.

The reasons for this perception are simple. Post-war immigration has been driven far more by economics than community-building — immigration to fill jobs, to meet specific technical and skill requirements, or for the purposes of investment. Cultural integrity and community building have been relegated as secondary and tangential aims. Immigration based on points! 

Immigration during the latter three decades of the century has been defined by the advent of the Boeing 747, mass travel, connectivity of communication, and international commerce. At the same time, new nationalistic movements around the world have revived dangerous partisan views across the globe; views, values, and ideologies that are easily transmitted across the internet and by immigration, inciting and supporting movements in open democratic societies, which otherwise may not be tolerated.

Immigrants today are far more likely to arrive into communities of their own, with ready access to media (entertainment, news, and community information) connecting them to their places of origin than in the past. They are likely to have access to businesses and support services that offer cuisine and linguistic and cultural support with which they are familiar, and maintain their religious and cultural practices with little interruption.

There are far fewer incentives today to interact or assimilate than during the earlier three decades of the twentieth century. Immigration today, and the immigrant experience and outcomes are therefore very different for immigrants today than those of the earlier half of the century.

Both the mosaic and melting pots offer multiculturalism as models of the societies we aspire to. And multiculturalism remains a fundamental characteristic of Western culture. However, what that culture looks like, how it evolves, and how societal values evolve are the challenges liberalism faces today.

The ghettoization of cultural enclaves contributes to threats to social order and social cohesion in ways that are far more corrosive than politicians have been willing to accept. 

Policies have also failed to provide protection for national values over those designed to respond to global liberalization, sometimes perceived as political pandering. While political leaders must often respond to their international obligations (as for example with military alliances, foreign aid, or trade agreements), post-war institutionalization of agencies for international cooperation has partly isolated decision making from the democratic process. Therefore there is increasing suspicion of organizations such as the G-20, G-8, United Nations, and the World Bank. The resulting suspicion and isolationism results in cumbersome responses to international challenges – decisions by the United Nations, International response to climate change are two examples.

Immigrant experience does not have to be a this-or-that process. Immigration should involve a balance between supporting the destitute and needy, those who bring special skills and talents, and those who widen and enhance the diversity that is Canada; but it must always exclude those whose fundamental views and values would undermine the social justice and liberal values on which Canadian society is founded.

Canada must remain a beacon of diversity, a place that offers a helping hand to the needy and war-torn, to the ambitious, and to the idealist. Those who harbour racist, misogynistic, or xenophobic views, even if they pertain to the societies from which they seek to immigrate cannot be part of this experiment.  

It should not be deemed unreasonable to expect that new immigrants, particularly due to the widespread emergence of nationalistic and racist movements around the world today, to have the fundamental respect for the values that define us as Canadians.  

Immigration should offer opportunities, but also have expectations of newcomers. Expectations for integration and adaptation cannot be an entirely negative prospect.  


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  1. Friedman, Thomas L. The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. Macmillan, 2005.
  2. Huntington, Samuel P. “The Clash of Civilizations?” In Culture and politics, pg. 99-118. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2000.



Anil Anand is a Research Associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Anil served as a police officer for 29 years; during his career, some of his assignments included divisional officer, undercover narcotics officer, and intelligence officer. He has worked in Professional Standards, Business Intelligence, Corporate Communications, the Ipperwash Inquiry (judicial public inquiry), and Interpol.

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