Justin Trudeau is between a rock and a heart place on immigration - Macleans.ca

Justin Trudeau is between a rock and a heart place on immigration

Opinion: As Canada experiences an ‘unsustainable’ surge through its borders, Trudeau faces an unpalatable decision over his open-door brand

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a town hall with high school students in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a town hall with high school students in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Andrew MacDougall is a London-based columnist and commentator. He was a director of communications to Stephen Harper.

The way Justin Trudeau speaks about the surge of “irregular arrivals” across the Quebec-New York border, you’d think he was talking about a minivan of tourists who got lost on the way to Schenectady.

So breezy is the Prime Minister you might have missed the fact these arrivals have more than tripled over the past few months, with the number fast approaching 7,000, many of them Haitians who appear to be fleeing America as it considers winding down the temporary asylum program set up after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The Immigration and Refugee Board has called this rise of asylum-seekers through the U.S. border “unsustainable.”

Not to worry, though. Canada, the Prime Minister soothed, is building a “temporary housing facility” in Cornwall, Ont., to help ease Quebec’s burden. It’s also boosting capacity at the IRCC processing centre in Montreal, and “reaching out to folks” in the United States to make sure they know the rules.

For those of you who don’t speak in expertly constructed brand-compatible euphemism, that’s one refugee camp, more staff to wade through an 11-year stack of backlogged asylum claims, and sweet whistling into a stiff breeze.

“Canada is a welcoming country,” Trudeau concluded. “But just as we welcome & encourage newcomers, we are also a country of laws.”

The last bit sounds good and Canadian-y. But the problem is that people know Canada’s laws and rules—and their loopholes—and are driving busloads of migrants through them.

“Entering Canada irregularly is not an advantage,” Trudeau replied—emphasis on the lied—when reporters challenged him on the current flaws in Canada’s system.

An irregular arrival, as the Prime Minister well knows, is treated quite differently than one made at a designated border crossing. Why does he think the Haitians are crossing irregularly?

MORE: The migrant surge isn’t a crisis, it’s just a fiasco

The irregular army is also responding to the market signal sent by Trudeau in January, when the Prime Minister tweeted to much international fanfare: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you,” in response to Donald Trump’s first attempt at a Muslim ban.

Now, Trump is about as welcoming as an agitated pit bull on a ratty front lawn, but nobody can argue with a straight face that the Haitians are fleeing “persecution, terror and war.” Trump’s administration is merely intent on treating Haitians the way Canada already does, and Haitians would rather not go home.

What Trudeau now faces as a result is a miniature version of what plagued continental Europe in the wake of Syria’s disintegration. Those who feel insecure in the U.S. feel pretty secure about Canada’s open door, something the Prime Minister himself opened. So they are coming. And no slogan, focus-grouped talking point or artfully worded response to the media can stop them.

The trouble with Trudeau being honest and saying “don’t try your luck here” is that it’s massively off-brand for his Liberal Party. To stop them from coming, Trudeau is going to have to be blunt—we’re talking megaphone blunt—and that could mean lost votes. And so instead, the Prime Minister is dissembling and having Canada’s drenched asylum system try to soak up more arrivals.

MORE: Canada’s immigration system is no kinder than America’s

Off the record, Trudeau’s office is reportedly less relaxed, bemoaning the potential electoral impact of a similar surge from Central America that could be coming as the United States makes changes to the protected status of that troubled region, just as Canada had itself already done in Haiti two years ago. This candidness from unnamed officials confirms the government’s approach to immigration is about brand and politics, not policy.

The Trudeau brand was built, for want of a better word, on “niceness.” It’s the main reason the world is full of glowing praise for Trudeau in the Age of Trump. And so the first time the government puts head before heart—as it needs to do on immigration—will be a painful period. Vanity Fair, Esquire, and—heaven forbid—Rolling Stone might stop calling.

That’s why the Prime Minister’s response has kept the heart front and centre. But if the flow of irregular arrivals doesn’t ebb, Trudeau will have no choice but to apply his brain.

The trouble is, there are no good options when it comes to stopping irregular arrivals. The opposition Conservatives have delivered a dump-truck full of criticism, but they haven’t come up with even a thimbleful of answer. But their job is to keep up pressure on the government, not do it for them.

If there truly is no way around the current problem, Trudeau should have the courage to be honest with Canadians and tell them more people are likely to come, and that it’s a problem.

Sometimes, after all, the nicest thing to do is be honest.


Justin Trudeau is between a rock and a heart place on immigration

  1. OMG….7000 people…..in a country 90% empty.

    [I think we’ll survive}

    • At least 7000 and every one of them now going to be given welfare checks, free medical and a host of other services that all contribute to the national debt and/or take services away from Canadians and legally landed and properly vetted immigrants who have lived here many years if not all their life.

      Canada is 90% vacant?… more like only 10% habitable. I doubt any of these newcomers will be living in Nunavut.

      • Sorry….there is no mass handing out of welfare….and there is a huge amount of land between your home and Nunavut.

        Where do you get this crap anyhow?

        • Land is not the issue. Somebody owns all the land, and the rent must be paid, not by parasites like you, but by people who actually contribute. Like your head, Canada is 90% vacant, cold & dark.

        • Emilyone are you just pretending to be a low information individual commenting on things that you pull out of the air?

          Google “Quebec will begin handing out welfare cheques to as many as 4,000 asylum seekers next week, the province’s employment minister said Thursday.”

          Both the G&M and The Toronto Star are stating this as a fact.

      • You know, i bet when the rest of the world looks at Canada and sees this little trickle of emigrants coming over our borders, and hears the right wing mouthpieces going off about it about being invaded by aliens and ranting off, we need to shut our borders down. They European countries must look at us as ‘Pussy’s’, because the same amount of people that has come over our border since last winter, comes over their borders, almost every day, in these counties, in Europe, and right wing conservatives are complaining. Canada is a part of a continent, its called North America, and its not an island, so get a grip. The baby boom was over in the early sixties when the pill came on stream(and the religious conservatives don’t use the pill, like ducks), so if we Canadians don’t make more babies, than you can’t repopulate.

        • Your argument re “babies” from this group as a means to repopulating is fallacious. Canada can attract as many legal immigrants as we would like or need through our merit based program. These merit based immigrants are not on the dole, can be immediately productive and yes-they also produce babies. Time for you to get a grip on reality.

          • Mr. Bomber, you are about the only one on this post that makes any sense at all What ever happened to new Canadians being a benefit to the country and I don’t mean only to vote Liberal. Voice of Reason (whom you answered) is on about babies and re-population but in his case he should not be allowed to repopulate. .

          • Larry eason…. you are crediting the wrong comments…..

            My comment is not about babies at all. It is about the fact that there will be a massive welfare payment to asylum seekers next week, as wrong as it seems.

            I think you do agree with Jerome ( not carpet Bomber) on that immigration is good and merit based immigrants and their babies are obviously a better choice then the border jumpers that we can only hope will become productive citizens.

        • Our Reform Hater chickenhawks are whining wimps. Let’s be honest about that. But that becomes a broader problem only if we let it stop what needs to be done and what is the right thing to do.

  2. Obama let hundreds of thousands Central and South Americans stay temporarily, like the Haitians, and kept on renewing their temporary status.

    Trump and Kelly will stop renewing their temporary status and these people are all coming to Canada.

    Tent/shack cities are coming to Canada, right to the Liberal heartland of southern Quebec and eastern Ontario.

    • Sorry…no.

    • I hope they all move into Sussex. I’d even support our selfie dude to get a couple of more nannies to help poor Sophie.

  3. Just wait for the Honduran, El-Salvadoran and Nicaraguan their time in the states is coming due in 2018, Diversity is our strength.. Bend over and Grab your ankles Canada!!

  4. Trudeau: “Way to go, Vancouver. Diversity will always be our strength.”
    This was to an antifa rally in Vancouver where there were only 4 arrests as there were no anti-immigration “racists” to beat up.

    The antifa terrorists were emboldened by this dog whistle that violence against the Trudeau immigration protesters is pretty much A-OK. The Quebec City antifa felt justinfied in attacking police protecting a few anti-immigration protesters hiding out in a parking garage.

    I missed the PM’s condemnation of this violence.

  5. As an American reader in Florida and the child of Cuban refugees the best advice I can give Canada is be strong now less the problem will get worse. The reality is there are 7 billion people in the world of which 5.5 billion have under what an American or Canadian would call a middle class quality of life. You cannot move that sheer mass of humanity. Unlike Canada the U.S. immigration system allows legal migrants to petition all their immediate family within five years hence the term Chain migration. I saw Prime Minister Trudeau welcoming the Syrian refugees when Trump kicked them to the curb and it was an inspiration to the world. We have Trump as President now largely because of our own immigration crisis. I would caution Prime Minster Trudeau not to make the same error President Obama and later candidate Hilary Clinton made and make promises to pro immigration groups and their unsustainable agenda. You have an active alt right in Canada, there was the wild rose movement in Alberta a few years ago the the Quebec separatists are always looking for a cause they can attach themselves to.

  6. This is a “crisis” in the small minds of a relatively few people. Probably the same people who cheered Trump, the cause of all this in the first place, while trashing Canada. Reform Haters are great for that. They are the ultimate whiners and “we can only fail” types around. Sorry, this too will prove to be a minor issue in the whole scope of things.