Nelson: Canada's wide open door policy risks immigration backlash

As a country, we’ve now opened the doors to immigration so wide that the various cities and towns trying to accommodate the massive numbers of newcomers simply can’t keep up

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Despite what our divisive mayor might imagine, the biggest issue facing Calgary today isn’t that awful situation in Gaza.

No, most Calgarians are much more concerned with what’s happening closer to home, where cracks are starting to show and things are beginning to break. We see it in health care, with crowded emergency rooms, ever-increasing waiting lists and an endless scramble to find a family doctor who’ll take on new patients.

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We see it in housing, with skyrocketing prices and rising mortgage rates adding to the burden of those seeking a home of their own, while the supply of rental accommodation struggles to keep pace and rampant homelessness becomes ingrained in our city’s makeup.

And we’re seeing it in our schools, where teachers face a herculean task in classrooms bursting at the seams, including many youngsters still learning the English language.

It’s easy enough to spot the cause of this crisis, though much harder finding any politician at the civic, provincial or federal level willing to acknowledge what anyone with that most rudimentary arithmetic skill — an ability to count — understands in a heartbeat.

As a country, we’ve now opened the doors to immigration so wide that the various cities and towns trying to accommodate the massive numbers of newcomers simply can’t keep up.

Nowhere is that felt more than here in Calgary, as this influx from overseas combines with Canadians arriving from other provinces, all of them looking for good jobs and a brighter future.

In the 12 months up to July, Calgary’s population jumped by 42,000, and that surge shows few signs of slowing. If anything, it’s increasing as, despite the best efforts of federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, a vibrant energy industry remains the biggest booster of the Canadian economy, and we’re at its heart.

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Provincially, the numbers are equally staggering: approximately 130,000 international arrivals and 56,000 (net) newcomers from other provinces. That’s a mammoth four per cent jump in Alberta’s population in a single year. No wonder we’re struggling to cope.

So why doesn’t some elected official point out the acutely obvious? How can you even begin to solve a problem if you’re not prepared to mention, let alone acknowledge, its likely root cause?

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Because to even suggest immigration levels are set too high — or simply question if they’re appropriate for a country rapidly finding it difficult to deal with those already here — risks being branded as intolerant, racist or, worst of all, some Donald Trump adherent.

Certainly, you won’t find federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre wading into this debate. He knows Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have set a trap, waiting to tar and feather him as a mini-me Trump if he mentions immigration.

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This is what our country is becoming. Symbolism overrides sense. Allowing a million people into a country of 39 million in a single year, and then bragging about bringing in another half million annually, is a policy not to be questioned.

Of course, how to smoothly accommodate all these extra folk is never discussed, certainly not by our prime minister, who blithely hides behind some tired bromide about Canada Welcoming You, while hoping the Opposition is suckered into raising the issue.

What will be the outcome? When rational debate is nixed, then emotion kicks in and we ultimately risk making immigration — the lifeblood of this country since inception — a war zone, as it has become in the U.S. and Europe.

Canada remains one of the few countries where most citizens still favour welcoming newcomers. But, thanks to the sloppy and cynical attitude of today’s federal government, that open-hearted attitude will eventually crumble, as daily frustrations mount and views harden.

You see it coming a mile away but, sadly, foresight is an impediment rather than a necessity for politicians today.

Chris Nelson is a regular Herald columnist.

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