Canada Elections & What They Signal for Indians Aiming for Canadian Shores
As Canada votes on 20 September, the Liberals and Conservatives are in a neck-and-neck race to form the government.
On 20 September, Canadians will decide if it is time for Justin Trudeau, their charismatic prime minister, to give way to Erin O’Toole, the leader of the Conservative party.
The Liberals have been in power since 2015, when they took over from the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, with a majority government.
In 2019, the Liberals did not fare as well, seeing their seat count in the House of Commons reduced from 184 to 157, below the 170 seats needed to form a majority government. Since then, they have governed largely with the support of the New Democratic Party (NDP), headed by Jagmeet Singh.
Singh, who is a practicing Sikh, is the first visible minority leader to head a major federal political party in Canada.
An Election Wide Open
However, things are poised to get messier this time around. Canadians have elected minority governments in four of the last six elections, and are likely to do so again on 20 September.
Polls show a close race between the Conservatives and Liberals, with neither party likely to win enough seats to form a majority government.
In such a scenario, the smaller parties will determine who will be prime minister. And unlike 2019, the NDP has not ruled out supporting the Conservatives this time around.
Meanwhile, the Bloc Québécois, the third largest party in the current parliament (narrowly ahead of the fourth-placed NDP), has signalled increasing support for the Conservatives. Nevertheless, both the NDP and the Bloc are ideologically more aligned with the Liberal party, particularly on key issues such as climate change. Given the complex dynamics at play, it is possible that come 20 September, it may not be immediately clear who Canada’s next prime minister will be.
The (Non-)Question of Immigration in Canada
The Liberal party has expanded immigration into Canada since 2015, primarily through its Express Entry program.
In 2019, Canada granted permanent residency status to 3,41,480 individuals – the highest in recent history. India was the largest source country for these immigrants (25 percent), followed by China (9 percent) and Philippines (8 percent).
In the same year, immigrants accounted for more than 80 percent of Canada’s population growth, allowing the country to have the highest population growth amongst G7 nations.
Historically, Canada has viewed immigration as a means to enhance population, economic, and cultural growth. Unlike the US, where immigration generates considerable political tension, there is significant consensus in Canada on the value of immigration, particularly for addressing the challenges of an ageing population and a low birth rate.
This is also reflected in the growth in international students in Canadian educational institutions, with more than 4,00,000 study permits issued in 2019 – a 100 percent increase from 2015 levels.
India sends the highest number of international students to Canada, accounting for nearly one third of all international students.
To help newcomers ease into their new Canadian home, there are a variety of government settlement programs that help individuals participate in social and economic life in Canada.
Hit By Pandemic, How Immigration Has Been Prioritised Since
With COVID-19, immigration levels expectedly plummeted in Canada. In 2020, 1,84,624 people were granted permanent residency status, down by almost 50 percent from 2019. To deal with pandemic-related challenges, Canada prioritised in-Canada Express Entry candidates and eased travel restrictions to allow approved permanent residents to complete their landing.
Through a combination of measures, immigration levels have bounced back, with 70,500 individuals granted permanent residency in the first quarter of 2021. Despite this, Canada will likely fall short of its 2021 immigration target of 4,01,000 individuals.
Even after considering the effects of COVID-19, the Liberal party has progressively increased immigration targets, aiming for 4,11,000 permanent residents in 2022 and 4,21,000 in 2023.
Student enrolment has also started recovering, with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) receiving nearly 100,000 study permit applications from January to April this year.
There were 66,000 applications during the same period in 2020, compared to 96,000 applications in 2019.
Given widespread support for immigration in Canada, it is not surprising that immigration is not a major political issue this election. Top election issues include housing affordability, pandemic recovery, healthcare, and climate change.
The 'Super Visa' Programme
The Conservative party manifesto does not include immigration targets, like the Liberals do. Instead, they plan to expand the ‘Super Visa’ programme, which will allow family members of new Canadians to come to Canada and prioritise family reunification. In addition, they will create more pathways to permanence for international students and temporary foreign workers.
The NDP goes one step further, and promises to remove quotas on applications in the parents and grandparents’ program. Currently, there is a quota-based lottery system for parents and grandparents, which has created a significant backlog in applicants to the family reunification stream.
India and Canada – A Push and Pull Dynamic
Globally, India has the largest number of migrants living abroad, estimated at 17.5 million in 2019. India is the largest source country for migrants to Canada, and will likely maintain that status for the foreseeable future.
Since 2007, India has had a net outward migration of around 2.5 million people every year – the highest in the world. As the effects of climate change intensify, combined with a weak economy, migration from India is likely to increase.
It is estimated that India will bear 20 percent of the global burden of climate change, more than any other country, despite having contributed only around 5 percent to global carbon emissions. This ‘push’ factor is coupled with Canada’s ‘pull’ factor – as given Canada’s geographical location, it is likely to be one of the least affected countries by climate change.
However, this coupling has uncertainties. Already, there are calls in Canada to diversify its migration pool, with greater representation of countries other than India. However, these voices remain a minority. So far, no major political party has proposed country-based quotas, such as those in the US.
Regardless of what happens on 20 September, Indians will likely continue to be welcomed to Canada in the coming years, both as students and permanent residents.
(Nidhi Nagori is a manager with an asset management company in Toronto, Canada, and is active on immigration issues. She can be reached on Instagram at @nidhinagori29. Aditya Khetan is a cardiologist based in Hamilton, Canada, and is interested in global environmental change and its effects on planetary health.)
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the authors’ own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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