Right out of the gates the Ontario Liberals seem to be screwing up. The writ for the Ontario Election only dropped September 7th, and already McGuinty seems to have hit a stumbling block with his proposed $10, 000 tax credit for employers that hire immigrants.
Despite polls suggesting that the Ontario Liberals have a 10 point lead over Hudak’s Tories, the Ontario Conservatives have managed to control the message since McGuinty announced the initiative.
The policy is essentially an affirmative action initiative for a sector of society that experiences structural unemployment levels statistically higher than the provincial average, and which have been rising in the wake of the global economic recession.
The unemployment rate for those who have been in this country five years or less is twice that of Canadian-born workers, a gaping disparity that is even worse for the best-educated immigrants. – Globe and Mail
What is fascinating, if a little grotesque to observe, is the nuanced use of language the Conservative party has used in response, to pull on the bias of Ontarian’s towards immigrants – ironically the very sentiments that make such a tax incentive necessary to correct the structural disadvantage in the first place
Most obvious, is Hudak’s use of the term “foreign workers”. The term isn’t even close to being synonymous with immigrant, let alone Canadian. Worse, it’s misleading and simply wrong. The entire point, is that these workers are no longer foreign, but Canadian!
Hudak was quoted as saying “At a time when we have 500,000 men and women unemployed in this province, at a time when Ontario has been above the national average in unemployment for 55 consecutive months, Dalton McGuinty comes up with this bizarre scheme — an affirmative action program to hire foreign workers?“
That’s funny, because if recent Canadian citizens (who form part of Ontario’s provincial unemployment rate) have an unemployment rate of double that of native Ontarians, that would mean roughly 2/3rds or 333, 000 of them, are likely new Citizens! (I wont get into the fact that the program is designed for professionals, which will account for less than 10, 000 possible hires a year.)
The Liberal response, has been to call anyone that opposes their policy xenophobic or racist, which doesn’t help the debate either. Why? Because they are essentially playing into the debate about differentiating categories of Canadians, and giving one an advantage, over the others. While that’s pretty much the definition of politics, the problem is that you’re still emphasizing their difference based on their origin, and not on their common citizenship or more importantly their economic disadvantage, which should have been the real issue of debate:
Whether or not the government should seek to invest in economically disadvantaged groups in society, regardless of who they are?
Emphasizing the new Canadian or immigrant status of the disadvantaged group, is problematic, because people only pay attention to the first part of the sentence, and not the second. Flip it around – “There is a disadvantaged group of Canadians in Ontario that experience twice the rate of unemployment as natural born Canadians, and we need to fix this, because every Canadian deserves an equal opportunity” Think about it, if this was an initiative to help improve Aboriginal employment rates, no politician would be coming out against it. Jonathan Kay has an interesting piece on whether this sort of policy encourages racism.
Of course, in response to being called xenophobic racists (I wouldn’t go so far as to call them that, but a failure to acknowledge structural racism in society is culpable in my book), the Tories trotted out a prominent immigrant MPP candidate, Karlene Nation.
Here’s what I don’t get about this response: her argument, that the tax credit is insulting to immigrants that want to make it for themselves, and look at how I managed to pull myself up by my boot straps and didn’t need a hand out…. isn’t a message designed for the immigrants she says it insults. It’s designed to send the message to native Ontarians that the tax credit isn’t needed because there’s one example of someone making it without any help.
Well, there are a couple of problems with that. First – the unemployment disparity gap between immigrants and native Canadians when she arrived was much lower, not to mention that the Tax credit is designed for high skilled workers, who have higher unemployment rates – not lower skilled new Canadians that are occupying jobs native born Canadians tend not to be willing to take (which is another issue I won’t get into here). The second problem, is that it may be insulting to the person that made it against the odds, without government assistance, but not to the unemployed citizen who was encouraged to come to Canada because of their medical or legal degree, and has spent the last four years driving a cab. What’s insulting is to encourage them to come to Canada on their skills and credentials, only to completely leave them hanging when they want to work in their chosen profession. The successful immigrant might feel it’s unfair, but I doubt they would have turned down an opportunity, just because it was only being offered to them because they were an immigrant.
“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” was McGuinty’s response, which is true, except for the fact that it’s not. The illusion that we are all supposed to be equal is exactly the problem on both sides. We aren’t all equal, and fairness is a ridiculous concept, as the ever wise Louis CK points out in this video:
As he says “The only time you should look in your neighbour’s bowl, is to see if they’ve got enough to eat”
* The last caveat I want to add about langauage, is the curious terminology Hudak uses when referring to the employer Tax credit. Hudak said “Basically Dalton McGuinty wants to pay companies $10,000 to hire foreign workers”. I’ve already addressed the foreign worker issue, but notice how he says “pay companies”. A tax credit is not a payment! It’s an economic incentive tool, that equates to forgone revenue by the government. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for looking at tax credits as government expenditure, but then we should also do it for all tax credits to corporations, and businesses, and measure the return on those expenditures. Lowering the unemployment disparity between new and native born Canadians, seems like a pretty good thing to spend money on.