McGuinty's immigrant pledge is simply bad politics
Sep 7, 2011

McGuinty's immigrant pledge is simply bad politics

McGuinty has recently made an election pledge to provide $10,000 dollars in support for businesses that hire immigrants. Regardless of what one might think about the policy itself, it is a tactical error in a political campaign and will almost certainly end up hurting him. The real tragedy is that it is going to fail because it will be attacked and exploited by appealing to our divisive and racist tendencies which remain, as a society, still far too strong.

Predictably - and enormously hypocritically given Hudak's past and present support for similar programs - exactly this kind of divisive us vs them political attack ad has been released:

Notice, in particular, what the word "Ontarian" means in the context of this ad. Explicitly it means non-immigrants (despite Ontario having an enormous immigrant population) and the entire audience is just casually assumed to be non-immigrant. It is the us vs them mentality at its finest. It is establishing this dichotomy in our society and making the implicit assumption that what helps the one group is bad for the other.

The unfortunate truth is, however, that this is going to be effective. I think people do still see things in the us vs them way, I think many people are still varying shades of racist, and ultimately I think people do feel more solidarity for people in their own group (however they see it) than in others. This ad, as predictable as it might be, will pray on all these sentiments that people have and will be effective because of it.

Secondly, jobs is definitely one of if not the biggest issues in politics today. Anything that even borders on getting a competitive disadvantage on the jobs front is going to be taken really poorly. The idea, then, that one group gets some form of advantage on the jobs front while the other group doesn't will never be taken well by those without the advantage.

Whatever we might wish them to be, the constrains of realpolitik are that political parties must aim to appeal to this dichotomy in society. The politicians need to aim to appeal to immigrants as well as to everybody else and it is to be expected that there will be policies which help just one group out over the other. Both sides do this, Hudak certainly does as well, as they both know they need to court the immigrant vote to win.

The difference, rightly or wrongly, is that this policy from the Liberals just steps a little bit too easily into being cast as us vs them. When you do things like, say, offering language courses or immigrant integration assistance or education upgrade training or any of these other programs it feels like one is helping immigrants but not at the competitive expense of other people. One is, of course, but it doesn't feel quite so overt. The Liberal policy is easy to compare to affirmative action, it is easy to imagine how it hurts a multi-generation Canadian by giving an advantage to immigrants.

Now I believe - both morally and economically - that we should aim to help each other and that includes giving assistance to immigrants who are less privileged on average. It makes moral sense because we should have some level of egalitarianism and those of us who are disadvantaged should receive help. More importantly, it makes economic sense because large pools of immigrant labour that are underutilized provides a opportunistic disadvantage to society. I think it will be better for multi-generation white Canadians if new immigrants are able to easily integrate into society and find work. These are the kinds of arguments one can confront the us vs them mentality with. (more on all this here)

As to this specific policy, it probably needs more attention than this overview can provide, but I believe it is right in spirit but wrong in implementation. There are much more effective ways to benefit immigrants and encourage integration and job opportunities than simply a tax credit for hiring them. It doesn't address any of the root causes and instead just tries to brute force change the calculus. 

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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1 comment:

Skinny Dipper said...

I will agree with your assessment.

One problem with the Liberal problem of the tax-credit promise is that this issue will divert attention away from other promises that the Liberals may want to present such as in health and education. Instead, they will be stuck talking about this confusing tax-credit promise.

I will agree that voters to have cultural biases. People will be influenced by Hudak's commercial that pits "Ontarians" against "foreigners." It doesn't matter where those who are influenced live. They could live in a diverse city like Toronto, or they could live in Bancroft where there won't be very many new Canadians clamouring to take advantage of the proposed tax-credit.

McGuinty and his Liberals will need to clarify the tax-credit proposal or else they will be thrown off-message for the rest of the campaign.

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