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Posted on September 12th, 2012, by

The introduction of the Immigration Act of 1976 was an attempt of Canadian legislators to close the expansionary gap which persisted in Canada and became particularly wide by the mid1970s. The expansionary gap emerged because of the different, often antagonistic views of the government and ruling elite and the majority of the population on immigration and immigration policies. Views of the public on immigration and immigrations policies of the ruling elite are traditionally accompanied by certain antagonism. In fact, the population of developed countries perceived immigrants as a serious threat to their economic position and as rivals in the national labour market.

Moreover, the native-born population traditionally viewed immigrants as people, who threaten to the social stability within the country.

Immigrants were believed to be susceptible to the commitment of crimes. Immigrants force the government to increase education and health care expenses. On the other hand, the immigration was always an important economic factor, which encouraged the economic growth, especially in developed countries, such as Canada. Hence, the state supported the immigration as long as it was beneficial to the national economy. No wonder, the introduction of the Immigration Act was accompanied by heat debates and, eventually, legislators had to introduce substantial changes in the original bill in order to adapt the Immigration Act to public claims. In such a situation, the introduction of the Immigration Act of 1976 was an important step which could meet demands and interests of the population, local communities and the nation at large.

The expansionary gap

In such a situation, the concept of “expansionary bias”ť developed by G. Freeman is relevant in regard to the government-public opposition in relation to the immigration policies and legislation. However, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that the government of Canada, as well as governments of other developed countries, had to succumb to the public opinion, which was traditionally restrictionist in regard to the immigration policies (Boyd and Vickers, 87). The expansionary gap was and still is a serious problem since the official immigration policies contradict to restrictionist expectations of the public (Freeman, 879). The government needs to close the expansionary gap in order to avoid the ongoing social tension and confrontation between the native-born population and immigrants.

The development of the Immigration Act

The immigration policy of the state plays an important role in the widening or closing the expansionary gap (Boyd and Vickers, 91). On analyzing the historical development of Canadian society in the context of the expansionary gap, it should be said that the situation with immigration was particularly difficult in the 1970s, when contradictions between the public and state policies were particularly significant.

The socioeconomic situation in the country was steadily deteriorating, while by the mid-1970s a profound economic crisis had struck (Boyd and Vickers, 92). In such a situation, the uncontrollable flow of immigrants and the general growth of the immigration population in Canada provoked the dissatisfaction of the public and criticism of the governmental policies. Therefore, legislators started to develop a legislative act which could define the immigration policies of the state and defined basic principles of these policies.

The Immigration Act was developed by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau as a response to the growing public dissatisfaction of the state policies and the growing demands of the local authorities to have influence on the immigration policies (Freeman, 878). On the other hand, the conservative part of Canadian legislators opposed to the introduction of the Immigration Act because it was perceived as a weakening of the position of the state and the central government as the body regulating immigration and defining immigration policies. Nevertheless, the Immigration Act has a large number of supporters who believed that changes in immigration policies of Canada were essential for the improvement of socioeconomic situation in the country and balancing relationships between immigrants and the local population (Freeman, 883).

In response to social and economic challenges, the government attempted to close the expansionary gap. For this purpose, the Immigration Act of 1976 defined immigration policies in Canada (Sweetman, 135). In such a way, the government responded to the public strife for the restriction of immigration and attempted to regulate the flow of immigrants, admitting those immigrants, who could be useful for the national economy and who could encourage the ongoing development of Canada consistently (Boyd and Vickers, 86). These legislative changes and new immigration policies led to a considerable change in the immigration demographics and socio-economic level of immigrants arriving to Canada. Nevertheless, the immigration policies are still perceived by the population as insufficient and ineffective (Sweetman, 137). The majority of the population insists on stricter immigration policies to secure job opportunities of native-born Canadians and to minimize state expenses on immigrants (Li, 104). Thus, the expansionary gap persists provoking the dissatisfaction of Canadians.

The public reaction to the development of the Immigration Act

The position of the population in relation to the development of the new legislative act concerning immigration policies was quite controversial. On the one hand, people demanded legislative changes to improve immigration policies, including the protection of the domestic labour force market, while, on the other hand, people were distrustful to the new legislative act (Picot, 29). In fact, many people believed that legislative changes and basic principles of the Immigration Act would deteriorate the situation in Canada and the act would open the way for a large number of immigrants (Picot, 31). In such a situation, people demanded for larger opportunities to influence immigration policies and define the immigration policies at the local level (Ferrer and Riddell, 121). To put it more precisely, Canadians wanted to secure their jobs, state funding of existing social programs, including education and health care from immigrants, who could increase the competition in the labour market and who needed health care services and education which they could not afford without the assistance of the state (Ferrer and Riddell, 124).

The introduction of the Immigration Act

The expansionary gap between the restrictionist attitude of the population and the immigration policies conducted by the state always existed in Canada. At this point, G. Freeman’s concept of “expansionary bias”ť can be applied since it implies that there is a “consistent and sizable gap between the restrictionist preferences of the public and the pro-immigration policies of political elites (Freeman, 881). With the introduction of the Immigration Act of 1976 the government attempted to balance its immigration policies in order to close the gap between the public opinion and objective needs of the national economy.

To put it more precisely, on introducing the Immigration Act of 1976, the Canadian government did not restrict substantially the immigration. Instead, the government attempted to regulate the immigration and to focus on the “quality”ť of immigrants, i.e. their educational level, social status, and other attributes of socially reliable and economically active people, who were not inclined to anti-social behaviour or offenses (Picot and Sweetman, 183). The Immigration Act of 1976 regulated immigration policies of Canada. The Immigration Act of 1976 rather defined who could immigrate to Canada than bans the immigration (Li, 32). The introduction of the Immigration Act of 1976 defined the development of the immigration policies in Canada for decades to follow. At the same time, this act proved to be quite controversial. On the one hand, the Immigration Act did restrict the immigration to Canada, while, on the other hand, it did not fully meet the expectations of Canadians in regard to immigration policies (Picot and Sweetman, 156). To put it more precisely, the Immigration Act of 1976 was implemented in the context of a profound economic crisis of the mid-1970s. As a result, this act was an attempt of the government to protect the national labour force from excessive flow of immigrants, who traditionally took the niche of the low- or semi-qualified labour force and increased the competition in the domestic labour market. The Immigration Act of 1976 created new classes of immigrants, who could enter Canada, including refugees, families, assisted relatives, and independent immigrants (Sweetman, 94). The latter had to take part in the Point System, which allowed only a limited amount of immigrants to enter Canada on the condition that they gain enough points to enter. In such a way, the government attempted to ensure the high qualification of immigrants and their ability to find a job or start their business in Canada. At the same time, the Immigration Act protected Canada from immigration of socially dangerous people, such as criminals, and the poor, who would become a serious burden to Canada. In addition, the act gave more power to provinces to define their immigration policies. On the other hand, people were not satisfied with such measures because they expected more consistent restrictions on immigration.

The changes to the Immigration Act under the public pressure

It took two years to introduce the Immigration Act, but this act basically met the demands of the population and local authorities. To put it more precisely, the Immigration Act allowed provinces to enter into immigration question and define immigration policies at the local level. The act led to negotiations with the provinces that resulted in the shared responsibility of in immigration recruitment and education and, in the case of Quebec, the power to accept or reject through a separate points system independent immigrants who might enter the province. Moreover, reflecting the high levels of unemployment and meeting the demands of the public, the act required immigration officials to set quotas (Picot, 32). As a result, the number of independent immigrants would match labour market needs in Canada, but the act allowed an increase in refugees and family applicants who would not be subject to the point system. Since refugees and family applicants were not subject to the point system they could immigrate to Canada freely and the Canadian authorities could not send them back if they meet the criteria of being refugees and family applicants. As a result, many immigrants moved to Canada as refugees or family applicants but not as independent immigrants.

Independent immigrants admitted under the point system began, by 1978, to be outnumbered by refugees and reunited family members.

This trend sparked further debate about whether the immigration should benefit Canadian economy. The native born population traditionally opposes to the immigration. In this respect, the public opinion polls show that the majority of Canadians support the idea of the introduction of stricter immigration policies to decrease the share of immigrants in the total population of Canada (Picot, 28).

Specialists (Ferrer and Craig, 113) argue that such an attitude of the native born population to the immigration is determined by objective factors, such as the risk of growing competition in the labour market, growing state expenses on education and health care services, as well as the growth of the population dependent on the state support.

Obviously, the introduction of the Immigration Act of 1976 could limit the immigration, but Canadians could hardly feel any improvement because the act did not prevent the competition on the labour market of Canada (Boyd and Vickers, 72). For instance, the growth of immigrants with high school, college and university education has led to the overall growth of the competition of labour force in knowledge-based industries, which are currently the most prospective and rapidly progressing industries. In addition, many immigrants still heavily rely on the state support increasing state expenses and, therefore, budget funds are believed to be used inefficiently (Boyd and Vickers, 76).

Finally, the native-born population often views the immigration as a threat to the local traditions and lifestyle because the growing number of immigrants contributes to the cultural diversity and introduction of new cultural norms and traditions. In this respect, the growing number of immigrants from Asia and Latin America evokes a particularly strong opposition from the part of the native-born population.

Unlike immigrants from the USA and Europe, immigrants from Asian countries, Latin America and some other regions of the world have totally different cultural traditions and values. As a result, the immigration raises the problem of cultural conflicts, when the mainstream Canadian culture confronts minority cultures. At this point, representatives of ethnic minorities face the problem of the normal integration in Canadian society (Sweetman, 101). The cultural difference often leads to the isolation of ethnic minorities. The marginalization of the immigrant population raises other problems, such as the problem of the growth of crime rates, unemployment, and many others. Hence, cultural barriers between the immigration and the native born population lead to social and economic problems, which enhance the opposition of the native-born population to the current immigration policies. In such a situation, the government can hardly close the expansionary gap because, in spite of all its efforts, the public still opposes to the immigration and insists on the consistent restriction of immigration to Canada.

Conclusion: expansionary gap and the Immigration Act of 1976

Thus, in conclusion, it is important to stress the persistent expansionary gap and inability of the ruling elite to close the gap. Even though the government attempts to meet the public demand for restricting immigration to Canada, it still cannot meet this demand because of economic factors. Economic effects of current immigration policies are dubious. On the one hand, they do contribute to the growth of Canadian economy due to the permanent and increasing flow of immigrants, which enlarge the national labour force market of (Picot, 82).

On the other hand, there are numerous negative effects of the growing immigration on the national economy, among which the growing competition in the labour market is not the most serious problem.

Economic reasons are dominant reasons that force people from other countries to seek opportunities to acquire Canadian citizenship (see Figure 3). In fact, economic reasons explain the large number of immigrants from developing countries, since their socioeconomic position in countries of their origin is consistently worse compared to their position in Canada. However, in spite of the improvement of their socioeconomic position, they still occupy the lower strata of Canadian society. The low income rates among immigrants from developing countries, especially from East Asia, are the highest; while the low income rates among immigrants from the USA and Europe are consistently lower. Moreover, this trend has grown stronger since the mid-1990s. In addition, modern Canadian society becomes culturally diverse and the assimilation processes confront the opposition from the part of minorities – immigrants, who attempt to preserve their cultural identity and cultural traditions.

In such a situation, the population remains dissatisfied with the immigration policies of the political elite that widen the expansionary gap consistently. On the other hand, the government cannot restrict substantially the immigration because about a half of immigrants are people at the age of 25-45 that is a strategically important group for the normal economic development of the country. Therefore, the expansionary gap is likely to widen in the future because the aging population of Canada will need more immigrants to maintain stable and steady economic development of the country and the government will support such immigration policies, while the local population will stay in opposition to such policies.

At the same time, it is obvious that the expansionary gap had persisted during the 1970s. Moreover, even after the introduction of the Immigration Act the expansionary gap failed to get closed since the debate over the economic benefits of immigration to Canada persisted.

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