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The Canada model

How a liberal immigration policy works and why it could be a success here too

In a packed House of Commons, the Conservative Party leader rose from the benches and spoke with passion about the plight of thousands of victims of Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. They needed the protection of the west and should be welcome in our country, she argued. MP after MP rose to echo the leader’s views. No-one claimed the nation’s well of hospitality would be exhausted; no-one suggested the children should be subject to dental checks to prove their age. A vote was called on whether to accept the refugees—more than 1,000 Yazidi women and girls. There were 313 votes in favour; not a single MP voted against. The national newspapers the next day were united in their approval; this was a moment of great pride for a nation that saw itself as tolerant and generous, with a sense of fair play. This was not some parallel universe, nor some distant time in history; this was Canada, last year.

Since the election of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015, Canada has been revelling in its position as a global liberal beacon. While many European nations have balked at the idea of accepting Syrian refugees fleeing terror, Trudeau announced that Canada would invite 25,000 Syrians immediately. He even turned up at the airport to greet them as “new Canadians” and personally handed out winter coats.

As last August’s Yazidi vote showed, such sympathy is bipartisan. “We’ve always had a very generous refugee programme in Canada,” Rona Ambrose, the then Conservative Party leader who led the charge in the Commons, told me. “I thought this was something I could make a difference on.” The idea that a centre- right party wouldn’t speak up on behalf of refugees strikes Ambrose as strange (she gasps when I mention the discussion in the UK about possible dental checks of child refugees). “There is a consensus on the importance of immigration and refugees for our country,” she says. “It’s not unusual that we [the Conservatives] would do something on human rights.”

Canada’s immigration policy isn’t just about compassion— there’s calculation too. While happily accepting more refugees per capita than most western nations, its openness extends to migrants as well. Each year the government sets a target for the number of immigrants it wants, based on what the economy needs. Provinces and cities compete to host them. The government even encourages people to apply. The country’s immigration minister visited China last August in order to persuade government officials to double, and eventually triple, the number of offices where Chinese could apply for Canadian visas.

Last year the government set a target of 300,000 immigrants. That figure was broken down into more than a dozen different categories, with each given its own target. For instance, in 2015, Canada sought to bring in up to 30,000 people to work in the care industry, some 51,000 skilled workers, and around 20,000 parents and grandparents of immigrants already in the country. Unlike the UK, Canada chooses not to include international students in its overall figures, as they are temporary residents.

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In Prospect’s September issue: Emily Andrews, Andrew Brown and Tom Clark assess what the reign of King Charles might look like. Andrews profiles Charles and questions whether he will be able to keep his opinions to himself. Andrew Brown look at the coronation—the world is a very different place now from when the last one took place. Tom Clark explains the results of our poll, conducted by ICM, into people’s view on Charles taking the throne—it turns out fewer people than ever before want the heir to become our monarch. Elsewhere in the issue Nick Cohen details his battle with the bottle and shows that Britain has a problem with drink that it doesn’t want to talk about, and Toni Morrison Also in this issue: Toni Morrison on America’s stubborn race divide, Brian Klaas on how Europe should deal with Trump and Jessica Abrahams explains everything you need to know about fourth wave feminism