Brian Lee Crowley

The conflict between elites and ordinary people that brought us Trump and Brexit has Canada in its sights

There is no wall protecting Canada from the populist tidal wave that washed Donald Trump to the presidency in the United States, as I argue in a new Macdonald-Laurier Institute commentary based on a talk I gave in Vancouver to the local chapter of NAIOP.

The phenomena that delivered a stunning election result in the United States and a surprise vote to leave the European Union in Britain are – despite what some observers think – also happening here in Canada. I single out three areas where this conflict is already coming into the open: labour markets, immigration and housing prices.

The Brexit vote last June and the recent election of a populist and anti-establishment American president are perhaps only the opening chapters of a new era of friction and even confrontation between the opinions of the Davos-inspired elites who have been in charge for decades, and those of the man and woman on the street.

Keeping up with the Joneses in the UK

If you thought that Britain was an ageing doddery has-been barely managing the gentility of its decline, think again. In a stunning proof that how countries manage themselves matters, Britain is on a tear. How this happened is full of lessons for the rest of us. At least that’s what I argued in my Globe column for Economy Lab on February 19th. Britain is leading the western indsutrialised countries in growth, and is set to overtake Germany as the EU’s largest economy by around 2030. That’s if they don’t bugger it up, to use a good old British expression. To learn how Britain did it, and the challenges that still lie before it, check out the column!

Why Saskatchewan is the place to watch in Canada

Canadians are so used to the economic action being in places like BC and Alberta (and once upon a time in Ontario!) that they have missed the dark horse coming up the inside track: Saskatchewan. The province feels like Alberta did 35 years ago. If you want to find out what’s behind the province’s rise to prosperity, read my latest column for the Economy Lab feature in the Globe’s ROB.

Labour shortages ahead, no matter what the “experts” say

In today’s column for the Economy Lab feature of the Globe and Mail‘s Report on Business, I report on my encounter with the massive complacency of the “expert chattering classes” when confronted with the evidence about the labour shortages Canada will face in a few short years. Yes, we will adjust, but skillful adjustment takes thought and foresight. It is amazing how much effort is required to make the inevitable happen!

Those of you with (reasonably) long memories will remember I reviewed the data on all this extensively in my book Fearful Symmetry. Everything I foresaw there is coming to pass….

I was also interviewed about this column by BNN. You can see the interview by clicking on the link.

Not everyone gets rich in a gold rush….

Our universities’ and governments’ capacity for critical self-examination, never too well-developed at the best of times, appear to have been completely overwhelmed by the gold rush to attract foreign students and the cash they represent. At least that’s the case I make in my latest column in the Globe’s ROB…standards are being endangered in the mad rush to pump up the foreign student numbers, and the cost will be borne chiefly by Canadian students and taxpayers.

Help housing market by luring high-value newcomers

Here is an Op Ed that appeared in the October 10th Buffalo News. Along with Dori Segal, Vice Chairman of Equity One Inc., I suggest that Americans make some non-obvious connections in thinking about dealing with their housing crisis. In particular we point out that immigration could be a powerful tool to restore demand and shore up housing values undermined by the sub-prime mortgage crisis:

With the prospect of a double-dip recession, continued stagnation in the housing market and little money in the kitty for more stimulus, it is the ideal time to rethink one of today’s most emotive political issues: immigration. America remains very attractive to the world’s best and brightest; entrepreneurial (and legal) immigrants could be put to work immediately solving the current crisis in return for a chance to be part of the American Dream.

How? Simple. The United States should immediately offer fast-track immigration to those willing to do two things: Buy a house in the United States for at least $250,000 in cash up front or of an area of 2,500 or more square feet and put another $250,000 cash in a government-insured account with a U. S. financial institution, or spend at least $250,000 cash to create a business in the United States employing a minimum of three U. S. citizens.

For this idea to work quickly, up-front entry requirements should be dramatically simplified. In exchange for documented proof of health status, absence of a criminal record and the recommendation of a financial institution or government agency in their home country, they should automatically be granted a green card good for three years during which the U. S. government would do a full due-diligence background check on them. And their green card should automatically become permanent when the three years is up—but only if the authorities do not find terrorist connections, fraudulent claims in the entry documents or other substantive grounds for rejection.

During this time these newcomers would not be allowed to rent, sell or mortgage their new house; they could only withdraw up to $50,000 a year from their account as a living allowance while they get themselves established, or they could use the money to create a U. S.-based business. They would not be eligible for welfare, unemployment benefits or any other government entitlement. And they would pay Uncle Sam taxes on income earned abroad as well as at home.

Suppose 1 million new immigrants (less than one third of 1 percent of the U. S. population) responded to this opportunity. They would make a deep commitment to America, bringing significant capital and ultimately becoming citizens while injecting $250 billion into the housing market without adding any strain to the financial system. Money placed into financial institutions would add $250 billion to their coffers, making them far more willing to begin lending to small businesses again. Or immigrants creating businesses would would create new jobs. Either way, the United States would gain.

This could pour half a trillion dollars into America along with some of the best and brightest people on the planet. All at no cost to U. S. taxpayers.

The Sun Sea Saga Pt. II: What can we do and why?

If we do not respond robustly to the Sun Sea end run around our legitimate rules governing immigration, we lose the ability as a society to set those rules, and immigrants become self-selecting based solely on their ability to pay enough that human smugglers will take the risk of transporting them… or someone else’s willingness to pay on their behalf for reasons unlikely to contribute to our well-being. We make  a mockery of the normal process by which immigrants are selected by Canada and create  an incentive for more people to jump the queue. This is unfair to those potential immigrants who play by the rules, unfair to legitimate refugees (and I readily admit that some of the Sun Sea passengers will turn out to be legitimate, but by the same token many will not), damaging to our ability to protect ourselves from undesirables who would not pass our screening tests, and so forth.

It is reasonable for the government to assert Canada’s sovereignty and control over its borders. To do so, it must discourage future such self-selection and queue jumping. This is the second boatload of people to arrive in recent months, and I don’t think it is unreasonable to think that there are a lot of people out there watching to see how Canada will react.

If the response is a jaded shrug and business as usual, we are simply sending out a general invitation for people who cannot pass the normal process to make their own process — at Canada’s expense. And given the track record of a dangerous minority of Tamils in Canada, and the likelihood that they may wish to establish a ‘government’ in exile, and continue their policy of extorting money from the Tamil diaspora in Canada, I think we have a particular need right now to be vigilant with respect to attempts by Tamils to do an end run around existing rules and procedures.

I am, as Laurier and Macdonald were, very pro-immigration; my writings on this score, including in Fearful Symmetry and Canadian Century are quite clear. But I want immigration to be carried out in a way that is fair to all, protects the interests of Canadians and ensures that it is Canada who makes the rules, whatever they are. I think the Sun Sea endangers all of these objectives.

Scott Newark’s paper just published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute suggests some reasonable steps to give the government of Canada the tools to respond to these attempts to frustrate our immigration and refugee system. If you think Canada should welcome with open arms all who can make it to our shores you will not favour these or any other immigration controls. But Canada already accepts one of the highest, if not the highest, proportions of immigrants relative to our population of any country in the world so it is hard to accuse Canadians or their governments with being anti-immigrant. And I think to try and portray the Sun Sea incident as being chiefly about immigration is to misunderstand its true nature.

It is about fairness, safety and sovereignty. All three are legitimate concerns of Canadians and their governments, and should be protected by Canada’s laws.

The Sun Sea Saga Pt. I: What is the real problem?

A number of friends, mostly on the libertarian left, have taxed me with inconsistency for MLI’s publication of Scott Newark’s excellent piece on the Sun Sea and the arrival of the Tamil refugees in British Columbia last week. In their view the piece (and the Globe and Mail op-ed that it inspired) comes across as anti-immigration, and they are gung ho for a Canada of open borders, a position they assume I share. Several of them reminded me that Macdonald and Laurier were fervent advocates of open immigration. But this is a red herring because the Sun Sea is not about immigration.

In fact, I share Macdonald and Laurier’s enthusiasm for immigration. But I also admire them because both were believers in fairness and the rule of law and both jealously guarded Canada’s sovereignty, and fought hard to win more of it from Britain. They wanted that sovereignty so the Government of Canada could act to protect the interests of Canadians, and non-Canadians would not be making important decisions for Canadians.  And the Sun Sea matter is primarily about national security, public safety and the sovereign right of the government of Canada to act to protect the interests of Canadians. It is also a matter of fairness and the rule of law. It is only tangentially about immigration.

From my perspective, the story goes something like this. While remaining very open to immigration, including of Tamils from Sri Lanka, Canada’s government has become wary of the dangers that some Tamils pose. A small minority of Tamils in Canada have used threats, intimidation and blackmail as ways to help finance their just ended civil war back home. Some Tamils in Sri Lanka have been involved in acts of terrorism and are now on the run from their own government. And others are just trying to jump the legitimate queue to get into Canada, aided and abetted by people-smugglers who are making money off human misery. The government is entirely within its legal and moral rights to close the door to both sorts of would-be migrants.

Whatever sympathy we may have for people wishing to immigrate to Canada, we must give preference to those who follow our orderly and legitimate rules over those who deliberately bypass them. And it is highly appropriate that the government should insist that people wishing to come to Canada properly identify themselves, so we can do appropriate checks on them to ensure that we are not permitting dangerous people into the country. That is one reason why the Government of Canada has instituted a visa requirement for Sri Lankans to come to Canada. You may not agree with that specific policy, but it is perfectly legal and done in fulfillment of an entirely legitimate function of the national government.

The Sun Sea is an obvious ploy to frustrate a legitimate policy that is intended to protect Canadians and create rules that are fair to all claimants. Sri Lankans who wish to come to Canada have appropriate channels to follow. But the generosity of our refugee policy makes it a de facto back door to immigration, even for people who are not legitimate refugees, because the appeals process once landed in Canada is so long and cumbersome, and removals so ineffective even when claims are denied. Creating a back door system is not the intent of the current policy, nor is it the intent of the United Nations Convention on Human Rights, of which Canada is a party. In my view when people use the refugee determination process illegitimately, as in the case of the Sun Sea, it undermines public support for the process for those who really need it.

The proof that the Sun Sea is an end run is, of course, the great discomfort and extremely high cost that people endured to make the trip. People who follow the rules laid down by the Canadian government can make the trip for a fraction of what people paid to travel on the Sun Sea. So the upshot of this is that neither fairness nor safety are advanced if people willing to pay enough money can become self-selected immigrants to Canada by hiring a ship, sailing here and announcing that they claim refugee status. This type of people-smuggling and profiteering by its perpetrators is both illegal and inhumane.

So…what can and should be done and why? Stay tuned. discovers Fearful Symmetry posted a review of Fearful Symmetry by George Abraham that shows that *somebody* at least is paying attention to what the book has to say about immigrants, a vital part of Canada’s future.

The review, available here, draws attention to the fact that most commentators in Canada are reluctant to tell it like it is in any politically sensitive areas:

Brian Lee Crowley strikes me as an unlikely Canadian. In his just-published book, Fearful Symmetry: The Fall and Rise of Canada’s Founding Values, he not only debunks many myths about this country, but does it directly and without pulling any punches. Evidently, Crowley is not given to political correctness — that quintessential Canadian value — and does not mind offending a few people, particularly those in Quebec.

But this reviewer, unlike many others, also recognises that I am not out to single out Quebec. There are lots of people who are benefiting from the ill-advised policies of the last 50 years, policies instituted in large part to accommodate the Boomer rush into the workforce plus the rise of Quebec nationalism. On the other hand, it is not often recognised that those poor policies harm the most vulnerable in our society, including immigrants:

To sum up, in Crowley’s reckoning, immigrants who are down on their luck and have been ejected from the workforce during this recession will benefit from the looming labour shortages. But even then they will be hobbled by what the writer rightly calls a “scandal” unworthy of Canada, the non-recognition of immigrant qualifications. He calls it like it is: “Theirs is a transparent effort to protect not the interests of supposedly vulnerable and ignorant consumers but rather the interests of those already exercising these professions in Canada.”

Brian Lee Crowley
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