Hey Doug Ford, Immigrants Are Hard-Working — But Also, They Shouldn’t Have To Be

Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images.
In 1974, my papa arrived in Canada from Guyana with $20 in his pocket and his family — including my then-12-year-old dad — in tow, in order to find work and set up a life for them in Scarborough, ON. He was sponsored by and stayed with family for the first year working as a mechanic at General Motors while doing his own autobody work on the weekends for extra money. My mama also worked. She was on the bus every morning by 5 a.m., clocking in sometimes before dawn at a cosmetics company factory where she worked full-time on top of taking care of her children, and then later, her five grandchildren. When my papa retired at 55 due to a heart attack, he’d set his family — and by extension myself — up for success. 
My mama and papa are the first people I thought about on Monday, when Ontario Premier Doug Ford made his most-recent racist comments about immigrants. While announcing new funding for a hospital outside of Windsor, ON, Ford pivoted to the province’s shortage of workers in trades and construction, saying that anyone looking for work should come to Ontario. "You come here like every other new Canadian has come here, you work your tail off," Ford said. "If you think you're coming to collect the dole and sit around, not gonna happen. Go somewhere else. You want to work, come here. We have so much work, we can't keep up with it right now." 
NDP leader Andrea Horwath was one many who called on the premier to apologize. She tweeted: "Today, Doug Ford chose to traffic in demeaning stereotypes about new Ontarians looking to build a better life for their families...our diverse, welcoming province deserves better."
More importantly, the immigrants who make up this province and this country deserve better. Ford’s offhand statement perpetuates and echoes long-standing racist stereotypes held about immigrants, specifically racialized immigrants: that in order to gain access to Canada, they have to be a worthwhile addition or bringing something of value to the country or province instead of, as he implied so flippantly, looking for handouts.
In a way, we shouldn’t be too surprised by this characterization, because Canadians have been conditioned to believe it. After struggling with the integration of immigrants to Canada in the 1980s and '90s, politicians drummed up public support by pushing the narrative that immigrants were “imperative for the economy, that the economy will fall apart and disappear without [them],” Mikal Skuterud, a professor of economics at the University of Waterloo who specializes in labour economics and immigration policy, tells Refinery29.
This (frankly gross) strategy reduces the value of the roughly 300,000 immigrants who come here every year to a commodity. It also reinforces the idea that they owe Canada something instead of the idea that populations from outside Canada can add humanity and diversity to a country. It’s also just a straight-up double standard, considering that Canadian-born people would never be held up to these standards. 
Ford’s comments further enforce the model minority myth and the notion that there’s such a thing as good and bad immigrants. Specifically, bad racialized immigrants. As much as Ford supporters might say you can separate his comments from race — the fact is that you just can’t. (The same way you couldn’t separate Don Cherry’s 2019 comments about “you people” from it either. FWIW, Cherry, like Ford, claims that his comments weren’t directed at minorities.) The reality is that immigrants to Canada have become a lot less white over the years. As of 2019, the three countries with the highest numbers of immigration to Canada were India, China, and the Philippines.
If we’re associating immigrants with layabout, dole taker, that speaks to underlying biases against who those immigrants are,” says Jennifer Robson, a professor in public policy at Carleton University. “Even if he didn't mean to sound racist, the fact of the matter is that he was echoing things and amplifying a story that has been quite deliberately used by people with biases against non-whites in our communities.” When reached for comment, the premier’s office told Refinery29 that Ford addressed this in the October 19 Question Period, during which he didn’t apologize but told journalists he’s pro-immigration.
But these biases can have real-world effects. Canadians love to congratulate ourselves on being inclusive when the reality is we are the opposite. A 2019 poll from Ekos Politics found that 40% of Canadians felt there were “too many visible minorities coming to Canada.” In the same year, a poll of 4,500 people by the CBC found that 57% felt the country shouldn’t accept more refugees. That anti-immigrant sentiment has only worsened during the pandemic. In 2020 and 2021, Canada saw a rise in anti-Asian racism and hate crimes as well as an increase in attacks on Muslim women. And let’s not forget that in the recent federal election more than 800,000 Canadians voted for the far-right People’s Party of Canada, a party that advocates to reduce immigration.
Racism aside, Ford’s comments are also factually inaccurate. As Robson outlined in a Twitter thread, the idea of new Canadians coming here to laze around in a life of luxury while profiting on social services is far from the truth. “The entire context [of Ford’s comments] was that there is a suspicion that some people are trying to get into the country and the province only to access government income support and that they have no intention of coming here to work and build a better life,” she says. “The welfare system is not that attractive.” Depending on how and why a person is coming to Canada (for example, if they’re a refugee), most immigration policies require that newcomers have financial support or means to even enter the country.
In fact, according to Skuterud, during the pandemic, the employment rates of recent immigrants surpassed that of any other group, with the percentage of employed adult immigrants 7% higher than it was in February 2020. This is because, he says, unlike other times of economic crisis when immigration rates have remained steady, immigration numbers to the country slowed during the pandemic, giving those already in the country less competition when it comes to applying for jobs. In fact, the percentage of recent immigrants 15 and older who are working (72%) is higher than any other groups, and that includes Canadian born and established immigrants. “So if Premier Ford is worried about employment rates, which it sounds like he is, the group you should be least concerned about is recent immigrants,” he says.
Forty-seven years after coming to Canada, my dad proudly sings the Canadian national anthem every time it plays and cries anytime he talks about the sacrifices his parents made coming to this country (seriously, anytime; it’s sweet, but as his daughter, also kind of embarrassing). And my papa still talks about how much former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau did for his family in allowing them to immigrate. They love Canada, and in 2021 it would be nice if Canada— and its politicians  — started loving them back. 
To start, Ford needs to be held accountable for his comments, but so does everyone else. While opposition leaders are calling for the premier’s resignation, the fact remains that even if he stepped down or apologized nothing would really change. (Remember Ford's racial gaslighting of Indigenous MPP Sol Mamakwa less than a year ago?). It would just pop up again somewhere else. Because his comments are only part of a much bigger problem in Canada: casual racism that’s as integral as our love for maple syrup.

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