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David Suzuki’s statement that Canada was “full” to immigrants received considerable backlash –and rightly so. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney even felt obligated to release a statement on Twitter in response to Suzuki’s comments, while other Canadians took to social media to vent similar reactions. What a hypocritical and xenophobic statement, they exclaimed, coming from a guy with a huge carbon footprint and whose ancestors are immigrants! While Suzuki’s comments appeared ignorant, I believe that he meant well but his comments were poorly-worded.
From an objective, scientific perspective, population control helps regulate the consumption of natural resources such as food and water. As Suzuki sees it, the fewer inhabitants in Canada, the more usable land and natural resources remain available. This is further propagated by my biology textbooks, which defined population control as the key to resource management. However, where these scientific textbook answers and Suzuki’s comments go wrong is in applying these concepts to all living creatures, humans and wildlife alike. After all, given humans’ high intelligence, complexity, and impressive ability to transform their surroundings, there are much more innovative ways to resolving problems about resource management than controversial practices such as eliminating immigration.
Humans are unique because they do not merely exist in an ecosystem, they shape it. With our creativity and intelligence, we have the capacity to manipulate the environment to increase the natural resource supply, find substitute resources, and establish efficient consumption practices. This is evident through initiatives such as rooftop and urban farming, solar-powered rather than gas-powered cars, and recycling programs. Likewise, to maintain usable land, we build condominiums that grow up rather than out and gentrify existing city spaces to reuse existing space. Clearly, there are more inspirational and creative solutions to combating impending resource shortages than halting immigration.
Where Suzuki makes another misstep is in interpreting the world through a single lens. After all, the world is dynamic, complex, and interconnected: a single solution does not fix all and will have several unintended repercussions. In this case, ending immigration addresses issues of population control but would spark new problems surrounding immigration and international relations. For instance, from the time that the government announces its intention to end immigration to the official ban, skilled professionals such as doctors, lawyers, scholars, and businesspeople who initially wanted to move to Canada would reconsider, in order to ensure that family members can immigrate in the future or to protest Canada’s controversial policies. This would lead to a decline in citizens’ morale, and reduce the talent that Canada needs to conduct world-class research, maintain Canadians’ health, and run a successful economy.
Likewise, with the booming labour-intensive oil and gas industry and existing labour shortages in western Canada, immigrants and temporary workers have been a crucial part of the solution. Although increasing the number of temporary work visas could be the alternative to meeting labour demands in the face of tightening immigration rules, several unintended consequences likely would arise. Many temporary workers may enjoy working in Canada and wish to stay, leading to an influx of temporary workers staying in Canada past their visa expiration. With the higher number of temporary workers allowed in Canada making it difficult to track all these workers, a new problem of temporary workers staying in Canada illegally could emerge.
Alternatively, Canada also would face damaged international relations, with foreign nations barring Canadian immigration or even vacation visits in retaliation to Canada’s new policies. After all, other countries’ citizens are seemingly “unwelcome” in Canada and in turn, Canadians may be unwelcome in theirs; merely accepting refugees is not a strong enough front to appease Canada’s crucial allies whose people feel marginalized by and excluded from Canada. These policies would also negatively affect Canada’s diplomatic work, involvement in trade agreements, and international affairs. Specifically, trade embargos would decrease Canada’s exports, harming domestic businesses and the national economy. It would also reduce imports, which means ordinary items such as fruits, clothing, and cars could no longer be purchased easily. Evidently, the act of ending immigration to save resources ironically causes a resource shortage. Overall, serious problems spanning immigration to international relations would arise from the seemingly simple solution of ending immigration.
On a similar note, since the world is a global village with information and cargo crisscrossing the Earth at every minute, collaborating with the entire world and encouraging this exchange of people and information is critical to Canada’s resource management success. The interconnectivity of the modern world means Canada cannot afford to damage its international relationships or solve its problems by itself. Instead, it must collaborate with others to create innovative techniques for resource sustainability. Granted, Suzuki is justified in suggesting that Canada could improve its practice of attracting talent from South American countries and be more mindful of the domestic labour needs in those countries. However, this again is a matter that could be aided by better international collaboration.
In all, David Suzuki’s comments on July 1, 2013 were a product of a poor choice of words and short-sighted vision for Canada’s future. While his suggestions regarding immigration made sense from a scientific standpoint, he underestimates the power of humans and the repercussions of this simple solution. As issues surrounding resource sustainability and land use become dire in Canada, however, Suzuki’s comments serve as an excellent starting point for the conversation about how to properly tackle them.