“Canada is one of the beautiful places in the world.”
Jane is on the housekeeping staff of one of Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s larger hotels. She formed her rosy view of this country before she ever came here from the Philippines by way of Taiwan. But, even though she arrived in Labrador in the middle of autumn, and has since experienced little but drizzle, cold and snow, her favourable opinion has only improved. She’s in Canada on a temporary visa, but she hopes to stay longer than the one year it gives her.
“Forever, maybe. Yes, forever. I want to settle here and have my own family.”
For the last two years, Filipinos have been coming into Labrador in greater and greater numbers. Until they arrived, most stores, restaurants and hotels throughout the region were suffering a labour shortage caused by the reluctance of local people to take and keep minimum wage jobs as clerks, waiters, cleaners, bartenders, cooks and receptionists.
Many businesses cut back on their hours because they didn’t have the staff to stay open.
Hiring workers from the Philippines solved that problem and everyone appears delighted. Certainly, the employers could hardly have found anyone more eager to work and to stay.
“At first, when I was in Taiwan for five years, a lot of my friends work in Canada and most of them told me that Canada is one of the biggest good places that we can go to and have more opportunity to work and to earn more salary to help our families back home in the Philippines.”
That’s Jackilyn, who’s worked as a front desk clerk for about three months. She’s not alone.
A young man named Joel gave up an important and secure, but underpaid managerial position in a large Manila grocery company to become one of two salaried clerks in a Happy Valley convenience store.
“Goose Bay or Labrador — actually we really don’t have any idea where are we going to, but you know it’s just because it’s Canada. It’s Canada! Why Canada? Because this is the place that I was given a chance. … I’m just so lucky that I have this place to go here.”
Another thing these new settlers all share is that they aren’t thinking just about themselves. Jackilyn said it well when asked about her intention to stay:
“That’s really my major plan. That’s why we’re here, because this is a free country. … After a year, you can apply for a provincial nominee and after that you can have your permanent residency. That’s really my major plan because I’m also planning to bring my family here for a good future, a better future, a better life.”
Unfortunately, all their bright hopes may now come to nothing, because the federal government is drastically reducing the number of parents and grandparents immigrants can sponsor to bring with them into the country.
Jackilyn (like all the other new immigrant workers) wants to be with her mother and father, to give them a comfortable retirement in Canada, but Stephen Harper wants to keep them apart.
By slashing family visas by 25 per cent this year, and almost 50 per cent in future years, the Reformed Conservatives seem to be deliberately trying to make Canada less attractive to Asian immigrants — although far be it for this columnist to call Harper, his Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, or anyone else in his government a racist.
Predictably, in bruising the dreams of hard-working immigrants, the Conservatives are also hurting themselves by once again undercutting their own chances of ever forming a majority in the House of Commons.
The Liberals held power strongly for so long partially because they helped large numbers of immigrants enter and settle in Canada. The many who moved here in the 1950s and ’60s gave the Liberal Party their gratitude in the form of votes.
Harper, on the other hand, has missed this clear lesson from electoral history.
Instead of welcoming new voters with open arms, the current federal government is telling all newcomers that it just doesn’t like them, or their families.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador