Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

State-Society Relations in the Making of Canadian Immigration Policy during the Mulroney Era [*]

Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

State-Society Relations in the Making of Canadian Immigration Policy during the Mulroney Era [*]

Article excerpt

Des conceptions differentes de l'unite des fractions de classe sont a la base d'importantes divergences theoriques dans la sociologie de l'Etat. Ces conceptions sont examinees ici en fonction du remaniement de la politique federale des taux d'immigration sous le gouvernement conservateur du premier ministre Brian Mulroney. Fondee sur des documents, des entrevues et des declarations publiques, cette etude montre que, pour les syndicats aussi bien que pour les representants du secteur prive, la politique des niveaux d'immigration etait un sujet de peu d'importance sur lequel l'opinion etait divisee pendant les annees quatre-vingt. Par consequent, le poids de la societe etait faible lorsque des bureaucrates et des politiciens du gouvernement federal ont decide de rompre le lien qui, depuis les annees quarante, avait associe l'immigration au chomage.

Competing theories in the sociology of the state turn on different assumptions about the unity of class fractions. This study examines these assumptions in light of changes in immigration levels management under the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney. Documents, interviews and public statements show immigration levels management was a subject of dissent and some disinterest among economic elites as well as organized labour during the 1980s. Federal bureaucrats and politicians therefore enjoyed a large margin of autonomy in disassociating the cycles of immigration and domestic unemployment.

SOON AFTER THE LIBERALS TOOK POWER IN 1993 the new Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Sergio Marchi, launched public consultations on immigration. These led to a report, which notes:

Unemployment is a leading concern among Canadians. Although for many immigration is not seen as causing joblessness, neither is it seen as a force that will improve the unemployment situation. In a poll conducted by a private association the majority of respondents indicated that"... restrictions should be placed on the number of immigrant entrants in times of high unemployment...and that the current annual level is too high" (CIC 1994: 16-17).

By contrast, a 1991 report by the Economic Council of Canada concludes immigration probably has a negligible impact on unemployment, at least over the long term. The short-term effect is also likely to be negligible unless immigration increases very rapidly. Thus, pessimistic and optimistic views of immigration's effect on unemployment are equally misguided because in actuality the relationship between immigration and the labour market is negligible (ECC, 1991: 131).

This paper focusses on the switch from the pessimistic to the optimistic view under the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. I argue that unemployment and immigration became detached in the early 1990s because the Progressive Conservatives adhered to a policy of long-term expansion dating from the mid-1980s. Change in policy had been masked between 1985 to 1989 because unemployment was falling when the government decided to increase immigration. Only in 1990, when unemployment worsened but the Progressive Conservatives let immigration rise further, did their commitment to an expansive immigration policy become apparent.

What process lay behind this change in policy? Contrary to instrumentalist and structuralist theories, state autonomy must be treated as a variable rather than a fixed quantity, with the degree of state autonomy from the capitalist class depending on the balance of power between upper and lower classes: as the discrepancy in class power decreases, state autonomy from the capitalist class increases (Brym with Fox, 1989:87-88). But the relative power of capital also rests on organization and unity among its various fractions, and unity "can be fostered through the efforts of powerful, centralized employer business associations" (Olsen, 1991: 131). During the Mulroney years, the labour unions, immigrant service organizations and business associations each lacked unity over the importance of linking unemployment with immigration. …

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