Building the Urban Link

The World in Canada Part 3

by Alidad Mafinezam

The search for Canada’s international role must be anchored in the country’s domestic condition. Such an attempt must in turn focus on the condition of Canada’s largest cities, especially Toronto, since it is in these places that the world’s peoples live side by side in relative peace and harmony, and a productive and mutually beneficial symbiosis is on display that can act as a model for many other countries, in the industrial and developing worlds alike, that are affected by ethnic, sectarian and religious strife. The World in a City, edited by Paul Anisef and Michael Lanphier, published two years ago by University of Toronto Press, is the most ambitious effort to date to take stock of Toronto’s global, multicultural reality.

The book covers issues ranging from peak periods of immigration to immigrants’ experiences with discrimination and the challenges facing newcomers—all aiming to discern the public policy implications of such research. In the first chapter, historian Harold Troper gives a comprehensive assessment of the history of Toronto as an immigrant point of entry. He describes the ways in which the city’s demographics have been transformed since World War II, documenting the shift in Canada from a predominantly Anglo Saxon society to a multicultural one within a relatively short period. Myer Siemiatycki and his colleagues describe the experiences of four major immigrant communities—Jewish, Italian, Caribbean and Chinese immigrants—to examine the challenges those immigrants faced as they have attempted in the post–World War II period to adapt to their new lives in Toronto. One of Troper’s key points is that immigration is an area of policy that affects all levels of government, even though it is the federal government, through Citizenship and Immigration Canada, that has jurisdiction over who is admitted to Canada as a visitor or permanent resident.

“If Toronto does not have an official role in determining immigration policy,” Troper writes, “immigration policy determines much about Toronto.” Toronto remains the destination of choice for close to half of all immigrants in Canada, as close to 100,000 new immigrants settle in the city and the regions that surround it every year. Immigration, Troper writes, has become the most significant force in reshaping Toronto’s neighbourhoods, its residential and commercial construction patterns, its economy and the delivery of municipal services, including education and health care.

After six decades of massive immigration, the Greater Toronto Area has become the most diverse and multicultural city-region in the world. Thus, a key question for Canadian policy makers is how best to use the talents and knowledge in Canada’s largest cities to promote equity and prosperity at the same time, both within and beyond Canada. One answer to this question is provided by Robert Greenhill in a report entitled “Making a Difference: External Views on Canada’s International Impact,” which he produced for the Canadian Institute of International Affairs. In a series of interviews conducted with international opinion leaders, one American suggested that “Canada could see itself as the world’s think tank. It could provide a market for clearheaded, slightly disinterested thinking.” A Canadian suggested that Canada can make a contribution by “taking a long-term view, being on the right side of the question, and then having the ideas and the processes to act at the right time.” Despite this concept of Canada as global think tank, however, Greenhill’s report overlooks the comparative advantage bequeathed to Canada by its diverse urban population. A global think tank can only be built on a globally aware and connected citizenry.

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