Arecent editorial in The Morning Star characterized my objection in city council to a motion that granted free passes to Syrian migrants as a rant, and went on to dispute my reasoning for voting against the motion.
I don’t believe that adjective accurately captures the delivery of my objections, and the editorial itself seems to have missed my argument entirely, so I feel a clarification is in order.
While everyone wants to be welcoming, I had serious concerns about picking one segment of the global population and favouring them over everyone else, and I had serious concerns over the structure of the motion itself. Here are my reasons:
1. Each of the migrant families is sponsored by an organization which agreed, as a condition of acceptance, to pay for and support them with care, lodging, settlement assistance and support, including orientation and the means to find jobs. Yet these organizations are now asking the taxpayers of Vernon to fully fund recreation and transit passes. If they are unwilling to supply these services for the migrants now, why did they agree to supply them in the first place?
2. It has been a long standing practice in liberal democracies to subsidize low-income people in a variety of activities, and the reasoning for that is fairly straightforward: we want to make it easier for those with low incomes (especially kids) to do things everyone else does. To this end, the recreation complex offers subsidized passes to those in financial need, and a few free bus passes to those who are absolutely destitute. We also offer occasional subsidies to organizations, on an ad hoc basis, to enhance civic life. This is as it should be.
But in the case of the migrants, who are backed by strong financial support networks, this motion arbitrarily offers completely free passes not because they lack access to money, and not because they provide a civic service, but because of where they came from. Meanwhile, there are many working poor and single mothers who have lived here all of their lives with no support network at all who are not being offered free passes. What are we supposed to say to them when they ask why a group of people with strong financial backing get free passes while they go without? If the organizations which agreed to support the migrants are now unwilling to fund these things, there is nothing standing in the way of the migrant families applying for the same subsidies the City of Vernon offers on the basis of income like everyone else.
3. There are structural difficulties with the motion as well. It explicitly grants free passes to all present and future migrants from Syria and Iraq. I know of at least one refugee family from Eritrea here, but because they are not from either of the specified countries, they don’t qualify under the terms of this motion. How is this fair or even reasonable?
4. The motion puts no limit on the number of migrants who will be funded. Each giveaway represents about $1,000 in lost revenue. The number I’ve heard from a local radio station is around 60 potential new migrants, but the federal government has put no cap on the number of privately sponsored migrants it will allow, so it may be many more. That means this motion, as passed, has significant future financial liability.
5. Unmentioned in the editorial is the fact that I offered to contribute $200 toward the passes if every other member of council matched it. I made that offer because it was a way to avoid having to vote no on a vote I couldn’t possibly support in good conscience, and a way to avoid the kerfuffle in the press that was sure to follow.
6. Perhaps most importantly, actions of this kind build resentment against immigrants. I understand my colleagues on council had noble intentions, but frankly if we had intentionally set out to cause resentment I can’t think of a better way to do it than to single out a certain group and arbitrarily hand out things that no one else qualifies for.
7. One additional point I think should be made. When I posted my explanation on a local forum on social media, the vast majority of people who read it, understood and, whether they agreed with me or not, replied in measured tones. But there were a few who made rash accusations of bigotry and xenophobia, and did everything they could to shame and bully the others into conforming to their opinion. The Morning Star editorial staff’s use of the term rant to minimize an opinion it doesn’t like is another example of this kind of behaviour. Resorting to insult instead of argument is becoming a real problem in Canada’s political discourse, and I think it’s time people stood up to it. A viable democratic society must make room for all reasonable voices. Tolerance is a two-way street.
When all is said and done, nothing would have been easier than for me to quietly join everyone else in handing out your money and patting myself on the back for being so generous. But I simply could not agree to arbitrarily pick a group of people simply because they happen to be from a certain location and give them free things while excluding everyone else — refugees and Canadian citizens alike — some of whom are in far greater need.
Vernon City Councillor