Sweden copies Canada for a change Dave Bell
As this month marks the 40th anniversary of former Prime Minister Trudeau’s official multiculturalism policy, the Canadian system of immigration is put into question as an effective model. Scholars provide answers.

Swedish think tank FORES released the anthology entitled “The Canada Model” (Kanadamodellen) earlier this year in an effort to explore the extent to which the North American country provides a successful system of immigration on which Sweden might model their own. “[Canada] in many ways is similar to Sweden (forest-clad, cold and sparesly populated),” said one of the book’s editors, Petter Hojem, “but has had a very different take on immigration in the past.” Like many European countries, Sweden faces a challenge to accommodate a growing number of immigrants in the country’s current infrastructure.

Is the Canadian system a successful model? “The answer in my view is a qualified ‘yes’,” answered University Professor Jeffrey G. Reitz in his paper that provided the material for chapter four of “The Canada Model.” Reitz’s evaluation finds Canadian policies to have positive social and economic impacts, which include high education-based skills and employment success among immigrants.

However, Reitz warns other countries against a copy and paste approach. In addition to policies such as Trudeau’s multicultural and integrative plan, specific historical and institutional circumstances underlie the function of the Canadian system. Reitz stressed, “the emphasis on ‘mass immigration’ as a national development policy,” is inherent to the system’s success.

“To say that Canada is relatively successful is by no means to say problem free,” admitted Professor Reitz. The most recent problem Canada faces is the inability to monitor the increased number of temporary immigrants issued visas a few years ago. This influx is predicted to translate to an increased number of illegal immigrants as their status expires. “But not much attention politically was given to that,” said Professor Reitz, “because we are so pro immigration.” Reitz expressed concern that this issue could undermine support for immigration in the long run.

The support for the system on the whole comes from the large skilled labour force and national identity built by immigrants. “In the ‘70s, people were worried that Toronto was no longer a majority British city,” Reitz remembered, “but low and behold, the Italians and Poles that 30 years ago people thought of as the newcomers are now us.”

According to a recent survey by the Association of Canadian Studies, 46 percent of Canadians believe immigrants should give up their customs and traditions and become more like the majority. This belief appears rooted in the idea that in order to contribute to larger society, immigrants cannot live in isolation. “What distinguishes us from the Europeans is that we have policies that try to integrate immigrants to the mainstream,” said Reitz, citing language instruction as an example of integrative efforts.

But learning English or French is not sufficient to provide a successful system of immigration. The support needed to facilitate such a system relies on the positive social and economic impacts of mass immigration. Canada sees a larger number of skilled workers and business people compared to those granted refugee status. Reitz cited, “the fact that we don’t share a border with Mexico and have a highly skilled labour force contribute to the positive attitude [towards immigration].”

Can this model work for countries like Sweden, who must integrate more immigrants on humanitarian grounds? “If the Swedish government was willing to sell people on the idea of bringing more highly skilled people to come to Sweden,” answers Reitz, “it could work, yes.” Reitz stressed the need to integrate more immigrants to make a positive story for before Swedish society can welcome immigration on the whole.

“Although the main goal was to decipher a ‘positive example,’” said Hojem, “readers still get a nuanced picture of the Canadian immigration system.” Unfortunately if your Swedish is rusty, “The Canada Model” proves itself a challenge. While there is no definitive plan to publish in the book in other languages, as more European countries move to restrictive immigration policies, Petter Hojem hopes the success of the Canadian model will be available to a wider European audience.

To read the English version of chapter four by Professor Jeffrey G. Reitz, contact him directly at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: U of T professor consults on immigration proposal
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