Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Northern Light

By Alex Pearlstein, Vice President

During the height of the Syrian refugee crisis in late 2015, as the U.S. was putting up brick walls to emigrants fleeing oppression, images flooded the mainstream media and Internet of Canadian President Justin Trudeau welcoming 163 Syrian refugees in Toronto, the first of thousands the country promised to resettle. Many Americans watched longingly as Trudeau handed stuffed animals to scared but grateful Syrian children in line to meet him. The inscription on the Statue of Liberty was the silent soundtrack of many Americans viewing the Trudeau footage, remembering when our country was the refuge of those “yearning to breathe free.”

Just this week, a recent New York Times article profiled the craving Toronto residents have for the city’s new haute cuisine: Syrian food. Immigrants bring so much more than just their smarts and labor to their new homes; existing residents are able to experience new cultures, cuisines, traditions, apparel, and other benefits that make our lives immeasurably more interesting. The best enchilada I ever had was in tiny Storm Lake, Iowa, home to hundreds of Mexican immigrants who work in the local meat processing plant.

In today’s geopolitical climate, it is increasingly Canada that is the globe’s shining beacon of inclusion. After the U.S. signaled that Haitians would no longer receive Temporary Protected Status, thousands of emigrants from the country have streamed to Quebec in search of stability and opportunity. When the U.S. president recently disparaged Haitians in a bi-partisan meeting with lawmakers, the Haitian diaspora in Canada was among the most vocal in condemnation.

During the past three months, I’ve had the privilege of working with a government entity in the province of Alberta on a strategic plan. Spending time in Edmonton, Calgary, Grande Prairie and other cities, I’ve been struck by the incredible diversity of the population. I’m not sure what I expected, but I don’t think it was to experience the melting pot that modern-day Canada has become. There’s a certain energy you feel being amongst these new generations of Canadians; energy I can only imagine was equally palpable during periods of mass migration to the U.S. It’s the sense that the future has possibility- the excitement that comes with hope.

With talent now the prized currency of economic development, the U.S. cannot become complacent in the belief that our incumbent population will be sufficient to support growth across industries technological and otherwise. As has been our history since our founding, America must acknowledge and act on the belief that we are better off for those who come here from across the world looking for lives free from persecution, regardless, of race, creed, or ideology. 

I fear that Canada and other countries have assumed our mantle as the “land of opportunity.” If this situation persists, our long-term outlook as the most innovative and productive country in the world is at grave risk.