Bernier’s immigration policy is backed by his libertarian ideals

In calling to reduce immigration, Bernier is being perfectly faithful to free-market thought.

Brad Betters Montreal QC

While there are many patterns of abuse in the mass media’s everyday coverage of Maxime Bernier—i.e. the constant comparisons to Donald Trump, the failure to actually engage with his policies, quoting those who accuse him of “pandering”, while failing to quote his supporters (although there is the occasional exception),—one that jumps out is the routine questioning of his ideological bona fides.

Being ideologically inconsistent is a serious charge for many among Bernier’s base. While not a concern for liberals and progressives (they just want power and results), it is for many conservatives, even if it means becoming “beautiful losers”, as one US conservative commentator put it years back.

Recently, the National Post’s John Ivison referred to Bernier’s party, the People’s Party of Canada (PPC), as being plagued by a “fundamental contradiction” in that it’s “led by a libertarian free-marketer and supported by anti-globalists.”

Although vague, Ivison is no doubt, at least in part, referring to the PPC’s call to reduce immigration levels. His Post colleague Stuart Thomson was more express, calling Bernier’s immigration position “a diversion from his ideological playbook”—a criticism repeated by Global News’ West Block host Mercedes Stephenson among others.

In calling to reduce immigration, Bernier is being perfectly faithful to free-market thought. Importing workers from abroad, if high enough, can lead to supply shocks in the domestic labour market, weighing down and distorting wage rates in the process—indeed, economists are mystified why wages in Canada have flatlined despite years of growing GDP.

For large employers, these expansions can lead to giant windfalls and a chance to avoid facing market discipline—i.e. by not innovating or offering the wages needed to draw in new workers. Markets which are expanded artificially are not “free”, and profits pumped-up with the help of government we usually call ‘subsidies’: two things free-marketer libertarians revile.

Equally reviled among libertarians is ‘big government’; something that goes hand in hand with mass immigration. Large populations with diverse languages, cultures, and religions serve as a perfect excuse for new government programs and bureaucratic meddling: from government-funded language instruction, translators, and signage, to more housing and educational and job-training initiatives for unprepared newcomers.

Overlaying all this is the array of government watchdogs mandated to ensure immigrating visible minorities get the requisite (i.e. ever-increasing) amount of cultural sensitivity and achieve economic parity with old-stock Canadians.

Then there’s immigrants’ access to existing programs, such as social safety net payments (welfare, unemployment, food stamps, etc.); a topic famously raised by the father of modern libertarianism Milton Friedman, who said:

It is one thing to have free immigration to jobs, it is another thing to have free immigration to welfare. You cannot have both… free immigration would mean a reduction of everyone to the same uniform level… it would go in that direction… it is that perception that leads people to adopt what first seem like inconsistent values.

And just as ‘seemingly inconsistent’ on this point was that other libertarian founding father, Murray Rothbard—Both men also agreed on the importance of the so-called “meta-market”, or the cultural prerequisites and shared trust needed to ensure that a free-market system is even possible.

As for libertarian political leaders Nigel Farage in the UK and Ron Paul in the US, they consistently pursued policies, including immigration reduction, in the name of the national, not the global, interest.

What they championed (as one could also say of Friedman and Rothbard) was, to borrow a phrase from libertarian columnist Justin Raimondo, a “libertarianism in one country”; that is, a libertarianism that holds national self-determination, including the right for citizens to choose who and how many outsiders can join their communities, as sacrosanct.

In this vein, they consistently viewed globalist bodies such as the European Union (with its Schengen Agreement) or the United Nations (with its Global Compact on Migration) with skepticism and as a restraint on national independence generally.

What Ivison and co. might be failing to appreciate is the difference between libertarians and, what the Americans call, “liberaltarians”: those who are pro-free-market, yet globalist (and pro-open-borders) in outlook. These types see no difference between importing people and widgets, or having open markets for both the world’s labor and its capital. It’s a debate (too fraught to get into here) that’s been rollicking conservative circles in the US for decades.

But even if Ivison and co were right, shouldn’t they praise, not deride, Bernier for being flexibility? And how about for being responsive to voters? Because current immigration rates ar at near-record levels, Frank Graves of EKOS Research calling it “forefront” issue this election year, and yet it’s barely being discussed by the other parties. Meanwhile, polling from Angus Reid shows supporters of an immigration reduction versus an expansion are in the majority by over 8 to 1, and yet every party, ex-Bernier’s PPC, wants to see an increase. Even if Ivison and co are right, and there’s no such thing as a ‘free-market anti-globalist’, what’s worse for voters; a politician who’s inconsistent or indifferent?


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