British Labour Leader Keir Starmer told a Montreal summit of the global centre-left – including Liberal MPs and ministers – that immigration control needs to be discussed by progressive parties, and not left as an issue for conservatives.
Speaking after talks with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Mr. Starmer said “it’s wrong to think that control of borders is not a progressive issue.”
“If as progressives we step out of the debate on borders and say that is not for us – it’s a right-wing issue – it’s a slippery slope to a much worse place. Progressives need to be in this debate,” he said at the 2023 Global Progress Action Summit.
Mr. Starmer told the summit that border policy must be managed by governments and that action must be taken to stop criminal gangs trafficking and exploiting migrants.
His remarks about the need for orderly migration were echoed by David Miliband, Britain’s former foreign secretary, who now oversees international refugee and resettlement programs.
Public services such as extra places in schools must be provided for newcomers, Mr. Miliband told The Globe and Mail.
Asked about a right-wing backlash to migration seen in European countries including Germany, he said the answer was “managing migration well – it has to be managed.”
A poll conducted for The Globe this month found that more than half of Canadians – a rise from one in three in March – want the federal government to accept fewer immigrants than it is planning for in 2023.
The Nanos poll also found that 55 per cent want Canada to accept fewer international students than the record number expected by the government this year.
In its plan for immigration levels, Ottawa set its target at 465,000 new permanent residents this year, then 485,000 in 2024 and another 500,000 in 2025.
Marc Miller, Canada’s new Immigration Minister, indicated last month that the country is also on track to bring in 900,000 international students this year, roughly triple the number from a decade ago.
Mr. Miliband – who was once tipped as a future British prime minister – said Canada compared well with other countries when it came to “the immigrant-refugee experience.”
“That’s something where Canada’s actually got a good track record. Refugees in Canada pay more in taxes than they take welfare benefits et cetera.”
Now serving as chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian organization helping refugees, he said countries in Europe were adjusting to a massive influx of refugees from Ukraine since Russia’s invasion.
Last year Mr. Miliband renewed speculation about a possible return to the House of Commons after he said nothing had yet been decided on his return to politics. He lost the Labour leadership to his brother, Ed, in 2010. He stood down as an MP and moved to New York in 2013.
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A number of progressive leaders discussed the challenges of immigration at the Montreal summit, including Jonas Gahr Store, Norway’s Labour Prime Minister. He spoke about how the influx of Ukrainian refugees presented challenges to his country’s municipal councils and borders.
Mark Carney, a former governor of the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, focused on other topics in his speech. He took a pop at former British prime minister Liz Truss, accusing her government of turning Britain into “Argentina on the Channel” – a reference to Argentina’s reputation for economic crises.
Ms. Truss became the shortest-serving British prime minister in her country’s history after she and her chancellor of the exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng presented a tax-cutting mini budget that threw the markets into turmoil.
Mr. Carney, in what was seen as a thinly veiled criticism of Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, also attacked “far-right populists.”
“Progressives build things that last – health care, infrastructure, schools, opportunities, sustainability and prosperity,” he said. “Others … have a different model. They are in the demolition business. Far-right populists see the anxiety of today as an opportunity to stoke the anger that’s necessary for their project.”
Mr. Trudeau said the “secret” of right-wing populists was how they “reflect back and amplify the very real anger and frustration and anxiety that people have, and people feel like they’re being seen and heard.”
He said progressive politicians need to “connect with people” and provide solutions.
“It really feels pretty awful for a whole bunch of people out there,” Mr. Trudeau said, speaking on a panel. “What it comes down to is they’re having trouble paying the mortgage. They can’t find an affordable apartment, grocery bills are going up and they’re worried about the future in general and specifically for themselves and their kids.
“If we’re not responding to where people are in daily life, then we’re not going to be connecting,” he added.
Jacinda Ardern, former prime minister of New Zealand, said “it really matters that people see their leaders acknowledging that things are hard” and for politicians to show they are looking for solutions.
“We can’t stand there next to a dumpster on fire and not acknowledge that it’s moving behind us,” she said.