The German federal elections on September 24, 2017 produced an electoral earthquake. The country’s ruling coalition headed for 12 years by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel lost its majority, mainly because of the success of the nationalist/anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD), which won 97 seats, up from zero in the preceding elections. On November 16th, Merkel made unprecedented announcement that she had been unable to form a new governing coalition and refused to head a minority government, preferring a new election instead.
Nationalist/anti-government parties in other important countries of Europe also have gained much support from voters. The percentage of the total vote and the number of seats gained in these countries after the most recent elections were:
Switzerland 29.4 and 65/200; Denmark 21.1 and 37/179; Austria 26 and 51/183; Finland 17.7 and 38/200; Norway 15.2 and 27/169; Netherlands 13.1 and 20/150; Sweden 12.9 and 49/349; Germany 12.6 and 97/631.
In France the National Front in 2017 received 13.2 percent of the votes, more than the percent gained by the AfD, but because of the country’s electoral system gained only 8 out of 377 seats in parliament. In Poland the Law and Justice party received 37.6 percent and with a majority of 235 out of 460 seats has formed the government. Nationalist/anti-immigrant parties have also been successfully attracting votes in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Latvia and other former communist countries of Eastern Europe.
Voters dissatisfied with their countries’ immigration policies also played important roles in the victory of the British referendum that led to Brexit and of President Donald Trump in the United States.
The platforms of the nationalist/anti-immigrant parties in Europe appealed to voters who had personal experiences and learned from media reports that immigrants were responsible for many growing social and economic ills in their lives: the number and scope of terror attacks and criminal acts; threats to cultural and religious institutions and practices; the cost of housing; the crowding of schools, hospitals and public spaces and the scarcity of jobs taken by immigrants.
The establishment politicians in the countries with strong nationalist/anti-immigrant parties obviously have not been able to counter these views by claiming that their supporters are racist, xenophobic and fascists and that they do not understand the large benefits brought by immigrants: the elimination of labor shortages; reductions in the financial problems of social programs; increases in global solidarity with needy people in the rest of the world and the benefits of greater cultural and religious diversity.
Canadian politicians and intellectual elites have been ignoring the growth of nationalist/anti-immigrant parties in Europe. The current government has instead increased the planned annual number of immigrants from the recent 250 thousand to a high of 360 thousand by the year 2020.
It seems that this policy is out of touch with the views of the public. An Angus Reid poll in the middle of 2017 found that 57 percent of Canadians agreed with the statement that “Canada should accept fewer immigrants and refugees.” The latest annual poll by the federal Department of Immigration reported in November 2017 that increasing numbers of Canadians hold negative views about the current level of immigration.
Why the persistence of the difference between government and public views on immigration policies? The answer is that Canada uses the first-by-the-post system to allocate seats in parliament. In Europe most countries use proportional representation to assign seats, which enabled the creation and success of the nationalist/anti-immigrant parties.
Canada’s establishment parties will not abandon the present electoral system. Their assured protection from anti-immigrant parties brings them too many opportunities to use immigration policies to buy the votes of employers of cheap immigrant labor, the firms and professionals wanting larger domestic markets for their output, the real estate and construction industries, the communities of recent immigrants and the immigration industry of lawyers and consultants – even as they know that the public disapproves of the mass immigration they create.
The majority of Canadians who want to see fewer immigrants will have to wait a long time before they get their way.
This essay has been published in the Vancouver Sun on December 8, 2017: