German Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent comments about the failure of multiculturalism, while controversial, were nothing new for Europeans. Former British prime minister Tony Blair seems to have started the ball rolling in 2006, when he told immigrants to "conform ... or don't come here," and since then, many European leaders have echoed such sentiments.
Given the problems Europe has experienced -- the London bombings of 2005, civil unrest in Paris, and the failure to integrate Muslim Turks in Germany -- the comments aren't terribly surprising. But one must be careful not to assume that these events are simply the fault of an ill-defined policy like multiculturalism -- or worse, the fault of freeloading immigrants.
Germany's problems with Muslim Turks, for example, has little to do with multiculturalism. The Turks were originally considered guest workers, and as Merkel herself admitted, everyone expected them to return home at some point. This is not multiculturalism, and is no way to ensure a lasting contribution from foreign-born workers.
Merkel did, however, advocate for the integration of immigrants, and asked how that's best accomplished. One answer is to look to Canada, which, of course, has a long-standing and sometimes controversial policy of official multiculturalism, and which has also benefited enormously from the contribution of immigrants.
This is the conclusion of a new report, Immigrants as Investors: Boosting Canada's Global Competitiveness, from the Conference Board of Canada. The report set out to test the presumption that immigrants are likely to be highly innovative, and, according to Diana MacKay, director of education and health for the board, "At every level we examined -- individual, organization, national and global -- immigrants were associated with increased innovation in Canada."
Among the specifics, the report found that 35 per cent of Canada Research Chairs are foreign-born, even though immigrants make up just one-fifth of the Canadian population. Further, immigrants win proportionally more prestigious literary and performing arts prizes, such as the Giller Prize and the Governor-General's Performing Arts Awards.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, immigration also affects trade levels between Canada and immigrants' countries of origin. According to the report, a one-percentage-point increase in immigrants can increase the value of imports by 0.21 per cent and raise the value of exports by 0.11 per cent. Also not surprisingly, foreign direct investment into Canada is greater from countries that are well represented in Canada through immigration.
Hence, whatever the supposed drawbacks of multiculturalism, Canada's immigrants have made important contributions to Canadian society. But things are not perfect, as the report notes that immigrants face many obstacles, including inadequate recognition of their international experience and qualifications, failure of employers to utilize immigrants' foreign language skills and lack of opportunities for newcomers to use their skills.
That returns us to Merkel's question about how best to achieve integration. And on that point, the report advises that employers hire immigrants at every level of their organizations, including leadership roles, match the diversity of their staff to their markets, and encourage immigrants to share their views.
This last recommendation is particularly important, as there's no better way to improve integration than to ask immigrants what they need to function effectively in Canadian society. And that doesn't in any way conflict with multiculturalism. Rather, it serves to respect the values of immigrants while, as the Conference Board report makes clear, also helping to improve conditions for all Canadians.