Most people "would give anything to trade places with you," Dwight MacAuley, the province of Manitoba's chief of protocol, tells his audience. No one disagrees.
In a packed hall in Winnipeg's century-old train station, 86 immigrants from 31 countries are becoming citizens of what MacAuley characterizes as one of the "greatest, freest, richest nations that has ever existed."
Some crowned with turbans, others with hijabs, they sing "O Canada" and take the oath of citizenship in English and French. A local member of parliament, Robert-Falcon Ouellette of the Red Pheasant First Nation, drums an honor song. A Mountie in red serge stands at attention; afterward he poses for pictures with the new Canadians.
Scale of openness
Some 2,000 such events take place across the country every year. Fresh recruits keep coming. Canada admitted 321,000 immigrants in the year to June 2016, nearly 1 percent of its population; typically 80 percent of them will become citizens. It is contemplating an increase to 450,000 by 2021. A fifth of Canada's population is foreign-born, nearly twice the share in the United States.
The warmth of the welcome is as striking as the scale of the intake. Immigrants are encouraged to keep their cultures. Winnipeg's public schools have classes taught in Spanish and Ukrainian as well as French and Cree. Its Central Mosque is a few blocks down Ellice Avenue from the Hindu Society of Manitoba. The Juliana Pizza & Restaurant serves its "Greek/Jamaican food" just a bit farther on.
Canada's openness is not new, but it is suddenly getting global attention. It is a happy contrast to what is happening in other rich countries, where anger about immigration helped bring about Britain's vote for Brexit, Donald Trump's nomination and the rise of populist parties across Europe. And it has an appealing new face: Justin Trudeau celebrates his first anniversary as prime minister on Friday.
Trudeau comes from Canada's establishment — he is the son of a former prime minister — but is not despised for it. A former high-school teacher and snowboarding instructor, his cheeriness played a large part in the Liberal Party's victory over Stephen Harper, a dour conservative who had governed Canada for almost 10 years.
Where Harper was liberal, for example on trade, Trudeau carries on his policies. Where the conservative clenched, the Liberal loosens. Trudeau is seizing the opportunity offered by low interest rates to ramp up investment in infrastructure. He will end a visa requirement for Mexicans that Harper imposed and plans to legalize recreational cannabis. Harper was close to being a climate-change denier; Trudeau announced in October that he would set a price on carbon emissions. A month into the job he went to Toronto Pearson International Airport to welcome some of the 32,737 Syrian refugees admitted since he took office.
Canada is not exempt from stresses that are causing other rich countries to freak out. "All the pressures and anxieties that people are feeling around the world exist here," Trudeau said in a recent interview with the Economist. But Canada seems to be coping with them less hysterically.
'From the get-go'
Canada's selective but eclectic taste in immigrants goes back a fair way, too. Clifford Sifton, the interior minister in the early 20th century, sought out farmers from Ukraine, Germany and central Europe in preference to British immigrants.
As with people, so with goods. Canada's vocation for trade began in the early 17th century, when French fur traders established bases in what are now Nova Scotia and Quebec. "We have always been dependent on trade with the world," Trudeau said. "So an anti-trade argument really doesn't get very far in Canada from the get-go." Exports plus imports account for 65 percent of Canada's GDP, more than double their share of the U.S. economy. Nearly three-quarters of Canada's trade is with the United States.
This habit of openness has costs. Factory employment dropped from almost 2 million in 2000 to 1.5 million in 2015, with some of those jobs moving to Mexico — Canada's partner, along with the U.S., in the North American Free-Trade Agreement. Southwestern Ontario and the Niagara peninsula are as blighted by industrial decay as depressed parts of Pennsylvania and Michigan.
But though there are some misgivings, some 80 percent of Canadians think immigrants are good for the economy, according to a recent survey by the Environics Institute, a polling firm.
Two linked factors bolster this pro-immigrant feeling. One is a matter of geography. Refugees do not arrive by the hundred thousand in overloaded dinghies; impoverished children do not sneak across the southern border.
The second is a matter of policy. Canada's points system gives the government a way to admit only the sort of people that it thinks the country needs. This ability to regulate the influx fosters public approval.
Another reason why Canadians are not worried about immigration is that they feel less insecure. Compared with the U.S., Canada's losers are less wretched and its winners less obnoxious. As in other rich countries, income inequality has increased since the early 1980s, but it remains considerably lower than in the United States. Poverty has fallen sharply since the mid-1990s.
The U.S. spends a larger share of its GDP on social programs than Canada does, but Canada is more generous with spending that acts as a safety net. Unemployment benefits replace a much bigger share of lost income than in the U.S. Universal health care "makes a huge difference in creating a high level of public security," said the trade minister, Chrystia Freeland.