By William Lyon Mackenzie King Leader of the Liberal
Party 1919-48, Prime Minister of Canada 1921-26, 1926-30 and
House of Commons Debates, May 1, 1947, pp. 2644-6.
Mr. Speaker, before the house resumes the debate on the second
reading of the bill to amend the Immigration Act, I should like to
set forth, in broad outline, the government's policy with respect
The policy of the government is to foster the growth of the
population of Canada by the encouragement of immigration. The
government will seek by legislation, regulation, and vigorous
administration, to ensure the careful selection and permanent
settlement of such numbers of immigrants as can advantageously be
absorbed in our national economy.
Like other major problems of today, the problem of immigration
must be viewed in the light of the world situation as a whole. A
wise and productive policy for Canada cannot be devised by
studying only the situation within our own country. For example,
temporary but effective limits on any policy that is to be applied
immediately are created by the problem of providing ocean
transportation and of establishing inspection facilities in
certain countries to which access is difficult at present.
Moreover, Canada's policy has to be related to the social,
political and economic circumstances resulting from the war. Among
other considerations, it should take account of the urgent problem
of the resettlement of persons who are displaced and homeless, as
an aftermath of the world conflict.
Under existing circumstances, therefore, Canada's policy with
respect to immigration falls, necessarily, into two parts:
measures designed for immediate application, and a long-term
programme . . .
. . . Because of the limitations of transport, the government decided
that, as respects immigration from Europe, the emphasis for the
present should be on the admission of the relatives of persons who
are already in Canada, and on assisting in the resettlement of
displaced persons and refugees.
Up until the end of the war and since- under order in council P.C.
695 of March 21, 1931 -four broad categories of persons were
admissible to Canada. These were:
1. British subjects from the United Kingdom, Ireland,
Newfoundland, New Zealand, Australia or the Union of South Africa,
who possessed sufficient means to maintain themselves until
employment was secured.
2. United States citizens, similarly possessed of means of
3. Wives, unmarried children under 18, or fiancees of men resident
4. Agriculturists with sufficient means to farm in Canada.
During the 1930s, due to the adverse economic conditions of the
period, these provisions were necessarily interpreted in a
restrictive manner. Because of improved economic conditions, it is
now possible to interpret them broadly. . .
. . . Canada is not obliged, as a result of membership in the
united nations or under the constitution of the international
refugee organization, to accept any specific number of refugees or
displaced persons. We have, nevertheless, a moral obligation to
assist in meeting the problem, and this obligation we are prepared
The government is sending immigration officers to examine the
situation among the refugee groups, and to take steps looking
towards the early admission of some thousands of their number. In
developing this group movement, the immigration branch and the
Department of Labour will determine jointly the approximate number
of persons who can be readily placed in employment and absorbed
into various industries and occupations. Selection officers will
then consider applicants for entry into Canada, examine them on a
basis of suitability and physical fitness, and make arrangements
for their orderly movement and placement. Persons so admitted
will, of course, be included in whatever quota Canada finally
accepts as its share in meeting the general problem. In taking
these steps, the government is seeking to ensure that the
displaced persons admitted to Canada are of a type likely to make
Let me now speak of the government's long term programme. It is
based on the conviction that Canada needs population . . .
. . . The population of Canada at present is about 12,000,000. By 1951,
in the absence of immigration, it is estimated that our population
would be less than 13,000,000 and that by 1971, without
immigration, the population would be approximately 14,600,000.
Apart from all else, in a world of shrinking distances and
international insecurity, we cannot ignore the danger that lies in
a small population attempting to hold so great a heritage as ours.
The fear has been expressed that immigration would lead to a
reduction in the standard of living. This need not be the case. If
immigration is properly planned, the result will be the reverse. A
larger population will help to develop our resources. By providing
a larger number of consumers, in other words a larger domestic
market, it will reduce the present dependence of Canada on the
export of primary products. The essential thing is that immigrants
be selected with care, and that their numbers be adjusted to the
absorptive capacity of the country.
It is of the utmost importance to relate immigration to absorptive
capacity. In the past, Canada has received many millions of
immigrants, but at the same time many millions of people have
emigrated. Of the latter, a large proportion were young people
born in Canada, and others who had benefited by education or
training received in Canada. The objective of the government is to
secure what new population we can absorb, but not to exceed that
number. The figure that represents our absorptive capacity will
clearly vary from year to year in response to economic conditions
. . .
. . . With regard to the selection of immigrants, much has been said
about discrimination. I wish to make it quite clear that Canada is
perfectly within her rights in selecting the persons whom we
regard as desirable future citizens. It is not a "fundamental
human right" of any alien to enter Canada. It is a privilege.
It is a matter of domestic policy. Immigration is subject to the
control of the parliament of Canada. This does not mean, however,
that we should not seek to remove from our legislation what may
appear to be objectionable discrimination.
One of the features of our legislation to which strong objection
has been taken on the ground of discrimination is the Chinese
Immigration Act. This act seems to place persons from one
particular country in an inferior category. The government has
already initiated action for the repeal of that statute. Chinese
residents of Canada who are not already Canadian citizens may now
be naturalized. Once naturalized, they are permitted to bring
their wives and unmarried children under 18 to join them in this
The East Indians legally resident in Canada are British subjects
who have resided here for many years. They are therefore Canadian
citizens. As such, their wives and unmarried children under 18 are
With regard to the Japanese, I stated, on August 4, 1944, at which
time we were at war with Japan, that the government felt that in
the years after the war the immigration of Japanese should not be
permitted. This is the present view and policy of the government.
It will be for future parliaments to consider what change, if any,
should be made in this policy.
There will, I am sure, be general agreement with the view that the
people of Canada do not wish, as a result of mass immigration, to
make a fundamental alteration in the character of our population.
Large-scale immigration from the orient would change the
fundamental composition of the Canadian population. Any
considerable oriental immigration would, moreover, be certain to
give rise to social and economic problems of a character that
might lead to serious difficulties in the field of international
relations. The government, therefore, has no thought of making any
change in immigration regulations which would have consequences of
I wish to state quite definitely that, apart from the repeal of
the Chinese Immigration Act and the revocation of order in council
P.C. 1378 of June 17, 1931, regarding naturalization, the government
has no intention of removing the existing regulations respecting
Asiatic immigration unless and until alternative measures of
effective control have been worked out. Canada recognizes the
right of all other countries to control the entry or non-entry of
persons seeking to become permanent residents. We claim precisely
the same tight for our country.
I wish to make it equally clear that the Canadian government is
prepared, at any time, to enter into negotiations with other
countries for special agreements for the control of admission of
immigrants on a basis of complete equality and reciprocity.
Through the years of depression and war, and consequently of
greatly restricted immigration, the immigration branch of the
Department of Mines and Resources and its offices abroad were
reduced to proportions wholly inadequate to cope with an active
immigration policy. With the end of the war, and in the light of
changed economic conditions, the government has already taken
steps to expand and strengthen this branch of the public service.
To carry out the government's policy effectively, immigration
services will be further developed to meet expanding requirements.