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Sweden's big immigration idea: the 'Canada model'

A copy of Kanadamodellen is pictured in this undated handout photo.


For decades, Canadians have looked to the Swedes for inspiration. There was Ottawa's campaign to get lumpy 30-year-old Canadians to be as fit as " the 60-year-old Swede." There are frequent calls to imitate Stockholm's environmental policies. And, of course, there's hockey.

But in recent months, the tables have turned. Policy circles in Stockholm have been dominated with talk of adopting "the Canada model."

That, in fact, is the title of a widely discussed new Swedish book titled Kanadamodellen – "The Canada Model," which urges Sweden's governments to start making things look more like their Nordic fellow on the other side of the Atlantic.

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"We looked at Canada, and we saw that it worked – even though Canadians don't always say this, from a Swedish perspective we felt that Canada is a model that should be followed," said Martin Adahl, one of the book's editors and a fellow with the Stockholm think tank FORES, as he visited London to discuss his ideas with a bemused group of British and Canadian scholars.

Specifically, the book's editors are part of a growing group of Swedes that wants its government to adopt Canada's immigration system – including its high numbers, its points-based recruitment scheme and its ethnic networks of support in major cities that help new immigrants find employment.

Its subtitle is, tellingly, "How immigration leads to work," which explains the obsession with Canada: In Sweden, immigrants – the largest group of whom are refugees – are typically unemployed, marginalized and far poorer than the native-born population. This has led to alarming political tensions over immigration in this formerly very placid nation.

In Canada, by contrast, the employment rate among the foreign-born (about 70 per cent) is higher than that among native-born Canadians, most immigrants are economic (refugees make up a negligibly small slice of Canadian immigration), and the majority of Canadians say they are satisfied both with the ethnic mix and the levels of immigration.

So from the shores of the Baltic, the Great White North looks like an immigration paradise. Mr. Adahl and his colleague Petter Hojem drew upon leading Canadian academics to produce studies and essays for their book – and here, they ran into difficulties.

"It was hard to convince Canadian academics to write about their own country as a positive example," Mr. Adahl said. "They're used to writing critically of it, and thinking of its failings, but I had to persuade them to write about Canada as a positive example – it wasn't easy."

Canada, Mr. Adahl says, does a couple things that European countries don't do. First, it grants immediate access to employment, home and business ownership to new immigrants and refugee claimants. Second, it has a network of charities and non-governmental organizations that help settle and employ new arrivals. And third, it has a relatively open labour market, in which employers can easily hire and fire people, which makes it easier for immigrants to enter the work force.

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In much of Europe, including Sweden, many full-time jobs are guaranteed for life, which creates a closed, privileged white-skinned elite and an excluded brown-skinned minority who are stuck in informal jobs and unemployment.

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About the Author
International-Affairs Columnist

Doug Saunders writes the Globe and Mail's international-affairs column, and also serves as the paper's online opinion and debate editor. He has been a writer with the Globe since 1995, and has extensive experience as a foreign correspondent, having run the Globe's foreign bureaus in Los Angeles and London.He was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and educated in Toronto. More

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