The Puzzle of Canadian Exceptionalism in Contemporary Immigration Policy

“Canada could be the first post-national state. There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau New York Times Magazine, November 10, 2015
  • Michael TrebilcockEmail author


This paper seeks first to describe features of contemporary Canadian immigration policy that render it exceptional relative to its own earlier history and relative to current public and political sentiment favoring much more restrictive immigration policies in many other developed countries. Canada, since the 1970s and more markedly since the early 1990s, has adopted a highly expansionist and non-discriminatory immigration policy that in immigrant per capita terms exceeds that of most other developed countries and also reflects an increasingly diverse range of source countries. Accompanying this shift in immigration policy over recent decades, public attitudes, as reflected in various public opinion polls, to these policies have become increasingly supportive and are not the source of serious division among the major national political parties. The paper then goes on to evaluate possible explanations for this state of exceptionalism, including geography, economic necessity, the changing geo-political environment, the structure of the Canadian political system, and political leadership. The paper concludes with some tentative thoughts on the sustainability of current policies and the wisdom of adopting even more expansionary policies (as sometimes proposed).


Canada Immigration policy Canadian exceptionalism Multiculturalism Integration 



I am greatly indebted to Francesco Ducci for invaluable research assistance on data aspects of this paper and to Jeffrey Reitz, David Beatty, James Wilson, Robert Couzin, Ron Daniels, Mayo Moran, Antje Ellerman, Ninette Kelley, to participants in a Law and Economics discussion group at the University of Toronto, January 23, 2018, to participants at workshops at Georgetown Law Center, Washington, D.C., March 23, 2018, and to anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier drafts.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of LawUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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