Going forward, looking sideway: The Kenney approach
For decades running one of the single most important portfolios in the federal cabinet has been that of the immigration minister. Immigration has been the cornerstone of Canadian evolution in all matters internal; the economy, settlement of lands, demographic and population equalizer to name just a few areas, even the provincial governments have expended large measures in provincial immigration programs speaking to the importance of this theme. As a nation with a sparse populace and abundant resources that are disposed to exploitation our very nature of being would be at risk without the infusion of labour that immigration provides as well as our obligation and core values striving to offer safe haven to those who are in need of protection.
Our immigration system consequently is exceedingly diverse, complex and evolving on a continuous basis and must be balanced with the nuances of the federal executive nature of our government and bureaucracy. It would not be erroneous to assume that given the frailties of government coupled with the inborn inefficiencies of the super-bureaucracy evidenced since its genesis post Trudeau that from time to time a comprehensive makeover and realignment of the function and role of immigration is obligatory. Emphatically, constant correction of inefficiencies, redundancies and negation of obsolete methods and objectives should be apparent to policy makers both partisan in nature and those in an administrative role within the executive branch. At no other time than the present, with the increased globalization of the world coupled with stark new economic, social and radical religious realities still unfolding around us, is it certain that several areas within the Canadian immigration system and applicable legislative format are restructured and priorities and ends be re-evaluated. That being said we have a new majority government with an immigration Minister who by and large has the proverbial “ear” of the Prime Minister more than would most of his colleagues. In the year following the new majority status of the government we have seen sweeping changes in all areas of immigration and refugee protection of a precedent not seen before in one portfolio let alone and entire legislative agenda. An entire Speech from the Throne could have been dedicated alone to Immigration Reform.
Before an examination of the virtues of Minister Jason Kenney’s foray into the immigration portfolio I believe that it must be said that the regulations introduced as to the licensing, regulation and control of the immigration consultant is something that is long overdue. It may appear to an outsider a state of disbelief that this crucial player in the overall structure of immigration, acting as a legal advocate and sometimes quasi or surrogate council for those who are investing their lives into an entirely new land and way of life, were not subject to any form of regulated and quantifiable structure, education, disciplinary society but instead were able to operate (in worst cases in defiance) of standard and accepted practices. The creation of the ICCRC will be one of the strongest legacies that Mr. Kenney will leave not only to immigrants and the Ministry but to the industry itself. I applaud the government for this move alone.
Examination of the outstanding agenda advanced by Mr. Kenney is somewhat less congratulatory however, at least on certain key points. Foremost and acting as a chief overriding concern of the approach of this government is the expedient manner in which these reforms have been instituted. I am not in recollection of any white papers that were advanced either by the bureaucracy or the Conservative Party of Canada on many of the initiatives in question. Furthermore I have not seen evidence of any blueprint examining the longer term strategy and potential implications of reforms initiated. As the examination of governmental immigration practice is concurrent with a multi-disciplinary approach to public policy, it is hard to envision that much interpretation of the causation of the original concerns or the linear evolution of the revisions to policy, has taken place. Simply put is the government just acting on an ideological whim aimed at placating a certain political constituency and reinforcing notions of perceived imbalance or threat?
Last week was the announcement from Mr. Kenney that the government would be withdrawing the right to health care to refugee claimants as in the government’s eye’s there were so many counterfeit applicants who were only making application so that they could take advantage of our health care system. He went on to say that these refugee applicants were receiving “Platinum coverage” that obviously was not afforded to average Canadians. As any semi learned person will tell you there is no such thing as platinum coverage for anyone, there are exceedingly few persons who have come to Canada for reasons of health care alone (assuming that their claim is unfounded) and that when accurately tabulated the expenditure on these refugees is of miniscule proportions. These type of inflammatory half-truths play out very well in the Calgary Sun or Le Journal de Montreal but have little basis in substantive fact. The enormous and profound effects that reversing such an extension of benefits is calamitous on many levels not just personal for the immigrants but for the health care system and a humanitarian and legal direction as well.
Other instances of knee jerk reactions are the moratorium on parental/grandparent sponsorships due to the massive backlog of applications and similarly the return of application to hundreds of thousands of applicants who made application under the federal skilled worker category. Not one person is asserting that there is a terrible problem underway when we have so many applications being held in a type of stasis for extended time periods but what type of resolution has really been offered up here by the Minister? The lives of so many people who have made plans, mental adjustments and essentially have placed their lives on hold have been ruined. The return of application fees does not remedy the years wasted in limbo. A lay person themselves could deduce that much of the problem could be solved by a bureaucratic solution rather than a program or policy significant change.
In closing I would say that an exhaustive assessment of the numerous changes to the applicable laws would find some good but perhaps only in the same instance as the proverbial “thousand monkeys at a typewriter”. Writing fundamental government policy should not be done on the fly and should not be done with political opportunism as its base. I urge the government to slow down and make a contemplative approach to immigration reform.
Andrew W. McLennan
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