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Medisina at Politika by Dr. Rey Pagtakhan  

Canada’s immigration doors reopened to humanity

by Dr. Rey Pagtakhan

In October 2015, then-aspiring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earned the trust of the Canadian electorate with his platform for the middle class that included a dozen-and-a-half specific promises on immigration under six headings: diversity in government, family reunification, international students and temporary residents, foreign remittances, hiring caregivers, and refugees. Upon being sworn into office the following November 4, the newly installed prime minister mandated his then Minister John McCallum to reopen Canada’s doors to regular immigrants and refugees. Wrote the Prime Minister:

“As Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRC) your overarching goal will be to reopen Canada’s doors to welcome those who want to contribute to our country’s success…and those seeking refuge from conflict and war.”

What a welcome contrast to messages of fear that divides a citizenry and weakens the bond of citizenship, nationally and globally!

A year hence this past November, the current majority federal government had had a year to act on its immigration promises. In observance of this anniversary the Canadian Filipino Net (CFN) – new website created by Vancouver-based Maple Bamboo Network Society (MBNS) – asked a natural question: What progress has the federal government made on those promises?

To seek answers, MBNS President Eleanor Guerrero Campbell engaged yours truly in a series of conversations that have since been serialized as interview-format articles in CFN (November and December 2016; January 2017).

Since holding the government to account for progress made on political commitments requires fairness, objectivity and, consequentially, due diligence on the part of the evaluator, I reviewed the 2015 election commitments of the Liberal Party and compared them with the Prime Minister’s mandate letter of November 4, 2015 to the IRC Minister, the Speech From the Throne of December 4, 2015, and with the 2015 and 2016 Annual Reports on Immigration to Parliament. I searched, too, for news releases from the Minister’s office and for relevant news reports and notices that might have been published in the Canada Gazette.

Still in the early part of the second year of its four-year mandate, the government has translated, wholly for the most part, its words into deeds. Even on the issue of foreign remittances of which we have yet to see progress, we could take assurance from the Prime Minister’s marching orders to his IRC Minister: “Our (election) platform guides our government. Over the course of our four-year mandate, I expect us to deliver on all of our commitments.”

Progress to date is auspicious. On the social dimension, family and family reunification have become front and centre with the number of family sponsorship applications doubled, the processing times accelerated, the total family class level for 2017 projected to increase by five per cent, the maximum age for dependent children set to increase from 19 to 22, and the burdensome $1,000 Labour Market Impact Assessment fee for Canadian families looking for caregivers eliminated.

Further progress on the social dimension includes achievement of diversity in government adoption of a new government-wide, merit-based appointment process to government institutions, boards, agencies, quasi-judicial tribunals and administrative bodies. Protection of caregivers is being developed, by allowing them to change employers in the case of bad relations or abuse.

On the economic dimension, the 2017 immigration level for the economic class is set to increase by seven per cent. The Minister has acknowledged that international students “enrich the learning environment within Canadian educational institutions, …make a major economic contribution, …are well prepared for the Canadian labour market, and can integrate quickly into Canadian society, primarily due to their Canadian educational credentials.” This acknowledgement is notable coming as it is from the Minister who has pledged to “make it easier for them to come in under Express Entry.”

While it now appears barriers to immigration will be eased for international students, there has not been a similar acknowledgement for all temporary foreign workers. Hence, I ask, if temporary foreign workers are qualified enough to come and help during Canada’s acute labour needs, why should they not be qualified enough to be given similar preference as international students and allowed to pursue their dream of a better life in Canada?

On the humanitarian dimension, the theme was exemplified by Canada’s resolve and success to re-settle 25,000 Syrian refugees “through immediate government sponsorship and work with private sponsors.” It was truly a great achievement to swiftly resettle in Canada this magnitude of refugees from one war-torn homeland. Many were moved by the government’s action. I devoted one of my article to the subject last year (“Syrian Refugee Crisis: A Test of Canada’s Humanitarian Greatness,” Pilipino Express, March 2016).

Indeed, the Prime Minister’s resolve at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis to take on a major role was a humanitarian act par excellence – supported by the great majority of Canadians, received with deep gratitude by the refugees, and duly acknowledged by global leaders. It is this quality of leadership that truly inspires a nation and should inspire many about Canada’s immigration policy.

Hon. Dr. Rey D. Pagtakhan, P.C. – a retired lung specialist and professor of child health and former Member of Parliament, Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and cabinet minister – serves as a volunteer on the Advisory Council of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg. 

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