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Immigration reform: trial and mostly error

I am always researching immigration to find out what changes are being announced and also to gage public opinion. Within the local Filipino community, immigration is always a hot topic but mainstream Canadians are usually not as focused on immigration. The great headlines about smuggling in Snakehead gang members from China, or the increase in refugee claims of the Roma from Hungary catch the imagination of the public. Other matters go about under reported and unnoticed by the great mass of Canadians. How much of the general public in Saskatchewan was aware that their nominee program was cut drastically by the feds in April of this year? The sad reality is that it was primarily the newcomer communities in Saskatchewan that felt the change and even the newspapers did not notice or misunderstood what was happening. This all leads up to the article I read in Monday’s Globe & Mail. In his article, entitled “To ensure prosperity, immigration reform but not halt the flow of immigrants,” staff writer John Ibbitson calls attention to the fact that Canada as a country needs immigration to ensure future growth: “Low birth rates and little immigration leave too few young workers to pay into pension plans on which older worker depend. There are too few consumers buying homes and cars and dishwashers, forcing builders and manufacturers to shut down.”

The focus of Mr. Ibbitson’s article is the immigration reform that the Harper government has been engaged in. He rightly praises the streamlining of the refugee claimant process and the “streamlining of the approvals process to ensure new arrivals have the right skills to fill worsening job shortages.” (On this issue he and I do not agree).

What is important is that this mainstream commentator points out the major pitfalls of Harper’s reform:

“Other measures are more controversial: limiting public health care for many refugee applicants; cutting back on family reunification programs, scuffling with Manitoba over settlement funding; dealing with backlogs by simply cancelling applications.”

Thank you, Mr. Ibbitson, I was afraid that outside of newcomer communities, like ours, no one had noticed. Within the Filipino community we are only too aware of the moratorium on sponsorship of parents, restrictions on skilled immigration, limits on provincial nominations. There has been full frontal assault on immigration by the present government who appear to devalue all immigration with the possible exception of temporary foreign workers, who are best employed as stopgap measures and then sent home when the employer doesn’t need them any longer.

The article is only one indication of changes that are occurring in the wider Canadian community. First, the plan to suspend medical care for refugee claimants inside the country was openly questioned by many, including the medical practioners. It was the doctors who pointed out to Minister Kenny that first the suspension is contrary to their Hippocratic oath and Canada’s long history of compassion and care for others and, more to the point, that the money they proposed to save up front would cost more down the road. Common sense tells you that persons whose minor ills are not attended to will only get sicker and end up in emergency wards paid for by the taxpayers. There is a phrase for this narrow-minded approach: “penny wise dollar stupid.” Minister Kenny has since relented and health care for refugee claimants inside Canada has been restored.

What about the decision to suspend the 300,000 skilled immigrant applications that had been in the system for years? There was a successful challenge in the Supreme Court. No surprise, Mr. Kenny. We are still a country of laws. The federal immigration department must complete the processing of cases in the cue. Minister Kenny has been using Ministerial discretion to suspend, cancel and change all manner of immigration programs outside of parliament and public scrutiny, but on this issue, Canadian law stood in his way. However, like the spiteful child he often appears to be, our immigration Minister hit back by suspending all skilled immigration until next year.

Where will federal immigration go during the next months? I am not sure but one thing that is certain is that Canadians are at least aware that something has been happening with immigration under the watch of the Harper government. It is important that the practical realities of governing in a fair, responsible and legal way should be the order of the day rather than satisfying the narrow attitudes of their anti-immigration base or doctrinaire positions. Reform in Canada is becoming synonymous with anti-immigration. It is time for Harper, Kenny and rest of their extreme reform minded party to realize that they will have a political price to pay for their narrow-minded approach and most of the recent changes have done nothing to improve our global competitiveness or international image.

Michael Scott BA (Hon), MA, is a 30-year veteran of Canada Immigration and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program who works as an immigration associate with R.B. Global Immigration Consultants Ltd. He can be reached at 838 Ellice Avenue in Winnipeg, (204) 783-7326 or (204) 227-0292. E-mail:

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