How to read Ottawa’s latest immigration changes
TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – Latest reforms to Citizenship Act show once again that federal Conservatives never tire of demonizing immigrants.
Feb 09 2014. By: Haroon Siddiqui, Columnist
There are two ways to govern in a democracy after winning an election: serve your own partisan constituency or cater to the common good. After winning his majority in 2011, Stephen Harper made an uncharacteristic promise — he would serve all Canadians. But a leopard can’t change its spots. He continues to play by the Republican playbook — pandering to his core supporters through a handful of symbolic issues that serve as a branding exercise. For example, his Conservative party never tires of demonizing criminals and immigrants while lionizing the armed forces.
Crime has been steadily going down but Ottawa keeps passing legislation after legislation getting “tough on criminals” and spending billions it can ill-afford — like the Republicans emptying the treasury to build jails they ultimately could not afford to maintain and had to free some of the inmates.
Canada, without being pacifist, was never a warring nation but Harper was bent on making it so and spent billions on expensive military toys that we could not afford or do not need. That’s like the Republicans who would not stop feeding the Pentagon juggernaut even while the United States was going broke.
Our immigration policy used to be a citizenship policy — 85 per cent of newcomers opted for citizenship, the highest rate of such integration among immigrant-receiving nations. But the Conservatives turned immigration into a supply chain of cheap and pliant labour for business. Thus the exponential rise in temporary foreign workers and a record level of immigration, at about 250,000 a year, despite persistent high unemployment among Canadians.
The Conservatives also changed the immigration stream to de-emphasize the skilled workers program, the entrepreneur and investor program as well as family reunification. The entire system is now designed to exploit newcomers, on the one hand, and depress wages for all Canadians, on the other.
But the Conservatives have been clever enough to sell such wholesale changes under the guise of “reforms,” designed to “crack down” on “phony refugees,” “bogus immigrants,” “shady immigration consultants,” and to end “abuse” and “fraud.” This is classic Republican/Conservative red meat for supporters who believe they are the only honest citizens while everyone else is a scammer, especially them immigrants and refugees.
Jason Kenney, immigration minister from 2008 to last year, was a master at this game, even while making a mess of the system.
His successor, Chris Alexander, is proving as adept a propagandist. Those who had hoped that this former diplomat would be different have been cured of that misconception, as my colleague Carol Goar wrote recently.
He, too, is promising “reforms” and more get-tough measures. He will reduce the backlog in citizenship applications (now at 320,000) and waiting times (now between 25 and 35 months). If Kenney cleaned up the backlog in the skilled workers program by throwing out 98,000 applicants who had waited years in the queue, Alexander is going to “improve” the clogged citizenship processing by making immigrants wait four years instead of three to get citizenship, and make them pass a stringent English and French language test, as well as another test on their knowledge of Canada. Never mind that many native Canadians may not pass those tests, either.
As he heralded the “strengthening” of the Citizenship Act, he slipped in such measures as tripling the fee and giving himself the power to grant and strip citizenship — no need for the rule of law and due process, as he appointed himself the Citizenship Czar in some cases.
The minister made the announcement not in Parliament but at Fort York, in front of the representatives of True Patriot Love Foundation, a group that serves veterans. Like the Republicans, the Conservatives are good at glorifying the military, even while ill-treating the veterans, such as those who served in Afghanistan or those enduring the insults of Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino.
Alexander promised to fast-track citizenship for immigrants who serve in the army, as though serving Canada in any other capacity is less valuable and less patriotic.
There would be changes at the citizenship ceremonies as well. New citizens would have to listen to a lecture by a member of the armed forces who will get a place of honour at the podium and also in the lineup to shake a new citizen’s hand. Why not a scientist or an inventor or a hockey player?
The overall Conservative message is clear: when it comes to dealing with immigrants, your Conservative government is standing on guard for thee, along with the military.
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