Memo to Chris Alexander, Canada’s new immigration minister
TheStar.com – opinion/commentary – Chris Alexander praised former immigration minister Jason Kenney’s work, but his changes actually made a mess of the system.
Jul 25 2013. By: Haroon Siddiqui, Columnist
It is unusual to felicitate and commiserate at the same time. But your elevation to the Stephen Harper cabinet calls for both.
You have earned the immigration and citizenship portfolio, having served since your 2011 election to Parliament as an articulate propagandist for the government. Earlier, you distinguished yourself as a diplomat, especially as our ambassador to Afghanistan between 2003 and 2005, a crucial period spanning Canadian troop deployment in Kabul and Kandahar. Equally valuable was your work as deputy special representative of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2009.
Your book, The Long Way Back: Afghanistan’s Quest for Peace, is a well-written record of the epochal events you witnessed at close range. It sparkles with your knowledge of the region’s cultural, literal and religious traditions, particularly Sufi Islam. It matters not for the purposes of this missive that I find it too politically convenient (shifting almost all the blame for monumental Afghan and NATO failures onto Pakistan); too politically correct (waxing eloquent about the rights of women but staying mum about the horrendous abuse of Afghan boys forced into sexual servitude); and too selective (ignoring alleged torture of detainees handed over by Canadian troops to Afghan authorities, and also Harper’s famous flip-flop — we won’t cut and run, and, yes, we would).
Following your swearing in last week, you paid the customary tribute to your predecessor. But you went well beyond the dictates of good manners by praising Jason Kenney for maintaining “unprecedented levels of immigration” that have been “helpful of our economy,” and bringing about “transformational changes that are popular, that have worked, that have reduced backlogs, that have kept our immigration system nimble in these challenging times.”
None of that is true except record immigration.
Kenney’s changes have not been popular, have not worked, have not reduced backlogs and have not improved the system — indeed, have made a mess of it.
We are bringing 250,000 immigrants a year and tens of thousands of guest workers when 1.3 million Canadians don’t have jobs, another million are underemployed or have given up looking for work, and the unemployment rate for both the young as well as new immigrants is twice the national average. Of the immigrants who do have jobs, three in four are not using the education and skills for which they were picked as immigrants.
Perversely, the temporary foreign workers program (which brought in at least 500,000 workers) grew even as the economy slowed down. Kenney’s mantra of “skills shortages” has been shown to be a bit of a fraud. As the Star’s Nicholas Keung reported Tuesday, for example, Canada imported more than 6,000 temps as chefs and cooks in 2011, when Canadian colleges are churning out culinary graduates in record numbers.
The average wait time for citizenship is three years, more in many cases. The time to process immigration applications is two years, even five years in some locations. For family reunification, involving spouses and children, it is between 10 to 27 months. For sponsoring parents and grandparents, it is between five and 7 ½ years, at times 10 years.
New rules bar dependants older than 18 from coming with their immigrant families. The rich can get their elders more easily than the poor. Most temporary foreign workers cannot bring families. Language requirements for high proficiency in French and English shut the door to otherwise talented people.
Kenney cut health coverage for refugee claimants. That saved Ottawa $20 million but merely shifted — and increased — the costs to provinces, since the sick end up in hospital emergency wards.
He has been barring refugee claimants from “safe third countries,” in which he included Hungary, where there’s indisputable discrimination against the Roma.
Immigration is now ideologically driven, economically and politically:
Exploit both the Canadian-born and the foreign-born to drive down wages and working conditions. Create a two-tier Canada of temps and permanent residents, à la Germany or oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Make Ottawa the head hunter for corporations. Abandon its historic role of using immigration to build this nation.
Turn immigration into a tool of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry — deny entry to those visitors whose views you don’t like but lay out a welcome mat to known Islamophobes, such as Franklin Graham, Geert Wilders, Anne Coulter, Pamela Geller, Brigitte Gabriel, etc.
Demonize the vulnerable, penalize the poor. Download costs to individuals and lower levels of government (à la Mike Harris in Ontario).
Sell these changes as “reforms” in a blizzard of publicity about “cracking down” on “phony refugees” and “bogus immigrants,” ending “abuse” and “fraud” and stopping newcomers from importing “barbaric” cultural practices into Canada.
Veteran political observer Stephen Lewis, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDs Africa, co-chairs the newly-formed Jewish Refugee Action Network.
He said: “The Tories have been so punitive, haughty and arrogant. They are so nasty about the Roma, so nasty about the refugees. There are ministers who actually enjoy that. They are never more eloquent than when they are demonizing this or that group.
“They pretend to be saving Canada and defending Canadian values when, in fact, they are distorting Canadian values.”
All this brings me, Mr. Alexander, to ask you this:
Tell us why you should not freeze immigration until the job picture improves, both for them and Canadians; axe the temporary foreign workers program; restore health benefits to refugees; stop the shameful treatment of the Roma; and why your government that emphasizes family values is being so punitive toward the family reunification of immigrant families.
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