When it comes to immigration, Tories love Big Government
NationalPost.com – FullComment
Apr 12, 2012. Tasha Kheiriddin
Decentralize where necessary, but don’t necessarily decentralize. That appears to be the motto of the federal government, in light of its decision to stop sending $136 million a year to British Columbia and Manitoba to manage provincial immigration settlement programs. According to a government source cited by Postmedia News, “We’re ending it (Thursday) because we think that the integration services are about nation-building and we want to make sure that every region gets its fair share of funding and that immigrants across the country get consistent services regardless of where they live.”
Nation-building through government programs? Consistent services through centralized delivery? Aren’t those, uh, Liberal principles? Aren’t the Conservatives supposed to be about decentralization, local-knows-best, respecting the BNA act, and not treading on provincial jurisdiction?
In some areas, such as health care, the answer appears to be yes. But in others, it’s been a case of Ottawa-knows-best: scotching BHP Billiton’s proposed potash takeover in 2010, downloading prison costs on the provinces via Bill C-10 this spring, proposing to have a “one review” policy encompassing both provincial and federal standards for environmental approvals in the recent budget. Not to mention the Tories’ attempt to create a national securities regulator, rejected by the Supreme Court last year, butrevived in the budget as a “co-operative” venture between willing provinces and the federal government.
In other words, the Conservatives are prepared to invoke the concept of “national interest” when it suits them. From a purely political standpoint, it should be no surprise that immigration is in their crosshairs: immigrant votes hold the key to retaining a Conservative lock on power. For years the Liberals successfully courted the “ethnic” vote, until a combination of their complacency and Tory Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s tenacity reversed that trend in the 2011 election. This feat so impressed the British Conservative Party that it is sending an emissary to meet with Mr. Kenney to ask just how he did, and how the British Tories can replicate his success over the pond.
The immigration file also plays into the government’s build-up-the-west agenda, since the western provinces are predicting serious labour shortages in the coming years. But the West is also the bastion of Conservative support; for it to remain so, newcomers will need to have or adopt small-c conservative values. Ensuring that immigrants do so is obviously easier if a Conservative government is designing policy from Ottawa, rather than leaving it to local NDP or Liberal governments such as those of Manitoba and B.C.
Politics aside, however, in this case Tory policies also serve Canada’s interests. Immigrants represent our country’s only bulwark against falling birthrates and an aging population, but they have to be successfully integrated, and gainfully employed. On that note, last week Mr. Kenney announcedchanges to the skilled worker program designed to better match immigrants and jobs, and clear a massive backlog. 240,000 skilled worker applications will be returned and applicants obliged to reapply. Those with a job offer will head to the front of the line, similar to policies enacted in New Zealand and Australia.
But could there be a fly in the federal government’s centralized immigration ointment? The 1991 Canada-Quebec Accord on immigration allows Quebec to set its own admission criteria, which include proficiency in French. As per the Accord, the province also provides for the “reception and the linguistic and cultural integration of permanent residents”, as well as “specialized economic integration”. Canada provides compensation where “those services, when considered in their entirety, correspond to the services offered by Canada in the rest of the country.”
Would Ottawa refuse funding if the services don’t match up to the ones the feds will now provide in other parts of Canada? Technically, the Accord can be reopened with six months notice by either side, but this is a hornet’s nest the Prime Minister likely doesn’t want to poke. And he may not have to: with regard to the upholding of values, Quebec politicians are further to the right than their counterparts in the rest of Canada, having proposed to ban the hijab and recently calling for halal meat to be labelled so Quebecers don’t “unwittingly” consume it.
Furthermore, the Quebec government recently made its own changes to eliminate its backlog, restricting the number of applicants in the skilled worker class and narrowing its selection criteria.
So it appears that on immigration, at least, there may be some common ground between Ottawa and Quebec, even if other issues such as prisons and the national securities regulator continue to fester. As for the rest of the country, it remains to be seen how immigration changes are received and implemented, but one thing is certain: by the time the Tories head to the next election, they want to make sure they are the party of New Canadians – even if they need a big central government to do the job.
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