By Binoy Thomas
Toronto: About time too! After picking his way gingerly through most of the minority years, Minister Jason Kenney is in full flow, crafting what he describes as a ‘transformational change’ of Canada’s antiquated immigration system. Kenney, working assiduously through countless meals, consumed at myriad multicultural venues, knew that it was not just the Conservatives but the immigrants themselves who were demanding a change, this is clear from the level of support they received from the immigrant communities during the three elections, especially in the GTA. Each time the Conservatives increased their vote count among this crucial segment, despite the shrill attempts by both NDP and the Liberals to paint them as the boogiemen. The strategists behind them, mostly white people out of touch with recent immigrants, and their political masters are yet to catch onto the level of discontent in the cadre of recent immigrants. Even when Statcan figures flash at them the naked truth about unemployment and underemployment at double the level of mainstream community among immigrants, they just pretend not to notice and read the Trudeau doctrine to an angry audience. Yes, Trudeau opened the doors (and shukariya, dhanyavad, mercy beaucoupe!), but what followed was sheer politics and not a sensible immigration policy that worked for the nation as well as the immigrant.
The statistics are all too clear. Since the 1990s, the immigrants have always fallen behind in income and professional recognition/development in Canada. Horror of horrors, even their children, in spite of having been better educated with university degrees, have not fared as well as their ‘mainstream’ cohorts. Now that is the ugly truth, which is often whitewashed over by liberal or socialist politicians by a coat of multiculturalism paint.
Here, under the politically motivated immigration policy, of the past two decades, people who came in were looked upon as potential voters, not as workers who can contribute to the economy and at the same time, do well for themselves and their children. A whole industry mushroomed that hijacked the core reasons why immigration happened, to make it into a human rights issue, a refugee protection issue, and freedom-fighter alias terrorist rights issue. In this avalanche of special interests, the purpose of immigration, to get the kind of professionals and skilled workers that the country needed, was lost. Suddenly, it was all about grandparents, refugees, and political causes back home. Yes, all of it is important and must find a place under our democratic sun. But they are not the reason why we have immigration, we have it because we need them to work hard, afford them opportunities to let their enterprise and talent blossom, and make Canada a richer (in all ways) place.
We were given the ‘right’ to wear our turbans and hijabs or bindis as a sign of high tolerance of the otherness of immigrants, but when it came to jobs and security, well, nothing changed at the century old establishment – the professional bodies were as closed as their genes compelled them to be, forcing the doctor onto the wheel of a taxi cab, and the socialists among the unions, well, they always looked on immigrants as ‘cheap labour’ and a threat to the solidarity. Only when so-called liberal political leaders met with union leaders and nudged them to look at the electoral rolls, they started incorporating a few tokens into their ranks. The percentage of visible minorities in the unionized outfits is still well below what should be given their population size.
Something needed to change.
This week, Kenney is speaking more than he usually does, (if that is possible at all), on the transformation that is taking place in immigration. And almost all that we hear makes sense whether or not all of us agree on all things. A paradigm shift is taking place in the way Canada conducts its immigration business – we are moving to a system that gets what it requires. Kenney points to the paradox of too few opportunities for immigrant workers in places like the GTA while huge demand for workers go unfulfilled in many areas in the rest of the country. The Provincial Nominee Program (in other words, businesses needing employees that are not available locally) set in place for the past few years, have addressed this problem by settling the qualified immigrant where he is most in demand. This has worked for Canada and the new immigrant. Except for Ontario which was the last province to join the PNP regime resulting consequentially in very few applications being approved last year.
We need to stop kidding ourselves that everything is hunky-dory, they are not. Immigration, from being a modern tool to connect people to where opportunity exists, became a convenient tool in the hands of politicians to catch votes. That’s why even Minister Kenney whenever he announces one of his sensible policy changes, still crows about the fact, that under Stephen Harper, Canada has seen the highest levels of sustained immigration in the entire history of Canada.
In all fairness, immigrants have done well too, at least, most immigrants who have moved here have indeed substantially increased their living standards compared to back home. So don’t get me wrong, we are grateful and all that. But we are also Canadians now, and we demand a regime that works for all of us and our children, not just for a few.
Talking of that few, there are going to be some very angry and anxious among them, because, under this new policy, Ottawa is planning to return the processing fees to nearly a hundred thousand applicants, in an attempt to cut down on the backlog. This can create all kinds of complications, especially for those who took the help of agents/lawyers to process their application. They paid besides a $550 or so to the government of Canada, much more to the agent. According to an industry professionals, this could be anywhere from $1500 to $5000. Will the agents pay the applicants this money back? And what about an interest on the $550 that has stayed in Canada’s coffers for years? There are likely to be challenges through the court system over this money back policy that would lead to some heated arguments and verdicts that may go against the government. When you are trying to turn the Titanic around before it hits the iceberg, there are likely to be a few ripples.
And of course, there is the politics, very dirty, very dishonest, surrounding the immigration issue. Each one trying to outdo the other in an attempt to gain favour, but not willing to do anything to change the Canadian system internally to make it more accepting and rewarding to the immigrants. For example, the NDP, currently the official Opposition, while opposing skilled worker or temp worker visas that they believe threaten their union base, will happily make statements in favour of ‘disabled’ applicants’ rights to be admitted, knowing well, there will only be a few dozen of those in the line.
The new emphasis on English or French for the potential immigrant is another problematic area. The Minister ought to know that for the brick layer and pipe fitter, skill, not language, is the key asset. The Chinese who laid the trans Canada rail route, didn’t speak English or French till the second generation was born. So unless the job is in a supervisory class and expressly require communication in one of the official languages, there ought to be some leeway made for the worker who can lay a brick or pick an apple perfectly, but can’t read the morning headlines.
There are already rumour campaigns set in motion that hint at a Conservative conspiracy to end immigration. Well, first of all, let’s be absolutely clear, there are people who want to end immigration in all political parties, Conservative, Liberal, NDP or even the Bloc in equal measure. Secondly, it’s not the politicians largesse (as it is often mistaken since Trudeau era) that drive immigration into Canada. It’s our need of the hour, and will remain so for the foreseeable future, as I don’t see the ‘mainstream’ suddenly picking up their pace on baby-making! That is why, the first born each year in Brampton will be a lovely little Canadian of colour! Welcome to New Canada.