Move On Budget Bill Could Force Election—NDP Against Including Immigration Changes

Move on budget bill could force election
NDP against including immigration changes

Globe and Mail
March 20, 2008

OTTAWA — The New Democrats are preparing to force Stphane Dion's Liberals to take the country into an election or vote for a bill that lawyers say will strip transparency from the immigration system and deny basic rights to foreigners hoping to come to Canada.

Olivia Chow, the NDP Immigration critic, said yesterday that she will introduce an amendment to omnibus 136-page budget legislation that includes two pages of changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act – a law bought in by the Liberals in 2002.

Because they are included in the budget bill, the proposals won't get separate debates, nor will they be examined by a Commons committee. But they will be considered a matter of confidence.

Voting against the bill – or voting for Ms. Chow's amendment – would plunge the country into an election.

“It should be a separate immigration act so that there is decent consultation and discussion. Instead, it just gets stuck in a budget implementation bill where it doesn't belong,” Ms. Chow said. As a stand-alone bill, she said, it would not be passed by the minority Parliament.

The Liberals have ducked every opportunity to take down Stephen Harper's Conservative government. Maurizio Bevilacqua, Liberal immigration critic, was unwilling to say yesterday that his party is prepared to take the plunge. But he is no fan of what is being proposed.

“It is incredible that they went as far as they did. It's absolutely astounding that they would do this,” he said. “It's just bad public policy.”

Immigration Minister Diane Finley defends the changes, saying something must be done to fix a system that is not working.

“In some places, we are only now starting to process applications that we received six years ago,” she said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

“In the meantime [the applicants] have gone somewhere else, they have decided not to come to Canada, they may even have passed away. But under the existing legislation, we have to process that application from start to finish anyway. That is not responsible. It's not a good use of taxpayers' money and it's certainly not helping us to get the immigrants that we need.”

The minister said that, once the changes have been explained to members of Canada's immigrant communities, they agree that they are good news for newcomers.

Ms. Chow, who met yesterday in Toronto with representatives of more than 30 different immigrant groups and organizations, disagrees. “They are up in arms,” she said.

Toronto lawyer David Garson said the Conservative proposals would “eviscerate” the Immigration Act.

The Conservatives want the immigration minister to be able to cap the list of people waiting to be accepted into Canada – a list that is more than 900,000 names long. They would allow the government to reject an applicant that had been approved by immigration officers. And the minister could make decisions about immigration policy that, under the current system, require regulatory changes, Mr. Garson said.

“We live in a democracy governed ostensibly by a set of rules and regulations that we have come to be familiar with,” Mr. Garson said. “If you go around those to determine how you best can deal with something in a government, I think that you are circumventing our democratic system.”

Ms. Finley takes issue with the allegation that there is a lack of transparency to what she is trying to achieve. The bill requires that any priorities set by the minister be published in the Canada Gazette, she said.