$1.1 Million Ad Campaign Sells Reforms Not Yet Passed

$1.1-million ad campaign sells reforms not yet passed

Globe and Mail
May 8, 2008

OTTAWA — The Conservative government plans to spend more than $1-million on an ad campaign in ethnic newspapers to sell controversial immigration changes that are not yet law.

The taxpayer-funded ads taken out in more than 100 ethnic community newspapers in a variety of languages have sparked criticism because the changes have not yet been passed into law, and they were included in a budget bill that, if defeated by the opposition, would trigger an election.

Now, Immigration Department spokeswoman Karen Shadd says the estimated cost for the controversial four-week ad campaign tops $1.1-million.

“$1.1-million? It's huge,” NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow said.

“It's not legislation yet, and they should not use taxpayers' money to promote Conservative propaganda.

“I think they are afraid of the reaction of the immigrant communities.”

Ms. Shadd said in an e-mail that all the ads will run in ethnic or third-language publications or on radio programs, with the exception of one magazine, Canadian Immigrant.

The president of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council, Tom Saras, estimated that the ads have run in about 140 papers so far, and said most ethnic newspapers charge $600 to $800 for a full-page ad.

The print versions of the ads say they are a “public notice,” the label given to advertising supposedly aimed at providing utilitarian information about a policy change.

But critics such as Ms. Chow noted that the new ads contain little or no detail on the nature of the changes, and instead tout the benefits the government says they will bring, like “faster processing times” for immigration applications and “better employment opportunities.”

Ms. Shadd said that the government chose to run the ads to counter what it says is false information about the planned changes.

“Statements have been made that the proposed changes will allow the minister to give instructions on individual cases and that the proposed legislation will negatively impact on family class and refugees – this is not the case, and the public notice campaign seeks to correct that,” she said.

An English-language copy of the ad provided by the government makes no mention of refugees, however.

The planned changes to Canada's immigration law would give the minister the power to pick classes of immigrants whose applications would be processed first and to send back applications that don't make the cut.

That represents a major change from the current system, where any immigrant who meets the qualifications can expect to be allowed into Canada eventually, even if it takes years for their application to be processed.

But it will not affect anyone who has already applied to come to Canada, and Immigration Minister Diane Finley has not said which categories will be high or low priorities – raising questions from critics such as Ms. Chow about the point of a campaign now.

Ms. Finley has said the changes will allow her department to whittle down the backlog of more than 900,000 applications.

That will allow them to reduce waiting times, which now can be several years, to a few months, she said.

However, senior officials in her department have conceded that for some applicants the new system could mean longer waits.

While high-priority categories will be processed more quickly, those in lower-priority categories could have their applications returned untouched year after year.