Contentious Immigration Ads To Be Extended

Contentious immigration ads to be extended
Another $2-million spending planned to sell reforms not yet passed by Parliament

The Globe and Mail
May 15, 2008

Immigration Minister Diane Finley will face calls to defend her department's controversial advertising campaign to promote reforms that have yet to be passed into law.

The department has begun running ads in a variety of ethnic newspapers and radio stations across the country, and now says a broader campaign in both ethnic and “mainstream” media will follow, costing an additional $2-million, but likely not until after the bill is passed.

In testimony before a Commons committee Tuesday night, deputy minister Richard Fadden said the campaign was a first: Citizenship and Immigration Canada has never before launched an ad campaign to promote legislation that Parliament has not yet passed.

It has been tried before by other government departments, however. When former prime minister Brian Mulroney's government launched a campaign to promote the GST in 1989, before it became law, then-Speaker John Fraser ruled the ad was “objectionable and should never be repeated.”

New Democrat MP Olivia Chow said she will move today to ask current Speaker Peter Milliken to rule on the immigration department's new campaign.

“It's using taxpayers' money to persuade Canadians, while we're having a debate, to persuade Canadians the bill is worthy of support,” she said.

It's not clear how Mr. Milliken might rule, however.

Mr. Fraser stated in 1989 then he was in a “quandary” and chose not to rule Mr. Mulroney's government in contempt of Parliament – but warned that his admonishment should guide Parliament if it happened again.

But a key point Mr. Fraser considered in 1989 was that the ads stated that the GST was coming into effect as though Parliament had settled the matter. In contrast, the current ads being run by the immigration department say the government is “proposing” measures, and that they are currently before Parliament.

Instead of being introduced as a stand-alone immigration bill, the new reforms were slipped into a bill to implement this year's federal budget – so if they are defeated by opposition MPs, who are in the majority, they would trigger an election.

An election on the issue now appears unlikely, however, since the Liberals appear in no mood for a spring vote, and the bill is expected to pass in June.

The government launched an ad campaign in hundreds of ethnic newspapers, at a cost of $1.1-million, touting the measures while they are still before Parliament. Immigration officials have said the ads are being placed to counter misinformation about the bill, but opposition MPs note they contain few details about the new system.

“If it's advertising, why don't you give direct information of what the bill's about?” asked Jim Karygiannis, a Liberal member of the immigration committee.

The reforms would change the way immigration applications are processed. Under the current system, all applications are processed eventually, and anyone who qualifies to come to Canada will get in, even if it takes years. The new reforms would allow the minister to set priority categories of immigrants, and applications that are not processed by the end of each year will be sent back.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Fadden told the immigration committee that another $1.3-million will be spent to promote the measures in the mainstream media.

However, a spokesman for the Immigration department, Karen Shadd, said yesterday that was an error, and in fact, the department is planning to spend an additional $2-million on another ad campaign about the reforms and “other immigration measures.”