Well, The People Want Immigration Reform

Well, the people want immigration reforms

Barbara Yaffe
Vancouver Sun
Published: Saturday, July 05, 2008

Never underestimate the common wisdom of the common people. That wisdom prevailed recently following a highly politicized parliamentary debate over Canadian immigration policy.

Opposition parties ranted and raved about Bill C-50, a budget bill introduced by Conservatives last spring that included provisions to modernize immigration procedures.

“This is a horrible day for immigrants across the country,” New Democratic Party MP Olivia Chow decreed after Immigration Minister Diane Finley proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Act. “It's a damaging, dangerous and deceptive bill,” Chow intoned. “How could it possibly be that they would let this pass? It's unbelievable. It's betraying the trust of ordinary Canadians.”

Specifically, the bill sought to give the minister greater powers to instruct immigration officers to fast track certain kinds of applications in accordance with the country's labour needs. For example, under the provisions, Finley would have authority to speed the entry of physicians. At present, some 15 per cent of the population is without a family doctor — a crisis the Conservatives have done little to alleviate.

A new study by the Conference Board reveals that Canada is also short of PhD grads and lacking graduates in fields underpinning innovation — such as science, math and engineering. The expectation is that the government will now speed the processing of economic class immigrants with skills deemed to be in demand by provincial governments and major employers.

At present the country has a backlog of 925,900 permanent-residence applications. If unaddressed, the backlog is set to grow to 1.5 million by 2012, which would force newcomers to endure a decade-long wait.

But a Commons committee dominated by the opposition parties in late May declared the bill an outrage and recommended it be killed. MPs representing the NDP, Liberal party and Bloc Quebecois contend the system's fairness would be compromised and that the family class of immigrants would be discriminated against. “Picking and choosing who can come is not only discriminatory but it is unfair,” NDP leader Jack Layton said. “The minister should not be allowed to have absolute power and the authority to make such sweeping changes.”

The current system requires applications to be handled on a first-come, first-served basis. Impartiality is well and good, but entry to Canada is a privilege and the humanitarian end of the process is addressed through the family and refugee classes of immigration, which Finley has pledged won't be affected.

Why on earth would the federal government not pick and choose, based on the economic needs of Canada, those it allows to enter Canada? It's essential that those chosen possess skills to contribute to Canada's wealth in no small part because Charter rights are accorded to newcomers the moment they make landfall. They're given immediate rights to avail themselves of taxpayer-funded social programs.

Even with Finley's immigration changes, the government has work to do; foreign doctors are having difficulty acquiring credentials they need to work in the country.

This, when Canada's doctor-patient ratio is among the worst of any industrialized nation. With just 2.2 physicians per thousand people, this country ranks 24th out of 28 OECD countries and last among G-8 countries. As for the minister having too much power, any minister who would abuse that power would in short order be sliced, diced and grilled in a properly functioning democracy like Canada.

In the end, New Democrats wrung their hands over C-50 through April and May as did the Liberals, who abstained from the June 9 Commons vote that rendered the bill law. The two parties, in their relentless opposition, clearly were targeting the ethnic vote.

Interestingly, a poll subsequently conducted by Angus Reid Strategies revealed 83 per cent of Canadians believe that attracting high-skilled workers is important to Canada; 66 per cent backed Finley's bill.

Doubtless a fair number of ethnic respondents supported the legislation in the interest of boosting the fortunes of their adopted country. Conservatives brought forward a common-sense bit of legislation and refused to budge in the face of an avalanche of partisan criticism. For that they are to be commended.

They trusted in the common sense of the common people and — based on the poll — Canadians did not disappoint.