Foreign Workers Key For Kenney

Foreign workers key for Kenney
Immigrants eyed to fill labour gaps

Jason Markusoff
Calgary Herald
Published: Friday, October 31, 2008

Jason Kenney has been promoted as immigration minister at a time when new legislation gives his job unprecedented powers to decide what kind of worker gets into Canada first.

The veteran Calgary Southeast MP best known as the Conservatives' envoy to multicultural groups is pledging to use those powers to align immigration policy to the economy's labour needs, rather than for political gain.

Provincial leaders and immigration advocates have been waiting for months for the list of occupations — for example, physicians or engineers or technicians — that the immigration minister will highlight as jobs that qualify for fast-tracked processing among a backlog of nearly one million would-be newcomers.

Kenney would not say when Canada's new immigration priorities will be unveiled, but did say economic troubles underscore the need for the changes.

“Family reunification and the refugee system will always be an important part of our immigration policy but we do need to ensure, now more than ever, that immigration works not just for newcomers in terms of opportunity but also for the overall Canadian economy,” Kenney said in an interview Thursday.

Alberta's immigration minister warned that this province's labour shortage and immigration needs cover nearly every occupation, so there ought not to be a sense that Ottawa's list declares winners and losers.

“It will mean a lot to us and mean some pretty quick responses, so we're going to gain from that,” Hector Goudreau said. “The other applicants, we hope, will not be set aside.

“We have to make sure that we're not sending the signals out there around the world to say the people on the list are not the only people that we're interested in, and the others should not apply.”

It should help having a western-based federal immigration minister who's not only attuned to needs of Toronto and Montreal, said Michael Greene, a Calgary immigration lawyer. He said it's good that Harper handed the sensitive file to an experienced MP of 11 years.

This is Kenney's first full-fledged cabinet post, after nearly two years as junior minister for multiculturalism. He became nicknamed the “minister of curry in a hurry” after endless strings of dinners and gatherings with minority communities across Canada, making ceremonial declarations, a few formal apologies for Ottawa's past misdeeds and also wooing Conservative votes among groups that traditionally favoured the Liberals.

Greene said that should make Kenney more aware of immigrant groups' genuine needs. “I would hope that we won't get a situation where there's any pandering to specific voting blocs, because that's how you get bad immigration policy,” he said. “It's happened before and I hope it won't happen again. There's been a lot of that in Canadian politics.”

Kenney said Canada's newcomers will hopefully continue to appreciate that the Tories are pro-immigration, but said partisanship won't colour government policy.

“The immigration system is not a political tool and we don't regard it as that,” Kenney said.

Victor Wong of the Chinese Canadian National Council predicted the economic downturn will ease the massive queue of immigrant applications. But he said that shouldn't convince Kenney and the government to let in fewer immigrants, because newcomers can help during an recession.

“They helped us in Ontario in the 1990s. They come with money to buy houses and settle their families,” Wong said from Toronto.