Canada’s Refugee Problem Can Only Be Solved By A Multi-Partisan Effort

Canada's refugee problem can only be solved by a multi-partisan effort

Time to stop playing politics. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney should set up a committee with all party leaders and finally solve this massive problem.

By Angelo Persichilli
The Hill Times
July 20, 2009

TORONTO—Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who last week announced controversial visa restrictions on Czechs and Mexicans, said he did so to fix a refugee system that doesn't work.

The Mexican government retaliated by imposing visa restrictions on Canadian diplomats and officials. But while everybody agrees that something has to be done, nobody's ever been able to define what that “something” is all about.

I have followed immigration issues for many years and I'm no expert, but I've acquired enough evidence to say that the biggest problem preventing any government from finding a solution to its immigration and refugee system is not the lack of diversity of ideas, but it's all the political posturing that follows any proposal from whatever government.

A political party complains about the system while in opposition and makes a commitment to fix the problems when in government, and at the end of the exercise, nobody is doing anything for fear of being called a racist or anti-immigrant.

This means that whoever is in government will make a lot of proposals for big reforms, but at the end of the day, only small changes are made to appease so-called mainstream Canadians, without alienating so-called “ethnic Canadians.”

Basically, it is not about immigration, it's about politics and votes.

So, the question is not about the seriousness of the government's intentions or the capacity of Kenney. I have a lot of respect for him and his team. But the question is about his strength and courage to follow through to the end and endure the attacks from the opposition parties who will take Conservatives to task on any change and will try to perpetrate the myth that the Conservatives are against immigration and minorities.

I don't believe any political party in Canada is against immigrants or immigration. The problem is that none of the parties can afford for another party to take credit for solving the problem and reap the electoral benefits.

This kind of thinking, even though understandable, gives politics and politicians a bad reputation.

Considering that at this time we have a minority government and nobody has enough numbers to do a serious or in-depth reform of the immigration and refugee system, I think Kenney should do what Prime Minister Stephen Harper did with the reform of Canada's Employment Insurance system: he should turn it into a bipartisan or multi-partisan effort.

The problem is not just confined to Canada's refugee system; it's the consequence of a larger problem with the whole immigration system.

It takes years to become a landed immigrant in Canada, so people who really want to immigrate to our country try other avenues. Some ask for political asylum. Others go underground and become illegal workers. The system gets clogged and people are exploited.

This is a human and an economic tragedy that requires the help of everybody to solve. I understand that political positioning is important, but this posturing has been dragging on for more than a decade over an issue that will endanger not just the future of thousands of people, but will endanger our economy and our country's future.

Kenney should at this point act beyond any partisan interest and ask the leaders of the opposition parties to come out in front of their responsibilities. Considering that everybody agrees that we have a problem, the opposition parties should stop telling us only what they don't like and put on the table solid proposals on how they want to solve the problem.

At that point, it will be up to the minister of immigration to collect all the suggestions and transform them into a political proposal that everybody can subscribe to. I believe this can be better accomplished by creating a multi-partisan committee formed by politicians and not by appointed experts.

I don't have anything against experts, but it's important to have politicians who must take responsibility for their suggestions and support them.

The solution of this important problem can be achieved only with a broader political consensus.

The Hill Times