immigration reform, harper style

It occurs to me that I haven't blogged about the Harper Government's proposed immigration reform. Since I am an immigrant myself, and since I regularly encourage others interested in emigrating to Canada, I really should.

For this, I'll take the easy way out and quote some other writers who have summed up my thoughts on this issue.

First, a letter to the editor in the Globe and Mail:
According to your article Liberals Urged To Fight Immigration Proposals (March 24), Immigration Minister Diane Finley says changes to the immigration law are absolutely necessary to clear up the massive backlog. But the minister's own website says, "Those who applied prior to February 27, 2008, will not be subject to the new measures and will be dealt with fairly under the existing rules." And Federal Court jurisprudence already recognizes the power of the minister to set priorities.

Given this, it is clear the changes have nothing to do with the backlog. Rather, they represent a major policy shift. Until the introduction of the points system in 1967, immigration was a matter of discretion. But the points system introduced objective criteria to determine who gets into Canada. The new proposals will mean the end of that era.

Although the objective criteria will remain in place, the amendments will allow the minister to override them. Applications for visas will not have to be accepted. Applications for visas that are accepted will not have to be processed. And applicants whose applications are processed will not have to be given visas.

Yes, there are significant challenges in our immigration system. But the answer isn't to reduce accountability by centralizing power further.

Lorne Waldman

Idealistic Pragmatist posed a question for Tory supporters:
Now, the Conservatives are proposing to change that system. The changes would give new powers to the Minister of Immigration, allowing that office to do three things:

a) accelerate applications
b) reject applicants who otherwise meet all immigration criteria
c) discard applications from specific countries.

The current Immigration Minister, Diane Finley, is claiming that these changes are necessary in order to "make it easier to get more people here faster." But the thing is, only the first provision--the one allowing the minister to accelerate applications--could actually result in more people coming to Canada, more quickly. The other two new provisions must therefore have different aims. Supporters, such as this commenter at the Globe and Mail site, are saying that these changes would give preference to "those with the skills we need right now." But this is the very thing the existing points system already does. It's the whole idea behind it.

So, to supporters of this proposed legislation, I ask: what is the purpose of provisions b and c above, i.e., granting the minister the ability to reject applicants who otherwise meet all immigration criteria and discard applications from specific countries? And how would the new system help Canada reach its goals better than the current, points-based one?

See her post for full linkage plus comments. No one has answered the question yet.

And finally, a G&M editorial on the Tories' "needless stealth" and "Americanized politics". I disagree with the editors about the "sensible and measured" proposed reforms, but I certainly agree with their main issue.
The Conservatives' proposed immigration reforms are sensible and measured. Without reducing the number of newcomers allowed into the country, they could both ease the backlog of applications and allow governments to give priority to economic migrants - a shift that would be strongly in Canada's interests. So why are the Tories acting as though they had something to hide?

The best way to ease public concerns - stoked in this case by the immigration lobby and opposition MPs, who falsely claim the government wants to "shut the door" on immigrants - is through full and open debate. It should not be difficult for the Conservatives to defend changes allowing the immigration minister to limit the number of applications processed each year and to prioritize those applications by category. But the Conservatives have gone the opposite route. Rather than introducing their reforms as separate legislation, and then making their case for them in the House of Commons and outside it, the Tories have tucked it away inside budget implementation legislation - a 136-page bill that is by its nature a confidence vote.

The accusation of "American-style" politics is hurled too often in this country, and rarely appropriately. But in this instance it fits. It has long been a practice in the U.S. Congress to sneak contentious measures into unrelated omnibus legislation in order to avoid close scrutiny. Considering that the immigration initiatives are much more about structural reform than about funding changes, it is difficult to see their inclusion in a budget bill any other way.

The government is doing itself and its legislation a disservice. True, the Liberals' unwillingness to plunge the country into an election means that anything included in a confidence bill is likely to pass. But by rushing its reforms through Parliament, the Tories are giving licence to conspiracy theorists to level wild charges about the party returning to its Reform-era anti-immigration roots.

If only the Conservatives brought forward their reforms in the normal manner, such fear-mongering could easily be disproven. But despite having been elected on a promise of more accountable government, the Tories now seem determined to hide even their good works from public view.

I also believe the "Americanization" accusation is thrown around ignorantly and far too frequently in Canada. Often the people using the expression don't seem to have a clue about what American-style politics are, and are only using a quick cliche to mean "anything I don't like". It's no more accurate than wingnuts calling Canada "Soviet Canuckistan" (although that's funnier).

But in this case, the Harper government is truly acting American. Note they are acting like American politicians and legislators - not Republicans. Don't think for a minute the Democrats don't do the same thing.

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