immigration "reform" and this endless harper government

I'm unhappy about the proposed changes to Canada's immigration policy, and unhappy about the way they are being moved through Parliament, tacked onto budget votes in a series of we-dare-you confidence motions.

The Toronto Star's Carol Goar had a good piece about it last month, and it's still relevant. Emphasis mine.
It is possible that Immigration Minister Diane Finley wants more power to do exactly what she says: clean up her department's enormous backlog of unprocessed applications.

It is also possible that she is equipping herself to transform Canada's overloaded immigration system into a lean, business-friendly recruitment tool.

Both interpretations fit the available facts. The determining factor will be how the minister uses her expanded mandate.

Legal experts are still parsing the changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, introduced on March 14. But the preliminary consensus is that they are much more significant than Canadians have been told.

Under the new legislation, the immigration minister would have the authority to:

Limit the number of immigration applications Canada accepts.

Deny admission to applicants already approved by immigration officers.

Block the entry of would-be immigrants "by category or otherwise."

These measures, backed by a $22 million funding boost in last month's budget, would certainly allow the government to whittle down its pile of 900,000 unprocessed immigration applications.

If visa offices cut off new applications, the staff could tackle the six-year accumulation of paperwork in their files. If the minister instructed them, as a first priority, to discard all applications from individuals who have died, immigrated elsewhere or decided against coming to Canada, the pile would shrink appreciably.

But if clearing the backlog is Finley's objective, why does she need the power to bar certain types of immigrants? Why does she seek the authority to reject applicants who have already met Canada's admission criteria? Why doesn't she just give managers of visa offices in countries such as China, India and the Philippines the discretion to close the intake pipe when their workloads become unmanageable?

The sweeping nature of the changes proposed in Bill C-50 suggests something bigger than housecleaning is afoot.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty called it "modernizing the immigration system" in his Feb. 26 budget. He said the government wants a "just-in-time competitive immigration system, which will quickly process skilled immigrants who can make an immediate contribution to the economy."

The fastest way to get there is to centralize control in the minister's office.

That is what Bill C-50 would do. If Finley wanted to block the inflow of relatives sponsored by family members in Canada, she could do it. If she wanted to exclude immigrants from certain countries, she could do it. If she wanted to propel foreign workers needed by a government-friendly employer to the front of the queue, she could do that, too.

"This fundamentally changes our immigration policy," said Lorne Waldman, a lawyer who has practised in the field for more than 30 years. "The minister could issue an instruction overriding all of the existing criteria."

What this means, Waldman said, is that Canada would no longer be an immigrant-welcoming country. It would be a rich Western power that shops for high-value immigrants. Federal officials would no longer use objective standards to determine whether an individual qualifies for a visa. The minister would be able to set and change the rules at will.

"I'm very concerned," he said. "These changes are far more serious than people have been led to believe."

. . .

Perhaps Finley has no intention of currying favour with ethnic voters, catering to the demands of business or keeping out people from certain regions. But if this bill becomes law, there will be nothing to stop her.

In the Montreal Gazette, Ian MacDonald writes about Harper's worrisome strategy.
The Conservatives keep daring the Liberals to defeat them in the House. The Liberals keep threatening to do so, only to fold when push comes to shove in votes.

The latest Conservative dare is over an immigration bill meant to reduce a huge six-year backlog of 800,000 persons waiting to get in the country, and expedite those whose credentials fill the need of the Canadian labour market. By tying it to budget implementation, the Conservatives have made it a money bill, and thus a question of confidence.

The Liberals are trying to stir old ghosts among ethnic voters about narrow-minded Conservative attitudes on immigration. Whipping up anxieties in multicultural communities, a core Liberal constituency, is something they do well.

Thus, for two weeks in the House, the Liberals have pounded the government on the immigration bill.

. . .

But this debate isn't about the immigration reform bill. Not really. Especially since it's been tied to the budget as a question of confidence. It's about whether the Liberals can muster the courage to bring down the government at month's end, forcing a June election. It's a big game of truth or dare.

Or, as a senior cabinet minister put it privately the other day: "We are giving the Liberals another chance to defeat us over the immigration bill."

And if the Liberals blink again, then once again they will appear weak and unprincipled. But the Liberal caucus is increasingly unhappy being stuck in this place. And there are hidden leadership agendas, of Iggy and Bob Rae, that could precipitate an election.

MacDonald and many other pundits see the strategy as a no-lose for Harper. He either survives the confidence motion or forces an election while the Liberals are supposedly bleeding support.

But there's a lot of anger and dissatisfaction with this government: with their hypocrisy (transparency? accountability? yeah, right!), their penchant for secrecy, their feud with Ontario, and a whole series of unpopular, regressive bills.

The Liberals have been fools to let the Harper government go this far, as every unanswered dare only strengthens the Tories. Partisan Liberal supporters who can only whine, "But it's not time for an election!" are even worse. Your party props up this Conservative government for twice as long as it should have, and all you can say is "But they're not ready...". That, and blame the NDP (who has done exactly none of this propping up) and NDP supporters for "splitting the vote" (i.e., voting for the actual progressive party).

I don't know what would happen in a summer election - and despite the pronouncements, neither does anyone else - but I do know we won't get rid of this government without an election. Enough already!

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