In the Dead of Night
The Canadian House of Commons was adjourned on June 17th and is not scheduled to meet again until September 20th. Summertime is the dead of night in the parliamentary world.
Barely a week after the House emptied, the Minister of Immigration announced that he had new instructions for Canadian Visa Officers. For the next 12 months they are to accept for assessment only 20,000 applications without job offers under the Federal Skilled Worker category of immigration.
Last week, the Industry Minster announced that the Conservative government had decided to eliminate the long-form mandatory census for 2011 even though it has been part of the census taking process since 1971. Instead, the government intends to rely wholly upon a voluntary census response. This shift will affect new Canadians. According to a former head of Statistics Canada, “when surveys are voluntary, some geographical regions are under-reported as are some demographic groups including aboriginals, new immigrants and youth.” With less representative (read reliable) data, it is very difficult for provinces, cities, schools, etc. to plan for and accommodate their constituents. No statistician refutes this claim. The Conservatives fire back that they do not believe Canadians should be forced, under threat of fine or jail, to divulge extensive private and personal information.
So, while most Canadians have their eyes fixed on the lazy (or at least, less stressful) days of summer there is a heated and very political debate taking place in our nation’s capital.
On the surface, the issue centres around the type of census that Canadians will fill out in 2011, but there’s much more at stake here.
At the heart of the matter is ideology, pure and simple. As suggested by one University of Calgary economist, “Prime Minster Stephen Harper is acting from a deep philosophical conviction – a libertarian view of the mandatory long-form census as a Big Brother manifestation of the intrusive state.” Conservative opponents view it as a clash between the role of knowledge, evidence, and reason on the one hand, and the role of the intuition, common sense, and decency on the other. This is a fair and worthy debate. These are opposing, yet sincere, views of the world upon which elections are based.
It is obvious that the Conservatives believe in a less intrusive government, especially at the national level. We have certainly seen this approach displayed in the field of economic immigration. There once was an immigration policy based on nation-building led by previous federal governments. Since taking power in 2006, the Conservatives have devolved much of economic immigrant selection to the provinces and more particularly to employers in the provinces. More and more, the federal government’s role in the immigration process is being reduced… to the point where its main function is to control health and security.
What I find concerning here is not the position of the Conservative government. As noted above, it is a point of view that is sincerely held and worthy of national debate. What bothers me is the timing of the government’s actions. Both the announcement of the scrapping of the long-form mandatory census and the reduction in the number of professional and skilled occupations “open” for immigration purposes were made at a time when Parliament was not sitting (and therefore not opposing) and when Canadians were tuned out, as much as possible, from all things political.
If only the government would show the courage of their convictions and make these announcements of consequence during the light of day.