Who’s the Biggest Hypocrite of this Election Campaign?

April 29th, 2011

In two weeks from now, Canadians will go to the polls to select their federal members of Parliament, and unless we experience our own “Dewey Wins” moment, the Conservative Party of Canada will be called upon to form the next national government.

I had initially intended this blog to be a review of the immigration policies of the three major political parties (Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat), but it looks like the only real question now is whether or not the Conservatives will attract voters sufficient in number to gain a majority in the next sitting of the House of Commons. At the very least, the polls indicate a strong Conservative minority government. Either way, a victory for the Tories will have a huge impact on both the policy and pattern of Canadian immigration.

The Past

The Constitution Act, 1867 divided authority over immigration matters between the provinces and the federal government. In practice though, during the first hundred years of Canada’s existence, immigration policy was formulated exclusively by the central government in Ottawa.

That began to change during the 1960’s, with the onset of the Quiet Revolution in the Province of Quebec, which was characterized by the slogan “Maitres chez-nous”. Within a decade, Quebec demanded and obtained the right to select economic immigrants, who indicated their intention to settle within its borders. Quebec continues to choose a portion of the total number of Canadian immigrants each year equal to the province’s percentage of the Canadian population.

Slowly but surely, and with uneven enthusiasm, the other Canadian provinces and territories have established their own immigrant selection priorities (Provincial Nomination Programs) with the federal government’s concurrence. The Province of Alberta, for one, has recently asserted itself in this domain and now has a robust immigrant selection program. At the other end of the spectrum is Ontario, which has the most meager provincial program, notwithstanding the fact that it is, by far, Canada’s largest province and the centre of its economic activity. Of course, until now there was no real need for Ontario to devote resources to attracting immigrants as the federal government was only too willing to do its bidding. More specifically, under recent national immigration policy, the vast majority of economic immigrants qualify to enter Canada under the points-based Federal Skilled Worker category of immigration and over fifty percent of these newcomers settle in Ontario, mainly in the Toronto region.

All of that is about change in a big way.

The Present

Most would agree that Canada’s present immigration system is badly in need of an overhaul. There are currently about 600,000 economic immigrants waiting in line for assessment and it will be years before many of them set foot in Canada. Who is to blame for this backlog depends on whom you ask. Conservatives and Liberals point to each other and in fact they are both right. Their parties have been in power, at one time or another since 2002, when Canadian immigration law was last modified. That law does provide for a regulator (raising/lowering the pass mark) to control the number of applicants under the Federal Skilled Worker category, but neither party had the political guts to set the bar higher, for fear of alienating Canadian ethnic communities. They do vote, after all.

During the last Parliament, the Conservative government pushed through legislation that gives sweeping powers to the Minister of Immigration. This new authority includes the ability to prioritize and even to exclude categories and classes of immigrants. The Conservatives recently stated that they will await the election results before announcing exactly how they will wield this new power to trim the backlog. There are two things you can bet on. One is that, if elected, they will exercise their new clout, and the other is that if their planned strategy was good news for Canada’s ethnic communities, it would have been publicized during the run up to this election.

The Future

Critics have stated that, if elected, the Conservatives will shut the door on, or at least significantly reduce the intake of newcomers to Canada. I disagree. The party’s roots may be planted in anti-immigration soil but the Conservative leader is crafty bright, and he realizes that it will be very difficult to achieve his goal of displacing the Liberals as the natural party of Canadians without gaining the trust of the ethnic communities.

Rather than curtailing the number of newcomers, the Conservatives plan to off-load the selection of immigrants to the provinces and territories. This fits with the Conservative philosophy of recognizing that the regions know their respective needs better than the government based in Ottawa. Moreover, it would permit a more even spread of newcomers throughout Canada and this too is their stated goal. So while the overall number of yearly immigrants may not decrease under a Conservative mandate, the process of qualifying to come to Canada will certainly change.

What Does This Mean for Applicants?

In my opinion, the days of the Federal Skilled Worker Program, as we know it, are numbered. That “one size fits all” approach to the selection of economic immigrants will be shunted aside in favour of selection by the way of Provincial Nomination Programs and Quebec. I doubt that the Federal Skilled Worker Program will entirely disappear, but what will remain will be a skeleton if its former self. Rumor has it, that to qualify, an applicant will need “Arranged Employment” in Canada, aka, a Canadian job or work experience in one of only 38 “open occupations”. This is a far cry from the relative ease with which one can now qualify, that is, by scoring 67 points and having worked for at least one year in any skilled occupation.

What seems certain, is that the Canadian immigration process is about to become more complicated. There are currently more than 50 sub-categories of province-based immigration. Many, but not all, of these programs include a requirement for a job in the province in order to qualify. Other provincial programs give a boost to applicants with more distant relatives in that province. One thing is sure; a lot more research will be required of applicants in order to choose the most efficient path to a new life in Canada.

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