3 min

Patterns emerging

There has been an awful lot of talk about immigration policy in this country lately, especially in the wake of the visa restrictions slapped onto visitors coming from Mexico and the Czech Republic. And slowly but surely, patterns have been forming.

Remember first of all that the Conservatives, whether by incompetence or by design, made our current refugee determination system completely dysfunctional by allowing the positions on the IRB to remain unfilled, and by reforming the appointment process in 2007, in such a way to make it easier for the Minister to have control over appointments (prompting the then-chair to resign in protest). That created a backlog of crisis proportions.

Then comes proof of what some critics – the NDP’s Olivia Chow among them – that under the Conservatives, the number of permanent residents has declined in favour of temporary workers. By permanent residents, we’re also talking about skilled migrants who have a lot to add to this country at a time when a demographic shift means we’ll need to rely more on immigrants to fill job markets and to pay taxes.

The government says that it allows these workers to hit the ground running with jobs, and it can tempt them to want to stay. Never mind that filling short-term gaps in labour is not looking ahead to future needs, let along adequately filling current ones by the time the bureaucratic process works its way through. They’ve also downloaded much of the responsibilities onto the provinces, which hasn’t helped us to articulate a national vision of where we want them to take this country. (Incidentally, one recent immigration report recommends 15 fixes to the system).

But now Jason Kenney is saying that he’ll go along with the Bloc and NDP demands for the implementation of the Refugee Appeals Division (finally) – but if they’re willing to help him reform the system, and his vision has a lot more to do putting in a badly flawed system like the UK’s then actually fixing the problems we have.

If you picked up this week’s Maclean’s, you’ll also see a reminder of some of Kenney’s former calls for a hard-line refugee system that includes detention facilities – much like the UK’s, back from his Canadian Alliance days. (The article isn’t online yet, unfortunately). But all of these pieces are starting to add up to a vision of Canada where immigration is much more tightly controlled, and it because a much more exclusive club, with a rotating door of temporary foreign workers to do the jobs that people born in Canada don’t want to do, but not allowing them to stay once the job is done.

The Maclean’s article speculates that the Conservatives are positioning to make this an election issue, pitting “good immigrants” from the ethno-cultural communities they’re trying to court, against the “bad” ones who often come to this country because of need, facing persecution in their countries of origin. It’s a dangerous game, and a very fine line to walk (and if you’ve seen Kenney, I wouldn’t exactly call him the most nimble of characters either).  Suffice to say, it’s not exactly a vision of Canada that maintains our image as a haven for justice and human rights.

Elsewhere, the Toronto Star’s Susan Delacourt takes a look at some of the challenges getting rural women to run as candidates for public office, but one person she spoke to says it’s not enough to just say that it’s not enough to blame it on hidebound male-dominated rural cultures. As someone who largely grew up in rural and small-town Alberta, I’d say that one can’t underestimate that effect – hell, even when I worked in the corporate sector in Calgary, there was still a fairly strict segregation of what was considered “men’s” and “women’s work” in those environments. I do think the parties need to be more aggressive with promoting and supporting female candidates – especially in rural ridings – because it’s not going to change if we don’t face those ingrained cultural biases head-on.

And finally, a group of British economists has written a letter to the Queen, apologising for the financial meltdown. This in a response to a visit Her Majesty paid to the London School of Economics, during which she asked why nobody saw it coming. I’ve heard it said that it’s almost scary how informed and up-to-date the Queen keeps on top of current events – and as well she should, being as she gets government briefings on all matters of importance – but I think this kind of apology is perhaps something more people should be doing.

In fact, I’d like to see an apology from Stephen Harper to the Queen for the way he’s been running this country, and its international reputation, into the ground…