Immigration Mailbox II

As I mentioned in my inaugural column a fortnight ago, immigration has been discussed a fair bit in the federal election campaign now coming to a conclusion. With election day less than a week away, I thought I would take a closer look at some of the positions taken by the three major federal political parties on this issue.

Each of the election platforms of the Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic Parties addresses the issue of immigration in specific terms and, sometimes, with fairly detailed policy proposals.

The Liberals have the most detailed plan to reform the system. However, given that they have been in power for the last 12 years, one has to wonder why all their ideas for improving the system are coming right at the end of their most recent mandate. Their plan to gradually abolish the Right of Landing Fee over the next two budgets seems especially suspicious in its timing. The Liberals introduced this fee in 1995 as part of then-Finance Minister Paul Martin’s measures to balance the federal budget. While the budget has been running surpluses for many years now, the Liberals have only in the last few weeks come to the conclusion “[t]he time has come to remove this barrier.”

Having said that, the Liberals deserve some credit for spelling out in detail their plans for other aspects of the immigration system. Their proposals for assisting new skilled immigrants in overcoming labour market barriers and obtaining recognition of their international credentials – an issue that the Conservatives and NDP also address in their platforms but in rather perfunctory fashion – reflect the experience they have gained in government struggling with this important and multifaceted problem.

The Liberals also pledge more money for settlement programs ($1.3 billion over the next five years), an additional $700 million to reduce backlogs in visa offices overseas, and the creation of an “In-Canada Landing Class” to help spread the benefits of immigration beyond Canada’s three major cities.

Each of these ideas has merit. However, once again, some skepticism is warranted given the fact each of these initiatives requires significant new funding and that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration during the last dozen years of Liberal rule has rarely been successful in securing more money for his/her department from Cabinet colleagues.

The Conservatives’ approach to the immigration issue is more heavily weighed on the enforcement side of things. For example, they focus on speeding up and increasing the number of deportations especially for those immigrants or illegals convicted of serious crimes. They also pledge to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to allow judges to order deportations as part of criminal sentences (currently deportation can only be accomplished by immigration officials and tribunals).

The Conservatives also want to give guns to the officers than man our border points and implement “face recognition and other biometric technology” at ports of entry.

On the facilitative side, a Conservative government would also cut the Right of Landing Fee and establish a “Canadian Agency for Assessment and Recognition of Credentials.” On the last point, it should be kept in mind that credential recognition and the regulation of professions such as engineering, medicine and the construction trades has traditionally been a provincial responsibility. A “made in Ottawa” or national solution may be challenging to implement.

The NDP takes a very “pro-immigrant” stance in its platform, pledging more money for the system, an increase in immigration levels, and the relaxation of certain rules for admission. They also promise to abolish the landing fee and assist in credentials recognition for skilled immigrants. Their most specific proposals involve allowing permanent residents and citizens to sponsor one additional relative, apparently regardless of relationship, over the course of a lifetime and allowing people without status in Canada to apply for landing based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

The NDP platform on immigration otherwise lacks specifics and often relies on generalities. This may reflect the fact that they have little experience governing on this issue.

So, as election day approaches, these are the choices that are before us with respect to the issue of immigration. At the very least, one would hope that whomever is elected will follow through on the pledges they have made to improve a system that is currently far from perfection.