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December 2, 2012

Tory Immigration Snake Oil

Reuel S. Amdur

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It was some years ago when Bill Davis was Premier of Ontario that I attended a program put on by Toronto Muslims to acquaint people, thought to be of authority or influence, with the Muslim community and its wants and needs. I was invited because I was the Unitarian in a group representative of the various religions working on a broadly based book of prayers and readings for the Toronto Board of Education, a book to replace the sole reliance on the Lord's Prayer in opening exercises in the schools.

At this program to help people get a better familiarity with the Muslim community and its interests, some Muslims expressed concern that there was not enough respect for modesty, especially for young people.  The example raised was co-ed swimming.  One man spoke to say that Muslims should reach out to like-minded conservative Christians to push for implementation of stronger codes of modesty.

In those days there was a reactionary Evangelical minister in Milton, Ontario, who was extremely active.  His name was Ken Campbell.  In reaction to the suggestion put forward about an alliance with such reactionaries, I commented, “Ken Campbell is not your friend.”  After all, as the old English saw goes, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”  Cuddle up to the Ken Campbells of the world and you strengthen their wider political and religious agenda, an agenda that is clearly not in the interests of New Canadians and minorities who have interests in social programs and progressive immigration policies.  To bring the matter to the current time, among other things, the Conservatives, like the Liberals before them, have dumped costs of social programs such as health and social assistance back on the provinces, resulting in a variety of cuts.   

Campbell died in 2006.  As an Evangelical Christian, it would probably not have occurred to him to try to reach out to religious minorities, but these days Jason Kenney, the Conservative Minister of Immigration, is actively working to bring the various ethnic groups into the Tory fold.  “Family values” is the rubric that covers the interests that he tries to identify as common to these groups and the Harperites.  Modesty, traditional family life, looking askance at divorce, abortion, sexual experimentation, gay marriage, perhaps even women’s rights—the list goes on.  While the Tories have absolutely no intention (at least at the leadership level) of doing anything about such matters, Kenney has been fairly effective in getting votes from ethnic groups that have not been Tory supporters in the past.  It is a matter of flattery and of letting them in on a fellow feeling.”You know where we stand,” as it were.

Kenney, a Roman Catholic, is far more able to relate to Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims than is a rabid extreme right-wing Evangelical like Campbell, who would probably not feel open to reaching out to them for support.  After all, the Catholic Church, at least till recent times, has been involved in religious dialogue and “ecumenism”.  But for immigrant and ethnic groups, joining Kenney in the Tory camp has its unpleasant consequences.

Key to the family values of immigrant communities is family reunification.  Having to wait many years for close family members to be allowed to join relatives in Canada is not in the interest of these communities.  Let’s take a look at some of the aspects of the Tory family immigration policies. 

Between 2008 and 2011, there has been a steady decline in numbers of family class members obtaining permanent residency, dropping from 65,582 in 2008 to 56,446 in 2011. It is estimated that it could take eight years for a family class application to be granted, and last year Kenney put in place a two-year moratorium on new applications from parents and grandparents. 

As an alternative measure, he announced a super-visa program under which a visa could be renewed for up to ten years in two-year increments.  The visa costs in excess of $1000, and the holder is required to obtain private medical coverage.   

In order to cut the backlog, the government is raising the number of parents and grandparents to be admitted as landed this year to 25,000.  In 2008, the number was 16,600, down to 14,078 in 2011. 

One of the most problematic areas in immigration has been the admission of live-in caregivers admitted without family.  Last year there were 4748.  Many are women who leave their families back home, often in the Philippines.  An immigration program respecting family values would allow the whole family in.

Once a person is actually landed, the process of obtaining citizenship has become more drawn out.  This year, Citizenship and Immigration Canada closed 17 offices across the country, and the number of citizenship judges has been cut. 

Kenney’s lobbying in Cabinet for more family reunification appears to have borne limited success.  After years of declining admissions for parents and grandparents, there is now a one-time increase to 25,000—an amount roughly equivalent to which cumulative yearly admissions under this program from 2008 to 2011 fell short of 25,000.  Hardly a big deal, and now the moratorium is in place. 

While the super-visa is in some ways more significant, it has its drawbacks, primarily in costs.  The visa itself costs upwards of $1000, and those admitted must purchase private health insurance.  The program is clearly second-class.

Bottom line: Immigrant and minority groups should think twice before buying what the Tories are peddling. 

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