Commons passes sweeping changes to immigration law
Liberals oppose reform, but few show up for fear of sparking election
June 10, 2008
Ottawa Bureau Chief
OTTAWA–Sweeping – and controversial – immigration reforms that will shake up the way Canada chooses its newcomers passed a final vote in the Commons last night.
Bill C-50, a budget-implementation bill containing the immigration reforms, passed 120-90 despite the criticism of opposition parties. The Liberals say they oppose the changes, but, in a deliberate move to avoid sparking an election, they didn't vote in sufficient numbers to defeat the legislation.
Under the changes, Immigration Minister Diane Finley will have the power to issue "instructions" to her department to give priority to categories of immigrants whose job skills are in demand in Canada. She would also have the power to refuse applications in other categories.
Concentrating such power in the hands of the minister will invite the "politicization" of the immigration system, immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said yesterday.
"There's no longer a transparent, predictable, outcome in any immigration application," he said. It's no longer first come, first served. In comes ministerial priorities and cherry-picking."
Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua (Vaughan) was left defending the Liberal opposition to the bill, even though most of his caucus colleagues stayed away from the vote.
"We don't support the direction in which the government is going and we will have ample time in an election campaign to in fact illustrate that the Liberal plan for this country is much better," he told reporters.
New Democrat MP Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina) suggested the Liberals were being two-faced in their public denunciations of the bill, while letting it pass.
"How could it be possible that they let this pass? It's unbelievable. It's betraying the trust of ordinary Canadians and it's hypocrisy to the nth degree," she said.
Kurland said he's heard that Finley's "instructions" have already been prepared and are ready to be introduced once the Senate gives its endorsement and the bill becomes law.
"I'm suggesting they're already out there, at the (foreign offices) and not disclosed yet. It's that far advanced," he said. "There will be no delay in implementation."
He said the move away from the traditional points system to determine successful applicants will unleash a wave of political activism in Canada among immigrant groups seeking to ensure their respective groups are fairly represented amongst newcomers.
However, Finley spokesperson Tim Vail said the minister's "instructions" would only set quotas for job categories and not specific locations.
In the hours before the vote, NDP Leader Jack Layton urged the Liberals to oppose the changes and stand up for "immigrant communities."
"We're changing the whole nature of the way in which we approve immigrants," Layton said.
"We're reducing the number of immigrants and families who are coming in under the family programs and we're increasing the number of people coming in as temporary workers to the tune of tens of thousands of these people who are now coming in with no possibility of bringing their family or helping us to build the community," he said.
Layton said if Finley is truly interested in cutting the backlog of more than 900,000 applicants, she should deploy more staff to the offices where the waits are the longest.
"This is the more logical approach," he told reporters.
In defending the changes, Finley has said that the immigration system faces "collapse" and is already losing skilled workers who are migrating to other countries rather than face the lengthy wait to get into Canada.
She was not available for an interview yesterday. However, in an email, Vail called the Conservative party the "pro-immigration party."
"We value the contribution newcomers have made in building Canada. We want more newcomers to join us, more to be reunited with their families and more to become successful Canadians," Vail said.
He said the minister's instructions to immigration officers will enable "people with those skills (to) enter Canada more quickly."
The legislation now goes to the Senate, where a committee has already begun a review.