Immigration Minister Jason Kenney inadvertently pulled back the veil. He announced that immigration reached a 50-year high last year. “While other western countries cut back on immigration during the recession, our government kept legal immigration levels high,” he boasted.
Within a day, Kenney’s story started to unravel. New Canadians complained they were waiting longer than ever to reunite their families. A close look at Kenney’s figures showed why. The number of “family class” immigrants accepted into Canada has dropped by 10,000 since the Conservatives took power. “We can’t satisfy 100 per cent of our immigrant stakeholders,” the minister explained.
Two days later, a Vancouver lawyer released new figures, obtained through an Access to Information request, showing Ottawa planned to cut the number of visas issued to skilled workers.
That contradicted Kenney’s stated goal of increasing economic immigration. Employers were confused and anxious. The minister’s staff claimed the visa statistics understated the number of immigrants likely to be admitted.
By week’s end, Kenney’s good news announcement was in shreds, his credibility was damaged and the ethnic voters he had courted so assiduously were suspicious. But the rest of the electorate finally had enough information to see what the Conservatives have done to the immigration system.
• They have converted a system with one gateway and one set of entry admission criteria into a system with a dozen entry points, each with different rules. The provinces can now nominate immigrants, employers can recruit foreign workers and international students can stay in Canada after university if they’re job ready and fluent in English or French.
• They have opened the floodgates to a stream of temporary foreign workers. What was once a modest program designed to bring in nannies, farm workers and foreigners with specialized skills, is now a major source of low-cost labour. Last year Canada admitted 180,000 “guest workers” to do everything from clean offices to program computers.
• They have made it harder for immigrants to reunite their families. Four years ago, spouses, children, parents and grandparents of new Canadians made up 28 per cent of the total. It’s now down to 21 per cent.
• They have diminished Canada’s role as a haven for people fleeing violence and persecution. The number of refugees allowed into the country has dropped by 25 per cent since they took power.
To their credit, the Tories have made needed reforms. They have better aligned immigration with the job market, reduced the backlog of applications from skilled workers and improved the distribution of immigrants across the country.
But they have deprived newcomers of the family support they need to integrate successfully, off-loaded responsibility for immigration, and given Canada a harsher, more forbidding face.
As Kenney struggles to regain control of his file, Canadians can judge the trade-offs he has made and the overtly self-interested immigration system that has emerged.