A small step toward fixing Canada’s broken immigration system

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I’ve often said that the single greatest problem Canada faces today is the general, and in my view cataclysmic, decline in the quality of thought that politicians and policy-makers put into the positions they take on issues.

Take the recent brouhaha over the government’s proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act for example.

Right now, immigration applications in both the family reunification class and the skilled worker class must be processed on a first-come, first-served basis. The government wants to change this rule with respect to the skilled worker class so that the applications of those who possess skills in short supply in Canada can be processed first, regardless of their place in that queue.

Taken on its own merit, this is a reasonable proposal that deserves the support of Parliament. After all, the whole point of having a skilled worker class is to facilitate the immigration of individuals who possess skills that our labour market needs. It makes no sense to say that we can’t prioritize the processing of applicants under this classification who meet these needs.

Consider that at present there is a backlog of around 600,000 applications in the skilled worker class waiting to be processed. If Canada is in desperate need of trained nurses, shouldn’t the Minister be able to say to the department: “Process the applications of trained nurses first, regardless of their place in line.” Surely no sensible person will argue that this is wrong.

But sensible people seem to be in short supply themselves in Ottawa. To hear opposition politicians describe it, the proposal is part of a sinister plot on the part of the government to ban future immigration to Canada.

Some in the media have joined in the silliness as well, reinforcing NDP-Liberal conspiracy theories by accusing the government of “hiding” their proposals in the budget implementation bill, C-50 in an attempt to “sneak” them through Parliament.

It reminds me of a line from the movie, Forrest Gump, when Tom Hanks (who plays Gump) relates something a relative of his used to say: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Or as stupid says, I guess.

Hiding? Hmmm – someone must have been dozing off when the Finance Minister revealed that the government would be making these modifications in – wait for it – the budget speech!

“We are changing the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to improve and speed up the application process,” Jim Flaherty announced on February 26th. “In addition, we are providing $22 million in new funding to support immigration initiatives over the next two years. This funding will improve the responsiveness of our immigration system and better align it with our labour market needs.”

One might well ask why changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act would have been included in the budget in the first place (the answer is that the government is allocating money to finance the changes, and that it believes the changes will benefit the economy), but once they were, for members of the media to question their inclusion in the budget implementation bill betrays either a stunning ignorance of parliamentary procedure, or a more partisan motivation. Frankly, given that C-50 includes amendments to several other disparate pieces of legislation to bring them into line with provisions announced in the budget – once again, a normal procedure – I’m not sure which of the two possibilities is the most credible.

Of course, none of this foolishness means that there is no good reason to criticize the government plan – there is.

Citizenship and Immigration is arguably the most badly broken of all federal government departments. For years, its policies have been incoherent and inconsistent with any serious analysis of Canada’s needs. When all other immigration classes are factored in, the backlog of applications waiting to be processed swells to a staggering 900,000. The department simply does not have the means to do the work it is being asked to do.

And this is only on the immigration side. When it comes to refugees, the problems are exponentially bigger.

Both the system and policy are in desperate need of a complete make-over from top to bottom. Everybody knows this, but few are willing to say so publicly for fear of being labeled anti-immigrant – or worse – by the Olivia Chows and Jeremiah Wrights of the world. And so, as is too often the case, taxpayers are forced to settle for minor procedural adjustments rather than the sort of comprehensive reform that is required to bring the department into the 21st century.

As far as procedural changes go, this is certainly a good one and the government deserves credit for making it. But let’s not crack the champagne bottles open yet – it’s only a first step, and a rather modest one at that.

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