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Patrick Grady
Praise for Immigration Minister Kenney is Premature
March 20, 2012

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has recently received "kudos" from a Globe and Mail editorial for reforming the immigration system. However, reading beyond the headline reveals that the Globe editors are against legislating away the million immigrants waiting in the backlog to be admitted to Canada. Instead, they caution the government to take “less drastic measures.”

This is passing strange as scrapping the backlog and starting over is the main “transformational change” proposed by the Minster. More importantly, it is the only thing that offers the government a chance to begin to reassert control over an immigration system that is spiralling out of control in spite of the baby steps towards reform that have so much bedazzled the Globe.

Incidentally, this was the position I advocated when I appeared before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration last October 25. It apparently seemed to the Committee to be such a radical, if not heretical, idea that it was not even mentioned in its recent report. Perhaps this was part of a misguided attempt to shield the Minister from exposure to what was deemed by a rare three-party consensus to be a politically unpalatable solution to the backlog problem.

Mr. Kenney deserves the support of immigration reformers if he is indeed daring enough to follow through on his trial balloon and to try to legislate away the backlog as was done in New Zealand in 2003. But it wouldn’t be surprising if he ran into what many in his party consider insurmountable political obstacles and instead fell back on the more timid advice of the Globe to try to whittle down the backlog by pursuing his pilot project of allowing provinces to take applicants from the backlog for their own ballooning Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) and by putting a “moratorium on the number of immigrant applications it accepts every year” (sic).

Unfortunately, both of these solutions are only partial and raise more problems than they solve. Provincial and territorial governments are inexperienced in immigration matters and have exhibited a wide-eyed faith that more immigration will solve all their fiscal and economic problems. This belief may not be totally off-the-wall for equalization-receiving provinces, which can transform immigration into increased federal transfers at the expense of Canadian taxpayers. But expanding reliance on PNPs can hardly be helpful for a government struggling to regain control over immigration. Almost half of economic immigrants are already selected by the provinces. And there are no signs that the performance of immigrants is improving yet.

And, of course, the Globe in not really talking about a “moratorium on the number of immigrant applications,” but either a “moratorium” on applications or a “limit” on the number of applications. Either of these alleged solutions would have the same implications for the likely performance of the immigrants. Immigrants who are admitted from the backlog of applications, which for one reason or another have been passed over by the government in favour of more recent applications with job offers or in occupational groups favoured in the Ministerial Instructions, are not good candidates for most-likely-to-succeed-economically.

So far, the Globe’s praise notwithstanding, Minister Kenney has failed to take the immigration bull by the horns. Sure he has made many successful passes with his cape. These include Ministerial Instructions that have brought down the backlog of Federal Skilled Workers; legislation strengthening the government’s hand in dealing with bogus refugees, human smuggling and marriage fraud; the Canada Experience Program.

Many of these changes have been driven by the necessity to prevent the current dysfunctional immigration system from imploding and a public outcry for true immigration reform from emerging.

Moreover, he has increased the number of parents and grandparents admitted at a high fiscal cost to Canadian health and welfare programs, and done nothing to curtail the expensive live-in caregivers program, which subsidizes the child care of upper income families and facilitates the admission of immigrants’ relatives who would otherwise be inadmissible.

The reality is that over the past six years the government has maintained immigration of a quarter million people, the highest sustained level ever, even more than previous Liberal Governments. And this was in spite of the onset of the worst recession since the Great Depression, which pushed up unemployment and created a labour surplus. While Minister Kenney claims that changes in admissions criteria have improved the economic performance of new immigrants, if you read the fine print, you will see that this improvement is only for the very small number of Federal Skilled Workers who were admitted with an arranged offer of employment. For the vast majority of new immigrants, labour force survey data reveal that their unemployment rates have increased more than Canadian-born between 2008 and 2010 and their wages have stagnated while those of Canadian-born have increased significantly.

Until Minister Kenney actually introduces genuine immigration reform, which means cutting back sharply on the number of immigrants admitted and tying their admission to good-paying job offers, the fiscal cost of recent immigration will continue to mount from the $26 billion we recently estimated for 2011. Only then will it be the time for praise.

And if he doesn’t and continues to tinker, the economic performance of immigrants will keep on deteriorating and poverty will proliferate in growing immigrant enclaves. All political parties and all Canadians more generally will share the blame for failing to support the needed reform while there still was a chance.

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