I was invited to attend at the Minister of Immigration Refugees Citizenship Canada Roundtable to discuss settlement levels and whether IRCC has struck the right balance between immigration classes (economic and non-economic) and programs. I was invited last year to discuss similar policy issues and objectives with the previous Minister (The Honourable John McCallum). Both invitations for my attendance were due to Member of Parliament Darshan Kang.
MP Kang and I have known each other for some time. As in the South Asian/Punjabi custom I simply call him "uncle." He is held in high esteem within the South Asian community in Calgary. Being a Liberal in Conservative Alberta, that is, to quote Clarence Darrow is akin to be a stranger in a strange land. Unlike many who saw expediency or opportunism in becoming Conservatives, either provincially or federally, Mr. Kang remained in the Liberal fold. His principled politics and reputation saw him become a Member of the Legislative Assembly for the Provincial Liberal Party. He then surprisingly, remarkably made the decision to run in the Federal Election and became a Liberal Member of Parliament in a sea of Conservative blue. MP Kang is an ardent advocate of immigrants and immigration friendly policies. He opposed Bill C24, that is the so-called strengthening Canadian citizenship bill that did in fact become law. In my opinion, and just prior to the last election, this bill/changes to citizenship and the ability to revoke citizenship was a significant factor in the downfall of two South Asian Conservative Members of Parliament in Calgary and Edmonton and the election of two South Asian Liberal Members of Parliament in their stead.
So, after receiving an invitation I went. I had attended with at a similar Round Table with Minister McCallum some months back. This format was similar with a number of settlement agencies and other stakeholders present. Unfortunately, and this is true in different venues, many of the stakeholders instead of addressing the discussion paper and questions or points of reference, felt it necessary to discuss their own particular backgrounds or their efforts on behalf of immigrant or new Canadian communities. One individual (an old friend) showed up with a prepared speech! Another started off with a lengthy exposition of her past political career and achievements. Many of their questions were not questions at all but rather speeches or self congratulatory self-praise in the guise of questions. They ate up time without adding anything. Others strenuously called for a vague “plan” and called for “more planning”. Most did not address the issue that the Minister and his team put forward which was regarding the level and the balancing of the various immigrant classes. It was embarassing watching the humble-brags, the self-praise, some singing for their dinner. Finally the Minister’s team had to impose time limits. Some pouted and complained that they would be denied the pleasure of hearing their own voices.
There were some good points raised by some: for example, the fact that the experience and needs of immigrant women are fundamentally different than that of immigrant men; that resettled Syrian refugees need to be able to re-unite with family members that did not accompany them here; that some Syrian refugees paid sponsors and that more needs to be done against crooked immigration consultants.
Anyway, it seems that the expected intake of permanent residents this year will be 300,000 individuals. This appears now to be the new baseline; the government expects future intake to be at this level, not below. The Minister and his team sought to canvass the thoughts of stakeholders regarding this baseline. Further, they wanted feedback as to the balance of the constituent streams or immigrant classes that made up the 300,000, that is economic loss and non economic loss further broken down into family loss and refugee/humanitarian.
The concerns or issues that I outlined were the following:
- The number of 300,000 is in my opinion fine and sustainable and appropriate;
- That provinces should be allotted a greater say in terms of immigration. Alberta is allotted a quota of a little over 5,000 individuals for nominations per year. This number should be increased. The provinces are more familiar with local economic and other conditions and the needs of employers as well as insight as to the individuals best suited to integrate, settle and contribute.
- That the international students that have graduated in Canada and have work experience here should not be subject to the express entry that in fact the Canadian experience class is stand alone pass or fail model, should be brought back;
- That there ought to be a pathway to permanent residence for low skilled/low wage temporary foreign workers, that it is inappropriate for Canada to treat or use individuals as commodities, to be disposed of;
- That the financial requirement for parents/grandparents sponsorship is unacceptably inflexible; that is individuals need to, or to sponsor their parents or grandparents, need to show LICO, that is low income cut off, plus 30 percent for three consecutive years prior to the sponsorship of parents. For example, the birth of a child and the change in the number of a family could waylay or frustrate an application to sponsor parents and grandparents;
- There appears to be significant variance in overseas visa office decisions and outcomes (International Students hard numbers and acceptance rates between, for example, China, India and Pakistan); and
- I also expressed my appreciation for the changes that have already taken place under the Liberal government. In particular I expressed my thanks and gratitude for the increase to the age of accompanying dependent children up to 21 with a transitional provision (will be in place by May 3, 2017). Further I expressed my appreciation for the changes to the residency requirement or threshold for the grant of Canadian citizenship - back to three out of four instead of four out of six, and without the minimum 183 days or six months per year for those four years.
There is additional work for the Minister. I would like to see appeal rights reinstated for permanent residents that have been convicted of crimes in Canada. The regime prior to Kenney and the atrociously entitled Faster Removals of Foreign Criminals Act allowed for an appeal for sentences less than two years. That threshold is now less than six months - irrespective of when a permanent resident Canada arrived here, irrespective of the nature of the crime, whether white collar or violent, and whether it is a conditional sentence or hard jail, there is no appeal to the Immigration Appeal Division.
It was a pleasure meeting this Minister. He is clearly interested and engaged. His own personal history allows him to bring context, understanding and nuance to this portfolio. He is clearly a patient individual; one thing that I understood after attending this round table is that I cannot do what this Minister or the previous Minister or other politicians do and endure tedium.
Engaging with stakeholders and other individuals with skin in the game is incredibly important for any Minister. Ministers may, particularly after some time in Ottawa, exist in a bubble. All individuals need contact with reality. All individuals need to get outside their particular circle - especially individuals in power that have sycophants or perhaps simply individuals that are not in a position to challenge them, to engage or put themselves in a position where they have to deal with individuals that do in fact face repercussions for their decisions and actions.
It is significant that the Minister of Immigration/Refugees and Citizenship Canada is a person of color. We have not had this before. It is not merely a matter of a check box or check mark against a metric of diversity. He can bring, will bring a certain understanding and appreciation, context, and having been subject to and having previously dealt with the immigration bureaucracy (other than perhaps sponsoring a - privileged - spouse from Europe). This is something that the previous occupants of this office could not appreciate. All of them were sons of privilege and thrust into a position of dealing with the vulnerable, the marginalized. In this regard they in fact were strangers in a strange land.