Chad Skelton, Vancouver Sun, Jun. 3
There was a time when immigration and refugee policy was one of the issues that set political parties apart.
In the early 1990s, cutting the number of immigrants let into Canada — from 250,000 to 150,000 a year — was a central plank of Reform party policy.
What a difference a decade makes. Now, the Conservative Party of Canada — created from the old Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives — is virtually indistinguishable from the Liberals on immigration.
And Conservative immigration critic Diane Ablonczy’s biggest beef with the system is how long it takes for immigrants to get in.
“It’s not humane to keep people in limbo for as long as the system does,” Ablonczy said.
After hundreds of Chinese boat people arrived on B.C.’s shores in 1999, the Alliance argued that all refugee claimants should be detained until their hearings to stop them going underground.
Asked whether this still stands, Ablonczy replies: “I don’t think that’s practical.”
The Conservatives say they do, however, want the refugee system to make decisions more quickly, and the government to do better at ensuring failed refugee claimants are deported.
Ablonczy acknowledges her party’s views on immigration have shifted considerably over the years. “There’s been a growth, a maturity of understanding about these issues.”
Indeed, on most immigration questions the three major parties are in agreement.
All support the annual target of 300,000 immigrants — one per cent of the population — and all say more should be done to make sure that target is reached. They all want immigration and refugee decisions made more quickly.
And all three say the government should do a better job of recognizing the credentials of foreign-born professionals — to avoid immigrants with PhDs driving taxis and selling stereos.
Vancouver Centre Liberal MP Hedy Fry noted that her leader Paul Martin’s election health plan includes fast-tracking the recognition of 1,000 foreign-trained physicians. Fry, parliamentary secretary for foreign credentials, said she has been working with the provinces and universities on a website where new immigrants would find information about how they can upgrade their skills.
Libby Davies, NDP MP for Vancouver East, said she has introduced a private member’s bill that would give immigrants a “once-in-a-lifetime” chance to bring a family member to Canada. The existing family reunification program only applies to immediate family members.
Davies said her party would also eliminate the $975 “landing fee” for immigrants and outlaw “racial profiling” by immigration and customs staff.
FRIDAY: When it comes to economic management, not one major national party promises anything but balanced or surplus budgets.
WHERE THE PARTIES STAND:
Here’s what the major parties are saying about immigration and refugee policy:
Liberals: The Liberals say they want to speed up the immigration and refugee systems, and make it easier for immigrants to get recognition for their foreign credentials. The party has already announced reforms to the Immigration and Refugee Board that it says will attract more skilled board members and reduce the number of patronage appointments.
Conservatives: Like the Liberals, the Conservatives say the immigration and refugee systems should be sped up to eliminate existing backlogs, and more should be done to recognize immigrants’ professional credentials. The party says the government should also do a better job of making sure failed refugee claimants are deported.
NDP: Like the other two parties, the NDP wants a more efficient immigration and refugee system, and better recognition of foreign credentials. The party says it would eliminate the $975 landing fee charged to immigrants and ban “racial profiling” by immigration and customs officials. The party would also institute a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity for immigrants to sponsor a family member to come to Canada who wouldn’t otherwise qualify.