Scheer vows crackdown on those trying to ‘game’ Canada’s refugee system

As many have noted (see below), light on specifics but clear focus on dispelling the (Liberal) narrative that the Conservatives are anti-immigration, xenophobic and racist. Strongest message from him on inclusiveness and rebuking those who are. He has set the bar for Conservative candidates, and no doubt the media and others will be watching candidate nominations accordingly.

Scheer is completely correct in stating that questioning immigration policies and program management should not be dismissed as racists or bigots but debated on the merits of the arguments. The Liberals are all too quick to jump on that charge.

But how these arguments are framed, which words are used, the meetings one attends, the audience one targets are equally important (and applies to all parties).

While the focus on border management was expected, the ducking the question of immigration levels was not. Going back to an annual plan makes little sense given that a multi-year plan assists other levels of government and settlement organizations plan. One can question whether the levels are too high or low in the current plan (a case can be made either way).

The general points – promoting private sponsorship of refugees, emphasizing economic immigration, improving language training, improving foreign credential recognition – are long standing Conservative policy approaches that they also emphasized when in government. Providing a low-skilled workers a path to permanent residency is new to my recollection (current stats indicate that only higher skilled workers transition to permanent residency in significant numbers). And of course, closing the loophole in the STCA with the USA requires US agreement, and the Liberal government is already taking steps in the regard.

And interestingly, but not surprisingly, not a word about any changes to citizenship (the Liberal government reversed the Conservative  expanded ages for knowledge and language testing along with citizenship revocation in cases of terror or treason).

Starting with the points on the CPC website:

As Prime Minister, Andrew Scheer will:

  • Work to immediately restore fairness, order, and compassion in our immigration system
  • Put an end to illegal border crossings at unofficial points of entry like Roxham Road
  • Close the loophole in the Safe-Third Country Agreement that allows some people to skip the line and avoid the queue
  • Safeguard and emphasize economic immigration
  • Set immigration levels consistent with what is in Canada’s best interests
  • Stand up for families and ensure that spouses and children can be reunited
  • Improve language training
  • Ensure that our system prioritizes people facing true persecution
  • Improve credential recognition and make it easier for new Canadians who have existing skills that meet our standards to ply their trades here
  • Work to reunite survivors of genocide, who have already resettled in Canada, more expeditiously
  • Bring back the Office of Religious Freedom so that we can protect our shared humanity and promote interest in the dignity of all people
  • Promote the private sponsorships of refugees

Conservatives have cleaned up Liberal messes in immigration before and we are prepared to do it again… with fairness, order, and compassion as the pillars of our efforts.

Source: Andrew Scheer’s Immigration Plan

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he would restore fairness and faith in the integrity of Canada’s immigration system by cracking down on those who “game” the refugee process and supporting newcomers who help boost the economy.

In a pre-election speech on immigration policy, Scheer blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for eroding public trust in the system by failing to stop the flow of people crossing into Canada from the U.S. outside official border points. The Liberals, he argued, have undermined Canada’s legacy of welcoming newcomers through a system based on compassion, the rule of law and human rights.

“Among the people I hear from most often on this point are new Canadians themselves, people who have played by the rules and arrived in Canada fair and square,” Scheer said to supporters and invited guests from diverse communities during a party-organized event in Toronto.

“They are most offended at Trudeau’s status-quo, where some are able to jump queues, exploit loopholes and skip the line.”

In a speech called Unity in Diversity, one in a series of five speeches on his vision for Canada, Scheer set the stage for an election campaign that’s expected to see divisive immigration issues become key points of debate.

He boasted about the Conservatives’ past record in reducing processing times and backlogs, and outlined in broad strokes some measures his government would take if it’s elected this fall.

Scheer said Conservatives would not set arbitrary immigration levels, but rather be guided on an annual basis based on Canada’s best interests.

“That number may change every year, and I’m not going to get into a political debate, or worse, an auction about immigration numbers,” he said. “The number will reflect what Canada needs and, just as importantly, who needs Canada.”

Refugee, economic immigrant policies

He also said a Conservative government would:

  • Do more to promote privately sponsored refugees.
  • Safeguard and emphasize economic immigration.
  • Improve language training so newcomers can succeed economically and socially.
  • Improve credential recognition to make it easier for newcomers to practise their professions and trades.
  • Provide low-skilled workers a permanent path to residency, making sure wages are fair and taking steps to prevent abuse of workers.
  • Close a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement to prevent people from entering Canada at Roxham Road in Quebec and other illegal crossing points.

The Liberals have been under fire for failing to control the border during a surge in the number of people crossing into Canada from the U.S. outside official border points. About 40,000 people have crossed illegally in the last two years.

Scheer accused Trudeau of playing wedge politics on the immigration file by responding to criticism with “rhetoric and personal attacks.”

“We should be able to have an immigration debate in this country without the government calling its critics racists and bigots,” he said.

Scheer said the Liberal approach is “dangerous” because it reduces legitimate criticisms to “cheap partisanship” and devalues the real threats of racism, bigotry and extremism.

Hateful forces

“To ascribe those motives to those who simply want stronger security screening procedures, or fewer people entering the country illegally, makes a mockery of such hateful forces,” he said.

The Liberals lost no time in tearing into the Conservatives’ approach to immigration and refugee policy.

In a Liberal Party news release issued before Scheer was to take the podium, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen accused Scheer of embracing “the same sort of extreme right wing anti-immigration rhetoric that has become pervasive among right-wing populist parties around the world.”

Hussen also took aim at the Conservative legacy on immigration, saying the party made “reckless” program cuts that were called cruel and unusual treatment by the Federal Court.

“From stoking fear with snitch lines and cutting refugee health services, to running ads that peddle false information and outright conspiracy theories, Canadians know that Conservative politicians see immigration policy as a way to fear monger and divide Canadians,” Hussen said in the release.

Superior views ‘absolutely repugnant’

On refugees, Scheer said his “deeply held personal convictions” are based on universal equality, and said the notion that someone’s race, religion, gender or sexual orientation would make them superior is “absolutely repugnant.”

The Conservative leader also spoke of how his beliefs about helping those in greatest need were shaped by his mother, who died a couple of years ago, and her commitment to helping refugees and the most vulnerable people. Canada must continue to be a place of refuge for those truly in need, he said.

“This strikes at the very fairness of Canada’s immigration system, and there is absolutely nothing fair about forcing the oppressed and the persecuted, like the Syrians my mother helped, to wait longer for Canada’s help while others cross the border illegally from places like upstate New York,” he said.

Hussen’s release defended the Liberal record in office, insisting the Trudeau government has restored confidence in the immigration system by investing in resources to attract newcomers, shorten wait times and ensure fairness.

“Canadians don’t want to go back to the old days and old divisive ways of Stephen Harper and that’s what Andrew Sheer has to offer.”

Source: Andrew Scheer unveils his vision for Canada’s immigration system | CBC News

Commentary of interest

From John Ivison of the National Post:

In his immigration address, Scheer offered the perfect riposte to the suggestion that he is sympathetic to white supremacists and the tapeworm of intolerance and bigotry.

The Conservative leader was explicit – “there is no room in a peaceful and free country like Canada for intolerance, racism or extremism of any kind,” he said.

He reinforced his belief that immigration is a net positive contributor to the Canadian economy. But he was critical of a Liberal Party that has, he said, undone the progress on the immigration file made by previous Conservative governments to speed up processing and eliminate backlogs.

The failure by the Trudeau government to stem the flow of illegal migrants has led to a growth in the number of people who think immigration should be reduced, and in those who have lost faith in the fairness of the system.

Most of all, he censured the Liberals for calling its critics racists and bigots.

Scheer said his faith and upbringing instilled in him a commitment to social justice that flows from conservative principles of individual responsibility.

He said his late mother had helped Syrian refugees settle in Ottawa and that they had reciprocated her compassion by visiting her in hospital.

The Liberals have said they will increase Canada’s immigration target to 350,000 by 2021; Maxime Bernier’s fledgling People’s Party wants the number next year to be cut to 250,000. Scheer said the numbers game is a “red herring” – that the economic and social reality will dictate the level.

But the federal Conservatives have long been pro-immigration – in 2015, levels were at an historic high of 271,833 and over the course of the previous decade 2.8 million people had arrived as permanent residents, mainly from countries like the Philippines, India, China and Pakistan.

Scheer said he would safeguard and emphasize economic migration, at a time when the mix planned by the Liberals will see economic class migrants decrease as a proportion, compared to family reunification cases and refugees.

“We need the world’s best and brightest to choose Canada,” he said.

The focus on economic migrants might reduce the Conservative Party’s appeal in immigrant communities that like the Liberal pledge to bring in grandparents. But Scheer attempted to patch up the relationship with ethnic communities that deserted the Conservatives at the last election by pointing to the things that unite them – hard work, entrepreneurship, faith, family, free worship, and respect for the rule of law.

“The Conservatives are alone in being the last true ‘big tent’ national party,” he said.

Harper won three elections by portraying his party as moderate and mainstream.

By refusing to pander to the resentful backlash against newcomers that has been a hallmark of authoritarian populism elsewhere in the world, Scheer has frustrated his critics and given the Conservative Party the prospect of growing support beyond its base.

Similarly, the decision to drop a previous pledge to balance the budget within two years blunts Liberal claims that Scheer will cut billions from public services. The acknowledgment that he will not be able to make $20 billion deficits disappear in two budgetary cycles is a recognition of voters’ fundamental hypocrisy – they want lots of government spending and lower taxes.

In a previous speech, Scheer said dramatic spending cuts are not necessary to balance the budget – “simply taking a responsible, measured approach to spending growth will go a long way”.

That sounds a lot like the budget balancing itself. But it is very much in keeping with his predecessor’s approach – incremental progress, rather than smash-the-system revolution. That doesn’t seem particularly scary or weak.

Source: John Ivison: Andrew Scheer slowly revealing policies that appear neither scary nor weak

From Campbell Clark of the Globe:

Andrew Scheer’s big immigration-policy speech was not about immigration policy, but about telling the country that he’s not a bigot.

That section of the speech, laying out the Conservative Leader’s personal commitment to diversity and equality, and telling racists they have no place in his party, was personal, and it was important.

Good thing, too. The parts about immigration policy were a bust.

Still, at this particular juncture in politics, it is notable that a big chunk of the Conservative Leader’s speech could have fit in one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s familiar paeans to diversity as our strength. Mr. Scheer’s speech was entitled Unity in Diversity.

That’s not only because Mr. Scheer has been accused by Liberals of stirring up divisions over immigration, and of being unwilling to unequivocally distance himself from anti-immigrant extremists. It’s also because there’s the People’s Party of Canada – headed by Mr. Scheer’s former leadership rival, Maxime Bernier – trying to feed off anti-immigrant sentiment and take Tory support.

Mr. Scheer presented a tribute to Canadian diversity that ran through the contributions of Indigenous peoples and successive waves of immigration from all parts of the world, closing the list with “Muslims afflicted by oppression and civil war,” and “Gays and lesbians escaping literal extermination simply for being who they are.”

He was going out of his way to respond to what he called “dangerous” false accusations that his party accepts extremism.

He has said that before. But this time, Mr. Scheer rooted that in his personal beliefs and his faith, describing respect for diversity and equality as “one of my most deeply held convictions.” He talked about his late mother volunteering to help Syrian refugees.

“I believe that we are all children of God. And therefore there can be no inferiority amongst human beings. And that equal and infinite value exists in each and every one of us,” he said. “I find the notion that one’s race, religion, gender or sexual orientation would make anyone in any way superior or inferior to anyone else absolutely repugnant.

“And if there’s anyone who disagrees with that, there’s the door. You are not welcome here.”

Those words alone won’t be enough to convince everyone. Yet, they certainly aren’t the kinds of phrases you will find in Mr. Bernier’s speeches, or on his Twitter account. He rooted diversity and equality in his own beliefs. And it is important for Canadians to hear leaders of their major political parties say that.

The problem is that the rest of his speech was so full of unclear, empty phrases that it won’t reassure anyone about how he will apply those principles to immigration.

After all, Mr. Scheer wasn’t entirely wrong when he complained the Liberals paint his party as a bunch of extremists. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, for example, accused the Conservatives in January of planning to “militarize” the border to keep out asylum-seekers. Mr. Hussen had twisted a preposterous Conservative proposal – to turn the whole border into an official border crossing – into gun-toting fear.

Yet, Mr. Scheer still uses dramatic rhetoric about the immigration system breaking down, but proposes such vague or half-baked solutions that it allows his adversaries to fill in the blanks.

On Tuesday, he bemoaned the fact that tens of thousands of asylum seekers have crossed the border at unauthorized locations. He suggested, somewhat obliquely, that they are queue-jumpers. But he didn’t propose a real solution to change things, anyway. He said he would close a loophole in a Canada-U.S. agreement so those people could be returned to the United States, without acknowledging the obstacle: The U.S. doesn’t want to do that.

Mr. Scheer said he’d “emphasize” economic immigration, but extolled the virtues of every other category.

How many people should Canada let in each year? Mr. Scheer criticized people who promise to lower the numbers, “without considering the economic impact.” Presumably, that was a shot at a rival, Mr. Bernier, but it also applies to a politician he has courted as an ally, Quebec Premier François Legault. Mr. Scheer also criticized the Liberal government for setting higher immigration targets “without adequate services in place.”

So what should the number be? Whatever “is in Canada’s best interests,” Mr. Scheer said.

He didn’t give the slightest hint of what that means.

No, there wasn’t much immigration policy there. But there was something else – a public embrace of diversity and equality as a core principle. In today’s politics, that matters.

Source: Andrew Scheer’s diversity speech is personal, but short on immigration policy details
The Toronto Sun take by Brian Lilley:

Andrew Scheer says Justin Trudeau has undermined support for immigration in Canada, and he wants to fix that.

Speaking in Toronto’s northern suburbs in the immigrant-heavy area around the airport, Scheer laid out his plan for fixing the system while criticizing Trudeau’s handling of the file.

“Under Trudeau, a record high number of Canadians believe that immigration should be reduced,” Scheer said.

“Worse, Canadians have lost faith in the fairness of our system.”

This has happened, Scheer said, because of the inability of Trudeau and his team to deal with illegal border crossers that — in his words — “game the system.”

Under the previous Conservative government, immigration levels stayed at near-record levels and support for the system remained strong.

While the Conservatives were happy to bring in more than 250,000 landed immigrants per year, they also cracked down on those who abused the visa system or tried to get around the rules.

The Liberals increased the annual immigration target to 340,000 by 2020.

While doing that, though, they have also allowed 43,000 people to cross into the country illegally — mostly at a single irregular border crossing in Quebec.

They have also loosened visa rules meant to stop bogus claims, including from countries like Mexico.

According to reports, more than 400 criminals have entered Canada to traffic drugs for Mexican cartels, and asylum claims have spiked from 260 when the visa requirement was lifted in 2016 to more than 3,300 in 2018.

Scheer says these types of abuses have prompted Canadians to lose faith in a system that, at one time, was a success story for the world to emulate, “of different people — humanity in all its diversity — living together, working together, succeeding and celebrating together as one.”

“One country — the true north, strong and free,” he added.

Source: LILLEY: Scheer strikes right note on immigration

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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