Canada has a skills shortage – but which skills, and where? Lack of data leaves the experts unsure

Another in-depth look by the Globe on data gaps:

Five years ago, then prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was convinced that Canada’s labour market was sinking into a deepening skills-mismatch problem: There were plenty of skilled jobs available, but not enough qualified applicants to fill them.

In the February, 2014, budget, the Tories attempted to drive home the point by including a Finance Department study that said the job-vacancy rate (open jobs as a percentage of all jobs) was north of 4 per cent, its highest level since 2008, despite still-high unemployment of 7 per cent.

But that study contradicted Statistics Canada’s data on job openings, which put the vacancy rate at barely above 1 per cent.

It turned out that some of the government’s stats were gleaned from internet job postings on sites such as Kijiji, and those counts were badly tainted – double-counting some jobs and including some positions that had already been filled.

The so-called Kijiji Jobs Report, as it became known, was a major embarrassment for the Harper government. Critics accused the Conservatives of using half-baked statistical evidence to justify their economic policies.

But it was unclear whether Statscan’s numbers were right either. Job vacancy estimates from the Conference Board of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business yielded still different results.

The episode was a wake-up call: If Canada faced deepening shortages in key skills, it lacked the statistical detail to see them properly, let alone do anything about the problem.

In the five years since, there has been a renewed focus on bringing Canada’s labour-skills data into the 21st century – with increased funding to match.

But progress has been slow and the stakes are rising. A growing economy and aging population have eaten into the available labour pool, slicing the unemployment rate to a four-decade low. An increasing number of companies complain that they can’t find enough skilled workers.

To help fill the labour gaps, successive federal governments have increased what’s known as “economic” immigration, targeting highly skilled foreign workers. The provinces have also been given increased powers to recruit immigrants to fill their skills needs. All this comes against a backdrop of rising automation and artificial intelligence, which will dramatically reshape the labour market.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau has said that skills development will be a focus of his March 19 budget. But if Canada is going to embark on a skills overhaul, it will need to fill the gaps in its data first.

“Being able to gather that information, in terms of the [skills] supply and demand, I think is going to be really important, given the scale and speed with which this [change] is happening,” says Dominic Barton, head of Mr. Morneau’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth, probably the most influential voice shaping the government’s long-term economic priorities. “There is an urgency to this.”

This challenge didn’t exactly sneak up on policy-makers. It’s been a decade since the Harper government’s Advisory Panel on Labour Market Information (LMI), chaired by prominent Queen’s University economist Don Drummond, issued a 228-page report containing wide-ranging recommendations to modernize Canada’s labour data.

“Reducing unemployment or raising wages by a better matching of workers and jobs by as little as a tenth of a [percentage] point would raise GDP by some $800-million,” Mr. Drummond wrote. “That is why we need to spend more money on LMI and spend it smarter.”

Identifying problems with Canada’s labour skills data differs depending on who you ask. Academics, economists, policy-makers, employers, teachers and workers all use the information. But there are two common complaints.

First, information isn’t sufficiently “granular” – it doesn’t drill down deep enough to identify specific skills in supply or demand in the marketplace, or precisely where these skills are available or needed.

Second, data are too scattered among a variety of agencies and levels of government, which don’t do a great job of sharing their information with each other or making it user-friendly.

Statscan is the primary producer of labour data in this country. But the Harper government slashed Statscan’s labour market information budget by more than 20 per cent between the 2011-12 and 2013-14 fiscal years.

In the wake of the Kijiji Jobs Report, however, the Conservatives re-opened the taps, and the flow has accelerated under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.

Statscan’s current budget for labour data is more than $30-million, up nearly 40 per cent from 2013-14 levels. Still, it’s a small slice of the agency’s total annual budget of more than $600-million.


Source:     Canada has a skills shortage – but which skills, and where? Lack of data leaves the experts unsure David Parkinson March 11, 2019     

Andray Domise: The deterioration of data is robbing marginalized communities of their voice

The Globe’s ongoing series on Canadian data gaps is welcome and continues to draw attention to the gaps. As someone who relies on various data sources, particularly the Census, I find these concerns reasonable when it comes to health outcomes, incarceration rates, foreclosure data, children’s aid, police checks.

I am less convince, however, in some of the other areas. We do collect race-based data (visible minorities) in the Census which has finer gradations than the US Census (11 categories compared to 5 in the US). Census data allows analysis of participation and unemployment rates, average and median income, low-income, highest level of educational achievement, areas of study, employment in the public sector (federal, provincial, municipal, healthcare, education, social services, police) and whether in more senior or support positions.

In education, as I have argued earlier (Karen Robson: Why won’t Canada collect data on race and student success?), we actually have good data in terms of the outcomes of the different visible minority groups and the absence of comparable data to the TDSB data from other school boards is more a “nice-to-have” than necessary (see my analysis of education outcomes Education fields of study and economic outcomes).

Researchers and others will always want more data. How this gets priorized and implemented requires some choices given resource implications. In the meantime, researchers should explore creative ways of teasing out the insights from existing data sources:

The Institute for Policy Studies released a study last month on median wealth in American households, and the findings were unsettling, if unsurprising. While the inflation-adjusted median wealth of white families in the United States had grown from US$110,160 to US$146,984 over the past three decades, it had hardly increased at all for Hispanic families (US$4,289 to US$6,591), and dropped by roughly half for Black families (US$7,323 to US$3,557). By 2082, the study concluded that, should current trends hold, the Black family will have a median net worth of zero.

I posted excerpts from the study online, and an acquaintance of mine asked how Black families in Canada compared with their U.S. counterparts. I had no idea, I said. In Canada, we don’t collect, study and distribute such information.

This has long been a point of frustration. When I was a financial planner in a previous life, I often found myself having to debunk misconceptions about the ever-shrinking middle class. One of the more pernicious narratives was the long-term effects of the 2008 financial crisis, which, more than a decade later, many still erroneously blame on irresponsible, low-income “deadbeat borrowers.”

A 2010 study conducted by the American Sociological Review, I would note, found that banks not only targeted low-income areas for risky and complicated subprime loans, but denied traditional loans to qualified Black and Hispanic applicants, effectively creating a segregated class of borrowers who were disproportionately impacted when the interest on those loans skyrocketed.

A slew of follow-up studies in the United States eventually spurred federal investigations, which found that lenders did engage in discriminatory and predatory practices. One of the worst offenders, Wells Fargo, was hit with a US$175-million judgment in 2012 for saddling non-white borrowers with higher interest and worse deals on their mortgages than their white peers of similar credit standing.

Without publicly available municipal census metropolitan data, federally legislated land data and foreclosure information from private oversight agencies, not only could banks have gotten away with enriching themselves through illegal lending practices, there would have been no counternarrative to the myth that broke borrowers of colour collapsed the global economy.

And equivalent data, available and freely usable for such comprehensive studies, does not exist in Canada.

Not so long ago, the collection of race-specific data was seen as unseemly at best, and targeting at worst. That data was often used as a cudgel by police forces to stereotype marginalized communities, and often there was no counternarrative offered. But now, with data analysis having become essential to the global economy and our political systems, everything boils down to the numbers. Geopolitics are being tilted and societies are being reshaped by information asymmetries. Avoiding discussions about race has effectively left policy-makers wandering blindfolded through a forest, at the expense of communities of colour.

Our federal and provincial governments, for instance, have responded to increasing conversation about racialized state-sanctioned violence and discrimination by declining to quantify the problem. Even as policing agencies across the country tout the value of street checks as a tool for preventing and solving crime, data on their efficacy have typically not been studied nor reviewed by independently operated and funded oversight agencies. In Edmonton’s case, the police service funded a study in which the dataset was described as “contaminated” by officers’ subjective evaluations; in Vancouver, the data was only released to the public after a Freedom of Information request. Meanwhile, in Ontario, a report by a provincial judge declared it bluntly: “There is little to no evidence that a random, unfocused collection of identifying information has benefits that outweigh the social cost of the practice.”

While Canadians thank the heavens we don’t experience the statistically proven dysfunctions in the United States’ health, financial and public-safety systems, that gratitude is rooted in ignorance. We know that south of the border, Black mothers are three times as likely to die during childbirth as their white peers, but Canadians have no way to understand the scale of the Indigenous child-welfare crisis beyond the blunt sum of Indigenous children being funnelled into the children’s aid system. We have no aggregated national data on maternal (or even infant) mortality rates among specific ethnic groups, preventing Ottawa from creating targeted health policy. We have no comprehensive data on sexual-health practices among teens and young adults, which effectively granted the Ontario government carte blanche to roll back the sex-education curriculum by 20 years.

Time and again, marginalized communities have had to rely on an irregular flow of data to validate our stories and lived experiences – forced to marshal math in support of our stories that broader Canadian society too often dismisses as hysterics. Canada’s data deficiencies are not merely problems of public policy: They reflect an unacceptable level of neglect that’s become an obstacle to our ability to advocate for ourselves.

Source: The deterioration of data is robbing marginalized communities of their voice

The related Globe article: How Canada’s racial data gaps can be hazardous to your health


Asylum-seeker surge at Quebec border choking Canada’s refugee system, data show

Good in-depth analysis of the numbers:

The wait time for a refugee claim hearing in Canada increased more than a third over the past two years, to 19 months, as more than 30,000 asylum seekers arriving via unauthorized border crossings placed significant pressure on the system.

Overwhelmed by the number of migrants, the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) has only managed to finalize 15 per cent of the 27,674 asylum claims made by people who illegally entered Quebec – where the majority of the crossings took place, mostly at a single location near St. Bernard-de-Lacolle – between February, 2017, and this June.

The resulting backlog has created a growing queue for any and all asylum seekers. Under the Supreme Court’s landmark 1985 Singh decision, all refugee claimants on Canadian soil are entitled to an oral hearing.

Asylum seekers who cross illegally at the U.S.-Canadian border eventually face the same questions as all other refugee claimants: Are they genuine refugees, fearing persecution in their home countries? Data from the IRB show that less than half of the claimants in finalized cases – 1,885 – have been accepted as legitimate refugees in Quebec, significantly lower than the proportion for all refugee cases in Canada.

Canada has only deported a small number of the nearly 30,000 asylum seekers who
illegally entered Quebec through unauthorized border crossings since last year, accord-
ing to statistics from the Canada Border Services Agency.

The majority of border crossers have entered Canada through Quebec, mostly at an
unauthorized port of entry in St. Bernard-de-Lacolle. While a breakdown of adjudicated
cases was not available for Quebec, national statistics paint a picture of a refugee deter-
mination system that has been slow to finalize asylum claims.

But a separate data set from the Canada Border Services Agency shows that only a handful of those who have been denied refugee status have been deported. The CBSA said it had removed just 157 people who entered Quebec through unofficial border crossings since April, 2017 – about one in every 200. It said another 582 are being processed for deportation.

Canada-wide, the CBSA said it has deported 398 of the 32,173 people who crossed into Canada illegally since April, 2017. Of those, 146 were sent back to the U.S., while the rest were deported to 53 other countries, including Haiti (53), Colombia (24), Turkey (19) and Iraq (15).

Refugee lawyer Lorne Waldman said the relatively low number of deportations is simply an indicator of the system.

“It doesn’t surprise me because it takes a while for cases to make their way through the system. So people who came a year ago, if the system works efficiently, they should be at the end of the system and subject to removal if their claims are rejected,” he said.

But the situation at the border has put pressure on Canada’s already-strained refugee determination system. The projected wait time for a refugee claim hearing is currently 19 months, up from 16 in September, 2017, and 14 in September, 2016 – just before the influx of asylum seekers.

Tens of thousands have flooded the Canada-U.S. border since last year. Initially, many of the border crossers were Haitians who had been living in the U.S. under a temporary protected status (TPS) they had been given after the massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti. When the Trump administration announced its intention to end the TPS for Haitians, word spread among the community there that they could apply for refugee status in Canada if they headed north and found a way into the country.

But it wasn’t as simple as showing up at the border and claiming asylum. The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S. requires both countries to refuse entry to asylum seekers who arrive at official border crossings, as both countries are considered safe for refugees. However, since the agreement applies only to people who arrive at official points of entry, asylum seekers can avoid being turned away by entering between official border crossings – a loophole thousands have taken advantage of.

This year brought a new wave of asylum seekers in St. Bernard-de-Lacolle: Nigerians travelling on valid U.S. visas. It’s not exactly clear why Nigerians choose to travel on U.S. visas instead of Canadian ones, but Mr. Waldman said the U.S. visa system is seen as more generous than Canada’s. Many of the Nigerian asylum seekers obtain visitor visas and use them to fly into the U.S. They then head north to the Quebec border, cross into Canada and apply for asylum.

Earlier this year, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and senior government officials travelled to Nigeria to raise their visa concerns directly with U.S. officials there. Mr. Hussen said the Nigerian government also pledged to discourage its citizens from claiming asylum in Canada after crossing between official points of entry along the U.S. border.

The IRB has finalized just 4,181 asylum claims made by border crossers in Quebec between February, 2017, and June of this year (more current data were unavailable), of which only 45 per cent – 1,885 – were accepted. Another 1,614 claims were rejected, and 682 were abandoned or withdrawn.

That number of accepted claims is significantly lower than the Canada-wide acceptance rate for all refugee claims. As of June, the IRB had approved 7,831 of 13,687 – 57 per cent – of all processed asylum cases made since Dec. 15, 2012, including claims made by asylum seekers who crossed illegally into Canada. Another 55,567 claims were still pending. A small number of refugee claims made before 2012, when the refugee determination system underwent significant changes, are documented separately.

As a part of the 2018 federal budget, the government invested $72-million in the IRB, which will be used to hire 64 new decision-makers in an effort to improve processing times.

Montreal refugee lawyer Mitchell Goldberg said he is optimistic processing times will start to decrease as the government dedicates more resources to the matter.

The deportation process can take even longer, especially if an asylum seeker chooses to exhaust all their appeal options – a source of concern for the Conservative opposition.

“It’s completely unreasonable for our asylum system to be backlogged for years and then for us to not have a functioning system to remove people who don’t have a legal reason to be in Canada,” said Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel.

However, NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the former Conservative government, in which Ms. Rempel served as a cabinet minister, is also to blame for the delays at the IRB.

“There’s been pressure on the system for many, many years, from the Conservatives to the Liberals. Successive governments have not resourced the IRB accordingly so that they can get the job done,” Ms. Kwan said.

Asylum seekers waiting for their cases to be heard have had to find accommodation, with thousands heading to Toronto, where the city has paid to house them in hotel rooms, dormitories and shelters for the homeless. Ottawa has pledged $50-million to defray the costs incurred by the provinces, with Quebec receiving $36-million, Ontario $11-million and Manitoba $3-million. But Toronto and Ontario have been pressing the federal government to pay much more, with the provincial Progressive Conservative government demanding a reimbursement of $200-million.

Mr. Waldman also said the government must do more to address the IRB delays, as the long wait times serve as a “magnet” for illegitimate asylum claimants who know they can potentially spend years in Canada while their cases linger in the system.

Source: Asylum-seeker surge at Quebec border choking Canada’s refugee system, data show

Ending mandatory long-form census has hurt Canada – Globe Editorial

The Globe on the ideologically driven decision to cancel the Census and the private member bill to restore it:

The warnings were prophetic. The compulsory long-form census in 2006 had a 93.5 per cent response rate. The voluntary one in 2011 had a 68.6 per cent response rate, even though more surveys were sent to more homes. When the 2011 data were released, they came with prominent warnings about contamination due to “higher non-response error.” Information gathered about more than one quarter of all Canadian communities wasn’t released because too few people in those places filled out the voluntary form. Aboriginal communities were particularly underrepresented.

Think-tanks, economists, scientists and academics in Canada and around the world have dismissed the 2011 data as fatally flawed. It can’t be compared in a meaningful way with the 2006 data, because they were gathered using different methodologies. Vital research projects on issues like income, unemployment and poverty that require long-term data have been compromised. And Statistics Canada can’t provide an accurate picture of how Canadians are faring, relative to 2006, since the 2008 economic crash.

Statisticians are statisticians so we don’t have to be. If they say they need accurate, regular, comparable census, then that’s what they should get from the government. Mr. Hsu’s bill may be doomed, but it will go down fighting to reverse a decision that has harmed the country in tangible ways.

Ending mandatory long-form census has hurt Canada – The Globe and Mail.

For once, Jason Kenney and the Tories side with labour – Globe Editorial

Globe editorial endorsing Kenney’s firm line on Temporary Foreign Workers (and are diplomatically silent on how some of his earlier policy changes encouraged growth of the program):

And Mr. Kenney rightly points to the evidence that wages for fast-food workers have been rising more slowly than the rate of inflation, whereas the labour force in Alberta as a whole is seeing solid wage growth. For once, organized labour is in agreement with the Conservative government in Ottawa.

If any provincial government seriously believes that there is not enough immigration into Canada, it can make use of section 95 of the Constitution Act, 1867, as Quebec does in a very substantial way; to a lesser extent, so do Manitoba and British Columbia. Even without new federal-provincial immigration agreements, a province like Alberta can and should encourage recruitment from provinces with higher levels of joblessness, and from aboriginal communities in which unemployment is rife.

Mr. Kenney and the federal government are right to reassert the fundamentals of Canadian immigration policy. Some parts of Canada may need more immigrants – that’s a discussion worth having. But more non-citizens with limited legal rights? No thanks.

For once, Jason Kenney and the Tories side with labour – The Globe and Mail.

Sept. 26: When jihadis ‘R’ Us – my letter in The Globe

My letter to The Globe on How can we stop the jihadi tourists? – Margaret Wente (tighter version than my post):

The cancellation of passports is not the same as the revocation of citizenship. Cancellation of passports potentially applies to all Canadians, whether born here or naturalized, whether dual national or not. Revocation applies only to those with dual nationality or with the right to another nationality.

Take an example from a Calgary terrorism cell. Canadian-born extremist Damian Clairmont would not have been subject to revocation while “cell mate” Pakistani dual national Salman Ashrafi, who came to Canada as a child, would have been. Both are dead, but there are comparable cases.

Two different punishments for the same crime. Hard to see how this would not be successfully challenged before the courts.

Far better to use the Australian approach, as stated by Prime Minister Tony Abbott: “If you fight with a terrorist group, if you seek to return to this country, as far as this government is concerned, you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be jailed for a very long time indeed.”

Sept. 26: When jihadis ‘R’ Us – and other letters to the editor – The Globe and Mail.

How can we stop the jihadi tourists? – Margaret Wente

Wente conflates cancellation of passports with revocation of citizenship.

Not the same at all. Cancellation of passports potentially applies to all Canadians, whether born in Canada or naturalized, whether Canadian citizens only or dual nationals.

Revocation on the other hand, applies only to those with dual nationality (or with the right to another nationality).

So take some examples from the same Calgary terrorism cell. The Canadian-born extremist Damian Clairmont would not be subject to revocation while his “cellmate” Pakistani dual national Salman Ashrafi, who came to Canada as a child, would be.

Both are dead, but there are other comparable cases among the known and likely unknown extremists.

Two different punishments for the same crime. Hard to see how this would not be successfully challenged before the courts.

Far better to use the Australian approach, as stated by PM Abbott, “If you fight with a terrorist group, if you seek to return to this country, as far as this government is concerned, you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be jailed for a very long time indeed.”

Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Leader, has said he opposes the Conservatives’ new measures, and that homegrown terrorists should be dealt with through the criminal justice system. “I think that a lot of Canadians, including very conservative Canadians, should be worried about the state willing to, and taking the power to, arbitrarily remove citizenship from people,” he said. “That’s a slippery slope that I don’t think we want to go on.”

But Mr. Trudeau – who is now out of step with the rest of the world – will not be eager to raise the subject again. After all, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has allied himself not only with Britain and Australia, but with Barack Obama and the UN.

It’s a very serious matter for governments to revoke the passports of their citizens, restrict their freedom and deprive them of their citizenship. And people who warn that states might abuse their new powers are right. Without vigilance, they probably will.

Finding the balance between national security and personal liberty is always tricky. But our first obligation is to protect ourselves – and the world – from bad Canadians. The virus of murderous fanaticism hasn’t gone away. And it will be around for a long time to come.

How can we stop the jihadi tourists? – The Globe and Mail.

The Myth of the Invisible Jetsetting Jihadi | TIME

Good series of articles putting the risks – they are real – of returning ISIS and other extremists to the West.

Starting with the Globe’s Doug Saunders, who notes:

In other words, there is a good chance that at least one Canadian will return to attempt an attack here. While returning terrorist fighters are nowhere near Canada’s top terrorist threat in terms of numbers, they should certainly be watched very closely by intelligence agencies.

This is where you’ll find one small silver lining in this otherwise dark development: By going abroad to fight, such Canadians become very easy for intelligence agencies to notice, track and monitor. “We’re going to know who these guys are and we’re going to watch them closely as they transit home,” Brookings counterterrorism scholar Will McCants told an interviewer this week. The fact that these fighters aggressively use Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as propaganda tools makes them even easier to find.

Plus, their mortality rate is very high, and rising. So viewed from another angle, by going abroad to fight, our extremists – already very few in number – are self-culling dramatically and rendering themselves far more visible to authorities.

They are a genuine threat, but not the largest or most ominous one facing us. We should be afraid, but we should not be very afraid.

Homegrown terror – be afraid, sort of afraid

From Time’s David Sternam, a similar message:

Three years into the Syrian civil war, there has been only one lethal attack in the West – the murder of four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels by Mehdi Nemmouche, a veteran of the Syrian jihad. In the United States, no one returning from or seeking to join a Syrian jihadist group has even been charged with plotting an attack inside the United States. In comparison, there have been two deadly incidents in the United States committed by individuals motivated by far right ideology in the past six months. If thousands of extremists were only a plane ride away from American cities, one would hardly expect such a limited record of Syria related violence in the West.

None of this is to say that Jihadist groups in Syria should be allowed to fester and develop the capability to conduct attacks in the United States, or that it is impossible that a returning Syrian foreign fighter will evade the layered defenses that protect the American homeland. That Abu Salha was able to return undetected to the United States after participating in Jihadist training should concern law enforcement. The layered defense system may need reinforcement to deal with new challenges, but the constraints it imposes upon jihadist activity ought not be obscured, particularly when making the case that the threat posed by foreign fighters calls for military action. Doing so does a great disservice to the admirable efforts of Muslim communities, local and federal law enforcement, and American citizens in confronting Jihadist extremism at home.

The Myth of the Invisible Jetsetting Jihadi | TIME.

Calls for parliamentary testimony on radicalization and the implications for Canada:

Liberals want hearings on Islamic radicals who have returned to Canada

Lastly, a good overview and profile of ISIS in the Globe:

 How a former U.S. prisoner of war created an Islamic state 

Cruel to take health care away from refugee claimants – Globe and Star Editorials

Harper Flesh WoundNot much support for the Government on the refugee claimant healthcare cuts, starting with the Globe’s editorial:

The problems with the federal cuts to refugee health care begin with the rationale used by government to introduce them in the first place: cost, deterring false refugee claims and equity – the idea that refugees are receiving better health care than Canadians. The court found the government wrong on all counts.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander defended the cuts by saying they would save taxpayers $100-million over five years. The calculation was always suspect. It never factored in hidden costs, such as those incurred by neglecting certain health conditions as a result of no coverage. Mr. Alexander consistently argued that any refugee with a serious illness could still turn to hospital emergency rooms, as if that came at no cost. The government also argued the cuts would reduce the number of bogus refugees coming to Canada simply to access the country’s health care. Ottawa’s decision to penalize potential offenders by depriving every claimant in that category of health care is a kind of collective punishment. A court of law presumes innocence until guilt is proven. When it comes to refugee claimants, Ottawa should at least extend the same benefit of the doubt.

The Federal Court ruling reverses the government’s dumb cuts to refugee health care. There’s a legitimate concern about bogus refugee claimants abusing the system. This health care policy, a weapon that has now come back to wound its creator, was never the right way to deal with the problem.

Cruel to take health care away from refugee claimants – The Globe and Mail.

Predictably, from the Star:

While the Canadian Medical Association cheered the ruling as “a victory for reasonable compassion and a big step for natural justice,” Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander intends to appeal. A less obtuse government would have been shamed into retreat, given the string of humiliating court defeats the Conservatives have suffered over Harper’s clumsy attempt to shoehorn an unqualified judge onto the Supreme Court, his hugely flawed law-and-order agenda and his unlawful bid to change the Senate. But this government is shameless. Alexander has even attacked Ontario for trying to plug the gap, accusing officials of coddling “bogus claimants” and “fraudsters.”

Federal Court rightly strikes down Harper’s refugee health-care cuts: Editorial

And prior to the Federal Court ruling, from the Calgary Herald (not just the suspect Toronto media):

A national day of action was held Monday by health-care professionals, people one doesn’t usually associate with protests and public forms of advocacy. The federal government should live up to its obligations and reinstate medical coverage for all refugees — not just those with the greatest chance of having a legitimate claim. If it wants to protect taxpayers, the government can do so by handling refugees claims in a timely fashion and sending those who are found lacking back home as quickly as possible. But under no circumstances should refugees — many of them already victims of abuse — be made to needlessly suffer.

Editorial: Reinstate refugees’ medical coverage

And Jon Kay in the National Post:

The moral relativist tries to blur the line between us and them. The punitive moral absolutist, on the other hand, paints the line stark and thick, and turns politics into a game of inflicting symbolic cruelties on the people on the wrong side of it. Thus, Tory criminal-justice policy consists of finding new and gratuitous ways to make life harsher for convicts — including taking away their rights to receive visitors, and eliminating widely lauded prison-work programs. Canada is one of the safest countries in the world, and has been getting safer for decades. But prisoners — like diabetic migrants — have no politically influential constituency, so tightening the screws on them scores well at poll-driven Tory brainstorming sessions.

When it comes to performing the same stunt on migrants, the irony is that the current Immigration Minister, former ambassador to Afghanistan and UN official Chris Alexander, has done more than just about any other Canadian to help the population of one of the most destitute nations on earth. Yet now that he is back on Canadian soil, he has been tasked with a policy aimed at denying health benefits to vulnerable people who have come to our shores.

Canada’s valuable post-9/11 work in Afghanistan — building schools for girls, and creating a democracy — was a powerful rebuke to the moral relativist idea that no system of values is better than any other. But as last week’s Federal Court ruling demonstrates, not every issue should be treated with the same aggressive us-vs.-them spirit.

Jonathan Kay: The refugee health-care decision lays bare Harper’s creed — punitive moral absolutism