Early commentary on the Liberal omnibus provisions regarding asylum seekers: Contrasting views Ibbitson and Urback

Starting with Ibbitson, who supports the planned change but not it being done though the omnibus budget bill:

“Our country is full,” Donald Trump told asylum seekers last week. The President is wrong, of course, but uncontrolled migration is a crisis in the United States and a problem in Canada, because it undermines confidence in the immigration system.

This is one reason the Trudeau government introduced legislation this week to stem the flow of people who cross at unauthorized points of entry from the United States.

Another might be that, even though the Liberals have done a good job over the past year of slowing the flow of unauthorized crossings, they fear the public might think they haven’t done enough.

In either case, it’s also important to remember that the core purpose of immigration is to stoke the economy and prevent population decline. The intent of deterring crossings at unauthorized places should be to bolster the overall system.

The total fertility rate in the United States has fallen to 1.8 children per woman, and will likely continue to fall. The Canadian rate is 1.6. Both countries are reproducing far below the average of 2.1 children per woman needed to prevent population decline.

This is good news. Teenage pregnancy rates have fallen by two-thirds in the United States since 1990, and 80 per cent in Canada, thanks to improved access to sex education and birth control. In the United States, white, African-American and Latino birth rates are converging, reflecting improved education and economic opportunity for minorities. More women are waiting to establish their careers before having a child, a reflection of increasing equality. Low fertility means social progress.

But fewer babies eventually means fewer young workers to pay the taxes needed to sustain health care and pension for older folks. It also means lower economic growth, because there are fewer young consumers buying that first car, first house and so on. Two dozen countries are losing population each year, and in many cases their economies are struggling.

The United States and Canada counter the effect through high levels of immigration, which is why their populations continue to grow, and to age more slowly.

But the United States faces a growing crisis of uncontrolled immigration, with more than 100,000 crossers from Mexico detained in March alone. In Canada, the number of people who crossed at unauthorized points of entry was just less than 20,000 for all of 2018, mostly from the United States into Quebec.

Mr. Trump wants to build a wall, which would be ineffective, and is threatening to close the southern border completely, which would be an economic disaster.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is taking a different approach. The budget bill introduced Monday includes a new law that would prohibit people from making refugee claims who have already made a similar claim in the United States and certain other countries. And Canadian officials are working with their American counterparts to toughen the Safe Third Country Agreement so as to further deter crossers.

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers has condemned the new legislation as “callous.” But Canada will continue to take in refugees who make legitimate claims through regular channels, such as the refugees from Syria.

The immigration system is not humanitarian; it is economic. In Canada, we bring in almost 1 per cent of our population each year so that our economy and population will continue to grow. Mr. Trump encourages nativist, anti-immigrant sentiment. If Americans listen to him, their country will eventually start losing people − with or without unauthorized migrants − surrendering a key geopolitical advantage, since the Chinese and Russian populations will both start to decline in a few years. (In Russia, it may already have begun.)

Some people argue for policies − enhanced parental leave, subsidized daycare, even cash payments − that will encourage couples to have more children, while limiting immigration. Such policies are very expensive and research shows they don’t work. Women in developed countries today for the most part don’t have children because the state, or God, or their kinfolk, or domineering husbands want them to. Parenting for most couples is an act of personal fulfilment. And they are quickly fulfilled.

The Trudeau government should not have placed these new rules in an omnibus budget bill. And those rules may not survive a judicial challenge. But the goal is sound, even if it was opportunistic. Governments have a duty to control their borders. Failure undermines confidence in the immigration system. And closing the door to immigrants is demographic suicide.

Source:     Liberals’ immigration plan is sound policy delivered poorly John Ibbitson April 11, 2019     
Urback, in contrast, focusses on the “crass political” calculations, and is largely silent on the merits or not of the change:

The Liberal caucus would have had a collective aneurysm just few months ago if a senior political opponent had talked about “asylum-shopping” when referring to refugees who cross illegally into Canada. The implication, they’d cry, is that those risking their lives to seek refuge in Canada are simply economic migrants — not families desperate to find a safe place to call home.

The reality, of course, is that while many migrants might genuinely see Canada as the only safe place for them in North America — and perhaps that’s true — many who have crossed into Canada at unofficial entry points have not met the criteria for refugee protection, for various reasons. Slightly more than half of finalized refugee claims from these applicants were rejected in the last quarter of 2018.

The situation is hardly straightforward; Canada has been forced to balance its humanitarian commitment to refugee resettlement with the practical limitations of a system unprepared for the recent wave of migrants.

The system has been under enormous strain, with asylum-seekers waiting up to two years for just a hearing. And the integrity of the process itself has been under intense pressure, based partly on the impression that migrants crossing into Canada illegally are using a “loophole” in the Safe Third Country agreement to qualify for a hearing, when they otherwise would have just been sent back to the U.S.

The situation is thus a fraught and messy one, which unquestionably makes it deserving of criticism and careful analysis. Yet that is something the Liberals have been fiercely intolerant of the past three and a half years.

Back in July, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen called the Ontario government’s concerns about so-called queue-jumping “un-Canadian.” During an end-of-year interview, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Conservatives were trying to stoke fears over refugee claimants. In late January, the prime minister responded to a town hall question about Canada’s migration policies with a diatribe lamenting “the politics of division.”

And yet now, a few months later, Border Security Minister Bill Blair has defended the government’s sudden overhaul of asylum laws as a measure to prevent “asylum-shopping.” This language, apparently, is now tolerable.

Buried in this year’s omnibus budget implementation bill is a series of amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that essentially disqualify asylum-seekers who have made a claim for refugee protection in any other country. Once the bill receives royal assent, an asylum-seeker can be deported without a hearing, which would seem to violate the Charter as affirmed by Singh v. Canada, where the Supreme Court determined that Charter rights extend to everyone physically on Canadian soil.

Many Canadians will nevertheless welcome the Liberals’ unexpected about-face on asylum-seekers. Two-thirds of respondents to an Angus Reid poll published back in August thought the border situation had reached a crisis point. More than half said that Canada was too generous toward asylum-seekers who cross into Canada illegally. A more recent Ipsos poll found that 47 per cent of respondents believe most migrants aren’t actual refugees — they just want to come to Canada for its economic benefits. Perhaps Blair has that summary on his desk.

What’s noteworthy about the timing of the planned changes is that the number of asylum-seekers crossing into Canada at unofficial points of entry is actually on the decline. In 2018, 1,517 people were intercepted by the RCMP crossing into Canada during the month of January. A year later, that number dropped to 888 for the same month. In 2018, 1,565 people crossed illegally into Canada in February. A year later, for the same month, the total was 808. Numbers haven’t been that low since June 2017.

This is all to say — as if there was any doubt — that the Trudeau government’s decision to enact sweeping changes to Canada’s asylum provisions is just a crass political move; it will come into force months before an election, when illegal border crossing is actually on the decline, and right onside with public opinion in favour of toughening up asylum laws.

Tabling a stand-alone bill on changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act — as one would reasonably expect of policy changes of such enormous importance as Canada’s treatment of vulnerable people fleeing persecution — would take too long, and be subject to debate and revisions and multiple readings and so forth.

By using an omnibus bill (something the Liberals vowed they would never do), these changes can go into effect right away, eliminating a potentially defining wedge issue. Sure, it is potentially unconstitutional, but that can and will be sorted out later.

Three and a half years is not a long time to go from “Sunny Ways” and 25,000 Syrian refugees to deportations without hearings and unconstitutional amendments. This is type of realpolitik (on the backs of refugees, of all people) is the sort of soulless strategizing we’re supposed to expect of the other guys — the ones who talk about “queue-jumpers” and Canadian values and shopping around for places to seek asylum. But without the sun lighting the way, it’s hard to tell everyone apart.

Source: Changing Canada’s asylum laws is nothing but a crass political calculation by Trudeau: Robyn Urback

Can the Liberals resist omnibus bills? – Adam Dodek

Will be an early test of the Liberal government and more independent Senators (and the Senate):

Until recently, budget bills were a rather drab affair. Parliamentary expert Ned Franks found that between 1995 and 2000, the average length of budget bills was 12 pages. In 1994, Reform MP Stephen Harper complained about the omnibus nature of the Liberal government’s budget implementation bill, which was 24 pages.

Omnibudget bills began under the minority government of Prime Minister Paul Martin with bills of more than 100 pages and grew to mammoth proportions under Prime Minister Harper: The most egregious topped 800 pages. The Harper government went beyond the accepted understanding of an omnibus bill by tacking on subjects to its budget bills that had nothing to do with the budgets (such as changing the Supreme Court Act in the face of the challenge to the government’s nomination of Marc Nadon in 2013).

These bills are an affront to parliamentary democracy because they prevent the House and the Senate from doing their job to adequately scrutinize legislation. The bills arguably infringe on the privileges of individual MPs, despite rulings to the contrary by successive speakers of the House. Instead of standing up for the rights and responsibilities of individual parliamentarians, successive speakers have allowed omnibus bills to persist and grow to offensive proportions.

Fortunately, unlike many other desperately needed democratic reforms, fixing omnibus bills is relatively easy: It doesn’t require a constitutional amendment, a referendum or even a law. All that is required is for the government to take the initiative and change the House of Commons rules of procedure to restrict the use of omnibus bills.

That’s the easy answer. But there is also a brave solution and a bold one as well.

The brave solution would be for a speaker to stand up for the rights of parliamentarians and draw a line in the sand at omnibudget bills and rule them out of order. The bold solution would be for a newly independent Senate to assert its independence and refuse to consider omnibus House legislation that cannot be properly scrutinized. I doubt that is the sort of independence the Trudeau government desires from a reformed Senate. However, it may be reason enough to spur the government into acting, sooner rather than later.

Source: Can the Liberals resist omnibus bills? – The Globe and Mail