The Electric Pencil

Parliament Passes Bill C-50: Tories continue to remake Canada in their own image

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When I started up this blog, I had little intention to post so much about what bill the government happened to be passing when. But then again, I didn’t expect the Conservatives to be pushing through so many controversial pieces of legislation, particularly as a minority government.

It began in 2006, when the Tories, flush with a $13.2 billion surplus, eliminated funding for the Court Challenges Program, the Medical Marijuana Research Program and cut drastically from the Status of Women commission, among other programs. Because these were part of the budget implementation bill, it was a confidence vote. The Liberals, smarting from their election loss and unwilling to campaign on issues they believed could pigeonhole them as left-wingers, let it all pass. They made sure to voice exactly how much they disagreed with the changes, but stated they would fight the Tories another day. (IMAGE: Immigration Minister Diane Finley smiles as she votes in favour of Bill C-50. Image from CTV.ca)

Two years later, the Conservatives have fine-tuned their strategy and are continuing to carve out their version of what Canadian society should look like – despite public outcry to the contrary. From Bill C-10, which would allow the government to withhold much needed tax credits from already produced film and TV shows for being ‘contrary to public policy’ (this being decided by the Heritage Minister), to Bill C-484, which could very likely result in challenges to the right of a woman to chose to have an abortion: the Tories are playing hardball with a Liberal opposition unwilling to take its chances at the polls.

Tonight, though, must be the icing on the cake for Stephen Harper and his government: in a 120-90 vote, the House of Commons passed the final reading of Bill C-50, this year’s budget implementation bill (see the pattern?). Buried not so deep within it though was the real prize: a radical transformation of Canada’s immigration policy that, among other things, will allow the government to place a quota on certain types of immigration applicants, place a priority on economic immigration (limiting the possibility of families being re-united), and grant the Minister of Immigration drastic powers to decide on individual immigration cases.

It’s true that our immigration system is severely flawed, starting with the atrocious waiting times immigrants face due to backlog. But few people outside the Conservative Party and organisations closely linked to the party see this as being an adequate solution – including the Canadian Bar Association. While it may allow for limits to be placed on the number of would-be immigrants waiting for an answer, it is clearly at the expense of who is allowed to immigrate.

I have never been one to believe that Canada’s immigration or refugee system are nearly as utopic and open-hearted as some characterize it. Migrant workers, refugees and immigrants from the Global South have long faced unnecessary hurdles when applying to Canada for residency, but there are other ways to fix this than to impose sweeping changes to how we decides who gets in, particularly when this is based on purely economic grounds. One solution would have been for the Conservatives to actually fill the inordinately high number of vancancies on the Immigration and Refugee board. According to Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, 57 out of 164 positions on the IRB are unfilled – that’s 35 per cent. These are the people who, according to Kurland, oversee refugee claims, determine eligibility for claimants, preside over detention reviews and hear immigration appeals. The Conservatives have pointed out that the backlog for immigration application is currently 42,300 and will rise to 84,300 in 2010-2011. But what they avoid saying is that the IRB’s own report chalks this drastic increase up to these vacancies.

The bill is now off to the Senate, where it will be rubber stamped. For the record, the NDP and Bloc Quebecois voted against the bill, while the Liberals flapped their arms and and squawked opposition, but still allowed it to pass by disappearing from the parliament floor before the vote took place.

More on Bill C-50:

Written by Tim McSorley

June 9, 2008 at 11:49 pm

One Response

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  1. […] earlier post explaining Bill C-50, which granted the Immigration Ministry sweeping discretionary powers to […]


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