By Karl Flecker
When asked to speak at a parliamentary committee studying efforts to improve and retain immigrants to the Atlantic region I suppose I should have realized that the Conservatives on the committee would seize the opportunity to bash immigrants, at the expense of those invited to provide input for policy development.
Who could be so naïve to imagine the role of parliamentary committees is to research, study and engage with experts on specific policy matters in order to develop sound and representative policy in service of Canada?
That would be me.
On May 31, 2017, a hearing was held of the Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) committee, a body tasked with studying how to strengthen immigration efforts in the Atlantic region within the context of a declining and aging population.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel and her Conservative colleagues chose to listen to a few business lobbyists and prevented sector experts who had either traveled to Ottawa from the Atlantic or set aside time to participate via video conference as I did, from sharing their insights and experience on the topic. The topic the committee was tasked with was clearly defined, but the Conservatives filibustered two days of committee hearings to gripe about amendments to Bill C-6 that will enable more immigrants to apply for citizenship.
The original legislation introduced under Harper did the opposite and was all part of the heyday of catering to ‘old stock’ Canadians with calls for banning hijabs at citizenship ceremonies or proposing tip lines to report barbaric cultural practices.
How did I for one second imagine that Harper’s acolytes would not seize on any chance to once again attack immigrants?
Why not rant on endlessly about the horrible injustice of newcomers being able to count time already spent in Canada as an affront to what it really takes to become a citizen. Or even worse, allowing individuals to maintain their citizenship if they committed treasonous crimes (because facing the judicial/legal consequences is really not enough punishment) and, damning to hell the creeps who fraudulently secure citizenship. This particular injustice got buried deeper than a tick in an Ontario summer under Rempel’s skin. The MP from Rose Hill, Calgary found the fortitude to go into great detail on this point, for nearly the entire time of the committee meeting. It felt like the country was being overrun with swarthy con artists.
Sure, fraudulent immigration applications are not cool and a consequence for falsification is fair. That can happen when some newcomers deal with immigration consultants known to file dodgy paperwork. But Bill C-6 just provides those who experience citizenship revocation for misrepresentation, a chance to appeal to a Federal Court.
But I digress (kind of like Rempel and her pals). The committee and the invited witnesses were to study how to attract and retain immigrants to part of the country where young people are leaving, and where labour force reinvigoration is essential.
Experts who have ideas on this issue spent time preparing inputs, they juggled work and family schedules to contribute to a policy discussion. They traveled at taxpayers’ expense or worked with parliamentary staff to appear via video conference. Dozens of people were involved in contributing to policy development.
It all was for nothing –because the opportunity to impugn and frame immigrants as fraudulent con artists and terrorists was just too tempting.
Committee member and Conservative MP Dave Tilson spent time on his cell phone during Rempel’s long winded and purposefully time wasting monologue. When he noticed the Liberal Committee chair whispering with a colleague, he admonished the Chair for not paying attention to his colleague. Dave failed to see the irony of his own cell phone in hand.
Witnesses denied the chance to speak, likely missed flights home at the taxpayer's cost. Others, like me, waiting patiently on-line wasted hours. Technicians, parliamentary clerks, minute takers, interpreters and other staff carried out their jobs professionally and with practiced endurance that comes from frustrating experience.
Will we get an apology for the arrogant, insulting and politically partisan behaviour from the faces of social conservatism?
Will the Atlantic region get a chance to better welcome, retain and benefit from immigration?
Will the Conservatives be held accountable for a deliberate waste of parliamentary resources and xenophobic griping?
Don’t hold your breath.
Karl Flecker is an immigrant employment specialist with the KEYS Job Centre in Kingston. He works on labour migration issues nationally and internationally.