Liberals scrambling on family-immigrant targets


Liberals scrambling on family-immigrant targets


Published on: January 4, 2016 | Last Updated: January 4, 2016 6:43 PM EST

The federal immigration department has said it will be accepting the same number of applications this year as it did in 2015 from parents and grandparents wanting to join family members in Canada, despite a Liberal election promise to double the intake “immediately.”

Immigration Minister John McCallum’s office said Monday that McCallum remains committed to fulfilling the election promise, and will be consulting with cabinet in the coming weeks to make it happen. But that hasn’t stopped some from questioning the new government’s broader plan for immigration — and its ability to keep its election promises.

Doubling the number of applications from parents and grandparents to 10,000 a year was a central part of the Liberals’ election platform. While the party said this was important for immigrants’ economic and social stability, it was also seen by some as a way for the Liberals to woo immigrant voters away from the Conservatives.

The Liberals were frequent critics of the previous Conservative government’s immigration policies, particularly its emphasis on temporary and skilled workers rather than on refugees and reuniting family members. Some immigrant communities had previously complained about long delays in bringing family to Canada.

But when Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada on Monday announced that it would begin accepting applications for parent and grandparent sponsorship, the department’s website said the government would only be accepting 5,000 applications.

In a statement sent by his office, McCallum said, “We are committed to reuniting families and we intend to meet the commitment to double the intake of (parent and grandparent) sponsorship applications from 5,000 to 10,000 per year. To achieve this I will be consulting with cabinet colleagues early in the new year.”

The Liberals also promised during the election to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by Dec. 31. Once in power, however, they said they would need more time, instead pledging to bring in 10,000 Syrians by Dec. 31 and the remainder by Feb. 29. Only 6,300 Syrian refugees had arrived in Canada by Jan. 3, according to the immigration department.

Chris Friesen, president of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance, said the key question is what trade-offs the government will make if it wants to keep its promise to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees and double the number of parents and grandparents accepted into Canada. He suspects that is why McCallum will be going to cabinet.

The federal government is supposed to table a plan on how many immigrants in each different category — including refugees or parents or skilled workers — it plans to accept into Canada each year. Those numbers dictate the government resources allocated to each type of immigrant stream.

The plans are supposed to be tabled before the start of the calendar year. But the 2016 plan hasn’t been released, and likely won’t be for several weeks. Friesen said this means no one knows if the government will take resources for some types of immigrants to pay for its Syrian refugees or family reunification promises.

“That’s where the devil is in the details,” he said. “We’re kind of feeling around in the dark without knowing what the immigration-levels plan is.”

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the Liberals “pulled a number out of the air” on both the Syrian refugee crisis and the family reunification file, and are now struggling to fulfil unrealistic promises.

“They sold those figures to Canadians without thinking about how they’d implement them,” she said. “And I think more and more, as we see these sorts of things happen, Canadians are going to figure that a lot of the Liberal platform was smoke and mirrors and they were sold a bill of goods.”

These are not the only Liberal promises to be challenged. The new government has also edged away from its pledge to keep the federal deficit at $10 billion per year. Its middle-class tax cut also wasn’t revenue-neutral; Canadian jets are still bombing in Iraq and Syria despite a pledge to withdraw the CF-18s; and the government hasn’t said what will happen to Canada Post community mailboxes that have already been installed, even though it opposed the policy on the campaign trail.