The Liberals are blowing up the immigration system again. Why?
It’s a do-over. From Communist monuments to crime bills to CBC funding cuts, the new government is busy, busy, busy rubbing a giant novelty-sized pink eraser over the last nine years of Conservative government. There’s not a single Tory decision the Liberals don’t have in their sights – even in cases where going back in time means taking the country backwards as well.
Now, the Liberals are targeting Bill C-24, changes the Conservatives made to citizenship and immigration. “We’re going to be producing radical changes to the citizenship bill,” Immigration Minister John McCallum told the Hill Times. “We’re going to be announcing the details of those changes in just a few weeks.”
Those changes promise to scale back knowledge requirements the Tories implemented in 2006, which required that new immigrants aged 14 to 64 pass a test about Canadian rights and responsibilities, based on a booklet provided by the government. The Liberals also plan to scrap a language proficiency requirement the Tories enacted in 2014. Since that time, prospective citizens have had to demonstrate an adequate grasp of English or French either by taking a third-party test or by providing evidence of language training by government funded language-training programs, which are provided for free.
According to Liberal MP Shaun Chen, this was problematic. “Often times, families are sponsoring elders and grandparents at a very elderly age. It’s very challenging and difficult for them to be at such a high proficiency of English or French … Those new Canadians play an important role to look after children to be there and to support the family and, absolutely, it’s something that we will need to revisit and look at.”
It appears the Liberals plan to revert to something resembling the immigration system that existed under their watch in the early 2000s — which had no language proficiency requirements and only required immigrants aged 18 to 54 to pass a multiple choice general knowledge test about Canada.
The question is — why? Why return to a cut-off age of 54? Why not require immigrants of all ages to learn the values and expectations of their new country? Wouldn’t that actually be useful for the immigrant parents who will be raising their kids here? And why not require new immigrants to show language proficiency? The job market is tough enough; learning English or French can only help them get meaningful work.
Chen’s comments are misleading, too, because under the system the Conservatives established, the very elderly — in fact, everyone over 64 — are still exempt from the language and knowledge requirements. As for those older immigrants who care for their grandchildren, it’s in those kids’ interests to be looked after by family members who have basic English or French. If those grandparents need to take a sick child to the ER, read a food label, check the weather forecast or help the kids with their homework, they’ll need more than their mother tongue to do so.
Lack of language proficiency also hurts elderly immigrants. It makes them dependent on family and isolates them from the wider community. Immigrant women in abusive relationships often have nowhere to turn because they lack the language skills to get help from police, a shelter or social workers. Language barriers are a frequent problem cited by immigrant women’s rights advocates — and it doesn’t stop being a problem at age 54.
The solution is not to have every government worker learn every minority language, as some might suggest. It’s to empower immigrants with the basic language skills they need to live, thrive and participate in Canadian society.
The Liberal proposal ignores another very basic truth, one which Quebecers know all too well. Language amounts to more than words. Language is culture. Learning a language brings with it knowledge of the culture that produced it, and engenders an appreciation for that culture. It allows the speaker to connect to that culture, to feel part of it. It’ll be interesting to see how Quebec reacts to any such changes, as the province has maintained its own immigration requirements for years — including French proficiency.
So why are the Liberals doing this, and why now? The likeliest explanation is the crass one: They’re doing it for the votes. Just as the Conservatives avidly courted immigrants’ support over the last decade, the Liberals are determined to take it back. Chen represents Scarborough North, the riding with the highest percentage of visible minorities in the country, at 90.1 per cent. McCallum represents Markham-Thornhill, which has the third-highest number (82 per cent) of visible minorities in the country, and where 50.1 per cent of residents were born in Asia as of the 2011 census. The second-highest visible minority population (87.6 per cent) is in the riding of Brampton East, Ont., which is also represented by a Liberal, MP Raj Grewal.
McCallum is right in saying that these would be “radical” changes; they surely are, for all the wrong reasons. They do nothing to strengthen immigrants’ sense of belonging to Canada, or the linguistic duality of our country.
In fact, in their zeal to erase every single vestige of Conservative policy, the Liberals are actually betraying the legacy of their own party. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau championed bilingualism and enshrined English and French minority rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While he also supported multiculturalism, he made sure his children became fluently bilingual. One would hope all Canadian kids — and their parents — would have that same chance under the Liberal party in 2016.
Tasha Kheiriddin is a political writer and broadcaster who frequently comments in both English and French. After practising law and a stint in the government of Mike Harris, Tasha became the Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and co-wrote the 2005 bestseller, Rescuing Canada’s Right: Blueprint for a Conservative Revolution. Tasha moved back to Montreal in 2006 and served as vice-president of the Montreal Economic Institute, and later director for Quebec of the Fraser Institute, while also lecturing on conservative politics at McGill University. Tasha now lives in Whitby, Ontario with her daughter Zara, born in 2009.
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