The minority Conservative government tabled a bill on March 14, 2008 that proposed amendments to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). Since that time, there has been much debate over these controversial reforms. Over a month later, the Conservative’s budget implementation bill (which includes the immigration reforms) has passed second reading in the House of Commons but still has not become law. Grumblings from opposition parties and Canadian immigrant communities have called into question whether this bill will make it through, or whether it will be the ultimate trigger for a Canadian federal election.
Since the tabling of the immigration reforms in the House of Commons, the opposition parties have been questioning its shortcomings and the unspecified implications it may have on the current system. Initially, the Conservatives were reluctant to expand on the details of the amendments. However, as criticism and speculation mounted, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) Minister Diane Finley released the principles that would guide implementation of the amendments to IRPA. A senior official from CIC held a briefing to explain the finer points of the immigration reforms in an effort to assuage the concerns of Canadian immigrants and other stakeholder groups.
The senior official explained that the proposed amendments would give the immigration minister the power to fast-track applications from workers who have specific skills that are in demand in Canada. Doctors and health-care professionals were cited as examples. He stated that CIC will create a high-priority list based on consultations with the provinces and territories, the Bank of Canada, Human Resources and Social Development Canada, as well as employers and labour unions. This “favoured-status” list could initially include about a dozen different skills sets, and will be transparent to the public. It would evolve over time based on the changing needs of the Canadian labour market. The official suggested that family reunification would also be on the priority list.
The amendments would also allow the minister to set annual limits on the number of applications to be processed, he went on to say. This means that applications received too late in the year (after the limit has been reached) would be returned.
The senior CIC official assured that the proposed amendments to IRPA would be in compliance with Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act. “The possibility that we would discriminate on the base of race, religion, language, or geographic destination is simply not possible,” he stated.
The proposed changes would only affect applications that were received on or after February 27, 2008.
After hearing these clarifications, the opposition parties were still skeptical of the Conservative’s motives, and the fact that they buried the immigration reforms in the larger budget implementation bill. One of the opposition parties, the NDP, tabled a motion to remove the immigration section from the larger bill so that the amendments could be studied more closely.
Because the motion sought to alter the budget bill, it was considered a matter of confidence, meaning that if the House had voted for the NDP motion, the current Conservative government would have fallen and an election would have been called.
This, however, did not happen. The minority Conservative government easily survived the vote earlier this month thanks to the support of the Opposition Liberals. Although the Liberals have stated their disagreement with the amendments to IRPA, they let the bill pass, stating that they were not prepared to hang an election on the proposed reforms at that time. The budget bill consequently made it through second reading and is now being reviewed by the finance committee. The Liberals intend to present amendments to the proposed reforms to the Citizenship and Immigration Committee and are feeling confident that their amendments will pass with the support of the other opposition parties.
Immigration Minister Diane Finley has publicly stated that the government has no intention of changing the bill and that the Liberal amendments would be rejected.
Once committee debates are finished, the bill will head back to the House of Commons for a third reading and a final vote. This will likely take place during the first half of May. If the bill makes it through, it will then be reviewed by Senate and, if passed by Senate, will become law.
However, if the current Liberal and Conservative positions hold, the bill may not pass third reading and a Canadian federal election may be called for June.