Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he would restore fairness and faith in the integrity of Canada’s immigration system by cracking down on those who “game” the refugee process and supporting newcomers who help boost the economy.
In a pre-election speech on immigration policy, Scheer blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for eroding public trust in the system by failing to stop the flow of people crossing into Canada from the U.S. outside official border points. The Liberals, he argued, have undermined Canada’s legacy of welcoming newcomers through a system based on compassion, the rule of law and human rights.
“Among the people I hear from most often on this point are new Canadians themselves, people who have played by the rules and arrived in Canada fair and square,” Scheer said to supporters and invited guests from diverse communities during a party-organized event in Toronto.
“They are most offended at Trudeau’s status-quo, where some are able to jump queues, exploit loopholes and skip the line.”
In a speech called Unity in Diversity, one in a series of five speeches on his vision for Canada, Scheer set the stage for an election campaign that’s expected to see divisive immigration issues become key points of debate.
He boasted about the Conservatives’ past record in reducing processing times and backlogs, and outlined in broad strokes some measures his government would take if it’s elected this fall.
Scheer said Conservatives would not set arbitrary immigration levels, but rather be guided on an annual basis based on Canada’s best interests.
“That number may change every year, and I’m not going to get into a political debate, or worse, an auction about immigration numbers,” he said. “The number will reflect what Canada needs and, just as importantly, who needs Canada.”
Refugee, economic immigrant policies
He also said a Conservative government would:
- Do more to promote privately sponsored refugees.
- Safeguard and emphasize economic immigration.
- Improve language training so newcomers can succeed economically and socially.
- Improve credential recognition to make it easier for newcomers to practise their professions and trades.
- Provide low-skilled workers a permanent path to residency, making sure wages are fair and taking steps to prevent abuse of workers.
- Close a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement to prevent people from entering Canada at Roxham Road in Quebec and other illegal crossing points.
The Liberals have been under fire for failing to control the border during a surge in the number of people crossing into Canada from the U.S. outside official border points. About 40,000 people have crossed illegally in the last two years.
Scheer accused Trudeau of playing wedge politics on the immigration file by responding to criticism with “rhetoric and personal attacks.”
“We should be able to have an immigration debate in this country without the government calling its critics racists and bigots,” he said.
Scheer said the Liberal approach is “dangerous” because it reduces legitimate criticisms to “cheap partisanship” and devalues the real threats of racism, bigotry and extremism.
“To ascribe those motives to those who simply want stronger security screening procedures, or fewer people entering the country illegally, makes a mockery of such hateful forces,” he said.
The Liberals lost no time in tearing into the Conservatives’ approach to immigration and refugee policy.
In a Liberal Party news release issued before Scheer was to take the podium, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen accused Scheer of embracing “the same sort of extreme right wing anti-immigration rhetoric that has become pervasive among right-wing populist parties around the world.”
Hussen also took aim at the Conservative legacy on immigration, saying the party made “reckless” program cuts that were called cruel and unusual treatment by the Federal Court.
“From stoking fear with snitch lines and cutting refugee health services, to running ads that peddle false information and outright conspiracy theories, Canadians know that Conservative politicians see immigration policy as a way to fear monger and divide Canadians,” Hussen said in the release.
Superior views ‘absolutely repugnant’
On refugees, Scheer said his “deeply held personal convictions” are based on universal equality, and said the notion that someone’s race, religion, gender or sexual orientation would make them superior is “absolutely repugnant.”
The Conservative leader also spoke of how his beliefs about helping those in greatest need were shaped by his mother, who died a couple of years ago, and her commitment to helping refugees and the most vulnerable people. Canada must continue to be a place of refuge for those truly in need, he said.
“This strikes at the very fairness of Canada’s immigration system, and there is absolutely nothing fair about forcing the oppressed and the persecuted, like the Syrians my mother helped, to wait longer for Canada’s help while others cross the border illegally from places like upstate New York,” he said.
Hussen’s release defended the Liberal record in office, insisting the Trudeau government has restored confidence in the immigration system by investing in resources to attract newcomers, shorten wait times and ensure fairness.
“Canadians don’t want to go back to the old days and old divisive ways of Stephen Harper and that’s what Andrew Sheer has to offer.”