No doubt daunted by his near-death experience at the hands of the coalition as well as the impressive emergence of Michael Ignatieff as his chief opponent, Steve Harper is getting ready to leave office. The signs are unmistakable.
In a democracy such as ours, when a government believes it has not long to go before the people kick its ass out of office, there is a certain protocol it follows. It makes patronage appointments of its people to boards, commissions, the bench, etc. with unseemly haste and efficiency. An example was the orgy of eighteen Senate appointments made by the Prime Minister just before Christmas after having been nearly done in by the coalition. Near its end, a government also promotes some of its stalwarts into sinecures of the public service or international institutions, with cushy jobs, generous pensions and so forth. An example of this is the attempt to foist the callow and inexperienced Peter McKay onto NATO as its Secretary General.
When it believes that it is about to be gassed, a government also embarks on enacting policy on the fly in order to implement some of its cherished beliefs before being confined to the trash-heap of history. This is what Harper seems to be doing at the moment through his motor mouth surrogate Jason Kenney, Canada’s Immigration minister.
Kenney has called for a new policy requiring that new immigrants to Canada be competent in speaking one of Canada’s two official languages. The view is that immigrants are happier if they can communicate in the language of their adopted homeland. Furthermore, the theory goes that if they don’t speak the language of their new home, they are at an economic and social disadvantage.
That may be true, but so what? I grew up in a community of not more than 800 souls where almost everybody was just off the boat or first generation born Canadians. If they spoke English at all, it was usually with an accent. It was a community comprised primarily of unskilled immigrants from the four corners of Eastern and Western Europe. They came over to make a better life for themselves and their families and to provide new and better opportunities for their children. They were not doctors, engineers, or professionals. They were hardscrabble labourers who worked with their hands and their backs. Most knew not a word of English or French when they arrived in town, unless they happened to be from the U.K., France or Belgium. There were some who never learned how to speak any of our official languages. This was particularly so of women who were not in traditional workplaces. They were mothers and homemakers who were pretty good at what they did. With the husband bringing home the pay cheque and the homemaker taking good care of the kids, these families produced significant numbers of engineers, geologists, school teachers, doctors, lawyers, professors, and people with great technical skills. This process for new Canadians continues to this very day. The vast majority of immigrants to Canada are the salt of the earth. They come here to work and to make a better life for their families. They have succeeded magnificently, and continue to do so.
What Kenney is really doing, no doubt with the support of his leader is trying to enact some Reform/Alliance driven pipedream about getting the “right” immigrants into this country. As though we have not got the “right immigrants” coming into this country as we speak. As though indeed, we have been getting the “wrong immigrants” over lo these many years that we have been taking in immigrants.
There is nothing wrong with our immigration policy. It ain’t broke! Canada is bringing in people who are taking the biggest risks of their lives to seek a better life for their children, and they are prepared to work like hell to attain it. No labour is too menial or too difficult for them so long as they are confident that they are getting ahead and that their families will have a better life than had they continued to reside in their homeland.
The lunatic fringe of the Conservative party is comprised of the Reform/Alliance crowd inflicted on this country by Preston Manning, Stockwell Day and now Stephen Harper. Jason Kenney is their poster-boy. This element of the Conservative party has never been comfortable with immigration of the unskilled who spoke a foreign tongue, and who had nothing to offer except blood, toil and sweat to get ahead. Those Conservatives have not learned that it is precisely those immigrants who have made this country as great as it is today by instilling the values of hard work, sacrifice and respect for education into their children and grandchildren. It is not by accident that Canada stands at the forefront of the family of nations in terms of its standard of living and strong institutions. And for that we should always thank a generous and understanding immigration policy that has made that possible.