CANADA

CHANGING TRACKS

WARREN CARAGATA November 14 1994
CANADA

CHANGING TRACKS

WARREN CARAGATA November 14 1994

CHANGING TRACKS

CANADA

Stoyan and Nadya Georgiev are Sergio Marchi’s kind of people. Like the immigration minister’s father, Ottavio, the Georgievs came to Toronto determined to build a better life. Ottavio Marchi, from Italy by way of Argentina, arrived in 1959. Years later, in 1988, the Georgievs escaped what was then Communist-ruled Bulgaria, leaving a Cuba-bound vacation flight at Gander, Nfld. But they are also Marchi’s kind of people because of what they believe. Although Nadya wants to bring her stepdaughter and niece to Canada, she agrees with immigration reforms announced last week by Marchi that will more squarely place the burden of supporting family immigrants on their sponsors rather than the taxpayer. The Georgievs also echo Marchi’s contention that immigration policy must reflect the views of ordinary Canadians and not just interest groups. “Something had to be done,” says Nadya. “People are abusing the system.”

With those views in mind, Marchi set out last week what he calls a “fundamental change to Canada’s immigration policy.” It is a policy unmistakably in keeping with a new, less charitable mood among Canadians even as it postpones to the indefinite future a liberal election promise to increase immigration levels. The plan means that Canada will welcome fewer immigrants next year and will tighten up a program that many Canadians had found too generous for the country’s pinched economic circumstances. It also means that Canada will become home to more well-educated workers and fewer grandparents, more people who arrive in their new land already speaking one of the two official languages and fewer people likely to draw money from already overstretched social programs. The new program, Marchi told the House of Commons, will be fair, but it will also be—pronouncing what is quickly

becoming a Liberal watchword—affordable. ‘We must be mindful,” says one of the documents that Marchi released last week, “that resources once plentiful are now dear.”

The new policy, which follows eight months of consultation—including town-hall meetings in seven major cities across Canada—will mean a cut in immigration levels next year. Marchi said the government will permit between 190,000 to 215,000 immigrants in 1995, down from about 230,000 this year. But the big changes in the way Canada deals with immigrants will come later. One key proposal would force sponsoring immi-

The Liberal’s new immigration policy reflects a less charitable mood

grants to buy bonds to cover the costs should their relatives end up on social assistance. Based on a recent study in Toronto, the federal government says that failed sponsorships across the country cost about $700 million in 1993. It is unfair, Marchi said, to burden taxpayers with such costs. The Georgievs agree, even though they would like to bring in their relatives. “The person being sponsored should be able to contribute to the success of the country,” says Stoyan. Nadya adds that they will only sponsor her stepdaughter and her niece once she and her husband—who both work as language interpreters—can afford to support them.

Tighter controls on sponsorship are only

part of the plan. From 1996 on, the government will change the way it selects people, giving greater emphasis to those who will, Marchi said, “increase the economic benefits of immigration.” The exact manner that Ottawa will pursue that objective has still not been determined. But in an attempt to control the spiralling costs of teaching immigrants one of Canada’s two official languages, the government will give preference to newcomers who speak English or French.

Language fluency makes it easier for immigrants to adapt to Canadian life—an important aim of the plan. And by the year 2000, the government wants to increase the proportion of so-called economic immigrants to more than half the total of newcomers and drop family members to less than half, reversing the current situation. Such a ratio is critical to achieving the government’s goal of making immigration an ingredient in economic growth, says Don DeVoretz, an economist from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., now working on a book on immigration for the C. D. Howe Institute. When economic migrants are 50 per cent of the mix, taxes received from immigrants exceed spending on them, DeVoretz says, adding: “That’s where [Marchij is headed and that’s a plus.”

Still, Marchi’s reforms ran into immediate criticism, with immigrant and church groups complaining that the government had gone back on its election pledge to raise immigration levels to one per cent of the population—or roughly 290,000—and the Reform party declaring that the changes were just politically motivated window dressing that did not cut the numbers far enough. That left Marchi sitting— happily enough—in the middle. ‘The government isn’t a teeter-totter where you go up or down, left or right,” said the minister. “Government is supposed to make a decision that is in the best interests of the countiy.”

THE CHANGING NUMBERS

IMMIGRANTS 1994 (PROJECTED) 1995 (PLAN) Family class 109,000 86,000 to 90,000 Economic 91,000 71,000 to 80,000 Other* 12,000 9,000 to 13,000 REFUGEES 18,000 24,000 to 32,000 TOTAL 230,000 190,000 to 215,000

‘Includes live-in nannies, failed refugee claimants who have remained in Canada because of life-threatening conditions at home and backlog applicants who are being processed under the now-defunct retirees program.

Immigration has been a Liberal party touchstone since the tum-of-the century when Interior Minister Clifford Sifton welcomed what he called “stalwart peasants in sheepskin coats.” From 1901 to 1910, Canada accepted 1.6 million immigrants, an astounding 22.9 per cent of its 1910 population of 6.99 million. Today’s liberals were equally passionate advocates of a hospitable immigration policy when they were in Opposition. “For many years, the Liberal party has been identified with a progressive immigration policy,” the party’s Red Book of election promises proudly proclaimed. But according tq

Alan Li, president of the Chinese Canadian National Council, the new program turns its back on that tradition. “The general tone we see is a kind of knee-jerk reaction to a lot of anti-immigration sentiment,” Li told Maclean’s. “It’s the first blatant turnabout in their Red Book promises.”

The official government line is that no

promise has been broken, and Marchi defensively notes that the Red Book also mentions the importance of tying immigration to economic policy. Unofficially though, many Liberals acknowledge that the new policy is not so easy

to digest. And one Toronto MP, Maria Minna, says she will be pushing over the next year to

ease the effects of the plan as its details are sorted out. Adds Minna, a former president of the National Congress of Italian Canadians and head of an immigrant services agency before her election last year: “I do find it difficult.”

Marchi’s plan departs from its restrictive tone in one area: the refugee program. Refugee numbers are projected to rise from 18,000 this year to between 24,000 and 32,000 in 1995. But the government’s refugee management took a serious hit last week with the unexplained suspension of Michael Schelew, head of the refugee determination section of the Immigration and Refugee Board. Schelew, appointed last year by Marchi, was suspended by board chairman Nuijehan Mawani, an appointee of the previous Conservative government. Marchi refused to comment on the affair but is considering Mawani’s request for an inquiry into Schelew’s activities at the board. Critics say Schelew, a prominent refugee advocate, has developed a reputation for approving large numbers of refugee claims.

In another embarrassment to the program, a spokesman for Marchi said the minister was reviewing his appointment to the same board of a man who admitted last week that he had entered Canada illegally. Indeijit Singh Bal confessed to the Commons immigration committee that he had jumped ship in Montreal in 1976.

Liberals say the immigration plan, and the consultations that preceded it, were a test of how well the government listens. “The voice of ordinary Canadians in this plan has been unmatched,” Marchi declared. But the plan was also a test of where the Liberals would jump when faced with a contradiction between Red Book promises and the demands of public opinion. Few will be surprised that political considerations won the day.

WARREN CARAGATA

TOM FENNELL