Paul Martin pledged last night to repeal his controversial $975 landing fee for immigrants as the Liberals move to shore up support among Canada's multicultural communities.
The immigration fee was implemented in 1995, when Mr. Martin was finance minister, as a deficit-fighting measure. The charge had become a significant irritant in immigrant communities, key backers of the Liberals.
Mr. Martin said the government must support immigrant families and help them reunite with relatives from abroad.
"But there is a barrier in place for such immigrants, indeed for all immigrants to overcome," he told a small rally in Victoria.
"I am announcing that over the course of the next mandate . . . a Liberal government will eliminate the [landing fee]."
A Liberal news release said last night that the commitment would cost $225-million over the next two years, with a further anticipated loss of revenue of $210-million annually.
The fee would drop to $600 a person in year one, to $300 in year two and would be eliminated over the third year.
The party is also expected to sell the promise as a way to attract more skilled immigrants. The location of Mr. Martin's announcement is no accident. The Liberals are counting on British Columbia -- particularly immigrant-heavy Vancouver and other parts of the mainland -- to deliver seats.
Getting rid of this head tax will do nothing to help skilled immigrants as long as professional organizations and trades refuse to recognize their credentials. Not a single foreign-trained doctor or engineer will be able to start working in his field upon arrival instead of driving a cab.
Nor is it unreasonable to expect immigrants to make a significant, though not crippling, financial commitment in exchange for permanent residence. Over their working lifetimes, the cost of immigration fees will become nominal; it is a small price to pay to for the privilege of Canadian citizenship. The system should be financed as far as possible by those who seek its benefits.
Moreover, if the federal government ever offers an apology and restitution for the Chinese head tax (though to whom this would be paid remains unknown, since it was last collected in 1923), there will be demands to do the same with this head tax, even though it was not imposed with the same intent as the Chinese tax.
Perhaps this plan explains the Liberals' unusual reluctance to offer meaningless apologies for these particular sins of the fathers. They fear the consequences if immigrants make the connection between the old head tax and the new.
Globe and Mail