Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Qualified Approval

Stephen Harper made two major immigration policy announcements aimed at breaking the Liberal strangehold on immigrant voters, which it has cynically manipulated to replace Canadian-born Conservative voters in major cities with a more reliable and grateful foreign-born and unassimilated native-born multicultural vote.

The first, establishing a single national credentials assessement agency, is already being attacked on constitutional grounds for impinging on provincial jurisdiction and for unrealistic expectations from professional governing bodies:

I've been in this field for over 30 years and it's always been a problem to get these professional corporations and orders to open up to newcomers,'' said Rivka Augenfeld, the head of a Quebec coalition of refugee and immigrant groups.

Augenfeld called Harper's initiative laudable, but wondered just what kind of teeth it will have.

"It's not the government who decides who's qualified to work as an engineer, it's the order of engineers,'' Augenfeld said in an interview from Montreal.


Immigration lawyer Greg Willoughby echoed Augenfeld, saying the professional orders have a lot of power because they determine the minimum requirements for their respective profession.

Willoughby said the proposed agency would be outside the jurisdiction of a federal prime minister.

"It flies in the face of what the Tories are saying, that they'll give more autonomy to the provinces to rule their house in provincial areas of jurisdiction,'' Willoughby said from London, Ont.

Perhaps so, but it's in the provinces' interest to co-ordinate their professional credentials systems, if they don't want the feds to step in and do it for them. Provincial professional bodies have moved quickly in the past to do so--look at the common law provinces' recent interprovincial mobility agreement for lawyers, which has brought down the road blocks for lawyers to go from province to province without having to needlessly rewrite bar exams or redo articling. And some professions already have national accreditation programs, such the National Committee on Accreditation for lawyers from foreign jurisdictions.

A carrot and stick approach with health funding might work by cutting public funding to provinces that don't agree to harmonize accreditation for foreign-trained physicians. Then they'll have none to blame but themselves for not being able to take advantage of this untapped pool.

At least it ends the cruel bait-and-switch played on thousands of professionally accredited immigrants, lured here with promises of high-paying jobs only to be told their papers and experience are worthless and to go grab a mop or drive a cab.

The second, cutting the immigration fee/head tax from $975 to $100, looks too much like "me-too" pandering, following Paul Martin's benevolent proclamation that the Grits will phase out the deficit-cutting, revenue-generating measure.

Canadian citizenship is a privilege, and a couple thousand dollars of fees spread out over a working lifetime is a bargain for becoming part of this fair dominion. The fees have not stopped immigrants from flooding in, and it's only fair that they should bear their share of the immigration system costs.

Will this translate into more immigrant votes? Probably not now. But the credentials plan will keep the Canadian dream from turning into a nightmare for the greatest potential contributors.

Source: CTV

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