Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Dion Digging for the Wrong Dirt

Worse things than largely benign Reform policy afoot

In his naivete, Stephane Dion probably imagines he's finally hit that home run he's been itching for.

In debate over controversial new immigration rules contained, of all places, in the 2008 federal budget, Stephane Dion drug some old Reform party immigration policies back from history.

How far in history? About 20 years.

The document, written by Stephen Harper while he was still serving as the policy chief for the then-fledgling Reform party, outlined the party's immigration policy.

"[This] may look like an attempt to deliver promises made by the Reform party 20 years ago," Dion insisted.

Yet, then one has to look more closely at the "smoking gun" that Dion seems to think he's uncovered.

"Immigration should not be based on race or creed, as it has in the past; nor should it be explicitly designed to radically or suddenly alter the ethnic makeup of Canada, as it increasingly seems to be," the document outlines.

The policy called for a number of changes to immigration policy, none of which are terribly malignant. It called for immigrants to have the necessary skills and training required by the job market. It insisted that immigration should serve an economic purpose. It suggested that family sponorships should be restricted to spouses and children under the age of 18 (parents, grandparents and extended family should be required to apply through regular channels). It also insisted that genuine refugees -- those who had legitimate cause to fear oppression -- be admitted to Canada.

The document also noted that the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution may have needed to be invoked in order to deal with illegal immigrants already landed in Canada -- something the government should be doing regardless.

The simple fact of the matter is that, whether supporters of the current government like to admit it or not, the current immigration bill is a failure of the big promise that the Conservative party campaigned on: accountability. More specifically, accountability's handmaiden, transparency.

One could not possibly argue that smuggling an immigration bill into a budget bill that anyone who's being paying attention over the past few months simply knew the Official Opposition wouldn't vote against represents anything even resembling transparency.

In all likelihood, one would have to expect the move was calculated in an attempt to avoid the criticism being directed at the party now.

It wasn't a wise decision. If anything, it only gives more ammunition to demagogues who want to insist the Conservative party has a hidden agenda. After all, it certainly looks that way.

It should be the lack of accountability and transparency that Dion is outraged about. Accusing a government that more than 400,000 foreigners into the country of having an anti-immigrant bias is simply too far off the mark.

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