Stephen Harper’s Immigration Policy is Wrong. Our industry’s response is wronger-er

January 15, 2015

The Canadian Employee Relocation Council (CERC) recently wrote a letter to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, which called out a number of concerns with the government’s most recent Ministerial Instructions regarding the administration of the Express Entry program, which went into effect on January 1, 2015. The letter rightly pointed to a number of concerns with the proposals. It is a good summary of concerns and it can be found on CERC’s website. I will share one of the more summarizing quotes from the article.

The new instructions will create uncertainty for many companies with foreign nationals working in Canada under the provisions of intra-company transfers; foreign nationals working in Canada under the provisions of trade agreements (such as NAFTA), and foreign nationals working in Canada under Study Permits and Postgraduate Work Permits.

This is very well put. I shared this letter with a certified immigration consultant recently and asked him about his concerns. His answer was succinct:“Yes, I agree with much of it, but have you seen this government? They don’t want it easier for employers to bringer over workers. Their actions are political.” In short, to send such a letter might as well praise the government for a job well done, because everything for which the letter critiques it government has actually been its goal.

We are not even in the food fight: Advocacy should be Political, not Logical.

Since the government allowed the Temporary Foreign Workers Program to become politicized in 2013, due to its lack of oversight and belief in correctly staffing that oversight, it has been doing everything it can to kowtow to the media and a “protect our jobs” public sensitivity on the entire immigration file. How novel. With a questionable economic policy (unless you count the number of jobs created from filming Economic Action Plan commercials) and stubbornly high unemployment rates, it is an absolute shocker that a government would turn to “protecting Canadians jobs” through cracking down on foreigners taking them. We have never seen this before in the history of immigration policy, have we? It does not matter that many of these jobs were never going to go to Canadians, as they were either not qualified or not willing to relocate. And Intra-Company Transfers had nothing at all to do with the original media concerns. But theses would be logical arguments and logical arguments have no place in a political debate.

In short: The CERC’s general advocacy and letter campaigns have been like bringing a nutritional guide to a cafeteria food fight. It isn’t going to do that much.

What is worse than getting food thrown at you at that food fight?

Answer: Not being important enough to even have the political bully consider you a worthy target of his projectile-slushy.

The CERC’s total membership, at the time of writing, hovers at around 500 – 600 members (happy to be corrected here). That makes our industry association the lobbying equivalent of the Eastern Canadian branch of Vegan UFO-conspiracy theorists. Let’s be clear: I did not say that our arguments are the equivalent of those of Vegan UFO-conspiracy theorists, I said that of our lobbying heft. We are massively, radically ignorable without any political repercussion to the government of the day.

End the advocacy?

No. Making sure the government of the day knows where you stand is important. But let’s not close our eyes to the fact that we are not being and can never be politically meaningful. In fact, all of these negative changes to the entire immigration portfolio have taken place after years and years of our industry’s advocacy about easing immigration matters in order to fill Canada’s skill gap.

Instead: Cyrano de Bergerac that message!

In the famous novel Cyrano de Bergerac finds himself deeply in love with his cousin Roxane. While Cyrano is brilliant, he has unfortunately been graced with an enormous nose. His poems and letters can only get the attention of Roxane if he sends them through a handsome young man, Christian, whom Roxane finds attractive. The letters are successful in getting Roxane’s attention, as long as she believes they are coming from Christian. So we need to Insert CERC for Cyrano, the government for Roxane and ANY LARGE, ACTIVE BUSINESS LOBBY THAT HAS A HISTORY OF SUCCESS, and you have an idea as to what we should actually be doing here.

However, that business lobby has to care about the issue enough to lobby hard. And because this issue will never, ever resonate with the public or the media, then they must hit the Conservative Party where it lives: in the pocketbook. It must swing its money behind the candidate who will take on this issue and back some sensible actions on the immigration portfolio. The two challenges to this are obvious: a) will a business lobby take such action on the immigration portfolio or does it hold other lobby-cows more sacred (i.e tax cuts); b) will any government back such non-populist immigration policies? These are not small challenges.

Regardless, while I not only empathize with, but fully back the ideas behind much of CERC’s advocacy on the immigration portfolio, its current resources are finite. When you don’t have any muscle strength, it is only natural to fall back on your logic, but spending money and resources just to bring a logical-knife to a political-gunfight is not my idea of where I want those resources going.

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