Conservative policies close Canada’s borders as candidates turn to multicultural votes

Posted by admin on Apr 21st, 2011

Samantha Power / Apr. 20, 2011

While the Conservative party campaign boasts of the highest rates of immigration in 50 years, the facts aren’t quite supporting the claim, though that hasn’t stopped the Conservatives from launching an aggressive campaign attempting to secure the votes of Canada’s diverse ethnic communities. Conservatives are hoping to repeat some of the success of 2008 when Tory strategists targeted ethnic communities across Canada to capture new seats. According to a fundraising document accidentally revealed by Jason Kenney’s office in early March, Chinese voters in downtown Toronto neighbourhoods make up 40 percent of the vote and are increasingly voting Conservative, from 18 percent in 2004 to 25 percent in 2008. In BC, targeting South Asian communities almost doubled Conservative votes. Continued missteps by campaign strategists in the last few weeks are helping to bring attention to poor Conservative immigration policy in the last four years, however.

Sozan Savehilaghi, a member of No One is Illegal, a grassroots migrant justice organization, points to Kenney’s attempts to appeal to different ethnic communities as chameleon-like and misrepresentative. “Kenney has drastically expanded slave-like temporary worker programs, under which migrant workers are exploited as cheap labour without basic rights,” says Savehilaghi. “Meanwhile, the number of accepted refugees and permanent residents has plummeted.”

A campaign launched by Colour of Poverty, an advocacy group focused on bringing attention to the poverty faced by racialized Canadians, has produced its own series of YouTube videos, “Go Ethnics Go!?” to deconstruct the myth of the ethnic vote, stating, “We have to show them our rights are more than a vote.” Harsha Walia, an activist with No One is Illegal Vancouver makes clear, “All politicians should be aware that immigrant communities will not easily be persuaded by any empty election promises.” Walia is working to bring attention to the inherent contradictions in the closed-door policies the Conservatives have put forward in the last Parliamentary session.

While the Conservative platform boasts of the highest immigration rates in 50 years, immigration is actually down five percent, primarily because of cuts to family reunification strategies. Family class immigrations have seen a 15 percent decrease since Jason Kenney became immigration minister. More concerning to immigration activists is the new policies put in place under the Conservatives that threaten people in unstable and threatening situations. Refugee claims are down significantly from 2006, with the number of refugees accepted into Canada down by 25 percent since the Conservatives took power. A United Nations Commission on Refugees report states that asylum seekers to Canada have dropped by 30 percent and No One is Illegal quotes numbers from Citizenship and Immigration Canada which state that approval of refugee claims has dropped 56 percent in the last four years.

While the number of family reunifications and refugees has fallen, the level of temporary foreign workers increased, for the first time outpacing immigration rates, and followed a 20 percent drop in skilled workers accepted according to the Alberta Federation of Labour. The AFL has been campaigning for better conditions for temporary foreign workers in the tar sands and calls the increase in temporary foreign workers dangerous for the workers and for Canadian economic recovery. “The TFW program is rife with abuse,” says AFL president Gil McGowan. “Workers are charged thousands of dollars in illegal fees, often live in homes owned by employers or agencies who charge outrageous rents, are told to work long hours while being denied fair rates of pay.”

According to author and sociologist Nandita Sharma, “What motivates the Canadian government to recruit temporary workers is that migrant workers are essentially indentured servants bound to specific employers and do not have minimum wage and work condition protections, cannot effectively unionize, and cannot access most social programs.”

A recent change in the temporary foreign worker program will place limits on the ability of workers to stay in Canada and achieve permanent residency. As of April 1 of this year, a new rule will limit temporary foreign workers to four years in Canada. As the number of workers increases, the resources for assistance have been cut. In January the government cut $53 million for immigration settlement agencies.

No One is Illegal points not only to closed-door policies, but also a continued campaign against endangered refugees. Walia points to the recent situation such as the boat of Tamil refugees who were treated as “criminals who target Canadian generosity” rather than refugees who should be recognized under the reality of irregular migration.

“The anti-immigrant rhetoric employed by Jason Kenney and others about ‘illegals’ and ‘terrorists’ creates a climate of fear and xenophobia,” says Walia. “Rather than continuing to identify migrants as suspicious strangers to whom our hospitality is conditional, we should see ourselves as part of a universal humanity.” V

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