Last Updated on September 21, 2021 by Steven Meurrens
On September 20, 2021 Canada had its 44th Parliamentary election. The results leave the composition of Canada’s House of Commons essentially unchanged from before. As of September 21, 2021, the Liberal Party of Canada, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has again won a Minority Government with 32% of the vote and 158 seats, 12 short of the required 170 needed for a majority. This means that the Liberals do not have enough seats in the House of Commons to unilaterally pass legislation and must collaborate with the other parties. The Conservative Party of Canada won 34% of the vote and 119 seats. The Bloc Québécois won 8% of the vote and 34 seats. The New Democratic Party won 18% of the vote and 25 seats. The Green Party of Canada won 2% of the vote and 2 seats.
The Liberals can pass immigration legislation as long as they have the support of either the Conservatives, the Bloc or the NDP. They do not have to commit to one party, and can pick and choose which party they get support from depending on the specific change they are proposing. It is accordingly worth understanding these parties’ immigration campaigns.
The Liberal Party of Canada
The Liberals said that if re-elected they would abolish citizenship application processing fees, which are currently $630.00 per adult and $100.00 per child. They also committed to reducing processing times that have been impacted by COVID-19 and creating a visitor visa program for the spouses of Canadians who wish to visit their partners while their spousal sponsorship applications are in process.
The Liberals also plan on establishing a trusted employer system to streamline foreign worker applications, expand the Global Talent Stream and maintain its two-week processing standard. The will Francophone immigration outside of Quebec and create pathways to permanent residence for foreign workers and international students through Express Entry. They also committed to resettling 40,000 Afghan refugees.
Finally, related to immigration, the Liberals said that they would ban foreign money from purchasing a non-recreational, residential property in Canada for two years, unless the purchase is confirmed to be for future employment or immigration.
While the Liberal immigration platform was not particularly ambitious, the actual policies that they implemented during the last Parliament were. The Liberals created a special immigration pathway program for up to 90,000 essential workers and recent graduates and introduced electronic application processes for most immigration streams. In Budget 2021 they dedicated almost $430-million to implementing an enterprise-wide digital platform that would gradually replace Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s current Global Case Management System.
It is probably reasonable to expect more of the same, which recently has actually been quite a lot, and not that predictable.
The Conservative Party of Canada
The Conservatives promised to end IRCC’s current practice of returning applications for being incomplete, and instead require that the Department provide applicants with an opportunity to provide missing documentation. They wanted to allow applicants to pay a fee to have their files expedited and require that all interactions between officers and applicants be recorded. They hoped to use remote interview technology to match applicants with visa officers who understand an applicant’s cultural context and background. They would have created a weighted lottery in the Parent and Grandparent Program to give preference to those who would either be providing childcare or have English/French language ability and expanded the super-visa from two years to five. They wanted to provide a pathway to permanent residence for all foreign workers and created a trusted employer regime for foreign workers.
Regarding refugees, the Conservatives wanted to increase capacity at the Immigration and Refugee Board to reduce hearing wait times and essentially replace the Government Assisted Refugee program with private and joint refugee sponsorship programs. The Conservatives promised to “close the loophole” in the Safe Third Country Agreement so that those who cross irregularly from the United States into Canada can be returned there.
Finally, the Conservatives wanted to ban foreign investors not living in or moving to Canada from buying homes in Canada for a two-year period.
As is apparent, some of the Liberal and Conservative commitments were almost identical, and presumably should be implemented without issue. There are some other Conservative ideas that the Liberals may, and should, adopt, and it will be interesting to see if they do.
The NDP immigration commitments were almost word for word identical to 2019. They wanted to “make sure immigration policies and levels meet Canada’s labour force needs and recognizes people’s experiences, contributions, and ties to Canada,” abolish the cap on parent and grandparent applications, ensure a pathway to permanent residency for all foreign workers and take on unscrupulous immigration consultants. The NDP also promised to provide caregivers the ability to reunite with their family members and have the government regulate immigration consultants.
The general expectation is that the Liberals will rely primarily on the NDP to pass legislation. Considering the Liberals basically introduced and/or implemented much of the NDP platform before the election, it certainly seems plausible that these two parties will be able to work together.
The Bloc Québécois platform on immigration was concise. They called on whichever party was in government (which couldn’t be them, since they only run in Quebec) to reduce the processing time of Quebec-destined applicants, give Quebec control over foreign worker programs, welcome French-speaking refugees and require that permanent residents in Quebec pass a French language test in order to become citizens.
The general consensus in Canadian politics is that the Liberals will work with the NDP and the Bloc ahead of the Conservatives. In looking at the above policy commitments, however, there is considerable overlap between the Liberal and Conservative immigration plans such that Canada’s two major political parties should also be able to work together.
It is worth noting, however, that the ability of the Liberals and the Conservatives to possibly work collaboratively on immigration matters will depend on whether the Conservatives continue to shift left as they have under their current leader, Erin O’Toole. The People’s Party of Canada, a two-year old party generally regarded anti-immigrant, did not win any seats, but did win 5% of the vote. There will likely be much handwringing in Conservative circles as to whether the PPC cost the Conservatives the election, and what the Conservatives have to do to woo these voters to them.
If the Conservatives maintain their current trend towards the middle, then Canada’s next Parliament could be one characterized by collaboration on most immigration matters. If they do not in an attempt to attract PPC voters, then Canada’s political scene could become one of increased division, in which immigration becomes a major political issue.
Either way, between policies started before the election, and new commitments that were announced, the next few years will be busy in Canadian immigration law.