On October 21, 2019 Canada will have its 43rd Parliamentary election. There are six main political parties running. The first is the Liberal Party of Canada, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Liberals are generally regarded as a centrist party and have governed since October, 2015. The second is the Conservative Party of Canada, led by Andrew Scheer. The Conservatives are a centre-right party that previously governed Canada from 2006-2015 under Stephen Harper. The third is the New Democratic Party, a left-wing or progressive party, led by Jagmeet Singh. The fourth is the Green Party of Canada, led by Elizabeth May, a party that is typically known for its environmental platform, although it does have a detailed platform on all of the important issues facing Canada. The fifth is the Bloc Québécois, led by Yves Francois Blanchet. The Bloc is a Quebec nationalist party that only runs candidates in Quebec. Finally, there is the People’s Party of Canada, a recently formed right-wing party led by Maxime Bernier.
As of writing, polls suggest that Canada is likely heading to a minority government. This means that none of the political parties above will win enough seats to govern without the support of another party. Assuming that all of the above parties win seats, it is accordingly important to understand their policy preferences as any of them may have policy influence on the next government.
I note that there is a strong possibility that Jody Wilson-Raybould, an Independent Member of Parliament running in Vancouver – Granville could win her seat, and also possibly influence the next government. However, as far as I can tell she has not specified any positions on immigration policy, and so I have omitted her from this article.
The Liberal Party of Canada
In the 2015 election the Liberals ran on a bold immigration platform. They promised amongst other things to double the number of applications allowed for parent and grandparent sponsorship applications, restore the maximum age for dependents to 22 from 19, eliminate conditional permanent residency for recently married spouses, reduce the amount of time that permanent residents had to spend in Canada to become citizens, abolish citizenship revocation for dual nationals convicted of terrorism and resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada. The Liberals fulfilled all of these promises.
The 2019 Liberal platform is much less ambitious on immigration, which is somewhat surprising given that their boldness in 2015 is generally regarded as being part of what brought them to power. The Liberal Platform this year promises to “modestly and responsibly” increase immigration levels, create a Municipal Nominee Program in which local communities could nominate up to 5,000 people annually, and abolish citizenship processing fees, which are currently $630.00 per adult and $100.00 per child.
It is not that any of the above proposals are bad, however, it is a little surprising that the Liberals are adopting a largely “stay the course” approach to immigration rather than introducing bold commitments like they did in 2015. Some have also wondered why the waiver of citizenship fees isn’t based on income, especially given the current deficits that the federal government is running.
The Conservative Party of Canada
The Conservative Party of Canada’s immigration platform is much more detailed than the Liberals. Andrew Scheer has during the campaign called Justin Trudeau’s increase in immigration numbers from around 280,000 to 350,000 reasonable, and the Conservative platform reflects this.
The Conservatives are, amongst other things, promising to increase the number of points that a guaranteed job offer has in Express Entry, encourage immigration to remote communities and work with Quebec to amend the Canada-Quebec Accord so that Quebec has more jurisdiction in the selection of immigrants. The Conservatives would reduce processing times for “trusted companies” to hire temporary foreign workers, focus on family reunification and introduce a pathway to permanent residency for low-skilled workers. They would also implement a plan to “match international students with jobs,” whatever that means.
Regarding refugees, the Conservatives would remove the cap on privately sponsored refugees and prioritize the resettlement of genocide survivors, LGBTQ+ refugees and those with HIV status. They would also hire 250 Canada Border Services Agency officers to find and deport those who are inadmissible to Canada as well as deploy Immigration and Refugee Board judges to common irregular arrival points so that asylum claims are processed faster. The Conservatives say that this would deter people from crossing irregularly into Canada to claim asylum, however, it is not clear why a genuine refugee would be deterred from a process that would be fast, assuming it is still fair.
Finally, the Conservatives have 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. This would of course assume that the United States would take these individuals back, which is unlikely. Andrew Scheer presumably knows this, and so this commitment can best be described as “meat for the base” which is unlikely to be fulfilled.
Unlike with previous elections, the NDP immigration platform is surprisingly vague. This is surprising given that Jenny Kwan, the NDP Immigration Critic, often has specific and bold policy suggestions.
If elected the NDP would “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 is also promising to provide caregivers the ability to reunite with their family members, which is a bit odd given that the Liberal government earlier this year introduced measures to do just that.
Finally, the NDP would abolish the safe third country agreement.
Unlike the NDP, the Green Party Platform is incredibly specific, and it would take a few pages just to list all of their commitments. Some of the more notable ones include leading a national discussion to define the term “environmental refugee” and advocate for its inclusion as a refugee category in Canada, provide much more resettlement funding and establish a Civilian Complaints and Review Commission for the Canada Border Services Agency.
The Green Party also says that they would eliminate the Temporary Foreign worker Program and address labour shortages by increasing immigration. While this may sound appealing to some, it is important to remember that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program ranges from seasonal agricultural workers, to people coming to Canada for two weeks to repair cruise ships, to people in the entertainment industry and to people wanting to come to Canada to start businesses. It is not clear that all of these individuals who arrive temporarily in Canada through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program want to become foreign workers, and it is not apparent why the ability of businesses to address short-term needs should require that their temporary employees first pass extensive criminal background and medical checks, as well as typically lengthier processing times, before arriving.
The Greens would also establish a program to process the estimated 200,00 people living in Canada without official status. It is not clear what the requirements of such a program would be, nor whether it would be different then the current Humanitarian & Compassionate immigration category.
Finally, the Greens would terminate the Safe-Third Country Agreement, speed up family reunification, and grant permanent resident status to those who have refused or left military service in a war not sanctioned by the United Nations.
The Bloc Québécois platform on immigration is rather concise, and essentially comes down to wanting Quebec to have greater autonomy in choosing the immigrants that it selects. Right now Quebec is essentially limited to selecting its economic immigrants, and the Bloc seeks to expand this to resettlement and compassionate programs as well. The Bloc also wishes to exempt Quebec from the Labour Market Impact Assessment process.
People’s Party of Canada
The People’s Party of Canada has adopted a markedly different tone from Canada’s other main political parties when it comes to immigration policy. Some might be upset that I am covering Mr. Bernier’s policy proposals here, however, it is possible that the PPC will win seats and have influence in a minority government situation. As well, some of PPC platform is reflective of the current Quebec’s government approach to immigration under the Coalition Avenir Québec, which is in the process of reducing immigration to Quebec by 20% and implementing a Quebec values test for immigrants to the province.
The PPC if elected would reduce immigration levels from around 350,000 to between 100,000 – 150,000, accept fewer resettled refugees, abolish the parent and grand-parent reunification program, limit the number of foreign workers and ensure that every candidate for immigration passes an interview to test for Canadian values. They would also declare the whole Canada-US border an official port of entry for the purposes of returning irregular border crossers to the United States and erect border fences in areas where people frequently cross irregularly. Given that irregular border crossers would presumably simply start crossing at areas that don’t have fences, the PPC platform essentially calls for Canada to build a fence along the Canada – US border.
In the event of a minority government it is clear that there are areas where most of Canada’s political parties could work together to develop immigration policy. For example, most of Canada’s political parties seem fine with the idea of devolving control over at least some of the selection of immigrants to the provinces. There seems to be a desire to provide a pathway to permanent residency for low-skilled foreign workers. All of the parties, except for the PPC, favor a gradual increase in immigration levels. On the other hand, there are clear differences with respect to the role of foreign workers and immigration enforcement. Indeed, trying to mix and match the various party platforms makes this election both very uncertain and interesting when it comes to the trajectory that Canadian immigration policy is going to take.
For a more in depth discussion of where Canada’s political parties stand on immigration, I encourage you to listen to Peter Edelmann’s, Deann Okun-Nachoff’s and my recent podcast on the matter here – https://soundcloud.com/borderlinespodcast/33-where-canadas-political-parties-stand-on-immigration