Advocates are optimistic that Kenney, who faces task of rolling out reforms, will hear their concerns

Toronto Star
Nov 01, 2008

Lesley Ciarula Taylor
Nicholas Keung
Immigration Reporters

As the secretary of state for multiculturalism, Jason Kenney was omnipresent at ethnocultural events and instrumental in redressing Canada’s historical wrongs to various minority groups – earning him the trust and respect of immigrant communities.

Now the government is hoping that, as the new immigration minister, the young MP for Calgary Southeast will be able to use his strong ethnic ties to roll out the controversial immigration reforms rammed through by his unpopular predecessor, Diane Finley. Those reforms were contained in a budget bill passed during the final days of the last Parliament to further restrict immigrant selections.

However, Kenney’s appointment to the cabinet post Thursday also came with hopes by advocacy groups and the ethnic communities. They hope he will address their concerns over what they see as a dramatic shift in immigration policies that increasingly view newcomers as an economic unit, wanted for nothing more than their job skills.

“He’s very engaged with the community. He came out to a number of events and listened to different groups and took the leadership on the government’s Chinese head tax redress initiatives. We appreciated that,”
said Victor Wong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council.

“The expectation is he will be able to hear us out on our deep concern over (the immigration changes), take that into account, and not just be led by the bureaucrats in the immigration department.”

Thomas Saras, president of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council, said Kenney organized a meeting, at his request, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper two weeks into the election campaign, and that the opposition parties weren’t as responsive.

“I do believe he’s the type of politician who pays attention to what the other side is saying. He’s one of the very few politicians who is down to earth. I trust Jason and I believe we are going to make some improvements,” Saras said.

Kenney is a familiar face to Canada’s growing Filipino community, which was particularly impressed when the then-state secretary of multiculturalism attended a community function in August and shared the stage with Juana Tejada, a nanny who was denied permanent residency in Canada because she had cancer.

“What we are concerned with is the policy of the federal government under Harper of taking in a big number of temporary foreign workers,”
said Hermie Garcia, editor of The Philippine Reporter. “In a lot of cases, these workers work under wages that are very much below the common standard in Canada. Their working conditions and living conditions are very substandard, too. This is a shabby way of treating foreign workers.”

Garcia added: “If Jason Kenney would like to have an impact on the immigrant population, he should be able to make real significant changes” for temporary foreign workers.

Sima Sahar Zerehi, an organizer of the grassroots campaign against the immigration changes, said Kenney’s appointment signals the government’s attempt to use his reputation among immigrants to silence opposition to the immigration changes.

“This is part of an ongoing tendency for the government to reduce immigration issues to congratulatory messages to minority groups,”
Zerehi said. “I think the government is feeling the pressure to repackage the immigration reforms and better communicate them to the public.”

Although Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees knows little about Kenney, she said the new minister already has his work cut out for him.

Kenney, she said, must address the refugee backlog through timely appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Board and immediately establish the promised refugee appeal division that was approved before Parliament’s dissolution. The minister should also increase the number of UN refugees resettled in Canada, Dench said.

Reference: Toronto Star