Archive | Canadian Politics

The Harper Government Announces Legislative Priorities for 2014

Posted on 05 February 2014 by admin

As Parliament returns, the Government of Canada has laid out its legislative priorities for the upcoming session. 

“As I travel across the country and speak with Canadians from many different communities, they tell me of their priorities – jobs, growth and long-term prosperity” said the Honourable Tim Uppal, Minister of State for Multiculturalism. “In 2014, the Harper Government‘s top priorities will continue to be those that matter to Canadians – Jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity.”

The cornerstone of our agenda will be the Budget, and Canadians can count on our Government to build upon our strong record of creating jobs and opportunities for Canadians, keeping taxes low, supporting and protecting families, and putting Canada first.

In addition to the Budget and staying on track to return to balance, the Government will be hard at work fulfilling last fall’s Throne Speech commitments, introducing new legislation that will:

– open new markets for Canadian goods;

– create a Victims’ Bill of Rights;

– protect our children from high-risk child predators; and

– strengthen the value of Canadian citizenship.

“We take pride in our Government’s ability to run a productive, hard-working and orderly Parliament,” continued Minister Uppal. “It has allowed us to continue to deliver results for all Canadians, including our Government’s best legislative performance in 2013 with 40 bills receiving Royal Assent.”

While the Opposition is determined to ignore the issues Canadians care about most, our Government will stay focused on their priorities – a strong economy, lower taxes and safe communities.

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Ontario ‘wrong’ on refugee health care, Immigration Minister says

Posted on 30 January 2014 by admin

They’re both ministers and Ontario residents, but Chris Alexander and Deb Matthews don’t have much else in common. He’s Canada’s immigration minister, while she handles health provincially. He’s a Conservative, she’s a Liberal. He’s from Ajax-Pickering, a riding east of Toronto, while she’s from London, to the west.

All that aside, federal ministers don’t often pick fights with the provinces, regardless of political stripe. They err on the side of even-handed diplomacy with each province. And yet, here we are, with the two in a brewing standoff.

Mr. Alexander is firing back at Ontario’s decision to fund health care for refugees whose cases Ottawa says are not legitimate. He took aim at Ontario in a press conference Wednesday, and Ms. Matthews was only too keen to fire back.

A day later, Mr. Alexander said it’s not a fight he’s backing down from.

“Ontario is wrong on this issue,” the ex-ambassador told The Globe on Thursday. “Deb Matthews – her approach wastes taxpayers’ money. It undermines our successful reforms. And it betrays genuine refugees. And we will continue to criticize if if they continue down this road. And I’m certainly not afraid of doing that, because this is a federal field of responsibility which they have chosen to enter for absolutely the wrong reasons.”

The fight began in late 2012 when Ottawa introduce immigration changes. Among them was designating “safe” countries that Canada doesn‘t expect many refugee cases from, in a bid aimed at cracking down on bogus cases. Would-be refugees from the designated countries now get quicker hearings. If their claims are actually legitimate, they enter the normal asylum process. If the claims are illegitimate, they’re deported more quickly. Ottawa says the goal is to get rid of bogus cases that clog up the system.

The crux of the Matthews-Alexander skirmish hinges on whether those suspected bogus claimants from designated countries get health care. Mr. Alexander says they should only get it once their case is accepted – essentially, once Canada agrees they’re a refugee. But Ms. Matthews announced last month Ontario would spend $20-million annually to give care to all claimants, even failed ones from “safe” countries, until their deportation date.

The two met over the issue last month. After that, “I thought he had a deeper understanding of the impact on our hospitals,” Ms. Matthews said on Wednesday, after Mr. Alexander spoke out against her move. “He is a former diplomat. He understands this issue more than others – or would be expected to understand this issue. And I’m just terribly disappointed he would choose to play politics. The fact is, [the refugee claimants] are in this country. It is the federal government’s responsibility to manage the refugee system. … Nobody’s going to turn away a woman who is delivering a baby.”

The two are in a turf war. On Thursday, Mr. Alexander suggested Ms. Matthews has no place overruling what is ultimately an immigration decision – federal jurisdiction – by providing health care, a provincial responsibility.

“We [in the federal government] have respected their political decisions including in health care, where we’ve given them 6 per cent [funding] escalators. We don’t always agree with all of it, but we recognize that’s provincial jurisdiction. This is a federal jurisdiction,” he said, adding Ontario is largely throwing money at hospital care for bogus claimants.

“You’re not a refugee if you’ve self-selected, if you’ve just woken up one day and decided you’re persecuted,” he said, adding many cases have ties to organized crime. “So we’ve taken that abuse out of the system for the most part so we can concentrate on the refugees we really, really care about.”

Deb Matthews said on Friday “To say that we are providing coverage to failed claimants is simply wrong. We are providing coverage to people who are in the process of making that refugee claim. Once the deportation date has passed, we are not covering them.”

She admitted there is some emergency care that is provided to refugees. But that is only to alleviate the burden on doctors and medical professionals.

‘To say that we are providing coverage to failed claimants is simply wrong. We are providing coverage to people who are in the process of making that refugee claim.’– Health Minister Deb Matthews

Refugees still in the process of making a claim will still need emergency care, Matthews said.

“Even the most cold-hearted person would say the right thing for the system is to clean [it] up and have a program to cover the people in that stage of the refugee process,” she said. “Almost every other province has done the same.”

She also said Alexander was misinformed.

“I object to the word bogus being applied to the people in the process,” she began.

‘Smells like politics’

‘[Refugee claimants] are not getting care better than anyone else,” she said, noting that there are only emergency exceptions for pregnant women and children, and everyone else must wait three months for care like all other new arrivals to Ontario.

She said the minister had not “done his homework” and that there was an ulterior motive behind the criticism.

“It sure smells like politics to me,” she said.

Late Friday, Alexander shot back at Matthews calling out the provincial government for a “reckless policy.”

“The sooner the Ontario government gets serious about protecting Ontario taxpayers and stops undermining the success of our national refugee reforms, the better and fairer it will be for all Canadians, including legal immigrants and genuine refugees,” Alexander said in a press release.

The minister noted that claims from democratic countries are down 87 per cent, “saving taxpayers more than $600 million so far in welfare, education and health care costs.”

Ms. Matthews, however, continues to urge Mr. Alexander to meet with local health leaders, who she says are not meant to be the ones asked to turn away claimants from a clinic. “I just don’t think it’s fair to them to make them the administrators of that,” she said.

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Minister Tim Uppal concludes a successful mission to Pakistan and India

Posted on 23 January 2014 by admin

The Honourable Tim Uppal, Minister of State for Multiculturalism, recently concluded a successful mission to Pakistan and India. While in Pakistan, Minister Uppal met with vaccinators, doctors and UNICEF staff to announce Canada’s latest contribution in the fight to eradicate polio in Pakistan and around the world. Minister Uppal also visited the Badshahi mosque, Gurdwara Nankana Sahib, and Joseph colony (a Christian community in Lahore); and met with federal and provincial Pakistani government ministers.

“Canada is leading the fight to eradicate polio globally. In Pakistan, Canada was the first donor to tackle the conditions that allow polio to continue to keep a foothold, something of which we can all be proud,” said Minister of State Uppal. “Canada’s continued support will increase the number of children immunized, improve access for vaccinators by increasing community acceptance and increase the effectiveness of the vaccine by decreasing vulnerability to polio from malnutrition and illness.”

Canada is a leading supporter of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s goal of eradicating polio by 2018. Canada supports the fight against polio in several critical areas, including sub-Saharan Africa, Afghanistan and in three primary endemic high-risk areas in Pakistan. January 7’s announcement of $20 million over three years will support the UNICEF Polio Plus initiative in Pakistan which seeks polio eradication by increasing coverage, access and the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Minister Uppal joined the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce’s (ICCC) week-long trade mission to India with stops in Amritsar, New Delhi, Chandigarh, Anandpur Sahib and Jalandhar.

As part of the trade mission, Minister Uppal met with Canadian and Indian businesses, Indian Government Ministers and trade officials to promote greater trade between the two countries.

While in India, he participated in two conferences – the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas conference in New Delhi and the Pravasi Punjabi Divas Sammelan conference in Anandpur Sahib and Jalandhar. Both conferences provided Minister Uppal the opportunity to participate in discussions about the Indian Diaspora in Canada and around the world. He also took the opportunity to meet with community leaders and elected officials from many different countries to discuss multiculturalism.

For many years, India has been one of Canada’s top three source countries for immigrants. The Government of Canada expects this trend to continue in the years ahead and for the numbers of Indo-Canadians to continue growing within Canada.

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John McCallum Begins National Tour on Immigration and Citizenship Issues

Posted on 23 January 2014 by admin

John McCallum, the Liberal Critic for Citizenship and Immigration, began his national tour consulting with Canadians on the Immigration system.

“Justin Trudeau appointed me at the Liberal Party’s Citizenship and Immigration Critic last fall and has given me the mandate to consult with Canadians about what they expect from their immigration system.”

The national consultation tour will see Mr. McCallum travel across the country to speak with Canadians and hear firsthand about their experiences with the immigration and visa system.

“What I heard was crystal clear,” continued Mr. McCallum. “Our immigration system is not transparent and is full of delays. Residents of my riding are looking for a system that will respond to the needs of our economy while ensuring that families remain one of our central focuses.”

Delays in visa processing are unfairly separating families during important life events, such as funerals or weddings. These delays also have a negative effect on the tourism industry. Delays in the family reunification system also mean that families are left wondering if they will ever see their parents and grandparents again.

“Day after day, I see cases in my office where families have been unfairly separated by a system that is slow and full of red tape,” concluded Mr. McCallum. “This needs to change. I look forward to hearing fresh ideas from Canadians across this country on how we can do this better.”

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Hudak Will Kill Jobs and Cut Billions from Schools and Hospitals

Posted on 17 January 2014 by admin

“Tim Hudak will pick up where Mike Harris left off” – Duguid

Tim Hudak’s so-called ‘Million Jobs Act’ is a glitzy gimmick designed to dress up Tim Hudak’s plan to kill jobs while cutting recklessly from schools and hospitals, said Liberal MPP Brad Duguid at Queen’s Park.

“Tim Hudak is well known for gimmicks, but he has outdone himself by releasing a glitzy bill title, with no actual bill, and no details,” said Duguid. “Tim Hudak’s bill should actually be called ‘The Killing Jobs with Billions in Cuts Act’ because he is promising to eliminate jobs, drive down wages, and weaken pensions, all while cutting billions from hospitals and schools.”

“Tim Hudak is promising to fire 10,000 education workers, fire 2,000 health care workers he’ll cancel infrastructure projects across the province,” said Duguid, referring to recent PC platform releases called ‘white papers.’ “Tim Hudak’s ‘right-to-work-for-less’ plan also explicitly calls for lower wages for Ontario workers. He wants jobs that don’t pay a living wage.”

Duguid detailed the PC plan to cut vital public services.

 “Liberals know that the economy doesn’t need cuts, it needs help. The best way to reduce the deficit is to have a stronger economy with more people working. That is the core of the Liberal plan,” said Duguid.

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Taxpayer relief available for businesses affected by power outages

Posted on 17 January 2014 by admin

The Honourable Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, P.C., Q.C., M.P., Minister of National Revenue, reminded businesses that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) taxpayer relief provisions are available to those that have been unable to meet their tax obligations because of the recent power outages in Quebec, Ontario, and Atlantic Canada.

Affected businesses can apply to have interest or penalties or both waived or cancelled using Form RC4288, Request for Taxpayer Relief.

Under the taxpayer relief provisions, taxpayers across Canada can apply to the CRA to have interest or penalties or both waived or cancelled when they are unable to file returns or make payments on time because of circumstances beyond their control, including a natural disaster. The CRA considers these requests on a case-by-case basis.

“Many constituents have told me that the power outages have disrupted their daily lives, and it’s extremely important that governments step up in times of need. We want to make sure that businesses know the CRA has taxpayer relief provisions in place to help those who need them,” stated MP Kyle Seeback.

“Power outages due to severe weather conditions have hit many parts of Canada, and the Canada Revenue Agency understands that taxpayers and businesses may be having a hard time meeting their tax deadlines. Those businesses that are struggling to file their tax returns or make payments on time because of the power outages can be assured that the CRA’s taxpayer relief provisions are there to help them,” said The Honourable Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, Minister of National Revenue in a statement.

For more information, go to www.cra.gc.ca/taxpayerrelief or call the CRA at 1-800-959-8281 for individual enquiries, or at 1-800-959-5525 for business enquiries.

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Rathika Sitsabaiesan Sri Lanka Trip Prompts Diplomatic Scuffle With Canada

Posted on 10 January 2014 by admin

A New Democrat MP of Tamil heritage says she experienced “political intimidation” during a private visit to her native Sri Lanka, but that authorities stopped short of trying to kick her out of the country.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Rathika Sitsabaiesan said she was warned by Sri Lankan officials that she could be arrested and deported.

Canadian officials were scrambling on New Year’s Eve to determine the veracity of reports that Sitsabaiesan, a Toronto-area MP, had been placed under house arrest.

Sitsabaiesan said in the statement that she had received word from the Canadian High Commission in Colombo that there was in fact no Sri Lankan arrest warrant in her name.

Sitsabaiesan, 32, came to Canada with her family at the age of five and was elected to the House of Commons in 2011 in the Toronto-area riding of Scarborough-Rouge River.

She played a prominent role in New Democrat efforts to persuade the Conservative government to boycott a meeting of Commonwealth leaders in Sri Lanka last November. Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not attend, citing the Sri Lankan government’s human rights record. However, Deepak Obhrai, a parliamentary secretary, did represent Canada at the Colombo meeting.

The New Democrats and others have called for the Asian country’s government to submit to an investigation of alleged war crimes during the lengthy civil war between the military and Tamil insurgents seeking an independent homeland.

“My experiences since arriving in Sri Lanka are a reminder that defending principles of human rights is not easy, but I continue to believe that it is only through open dialogue and freedom of expression that people can ultimately achieve healing and reconciliation,” Sitsabaiesan said in the statement.

She added that she now looks forward “to exploring and learning more about the country of my birth.”

New Democrat MP Paul Dewar, who has spoken to Sitsabaiesan, said Wednesday his caucus colleague had been followed and closely monitored by Sri Lankan authorities during her stay.

“Her intention was to visit the country of her birth, and to visit friends and family,” said Dewar, the party’s foreign affairs critic.

“As soon as she arrived it became clear that the authorities were keeping a close tab on her. And then she started to receive warnings that she should be careful of whom she speaks to, where she goes.

“This is a pattern we’ve seen with the Sri Lankan government.”

Two Green Party MPs — one from Australia, the other from New Zealand — had their passports confiscated in November just before a planned news conference in Sri Lanka to describe human rights abuses they were told of during their trip.

Dewar said authorities showed up at Sitsabaiesan’s hotel to try to meet with her but she did not respond.

Officials were concerned that Sitsabaiesan, who is in the country on a visitor’s visa, had met with a Sri Lankan MP and had visited an orphanage, Dewar said. The visits involved family, he added, noting the local MP was a cousin.

Sitsabaiesan should not be prevented from seeing a family member who happens to be active in politics, he said.

“That’s why we wanted to be very public about what she was doing, whom she was meeting with. And that we didn’t believe, and she doesn’t believe, that this is in any way shape or form outside of what the conditions were for her visa.”

Officials at the Canadian High Commission were in touch with Sitsabaiesan again Wednesday and learned that she had not been interviewed by Sri Lankan authorities about her visa, said Caitlin Workman, a Foreign Affairs spokeswoman.

Dewar said the Sri Lankan government is concerned about people seeing what is going on in the country and is therefore curtailing access. “If someone who’s a member of Parliament is being followed and restricted, just think of what happens every day to Sri Lankans of Tamil origin.”

Dewar added that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird had contacted him to say he was aware of what was going on, “and we certainly appreciate that support.”

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Canada expresses concern over Bangladesh elections

Posted on 10 January 2014 by admin

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird issued the following statement on the electoral situation in Bangladesh:

“Canada joins the United States and the European Union in expressing regrets that the major political parties in Bangladesh were unable to negotiate a solution that would have enabled a fully participatory election on January 5, 2014. The availability of individual choice is fundamental to a vibrant democracy.

“It is therefore extremely disappointing that more than half of the country’s parliamentary seats were not contested freely, but instead were filled through acclamation.

“Canada notes with dismay the violence and controversy that marred the electoral period. Hundreds of Bangladeshi citizens were killed in political violence in 2013. We condemn this violence in the strongest terms, particularly the senseless attacks on the most vulnerable citizens—children, women, and religious and ethnic minorities. Violence as a political strategy is unacceptable. Canada calls on all parties to publicly renounce and condemn political violence.

“Political instability has bred economic instability, which has caused long-term damage to Bangladesh’s economy and may continue to do so. We fear that this damage has undermined Bangladesh’s economic progress and developmental path.

“Canada calls on all parties to look beyond their immediate political concerns and work cooperatively to focus nationally on Bangladesh’s development and its bright future.

“Canada welcomes the major parties’ willingness to consider holding a new national election and urges all parties to reach an agreement soon that would allow the next election to be truly participatory, with results that all Bangladeshis will see as credible.”

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Ottawa fails to deliver ‘just-in-time’ immigration

Posted on 04 January 2014 by admin

Five years after an overhaul of the federal skilled workers’ program, the system is still plagued by backlogs and long processing times.

Five years after Ottawa launched a “just-in-time” immigration system, applicants to the federal skilled workers program face backlogs and long processing times.

In 2008, the Conservative government made the controversial move to wipe out hundreds of thousands of skilled immigration applications in a budget bill. It then brought in “ministerial instructions” to limit eligibility criteria to specific occupations and cap the annual intake of applications.

“We expect new federal skilled worker applicants, including those with arranged employment, to receive a decision within six to 12 months,” then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said in 2008, heralding a new era of Canadian immigration that would respond quickly to labour market needs.

But the current average processing time for federal skilled workers filed under the new capping system in 2010 ranges from 16 months in Paris and Hong Kong to 32 months in Senegal and 31 months in Los Angeles.

The remnant applicants in the pre-2008 backlog have to wait even longer, from 62 months in Morocco to 97 months in Turkey, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the Philippines, India and Jamaica. European applicants don’t fare any better, with wait times in Poland at 89 months; London, 87 months; Paris and Vienna at 74 months.

While critics are not surprised or impressed, with Ottawa’s plan to roll out the new “Expression of Interest” (EOI) system in 2015 to create a pool of skilled candidates for employers’ pick, many fear the government will again try to get rid of the new backlog with yet another bill.

As of this summer, there were 23,817 federal skilled workers’ applications in the “inventory” awaiting a decision at Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s top 10 visa processing offices. All but 1,233 of those cases were accumulated after the program overhaul.

“We had a backlog of more than 640,000 people in the FSW program. If we had not acted, this backlog would be more than 800,000 by today, with wait times in excess of seven years,” said Citizenship and Immigration spokesperson Sonia Lesage in an email.

“The government is committed to creating a just-in-time immigration system that is responsive to Canada’s economic needs. The large backlog of applications that has accumulated under the FSW program is impeding the responsiveness of Canada’s immigration system.”

Maria, 27, a telecommunication manager from Moscow, applied under the revamped federal skilled workers program in August 2012 when the average processing time was then just 15 months. She was shocked it has now been extended to more than 25 months.

“For young immigrants like us, every year is valuable for our career. When we applied, we had expectations and we planned our lives around those expectations. We feel we’ve been misled,” said Maria, who asked her last name be withheld for fear of repercussions on her application. “It’s frustrating.”

Mario Bellissimo, president of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration section, said the government has miscalculated. Canada only allows a fixed number of immigrants under the economic class, he said, and priorities are given to programs such as the Provincial Nominee Programs and Canadian Experience Class at the expense of the federal skilled workers.

“The government keeps saying 12 months, but that’s not the reality,” said Bellissimo, who speculates Ottawa will introduce another bill to get rid of the new backlog before the EOI system starts in January 2015.

“They offer the termination of applications as panacea, but it’s not going to solve the issue if they don’t raise the overall number (of admissions) for federal skilled workers.”

Ottawa is banking on the EOI to materialize its “just-in-time” immigration system.

“We are going to be saying to the whole world, if you’re interested in coming to Canada, tell us, express interest, and then we’ll be inviting those from this very large pool that we know we really need . . . to process those applications within six months,” Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said at an event in Toronto last month.

“It will be challenging. It is an ambitious target. But we know we can do it, and we need to do it.”

That’s what Kenney had said five years ago.

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Ontario motorists to pay $5 less for Drive Clean test

Posted on 26 December 2013 by admin

Ontario will lower the fee motorists pay for a Drive Clean emissions test by $5 this spring.

Environment Minister Jim Bradley announced the new price will be $30 plus HST starting April 1. The move is in response to the auditor general’s concerns that the courts could rule the user fee is an illegal tax.

“For the past two years, fees have exceeded the cost of running the program and it is in surplus,” Bradley said. “The new reduced fee, combined with applying the two-year surplus to future costs, will ensure that over time…Drive Clean brings in only enough revenue to cover the costs of running the program and no more.”

The mandatory emissions test, required every two years for vehicles seven years or older, will stay in place because it continues to help reduce smog, which endangers public health, Bradley said.

In several articles this year, QMI Agency identified significant problems with the program including false fails and price gouging.

Progressive Conservative MPP Michael Harris said Drive Clean has outlived its original purpose and a fee cut doesn’t go far enough.

“It’s not good enough for Ontario drivers who’ve had to fork over these fees for this unnecessary program for years,” Harris said. “It needs to be scrapped altogether.”

NDP house leader Gilles Bisson said his party would make changes to Drive Clean to correct its problems but believes it still serves a useful purpose.

Bisson said the fee cut is a political move by the Ontario Liberals, when the issues with Drive Clean go much deeper.

“The auditor was pretty clear when the auditor reported that there are a number of things that can be done in order to make a program like this actually achieve its goals,” he said. “And there’s some question as to what degree is it doing so.”

Drive Clean was introduced in 1999 as a tail pipe emissions test, but as of 2013 is an onboard diagnostic test.

According to the 2012 auditor general’s report, the vast majority of vehicles pass the test, the worst polluters are exempted and the program has had a declining effect on air quality in the province.

The new diagnostic test has since been found to register false fails with certain types of vehicles, but Bradley said his ministry is addressing the problem.

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