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Stephen Harper's Actions Against Immigration Are Different Than His Words

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Stephen Harper now has a stronger mandate with a majority government, so what is Harper's agenda with his new mandate? The answer is that there are two agendas at play. The first is to chart Canada on a fundamentally right-wing course; the second is to establish the Conservatives as the new "natural governing party," taking this mantle from the Liberals who previously claimed this title.

These agendas seem contradictory -- one involves a radical right-wing agenda while the other is a more centrist project -- trying to occupy ground previously claimed by the Liberals, ground that is harder for the left-wing NDP to capture. For Harper, however, accomplishing these agendas will not necessarily be mutually contradictory.

The Harper government is likely to use the language of political moderation, to not take an "in-your-face" ideological approach like, for example, Mike Harris did. However the actual policies, while taking on an incremental nature, are likely to belie this language of moderation.

The Harper government has already prioritized spending on fighter jets and prisons and championed corporate tax reductions, a course that will most likely necessitate social program reductions.

A clear example of where Conservatives use moderate language, but pursue an immoderate course, is immigration. Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney heavily courted immigrants and visible minorities, so-called "ethnic" voters, in the run-up to the last election.

According to the Canadian Election Study, Conservative gains among immigrant voters were overstated -- vote splitting between Liberals and New Democrats in suburban Toronto facilitated Conservative gains in large part. Nonetheless, the Harper government was able to claim the language of moderation on immigration and multiculturalism.

However, during the election, a group of immigration lawyers warned that while Conservatives were stating they would improve the immigration system, their policies contradicted these statements.

Annual visa quotas for sponsored parents and grandparents dropped dramatically between 2005 and 2011 from 20,005 to 11,200, with actual sponsorship applications taking nine to 30 months longer depending on location of visa application. While the rationale may be that sponsored elderly immigrants use social services and do not contribute to tax revenue, this raises a fundamental question of why members of immigrant communities cannot have their elderly parents and grandparents nearby to look after, a privilege which non-immigrants enjoy.

In Middle Eastern, Asian, and South Asian cultures, it is customary for families to look after elderly parents, to have them in the same house. Furthermore, many immigrants benefit from having their extended families come with them in helping to settle down in a new society.

Something else to note, when the Maengs, a family of landed South Korean immigrants in Moncton, New Brunswick, faced deportation because of the costs of caring for their autistic son, it was the provincial government of New Brunswick -- in stepping up to cover related healthcare costs -- and not the federal government which acted to ensure this family could stay in Canada.

For refugees, the Conservatives cancelled the only program that allowed refugees to apply in their own country and have re-introduced a bill from the last Parliament which targets refugees. Under this bill, for refugees there is mandatory detention for one year without judicial review, denial of permanent residency for five years, and increased barriers being reunited with families through denial of sponsorship for five years. Many legal experts have stated that this bill contravenes the Charter.

This bill was spurred on, in part, through an earlier incident where a ship off the shores of British Columbia, carrying Tamil refugees from war-torn Sri Lanka, became a source of controversy.

While Conservative gains among immigrant voters are overstated, looking at Greater Toronto it is interesting to note that Conservatives made limited seat gains in Scarborough, where there is a relatively large Tamil population, while sweeping ridings in Mississauga and Brampton, where there are relatively large Indian and Pakistani populations (although at this point the exact demographic breakdown among different groups in these ridings is uncertain).

Could Conservatives be targeting certain groups, Indian and Pakistani -- misleading them on facilitating a swifter immigration process -- while writing off others such as Tamils who came as refugees?

On immigration the Conservatives are using the language of moderation and inclusiveness, but their actual policies tell a different story.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Telegraph Journal.

Hassan Arif is a columnist with the Telegraph Journal in New Brunswick. He is a PhD candidate in urban sociology at the University of New Brunswick and has a background in law and political science. He can be reached at arif.telegraphjournal@gmail.com.

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