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Will the 'Culturally Compatible' Immigrant Please Stand Up?

05/07/2014 12:45 EDT | Updated 07/08/2014 05:59 EDT

Jason Kenney may no longer hold the immigration file, but the longest continually serving Immigration Minister in Canadian history still has considerable influence in the multiculturalism, labour, and temporary foreign worker files. Initially elected as a candidate of the Reform Party of Canada, Kenney has evolved into a key strategist for Harper's Conservatives.

The Reform Party's early immigration policy proposals were laid out in a pamphlet called Blue Sheet which was issued in 1991. It stated that Reformers opposed "any immigration based on race or creed or designed to radically or suddenly alter the ethnic makeup of Canada."

This controversial phrase, among other incidents, raised eyebrows and questions on the fledgling Party's intolerance towards non-white people. Then-MP Stephen Harper emerged as a prominent member of the Reform Party caucus. Though numerous xenophobic statements by individual Reform party members caused unease at the time, there was little concern that this motley crew of westerners would ever take the reins of national government.

Twenty years later, the impossible happened.

Minister Kenney, a.k.a. "Minister for Curry in a Hurry," was widely recognized for his central role in the Conservative Party's successful 2011 election campaign. With a majority government, Minister Kenney finally had free rein.

Associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Carleton University, Dr. Radha Jhappan, wrote in 2010:

Although this [Blue Sheet immigration clause] was dropped, the goal of the current Conservative Party's immigration policy is to "focus on immigrants who best fit into the 'Canadian fabric.'" There is clearly a hierarchy of the sorts of people who can stitch themselves into the national fabric and those who can't. Would the latter, one wonders, be people of certain 'races or creeds' who might "alter the ethnic makeup of Canada," while the former are people who have ethnic origins in Europe?

PM Harper, Kenney and his crew have been careful not speak publicly on these matters. But Kenney slipped up while unrolling the red carpet for the Irish, not long after he cancelled 300,000 patiently-waiting skilled workers' applications.

"The employers in Canada are increasingly identifying Ireland as a great source of talent, hard-working, highly-educated folks who are culturally compatible," Kenney said.

It wouldn't be the first time Canada's immigration legislators surreptitiously selected immigrants based on perceived "compatibility." The Wilfrid Laurier government declared persons "belonging to the Negro race" were forbidden from immigration because the "race is deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada." The Edmonton Board of Trade had led the way in 1910 when it stated, "We want settlers that will assimilate with the Canadian people and in the negro we have a settler that will never do that." The flow of Asian newcomers was effectively stifled by the Chinese Head Tax. The feds decided that South-Asians, "having been accustomed to the conditions of a tropical climate, are wholly unsuited to this country... their (in)ability to readily adapt themselves to surroundings so entirely different ... would result in a serious disturbance of the industrial and economic conditions" in Canada. Later, Nazi-fleeing Jews were turned down because they were supposedly "liable to become public charges."

For Canadians who embrace multiculturalism wholeheartedly, Minister Kenney's inadvertent honestly stirs up memories of Canada's checkered immigration policy past.

In response to probing questions, a spokesperson for Kenney said "Canada's immigration system is colour blind, and neutral with respect to country of origin and ethnicity."

Canadians familiar with frequent fibs from politicians may not be convinced. Did the Minister cut the immigration chord for 300,000 would-be Canadians, chiefly from China, India and Philippines, in order to let "culturally compatible" Irishmen through? The number of temporary workers from Ireland has more than doubled in the past three years.  With the elimination of 300,000 skilled workers' applications, how many Irishmen jumped to the front of the queue?

Since Statistics Canada does not release reliable data on race of immigrants, permanent residents, temporary foreign workers (or Canadian citizens for that matter), one can only speculate on the evolving racial and "ethnic makeup of Canada" during Kenney's interminable tenure.

As Kenney sings the praises of "ethnic voters", he may be subtly doing the jig which attracted him to the Reform Party so long ago. "Dance with the one that brung ya," so the saying goes.

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