National News

Jason Kenney - Guru of Ethnic Voting

May 5, 2011

Ethnic voting

Despite being credited with the strategy of the Conservative Party’s inroad into some ethnic communities of Canada, which resulted in a majority government for his party, Jason Kenney refused to gloat during his first cultural media national teleconference.

The minister opened the teleconference with a gratitude to the ethno-cultural media outlets in Canada for their serious coverage of the election.

Jason Kenney sees a lot of future for Canada’s cultural media. He said the government had learned about a lot of issues in the cultural media and enacted polices on some issues driven by the cultural media.

An example was the Chinese head tax, which was reported on constantly by the Chinese media and never given attention by the mainstream media. The Minister addressed whether he will continue to serve as Minister of Immigration.

“It’s been a great experience and I would relish it if asked to come back into that portfolio but if I’m called to do other things, I’ll be prepared to serve in that way as well. So we’ll wait and see. It’s not my call.” “My job in the next government will be up to the Prime Minister,” he said.

(Story and photo by Edward Akinwunmi)

Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney was photographed summer 2009 at the North Toronto Korean Festival.

Jason Kenney speaks on priorities of the re-elected government.


Minister Kenney.

First, let me say thank you and commend all of the ethno-cultural media outlets in Canada for their serious coverage of the election. I have found that typically ethno-cultural outlets have been far more focused on issues and substance rather than some of the process and distractions that are of concern to the so-called mainstream media. So I think that really is a great contribution to the democratic dialogue that we just had in our elections.

Obviously, we’re very pleased to have been returned with a strong, stable majority that can focus on economic growth and job creation through low taxes. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the priorities in our platform. In particular, we in the areas of immigration policy we will be proceeding with introducing the Cracking Down on Human Smuggling Act in Parliament that was known as Bill C-49 in the last Parliament. So that will obviously be an important piece of legislation. We’ve also of course committed to bringing forward legislation for streamlining the process of deporting foreign criminals who are in Canada . We’ll obviously be finalizing the implementation of a new refugee asylum system that was adopted last year through Bill C-11. We will be working on our multi-year immigration levels plan in consultation with the provinces. And, as you know, we made a commitment during the campaign to speed up reunification of family members, particularly parents and grandparents. So either I or my successor will be working closely with the Department on that. And both the Ministries of Citizenship and Immigration and Human Resources will be developing our program for facilitating loans of up to – small loans to help foreign-trained professionals finance their tuition or skills upgrading so that they can have a better shot at getting their credentials recognized.

So these are some of the things that we’ll be pursuing in the areas of immigration policy. But I should also say that we’re delighted to have seen phenomenal support from new Canadians and members of cultural communities. The results for the Conservative government in areas in suburban and urban areas, particularly around the Greater Toronto Area were very encouraging. And we have a more diverse Parliament than ever before, I believe, including with the election of Members of Parliament such as Wai Young in Vancouver, Joe Daniel in Don Valley East, Baljit Gosal in Bramalea--Gore--Malton, Parm Gill in Brampton--Springdale, Wladyslaw Lizon, former President of the Polish Canadian Congress in Mississauga--East Cooksville, Costas Menegakis, former President of the Canadian Hellenic Congress in Richmond Hill, and C.S. Leung in the constituency of Willowdale, Ted Opitz from the Polish community in Etobicoke Centre and many others representing the diversity of Canada.

So I think this is good news for those of us seeking to ensure that Parliament actually reflects the diversity of Canada and we are very grateful for the support that we received for the work that we’ve done and we look forward to continuing our high level of accessibility to ethno-cultural media under the new government. I should finally say that we – I anticipate that later this month there will be a resumption of Parliament, a Throne Speech, the reintroduction of our budget and other key priority pieces of legislation.

Question: You know my survey showed that you have been one of, if not the most popular Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Minister to have served in this post. And what a lot of our callers are asking will you remain in this ministry? Do you want to remain in this ministry or are you open to take a bigger post as many, many people believe that you are so well deserving after your wonderful work in helping the party to its increase in the GTA?

Minister Kenney: Let me say that, you know, whether I – my next job in the next government will be up to the Prime Minister. That’s his most important responsibility is figuring the very complicated business of naming the cabinet that has to be obviously geographically diverse, diverse in other ways and it’s not an easy job. But I will – and that’s why I will accept whatever assignment he gives me and I’m just eager to continue serving Canadians. Should I have the opportunity to continue in Citizenship and Immigration, I would relish it because, as you know, we’ve had a very ambitious agenda of reform and I’d like to see a number of these things through. You know we’re – I’d like to see through to its end the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants, the work we’re doing on credential recognition, the reform of the refugee asylum system and so many other things so I’d love to have that opportunity and I really have relished the work I’ve done in the past four-plus years, particularly as Minister for Multiculturalism, working with all of our cultural communities and sort of being a voice for them around the cabinet table. So I would – it’s been a great experience and I would relish it if asked to come back into that portfolio but if I’m called to do other things, I’ll be prepared to serve in that way as well. So we’ll wait and see. It’s not my call.

Question: Now I wanted to reflect on the contribution of the cultural media in the last election and how do you see the future contribution of cultural media which I believe has been elevated through your interaction with that sector of reportage.

Minister Kenney: I honestly think that cultural media have played a very important role in this election and are playing an increasingly important role in our free press, in our democratic debate in Canada . You know, cultural media fill a void. They provide a bridge for information to people in a way that is culturally or linguistically familiar to them and so folks who might otherwise be a little bit locked out might not be able to follow some of the issues, might not be able to cast an informed vote just because they maybe have language difficulties or what have you but what cultural media does is to bridge that gap and it informs and educates people on the issues in a culturally sensitive way and I just think that’s really – it gives real practical expression to the Canadian idea of multiculturalism and that we all share the same basic democratic values but the big mainstream media doesn’t necessarily speak to people either in their language or on issues of particular concern to them.

And, as a government, I have to tell you honestly we have a lot of government policy over the past four or five years has been as a result of our watching cultural media very closely.

You know I’ll just give you a couple of examples. Back five, six years ago, there was a huge concern in the Chinese community about the failure of Canada to recognize the injustice of the Chinese head tax and it was a, you know, front page, top story month after month in the Chinese media in Canada but never broke through into the so-called mainstream media. Well, we saw the issue. We saw the concern. We learned about it through the Chinese media and that’s really one of the reasons the Prime Minister ended up making the commitment and delivering on the apology and redress for the Chinese head tax. You know similarly – I could go on and on. But there’s so many examples of this where we’ve learned about issues of concern and have acted accordingly.

So we hope to continue that dialogue with cultural media in the future in the new government. Whether I’m in this position or not, I will encourage all of the ministers and MPs in the government to be as accessible as possible. I think the Prime Minister was and frankly other party leaders too. So I think everyone’s starting to get it that the cultural media is, as some people have called it, the new mainstream media and that those who are in elected office have to be listening to it and speaking to it.

Question: Hi, Minister. I know that when you are in the minority government maybe it is difficult. Now you have a majority. Is that going – saying that agreement between Ontario and Ottawa be much more sooner to be reached on immigration?

Minister Kenney: Oh, so we had negotiations with Ontario on renewing the Canada-Ontario Immigration Accord of 2005. We made it clear to Ontario going into those negotiations that the federal government is not prepared to remove itself from the delivery of settlement services to newcomers in Ontario . We believe there’s an important nation-building responsibility there that the federal government – the Government of Canada should be involved in, helping to form new Canadians. And we don’t want to end up with a vulcanized kind of patchwork system across the country where every province has a separate different approach. We think it makes a lot more sense, especially since, frankly, these are federal tax dollars being invested to help new Canadians on their pathway to become Canadian citizens. And so that’s why we said to Ontario respectfully that we’ll continue to deliver the programs that we are funding rather than just cutting the big cheque to the province of Ontario . And I should remind you I think we’ve had a pretty good track record on those services. Our government has tripled the federal funds for immigrant services like free language classes and job search skills. So nationally we’re spending $600 million this year as opposed to 200 million back in 2005. And Ontario has not increased their funding appreciably. So, you know, Ontario ’s asking for more say without putting more money forward and I don’t think that’s very credible.

Also, I should remind you that the Ontario government had a pretty serious scandal in the way they were distributing funds out of their Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration about three years ago. The provincial Auditor General found that the Minister was essentially just, you know, writing cheques even to organizations that hadn’t applied. So there’s not a great track record there that instils confidence in us in Ontario ’s Ministry to deliver these programs using federal dollars.

Having said that, I’ve been very clear with Minister Hoskins that if he wants to continue with the Canada-Ontario Immigration Accord as it had been originally negotiated where Ontario would have input and be consulted on and be a partner, we’re absolutely open to that. So we are keen to extend the agreement but Ontario wanted to, as I said, radically change the agreement to basically have the federal government cut a cheque to them without – and in our view that’s just not in the national interest.

Question: Minister, you just talked about the cultural media and what an important role it has played in these elections. In fact, you talked about the fact that the Conservatives have been listening to cultural media over the last few years. But they are a number of unresolved issues within the South Asian community which it seems the Conservatives have never addressed. For example, a formal apology for the Komagata Maru incident in the House of Commons, that’s a longstanding demand. And also the old age benefits I’m sure you know about the fact that Canada has created two classes of citizens, one – some old people who come here have to wait for 10 years before they can get to. Now that you have a majority government, do you think that the government will actually address these issues?

Minister Kenney: Just I would say that, yes, we are sensitive to the views expressed in cultural media and cultural communities. That doesn’t mean that we agree with every view that’s expressed. To give you an example, this Prime Minister and this government was the first and only government to acknowledge the historic injustice of the Komagata Maru incident and the continuous journey policy upon which it was based. And that’s why Prime Minister Harper did apologize on behalf of the Government and people of Canada for the Komagata Maru incident in 2008. And I was involved in the discussions with various groups at that time. The request was for an apology. It was not – I don’t recall that people specified the location. And there are precedents for these – for an apology of the nature – of this nature. For example, Prime Minister Mulroney expressed a similar apology for the internment of Canadians of Italian origin during the Second World War at an event with the Italian community in Toronto . I don’t think the venue is what matters; I think it’s the intent and it’s the sentiment that lies behind it. And that’s why we would respectfully disagree with those who suggest there should be a second apology.

We have put, if you will, money where our mouth is by funding some five million dollars in projects to educate people about the Komagata Maru experience and I know many of the pioneers, the – you know I know there is some political mischief and political hay being made on this issue. But a number of the people who worked on the issue for many years such as the Khalsa Diwan Society, important Sikh community pioneers like Mr. Jack Uppal, people who are not Conservatives, by the way, have endorsed our approach.

On the old age security, I would say that we do try to treat – we do treat everyone equally under the law and the law requires that in order for us to provide faster qualification for old age security benefits to immigrant seniors that there must be a bilateral social services agreement with their country of origin. And in this case we don’t have one with India . We’ve tried to negotiate one, as have previous governments, without success. And we’ll certainly look into whether that’s feasible in the future. But everyone is treated equally under the law. If there is a reciprocal arrangement with the country from which they came, then those benefits do flow more quickly. If not, then people have to stay for a certain period of time and I don’t think it’s unreasonable. Most Canadians believe that if you’re going to get benefits of that nature, you should have paid into the system for a reasonable period of time.

Question: Okay. So I’m wondering, the previous budget was viewed by a lot of people as kind of a campaign platform and I’m wondering maybe you have some inside perspective or you’ve listened in on some of those discussions what we might see different in the next budget given that, you know, you don’t have to campaign on it and there’s some things that might be less popular but more important for long term prosperity. Do you have anything you can say about that?

Minister Kenney: Well, I don’t – yes, okay. I think that the budget we’ll be presenting in the near future will be almost identical to the one that was presented in March. There might be some very minor changes because of the passage of the last three months and some new things announced in our platform. But that budget does include a lot of long-term investment such as significant investments in research and development, the commercialization of academic research, for example, the creation of several new chairs of excellence at Canadian universities. It includes the government’s program for broadening access to high speed internet which helps rural communities, for example, be more economically sustainable. It includes significant funds for retraining older workers who have lost their jobs so they can find jobs in the new economy. And I think the big picture long term thrust of the budget and the platform includes expanding Canadian export markets for our trade so we’re less dependent on the United States and less – you know, less exposed to economic fluctuations in the U.S. That’s why we’ve committed to finalizing the Canada-India and Canada-Europe free trade agreements together with some other 54 bilateral agreements that are currently under negotiation. And also another big part of our productivity agenda is to continue lowering taxes on businesses. Now those tax reductions have already been legislated so it’s just a question of implementing them now we can, that we have the mandate. That will attract more foreign investment to Canada which will create in turn more jobs. Finally, the budget includes a very important measure to extend the accelerated capital cost allowance which is a huge boost to the manufacturing industry. Many, many Canadians manufacturers will tell you that one of the reasons they’ve been able to survive in this world of cutthroat competition is because they’ve been able to acquire high tech new equipment to improve their productivity through the accelerated capital cost allowance. So that’s just a survey of some of the policies in the budget that will address long-term economic productivity.

Question: Well, congratulations for your win and I understand you’ve been grateful to the ethno-cultural communities in Ontario and some of the ridings in B.C. But I think you should be more grateful to Alberta as we hardly saw you here in the last election and other Conservative Party members spending more time in Ontario and other hot ridings. But, anyways, that’s Alberta ’s blue approach. Well, my question to you is that we did not really heard from you about temporary foreign workers in these elections. Now I understand that these are the people who are not voters like new immigrants but it’s an important issue and I think the time has come when Ottawa should stop thinking that the whole Canada is what Ontario reflects because I mean for Alberta, like for the boom and bust economy we have here, I understand that this is an important program. But, beyond that, we’re seeing a lot of issues here. I mean there are the tragic stories that are covered in the past, the fraud that recruit employer nexus (ph), the temporary foreign workers who come as drivers are working as cleaning staff. I mean it’s a kind of taint to whole human rights approach Canada is known for. So I mean what would you be doing now because, you know, you are from Alberta and we expect you to, you know, look at this issue more often than you actually do and especially the new regulation that came into force April 1st are making it worse. You know they’re spending again four years in their country so that means we are training them and then we’re draining them. So what’s your approach now? What can I – what can we expect from you on this program?

Minister Kenney: Well, thank you for the thoughtful question. First, you’re right, I should also express gratitude to voters in Alberta for their strong support, particularly in my constituency of Calgary Southeast. I was honoured to be returned with I think 76 percent of the vote. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program, as you know, has always operated on a demand basis where employers who cannot find qualified Canadian residents or citizens to do particular jobs at the prevailing regional wage rate can apply for a labour market opinion and subsequently a work permit. For someone to come in on a short-term basis, our government did expand it somewhat to allow for faster processing for applications for low skilled temporary foreign workers which follows on a longstanding existing program called the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.

And so what I hear from – first of all, let me say that our government has acted to address concerns about bad employers by bringing in a policy that – a regulation that allows us to deny labour market opinions to employers who have been – who have abused the rights of their temporary foreign workers. I would say as a – and we also did of course clarify that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is a temporary program. This is not an immigration program. Everyone knows that. A lot of people wish it were something else but Canada – one of the reasons that immigration has worked for Canada and one of the reasons our immigration program is renowned around the world is because we have focussed our economic programs on highly skilled, well-educated people from around the world that have flexible and adaptable skills and can make a significant contribution rather than what some countries have done which is simply to focus on low skilled, you know, workers. And so I think it would be irresponsible for any government to shift our economic programs away from highly skilled, highly educated people to simply folks who are doing low skilled labour. Not that there’s any lack of – I don’t want to denigrate low skilled labour but we have the entire world to choose from in who we accept as immigrants to Canada and our experience has been pretty clear that those who succeed most are those with – who tend to have higher levels of education. So I don’t think we intend to change the focus. Finally, let me just say that you talk about some of the bad situations that some temporary foreign workers have faced. Here’s the reality. No one in the media, I’ve never yet seen a single story where anyone in the media goes and does a report about happy temporary foreign workers in a great workplace where they have good working conditions and they’re delighted with the opportunity of being in Canada for a few years, making decent money, sending it back home, saving up. I’ve been to hundreds of workplaces and met thousands of temporary foreign workers and that has been my experience is the overwhelming majority have a very positive experience in Canada . Their rights are protected under the same provincial Labour Codes as for any other worker. Their wage requirements are tightly regulated by Human Resources and the provincial Labour Ministries.

Now, I admit there are some things we could do better and a lot of that exists at the provincial level. For example, I encourage Alberta to follow the lead of Manitoba in bringing in regulations on the practices of labour recruiters so that they don’t exploit the workers. But, by and large, I think the media coverage has tended to focus on the negative – the relatively small number of sad experiences rather than the overwhelming majority of positive experiences.

Question: Okay, so two questions. First is you obviously acknowledge the role that the ethno-cultural media has played in all this but when it comes to government spending and advertising and whatnot, there’s still a large chunk of it that goes to mainstream media and very, very few dollars get poured into the multicultural media. Do you think that’s something that the government should look into? And my second question is though Canadians did elect a majority Conservative government but there are some people who are still nervous about the Conservative majority government. How do you reassure Canadians that you’d be representing all of them regardless of their affiliations with NDP, Liberals or Bloc?

Minister Kenney: On the first question, you know, since our government took office, we have seen – we have quite deliberately increased the share of the government’s overall advertising budget going to ethno-cultural media quite significantly. I think it has doubled or tripled and, you know, I will actually look into this and get back to all of you with a figure. But we have mandated those responsible in the public service with the government’s advertising campaigns to include significant – significant media buys in ethno-cultural media. Now I think what frustrates a lot of outlets, a lot of proprietors is that – is the distribution within ethno-cultural media and the political elected government doesn’t have any say over that. We don’t pick which newspapers or radio or TV stations get advertising. That has to be done in a completely arm’s length, transparent process, typically by the purchasing agent that’s contracted following a tendering process, all of which is managed by I believe the Privy Council Office – or Public Works, excuse me, by Public Works and Government Services Canada. So there is more – more – a bigger share of the federal advertising dollar is going to ethno-cultural media. I admit that it’s not going to all outlets and this has been an ongoing issue and I’m happy to facilitate meetings between representatives of the various outlets with the officials in Public Works to ensure that everyone is being given fair consideration when it comes to those media buys. But we can’t get directly involved as the political arm of government.

On the second question, the – look, we acknowledge that we have to be government for all Canadians, not just those that voted for us. We have a strong mandate. Some people who are saying that, well, the government didn’t get a majority of the votes should remember that Jean Chrétien had three majority governments and the average percentage of votes he got in those three majorities was 40 percent which is the same percent that we won on Monday. So, you know, this is the norm for majority governments to have -- in a multi-party system, to have this kind of percentage of the votes. We will listen to the voice of the opposition parties in Parliament. When they come forward with constructive suggestions, we’ll give them every consideration. And I actually – I’m hopeful, I’m honestly hopeful that the new majority Parliament will be more civil and generally more respectful and more collaborative in many ways because the stakes – the problem with a minority is everyone’s constantly on – in sort of campaign mode. The stakes are very high all the time and it creates – it kind of magnifies the political divisions’ intentions. I think when you actually have four years to sort of plan and pace yourselves, that generally the dialogue can be more civil. And, look, we can – we have accepted many opposition ideas in the past. And we’re going to be coming forward with a budget that includes ideas that were proposed by opposition parties, including an increase in Guaranteed Income Supplement for low income seniors. So we will govern for all Canadians but we at the same time have a mandate to actually implement our platform which is a mainstream platform focussed on economic growth and job creation.

Question: Just one question. I assume that you still be the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship so what can you to make the process more faster for the backlog found in the Beijing office and how can you monitor the provincial PNP program to make it more balanced?

Minister Kenney: Well, on the second issue, we are in discussions with the provinces on the Provincial Nominee Program. We’re insisting that they do a better job of monitoring the program, how many people actually land in their province in the program, how many people stay, how they’re doing economically. We’ve given the provinces a lot of space here. We’ve gone from 5,000 to 42,000 admissions under the Provincial Nominee Program since coming to office. And that has helped in principle get a much better geographic distribution of newcomers across the country. And there is some evidence that people coming in from the PN Program do better economically during their initial years in Canada than do the federal skilled workers. But we don’t know for sure because the data is incomplete. And one of the problems we have is that there’s just such a multiplicity of different streams within each Provincial Nominee Program that I think that we have something like 60 different streams. So we are working with the provinces to get better data on the outcomes of the program, make sure that people are actually going to the provinces they’re supposed to be going to and streamlined a number of different streams across the country.

On the first issue of Beijing processing, you know, operational matters like the processing within a particular mission are really the responsibility of our public servants. It’s not appropriate for the Minister to get involved in interfering in operational level decisions, in particular missions abroad.

Having said that, we have made a commitment in the campaign that our government will focus on speeding up family reunification processing. We will work closely with the Department. We’ll consult with immigrant communities, experts, provinces and others. We’ll look at the international experience in Australia , New Zealand , the United States , United Kingdom and we will come up with a plan to speed up family sponsorship.

Minister Kenney: No, just once again thank you, everyone, for your keen interest in all of these issues. You probably won’t be hearing from me until after the new cabinet is in place and should I have the honour of continuing in this ministry, I look forward to working closely with you all. And, if not, I’ll make sure that whoever might replace me is accessible to you and your readers, listeners and viewers. So thank you very much. And good luck.

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