The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Building on our skills

The biggest barrier to new Canadians is the frequent failure of Canada to recognise legitimate foreign credentials.

And so once again Stephen Harper has taken the initiative in this election campaign in announcing a policy which directly addresses one of the most crippling problems facing an otherwise more than reasonably healthy member of the G8. For, having drawn in highly skilled immigrants from around the globe, why can we not create an appropriate mechanism for them to make use of those skills?

To this end, Harper proposes to create a "Canadian Agency for Assessment and Recognition of Credentials", whose mandate would be to evaluate international credentials and simultaneously to educate domestic employers on the value of such credentials. Together with a promise to significantly reduce the notorious $975 immigrant landing fee, Harper's proposal may seem appealing to many.

Nice promise. Too bad it doesn't have any teeth.

It is not the federal government which has the authority to set professional standards in Canada, but the various (non-governmental) professional associations. The federal government has no power to force an employer to accept one otherwise equally qualified candidate over another -- and newly-arrived immigrants, whatever their professional level of skill, frequently lack the one thing which could possible make all other things equal: a readily comprehensible knowledge of either English or French. With some justification (for communication skills are important in any field), employers balk at this lack. Finally, much of immigration policy is under provincial jurisdiction (especially in Qu├ębec); and other Harper promises seem to suggest giving more autonomy to the provinces, not taking away what autonomy already exists.

Thus, the net effect of this new creation would be to create a need for more federal public servants ... and very little else.

This election is becoming more than somewhat notorious for the lack of initiative the Liberals are showing; not least since to run on their record (up to and including the balanced budget achieved at the expense of provincial transfer payments) is not really what the Liberals should be seeking. Ironically, for the most part Paul Martin et al seem to be waiting for Harper to make exactly the kinds of gaffes the Liberals have been making in spades -- but Harper addressed that minefield at the outset of this campaign and gotten it out of the way immediately.

Time to stop waiting, Paul.

A start has been made with the Liberal promise and (former) budget provisions to bring in a thousand internationally-trained doctors, as well as stream in over two thousand other internationally-trained health professionals -- yet these policies don't address either the language issue or the fundamental paupacity of available internships. Look to these two problems first, before luring into Canada new professionally-trained taxi drivers.

Still, there is no security in campaign promises. There is no law requiring or even suggesting that politicians be bound by the promises they make while seeking (re)election. The time to develop policy is not and has never been on the campaign trail; and in all fairness no party should be forced to commit to a fixed path while facing an uncertain future. All we should ever look to the campaign promise to do is to point the way: and where that path seems to be self-contradictory, it seems only common sense to be wary of the whole package.


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