Posted on March 28, 2008

Don’t Shut Door to Unskilled: Premier

Richard Brennan, Toronto Star, March 27, 2008

The federal government would be making a “huge mistake” by turning its back on immigrants just because they don’t have a particular skill, Premier Dalton McGuinty says.

“I wouldn’t want to shut out folks who don’t have a skill,” he told reporters yesterday, referring to the Conservative government’s proposal to streamline the process for immigrants bringing skills desperately needed in Canada.

McGuinty said if those kinds of barriers had been in place, his family would have never emigrated to Canada from Ireland during the 1845-1852 potato famine.

“We had no skills, we couldn’t speak English and we were dirt poor. But we were looking for opportunity and we brought with us a solid work ethic,” he said, during a tour of a carpentry class.

The government has included changes to the Immigration Act in a key budget implementation bill. As a result, the changes are considered a confidence matter, which means if the bill is voted down it could trigger an election.

“I want to make sure we continue to strike a balance in terms of having our doors open,” McGuinty said. “We won’t be able to grow our workforce unless we have immigration. We’re just not having as many kids as we used to.”

Critics complain the amendments would give sweeping powers to the immigration minister.

“Our government has two objectives. The first is to bring more newcomers here to fill the jobs and be reunited with their families. The second is to do it faster,” Immigration Minister Diane Finley told the Commons this month. According to the few details available, the government wants to establish a “just-in-time” immigration system to “quickly process” skilled immigrants so they can make an “immediate contribution to the economy.”

The critics fear this kind of selection process will slam the door on people wanting to reunite with their families, or others who don’t have a specific skill.

Meanwhile, the federal Conservatives’ assault on the Ontario government continued yesterday with an accusation that McGuinty ran a “sponsorship-style” slush fund.

When McGuinty questioned the wisdom of immigration reforms, he was met with a stinging retort from Tory MP Pierre Poilievre, who has been the federal government’s designated McGuinty critic.

Poilievre called reporters to defend the immigration changes.

“All Dalton McGuinty has ever done on immigration is run a sponsorship-style slush fund that cost him his citizenship minister,” Poilievre told The Canadian Press. “So we won’t be taking any advice from him on immigration.”

He was referring to Mike Colle, who resigned last year when it was revealed his department gave $32.4 million to multicultural groups with no oversight procedures.