Coming up on two years since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s infamous “Welcome to Canada” tweet, and nearly 38,000 irregular border crossings from the United States later, it is still easy to argue the country does not face any kind of migration crisis. Few if any of those crossing the border seem to represent a security threat — and since everyone seeking asylum, by definition, has to check in with authorities, we can hope bad actors will be weeded out. Many of those applying for asylum may well be economic migrants, not bona fide refugees; but there are far worse things than being overrun with hard-striving immigrants eager to make a go of it in a new country. It remains true that compared to the number of asylum-seekers other countries have dealt with in recent years, Canada hardly faces a challenge at all.
The Conservative opposition in Ottawa, and more recently the PC government in Toronto, have rudely declined to be sanguine. The former has demanded the government stop the flow of migrants; the latter has stridently demanded compensation for the cost of caring for the new arrivals who can’t fend for themselves. There has been no shortage of progressive commentators eager to hold them to account, arguing they are misrepresenting the issues or “dog-whistling” to racists, and citing all the reasons listed above.
At some point those commentators will have to hold the government to account as well, I’m afraid. As the Parliamentary Budget Officer confirmed this week, the Liberals have allowed — at the very least — a bureaucratic crisis to firmly take hold. Manageable as Canada’s irregular migration problem ought to be, the feds have utterly failed to manage it. As of Sept. 18, the backlog of all asylum cases was nearly 65,000 people. That’s the most this century, and more than triple what it was at the end of Trudeau’s first year in office. The PBO projects the wait time for refugee claims to be finalized will be three years by 2020.
The government’s line is that the number of irregular crossers is decreasing. But the majority of the 65,000 aren’t irregular crossers. Even two years is completely unjustifiable from every perspective, including a humanitarian one. Imagine being convinced you have a solid claim to asylum in Canada, selling the proverbial farm in Nigeria, getting yourself firmly established in a new country — and then being told you have to go home to nothing.
No serious country would think this was no big deal. While the influx of irregular crossers isn’t the Liberals’ fault, it is their responsibility to address it. Adding people to a massive and ever-growing list doesn’t cut it. Doing so while prancing and preening about as the brave defenders of Canadian compassion, empathy and inclusivity is simply repulsive. They shouldn’t have gotten away with it for even a second. Yet they continue to.
Many have focused on the daunting cost of all this: the PBO estimates nearly $400 million in the 2019-20 fiscal year. But the simple fact is, the only real solution here is to spend more than that. No party is proposing physically stopping unarmed men, women and children from crossing the border. No party is proposing revoking the long-established right to a hearing before Canada sends you on your way. There is no reason to think Washington will “take them back” even if we could send them. The only way to fix this is to spend scads more money to hire scads more people to process these claims more quickly, and yet somehow this debate has boiled away for two years without that rising to the top.
But then that’s hardly unique in Canadian politics, is it? The Conservatives claim to support action on carbon emissions while treating the simplest and most market-oriented approaches as communist plots. The Liberals fill their speeches and social media feeds with talk of fending off global devastation while fronting a carbon tax plan that will absolutely not achieve Canada’s targets under the Paris Accord.
The Liberals promise to get pipelines built using understanding, consultation and patchouli oil. The Conservatives demand an aggressive approach the likes of which didn’t get the job done very recently, and probably won’t in future. We all know Trans Mountain is a political nightmare that’s unlikely ever to get built.
Decade after decade we make a royal hash of military procurement — or we do if actually procuring military hardware is the goal. As a vote-buying scheme, military procurement works just fine. Thank goodness we don’t need all those ships and planes — not really; not living next to our American friends.
It’s often observed that Canadian politics is a ferocious battle over small differences. But it’s often worse than that: A ferocious battle over small differences in which “winning” has nothing to do with actually accomplishing the task at hand. We must be blessed to live in a country where it matters so little.
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