During this past Saturday’s media roundtable featuring Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney, along with Minister of State for Democratic Reform Tim Uppal, the federal Conservatives discussed two major pieces of reform. One of them has been passed, the other is one they are hoping will before the end of this calendar year.
The latter, namely the “Fair Representation Act”, reflects the government’s desire to reward more populated regions of the country – Toronto, for instance – with greater representation. This, according to Uppal, will directly benefit immigrants and ethnic minorities.
“Some of the most under-represented people tend to be new Canadians and ethnic minorities, so that is why it’s so important that we move forward with this legislation,” said Uppal, himself a first generation Canadian with Indian roots. “The fact is that most new Canadians and ethnic minorities are now living in the metropolitans of Ontario, BC and Alberta.”
Uppal pointed to the very riding the roundtable was taking place, Brampton West. With well over 200,000 residents in the riding, it is among the country’s most densely populated. More rural political ridings have as little as 50,000, an equity that the Conservatives feel needs to be rectified.
“We’ve been aware of the inequity in distribution of seats in the House of Commons for a long time, but as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, the greatest source of frustration is that the areas of cabinet most underrepresented are typically the areas with the most amount of immigrants,” adds Jason Kenney. “New Canadians deserve an equal voice, fair representation.”
The plan calls for an increase of 15 new seats in Ontario, six in Alberta, as well as three new ones in Quebec. Uppal and his party are striving for this legislation to pass before 2012 begins to “fulfill our mandate”, but to their dismay, they have met opposition from both opposition parties, who have their own ideas.
“We are open to ideas and suggestions from opposition parties, but at the end of the day we will not allow opposition parties to stall legislation to deliver on the mandate that we have promised.”
The Conservatives have pledged to each of the provinces that no part of the country will see a decrease in ridings, in an effort “to be fair to the smaller provinces,” Uppal says. While Quebec’s population has not nearly increased at the rate of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, the Conservatives are pledging to give the country’s second most populated province an increase in three seats to be more proportionate with its population share.
“Quebec has 23% of Canada’s population, so it is only fair that it has 23% of the seats in the House of Commons,” Uppal adds. “Every Canadian’s vote should hold equal weight.”
Meanwhile, following on the heels of the Thursday December 1st announcement of a new “super-visa” for the parents and grandparents of Canadian residents, Minister Kenney detailed the genesis behind the legislation.
“We launched the first parents-grandparents super-visa, a ten-year multiple entry visa that will allow parents and grandparents to stay in Canada for periods up to 2 years,” Kenney explained. “This is the most generous visa permission that we’ve ever had in our system.”
“We’ve done this because so many immigrant families have told me that their moms and dad didn’t necessarily want to move permanently into Canada; many feel very settled in their country of origin. But they do want to be able to stay for extended stays.”
The main criteria for this new super-visa are as follows:
1) Be a parent or grandparent of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident;
2) Provide a written commitment of financial support from their child or grandchild in Canada, including proof that the child or grandchild meets the minimum necessary income (Low Income Cut-Off);
3) Undergo the Immigration Medical Examination;
4) Submit proof that they have purchased comprehensive Canadian medical insurance, valid for at least one year; and
5) Satisfy the visa officer that they meet all other standard admissibility criteria.
Wait times are designed to be very fast, a noteworthy development for many Canadians having their patience tested in the past.
“Our Department is confident that there will be a very high acceptance rate, and we’ll monitor it closely,” added Kenney. “And we’ll be able to process these visas in about eight weeks or less in most instances. Heck of a lot better than waiting eight years for permanent residency.”