In the lead up to the federal election, immigration was expected to be a hot issue — one that would be played up by all sides. Yet, reassuringly, immigration did not become a hot-button and divisive issue among the major national parties. While party platform differences are not insignificant, they all reflect a consensus that overall immigration benefits Canada.
While each party leader has made additional commitments on the campaign trail (e.g., Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer on maintaining current Liberal immigration levels, New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh pledging additional funding for Quebec integration and settlement services), this analysis looks only at the official party platforms, as these will form the basis of any future government “report card.”
In general, differences among the four main parties are a matter of nuance, as all accept ongoing large numbers of immigrants, programs to facilitate integration, straightforward pathways to citizenship and the multicultural reality of Canada.
Neither major party has chosen to make immigration the big issue predicted at the start of the campaign, reflecting that both parties need to win a substantial part of the immigrant and visible minority vote to win the election. So while there are differences in tone and substance, these have been relatively downplayed in their respective platforms, campaign language notwithstanding.
The Conservative platform on immigration is sparse, with commitments that reflect their main focus on management of immigration, particularly the irregular arrivals at Roxham Road. This is balanced by their commitment to remove the cap on privately sponsored refugees while clarifying priorities for refugee selection (implicitly downplaying the UN Refugee Agency role). Commitments that reflect concerns of their base include banning values tests for Grant and Contribution programs (Canada Summer Jobs program) and re-opening the Office for Religious Freedom.
The platform is silent on high-profile issues previously raised in opposition such as M-103 on Islamophobia and other forms of racism and discrimination and their opposition to the UN’s Global Compact for Migration.
The lack of meaningful commitments on immigration levels and mix, citizenship and multiculturalism would provide a Conservative government considerable policy and program latitude should it form the government. The PPC picks up on some of issues the Conservatives dropped, along with prohibiting birth tourism and an overall hard tone on immigration.
The Liberal platform is to stay the course on immigration levels and most other policy areas. Apart from the major announcement of eliminating citizenship application fees, the platform places greatest emphasis on issues around multiculturalism, whether it be with respect to diversity of appointments, anti-racism and anti-hate strategies, and resources to counter international far-right networks, including additional funding. The platform is silent on family reunification, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, refugees, and integration.
The NDP and The Green Party of Canada platforms are to the left of the Conservative and Liberal platforms. Of the two, the NDP platform is the more coherent. In the event of a minority government, the almost “laundry list” approach in both platforms would provide some areas of agreement, but not their call to abolish the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S.
This table (Election Platforms 2019 Comparison) highlights party positions on immigration (levels, mix, Temporary Foreign Workers, refugees, irregular asylum seekers), integration, citizenship and multiculturalism.
With all party platforms out, it is now possible to compare the written policy commitments of each party.
The Conservative platform is silent on immigration levels. The Liberal platform continues the current trajectory of “modest and reasonable” annual increases along with making the Atlantic Immigration Pilot permanent and establishing a Municipal Immigration Pilot. The NDP platform states that levels should reflect labour market needs.
The Green platform commits to regularize the status of illegal (non-regularized status immigrants) and improve the pathway to permanent residency for international students and Temporary Foreign Workers.
The PPC platform proposes a cut of between 50 and 70 percent of current immigration levels, along with the addition of in-person interviews to assess the “extent to which they align with Canadian values and societal norms.” The PPC also proposes increased resources to Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for the interviews and more thorough background checks.
While the Conservative, NDP and Green platforms all promise to speed up family reunification, particularly for parents and grandparents for the Conservatives and NDP, and children for the Greens, the PPC platform calls for abolishing family reunification for parents and grandparents. The Liberal and Bloc platforms are silent.
The NDP platform calls for faster reunification of caregivers with their families. The Green platform calls for a “robust system” to assess the education and training credentials against Canadian standards prior to arrival along with clear explanations for professionals and an improved pathway to permanent residency for international students and Temporary Foreign Workers.
The PPC proposes to adjust the point system to increase the percentage of economic class immigrants.
While the Conservative platform commits to the elimination of the cap for privately-sponsored refugees, the PPC calls for relying solely on private sponsorship, accepting fewer refugees, no longer “relying” on the UN for refugee selection, and taking Canada out of the UN Global Compact for Migration.
The Conservative platform places priority on genocide survivors, LGBTQ+ refugees, and internally-displaced persons, while the PPC platform places priority on persecuted religious minorities (e.g., Christians, Yazidis) in majority Muslim countries.
The NDP program calls for increased support for refugee integration. The Bloc calls for a moratorium on deportations to countries in conflict or where the life of a refugee would be in danger. The Liberal platform is silent.
Asylum Seekers (Safe Third Country Agreement)
While the Conservative platform calls for closing the loophole in the STCA that allows irregular arrivals between official border crossings, the Liberal platform states that it will work with the U.S. to “modernize” the Agreement. The NDP, Greens and Bloc call for its termination.
The PPC would declare the whole border an official port of entry, deport irregular arrivals, and fence frequently used border crossings like Roxham Road.
The Conservative platform commits to speed up refugee processing by deploying Immigration and Refugee Board judges to common arrival points and speed up deportations by hiring an addition 250 CBSA agents. The Green platform calls for the establishment of a Civilian Complaints and Review Commission for CBSA. The Bloc platform calls for the hiring of additional IRB members in Quebec to adjudicate claims.
The Conservative platform commits to end values tests for government G&C programs (e.g., the Summer Jobs program) and to reopen the Office of Religious Freedom.
The Liberal platform promises to continue improving the diversity of GiC appointments and senior levels of the public service. The Anti-Racism Strategy will be strengthened through doubling funding, along with increased G&C funding. The platform commits to improve the quality and amount of data collection regarding hate crimes. An additional $6 million over three years will be provided to the Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence along with resources to counter the rise of international far-right networks and terrorist organizations.
Both the Liberal and NDP platforms commit to hold social media companies accountable for hate speech.
The NDP platform has the longest list of commitments including: ensuring all major cities have dedicated hate crime units; the convening of a national working group to counter online hate; funding for anti-gang projects to deter at-risk youth from joining gangs or becoming radicalized; a ban on carding by federal law enforcement and working to end carding in all jurisdictions; and a national task force to develop a roadmap to end over-representation of Indigenous and visible minorities in prison populations, along with an African Canadian Justice Strategy.
The Green platform commits to improving the integration into the multicultural fabric, assisting cultural organizations to obtain charitable status, amending the Anti-Terrorism Act and Public Safety Act to require that formal charges be brought against all those detained and lastly, investigating allegations that Canadian officials cooperated with foreign agencies known to use torture.
The PPC platform commits to repealing the Multiculturalism Act and eliminating funding that promotes multiculturalism.
The Bloc platform focuses exclusively on Quebec jurisdiction questions: opposing any federal intervention in Bill 21 and laïcité; strengthening relations with immigrant communities; private member bill “virtue signalling” with respect to exempting Quebec from the Multiculturalism Act; banning offering or receiving public services with face covered; having citizenship applicants living in Quebec demonstrate knowledge of French; and making federally regulated sectors (banks, transport, communications) located in Quebec subject to Bill 101.
Andrew Griffith is the author of Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and many other works. He is a former Director-General of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Citizenship and Multiculturalism branch. He regularly comments on citizenship, multiculturalism and related issues, in this blog and the media.