Immigration overhaul eyed by Liberals


RICHMOND, B.C.–Saying he wants to build "a stronger economy and a fairer country," Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion yesterday pledged to spend $800 million to overhaul Canada's problem-plagued immigration system.

"I want a new system that gives everyone a fair chance," he told an audience of Chinese-Canadians at a campaign event here yesterday.

Dion said the overhaul would ease visa problems for foreign visitors, set up a new program for temporary workers and students to apply for permanent residence status and "significantly" raise immigration quotas. He also promised to set up a more efficient refugee-determination system.

If elected, he vowed his government would scrap the immigration law passed by the Tories that was widely criticized for vesting too much control of the system in the immigration minister's hands.

"Last spring the Conservative government gave the immigration minister sweeping discretionary powers to reject whole categories of immigration applications," said Dion. "When I am elected prime minister I will immediately reverse these unfair and dangerous immigration changes."

The announcement in the swing riding of Richmond, held by Liberal incumbent Raymond Chan, was a clear appeal to the party's traditional multicultural base.

Dion said the Liberals want to rewrite immigration rules and regulations to make it easier for newcomers to succeed in Canada once they are here.

"Immigration will account for all of Canada's net labour and population growth during the next five years and is a key element of the Liberal plan for Canada's future success."

Saying the current visa system imposes wait times on visitors that "are not human," Dion promised to bring in a Welcome Canada pass that would provide a five-year renewable, multiple-entry visitor's visa for individuals sponsored by Canadian citizens and landed immigrants.

The Liberals say they would work with the provinces to improve the immigration system, promising the following measures over four years:
  • $400 million to streamline immigration operations so applications can be processed more quickly. Dion also promised to increase the number of immigrants who could come to Canada "significantly" but did not say by how many.
  • $200 million for a New Beginnings Canada program to fund enhanced language training for newcomers.
  • $200 million for a Bridge to Work plan, a program to better prepare newcomers for the workplace through the use of internships, special training and work placement opportunities.
  • Direct financial assistance to help foreign professionals obtain recognition of their credentials.
  • A so-called Canada Express Pass for frequent business visitors to reduce processing times.