The most extraordinary part of running as a candidate in this election has been the opportunity to meet Canadians every day. Canadians. People from every corner of the world with varied economic, social and cultural backgrounds who have made Canada their home. With the exception of Aboriginal peoples, the family of every single Canadian has arrived in our great country by way of immigration; whether as a first generation immigrant who has arrived in Canada searching for new opportunities or as a child of fifth generation immigrants who did the same not so long ago.
Canada is what it is today thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of those who chose to create and build a better life for themselves and their family here. Being an immigrant in this country is not a side story. It is the story. Our diversity is our greatest resource. Immigration is not only critical to job creation, long-term economic growth and creating a strong middle class, but it is also the single thread which weaves throughout the rich tapestry of Canadian society.
As a nation of immigrants, it is frightening when any government draws arbitrary lines between classes of people to further political objectives, as the Conservative Government has done in recent years. Although terms like “Old Stock Canadian” may seem laughable for their absurdity, we must check our laughter so as not to underestimate the insidious danger of such terms and policies rooted in xenophobia, ignorance and personal quests for power. Mr. Harper has sought to divide Canada by creating the illusion of the “Other”-an approach recycled by politicians throughout world history, who have chosen to rely on politics of fear as a distraction from a dearth of meaningful policy or a weak or failing economy.
During the course of this campaign, having had the opportunity to meet Canadians on their doorstep, where they work, or at their place of worship, many of whom Mr. Harper would deem an “Other”- I am deeply troubled. I find it difficult to muse about the ridiculous concept of an “Old Stock Canadian” when I face my fellow citizens and know that their right to be here and to call themselves Canadian is somehow less permanent than my own under Mr. Harper’s two-tier system of citizenship.
With the passage of Bill C-24 into law this past June, people who have immigrated to Canada or who are dual citizens (including people who were born in Canada) can have their citizenship revoked while other Canadians cannot. Canadian law now permits the Citizenship and Immigration Minister, or his delegate, to revoke citizenship without a hearing before a federal court judge and without a right of appeal. Basically all that is necessary to rob a citizen, and by implication their descendants, of their home and their country, is the decision of a politician made under a bureaucratic administrative process. These draconian powers do not strike the necessary balance between the protection of our security and the protection of our fundamental freedoms.
I find it equally disturbing that good people like Zunera Ishaq, who contribute richly to this society in the hopes of becoming Canadian citizens, are then denied the right to swear their citizenship oath because they choose to do so while exercising their religious freedom. I find it disturbing still that when the courts of this country repeatedly direct the Conservative Government that such policies are counter to the fundamental laws of Canada, Mr. Harper continues to finance doomed legal battles with tax-payer money in order to deny Ms. Ishaq the right to vote in the upcoming election and to use her plight as his own personal political fodder.
Like many of you, I was also appalled and embarrassed when the current government sat idly by and refused to act while families were being torn apart and parents were forced to place their children at great risk because there was no other option. Thankfully Mr. Harper was forced to succumb somewhat in the face of growing public pressure with respect to the Syrian refugees. But we can still do more. The way we treat the most vulnerable in our society, both at home and abroad, will define us. Our actions will shape how we are viewed in the international community and, ultimately, how history will judge us.
It is not right to expect those who seek a permanent home in this land to continue to invest and enrich this country when its government reminds them at every opportunity that their life here is conditional. Canadians want to feel proud of our rich humanitarian history and the society of inclusiveness we have created. We want to continue to be the beacon of hope for those who seek to build a safe home for themselves and their families because we know that many of our own families and friends arrived in this country not long ago by virtue of policies born of these values. This is what it means to be Canadian.
For these reasons, I am so pleased and driven to be a part of the Liberal team bringing real change to our current immigration system. Liberals will significantly improve the current system by placing a focus on family reunification so that families can stay together and successfully become a part of their new communities. Strong families mean strong communities. We will immediately double the number of applications for parents and grandparents, restore processing times to pre-Harper levels, and nearly double the budget for family class applications. We will also make it easier for siblings and older dependents to join their families and for spouses to receive immediate permanent residency.
I am excited to renew the spirit of multiculturalism that is the beating heart of our Canadian family and that ensures our strong democracy. I am proud to be a candidate for the Liberal Party, the party of multiculturalism and diversity. I am eager to be a part of a Government led by Justin Trudeau who will recommit this country to welcoming more permanent immigrants and refugees and providing them with legitimate and lasting paths to citizenship.