Politics

Chris Selley: Canada’s fantasyland politics can’t fix our refugee backlog

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.

A
group of asylum seekers arrive at the temporary housing
facilities at the border crossing Wednesday May 9, 2018 in St.
Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que.
Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian
Press/File

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.

• Email: cselley@nationalpost.com
| Twitter: cselley

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