The Honourable Joe Volpe, Publisher
TORONTO - Reliable sources say that Ottawa is set to make some serious announcements on Immigration, maybe as early as this weekend. If so, it would be “a Christmas gift” for those who have been clamouring for change for years. Especially for Italian and Portuguese who seem to be at the bottom of the Immigration Santa list.
Others are not so sure. Following the election of the Trudeau Liberals in October of 2015, a Parliamentary Committee was commissioned to conduct consultations on the needs of a productive Canadian immigration program. It reported its findings and recommendations to the House of Commons in September of 2016.
Cynics point to the fact that the two Ministers whose departments are most affected – Refugees and Immigration, and Human Resources – are scheduled to provide an Official response by the middle of next month, and are unlikely to budge earlier.
Manuel Alexandre is not one of those cynics. A successfully settled and integrated Canadian of Portuguese origin, he has been, for three years, the chairman of the Undocumented Workers Committee that has been driving the agenda for changes in an immigration system that has “lost its way”.
“It just frustrates me to no end that as a country we cannot seem to deal with the approximately one million people working here – without papers - because we need them, yet we won’t give them the right to even a work visa”, he said when asked what motivates him.
Estimates provided by cities like Toronto and other “sanctuary cities” in the GTHA suggest that the number in those municipalities is closer to the 400 000 mark.
Manuel bristles at the mere thought that such a reference might diminish the urgency. He points out that you can “go to any construction site, renovation project, restaurant, auto repair shops, service-oriented enterprise or small business and you will find ’visa overstays’ (a polite term for illegal/undocumented worker)”.
“These people have the right to live as human beings without having to fear that they can be intercepted by immigration police at any moment and be deported”, he says. “And it is not just a Portuguese problem”, he adds, anticipating the usual divide and conquer question. “In my business, colleagues, subcontractors, suppliers and co-workers are Italian, South American, Polish and other Eastern Europeans providing skilled and committed work where no ’Canadians’ are prepared to go”.
“I love this country and I believe that what my friends and I are doing will make this society stronger, kinder, more compassionate and more productive, he says, but I learned a long time ago that you have to use the instruments available to effect change and you cannot wait for others to get themselves ready”.
Manny, as his friends know him, sees political activism as consistent with other community activities in which he is involved: the union movement, employer organizations, cultural clubs, hospital fundraising (two million dollars for the Peel Memorial Hospital last year). He knows the importance of lobbying – it is time-consuming but necessary.
So, also, is the willingness to develop a legal and communications strategy to convey the image of an organization that takes its challenge seriously and is willing to “pay the price”.
In his view, Immigration will shape the face and the character of the country for generations to come, and he does not want short-sighted policy makers to deprive Canada of the wealth and talent his group represents.
As a result, they defend positions in the Courts, meet with MPs and attend fund-raising events. On December 10 at a Brampton Liberal banquet hosted by local MP Samesh Sangha, Manny asked for a few minutes of time from the guest speaker Minister Nav Bains.
Some of his friends thought that Manny may have been “tough on the Minister”, Manuel dismisses the characterization tersely: I was polite, courteous and direct, he says.
“I complimented him on the speech wherein he spoke of diversity and the government’s plan to spend $183 billion on Infrastructure over the next ten years. I also felt I should state the obvious, respectfully, that he spoke of diversity to a room where only one table of guests was not from South east Asia; secondly, the Infrastructure projects would require skilled labour – currently available in Eastern and Southern Europe - that his government does not appear to accept into Canada.”
How is that “tough”? Manny asks rhetorically. The numbers do not lie; and they are publically available government statistics (nb., for our readers, they were reported in chart form in the Corriere Canadese edition of December 14).
According to Manuel, the Minister reciprocated the courtesy. He tried to manage expectations while offering that progress is being made. He advised Manny and his group to continue lobbying MP Peter Fonseca and others on the Special Caucus Committee tasked with the issue – including the numerically significant Caucus of Italian-Canadian MPS.
Reliable sources say that Manuel Alexandre received a call from a member of that Committee alerting him to an upcoming announcement.
Manuel is a practical man. He expects that if and when an announcement comes, it will only be the beginning of the next stage of the process. He deserves credit nonetheless for keeping the light burning for everyone else.
We tried to contact the minister
of Immigration for a comment.
We did not receive any answer before the printing deadline.