TORONTO - As we learned from Justin Trudeau’s India excursion, Prime Ministerial state “visits” are public relations exercises, and little more. Glorified and oversized “selfies”.
Good on us that Canada has one of the youngest National leaders, and unquestionably the most photogenic subjects for a photo-crazy public. Sometimes, though, even he can use a little help.
It seems that the Canadian Prime Minister may well be in [political] need of Premier Costa’s nod before the cameras. Or at least some of his MPs who rely on the Portuguese vote in Canada do. Ditto for some of their MPP colleagues in Ontario’s upcoming election.
Two days ago, Prime Minister Trudeau hosted Prime Minister Antonio Costa of Portugal, a relatively small country (population 10.3 million, or about 70% of Ontario’s). We maintain some reasonable bi-lateral trade ($ 810 million in 2016), although Portugal exports twice as much to us ($ 553.60 million) as we export to it ($ 257.15 million).
One would not expect that economics would fashion the rationale supporting the visit. The “private” meeting between the two Prime Ministers lasted all of 15 minutes, following the requisite pomp and circumstance ceremonies. What did they talk about?
Portugal has a long history with Canada.
There is ample historical evidence suggesting that Portuguese fishermen had established villages to process cod into “bacalao” for the European market well before Giovanni Caboto claimed Newfoundland for Henry VII of England, in 1497.
The first official Post Courier in New France (Canada) was, in fact, a Portuguese, Pedro da Silva, recognized as such in 1705.
He was commemorated with a stamp in 2003 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of what is considered the first official landing of Portuguese immigrants.
It is in fact an Immigration issue that lies at the base of the visit. Mr. Costa came to sign a bi-lateral agreement to increase the number of Working Holiday Visas available to citizens of Portugal.
It is a proverbial sop to quiet the voices of protest among Portuguese and other [Southern] Europeans that Canada’s doors are shut to them.
In 2017, a picayune one quarter of one per cent (0.27%) of all Permanent Residencies granted were for Portuguese. Ironically, the current Minister for Refugees and Immigration, Ahmed Hussen (himself a former Refugee), is more concerned with “proper processing of papers” and tending to potential “refugees” making their way through Israel or the USA. His electoral success depends on the Portuguese and Italian vote in the riding he represents. For Portuguese migrants, Immigration is about labour mobility. It is also about earned rights as human beings to be accepted in a country where they work and raise their families. They pay their taxes, obey the law and contribute to economic and social growth. Even if they are Visa-Overstays. An “in Canada Class” exists under Immigration Law (IRPA) to accommodate this phenomenon. The same law authorizes the Minister to grant status.
Former Minister McCallum acknowledged this and set up a Pilot Project specifically to resolve what was/is becoming a serious socio-economic embarrassment for the Canadian government.
And now add political, electoral and international irritant to that list. At least five MPs in Toronto, Brampton and Mississauga depend on the Portuguese vote, including Peter Fonseca and Julie Dzerowicz.
Minister Hussen has hung them out to dry like “bacalao” by walking away from the Pilot Project to regularize the undocumented workers. The problem is not unfamiliar to local Portuguese Consular authorities.
They repeat a refrain laced with wry irony that goes something like this: there are only 55,000 undocumented workers who are Portuguese – focus on the word workers.
Two MPs in the Portuguese Parliament introduced a letter – a Motion, an elaborated Parliamentary, five part question – calling on Mr. Costa to raise the issues of immigration levels and the plight of undocumented workers with his counterpart, Mr. Trudeau, during his visit.
MPPs Christina Martins and Charles Sousa must surely hope for a breakthrough, as does their fellow MPP and ally, Minister Laura Albanese. Minister Hussen appears oblivious to the entreaties of his provincial cousins and to the requests of the Undocumented Workers Committee to re-instate the Pilot Project. It would have accelerated the “normalization and regularization process” for those currently in Canada without status.
His mind is elsewhere.