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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Tories play their cards, and play on voters fears

By MURRAY CAMPBELL
Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Sep. 9, 2003

Would you clear a space on the shelf, please? We have an award winner in the Astonishing Political Gambit competition that deserves a spot.Ontario's Progressive Conservatives, who have had something of a lock on this contest, outdid themselves yesterday with a broadside against the federal government's immigration system. They played so many cards on this one that they will have to break open a fresh deck to get through the rest of the week.

Conservative Leader Ernie Eves, reiterating his pledge to establish Ontario's own immigration system, accused Ottawa of keeping out of Canada worthy applicants while opening the door for "murderers and criminals" to come in. At the same time, he whined that Quebec was getting a better deal from Ottawa than Ontario and that Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty was climbing into bed with the federal Liberals to ensure that bad people were roaming our streets.

Take just one sentence to parse from his speech yesterday at a Thornhill bag-distribution company.

"Now, Dalton McGuinty and his provincial Liberal Party are, of course, good friends of their federal cousins in Ottawa -- the same people who have saddled Ontario with a broken immigration system that shuts the door on literally tens of thousands of skilled workers, yet seemingly welcomes criminals into our community," Mr. Eves said.

Where to start? He is saying, first, that the federal government has arranged its immigration system to the disadvantage of Ontario. He is saying that immigration officials turn away people with skills in favour of thugs. And he is saying that Mr. McGuinty has conspired with Ottawa to make all this happen.

The basis for this tirade is the Conservative Leader's contention that Ontario needs its own immigration system because there are more than 36,000 people -- "more than the population of Orillia" -- who have been ordered to leave Canada but have not left. On top of that, he added, there are 59 war criminals wandering the streets.

It was enough evidence for Mr. Eves to conclude that "war criminals, would-be terrorists and other bad people get into Canada because the federal Liberals have created a system that seems to work for no one."

This might come as news to the 229,000 people who came to these shores last year, but let's leave that aside and concentrate on the real flaws in his argument.

For a start, the Conservative Leader masterfully confuses the immigration and refugee-determination systems. Screening applicants in China or Guatemala is one thing, and the federal government has a rigorous points system to do just that. It's an entirely different matter dealing with people who show up at the border and seek refugee status.

Beyond that, Mr. Eves said that about 80,000 people are denied entry every year. He later admitted these people eventually get in, so it's obvious it's the length of the queue of skilled people that he believes is damaging Ontario's economic prospects. Mr. Eves suggested Quebec does a better job of screening out criminals than Ottawa, but, in fact, that province assesses skills and linguistic suitability and leaves security to federal officials.

The Tories are coming late to this issue, after years of ignoring pleas from Ottawa to take more responsibility.

Mr. Eves says he is not playing a race card, and his words should be taken at face value. But he is playing on fears that the world has become a more dangerous place since World Trade Center attacks -- and he is using his political opponents as straw men while doing it.

We could feel a little more comfortable about his zeal to keep Ontario safe if the provincial auditor hadn't noted earlier this year that 10,000 offenders with arrest warrants outstanding -- some issued 10 years ago -- remain at large. Feel more secure now?



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