by Candice Malcolm
June 10, 2016
Immigration Minister John McCallum seems pretty proud of himself lately.
When asked a tough question in the House of Commons by opposition immigration critic Michelle Rempel, McCallum responded with a zinger.
Rempel asked how his government planned to address the shortage of language training for Syrian newcomers, or if he was simply too busy planning his next photo op.
McCallum dryly responded, “if the government wanted to send somebody somewhere for a photo op, I suspect there are people along this aisle they’d probably send before they sent me.”
Very funny. He then sat down without even pretending to answer Rempel’s question. But it was an important point that deserved more than just a self-deprecating joke.
In their mad rush to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, the government has overburdened just about every aspect of its refugee resettlement system.
There were widespread housing shortages, forcing many refugees to live in budget motels. Refugees arrived with acute illnesses, overburdening our healthcare system and leaving many without the care they need.
Syrian children arrived at schools where no one spoke Arabic and no one could help them communicate.
In British Columbia, half of all Syrian refugees have settled in the community of Surrey. Thanks to the lack of planning, there are long waiting lists for support services and up to a year-long wait for English lessons.
How are refugees supposed to integrate in Canada – find a job, make friends, communicate in an emergency – if they have to wait an entire year to enroll in language training?
Everywhere you look, there are disheartening tales of Syrian refugees being neglected and ignored. And yet, our immigration minister continues to boast about his record.
On Thursday, McCallum and his staff testified before the immigration committee to discuss the details of their budget. The minister proudly told the committee that Canada will admit the highest number of immigrants since the First World War, including a 400% increase in refugees.
But despite this self-congratulatory attitude, McCallum and his officials struggled to answer even the most basic budgetary questions.
How much was spent on housing Syrian refugees in hotels and motels? The government didn’t know.
What is the cost impact on the provincial and municipal governments to pay for social services to Syrian newcomers? They couldn’t answer.
How much will it cost to waive the immigration loan program? Once again, McCallum and his officials told the committee they didn’t know.
Instead, McCallum deflected the question by bragging about his budget. Despite all the problems on the ground, all the refugees still waiting for services, the government somehow managed to come in $136 million under budget.
They can’t tell us how much various aspects of their program will cost taxpayers, but they know the pie-in-the-sky figure they gave themselves a few months ago was too high even for them to spend.
That doesn’t demonstrate fiscal responsibility, it emphasizes the government’s total incompetence when it comes to refugee resettlement.
After this spectacle at committee, I followed up with the immigration department to find answers to these spending questions. Once again, they failed to answer.
Back at their desks, with all the resources of the federal government and a day to respond, McCallum’s department still could not provide answers to straightforward questions.
They have no idea how much they’re spending on Syrian refugees, and yet, they’re celebrating coming in under budget.
It’s time for McCallum to drop the smug routine and start answering these important questions.