Two weeks ago, more than 500 immigration professionals descended into Vancouver for the sold-out annual CBA Immigration Conference. Minister McCallum gave the keynote address and members of his department presented on many aspects of immigration and refugee law, from overseas sponsorship applications for refugees to inadmissibility issues to the interpretation of Kanthasamy and its impact on H&C applications. Overall, the quality of speakers was superb (for the record, I was not a speaker) and the dialogue was candid and respectful. I will not get into the substantive points of the conference here but one point has stuck with me: since the Liberals have regained power, there has been a dramatic shift in the tone and candour from IRCC staff. In short, we witnessed a significant cultural shift within the department, and in my view, a positive change.
Open to Criticism
From the Minister to each and every speaker, the IRCC representatives were open to feedback and criticism throughout the conference. In particular, it was refreshing to hear Officers readily acknowledge shortcomings of the system and the concrete steps they are taking to deal with issues. In many sessions, Officers emphasized, “please remember that we are your friends” and they took every concern raised seriously. Until I hear otherwise, I will give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that those notes will not simply gather dust.
After Minister McCallum’s speech, he was scheduled to sit with Chantal Desloges, a regular critic of Liberal policies in the media (and a personal friend of mine). Chantal was poised to ask some tough questions but instead deferred to her colleagues and let the Minister field questions from the audience. Near the end, he prompted her to ask a tough question to which she replied, “actually, I can’t disagree with anything you’ve said!”
Where Are The Defenders?
I was reminded of this conference today while reading Lawrence Martin’s piece, The frustrations of being Governor-General. Referring to the recent Duffy decision, Martin writes:
“Mind-boggling and shocking” the judge wrote of the comportment of the office of then-prime minister Stephen Harper. “Unacceptable” in a “democratic society.”
The judge’s portrait – hello Harperland – was more affirmation of what many have been saying for years about the way these people operated. It was telling that hardly a Conservative could be found to come to the microphone to defend their former ruler against the charges.
In the same way that there are scant defenders of how Harper operated, there were also scant defenders of the Conservative policies and laws under the mandate of IRCC that are being systematically dismantled.
Clearly, we are still in a honeymoon phase with the current government. They are still open to our wish-lists of policies to amend. This phase will, of course, end at some point and we will miss these sunny days. In the meantime, it is refreshing to have open and candid conversations with IRCC Officers in public (previously, I found that the best way was to speak with them outside the office to get honest and uncensored feedback). As Chantal noted: “If I had to put it in a nutshell, I would say that what I walked away with is that people are feeling a great deal of positivity and hope with the new government when it comes to immigration.”
The question is: will this government continue to inspire positivity and hope through its actions, not just its promises?