Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The ubiquitous Jason Kenney

Updated (below)...

At BigCityLib today, we find out why Minister Jason Kenney was all "Not to the best of my knowledge" to Jane Taber on Sunday when asked whether he'd ever met the caregivers in the Dhalla case. Seems that yes, he did indeed meet the advocate for these caregivers at a meeting the day after the allegations first became public. These pictures show Kenney with Pura Valesco, the advocate for the caregivers, on April 26, the day after the allegations were raised in a session with Ontario ministers Fonseca and Wynne, as shown here:
Valesco is in the pink scarf and is next to Kenney.

While it is still unclear whether there was any direct discussion between the two on that day on this specific case, we do know this:
...he told CTV's Question Period this weekend that the women have been by told by Immigration officials that the time they spent in the Dhalla residence will be counted towards their permanent residency, even if they were not working as caregivers as required by law.

Yet “today, when the question was asked to the women - ‘Have you ever met with Minister Kenney or with any other department official?' - they denied meeting with any other department official,” Ms. Dhalla said.
Seems there are a lot of unanswered questions on the details of communications between Kenney's office and the caregivers, their advocate and when the above information may have been raised and discussed between them.

Further, as Adam Radwanski points out, a problem with a lot of this story is that the political arms of Jason Kenney seem to wrap themselves around this whole issue and it raises larger questions about whether the immigration department is being blatantly used for political purposes:
...the close proximity of Kenney to this story - one he'd have done better to keep a healthy distance from and let play out on its own - has opened the door for Dhalla to make those conspiracy claims. And in the process, it's highlighted the troublingly blurred lines between his duties within the government and within his party.

It's not a knock on Kenney to say that he's a complete political animal; there are lots of those in government, and always have been. But the question is whether he can keep distance between two jobs that should not be held by the same person.

You can't be simultaneously in charge of the country's immigration policy and your own party's efforts to recruit ethnic voters without facing a potential conflict of interest on a daily basis - especially if you're a win-at-all-costs type of politician, as Kenney certainly is. And his dabbling in Dhalla's riding alone suggests he's not handling that potential conflict especially well.

That he appeared at a Sikh parade alongside Parm Gill - Dhalla's Conservative opponent in the next election - isn't a huge deal. But the fact that Kenney brought Gill along with him on a recent trip to India - a trip that was made on behalf of the government of Canada, not the Conservative Party - is a little odd. And it's all the more so given that Gill was apparently freelancing to reporters that more Punjabi youth would soon be let into the country, which seems to have had less to do with government policy than with scoring points with voters.

Since the allegations against Dhalla broke, Kenney has had similar difficulty maintaining a clear line between his responsibilities. He's tried to be cute about it, as Aaron Wherry has neatly encapsulated. But since when do ministers' offices prejudge the outcome of complaints that should be handled by officials much lower down the food chain, pronouncing that the "whistleblowers" will "under no circumstances" be deported from the country - even if, one assumes, Dhalla's claims that they're the ones who abused the system proved true? (emphasis added)
Radwanski is picking up on Don Martin's reporting about Kenney and Gill. And more significantly, that last reference is to a statement made by Mr. Kenney's director of communications to the Toronto Star, reported today, which underscores the notion of the mixing of politics with official department business:
...a top aide to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the women have nothing to fear.

"They don't need to worry about retaliation from the immigration department for being whistleblowers," said Alykhan Velshi, Kenney's director of communications. "Under no circumstances will they be deported from Canada, period."(emphasis added)
Shouldn't Mr. Kenney and his political staff properly be miles away from these allegations, letting independent officials adjudicate any complaint which has been filed? Which we must note, to date - there hasn't been any word of that occurring. Yet Kenney's been on national television speaking about the matter, one of his best political mates is Dhalla's ongoing political opponent and his director of communications is making such immigration assurances that are surely beyond his jurisdiction.

Today's hearing will speak for itself and people can draw their own conclusions about the testimony offered. But it's unavoidable to note the glaring political context in which all of this is happening. The bigger story here for enterprising journalists is about the very political Jason Kenney and the apparent politicization of this ministry for Conservative electoral purposes.

Update (5:55 p.m.): BCer on this, with a fascinating suggestion.

Susan Delacourt noting Kenney political aide passing out documents at this morning's hearing entitled, "Was Ruby Dhalla involved in the hiring of the caregivers?" It's fair to say that in this instance Kenney's ministry is running politically amok.

Update (7:45 p.m.): Tribe, LibArts & Minds, video of Dhalla statement here, Star report on caregiver testimony.