Trying to save face while in Mexico, our Prime Minister decides at an international summit to run down the Canadian refugee system and portray it as so incompetent that visas must be slapped on a significant trading partner and ally. It's so flawed yet the government has not seen fit to expend any effort whatsoever on the problem: "Harper says new Mexico travel restrictions will last as long as refugee problems." Where's Kenney been then? Politicking and not working?
"The visas will stay as long as the problem exists," Harper told a news conference, when asked whether the measure was permanent.
"We had been facing over the past several years, and particularly this year, a rise in the number of bogus refugee claimants coming from Mexico.
"This is not the fault of the government of Mexico - let me be very clear about this. This is a problem in Canadian refugee law which encourages bogus claims."
"I hope our Parliament will take advantage of the attention that's been brought on this issue to deal with this problem," he said.Chutzpah, ladies and gentlemen...a leader who does nothing to solve a supposed problem. Damages a key relationship for Canada in reacting to it ("Ottawa admits visa policy will hurt tourism.") Then stands on the international stage and blames the Parliament, which he leads.
"Because we have many legitimate refugee claimants . . . but we are spending an enormous amount of money on bogus refugee claims in a system that encourages those claims.
"And this can't continue this way." (emphasis added)
It all has the whiff of a manufactured crisis in order to get changes made to the refugee system that might otherwise be difficult to achieve. Putting a gun to parliament's head to pass something in order to right his wrong. But the collateral damage to the tourism industry in Canada as a result of the Harper/Kenney visa misadventure is clear: the government's own estimates now predict an approximate 50% reduction in tourists from Mexico this year, from 270,000 to 150,000. The 150,000 figure is likely to be worse than that based on tour operator anecdotal evidence and the growing resentment reported in Mexico against Canada.
So how's that for sheer incompetence...visas slapped on Mexico to get "bogus" refugee claim costs under control, but our tourism industry loses much more.
In an ideal parliament, what should happen here is that the visa requirement should be lifted and parties in good faith should then work quickly to fix whatever problems exist. The government has as much as admitted that the visas will be lifted. It might as well occur now so that the tourism industry doesn't continue to suffer.
But we don't have that ideal parliament. Instead, we face whatever legislation Mr. Harper and Mr. Kenney are cooking up for the fall in terms of refugee system changes. Those changes will be offered, however, in a context in which they have no leverage given the damage, diplomatic and economic, that has resulted. Any changes that are to be considered should be legitimate improvements only, ideological stealth should be barred at the door.
Update (10:25 p.m.): A reader sent me this Macleans backgrounder on the issue and what the Conservatives may be up to...second page at this link is particularly insightful, thanks.