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Friday, November 21, 2008

Canadians Without Borders

Nov. 21, 2008

What does it mean to be Canadian when we come from everywhere?

How do we forge a shared national purpose among people who have never shared anything before and who come from every corner of the globe? How do we provide a sense of direction, a road map to our street in the global village ─ something that emotionally connects with Canadians?

The great unifying national projects of the past such as Medicare and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are now all about mechanics, not poetry ─ past achievements to be defended, and of course improved.

We need new poetry, something once again to inspire us, to fire up our collective imagination.

Canada has become a magnet to people from around the world. We have transformed in a relatively short period of time into the most cosmopolitan and diverse society in human history. And because of our accident of geography ─ vast spaces from sea to sea to sea ─ we have a huge potential to transform even further.

By 2050 the population in the developing world will increase by over 2 billion people; already more than half the population in countries such as Iran and Pakistan is under the age of 20. The forces of globalization will create both incredible wealth but also suffering on a global scale. We will experience enormous environmental challenges and massive population shifts, as modern-day nomads disregard borders and seek a means of livelihood and an escape from dreadful poverty, wars, and sicknesses.

Canada is on the leading edge of this population shift. The world is coming to Canada. Indeed more and more Canadians are now global citizens, exploring the world or staying connected to our countries of origins more instantly, more easily, and more inexpensively than ever before. Mobile telephones, the Internet, wireless devices ─ these are our passports to a world without borders, reflected in the widespread use of YouTube, Facebook, Google Talk, Skype…

But what draws us together if it is not ethnicity, religion, language or other traditional markers of national unity?

Is it a common sense of tolerance? No, it cannot be. People are not knocking on Canada’s doors because we are “tolerant”. Our welcome mat does not say: “please come here and as long as you do not bother anyone, no one will bother you.” Tolerance cannot be an end in itself. We owe each other more than tolerance.

New Canadians do not arrive in Canada wishing to pay $600 or more a month to send their children to faith-based private schools, and seal themselves off in an enclave. This undermines Canada’s internal strength and global potential. Canadians, new and old, do not define themselves by their ethnicity, religion, language or a province. Nor do we define ourselves with material things – not the cars we drive, the houses we own, nor the areas in which we live. We do not define ourselves with borders.

Canadians choose Canada because of the opportunity, both economic and social. Canada represents the best of universal values ─ justice, equality, diversity, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, equal rights, non-discrimination, and a chance to live in peace and humanity. Canada provides a safe haven, and a base from which to reach out to the troubled areas of the world and teach what we have learned in Canada ─ how to live together peaceably, compassionately, and respectfully, exercising the mutual responsibilities that go along with the rights of citizenship.

Surely our destiny is to show the world that a progressive, vigorous, multiethnic democracy can thrive in the twenty-first century and be a model for a troubled world, increasingly challenged by religious and sectarian friction, and environmental catastrophes. Our increasing diversity as a people, our huge pool of human talent, must be our greatest strength from which we forge a clear national purpose.

This national purpose must be to improve the quality of life both in Canada and elsewhere, to promote a common sense of humanity, good government and good citizenship around the globe, to collaborate globally to ensure that economic prosperity coincides with environmental preservation.

We have a mission to export the type of pluralistic, creative, modern society we are building in Canada. We have every right to be proud and assertive, not weighed down by “middleness”, diffidence, the all too typical Canadian “Excuse me, sorry to bother you” attitude.

We need our leaders to be poets, not merely pollsters.

We need bold and visionary national leadership to inspire us to confidently take on the world, and convey a sense of forward motion in our complex world. We are ready, willing and able to ask as much of ourselves as we ask of our governments.

Almost every aspect of our daily lives has a global dimension. All the serious challenges we face—from global warming and energy security to nuclear proliferation and terrorism; from global poverty and economic inequality to the modern day slave trade in women and children and the lethal arms trade fuelling regional conflicts—require global cooperation and global solutions and decisive national leadership. The longer we fail to act coherently and effectively both nationally and internationally, the narrower our options and the greater the potential for catastrophe.

Our national government must govern resolutely for all Canadians. Our prime minister and foreign minister, in particular, must provide clear directions for national and international action.

We cannot have foreign policy going off in 10 or 12 different directions. We need a clear Canadian voice on the world stage, and coherent national government at home.

We must support and encourage all those Canadians involved outside Canada in business, education, arts and culture, sports, the foreign service, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and our military.

Our military in particular is now at the forefront of forging new means of civil-military cooperation – using our military strength to make possible the delivery of humanitarian and development assistance in the growing number of complicated conflicts worldwide.

With clear global vision and bold national leadership, Canadians are uniquely positioned to be in the front ranks of a world without borders.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Canada's National Government Missing In Action

Canadians have traditionally looked to the Liberal Party of Canada for a sense that Canada means something more than the sum of its parts. Canadians know that a collection of provinces and territories, without bold and visionary national leadership, is not a real country.

Under the leadership of the Pearson and Trudeau governments in particular, we pulled together as a nation to strive to provide the essentials of Canadian citizenship – clean air, clean water, safe streets, our parks, healthcare, maternity benefits and parental leave, pensions, public education, equality of opportunity, and adequate income and other supports. In this process, we learned that when we all contribute to and share the benefits of good healthcare, we are all better off. We learned that the best way to build the bonds of compassion, empathy and social solidarity is by having our children attend great public schools in an environment that reflects the diversity in society around us. Most importantly, we learned that the measure of a great society and nation is how well we collectively take care of and lift up the weakest members, and that preserving the dignity of our neighbour preserves the dignity of us all.

But what we may not have learned is that building a fair and compassionate society is not a destination, but a journey. The fight for greater equality and justice never ends. Nothing should be taken for granted.

Recent national governments have brought an end to that sense of forward momentum and nation-building. First, the Mulroney Conservative governments downsized and outsourced the federal government to consultants, shifted power and initiative to the provinces, and made the advocacy of national programs and standards politically unacceptable. Our national government became dangerously weakened under leadership that seemed more interested in pandering to parochialism and partisanship, than governing in the national interest.

Then, successive Liberal national governments, and now the Harper Conservative governments, have been unable or unwilling to reverse the public perception that national programs, standards and initiatives, and bold national leadership, are not a good thing. So for example, national childcare, announced with much fanfare by the Liberals in 1993, finally made it into a very loose province-by-province arrangement some 12 years later, only to be promptly abandoned by Harper’s first Conservative minority government. A serious proposal for a national securities regulator, that was ready before Mulroney’s Conservatives were elected in 1984, has since languished in obscurity. The 1993 Agreement on Internal Trade intended to reduce barriers to goods, services and people across the country, was neutered by the provincial governments, such that we are now more disconnected and dysfunctional than the European Union. National environmental policies were not (until recently) championed by the national political parties, but were promoted more through citizen activism (legal and otherwise) which today perversely underpins both the Green Party and the election of another Harper Conservative government. And the Harper Conservative government has now become adept at setting province against province while unwinding the federal government, and slicing and dicing Canadians into those, for example, who have kids playing soccer or music, and those who do not, with useless boutique tax credits which erode the neutrality of our tax system.

National action - from food safety, to clean air and water, to removing toxins in our environment - has, at best, been anemic, incoherent and after-the-fact. At worst, it has placed the public in jeopardy. Medicare is less and less a national program and symbol drawing us together, and more and more an uneven patchwork of medically-required services across provinces, with tragic consequences as in the case of cancer pathology in Newfoundland. Our physical infrastructure is dangerously decayed and public transit is totally inadequate everywhere. And the widening inequality of income and wealth among Canadians is totally unacceptable.

We now have the Council of the Federation, composed of provincial and territorial leaders, starting to sound prime ministerial. After the recent federal election, Gordon Campbell, premier of British Columbia, announced that all premiers now want all barriers to the free flow of goods, services and people within the country to be ended by next spring. The provincial governments are also busy in the international arena, including trade visits to China - without any federal participation. And Quebec, not the federal government, spearheads negotiations for an EU-Canada free trade deal. What does all this provincial activity mean? Sadly, it means a vacuum of leadership at the national level, and very little chance of any collective coherence emerging from the clouds of provincial rhetoric.

Yet, we cannot wait another 15 or 25 years for a national securities regulator or an effective economic union and full mobility of all workers across Canada.

We cannot wait to implement an effective national climate change program, including significant progress towards renewable energy, energy conservation and efficiency, and huge national investments in infrastructure and public transit.

We cannot wait any longer for quality child care, early childhood education and expanded flexible parental leave.

We cannot wait any longer to end the shameful third world conditions endured by aboriginal Canadians in so many reserve communities, and to address the shortcomings of Canada’s relationship with its First Nations.

Finally, we cannot wait any longer for effective action to protect Canadians from dangerous toxins in the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.

Under Mr. Harper’s Conservatives, the federal government is missing in action. We need effective concrete national action and inspiration now. Canadians need the Liberal Party of Canada to return to its role of providing Canadians with a clear choice. Do we want the incredible shrinking national government of the Conservative Party with the relentless downloading of responsibilities and fiscal room to the provinces? Or do we want bold visionary national leadership that gives us a sense of national purpose and pride, and sees national government as an instrument of the people, not as a business to be downsized?

Let us have vigorous national initiatives that say that we believe that every Canadian should have the opportunity for the best education and training possible to assure meaningful work and ongoing employment.

Let us have national leadership that inspires us to build a Canada where achievement is measured by our commitment and responsibility to our fellow citizens, not by our level of consumption, a Canada where we live intelligently, not wastefully, and ask as much of ourselves as we ask of our governments.

Let us establish a national renewable energy standard for every utility in the country, and require that all utilities get paid for how much gas and electricity consumers save, rather than what they use. Some provinces are already starting to do this, but if the federal and provincial governments can agree on how to achieve such national standards, with federal incentives as necessary, this will help create the domestic demand and collective national effort that will really propel us forward as a country.

Let us stop weakening the fiscal position of the federal government. Among other things, take steps to help businesses such as by harmonizing the GST and all the provincial sales taxes, and encourage significant investments in clean energy and energy savings that will modernize and save many jobs in our traditional sectors like pulp and paper, and create jobs in the industries of the future.

Let us once and for all put an end to the sterile arguments about equalization and transfer payments to the provinces, which turn national politics into a complex and excruciatingly boring accounting problem. Instead, establish new arrangements administered by a non-partisan commission that will examine all transfers between federal and provincial governments – health, education, housing, equalization – and ensure we achieve the fundamental goal that all Canadians have access to comparable public services regardless of where they live.

Let us bring Medicare into the 21st century and establish a non-partisan national health commission to ensure that the same medically-necessary services are available to all Canadians, from services for autism to physiotherapy to MRIs.

Let us have a proactive consumer protection commission that is ahead of the curve and inspires confidence, not fear and confusion.

The 2008 federal election failed miserably to excite Canadians. The few who did vote did so with little enthusiasm or sense of national purpose or pride. There was no appeal to our better selves to pull together as we enter uncertain economic times, nothing to add some energy and passion back into national politics and government, nothing to remind us that we are stronger when we act together as Canadians and share in national projects and endeavours.

Certainly a federal government involves negotiation and compromise. But negotiation and compromise is nothing without bold and visionary national leadership – leadership that engages all Canadians in the greater project of building something unique: the most cosmopolitan nation in history committed to justice, equality, diversity, and a significant leader in our global community in the pursuit of a more peaceful, equitable and secure world.

We are Canadians without borders, with bridges and bonds to many countries, looking forward to an exciting future. We want to embrace our national responsibilities that are integral to our citizenship in this great nation. Canadians must have the opportunity next time to vote for a strong national government that can inspire us to look over the horizon and leave a better world for our children and grandchildren.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Canadians Stuck in Groundhog Day Nightmare

With the federal election now finally underway, Canadians must demand civil, constructive political discourse on how to meet the serious challenges that lie on the horizon. Let us have a debate about ideas and policies, not of personalities and organization.

We need national politicians who will speak forcefully and clearly about governing in the best interest of all Canadians, our children and grandchildren. We need national government that is innovative, that works for Canadians, not against us.

Above all we need bold, vigorous national leadership that can accelerate the pace of change in critical areas. We need inspiration and imagination, to pull together for the common good in the uncertain times that lie ahead.

For almost three years, our prime minister’s unrestrained partisanship and petty politics have betrayed a serious lack of national leadership and had a corrosive influence on our national fabric.

Instead of urgent national action on climate change, our prime minister seeks to stifle intelligent debate by childishly characterizing the Liberal Green Shift proposals as “insane”, “a tax on everything”, and an “attempt to screw everybody”.

Harper has dissipated serious national effort or initiatives into divisive discussions of whether this or that province needs a special side deal, or whether this or that premier needs more powers. Our federal government is risk averse and indecisive. Canadians too often resign ourselves to mediocrity.

Instead of urgent national action to address our massive infrastructure deficit and lack of adequate public transit, we have a series of à la carte political deals to transfer bits and pieces or money and projects to compliant provinces, together with useless boutique tax credits.

Instead of national action to bring Medicare into the 21st century and provide for comparable medically-required services for all Canadians, our prime minister and his acolytes continue the tired-out mantra that Medicare is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. Tommy Douglas must be turning in his grave at the timidity and lack of national vision on the part of those who purport to carry on his legacy.

Instead of a strong coherent effective Canadian presence on the international stage, we have foreign and trade policy veering off in 10 different directions, with provinces establishing more and more international initiatives and missions abroad to promote, not Canada’s interest, but the province’s.

We are trapped in a “Groundhog Day” nightmare — like Bill Murray, the frustrated weatherman, condemned to repeat the same old debates about provincial powers and autonomy, over and over and over, until what remains of a common national purpose is worn down and worn out, by men and women of no vision.

Canadians are Canadians when we face the challenges of the 21st century, whatever our province or territory. We should be demanding national action and national standards, not denouncing them.

Of course we have multiple levels of government. But it is the same Canadians who elect all the politicians at the different levels, and we are entitled to insist that they work together for Canada, and not engage in petty power plays.

The only way out of our Groundhog Day nightmare is to elect national politicians who will once and for all speak on behalf of all Canadians, not the premiers or provinces — politicians who can see Canada as a nation with a purpose, and not just as a nice place to live. We must put some energy back into Ottawa. A collection of provinces and territories is not a country.

If it makes sense, as it does, not to have 10 different climate change policies, our national politicians must say this and not be immediately accused as being heavy-handed centralists by those who would keep us trapped in our Groundhog Day nightmare. We need strong national action on the environment, and a minister of the environment on a par with the minister of finance.

If it makes sense, as it does, to have strong national action to invest in critical infrastructure and public transit, our national politicians must say this, and not be accused of intruding unacceptably into provincial jurisdictions.

If it makes sense, as it does, to have a coherent Canadian presence on the world stage in the multiplying areas that require global cooperation and effective global action, then our national politicians should be able to make this assertion without hysterical reactions from small-minded provincialists.

We are Canadians without borders, with bridges and bonds to many countries, looking forward to an exciting future. We have enormous potential to contribute to the global challenge of climate change and planetary survival, and to show the world that the most diverse, cosmopolitan nation in history can function successfully and effectively as a liberal democracy with full respect for rights and responsibilities, and be a significant leader in the global community. Our next national government must be up to the challenge.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Time overdue to put autism on the national agenda

Medicare for the twenty-first century

Today - April 2nd - is World Autism Day. The Geneva Centre for Autism in Canada estimates that one in every 169 children is on the autistic spectrum. The Centre for Disease Control in the U.S. estimates that the ratio is one in every 150 children and one in every 94 boys. Almost everyone knows someone who is afflicted with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD presents an enormous challenge to our society in the 21st century.

Yet too many Canadian politicians appear unable to articulate and support clear national action in this area. In the U.S., Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain have all taken articulate progressive positions regarding autism and supported federal legislation – the Combating Autism Bill – which allocated $945 million to autism treatment and research. Today CNN will devote an entire day of broadcasting to the challenge.

What do we have here in Canada? We have a timid prime minister and his acolytes responding to the demand that there be equitable national access to medical treatment for autism by saying that the issue only engages provincial jurisdiction and is not of national concern.

What have we come to in Canada when our national leadership is unable to rise above petty politics and power plays, unable to govern in the national interest in this as in too many other areas, most notably, the environment?

Fortunately, individual Canadians are filling in the vacuum and promoting change from below. One British Columbia-based group – Medicare for Autism Now – has been busy building up an effective political lobby and a national coalition to convince our national politicians to support universal access to the necessary medical services across Canada. This is a multi-partisan coalition of frustrated but determined Canadians who are tired and cynical about having to fight for equity and justice in the national interest in a country that is supposed to be one of the best in the world.

It is now beyond debate that the most effective type of autism treatment is Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) – something which involves intensive one-on-one assistance to parents and their ASD child at the earliest possible age. ABA is an enormously valuable and justifiable investment in a huge and growing number of young persons who have a great deal to contribute to society and who need not be a heavy burden on the health care system as they grow older.

Provinces do try to meet the needs of ASD children, but in a haphazard ad hoc way generally through social services mainly for respite and support, not medical treatment. And much depends on the uneven ability of parents to access the necessary funding and services available. Only Alberta has complied with a court order requiring the province to fully fund the appropriate medical treatment for autism - ABA intervention - through the health care system.

Effective autism treatment of course impacts both health care and education. We need not only the investment in people to provide the services through the health care system – ABA specialists, speech therapists, child psychologists etc – but also the investment in the people needed to provide the services in the education system, notably one-on-one teachers’ assistants.

To manage the increase in the number of ASD children entering the school system, schools need many new teachers’ assistants to permit the class teacher to teach the whole class while enabling the ASD child to stay on task, focused and listening to the best of their ability, and to develop social skills during recesses, lunchtimes and so forth. To its credit, Ontario does provide parents with certain limited ongoing funds for Special Services at Home (SSAH) to assist with children on the autistic spectrum and which can be spent on ABA-type intervention. Perhaps one interim measure might be to permit parents to redirect this support to a school to fund a teacher’s assistant during a child’s school years.

I view this national campaign for universal access to effective autism treatment as part of a much needed larger debate – Medicare for the twenty-first century.

The time is long overdue to establish, at the national level, the services and medical treatments that should be available to all Canadians under Medicare. Canadians in all provinces must have equal access to, for example, extensive services for autistic children, physiotherapy, adequate cancer treatment, or MRIs.

The Harper government is wrong to claim that there is a constitutional barrier to such a step. Medicare funding decisions must be made in a coherent fashion in a national framework given that we invest no less than $160 billion annually, of which $113 billion is from the public purse. (See the analysis in the early 2008 publication of the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation by Colleen Flood, Mark Stabile, and Carolyn Tuohy - "Defining the Medicare Basket.")

The real issue is the lack of political will and determination among our elected representatives to bring coherence, consistency and accountability to the current mess of federal-provincial financial transfers, of which health care is a significant component. To begin with, we should implement an independent institutional mechanism to deal with issues of fiscal federalism and fiscal balance, and thereby ensure rational cooperative action. This is a far better alternative to ill-considered politicized steps serving some short-term objective – witness the Harper 2007 Budget which included confused and confusing multiple equalization formulas and a massive transfer to the provinces to eliminate a mythical fiscal imbalance, which then (unsurprisingly) reemerged a short time later.

There are precedents for such a mechanism in other federations. Australia has a Commonwealth Grants Commission which deals with both horizontal and vertical transfers between the federal government and the states, and facilitates cooperative equitable outcomes. South Africa has a similar Financial and Fiscal Commission.

At the same time, we should establish an arms-length national health commission, overseen by a non-partisan board of outstanding citizens, to tackle issues such as:

• national standards in terms of coverage,
• how to ensure that Canadians do not have to leave the country for essential medical treatments or take governments to court to pay for essential medications or treatments,
• what is the acceptable degree of private delivery of publicly insured health services,
• how to ensure the portability of Medicare across the country.

If we have, as we do, a national body – the Common Drug Review (CDR) – that makes recommendations to provincial governments as to which drugs should be covered by all provincial drug plans, then we most certainly should be able to find the political will to cooperate and establish something analogous such as the national commission suggested above, to ensure the provision of essential medical treatments and health care services across Canada.

The Commission would also examine levels of health care funding as a percentage of GDP and propose changes to ensure that health care does not swamp our federal and provincial government budgets to the detriment of the environment, education and emergency preparedness. Already health care budgets consume 40% of all provincial spending and 10.6% of GDP (compared to 33% in 1993, and 7% of GDP in the 1970s and 8.9% in 1997). For example, informed observers are concerned about the excessively large component of health care expenditures absorbed by pharmaceutical research and development. A medical journal published a study a few years ago that suggested that some $4 billion dollars currently spent on pharmaceutical R & D could be freed up for more productive use in the health care system. How many variations of cold and cough medicines and pain killers do we really need? It is confusing to enter a drugstore these days for certain items and in the case of some children’s medications and pain killers, the number of recalls and reviews in recent years have been significant.

One final note: the campaign to establish national standards for autism services also illustrates the broader need to ensure that our health care system serves the patients, not the other way around. Just as parents of ASD children are insisting on more case-sensitive human intervention, some hospitals are successfully experimenting with patient advocates whose job is to help the individual to deal with the array of options and possibilities for treatment available following a complex diagnosis such as cancer.

Friday, March 28, 2008

On Harper and immigration

Harper and immigration: divisive policy by stealth. Petty politics and power plays trump vision and principle

The immigration system needs an overhaul. But what it doesn't need is poorly conceived, divisive tinkering by an election-hungry prime minister, slipped stealthily into his budget.

Immigrants built Canada and are the backbone of, and enrich, Canadian society. The federal government must vastly improve the process of applying to immigrate to Canada and, once and for all, facilitate the recognition of foreign educational credentials and foreign work experience, while recognizing that both skilled and unskilled workers have invaluable contributions to make.

An immigration system that generates a backlog of 850,000 applications, with many in the queue for 5 or 6 years, is a dysfunctional nightmare and an embarrassment to a country like Canada which increasingly depends on our interconnectedness with the rest of the world. Indeed by as early as 2012, immigration will account for all net labour force growth.

The solution does not lie in the Harper government's ill-considered proposal to give the immigration minister sweeping powers to pick and choose different types of immigrants and establish arbitrary caps on categories of applicants. Nor does it lie only in ad hoc, albeit laudable, steps such as creating a new category of "Canadian Experience Class" which allows temporary workers and foreign students to apply for landed status without first returning to their home countries.

The proper route is to undertake a serious and complete overhaul of the immigration and refugee protection system and take the time necessary to get it right.

To begin with, we need to speed up the immigration application process by hiring more staff in all our offices abroad and ensure that enough individual attention is given to potential immigrants to ease their arrival in Canada and maximize their chance of successful integration. But staffing up to adequate levels will only work if we have adequate capacity within Canada to integrate new Canadians once they arrive. We must provide the necessary infrastructure, especially individualized human assistance, to help new Canadians maximize their potential - language training, settlement services, internship programs that provide work experience, expeditious certification mechanisms to recognize foreign credentials and work experience.

Given the massive backlog, it may be advisable to establish a new system for processing all new applicants as of a certain date, this time sufficiently staffed in all areas, while creating specialized teams over the short-term to attack and eliminate the backlog in an equitable and very expeditious manner. This will require a significant and long overdue investment of public funds at both the federal and provincial levels, something that is infinitely preferable to the introduction of extraordinarily arbitrary ministerial powers.

Ensuring the efficient and equitable operation of our immigration system will relieve the pressures on the refugee determination process which arise when would-be immigrants attempt to circumvent the clogged and frustrating immigration stream by making unfounded refugee claims. To some extent, our refugee protection system has functioned as an overflow mechanism for the immigration system, and this has unfortunately fuelled much exaggerated claims that our good will and humanitarianism are being abused.

But minimizing unfounded refugee claims is neither the only nor the most serious reform that merits our attention. While we should be proud of Canada’s record in assisting refugees fleeing persecution in their country of nationality, our refugee determination process too often gives rise to incomprehensible situations in which a deportation offends our standard of basic fairness and compassion, in addition to defying common sense. This situation must be corrected at the earliest opportunity.

Among other things the current refugee determination structure and process should be changed as follows:

- The members of the refugee board should comprise experts in the field, appointed by an arms-length commission, who decide both whether a person falls within the legal definition of a refugee or whether, in any event, the person should nevertheless stay in Canada on humane and compassionate grounds. (Currently there are two separate, costly and time-consuming proceedings).

- The board must be adequately staffed so that backlogs do not build up. Equally, our overseas offices must be adequately staffed to allow much greater processing of refugees in transit points and hot spots around the world.

- There should be an appeal to a quasi-judicial Refugee Appeal Division.

All persons who have been welcomed within our borders as immigrants, refugees, or people meriting humanitarian and compassionate relief, become eligible for Canadian citizenship. As part of the process of applying Canadian citizenship, we must also promote the responsibilities that go along with the rights of citizenship. In gaining the rights of Canadian citizenship, all persons must accept the responsibility to maintain a civil society and a political community that espouses democratic ideals and acts on them, upholds the rule of law and outlaws the use of violence as a means of political expression. As well, all persons must accept the responsibility to maintain a civil society and political community in which women have equal rights and privileges with men.

At the same time, all Canadians must discharge our serious collective responsibility to ensure that new Canadians have real equality of opportunity. The evidence is clear that the latest wave of immigrants, while perhaps better educated than their predecessors, face more difficulties with respect to employment, reuniting their families, proper housing and health services. The huge mismatch between the skills of new Canadians and what they are actually employed to do here is astonishing. It seems that newcomers are now seen as a source of low-income workers, not as a solution to the much-needed upgrading of skills in both the manufacturing and knowledge sectors, and as much-needed new professionals.

No less than 41% of immigrants with university degrees are now in chronic low-income categories, compared to only 13% in 1993, before the immigration laws were changed to encourage more educated immigrants to come to Canada. Especially among the young there is a real sense of exclusion as the disaffected lash out against a society that fails to give them equal opportunity in practice. Canadians, particularly employers in Canada, must identify what barriers are preventing many new Canadians from advancing their careers, and then address those barriers with positive action. According to a 2007 report of the Conference Board of Canada, "although Canadian organizations say they value diversity, they have not yet fully committed their policies, practices and resources to embedding diversity in their operations."

We clearly require much more public investment in education and training, sector by sector, so that we stop shedding so many valuable middle-income jobs that traditionally have allowed workers to climb the income ladder, and so we can really focus on keeping people employed. Wouldn't dramatic national action be great for a change? Like offering free employee training to employers who locate or expand their operations in Canada? For that matter, why not the Irish route of free college tuition?

But this takes us to another area of discussion, to be addressed at another time.