OTTAWA — The Liberal government was forced to fend off criticism last week over its new first-come-first-served online application for immigrants hoping to sponsor their parents and grandparents for permanent residency in Canada.
Some critics called the process unfair and discriminatory after it closed less than 10 minutes after opening, which prevented tens of thousands of people from submitting an application. About 100,000 people were competing for 27,000 spots, said a spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen.
Debate over the program launched the Liberals and Conservatives into a battle over how committed their respective governments have been in recent years to reuniting immigrants with their parents and grandparents.
WATCH: Conservatives accuse Liberals of using language to ‘divide Canadians’ over immigration
“Mr. Speaker, the facts speak for themselves,” Hussen said during question period last week in the House of Commons. “This is the Conservative position on parents and grandparents. The Conservatives described parents and grandparents as a “burden” on the federal government in terms of financial support.
“They have described parents and grandparents as a drain on the provinces. That is their position. They can run, but they cannot hide from that position. We are responsible for quadrupling the number of spaces that parents and grandparents have to come to Canada. We will continue to reunite more families. I am amused by the Conservatives’ new-found passion for reuniting families. However, when they had the chance they failed.”
Hussen’s remark raises a question — have the Liberals succeeded in reuniting more families under the parents and grandparents program than their Tory predecessors?
Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of “no baloney” to “full of baloney” (complete methodology below).
Hussen’s remark earns a rating of “a lot of baloney” — the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth. Here’s why.
Between 2011 and 2015, the then-Conservative government admitted an average of 20,370 permanent residents per year under the parents and grandparents program, according to the Immigration Department’s annual reports.
The Liberals, who took office in late 2015, approved an average of 18,768 permanent residents per year under the program in 2016 and 2017.
But Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for Hussen, stresses that Hussen was referring to overall family reunification in the part of the his statement where he said: “We will continue to reunite more families.”
He insists the parents-and-grandparents program is only part of the Liberals’ work towards family reunification.
WATCH: Minister Ahmed Hussen announces $18.4 million for pre-arrival immigrant settlement services
“When talking about family reunification, as the minister does in the second portion of the quote, it is important to not limit yourself to the parents and grandparents program,” Genest wrote in an email.
Overall family reunification is made up of the parents-and-grandparents program as well as the larger category of spousal sponsorship.
Under the Liberals, there has been a notable increase in the number of people getting permanent residency status under the spousal program.
In 2016 and 2017, the annual reports show an average of 61,117 people per year were accepted under this category. During the Conservatives’ time in office, the annual average of new permanent residents in the spousal program was 46,027.
WATCH: Andrew Scheer promising Quebec more autonomy over immigration
For overall family reunification, Genest said the numbers will be even higher in 2019 and 2020.
When it comes to the parents-and-grandparents program, he said the Liberal government has reduced wait times to between 20 and 24 months while keeping a low backlog.
During their time in power, the Tories paused the acceptance of new applications for parents and grandparents between 2011 and 2013. The move was intended to allow Ottawa to catch up on a backlog of files that had forced many applicants to wait several years before securing permanent residency.
After re-starting the process in 2014, the Conservatives set the maximum number of applications accepted in the parents-and-grandparents program at 5,000. Even with fewer new submissions, Canada still approved tens of thousands of permanent residency applications, including a burst of 32,318 new ones in 2013 alone.
The 2018 annual report said the Immigration Department managed to reduce the backlog by over 80 per cent between 2011 and 2017 — a period that spanned both the Conservative and Liberal regimes.
Since taking office, the Liberal government has raised the maximum number of applications. This year, it will take in 20,000 complete applications from the 27,000 online submissions.
Last week, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel argued in a statement that the Liberals are accepting more applications to the program without raising the number of parents and grandparents that actually get permanent residence. Rempel insisted this approach will only create another backlog, which means applicants will find themselves on a waiting list.
What the experts say
Immigration experts say there’s been little difference between the Liberal and Conservative approaches when it comes to the parents-and-grandparents program.
“It just sort of shows how, in fact, Liberals and Conservatives are kind of working on lockstep in this particular issue, despite the fact that the Liberals might want to identify their immigration policies as more humane,” said Sharry Aiken, an immigration law expert at Queen’s University.
WATCH: Trudeau responds to fears about immigration, refugees
“In this particular domain, we see that it’s not all that different. In fact, they’ve managed to facilitate reunification for fewer parents and grandparents than were … admitted in the Harper years.”
She noted that both the Liberals and Tories have steadily eroded the importance of family reunification within Canada’s overall immigration program.
Aiken said about 40 per cent of the overall immigration intake came from the family class in the early 1990s. Since 2000, they’ve been making up just over 20 per cent because the government has put more emphasis on economic-class immigrants, she said.
“What we’ve seen under both governments is a steady decline in opportunities for family reunification,” Aiken said. “Both governments, really, actually wear that. It’s part of a trend in Canada’s immigration program to privilege economic-class immigration above all else.”
WATCH: Poll suggests growing number of people believe there are too many immigrants in Canada
David Cohen, a Montreal immigration lawyer, agreed that on average the Conservatives and Liberals have admitted roughly the same of parents and grandparents each year as permanent residents.
Cohen said even when the Conservatives took in just 5,000 new applications, the number of admissions was similar to what has been accomplished under the Liberals.
“There really isn’t a right and wrong here,” he said. “It’s just a fact that there are a lot more people who want to sponsor their parents than there are visas.”
The Immigration Department’s latest publicly available numbers show that fewer permanent residents have been accepted under the parents and grandparents program under the Liberal government, compared to its Conservative predecessors.
For that reason, Hussen’s assertion the Liberals have reunited more immigrants with their families under this program is “a lot of baloney.”
The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:
No baloney — the statement is completely accurate
A little baloney — the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required
Some baloney — the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing
A lot of baloney — the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth
Full of baloney — the statement is completely inaccurate