THE STARPHOENIX OCTOBER 31, 2011
With Canada counting on attracting hundreds of thousands of skilled immigrants in coming years to replace its aging workforce and maintain its productivity and prosperity, Ottawa's proposal to get tougher with testing newcomers for fluency in either English or French is anachronistic and counterproductive.
"The ability to communicate effectively in either French or English is key to the success of new citizens in Canada," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's department website quotes him saying.
Mr. Kenney says the proposal, which requires applicants to provide objective evidence - such as a third-party test, completion of a secondary or post-secondary education in English or French, or achieving a Canadian Language Benchmark Level 4 proficiency - is meant to improve "the integrity and effectiveness of the citizenship program for Canada and for new Canadians alike."
Already, Canada requires prospective economic immigrants, who are different from those granted residency for humanitarian reasons or under the family reunification category, to prove they possess the educational qualifications and work experience that will help them become contributing members of this society.
The current legislation requires capability in one of the two official languages. However, the government feels the current assessment system, which is based on a multiplechoice written test that also tests an applicant's knowledge of Canada and citizenship responsibilities, is inconsistently administered and ill-suited to ascertain someone's listening and speaking skills.
Yet, in an era where a vast majority of those skilled persons Canada is seeking to recruit will be employed in diverse areas that range from welding and carpentry to computer programming to scientific research, medicine and engineering, the official-language fluency requirement is questionable at best.
The comprehension and communications skills required aren't uniform across these jobs and professions, and a onesize-fits-all approach simply isn't feasible. To deny a Spanish-speaking engineer from Latin America the opportunity to contribute her skills to Canada simply because of a lack of fluency in an official language is as absurd as denying a Kazakh welder entry for that reason, when they both can communicate effectively enough to do their jobs.
And that should be the determining factor: Whether these skilled newcomers can communicate effectively in their areas of expertise to get the job done. Canada needs too many of them, from wherever they are willing relocate, to impose on them restrictions that have little to do with their ability to contribute but have much to do with our reluctance to be more expansive and accommodating.
Our forebears from places such as the Ukraine weren't deterred by their inability to speak English or French as they settled the Prairies, did back-breaking labour and opened up the West. They, like the prospective immigrants who possess the skills that today's Canada needs, brought with them the drive and ambition to succeed.
What they need is the opportunity to put their skills to use, instead of being turned away on the flimsy rationale that fluency in French or English is required for the "integration of newcomers by improving language outcomes and encouraging their full participation in Canadian society," as Mr. Kenney's proposal suggests.
The editorials that appear in this space represent the opinion of The StarPhoenix. They are unsigned because they do not necessarily represent the personal views of the writers. The positions taken in the editorials are arrived at through discussion among the members of the newspaper's editorial board, which operates independently from the news departments of the paper.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix