Prime Minister Stephen Harper chose an important immigrant business audience in Toronto last night to launch a vigorous counterattack against criticism from ethnic communities of his government's proposed immigration policy changes.
His Conservative government is prepared to go to the polls over the proposals, Harper added.
"Frankly, this is becoming a crisis. And, if we do not fix this, the long-term performance of our economy will be affected."
Dion is already on record saying the Liberals will vote against (how many MP's seems to be an open question), if the reforms aren't altered. I think it is important to remember, that as this process moves forward, the Liberals will offer a series of amendments to the proposed reforms. The government have said they will reject any changes to their legislation. The end result of all this, the Conservatives will reject the Liberal vision on immigration reform.
My point, the Liberals will have a counter to present to Canadians in an election. This means Harper's cries of "crisis" (interesting that characterization given their manufactured crisis on refugees claimants), his attempt to frame their proposals as necessary, will be undercut by a Liberal counter. The Liberals can acknowledge the same "crisis", but offer a more compelling solution. This debate will not be a situation where the Conservatives sound the alarm, and the Liberals reject any action. No, it will be a flawed plan presented, which was altered, with possible support from other parties, and an alternative presented. The Liberals take the Conservative plan and try to "improve" it.
The Conservatives are cornered, in not accepting any amendments. There isn't an immigration expert alive that believes the expenditure allotted by the Conservatives is anywhere near sufficient to deal with the problem. The Liberals have the opportunity to present something which can address the same issues, but in a way that will be effective, a plan that can win support of those in the know.
Harper also stands to lose, because their proposal puts considerable power in the hands of the Minister, a situation many aren't comfortable with, particular when it involves this Conservative government. If the Liberals offer certain "checks" to unilateral decision making, a more comprehensive mechanism to fast forward certain claimants, again they can out-flank the Conservatives, offer a more acceptable remedy.
The final point, a matter of credibility. You will have an election with one plan, countered by another, with the added caveat of how said plan came to be. The Conservatives will argue this, the Liberals that, it will be a confusing storyline to sift through. The kicker for the Liberals, how these reforms came to be, which suggests reasonable suspicion. Canadians may lack a sophistication of parliamentary manoeuvres, but I think everybody can understand the strange circumstance of putting fundamental immigration reform into a budget bill, at the last minute. There is a superficial "trying to pull a fast one" aspect here, which will be echoed by the other opposition parties. Dion has the added advantage of presenting the counter as thoughtful, while painting the Conservatives with unclear motivations. If their proposals are so urgently needed, so sound, then why the lack of consultation, why the truncated process?
This looming debate in a election will hardly be framed as Harper assumes, a take it or leave it proposition. It is not one party trying to do something, where other parties offer nothing. In fact, it will be a Conservative proposal rejected, with an alternative that attempts to improve the flawed solution. In the end, a battle of ideas, ground which may be relatively firm for the Liberals.