Agencies must halt 'gatekeeper' approach: Kenney
Published Friday, March 19, 2010 6:40AM EDT
MONTREAL - Professional associations refusing to recognize the credentials of foreign workers are threatening to slow Canada's economic recovery, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Thursday.
Professional agencies and orders have been criticized in the past for too often rejecting training received abroad, making it difficult for new Canadians to find jobs in their fields.
Ottawa unveiled a program last year to streamline the recognition of foreign credentials but, among the hundreds of professional associations across the country, only eight are on board.
"The biggest obstacle has always been a gatekeeper attitude amongst some professional agencies that have been in the past unwilling to be part of the solution," Kenney said in an interview.
"I think the pressure is building, (there is) an expectation that all of them will streamline the process and make it easier."
The Conservatives have shifted Canada's immigration policy to favour newcomers with skills that match the needs in the economy. Those spots remain unfilled and the economy suffers, Kenney said, when immigrants are prevented from working.
Kenney made the remarks after a speech to an immigration conference where he outlined his government's policies.
As part of the streamlining program, known as the Pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications, Kenney expects all professional associations to join by 2013.
But the NDP's immigration critic says the government hasn't done enough to fight the reluctance of professional associations.
"There are not enough incentives," Olivia Chow said. "There are not enough carrots and sticks to push them into saying yes."
She noted that a parliamentary committee recently recommended that the government provide incentives to employers to hire immigrants. Kenney has rejected that idea.
Chow says the government's current policy is incomplete. While speeding up recognition of foreign credentials, she said, it does little to help immigrants secure that vital first job in Canada.
"You can't just blame it on professional bodies and say, 'Oh well, it's their fault, we can't do anything,"' said Chow, a member of the committee that in November urged the government to do more to create work opportunities for immigrants.
"It's not only a matter of getting your certification recognized, it's about what happens after that."
Kenney dismissed the idea of the government funding job opportunities for immigrants.
"Our focus would be, rather than subsidizing tens of thousands of small businesses, create a positive economic policy, including lower taxes, and we've done that as a government," he said.
"Small business will be leading us out of the recovery and new Canadians will be a big part of that."
Kenney's speech to the Montreal conference was interrupted briefly by a protester accusing the minister of racism.
Kenney was confronted by a group of activists who accused him of harbouring extreme right-wing values. The same group confronted Kenney during his visit to Montreal in the fall.
They accused him of a variety of affronts: limiting refugee rights, taking a one-sided approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and working to keep refences to homosexuality out of Canada's citizenship guide.
At a demonstration before the speech they chanted, "Racist, sexist, anti-gay; Jason Kenney go away."