How does it feel becoming Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship?
It’s an exciting job; initially mainly for our 25,000 refugees, but it is much more than that in terms of making Canada a welcoming country for newcomers and reducing the time people have to wait to become permanent residents.
What is your main objective as the Immigration Minister?
In the short run, the main focus has been welcoming 25,000 Syrian refugees and to settle them well and give them a good start in Canada. In the longer term, the challenge is to fix the immigration system which has in many ways been broken in terms of welcoming newcomers and requiring them to wait too long to be accepted, and creating an immigration system where the main focus is to welcome people to Canada and not to keep people out. We have to work really hard to make our processes efficient, to not undertake measures that are unnecessary, and to have a much more efficient way to welcome newcomers. Also, we will need some more money to hire more people to do the interviews so as to speed everything up.
Canada has finally achieved the goal of getting 25,000 refugees to Canada. Do talk about what’s happening at the moment with the refugees.
It’s going well. The more important point is not just to achieve the numbers, but to welcome them well, and to give them housing, language training, and jobs, so that the refugees can quickly become full-fledged contributing Canadians. Many of the refugees are doing very well. Some of them are still waiting in hotels to find long-term accommodation, but many already have jobs, are learning English, and have found accommodation. On the whole, I think they are doing very well. When you bring in so many people all at once, it takes time. They are vulnerable individuals, they often do not speak English, and they don’t necessarily have a great deal of education. It takes a significant amount of time to welcome them and make them feel comfortable. I think the process is going well.
What is the most difficult task for you right now?
The most difficult task – the one I am working right now – is to make the department more welcoming, to bring down the waiting crunch, and to change the attitudes in the immigration department to be one where people are more welcoming.
Do share your views on the Canadian immigration system.
The Canadian immigration system has big challenges. It is underfunded – not enough money, and as a consequence it is much too slow. So what we are working on is to inject more money and also to change the way we could do business so as to make everything move much smoothly.
Do you feel people who wish to migrate to Canada have a difficult time reaching here? Yes, because Canada is one of the top countries of the world. We are only a small part of the world with 35 million people compared to billions of people in the world. People do want to immigrate to Canada way more than we can accept. What we are doing is we are working very hard to make it easy to those who we can accept to come here as soon as possible and be welcomed. But we will never be able to accept everybody in the world who wants to come here.
You have been a part of the Ministry since many years as Defence Minister, Secretary of State and Minister of Veterans Affairs. How has your experience being part of the ministry?
Every job is different; I have never been Immigration Minister before, but I have been part of other areas like defence. So I think that helps to understand how the system works and to understand what you have to do to make things happen. I think past experience pays well in terms of carrying my current mandate.
Which has been your most memorable moment so far as part of the government?
The most memorable moment was meeting the refugees. I met them when they first came in at Toronto and Montreal airport and I met them in Jordon and Lebanon, and I particularly remember meeting some young refugee children at the UNICEF building in Jordan. That was a moving and heart-warming experience, so I am convinced we are doing the right thing. It is a lot of work but I think more Canadians are welcoming the refugees, so it’s a very rewarding job. Beyond politics, you have worked as a professor and authored many books.
Do talk about your passion for teaching and writing.
I enjoyed my job very much as a professor, teaching and interacting with students. That’s a part of my job I don’t do as much as before, but I still spend time going to universities and speaking to students. Just recently I had been to a university in Toronto and spoke on the refugee issue. I go to schools in my riding, elementary and high school, and talk to students there. I guess I am a teacher from a long time back and I still do some of that when time permits and I enjoy it very much.
As the Immigration Minister, what message would you want to give to the residents of Canada?
My message is that we are a country that needs immigrants. Yes, people want to come to Canada, but at the same time we need those people. We are an aging population, so we need new blood; we need new people to increase our numbers. We have always been a country to grow up on immigration, so I think we should have a welcoming attitude towards immigrants. Most Canadians do, but I think we have to improve the performance of our department to make that a reality.