Jason Kenney is walking a fine political line: seeking to slim a bloated immigration backlog without jeopardizing his Conservative government's support among new Canadians – many of whom voted Conservative in the last election.
That careful balancing act was on display Friday when the Citizenship and Immigration Minister placed a two-year moratorium on applications from parents and grandparents seeking to reunite with family members in Canada.
The freeze is intended to thin a family-reunification backlog that could soon produce wait times of up to ten years.
But to counter concerns that Mr. Kenney is trying to curtail family reunification, the Conservative government introduced a new and generous visa for parents and grandparents who want to stay with their family in Canada.
"We understand how important it is for Canadians, including new Canadians, to live with their loved ones," Mr. Kenney declared at a news conference Friday.
But "we need to change the math."
About 6 per cent of all immigrants to Canada are parents and grandparents of existing immigrants. But family-unification applications have far outstripped available spaces, creating a backlog of 165,000 applicants and wait times of seven years, which will lengthen to 10 years by 2018 if there are no changes.
"That is why it is absolutely essential that we bring in a temporary pause on applications," Mr. Kenney said.
The moratorium is expected to reduce the backlog to about 50,000, while the government seeks to craft a new application process that matches the number of people who are allowed to apply to spaces available. In the meantime, the quota for parental and grandparental admissions will increase by 60 per cent, to 25,000 admissions a year, to further clear the backlog.
For those who waiting to immigrate or to get on the list, the new 10-year visa will allow parents and grandparents to stay for as long as two years at a stretch. However they must, if required, take a medical exam first; they must purchase private medical insurance while in Canada, and their children or grandchildren must be able to demonstrate that they can support the visiting relative.
Don Davies, NDP immigration critic, welcomed the new visa and the increased intake of parents and grandparents. But he added that the best way to overcome all of the backlogs in the immigration system would be to increase the intake from about 250,000 a year to about 330,000, or 1 per cent of the population.
"We're not saying this for compassionate, fuzzy-wuzzy, lefty" reasons, Mr. Davies said. Increasing immigration levels are necessary to meet future labour shortages brought on by an aging society, he maintained.
Friday's announcement caps a week of new initiatives by the Conservative government that focus on increasing the number of highly skilled and highly educated immigrants coming to Canada.
Overall, however, family-class immigrants continue to make up about 65 per cent of all applicants.