NDP Refugee Policy

July 28, 2019

Will their views help or hinder their ability to attract votes?

There has been a surge in asylum seekers over the last number of years. At the same time, there has been a worldwide shift in acceptance of migration and refugees. This is especially evident in the U.S. where many asylum seekers are being held in migrant centres. The flow of asylum seekers crossing the border into Canada at “irregular” border crossings, over 40,000 since early 2017 and the associated media coverage has brought this issue to the forefront in Canada. The upcoming federal election highlights this issue and shows the differing positions parties present in hopes of attracting Canadians votes.

Jagmeet Singh and the NDP party have stated that if his party forms government it will fix the asylum seeker system, get rid of the backlog and improve resettlement of refugees. Furthermore, the NDP will suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. in order to save lives and limbs. The Safe Third Country Agreement was designed to help governments better manage access to the refugee system in each country for people crossing the Canada-U.S. land border. It requires refugee claimants to request refugee protection in the first country they are in, unless they qualify for an exception to the Agreement. The NDP believe the U.S. is no longer a safe country for refugees. In addition, the NDP would allow people to make asylum claims at official border crossings negating the need for individuals to use the loophole to the Safe Third Country Agreement, that individuals can claim refugee status if they are already in Canada or not at a Port of Entry that has led to many asylum seekers risking their lives and limbs to enter Canada on foot at unofficial entry points.

Andrew Scheer and the Conservative party have presented an almost converse proposal to that of the NDP to address the asylum seeker issue. A Conservative government would close the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement to address the illegal border-crossing crisis. The actual mechanism of closing the loophole is unknown and would likely require negotiations with the U.S. The individuals entering through the loophole skip the line that many individuals are waiting in to come Canada through the regular immigration mechanisms. In addition, these individuals have overwhelmed the immigration system and the Liberal government has failed to establish a mechanism to process claims in an efficient and timely manner. The Conservative party feel the changes are needed so that Canadians can continue to have confidence in the system and Canada can continue to welcome immigrants at levels consistent with the needs of the country.

Maxime Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada shared their views on refugees and asylum seekers this week. Their position can be said to build on that of the Conservative Party. The People’s Party would address the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement by declaring the entire Canada-U.S. land border an official point of entry. This would effectively close the loophole in a way that would not require any negotiations with the U.S. In addition, it will take action to make it more difficult for illegal refugees to enter Canada by building a fence along spots where a high number of asylum seekers walk across the border. Bernier also said if his party formed government, they would give priority to accepting refugees from religious minorities in majority-Muslim countries and “member of sexual minorities” instead of relying on the UN to select refugees.

Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party have not released their policy on asylum seekers. But some actions taken by the government in Budget 2019 and the Budget Implementation Bill provide some insight into where they stand. Budget 2019 announced a billion dollars in spending over five years to strengthen Canada’s border and speed up the processing of asylum-seekers, including the removal of failed applicants. Hidden within the Budget Implementation Bill was the introduction of a new grounds of ineligibility for refugee protection, if a claimant has previously made a claim for refugee protection in another country. This new criteria will likely mean about 1,000 refugee claimants or fewer would be diverted into a new process, where their fate would be decided without a full and formal hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board. The Budget Implementation Bill also expanded the list of safe countries to include United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. The changes made by the Liberal government may seem minor to some but at the same time allow the Liberal Party to say that they have taken action to decrease asylum seekers.

On the spectrum of refugee policy, the NDP position is more lenient that the Liberal position. The Conservative position is more stringent than the Liberal position and the People Party is the most restrictive. The NDP may actually gain some votes as a result of the Liberal government limited action to decrease asylum seekers. The NDP party position presents Canada as the most open to refugees and takes the clearest action to gain votes from those who are unhappy with the way the U.S. has treated asylum seekers. The NDP position carries little political risk in that those who would disagree with their position were never likely to vote NDP in the first place, but it may help them with left-leaning Liberals, the major battleground for votes for NDP. The Conservative party while restricting the irregular border crossings maintains a focus on Canada being accepting of asylum seekers, just forcing them to come through standard channels.  The People’s Party position looks to capitalize on those who share the popular U.S. sentiment, being very restrictive on refugees and asylum seekers. The Liberal party is trying to present a middle ground position while still addressing the fact that the Canadian system did not handle the influx of asylum seekers well.