Hussen takes fire from Auditor General

Canada’s Auditor General hammered our MP this week. Ahmed Hussen’s department took fire for a very poor response to refugee claims and an increasing backlog of claimants. Hussen, however, said that the situation was the fault of the Conservative government of three years ago, due to an increasing number of refugee claims, and being dealt with by new processes.

The AG said that immigration bureaucrats were unprepared for the surge in claimants that started in 2017. Bureaucrats use paper files and faxes instead of electronic records, and they hold hearings inefficiently, she said. As a result, wait times increased from 60 days to two years.

Ahmed Hussen said in response that they have new processes in place. He also said:

We have inherited an asylum system that was seriously underfunded by the Harper conservatives. That system was inefficient, and it simply wasn’t funded…. In addition to that the scheduling changes and and some of the measures they put in place actually made things worse. Some arbitrary timelines that they imposed on the Immigration refugee board resulted in thousands of people being held in limbo for many, many years. For years and years, the previous government didn’t fund the system… they actually put together some half-baked reforms in 2012…. So we had to deal with that in addition to rising volumes.

The AG disagrees.

  1. She said that the funding problems were the Liberals’ alone.
    1. The Conservatives belatedly gave their departments enough money to cover the claims they faced (s. 2.24) and were dealing with the backlog (s. 2.15) that worsened under the Liberals (s. 2.18).
    2. Funding is still not sufficient, and “the backlog and wait times will continue to grow”. She expects wait times to reach 5 years if the number of claimants remains steady (s. 2.26).
  2. The “arbitrary timeline” was a 60-day mandatory timeline to hear asylum claims, and it was developed in response to a backlog of claims less serious than the Liberals face now (s. 2.15).

Hussen also said “Last year the … board processed 32,000 claims, the highest they’ve done since 2012.” That is good news—but 55,000 claims were made. The backlog, in other words, wasn’t solved; it worsened.

Michelle Rempel, Hussen’s Conservative critic, said, “I cannot believe that six weeks left in parliament after four years that they are coming out here and saying it’s Stephen Harper’s fault…. it was only under this government that those timelines were abandoned. This government should be taking responsibility for that issue.”

 

Demontis enters federal race

Mark DeMontis is the Conservative candidate for York South–Weston.

DeMontis previously ran as a Progressive Conservative in the provincial election, and he did reasonably well, getting 18.5% of the vote in a left-leaning riding.

DeMontis lost most of his sight in high-school. He had to give up his dreams of playing professional hockey, but his career didn’t slow. He roller-bladed across the country  raising money for blind hockey, and he became a television commentator and motivational coach.


DeMontis is the third entrant in what is sure to be a good race. Yafet Tewelde is running for the NDPAhmed Hussen, the Minister of Immigration, will likely be seeking reëlection, and Yafet Tewelde, among others are seeking the NDP nomination.

Hussen still can’t catch a break!

Our MP faced brutal criticism this week for an first-come, first-served family reunification website that opened and closed in less than 10 minutes. Tens of thousands of people, including those who found it impossible to use the website quickly because of disabilities, will not be reunited with their families because they couldn’t click fast enough.

Who would have guessed that your WPMs would determine whether you’d see your children again?

Hussen, deservedly, got grilled in the House for this complete disaster. His response? Three years after the Liberals were elected, it’s still the Conservatives’ fault:

Mr. Speaker, we inherited a backlog of 167,000 people in the parents and grandparents program. Under Conservative leadership, families were waiting eight years to be reunited with their parents and grandparents.

Honestly, it brings me no joy to report on our MP’s tough times¹. However, Ahmed Hussen brings a fair bit of the trouble on himself. Yes, he has an extremely tough portfolio, but his long-standing habit of attacking instead of understanding has led him into trouble over and over again.

This week, the Canadian Press said (more delicately than I will) that Hussen lied when he told Canadians that the Liberal government has brought more parents and grandparents into Canada as part of the family reunification program than the Conservative government did.

The CP said that Hussen’s statement had “a lot of baloney”, its second-worst ranking, only short of “completely inaccurate”.

Hussen told the House:

We are responsible for quadrupling the number of spaces that parents and grandparents have to come to Canada. We will continue to reunite more families. I am amused by the Conservatives’ new-found passion for reuniting families. However, when they had the chance they failed.”

The CP took issue with the ‘quadrupling’ part of that quote. The number of families brought to Canada under the reunification program actually declined about 5% under the Liberals. The Conservatives brought together about 20,000 families; the Liberals about 19,000.

The Minister’s spokesperson said that Hussen wasn’t making things up: he was including spousal reunification in his numbers. “When talking about family reunification, as the minister does in the second portion of the quote, it is important to not limit yourself to the parents and grandparents program,” he told the CP.

Of course, this isn’t correct either. Hussen said “parents and grandparents”, and said that the Conservatives had brought 5000 families compared to the Liberals’ 20,000,


 

¹ Fine, a little joy.

Ahmed Hussen catches it again

Ahmed Hussen had another tough week last week.

Hussen’s department admitted late on a Friday that there is a problem in Toronto’s shelters, and that they are overcrowded due to refugee claimants. Hussen had said–falsely–that “the status of people seeking access to the shelter system in Toronto is unknown”.  He had also said (incorrectly) that the number of asylum seekers has declined 75% year-on-year.

Still, the department of he leads gave the city $15 million on Friday to cope with the crowding. Hussen, perhaps meaningfully, was not quoted on the press release.

Hussen has had an ongoing argument with Lisa MacLeod, his Ontario counterpart, that started last year when he said her tactics were “not Canadian”. He says she is “fear mongering”, and stoking “fear and division”. She took offense to that.

MacLeod has asked the feds to reimburse the province for the full cost of attending to refugee claimants, laying the blame  at their feet. She said she’d like the rest of the $200 million that she says the feds owe:


The $15 million in new funding follows $11 million given early last summer.

Hussen in hot water again

Ahmed Hussen, our MP and the Minister of Immigration, is in hot water again, this time for lying about the Conservative plan to deal with asylum seekers coming to Canada.

Hussen said that the the Conservatives “don’t have a plan. You know what their plan is? To militarize the border and place a CBSA official or a RCMP official every 100 metres” he said. “We don’t have the resources for that kind of half-baked, impractical plan.” He went on to say “I hope they can bring concrete, reasonable proposals to the table.”

Almost none of what he said is true. The Conservatives do not have a plan to militarize the border. They want to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement, which has a glaring loophole.

Michelle Rempel, the Immigration critic, said,

“I am extremely disgusted by the desperate attack against our responsible plan to secure the border from Justin Trudeau’s Immigration Minister today. Rather than solve the problem they have created, the Liberals are determined to direct attention on anything but their failures to solve this crisis.

In the past, Hussen has called his critics “un-Canadian” and has long been needlessly combative.

 

New Year Predictions

As the new year progresses, it’s probably a good time to make some local and not so local predictions for 2019 and beyond.

Where we are right now.

During the regimes of the late Rob Ford and current mayor John Tory, Toronto has suffered almost a decade of austerity. Now that we have a premier who operates on the same policies, it looks as if Toronto’s public realm will shrink at a more rapid pace. While John Tory looks and sounds like a moderate politician, he’s as radically right-wing as either of the Ford brothers.
Austerity at the provincial level will add to Toronto’s woes, particularly here in Weston / Mount Dennis, especially after Ford gerrymandered Toronto Council by halving the number of councillors and basing council seats on outdated demographics. The current council will have enough support for John Tory to continue the decline of our city. The only differences between Mayor Tory and Premier Ford involve jurisdiction and style rather than political leanings.

A feature of the Rob Ford and John Tory mayoralties has been ignoring the planners and making awful decisions based on dogma and pandering rather than actual need. (Scarborough Subway, Gardiner rebuilding, dangerous streets and the failure of Vision Zero, lousy transit planning, an ineffective and demoralized police force, uncontrolled development…). Added to that, the refusal to charge an appropriate level of property tax has resulted in a lack of funds for city initiatives along with a dilapidated and inadequate public housing inventory. The late British actor Peter Ustinov once called Toronto, “New York run by the Swiss.“. I wonder how he would have described the 2019 version of our city.

Prediction 1: Poverty is about to get real in Weston / Mount Dennis.

Ford has frozen the (already inadequate) minimum wage at $14.00 an hour. It was due to rise to $15 this January 1. This roughly translates to a $2000 annual loss for minimum wage earners, only slightly offset by a tax cut. Basically, general taxes subsidize the wages of minimum wage earners while companies keep the savings and remove them from the community. Other austerity measures include removal of funding for repairs to Toronto schools and public housing (the money would have come from Cap and Trade). Less money and fewer job opportunities will mean more poverty and crime.

What can we do to fight this? Patronize only those businesses that pay workers $15 or more hourly. Call out companies that don’t. Support organizations that fight poverty.

Prediction 2: Massive decisions based on hunches and rewarding friends.

Arbitrary decision making and cronyism has only just begun. When you have lots of friends and lots of jobs to fill, there’s no end to the possibilities. Ford is a big proponent of subways regardless of need, cost and location. He famously suggested building a casino at Exhibition Place and and a ferris wheel on the Port Lands. Now that he’s in charge, the sky will be the limit. The TTC’s subway system will soon be handed over to the hopelessly inept Metrolinx. These are the people who are bungling the Presto Card implementation  The subway takeover plan will involve selling building rights on top of subway stations. The TTC will become a bus service. Incidentally, Metrolinx seems to taking measures designed to suck up to Ford – things like removing electric vehicle charging outlets from GO stations.

Prediction 3: A fire sale of provincial assets.

In order to balance the books and pay for Ford’s re-shaping of Ontario, the private sector will be called on to provide financing. Obtaining private money will involve selling precious public assets such as the LCBO and Ontario Place.

Prediction 4: A two-tier health care system.

Our health care system eats up $53.3 billion or about 39% of the Ontario budget. Ford would dearly love to find ‘efficiencies’ here. He may want private companies and hospitals to set up shop in Ontario. He may also entertain the possibility of people jumping the queue for a fee. A big obstacle is the Canada Health Act and that is why Ford is openly campaigning against Justin Trudeau in the hopes that a Conservative federal government will repeal or amend the act to insert some private health care. The new system might look like the  U.K.’s National Health Service which runs alongside a private system. When the rich (and politicians) are able to jump the queue, you can guarantee that health care for regular folks will suffer.

Prediction 5: Less information and more secrecy.

Many decisions made by the Ford government are made to reward his cronies or appease his fringe supporters and don’t hold up well under scrutiny (1998 Health Curriculum, Ron Taverner…).  Look for Ford and his government to distance themselves even further from accountability and awkward questions from the press. They spread the word through Ontario’s taxpayer funded version of Pravda.

Prediction 6: Local lefty initiatives to end.

Now that Councillor Frances Nunziata has been re-elected, look for her pre-election moderate stance to be dropped. Lefty frivolities such as bike paths and pedestrian safety measures will be quietly shelved. Ms Nunziata will continue to be the councillor most likely to vote with Mayor Tory.

Glimmers of hope for Weston /Mount Dennis:

The Weston Hub will open in February along with many new residents in the 360+ rental units. A small colony of artists will occupy the live / work spaces. Construction on the site will end allowing the area to flourish.
The Weston Farmers Market will have an attractive new home in the centre of Weston that will attract people from outside the area. Two cultural organizations, Shakespeare in Action and UrbanArts hold anchor positions in the new Hub and will also attract visitors to our community.

More businesses are opening up as the UP Express provides a rapid and regular link to downtown.

On Weston Road, retail stores are being renovated and a payday loan company has closed.

A small number of affordable units at 22 John Street will be made available through a lottery held between eligible applicants. Use this link to apply (the link becomes live on Monday January 14; the application process will close January 28).

Interesting Possibilities:

Prime Minister Trudeau will perform a minor cabinet shuffle on Monday and unpopular York South-Weston MP, Ahmed Hussen may be moved laterally or demoted. A lateral move might be part of an effort to distance Mr. Hussen from the burdensome immigration file and boost his chances in October’s general election.

Hussen is well known, but not well liked

Ahmed Hussen, our MP, is well known but not well liked, according to a survey by Angus Reid.

Angus Reid asked those voters who could identify the ministers whether they were doing a good job or a bad job–thereby screening out the less informed.¹ They subtracted the bads from the goods, getting ratings between -36 (Amarjeet Sohi) and +20 (Chrystia Freeland).

From Angus Reid

Among the ten most-recognizable ministers, Hussen came in last. Liberal voters gave him a +18 rating, but 61% of non-Liberals think he is doing a bad job.

From Angus Reid

Hussen is the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, and likely suffered because he has a tough portfolio. As Angus Reid notes,

This was a year when Canadians voiced significant concern about immigration and asylum claims, with many saying immigration levels were too high, and that the surge of irregular border crossings was reaching crisis levels.


¹ Like me. Can you name the Ministers of Democratic Institutions and Public Services, Procurement and Accessibility?