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MP unleashes partisan barbs

Provincial officials spare Glover from public scrap

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It is unlikely Winnipeg Tory MP Shelly Glover will ever thank provincial officials for what they did Thursday, although there is no doubt they did her a solid.

Glover and three of her federal caucus colleagues -- James Bezan, Joy Smith and Candice Hoeppner -- took the unusual step of visiting the Manitoba legislature to spar.

Ottawa recently decided to take over delivery of immigration settlement services. For the 15 years previous, Ottawa provided money to Manitoba, which delivered the services. Manitoba claims this will weaken the provincial nominee program entrants, the main stream of immigration to this province. The feds disagree, and have accused Manitoba of living unfairly off federal largesse.

It is unusual for legislators from one level of government to show up uninvited to air their grievances in the legislature of another level of government. There are no rules against it. It's just something that isn't normally done. That didn't stop Glover, et al.

The four MPs sat in the opposition loges in the Manitoba legislature during question period, a courtesy granted to visiting legislators. There was going to be a debate on an NDP resolution condemning Ottawa for reasserting its control over immigrant services. The plan was for the Tory mini-caucus to then go to reporters and deliver a stern rebuke.

What Glover didn't count on were about 300 to 400 immigration activists, invited to the legislature by provincial officials to show their support for the resolution and opposition to Ottawa's plan. They were not unruly, but they were frustrated and anxious and, as word spread there were federal Tory MPs in the building, ready for a scrap.

Thankfully, some legislature staff moved the activists into committee rooms on the same floor, where they could watch the debate on closed-circuit television. NDP officials would not admit they were trying to avoid a confrontation, but the result was that when Glover went to address reporters, only a handful of activists was there to hear her. And that stopped what many reporters predicted would be a public stoning.

Notwithstanding the theatre of Thursday's not-quite-a-confrontation, this story seems to be growing in interest and intensity, despite Ottawa's best efforts at defusing it.

Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, in Winnipeg this week, said he ended Manitoba's oversight because he was under pressure from other provinces that wanted Manitoba-like immigration deals. And although it has worked here, Kenney believed as the principal funder, federal officials should deliver these programs.

What could Glover add to the debate? Where Kenney had been measured and defensible, Glover was relentless and unbridled in her partisan barbs. While Kenney claimed it was a difficult policy decision, Glover made it clear this was about ensuring the federal Conservative government of Canada -- and not the NDP government of Manitoba -- got credit for settling immigrants in this province.

Some facts: Ottawa created the provincial nominee program and Ottawa provides the majority of funding for settlement services to immigrants of all streams. In Glover's mind, that meant Ottawa, almost alone, deserved credit for the increase in immigration to this province.

Well, not exactly. It would be wrong to deny Ottawa credit for increasing the number of provincial nominee program applicants granted to Manitoba. And it agreed to increase the funding.

Ottawa provides money to provinces for settlement services based on a rolling, three-year average of the number of immigrants entering a province. Ottawa deserves applause for that as well.

But Glover and Kenney also said Manitoba is not paying its fair share of settlement services. Ottawa claims Manitoba contributes only $1.2 million to a $36-million settlement service program.

But Manitoba spends another $20 million on services through education, health, family services and training to support immigrants. These are services that are not cost-shared by the federal government, so they are not counted in the calculations.

It is disingenuous to say any one level of government deserves credit for increased immigration to Manitoba. Surely, a fair-minded person would conclude immigration success in Manitoba is a result of provincial vision and federal support.

The problem for the federal Tories, as Glover so awkwardly revealed, is increased immigration has been branded in this province as an NDP success story.

Perhaps Manitoba did take too much credit for something that could not have been accomplished without federal support. And perhaps the NDP told voters too often it was the party of increased immigration, when another level of government helped boost provincial nominee program numbers.

It will be left up to others, including those directly involved in serving and advocating for immigrants, to decide if Manitoba was being greedy.

For now, the only thing we can agree on is that Glover took her grievances right into the Manitoba legislature. And that, in a grand act of irony, thanks to the intervention of provincial officials who had the graciousness to relocate hundreds of angry protesters to another part of the legislature, she lived to tell the tale.

 

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2012 A4

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