The Canadian Election Results: A Commonwealth Perspective

Posted on Posted in Canada, Election

Canada has a newly elected government as of October 19th, 2015, led by Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party.

The Liberals, after capitalizing on negative opinion polls of the preceding Conservative Party, attained an overall majority with 184 seats (54%), compared to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives with 99 seats (29%) and Tom Mulcair’s NDP with 44 seats (13%).

It was a closely fought build-up to the election, as at the start of the 11 week campaign, the Liberals had a mere 37 seats in the House of Commons and were polling in third place; a position they had held since the 2011 election.

The Conservatives had governed since 2006, and the New Democratic Party were first in the polls back in July. However, after a long campaign, it was Tredeau who came out victorious, and will now follow in the footsteps of his father and former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau (1919-2000).

While Canada is hopeful of the changes that a new government brings, a significant question arises regarding the Liberals’ policies towards Commonwealth immigration. Is Trudeau’s election good for the Commonwealth (and ultimately, free movement), or will he take the country a step in the wrong direction?

Many might view his election as a negative outcome for the pro-Commonwealth lobby and those wishing for closer ties with the UK, Australia and New Zealand. After all, surely the party of the Commonwealth is the Conservatives (traditionally speaking)? However, Trudeau’s election may be a much better outcome than you think, and arguably, may even be a better outcome than if the Conservatives were elected for a third term in office.

Red: Liberal, Blue: Conservative, Yellow: NDP

For starters, we need to consider the Liberal Party’s stance towards the monarchy, and whether they are committed to being a part of the Commonwealth in this way, or if, like Bloc Québécois, they hold no interest in historical ties.

The Monarchist League of Canada contacted each of the four main federal parties before the election to find out what their stances were regarding Canada’s constitutional monarchy. The Liberal Party’s position is as follows:

“Queen Elizabeth II is the longest reigning monarch in Canadian history and remains a beloved figure for many Canadians. Over the past 63 years, she has stood with Canada through key moments of our country’s history and, as our nation underwent change and transformation, has been a rock of stability and a steadfast keeper of tradition. The Liberal Party has no intention of re-opening the Canadian constitution on this issue. Her Majesty will remain an integral part of our country’s evolution, progress, and future.”

Clearly, with a pro-monarchist view such as this, it can be assumed that the Liberal Party will not be advocating republicanism any time soon, and therefore support for the monarchy, and indeed the Commonwealth, will remain an integral part of Canada’s political outlook for the years ahead.

However, it takes more than a pro-monarchist view to assume a bright future for Commonwealth freedom of movement. A big factor to consider is also what the Liberals’ believe to be core immigration policies. If they adopt tight, isolationist policies, it is highly unlikely that they will be considerate of open borders with the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Fortunately, however, Trudeau is more than supportive of immigration reform in Canada, and judging by each parties manifesto, it appears that the Liberals could benefit the long term goals of Commonwealth free movement more so than the Conservatives.

Stephen Harper gave very little information about specific policies regarding immigration before the election, but it seems that if elected, the Conservatives would have continued forward with their current policies. The very controversial Bill C-50 gave the Immigration Minister the authority to limit the number of new immigration applicants, which over the years, similar powers through different legislative enactments have led to countless difficulties for those applying for permanent residency.

[As a side note, we at the C.F.M.O have received hundreds of emails from Australians, Britons and New Zealanders over the past year regarding their difficulties in applying for Canadian permanent residency, and how chaotic the Canadian immigration system is with application cancellations, delays and system changes. Many citizens of these countries have faced visa processing times of over 1 year, sometimes closer to 2 years]. 

As supportive of the Commonwealth and monarchy that the Conservatives may be, their immigration policies (and willingness to make the system accessible for Australians, Britons and New Zealanders) were, to be frank, terrible. Consequentially, because of the Conservatives’ overly rigorous immigration policies and (lack of) handling of the chaos ensuing in the Canadian immigration departments (who are accountable to no-one), thousands of citizens across the Commonwealth remain unable to be with their families and spouses because the system is too inefficient. For 9 years, this has been nothing short of a hindrance for promoting migration from Australia, the UK and New Zealand.

However, with a new government comes new policies, and Trudeau has promised in his manifesto to deliver the following:

  • Repeal the changes brought in by Bill C-50, saying that it does not harbor a fair system based on due process;
  • Spend $400 million to increase the efficiency of the immigration system;
  • Create an In Canada-Fast Track program to allow temporary workers, international students, and live-in caregivers to apply for permanent residency within Canada; and
  • Introduce the “Welcome Canada Pass“: a five-year renewable multiple entry visa for individuals sponsored by Canadian citizens and landed immigrants.

As you can tell, the Liberals’ immigration stance is certainly more “user friendly” than the Conservatives’, and the investment of $400 million to increase the efficiency of the Canadian immigration system is a welcome sight for the thousands of applicants who have waited months (if not years) to be with their families and spouses.

It’s easy to rely on traditional thinking and believe that the Conservatives have, and always will be, the biggest supporters of the Commonwealth and, therefore, Commonwealth freedom of movement. However, with the election of Trudeau, I would argue that Canada may now have a much greater chance of advancing Commonwealth relations than what it did under Stephen Harper. The Liberals have pledged support for the monarchy and Commonwealth, and with more relaxed (yet more efficient) immigration procedures, Canada could lead the way in promoting free movement of citizens between itself, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

The next 4 years will reveal all.

James Skinner
C.F.M.O Founder & Executive Director
Vancouver, Canada