Foreign workers gaffe sets PCs back

Chris Selley, National Post · Sept. 8, 2011 | Last Updated: Sept. 8, 2011 2:06 AM ET

This week, we learned that would-be Ontario premier Tim Hudak doesn’t like the idea of paying employers $10,000 to hire unemployed immigrants, and $0 to hire other unemployed people. You’d have to think the vast majority of Ontarians would agree with him on that. And based on the information that was available on Monday morning, they had reason to believe that’s what the Liberals were actually proposing.

The Canadian Press obtained a leaked copy of the Liberal platform, along with a recording of a strategists’ conference call, on Sunday. “People who hire an immigrant for their first job in Ontario would be eligible for a tax credit on the first $10,000 of costs associated with the hiring,” CP reported.

The platform itself, released Monday, refers more specifically to “highly skilled newcomers.” But all the other things we know about the proposal that makes it sound more reasonable – that “skilled” refers to engineers, accountants and other such professions; that it would only apply to citizens who have been in Canada less than five years – came later, off paper.

This opened the door for the Progressive Conservatives to make asses out of themselves, and they charged through like a herd of wildebeests. Their war room released an ad suggesting the plan to give “$10,000 to workers” might “sound good.” But “too bad. It’s not for you. $10,000 … only for foreign workers. Ontario workers need not apply. You just get the bill.”

A few questions presented themselves: How are Canadian citizens living in Ontario “foreign,” and why on earth would the PCs direct ire toward them, rather than toward the Liberals who proposed the idea? Does the party not want their votes? Does it realize they’re allowed to vote?

“[Mr. McGuinty is] gonna increase your taxes, drive your hydro bills through the roof, and then come up with these wasteful schemes like this $10,000 affirmative-action program to hire foreign workers when we have half a million Ontario families out looking for work today,” Mr. Hudak told Newstalk 1010’s Jerry Agar on Tuesday.

And then, on Wednesday, when he was asked why he was referring to Canadian citizens who live in Ontario as “foreign workers,” he replied: “I’m not.”

So, it’s probably safe to chalk this up as a minor disaster for the PCs. Meanwhile, far more reasonable questions and concerns about the proposal have gone unaddressed: It implies a reluctance among Ontarian employers to hire fully qualified workers; it doesn’t seem to address the issue of unrecognized or unappreciated foreign credentials; it highlights a problem – unemployment among immigrants – that’s far bigger than the 1,200 people this policy is budgeted to help; and, PC fulminations aside, it does incentivize the hiring of one class of Ontarians over another, and it’s not unreasonable to be offended by that.

Most benevolent Premier Dalton McGuinty is, of course, quite saddened by all this. “If you like the politics of anger, envy, resentment and division, Hudak’s your guy,” he said in Markham on Tuesday. “This issue has given us a window on their thinking.”

Indeed it did. Funny how that worked out, wasn’t it? There’s no evidence the Grits laid a bigot trap – though they are now claiming the leak was deliberate – but they couldn’t have laid it any better if they had. But no. Surely Mr. McGuinty’s comfy-sweater Liberals are miles above deliberately playing native-born Ontarians off immigrants. Why, that would be almost as bad as what those ghastly PCs did!

Who knows? If the Liberal war room’s attack on the New Democrats this week is any indication, they’re not above, below or beside anything. They’re living in an alternate universe. The NDP, its finger firmly on the pulse of the province, wants a law forcing motorists to stay a metre away from cyclists at all times. So someone took it upon himself to follow an NDP-branded SUV around Toronto with a video camera, and that someone caught the SUV . not conclusively coming within a metre of a cyclist. Twice.

Shock. Horror. Et cetera. The Liberals actually put out a press release about it. “Andrea Horwath has repeatedly chosen to play politics … instead of choosing to support positive solutions for Ontarians,” it concludes. “With such a careless attitude toward her own commitments, why should Ontarians believe anything Andrea Horwath says?”

At this point in the campaign, a better question might be: Why should Ontarians bother paying attention?


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