Updated: Nov 27, 2019
The Prime Minister has named Canada's new Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC). Marco Mendicino replaces outgoing minister Ahmed Hussen, who will be taking over the post of Minister of Families, Children and Social Development. Mendicino took office on November 20.
Mendicino, himself the son of Italian immigrants, has represented the Toronto riding of Eglington-Lawrence since 2015. This is his first cabinet post; in the previous parliament he served as parliamentary secretary for the Minister of Infrastructure and the Minister of Justice. Prior to running for election, he pursued a legal career, including a ten-year stint as a federal prosecutor that saw him work on the Toronto 18 terror case. He takes on an important role as head of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Mendicino will now be responsible for executing Liberal immigration policy. The main challenge in his path will be the fact that Trudeau heads a minority Liberal government. In order to pass legislation, the government will need to secure opposition votes, which means that the Liberals -- and Mendicino in particular -- will need to be able to persuade opposition parties of the benefits of their immigration policies.
As he steps into the new role, Mendicino's agenda will be based on the immigration promises made by the Liberals during the campaign. These are largely extensions of existing Liberal policy, which has been to gradually expand the level of immigration in order to meet Canada's economic needs while also increasing the number of refugees in the mix of newcomers. Specifically, Mendicino will be tasked with carrying out five core policies enumerated during the campaign.
The new minister will aim to increase immigration steadily but not dramatically; Liberal candidates have repeatedly called the increases "modest" and "reasonable." In practical terms, this means expanding immigration numbers to meet a projected target of 350,000 annually in 2021, up from 330,800 in 2019. Mendicino will also try to implement the proposed Municipal Nominee Program, which will allow cities and towns to sponsor selected immigrants in a similar way to the role of provinces in the current system. This program would operate alongside the existing provincial nomination process, with an additional 5,000 spaces being available each year. Additionally, Mendicino will be expected to turn the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program, designed to help combat declining population in the Maritime provinces, from a temporary pilot into a permanent fixture of Canadian immigration policy.
One of the biggest budget items on Mendicino's to-do list will be the abolition of the citizenship application fee. The fee currently stands at $530 for an adult, with an additional $100 "right of citizenship" fee, and ending it in order to make citizenship more accessible to low-income families, especially refugees, was an important Liberal campaign pledge. However, Conservatives and others may object to the perceived cost of removing the fee, which could amount to $100 million per year. At present, it's unclear how many holdouts the government may have to persuade: many have been dissatisfied with the rapid increase in fees, especially since the citizenship application fee was only $100 as recently as 2014.
Internationally, Mendicino will have to manage Canada's Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States. Established in 2004, the Agreement states that, with a few exceptions, new arrivals seeking to claim refugee status must make their claim in the first country they arrive in; thus, someone arriving in Canada from the United States who wished to claim refugee status would be returned to the USA to make their claim there. However, changing US refugee policy has led many Canadian immigration activists to call for the suspension of the agreement. 2017 and 2018 saw more than 40,000 would-be asylum seekers attempting to cross the US-Canadian border at places other than border checkpoints. While crossing in this manner circumvents the Safe Third Country Agreement and may entitle the new arrivals to protection under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, it can be dangerous, and concerns have been expressed about Canada's ability to safely receive these refugees. Dealing with the border situation will be one of the most important tasks facing Mendicino -- and possibly a contentious one.
The choice of Mendicino for this important post is consistent with many of Trudeau's other cabinet choices; he's a capable politician who projects an aura of safe professionalism. The government views the former prosecutor as a gifted speaker and has assigned him in the past to advocate for its policies on television. He also has a reputation as a political fighter; he won a hotly contested nomination fight in 2015 and co-chaired the successful Liberal campaign in Ontario. To put a minority government's immigration policy into action, he'll need both his communication and political skills.