Jason Kenney To Maintain Hold On Ethnic File Despite Move To Jobs Portfolio

19 Jul 2013

Immigration News

If you thought the Minister for Curry in a Hurry was going to give up his ethnic outreach role — think again.

Jason Kenney, Canada‘s new Minister of Employment and Social Development, will hang on to the multiculturalism file, Postmedia News has learned.

The long-time citizenship and immigration minister got a brand new portfolio Monday focused on jobs and the economy, but senior officials say Tim Uppal, the new minister of state for multiculturalism will report to Kenney, not Chris Alexander, the new minister of immigration whose department he actually falls under.

The move comes as little surprise to Geoff Norquay, a seasoned public policy specialist with Earnscliffe Strategy Group and former communications director for Stephen Harper when he was opposition leader.

The shuffle was about priming the party for the 2015 election and Kenney, he said, was instrumental in reaching out to ethnic voters prior to the last election.

“He’s been absolutely indefatigable and totally dedicated to this outreach to multicultural communities and he’s really, really good at it,” Norquay said, adding it’s not uncommon for a minister to retain certain responsibilities even if they are unrelated to his primary portfolio.

“I think this is a significant vote of confidence on the part of the prime minister for the role that he’s been playing and a serious acknowledgment of the importance of multicultural voters to our party in the next election.”

After five years, Kenney ended his tenure as Canada’s longest-serving immigration minister when he was shuffled Monday to the new Ministry of Employment and Social Development — basically the renamed Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

During his time at the department, he overhauled Canada’s immigration system in a bid to make it more responsive to labour market needs and clamped down on failed refugee claimants and citizenship and immigration fraudsters.

He also spent countless hours meeting with ethnic communities and participating in cultural events across the country. Not only did it earn him the curry-in-a-hurry moniker, it allowed him to curry favour with ethnic voters and his efforts are often credited with helping deliver the Conservative majority.

According to Kenney’s office, he helped the Conservatives capture 42 per cent of the ethnic vote in the last election and 24 of 25 suburban Toronto ridings. With ethnically diverse Ontario set to get half the 30 new seats being added to the House of Commons before the next election, and millions of new voters coming into the fold given the high levels of immigration over the last number of years, Norquay said he expects all parties will “take ethnic voter outreach very seriously.”

Keith Beardsley, a strategist with True North Public Affairs and former Harper deputy chief of staff said there’s also the “(Justin) Trudeau factor to consider.” Multicultural communities have traditionally voted Liberal and his father Pierre Elliott Trudeau was particularly popular among ethnic voters.

“Bottom line is … the Tories owe some of their majority success to their penetration of the multicultural communities and they can’t let up or take these communities for granted,” he said.

“Kenney likes that role and is respected by the communities, a good person to leave in charge with Uppal to assist.”

NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims said the move is clearly an “election strategy” and she’s appalled to see Kenney still “running the show” while using Uppal,  a Sikh, as an “ethnic face.”

She argues Kenney is a “master” at doing “political organization under the guise of multiculturalism” and that the file could actually use some real attention. For example, she’d like to see more diversity reflected in Canada’s Euro-entric education system and a national effort to embrace and share in different cultural celebrations.



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