In the latest episode of Political Blind Date, Liberal MP Gary Anandasangaree (Scarborough-Rouge Park) and New Democrat MP Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East) tackle the promise of multiculturalism.
Here’s the dating debrief:
What was your first impression of your date?
Gary Anandasangaree: It was both exciting and nerve-racking given the subject area. I was always used to seeing Jenny Kwan at committee or in the House. This allowed both of us to discuss things in a less formal way, as colleagues, as opposed to adversaries.
Jenny Kwan: Our date started with a very pleasant chat over coffee and I was really looking forward to our date. Gary was just appointed to his new position and there was a sense of excitement in the air. With Gary’s background as a human rights lawyer, I came away feeling optimistic and hopeful that he would be receptive to being the champion against the injustice the community of caregivers have had to endure.
Was there a moment when you thought, what have I got myself into?
G.A.: The shoot at TNO (The Neighbourhood Organization) was particularly difficult as the families continued to be separated. There were no tears of joy, but real pain of the women who were waiting for a long period of time to reunite with their families.
J.K.: No, not really but there was a moment when I thought I might be stood up. Gary was very late in coming back from lunch and I thought maybe Gary has had enough.
What facts or viewpoints had you not considered/heard before?
G.A.: I did not realize how emotional this would be. The discussion was real, and we both understood the intricacies of the issues at hand.
J.K.: I had not considered the depth of the impact that the suffering of the caregivers and their families can have for Canadians who are in need of their service and support. My date introduced me to Beyhan and Khosh Farhadi. The discussion was insightful and thought-provoking.
I was particularly struck when Beyhan said that her own family decided not to hire a caregiver because she could not reconcile the ethical dilemma of Canada’s immigration policy in contributing to the breakup of families in the caregiver community. She said she could not live with the idea that someone is here to take care of her family while they are forced to be separated from their own.
I had not considered that perspective, and her views really helped reinforce the notion that it’s not just caregivers who want the government to honour and respect them by granting them landed status on arrival. Canadian families who need this support and service do, too.
How much did your view change about the issue?
G.A.: Very little. The fact that our policies were changed towards caregivers speaks to the work that we had undertaken three years ago when we formed government. If anything this was a reminder that we needed to move faster on the issue of caregivers.
Caregivers will soon have access to two new five-year caregiver immigration pilots that will allow caregivers to come to Canada together with their family and provide a pathway to permanent residence. Once the caregiver has their work permit and two years of work experience, they will have access to a direct pathway to become a permanent resident.
J.K.: My views didn’t really change at all. In fact if anything, it just further motivated me to work harder to give voice to the caregivers community.
(After the filming), after years of advocacy from caregivers, migrant groups and the opposition, the minister of immigration finally announced two new pilot programs that bring caregivers to Canada. Under the new five-year pilots, the caregiver’s eligibility for permanent residence will be assessed at the beginning of the process, not at the end. They will receive an occupation-specific work permit, their spouses and/or dependent children will be eligible to come to Canada immediately with open work permits and/or study permits. These changes are steps in the right direction, but the new programs still fail to provide caregivers landed status on arrival.
What was the best strategy your date used to persuade you?
G.A.: Both sets of people we met were incredible human stories. The pain was real, and the stories were real. This is why our minister of immigration and citizenship worked so hard to address these issues since taking office in October 2015.
J.K.: I was not sure what to expect when I was invited into Beyhan and Khosh Farhadi’s home for tea. The family was welcoming and I absolutely enjoyed our discussion. It was really good to hear directly from Canadians on how government policies can impact their family. From this very engaging discussion, it reinforced the fact that behind every government policy, the impact is real for everyday Canadians.
What was the worst?
J.K.: I really enjoyed meeting the people and the organizations that do the incredible work on the ground in the community. However, at one point, my date seemed to be giving me the brush-off on the experiences of the caregiver families and I was worried that the stories of the caregivers did not seem to influence him, let alone motivate him to take action.
I had really hoped to find an ally to champion the position of landed status on arrival for the caregivers within government ranks. I thought hearing the personal stories of the caregivers’ journey would be moving and help my date better understand the impact of the injustices of the current government policy.
Instead, my date seemed to be defensive and he retreated to reciting message-box responses. That was really disappointing to me.
The next time you run into your date will it be awkward?
J.K.: No, I have seen Gary since the date on a number of occasions. There was no awkwardness at all
What surprised you most about your date?
G.A.: My respect for Jenny remains the same. I know how much she cares and works on these issues.
J.K.: I was quite taken aback with one of the answers from my date to my questions. I asked what is the impact for him to hear the heartbreaking stories of the caregivers’ journey, and his response was that he was basically “immune” to them as he has heard many heart-wrenching stories from different people in different spheres. I was very surprised to hear this answer.
I must admit, I came away making myself the promise that if I ever get to that point, it’s time for me to retire from politics.
Will there be another date?
G.A.: We have not had time to have a coffee yet, but I may email her after the show to do a debrief.
J.K.: I enjoyed getting to know people and gaining a better understanding of their perspective. I have no doubt that there will be occasions where I will reach across the floor to engage with Gary on issues of common interest.
How would you rate this political blind date out of 10?
G.A.: 7.5 A great team, with compassion and understanding of the issues. A true pleasure.
J.K.: I would rate this a 10/10. I think it’s fantastic that opportunities are created to allow politicians to meet each other outside of the bubble to have an in-depth discussion on important issues.
Political Blind Date is produced by Open Door Co., Nomad Films and TVO, which airs the show Thursdays at 9 p.m. and on tvo.org. The Toronto Star is the series’ media partner.
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