ITQ can’t quite figure out how, exactly, they fit into the ostensible mandate for this committee, which covers “ghost consultants and migrant workers”, but never mind the details — bring on the disgruntled caregivers! Check back at 9am for full liveblogging coverage.
On the witness list today:
Canadian Live-In Caregivers Association:
Caregiver Resources Centre
Filipina Women’s Association of Quebec
(For Colleague Wherry’s take on the last meeting, which featured appearances by Ruby Dhalla and the angry ex-nannies, click here.)
Good morning, Oliphantia — wait, that’s not right at all, is it? Good morning, faithful and steadfast ITQ committee junkies! I’ve missed you — and my beloved committees, of course — so much. Well, maybe a titch more the former than the latter, but never mind that.
Anyway, after missing out on the main event earlier this month due to a previously scheduled appointment to liveblog a former prime minister on the witness stand at Old City Hall, ITQ is about to have her first experience with the recently reenergized Citizenship and Immigration committee, the members of which likely couldn’t believe their luck when one of the juiciest scandals to hit the Hill in ages fell right into their collective lap earlier this month. Ruby Tuesday may have come and gone, but that doesn’t mean this committee is going to give up its moment in the spotlight.
And – bang goes the gavel, courtesy of David Tilson – who, I’ve been assured, is considerably less cranky in his new role as chair than he was during his tenure as official Ethics committee curmudgeon.
Which is a little disappointing; I had visions of him angrily tabling motions to overturn his own rulings, and then ruling himself out of order. Anyway, the first witness up is Tristan Downe-Dewdney, who represents the Canadian Live-In Caregiver Association, and who seems to be trying very, very hard to avoid turning this into a roundtable critique of the Dhalla family’s approach to household labour relations; he’s being as general as possible in his opening statement, and pointing to policy gaps and statutory requirements that can put pressure on caregivers, including requirements for hours served, and the danger of “abusive” employers. Ding! “They feel pressured to stay with families that may not be in their better interests,” he notes.
More about problems in the current system from Downe-Dewdney – backlogs, slow processing time, inequitable treatment of caregivers less fluent in English (or, presumably, French depending on the region). “Caregivers need to have a stronger idea of what their rights are,” Dewdney tells the committee, and then rambles on for a little bit longer — he really does seem nervous, although I suspect that’s more because of the questions he’s anticipating – and is eventually hustled to a close by Tilson, who hands the floor over to Maurizio Bevilacqua for the first round.
Does it surprise anyone at all that Bevilacqua “welcomes” the measured tone and substance of Dewdney’s presentation? I’m betting it doesn’t. He quizzes the witness on his recommendations — what would his idea of an ideal program be, what about wait times – and Dewdney, to his credit, actually manages to sneak in a reference to “rogue consultants” – which is so close to the “ghost consultants” mentioned in the terms of reference that he ought to get some sort of prize.
And — it’s almost a pointed question from Bevilacqua, who wonders, in his silky and ostensibly nonpartisan way, whether Dewdney has ever met with the minister — to ‘discuss these issues’ (or, one can’t help to read between the lines, anything else, like, for instance, a Liberal MP facing an imminent or ongoing nanny eruption). No, he says – other than the roundtables that have been previously mentioned.
On to the Bloc’s Pascal-Pierre Paille, who wants to know about rumours that some unscrupulous agents bilk unwary caregivers and caregiver-hopefully out of unwarranted fees – which, Dewdney acknowledges, does occur. The Bloc MP also asks about families that pay workers in cash, rather than by cheque, and Dewdney points out that this isn’t actually illegal or inappropriate – and in some cases, is necessary for newly landed caregivers who can’t open a bank account – provided that all the taxes are paid.
Oh, and he thinks the wait time for bringing a caregiver into the country should be roughly two months — anything beyond that, and an employer-family may not find it worth the bother.
Olivia Chow follows up on the same line of questioning – well, ish – she wonders how long it takes to get a permit once a caregiver *has* a job – two months or so – and asks whose responsibility it is — the caregiver, or the employer — when the former “takes a risk” and starts working without a labour market agreement signed, sealed and delivered, thereby putting the worker in a “precarious” position vis a vis Canada Border Services Agency.
“Whose responsibility is it,” she wonders – the live-in caregivers who “really don’t understand” how the system works, or the employer? Why, that’s not a loaded question *at all*. Dewdney notes that both parties share the responsibility, but it’s usually the caregiver that suffers the brunt.
Olivia Chow wonders whether it might not be easier, all things considered, for caregivers to be treated like landed immigrants – “like entrepreneurs” – which would allow them to come in without going through the whole labour market opinion rigmarole. “Why not bring them in permanently? Why temporary?” She wonders. Dewdney seems – actually, not all that wild about the idea, although maybe he’s just hiding his enthusiasm; he notes that it “sounds” like it would be a good solution, but points out that it comes down to political will. Maybe he’s just afraid to get his – or, more precisely, his association’s members – hopes up. He also thinks that “cracking down employers” might be a good idea – but only after addressing wait times.
Hey, it’s Rick Dykstra, everybody! He wonders why the very first link on the CCA website is to the “complaints” section – because they used to get hundreds of complaints a day, Dewdney explains – and then gets down to business — Dhalla family business, that is. Did any of the Dhalla nannies file a complaint with his organization? Nope – and no, neither did the Dhalla family, he confirms. The association is also putting together a report – Project 2009 – that was sparked by the Toronto Star series, and Dykstra invites him to submit a copy once it has been released, before moving to the issue of caregivers “working illegally in the home.” It’s obvious that both sides are working “in their own interest”, he says – how should they deal with that? Dewdney again points to wait times, as well as public awareness, web portals, and probably twitter.
Another shot at “the Dhalla family” – what about caregivers “forced” to shine shoes, scrub floors and clean “outside businesses” out of fear that they will be “put out on the street”? Dewdney again stresses wait times – this is one relentlessly message-focused spokesperson – as well as making sure caregivers “know their rights”.
And – wow, Jim Karygiannis! He goes on about caregivers for a while, and seems to agree with Olivia Chow’s suggestion – treat caregivers like regular landed immigrants – although he also takes a swipe at her for not supporting *his* motion to do just that in the past. He also tries to get Dewdney to admit that the laggardy wait times are the minister’s fault, and also wants to know why he wasn’t invited to the *second* roundtable. Dewdney – who seems to be visibly uncomfortable at being used as a sort of all-purpose blunderbuss by all sides – suggests it was just for caregivers, and eventually blurts out that it may have been “more exclusive”.
Back to the government side, and Nina Grewa, who asks how many hours a caregiver should expect to work a week – Dewdney points out that it should be up to the caregiver to decide how many hours she can contribute. That line of questioning quickly degenerates into Grewal attempting to get Dewdney to condemn the alleged Dhalla demands for twelve hour days, which doesn’t quite produce the soundbite for which she was hoping; eventually, she hands the floor over to Devinder Shorey, who isn’t at all a fan, it turns out, of the idea that caregivers should be treated like landed immigrants, what with the latter having money to invest.
Now *that’s* more like it — Dykstra just came out with the stupendously absurd assertion that the Federal Accountability Act – yes, the FAA – was what gave these particular caregivers the ability to come forward and tell their stories, and – I’m sorry, but that is just such a ridiculous statement that I’m not even going to deign to give you the rest of his spiel, especially since he’s now trying to get Dewdney to condemn the leader of the opposition for backing his caucus colleague instead of those poor beleaguered nannies. Dewdney – oh, poor Dewdney, at least this is the last round – scrambles; he points out that there’s nothing wrong with this hypothetical opposition leader voicing support for a colleague — he would only criticize them for prejudging the results of an investigation like this.
So it turns out that the next two witnesses – one of whom, it bears noting, has been amongst the most outspoken on the Dhalla affair – are missing in action; according to Tilson, they may be “somewhere in the building”, but they’re certainly not here. On the other hand, guess who just showed up to take Olivia Chow’s spot? Thomas Mulcair, who I would have thought would be entirely preoccupied by the goings-on over at Finance.
The chair thanks the witness, and then somewhat apologetically announces that the last two witnesses have not, in fact, appeared; unless someone has any other “bright ideas” — which doesn’t seem to be the case — he’s going to adjourn. Which he does, and – wow, that was anticlimactic. I guess I’ve got a longer-than-expected break before Government Operations, don’t I? That’s right, I’m heading to GovtOps at noon, so be sure to check out the fresh thread. I’ll see you there!
Tuesday, May 26, 2009