There’s some loose talk going around about Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney being perhaps the best ever in that job. Kenney’s fans especially like his recent move to speed up the processing of refugee claimants, the better to send the rejected ones packing fast.
Beyond any debate over the merits of Kenney’s policies, it seems a bit strange for today’s Conservatives, who have made something of a idol out of former Tory prime minister John Diefenbaker, to be forgetful of the towering achievement of Dief’s immigration minister, the late Ellen Fairclough.
Fairclough, a trailblazing figure as the very first women to serve as a federal cabinet minister, was the minister who ended the shameful practice of racial discrimination in the selection of immigrants. The reform package she introduced on Jan. 19, 1962, created the points system that rates prospective immigrants on the basis of their skills and education, rather than their colour or national origin.
According to the useful history of immigration policy on Kenney’s own departmental website, Fairclough’s foresight put Canada ahead of the two other big magnet countries for immigrants, the U.S. and Australia, when it came to non-discriminatory immigration policy.
The Canadian Encyclopedia entry on her notes that Fairclough also advocated equal pay for equal work and for the creation of a women’s bureau in the labour department. If memory serves, I believe they were called Progressive Conservatives back then.