Justin Trudeau gave Bill Blair a made-up cabinet portfolio about borders and organized crime, and now we know why. He’s there to tell us things are under control.
The tall, hulking former Toronto police chief was previously given that task as the Liberal government’s spokesman on the legalization of marijuana, allaying fears by assuring Canadians pot would become legal in a safe, orderly, law-abiding way.
Now he is here to reassure us about border-crossers entering from the U.S. to claim asylum in Canada.
Critics have complained that the thousands coming into Canada at a makeshift crossing at Roxham Road in Lacolle, Que., represent chaos. But on Tuesday Mr. Blair told the Commons immigration committee he’d just been there and everything is proceeding in an orderly fashion.
“What I observed is the exact opposite of chaos,” Mr. Blair told the committee. “It was exceptionally orderly and well-planned.”
Mr. Blair’s job is to take security issues that make folks worry and tell us, in his cop-like way, that the authorities have it under control. He’s the Minister of Law and Orderly.
His official cabinet post, as the Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, is a concoction that doesn’t have specific departmental responsibilities yet. Will he be in charge of the Canada Border Services Agency? No, he told the committee. Will the RCMP report to him? Mr. Blair said he hasn’t received his mandate letter from Mr. Trudeau, so he wouldn’t want to speculate on what his job actually entails.
But Mr. Blair is the kind of symbol that the Liberals need. He oozes the image of the “authorities” – police, border guards, law and order. That’s always a weak point for Liberals. And it is now when it comes to border-crossers.
Mr. Blair isn’t being handed the file because Mr. Trudeau needs someone to stop the flow of border-crossers. It’s because the Liberals don’t have a way to stop it and they want to tap down the political damage. Toronto is complaining its shelters are strained. Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative Minister of Children, Community, and Social Services Lisa MacLeod said federal decisions mean asylum-seekers are “taking advantage of Ontarians' generosity.”
Asylum-seekers are crossing into Canada at Roxham Road because that way they will be allowed to stay to make refugee claims. If they entered at an official port of entry, they’d be turned back to claim asylum in the U.S. under the terms of the 2002 Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement – but that doesn’t apply to those who cross “irregularly” between border posts. Even the opposition Conservatives don’t have a viable plan to stop that – their proposal amounts to unilaterally changing the Canada-U.S. agreement and hoping the Americans just accept it.
But the continuing border-crossings are still damaging for the Liberals. The politicians know that Canadians are, in general, okay with accepting refugees – but it becomes controversial when people start to feel it’s unfair – or out of control.
So the Conservatives spent the day peppering the government with questions about how many border-crossers will be expected, where they will be housed and how much it will cost – and every vague answer was portrayed as a chaotic lack of planning.
That’s why Mr. Blair is stressing that the Roxham Road border-crossings are “orderly.” The police stop everyone and are able to conduct security checks and process them, he said. He lauded the RCMP and CBSA for “exceptional planning” and “seamless” co-operation. He even suggested that applying the Safe Third Country Agreement along the entire border would have a downside, because then asylum-seekers would start crossing at various points – rather than at a few points such as Roxham Road, where police can identify everyone who enters and check them for security concerns.
For more than a year now, Mr. Trudeau’s government has argued that it is making efforts to discourage potential asylum-seekers by warning that Roxham Road is not a “free ticket” to Canada. Recently, they have touted the fact that the numbers have declined since Easter. But they’re not expecting this issue to go away. Mr. Blair’s appointment is proof of that. His job isn’t to make the problem go away; it’s to tell Canadians it’s under control.