News / Canada

Migrants, moms and the Indian Act: how federal politics touched us this week

Asylum seekers, claiming to be from Turkey, cross the border from New York into Canada on Wednesday, March 8, 2017 in Hemmingford, Quebec. Round three of a flood of asylum-seekers walking across the U.S. border into Canada may be on its way, but this time the federal government is making preparations well in advance. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Asylum seekers, claiming to be from Turkey, cross the border from New York into Canada on Wednesday, March 8, 2017 in Hemmingford, Quebec. Round three of a flood of asylum-seekers walking across the U.S. border into Canada may be on its way, but this time the federal government is making preparations well in advance. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

OTTAWA — Bill Morneau's French villa? We hardly knew ye.

Weeks of loud opposition-led scorn over the finance minister's policies and personal wealth switched frequencies this week to highlight instead the Liberal connections to the Paradise Papers — a huge leak of 13.4 million records linking the world's wealthy, including some 3,000 Canadians, to offshore tax havens.

Accusations of consorting with rich tax-avoiders who play by a different set of rules than the rest of us followed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Asia — at least until dramatic posturing on a renewed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement stole the limelight at the end of the week.

As politicians wrangled about large amounts of money shifting rapidly around the globe, there were developments much closer to home — of a lower key, but with more immediate consequence for some families: warnings about migrants, changes to the treatment of women in the Indian Act and new options for parents who are about to have babies.

Here are three ways federal politics touched regular Canadians' lives this week:

BRACING FOR MORE MIGRANTS

Round three of a flood of asylum-seekers walking across the U.S. border into Canada may be on its way, but this time the federal government is making preparations well in advance.

The Trump administration has given notice that 5,000 Nicaraguans will have their temporary status in the United States revoked in the coming year. The status of 86,000 Hondurans and 200,000 Salvadorans is also in play.

Similar notice over the past year prompted asylum-seekers to show up in droves in Manitoba and then Quebec, taking local communities off guard. This time, the federal government has sent two Spanish-speaking MPs to talk to potential migrants in the U.S. beforehand in the hopes of dispelling any myths about what Canada may have to offer refugee claimants.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press also show the government has been bracing for the arrival of many of the 1.7 million "Dreamers" — people who came to the U.S. illegally as children and were allowed to stay — if that program comes to an end.

At the same time, the United Nations' top refugee official has issued a gentle warning to Ottawa, urging the federal government to keep politics out of how it deals with a rapidly growing caseload of refugee claimants waiting to have their pleas heard.

BRACING FOR MORE BABIES

Two years after promising to extend parental leave to 18 months, the federal Liberals have put a program in place to make it happen, beginning as soon as next month. But it's worth taking a look at the fine print before wannabe parents go about making plans for more babies.

A family's employment insurance benefits won't be enriched as a result. Rather, new parents who opt for the 18-month plan will spread 12 months of EI over the course of a year and a half. The parents need to decide up front whether they want the 12-month plan or the 18-month plan.

And for now, until provinces decide to sign on and adapt to the federal system, the extension only applies to employees of federally regulated companies. That's about eight per cent of the working population.

The new plan will also allow expecting moms to book off work 12 weeks before their due date.

Employers and child-care advocates will have plenty to say about the details, but expect little push-back from the Conservatives. A few weeks after the Liberals made the campaign commitment in the summer of 2015, then-leader Stephen Harper made the same promise.

WOMEN AND THE INDIAN ACT

The federal Liberals have bent to the insistence of the Senate that changes must be made in the Indian Act to end discrimination against women and their ability to pass their First Nations status on to their children.

After a court ruling and some back-and-forthing between the House and the Senate, the government agreed this week to make a change that would restore full legal status to First Nations women and their descendants born prior to 1985, regardless of who their father was.

It means that generations of children born of status Indian women will be able to eventually claim that status for themselves, affecting thousands of people with First Nations heritage that has never been fully recognized.

The government will consult for a year before implementation.

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