Harper vows foreign credentials reform in GTA stop

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper used an event in a key Toronto-area battleground riding to highlight a promise to help immigrants get faster recognition for their foreign credentials.

Conservative leader promises funds for skills training and upgrading

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper used a Wednesday campaign event in a key battleground riding in the Toronto area to highlight his party's commitment to help immigrants get their foreign credentials recognized faster in Canada.

Harper kicked off the day with a campaign event at a manufacturing plant in the riding of Oak Ridges-Markham. In 2008, Conservative Paul Calandra won the riding by a small margin over the Liberal incumbent.

The Conservative leader used his appearance to remind voters of his party's plans to help immigrants get their credentials faster after they arrive in Canada.

Harper said if he is re-elected on May 2 he would provide loans to help new Canadians pay for skills training or upgrading that will speed up the process of having their credentials recognized.

"We think that this small investment in the future of new Canadians will strengthen the future of our economy for all Canadians," Harper said at his news conference.

Harper said his Conservative government has invested $50 million in the last two years into efforts to approve foreign credentials.

He said the initiaive has helped "thousands" of foreign-trained workers get their credentials approved to work in Canada.

Costs associated with retraining, exams and recertification can cost between $100 and $25,000.

The Tories are suggesting the plan to pay costs for the foreign credential certification process will cost roughly $6 million annually.

The Conservative leader said throughout the economic downturn his government has kept immigration levels at historically high rates.

"While we believe economic downturns are temporary, we believe the benefits of immigration are permanent," he said.

Roughly 40 per cent of immigrants aged 25 to 54 are overqualified for the jobs they are working in, according to Statistics Canada.

Facebook screening questions continue

Harper continued to be dogged by questions surrounding stories the party ousted a student from a Conservative event because a Facebook photo showed her posing with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. 

Awish Aslam, a second-year political science student at the University of Western Ontario, told CBC News Tuesday that she and a friend were trying to attend a rally with Harper when they were asked to leave by an RCMP officer.

She said the officer told her that she was being removed because of her ties to the Liberals on Facebook. She had a photo of herself and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, which was taken at a Liberal event a few days earlier.

The Conservative leader didn't answer whether his party was screening people who are registered to attend party functions.

"I think it is better when you are turning people away than when you can't get people to come," Harper said.

"But I don't want to comment on individual cases."

He did say that his preference is to have more people hear his party's message.

The party also came under fire when a U.S. defence analyst weighed in on the government’s F-35 jet project, claiming the government had grossly underestimated the price of the planes. 

More Carson questions

Harper faced more questions Wednesday about revelations Bruce Carson, one of his former top advisers, has numerous criminal convictions. Harper was asked how someone with that past would get security clearance to work in the Prime Minister's Office. Carson worked there 2006 to 2008.

Harper said Wednesday that security checks are handled independently by the Privy Council Office, separate from his political office.

As he did Tuesday, Harper said he did not know who conducted the security check on Carson, but said he is troubled by the latest revelations and if he'd known about new allegations against Carson he would not have hired him. He has said he was aware of Carson's fraud convictions in the 1980s.

This comes after CBC News learned the current head of the RCMP, William Elliott, was responsible for giving Carson security clearance. At the time, Elliott was serving as national security adviser in the PCO, the bureaucracy that supports the prime minister.

Elliott was later appointed head of the RCMP, the first civilian to head the national police force.

NDP Leader Jack Layton pauses during a speech to party supporters during a rally Tuesday in Winnipeg. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)
NDP Leader Jack Layton heads to B.C. for two events Wednesday, starting with a campaign announcement in Prince George in the morning, followed by a campaign rally in Cranbrook in the evening.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff was spending the day in Quebec, starting with a meeting in Compton. He will then tour a local firehouse in Orford, followed by a rally in Brossard.

Ignatieff was expected to discuss parts of his party's rural strategy.

Elizabeth May was to stick close to her home riding again Wednesday. The Green Party leader was scheduled to be available for media interviews Wednesday morning at her Sidney, B.C., campaign office.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe was to spend the day in and around the Gaspé area, including two press conferences, and a meeting with activists and campaigners.