Ahmed Hussen: The rise and rise of Canada’s immigration minister
2017/02/20 Leave a comment
Good long profile of IRCC Minister Hussen in Macleans (Hussen is well respected by many Conservatives who while in government engaged with the Canadian Somali Congress – whether this respect will continue as he implements Liberal policies remains to be seen):
Still, Hussen was not exactly a high-profile MP, and when he was tapped to take over the immigration file from veteran John McCallum—who subsequently resigned his seat and was named ambassador to China—the reaction was largely, “Who?” Hussen says he had no sense this was coming, but he was “very, very honoured and really touched” that the Prime Minister handed him this file. “I’ll be frank: it’s a big job, and he didn’t start as a parliamentary secretary, so he didn’t have the opportunity to get seasoned on the brief,” says Chan, who remained friends with Hussen after both left McGuinty’s office. “But I’ve never doubted his intelligence. So for me, his only major challenge is the cut-and-thrust, and the speed with which things will transpire in his life.”
Chan exudes a warm, fatherly sort of pride toward his colleague, despite being only nine years older. Hussen has three sons aged seven, three and five months; Chan’s three sons are just about a decade older, and he’s warned Hussen of how hectic it will be juggling everything now. Chan echoes others who know Hussen, in remarking on how he manages to be quietly commanding. “I think the challenge sometimes is in the heat of the bright lights, some people might take that (soft-spokenness) as a form of weakness. I would never take that as a view, that he won’t see through the issues or that he’s going to act in a capricious way, or that there’s a soft underbelly to him,” Chan says.”There isn’t.”
In fact, the PMO saw Hussen’s “preternatural calm” as a major asset in this portfolio, the senior government official says. The Liberal government—not unlike vast swaths of the U.S. government apparatus, apparently—didn’t know exactly what the Trump administration had planned, but it was clear from the campaign that immigration would be a hot file. Hussen was also seen as an ideal fit because he had, quite literally, been there. “We wanted to make sure there was someone in the control room who really understood what it was like to be on the shop floor,” the official says.
Hussen is almost comically understated about his dramatic public introduction to the job, conceding only that it was a “very interesting” weekend. “I’ve always learned most when I’m placed quickly in a situation where I have to deal with something,” he says. “It was a very steep learning curve to get right into it, but I have a very good staff and supportive department officials.”
When asked about his seeming reluctance to respond to issues like the U.S. travel ban from a personal perspective, Hussen returns to a familiar line in spelling out the various pieces of his identity and history. “I’m very happy and proud of my Somali heritage, but I also make it a point to emphasize that I’m a Canadian citizen, and I’m a Canadian,” he says. “This is where I have spent more of my life, this is home for me and this is the society I have grown to cherish.”
For Hussen, it’s about being proud of his roots, but recognizing that he is a citizen of one country now: Canada.