CFIB'S positions on issues, just so you know, is always based on feedback we get from our membership. We gather this feedback through a variety of surveys throughout the year. We then pass on these results to you, the decision-makers, so you can incorporate some of their ideas and thoughts and concerns into your own decisions.
Moving on to the next page, it is always important to remember that the vast majority of businesses in Canada are small. In fact, 98% have fewer than 50 employees. Small and medium-sized businesses employ 60% of all Canadians, and they represent about half of Canada's GDP or economic output. This makes them a major component of Canada's economy.
On the next page you'll see that, given their clout, getting their perspective on how their businesses are doing can help us to understand where the economy is going. You can see on this page the CFIB's business barometer, which is produced quarterly and tracks the business expectations of Canada's smaller businesses. This information is used by the Bank of Canada and by Bloomberg in their analysis of Canada's economy. This latest barometer, which you have in front of you, is from March 2008, and it shows cautious optimism among smaller firms, which seem to be playing it safe for the moment, given the uncertainties south of the border, the Canadian dollar, and rising input costs.
However, in the next slide you'll see that despite this cautiousness, hiring plans remain strong, and 30% still plan to increase the number of full-time employees in the next year. This is equivalent to numbers we saw throughout the last few years. In other words, even as the economy softens, hiring plans remain strong.
In fact, on the next page you'll see that one of the fastest-growing issues among smaller businesses has been a shortage of qualified labour. This is behind the issues of total tax burden and government regulations and paper burden. In fact, in some provinces this is now the number one issue. In Alberta it's ranked number one as the highest-priority issue. In B.C. and in Manitoba, it is ranked number two. In places like Saskatchewan, Quebec, and Nova Scotia this is the third-highest priority issue among our membership. This is not just an issue out west any more. It is definitely spreading across the country.
There is good reason for this growing concern, as you can see from the next page. In March we released a report that found that the percentage of jobs that have been vacant long term—when I say long term, that means they have been vacant for at least four months—has been steadily increasing since 2004. And while 4.4% may not sound like very much, this translates into almost 309,000 jobs that remained vacant for more than four months across the country. This is up from 251,000 in 2006. You have in front of you the breakdown by province. Every province saw increases, with the exception of Alberta, where it stayed at the very high rate of 6.3%.
While this is an issue that is growing right across Canada, you'll see on the next slide that most employers also believe it will only get more difficult in the future. This is an important point, because while there certainly are some concerns in particular sectors of the economy and in certain parts of the country, the overall trend, given Canada's demographic future, is for shortages to increase. You have to keep in mind that Canada is not the only country in this situation, and we will have to compete with many other countries to get the people with the skills we need.
How are smaller companies dealing with this issue? On the next slide you see that most are hiring underqualified people and are training them to their positions. You can see other methods listed there on that chart, but there are two areas that I want to highlight. The first is that 38% are ignoring new business opportunities. This is of great concern, because if more and more businesses forgo new opportunities, doing so could ultimately result in slower economic growth and even put other jobs in jeopardy. This should be a concern for all of us.
I also want to highlight that only 5% say they recruited outside of Canada, but this actually translates into about 52,000 employers looking outside of Canada for employees.
In the book you have in front of you are results from our survey, which also looked at those who were recent immigrants who were already in Canada but had only arrived in the last five years. As you can see on the next page, for the vast majority of small and medium-sized companies, that's where their experience lies--with people who were already in this country. Only a very small group, 16%, were temporary foreign workers or--9%--had gone through the official immigration process. We also know anecdotally--and we hear this almost every day in our offices across the country--that many more have tried to use these systems but have been frustrated by the slow process and have given up trying to navigate many of the complexities in the system.
Of course, for those who did use the process, by far the biggest problem they faced was the delays in processing.
If you turn to the next two pages, you will see the feedback we received from our membership on those issues.
So the fact is that delay in processing was by far the number one issue for those using the permanent immigration system, as well as those using the temporary foreign worker systems, which is on the next two pages. When you need someone with specific skills, you cannot wait years for their arrival. You need them to help grow your business and to move it forward. Complexity is also an issue that keeps many employers from attempting to try to recruit overseas.
Listed on those two pages are other issues that small businesses face, and we recognize that there have been some changes recently to help address some of those issues. Obviously, finding ways to deal with this backlog and the extensive wait times is of utmost importance to Canada's smaller companies.
But I also want to touch on one last problem related to this debate on the last few slides in your slide deck. As you know, 60% of all new immigrants are categorized as economic immigrants, and of those, only about 33% are designated as skilled workers. Of those skilled workers--this is the second to last slide--the vast majority of them coming to Canada are designated as professionals: 22% are designated as having skilled and technical expertise; 9% are designated as managers; 3% have intermediate or clerical skills; and none come with entry-level skills.
If you go to the very last slide, it compares the skills required for those occupations in highest demand among Canada's small and medium-sized enterprises, and it compares it with the skills being brought in through the permanent and temporary immigration system. As you can see at the very top, 42% of those occupations in demand among small businesses require people with skilled and technical training, but only 22% of those in the permanent immigration system have that skill. Further down, 65% have professional training, but only 7% of occupations among small and medium-sized businesses require that particular skill. Then we wonder why so many highly educated immigrants are underemployed in Canada.
This leads me to my last point, which is that we must create a more honest immigration system that does not build up expectations among those coming to Canada, because too many of them end up disappointed. We are fortunate that so many want to make Canada their home, so let's be honest with those who want to emigrate to Canada about the types of skills that are in demand among Canada's employers.
In conclusion, CFIB believes that something must be done to deal with the large backlog of applications, which causes long wait times for those who want to come to Canada. Whether part 6 of Bill is the best way to do this is difficult for me to say. But I can say that regardless of whether you support this part of the bill or not, I do hope that you agree that finding ways to reduce those wait times is essential and that we need to bring more honesty, flexibility, and employer involvement into Canada's immigration system, given the economic realities we face today and in the future.
I'd like to thank the committee for the opportunity to present the perspectives of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce's 30,000 business members. These members represent every size, every sector, and every region of our province.
This is a particularly critical issue for British Columbia and for our membership, so the changes proposed to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, as contained in Bill , part 6, is a significant issue for our members.
To be clear, my comments today represent a policy position that has been developed by our membership. The B.C. Chamber of Commerce has a very clearly defined and well-structured policy development process. We ask our members to bring us their issues of concern. We then work them through a very significant committee structure. They are then presented to our entire membership at our annual general meeting, and only if they are voted on and adopted by two-thirds of the membership do they become our stated policy position.
That process in 2006 led to the adoption of a resolution that we have titled “Overhaul of the Canadian Immigration System”, and it is that policy position that forms the basis of our comments to you today.
The B.C. Chambers of Commerce have been the leading voice for almost a decade, calling for government at every level and the business community to realize the scale of the challenge facing the province, and more recently the country, through the looming skills and labour shortage that we're facing in every sector. This has been identified by the chamber in our “Moving Forward” report, by our “Closing the Skills Gap” report of 2002, and rather unimaginatively, our “Closing the Skills Gap II” report of 2008.
Until recently we have held the very strong position that these calls have not been heard and have not been heeded. With this in mind, we must congratulate the federal government for the role it is playing in addressing many of these issues of concern to business, particularly those in the west. Over recent months this action has seen the introduction of or the soon-to-be-introduced new Canadian experience class, a new expedited labour market opinion program, the overdue launch of the first phase of the foreign credential recognition office, and a significant expansion of the provincial nominee program that in British Columbia will see 15,000 high-demand occupations being taken in through this program by 2010-2011.
We are particularly pleased with all of these areas because the resolution that was passed by our membership in 2006--and I am going to summarize the recommendations for you--called for the overhaul of the permanent immigration system. It called for the immediate allocation of resources to offices overseas to assist with the processing of applications. It called for a shift of resources away from family class immigrants into the skilled worker class to cut the wait times that are currently being experienced, and it called for government to ensure that the process for bringing foreign workers to Canada is driven by a true reflection of supply and demand, rather than being process-driven.
The chamber believes that the proposed changes, as outlined in Bill , go a long way to addressing many of these concerns that have been expressed by our members.
Bill , we believe, brings the welcome elevation of economic priorities as a cornerstone of the changes that are proposed. The chamber believes the flexibility as a result of this must be enshrined in the system. The needs of the economy today will not be the needs of the economy tomorrow. As we have seen with the institutional refusal to undertake changes to the point system, without a more flexible approach we will almost inevitably return to a situation where the system quickly falls behind the needs of the economy.
Despite our support of Bill , however, the chamber does have two reasonably significant concerns or reservations regarding the proposed changes. I would be extremely surprised if the committee has not heard the first, and that is the change to subsection 11(1), which removes the “shall” and inserts a “may” into the process.
From our perspective, if you are a prospective immigrant, you go through the application process, you put the paperwork in, you go through all the checks and balances. If you are successful in all of those stages, we do not see a situation whereby you would be removed or refused a visa to enter Canada. The structure that's put in place is very clearly defined. It is quite a rigorous one. From that perspective, if you go through that process, we believe you have the right to be issued a visa.
While the principles released by the ministry outline a commitment to identify the priority occupations--and the ministry has stated this will be based on input from the provinces, territories, the Bank of Canada, employers and organized labour--the manner of these consultations is neither mandated prior to the issuance of instructions, and we understand these instructions could be issued more than once in the space of a year, nor required for each set of ministerial instructions. As such, the chamber believes the ministry should mandate full consultation priority areas prior to the issuance of any ministerial instructions, no matter how many times they are issued in the space of a year.
Furthermore, the chamber also believes that these consultations should be made public and that the consultation material and feedback be tabled, along with the instructions that are part of the changes the minister will put before the House when the minister issues those instructions to her department.
I would like to give you a bit of a brief as to why this is such a significant issue for British Columbia. While the scale of the challenge facing Canada is indeed significant, it is particularly acute in British Columbia, and also in Alberta. We have gone through a process this year whereby we have reached out to our members to try to identify what are the priority areas for the business community. And from all of our member chambers who responded, the only issue that was identified by every single one of them was the skills and labour shortage. Transportation was obviously in there heavily, but the skills and labour shortage came up strongly as the single issue that needed to be tackled.
When we look at Canada, we see that the current estimates indicate that 100% of the net growth in the Canadian labour force will result from immigration by 2016. In B.C. we will reach that by 2011, so it is a more profound issue for British Columbia, in particular, than for many other jurisdictions. This is driven by an extremely buoyant labour market: employment in B.C. has risen by over 370,000 jobs since December 2001, and 90% of those jobs are full-time positions. Indeed, over this period, B.C. has had the highest employment growth rate in all of Canada. B.C. has an overall unemployment rate of 3.9%, as of February 2007. Seven out of ten of the top occupational categories have unemployment rates ranging from 0.5% to 3.3%. So structurally, as a province, B.C. is very close to, if not at, full employment, depending on which economist you talk to.
Further to this, it is estimated that over the period of 2003 to 2015, B.C. as an economy will create one million new job openings. It is important to note that this does not take into account the bump in employment that we will get from the 2010 Olympic Games. These are structural changes, through the growth of the economy, and don't take into account the Olympics.
During that same period, B.C. will graduate 650,000 students through the K to 12 system. Even if we were to keep all of those 650,000 students in British Columbia, it would still leave us with a shortfall of 350,000 job opportunities that cannot be filled by workers in the province.
Again, while the federal government and the province have made great strides with enhancements to the temporary foreign worker program, that is, the expansion of the provincial nominee program that we mentioned earlier, quite frankly, these changes are tinkering around the edges. In British Columbia, the need for workers requires structural reform to the immigration system. Quite simply, the current system is not capable of addressing the scope of the challenge. Fundamental reform is required.
I'd like to echo a comment made earlier that while immigration is looked at as the most significant means of addressing this, we do agree with the C.D. Howe Institute, for example, which has made comments that immigration is not the silver bullet or answer to our problem. But it is the most significant piece of the solution to the issue we actually face.
However, we must bear in mind that we are in a very competitive global environment for these skilled workers. Whether we look at that changes just introduced in the United Kingdom or the changes introduced in Australia, there are a number of jurisdictions that are making significant or fundamental reforms to their immigration systems, with a view to capturing the skilled, educated workforce essential to our success in the 21st century knowledge economy.
We would like to wrap up by saying that immigration can no longer be viewed as a domestic issue, nor can it be viewed, quite frankly, as a discussion of our role as a leader in humanitarian and refugee protection. We understand that the proposed changes will still enshrine our commitment in these areas. They are critical and essentials part of Canada's role in the world. But we are particularly pleased that the changes actually shift the focus of education or rather rebalance the focus of the immigration system onto the economy, as well as these other critical roles. We do feel that it has been missing.
If we look at family class reunification in British Columbia, there are just over 14,000 who were brought in here in 2007, compared with 16,000 skilled workers. We believe that shift or balance is not in the best interest of the economy, and we hope that through this process we can actually get into a situation of focusing on that.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I really appreciate the opportunity to provide a food service industry perspective on part 6 of , and to speak to you again about the number one issue facing Canada's $58-billion food service industry. Of course, that is labour shortages.
I represent a 33,000 member organization, governed by a 36-member board of directors representing every sector of the industry in every region of the country. For our members in western Canada the labour shortage is already a crisis. For the balance of the country, it is a growing problem, and it will get progressively worse over the next 20 years.
Low fertility rates and the retirement of baby boomers will create a labour shortage of unprecedented proportions. The numbers are daunting. The Conference Board of Canada projects there will be a shortfall of about a million workers by 2020 unless we do something to increase the available labour pool. The economic forecasting company Global Insight expects the labour shortage will reduce real GDP growth and cost the Canadian economy billions of dollars in lost output.
All industries will suffer from this labour shortage, but the outlook for the food service industry is particularly grim. The food service industry today relies on young people for our workforce. More than 483,000 of our employees are 15 to 24 years of age. Projections suggest that by the year 2025 the population of 15 to 24-year-olds in Canada will actually decline by 345,500. Over the next 10 years the food service industry alone will need to add 190,000 new workers. Demographics tell us that the situation the industry is currently experiencing in Alberta and B.C. is spreading across the country. We are already hearing from members in every part of the country who are having difficulty recruiting staff.
We recognize that the labour shortage is a complex challenge and there is no magic bullet. Businesses must be flexible and creative in their recruitment of workers, and they must place a higher priority on the retention of existing employees. Food service operators are increasing wages and benefits, and they are increasing capital investments in labour-saving devices, but opportunities to replace people in the service environment are limited. Restaurant operators are also putting more emphasis on attracting and accommodating under-represented groups, such as aboriginals and persons with disabilities. They are looking for new pools of talent, such as older workers, to entice into the industry. But these are not enough.
We can't overcome the demographic reality confronting the labour market. We need dramatic changes in public policy. Our employment and immigration policies were developed in an era when unemployment was the national challenge. The new challenge is finding workers. We are competing with every other developed country in the world experiencing the same demographic trends and labour shortage challenges. We can expect the international competition for workers to only intensify.
Our members are extremely frustrated by the four- to six-year waiting period to bring in qualified help. They will identify a top-notch international chef who is willing to immigrate to Canada. The chef applies for landed immigrant status. But long before his or her application comes up for review, he or she has successfully immigrated to Australia or New Zealand, where the wait times are a quarter or half as long.
CRFA believes that Canada's immigration policies must be more labour-market focused. We support part 6 of in principle because we need a system that will reduce wait times and be flexible enough to meet labour market needs. That's provided it does meet the diverse needs of Canada's labour market.
The labour shortage is much more than a skills shortage. Our industry is experiencing a growing shortage of all workers--skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled. We need assurances that the ministerial instructions regarding the processing of certain categories of applications will apply to all classes and types of workers. We also need to understand the methodology and criteria that will be used to prioritize and quantify labour shortages and to receive assurances that guidelines will be applied transparently and consistently.
Modernizing our immigration system also means putting more emphasis on Canadian work experience and school credentials and less emphasis on foreign education and experience. A higher weighting of Canadian job experience would act as a bridge between temporary foreign worker programs and permanent residency, particularly for lower-skilled workers. It makes sense for Canadian employers to recruit international workers who have already demonstrated their ability to adapt to Canadian culture and successfully integrate into the Canadian job market.
Last month when I appeared before this committee, I indicated we were pleased the government had introduced the Canadian experience class as a new immigration stream, allowing temporary foreign workers to apply for permanent residency without leaving Canada. However, we are frustrated this new immigration stream is currently only available to workers in NOC codes A, B, and O and will not apply to the majority of temporary foreign workers in the food service industry. This, we believe, will limit the effectiveness of Bill .
In summary, Mr. Chairman, Canada's food service industry has faced its share of challenges over the years, but nothing will affect the industry more than labour shortages. We are pleased that government recognizes the urgency of this issue and is taking much-needed steps to overhaul the immigration system. However, before we put the industry's full support behind the amendments, we need to be sure they include all classes and types of workers in Canada, reflect in-demand positions, and that the criteria for selecting occupations under pressure is well thought out, transparent, and consistently applied.
Welcome. What you're telling me is what I hear in my riding all the time. I think your perception of the problem that there's a shortage is correct. However, I would disagree with you as to how you get to a solution.
The immigration system virtually overwhelmingly has been run by the bureaucrats, with very little accountability. When we changed the Immigration Act in 2002, it was made incredibly elitist. If anybody wants to review the minutes as to what committee members said at the time, we are shutting out carpenters, we are shutting out tradespeople, we are shutting out labourers, and essentially the statistics bear that out.
We have an incredibly elitist system, and it was designed by the bureaucrats. I've been here for ten years, and seven ministers have come and gone. It's not a surprise that we're in such a mess.
We need to redo our point system. Initially, Australia and New Zealand and European countries did it. The United States is now looking at our open, transparent point system, which in itself is good. What is not good is the way we allocated the points. It doesn't make any sense. If you want to take a look at the point system and look at it in terms of what Australia does and what New Zealand does....
Getting people in here is not rocket science. It shouldn't take five years.
There's a memo that surfaced when the department got taken to court back in 2003. A memo was made to the minister from the bureaucracy. What they essentially say is that we artificially constrained the resources that go into immigration processing because that's the only way they have to control the number of people we let in.
So what you have to do is continually have the backlog back up. Our problem right now is we have our inventory, but not what you're looking for. It was really, really blown. And I say to you it wasn't blown by the politicians; unfortunately, it was blown by the bureaucracy.
The danger of what they're proposing is there's going to be less accountability. They can say all they want, that the minister will do this and the minister will do that. The minister doesn't know. Who's going to do it? It's going to be done by the bureaucrats. What they're saying is they don't want the courts ever to have any oversight of what they're doing, which at first might be really good, except if you need somebody's visa redone, renewed, it doesn't happen, and there's no way you can keep the system accountable.
So we need to redo the point system and get rid of the elitism in there. Just imagine how many people there are out there who want to come to Canada. Labourers? We shouldn't have any shortage of labourers. All we have to do is allow them in.
In terms of processing times, in the Dragan decision it made the point that it takes 10 to 15 minutes to do an assessment of an application, which is followed by a one-hour interview, if the interview is needed. You can get somebody in in less than an hour, but the reason people don't get in is they are kept on the wait line. They have two years before the department gets back to them. It's a dysfunctional system, and the bureaucrats blew it. Now they're trying to come forward with something that even gives them more power, makes it more or less transparent, and makes them less accountable.
I really urge your organizations to take a look at this. Take a look at it. Study it. This committee told the government what was going to happen, but unfortunately we had a new minister, just like we have a new minister now, and ultimately, they went hook, line, and sinker to what the bureaucracy said.
I do apologize if I gave the impression I was reducing the importance of family class. That certainly wasn't my intent.
First, for a successful immigration system, when you bring in new skilled workers, an absolutely critical component of the system is their ability to bring their families with them. If you do not have that open, then you will not get a situation where the skilled workers will come in.
Our concern with family class is twofold. Our concern is not the scale of family class as it stands alone; it's the scale of family class immigration as compared to skilled worker class, where these people are judged on the skills they bring to the economy and the contribution they will give.
As an example, and I did use it earlier, I came in through the family class system simply because—and I don't want to go into detail—at the time my partner and now my wife had already applied and had been successful. I chose to go through family class simply for the time it would save me, rather than go through the skilled worker process.
I think when you're looking at these areas, you're not getting a good handle on the people coming through and that is simply a situation of the timeframe. Our position is that family class has to be a core element, as does refugee class, as do our humanitarian and compassionate responsibilities. They all have to be elements of the immigration system. Our concern is that there is an imbalance right now that we do think has to be slightly adjusted. We think if you bring the processing times down for the skilled work class, that will go a long way to create that level of balance.
Certainly, from our point of view, we are not looking at the government changes. We certainly would be strongly concerned if this is what came out as the result of this process: having your wife, daughter, or parents refused at the border through the family class system.
My name is Elizabeth Lim. I'm an immigration lawyer from the law firm of Lim Mangalji. I am speaking today on behalf of the Status Now! campaign, a group of community organizations and agencies who have come together to speak on the plight of immigrants, refugees, and non-status persons in this country.
On April 28 the minister made it clear in her address to the Standing Committee on Finance that the main purpose of the immigration amendments contained in was to “keep businesses open for business”. With all due respect, we submit that this does not make common sense. It does not make sense that to keep businesses open for business we must give officers the power to be above the law, to refuse to issue a visa even if an individual meets all of the requirements under the law. It does not make sense that to keep businesses open for business officers should be given the power not to look at the merits of an overseas humanitarian and compassionate application. It does not make sense that to keep businesses open for business the minister should be given the power to choose, without parliamentary scrutiny and within any category she pleases, the persons who can come into this country.
Businesses already have the power to apply for workers to come into this country through work permits. These work permits can be issued almost instantly at the border, or through pre-approvals at visa posts. They can be processed within a few days or weeks. There are currently no limitations on the number of work permits issued by Canada each year. The backlog and the delays in the system, whether at Service Canada or CIC, can be easily resolved by hiring more officers to process these applications.
There are, however, many problems with businesses retaining workers that this bill does not address in any fashion. Business cannot by law retain low-skilled workers who are given only non-renewable, two-year work permits, and who are left with very few avenues of gaining permanent residence. These workers are told that they are not allowed to bring their families to Canada and should not expect to get permanent residence. In fact, many workers are turned away at the visa posts at great loss to their employers in Canada, simply because they are from an immigrant-producing country or do not have enough financial ties to their country of origin. Furthermore, businesses cannot retain undocumented workers, even though they may be key employees or even the owners of the company. They are often sent away from this country because they made a failed refugee claim and were not provided with a viable way of gaining immigrant status.
These issues form the crux of the problems experienced by business throughout Canada, from Newfoundland to B.C. Yet this bill does not in any way address these problems.
The minister has also said that this bill is necessary to address the backlog. There is no question that the backlog for permanent residence applications is a serious issue. The question is, how do we resolve this problem? Do we resolve this problem, as the minister suggests, by returning or throwing away applications of applicants who are qualified under the law, who relied on our laws when they applied, who have waited for years to have their applications processed, and who have spent thousands of dollars and countless hours preparing their applications? Or does it make more sense to help resolve the backlog by raising our targets, which are still at 1997 levels, to allow more persons to immigrate to Canada each year? We need their skills and presence in this country to help resolve our population decline and labour shortages as well as to reunite their families.
Ultimately, you must ask yourself: is it better to concentrate the power to decide who can enter and remain in this country in the hands of one person by attaching it to a budget bill and forcing its passage as a confidence vote, or would it be better to resolve this problem as a country together?
We submit that such drastic amendments to the immigration laws of this country to decide how people can immigrate and who can immigrate to this country should only come after extensive consultations with community groups, and when votes on this issue are not tied to an election. And as the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration with expertise in this area, you should advise the finance committee to vote against this bill.
Ultimately, immigration is not just about keeping businesses open for business; it's about community members and future citizens of this country. It's about my husband, who I had to sponsor through spousal sponsorship on a humanitarian basis, because at that time--ten years ago--under the occupation-based selection criteria, Immigration Canada said we did not need Canadian-trained physicians in this country.
It's about many of your ancestors who may have been fishermen, lumberjacks, factory workers, or construction workers, who did not have post-secondary degrees. They came to this country, worked hard every day of their lives, and dreamed that their children and descendants would grow up to be members of Parliament. Many of your ancestors would not be able to immigrate to this country based on our current laws, and under these immigration amendments, every one of your ancestors could be refused.
Immigration is not just about keeping businesses open for business. It's not just about politics. It's about keeping faith with our own immigrant pasts and making sure that our laws are fair, transparent, practical, and consistent with Canada's humanitarian tradition for the future of our country.
Since then, I have had the opportunity to help in bettering the foreign worker visitor visa system by participating through my company, and its lawyers, in an industry effort by the Software Human Resources Council in working with CIC and HRSDC. Through these efforts by the industry, a pilot project was created in 1995 that remains in effect today, and has been instrumental in solving the critical shortages in the information technology industry in Canada.
My experience with the immigration system exposed many serious problems with the way Canada handles applicants for entry into Canada, and why the system is in desperate need of a fix today. Here are some of the examples of why the system needs fixing:
There's a backlog of applicants. These applicants have entered the system either directly or through immigration agencies and lawyers. In making the case for immigration, many of the applicants may not qualify. Yet due to the way the system is structured, all applications must be processed on a first-come first-served basis. This puts applicants who are strongly desired by Canada--due to either their skills or economic potential--in the same queue as applicants who have slender chances of making it.
The foreign skilled worker program is another example. A number of efforts have been made to address the needs of employers in Canada and to address skilled and unskilled worker labour shortages through temporary programs. These programs are mostly carried on through interdepartmental cooperation between HRSDC and Immigration Canada, with some involvement from the Canada Border Services Agency. These departments do not necessarily interact the way they should, as an approval from one department does not necessarily mean an approval from another. Also, most of the cases are handled based on precedence, rather than written fixed rules. If these temporary entry programs are to help ease the shortage of labour, they need to be structured differently so as to process workers in a quick and efficient manner, which is not the case presently.
I believe that the system is in urgent need of change, due to the following factors:
There is a global skills shortage, which causes many of the skilled and unskilled workers to be equally desired by many competing countries across the world. Take the United Arab Emirates, where 25,000 people enter the country on a monthly basis, as an example. Or take the case of India, which used to be a source country for many developed nations for skills, and is going through a skills shortage of its own. This trend is expected to continue.
The building of skills shortages will encourage an underground labour market, which is built on undocumented or illegal workers. The United States is a good example of how this problem can take huge dimensions and affect the social structure of a country. The ongoing growth of the immigration backlog threatens the integrity of the system, where applicants are bound to be discouraged by long wait times, and seek alternate destinations, or alternate ways to enter the country, burdening other parts of the system. I believe that the suggested changes are in the right direction, and are the first steps that must come in order to attract and retain good immigrants to Canada, and assist in settlement and prosperity of the immigrant community.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, committee members, not only for the work you're doing here today and your ongoing work, but also for the invitation to come here to speak a little bit about the issue before us and to exchange some ideas and remarks.
My remarks today will be brief, not so much because of the constraints imposed by the rules, but because, quite frankly, in our view we don't find this issue particularly complicated.
We support the changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act proposed in Bill . We believe that the changes are necessary to fix a fundamental flaw in the current legislation and process that in our view undermines Canada's ability to meet its immigration objectives.
What are those objectives? We could talk a lot about being compassionate—and we are a compassionate country. We could talk about humanitarian desires, and these are certainly things that we want to fulfill. But these are not really objectives; they're characteristics.
Some people assert that our primary objective with immigration should be to bring into Canada a number of immigrants equal to approximately 1% of the population each year. We don't agree. I'm not debating the number here; I'm debating whether that should be our primary objective. In our view, immigration is primarily about people, not numbers. It's about assessing the needs of those people and trying to provide for them.
There's a lot of talk about how Canada needs immigration. And again, I don't propose to get into a debate about the validity of that statement itself; it's not the purpose of these hearings. What I would point out is that the very statement that Canada needs immigration is predicated on that belief that we all share, that Canada has needs and that our immigration policy should be meeting those needs.
One of those needs is to fill existing or emerging shortages in Canada's labour market with qualified workers and professionals. Right now, potential immigrants who apply to come to Canada as skilled workers provide information about their education, their work experience, their qualifications, etc., and their applications are assessed based on this and other information. And the application of a candidate is approved, if they have a sufficient number of points.
What's bizarre about all of this is that at no time is consideration given to the employability of the candidate based on the availability of jobs in Canada in his or her area of employment. Instead, he or she goes into the queue and waits, sometimes for years. The family's life is put on hold—sometimes for years. And when they finally get to Canada, if they haven't lost faith already because of the amount of time they've waited, and have gone to another country—which is happening in large numbers, by the way—there are no jobs for them in their area of employment.
We don't think that makes sense. We also don't think it makes sense that the skills and qualifications of successful candidates are not being used to prioritize the order in which successful applicants are processed after approval and are actually brought here to Canada. The result of all of this is that our labour market needs are never really filled.
I want to stress here, by the way, that we're not talking about family reunification. We're just talking about skilled workers; that's all we're talking about here.
In our view, the changes that are being proposed are the minimum necessary to make the skilled worker track fair and functional. They're sensible changes, without which we might as well get rid of this class altogether.
I want to address very briefly some of the objections that have been raised by people over the last little while regarding the fact that powers created by Bill , as it pertains to immigration practices, will reside with the minister. I have to tell you that I'm really a little puzzled by the objections.
Some say that immigration issues shouldn't be politicized. Frankly, I'm not exactly sure what that means. If it means that we shouldn't have a vigorous public debate on the subject, then certainly we disagree. But public policy should ultimately be decided by the public, who have to live with the policy and pay for it as well.
Others are saying that the minister shouldn't have the ability to make the necessary adjustments to selection criteria to reflect changes in the economy or workforce.
Again, we don't share this view. It's difficult enough to get policy changes or adjustments done around this city, in the government, already, without having to add an extra burden of a legislative process every time we want to make small changes to policy that really should be regulatory changes.
I would argue that forcing any particular government--whether it's Conservative or Liberal or NDP or any other political persuasion--to always go through a legislative process doesn't enhance the accountability of the minister or the department. You guys are in a committee. You bring people here all the time to talk about these issues. It doesn't really make any difference whether you're changing things legislatively or not. It's really almost adding a whole new bureaucratic level to the whole process, which we object to in this area, because it's important to be able to respond fairly quickly to changes in economic circumstances and in the workforce.
I have just one other small observation, and then I'll finish. I want to also stress that although we're supportive of these changes, I think I share my colleague's view on the fact that there are really a lot of problems with our immigration system. I would argue that it's probably the most badly broken department in the federal government right now. We're badly in need of a comprehensive, coherent immigration policy. We really don't have that. If I were to go around the table and reverse roles, and I were to ask the question, I'd be willing to bet money right now that nobody here would be able to really say what our immigration policy is. You could point to various small facets of it, but you couldn't really say this is what our immigration policy is, because we really don't have one.
What we would say is that these are very good in the context that they're going to deal with, but I'd be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to say that I think what we really need is a serious look and a serious examination of our whole immigration department, our process with the idea that we're going to come up with some sort of a coherent, comprehensive policy.
Thank you very much.
Chair, ladies and gentlemen, good evening.
My name is Andrea Seepersaud. I am the executive director of Inter-Cultural Neighbourhood Social Services. We are located in Mississauga. With me today is Pat Hynes, who is a work placement internship advocate in our enhanced language training program. He is the only person we know in the Peel region whose mandate is to advocate for the internship of internationally trained professionals in the business and private sectors. That's the specific program we run for internationally trained professions.
As settlement serving agencies go, ICNSS is a medium-to-large agency employing about 75 staff at any one time in four locations across the Peel region. It provides services annually to more people than it would take to fill the SkyDome to capacity. ICNSS has spend the greater part of 22 years--and I have spent all of my 14 years with this particular agency--conceptualizing, developing, and implementing programs and services aimed at individual capacity-building and the resettlement and adaptation of newcomers to Canada. The issue of reciprocity remains at the top of our list of priorities, and second to that is the importance of family reunification within the context of the social integration of immigrants.
The amendments to Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that are included in Bill are of grave concern to us. If we understand the implication of the amendments, this bill would give the minister and visa officers the power to arbitrarily refuse applications by individuals for permanent residency, visitors' visas, work permits, and study permits, even when it is clear that all the requirements of the IRPA have been met. It would also shift the power into the hands of these individuals representing the Government of Canada to discard applications seeking consideration on humanitarian and compassionate grounds from individuals outside of Canada. As well, the minister and her representatives would be given the unequivocal authority to set quotas and criteria so that predetermined outcomes were achieved. Such authority would be absolute and would not require sanctioning by Parliament.
Our agency believes that these provisions will erode the very foundation of a system that individuals from around the world have found to be fair, compassionate, humanitarian, and friendly. Inherent in the current IRPA is the right of individuals to apply for and be granted entry into Canada under specific categories.
Statistics relating to immigration from 1997 to 2006 indicate that the main source of immigrants is the economic class, followed by family class, and then refugees. In 2006, for example, Canada accepted over 250,000 individuals. Of those individuals, 138,000 were under the economic class, which is equal to 54.9%; 70,000 were under the family class, representing 28%; and 32,000 were refugees, accounting for 12.9%. Under the amendment, these immigration class profiles that have remained steady over the last decade will dramatically change to reflect what the minister determines on an ad hoc basis to be the need and therefore the focus of our immigration drive in Canada.
As an agency serving immigrants and refugees for over 22 years, we can vouch for a number of things. Once economic-class immigrants, or the highly skilled and trained individuals, arrive in Canada they expect to restart their specific careers. This does not mean they are willing to retrain or are overly interested in upgrading their qualifications to ensure integration into their specific sectors. This does not mean that the regulatory bodies representing these sectors are willing to provide the information, advice, and assistance to facilitate the re-entry of these individuals into the Canadian labour force.
Two years ago, the Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration proposed a bill, Bill 124, that sought to address these very issues with respect to regulatory bodies, internationally trained professionals, and fair access to professions and trades. Today that bill is law, and to our knowledge it is the only such legislation in Canada. In fact, that's what it takes to look after internationally trained individuals.
Again, within the context of our repertoire of services and experience as an immigrant-serving agency, we know today's economic class immigrants are not necessarily loyal to Canada. This amendment will focus on the economic class--in other words, the best and the brightest from around the world.
This class has been known to either stay long enough to educate its children and then leave for opportunities elsewhere or to leave one parent to settle and anchor the family in Canada while the breadwinner seeks his fortune elsewhere, which is most likely back in his home country. When the children become educated, they in turn are often enticed to return to run the family business, which of course is located abroad and has been thriving in the meantime.
Essentially, Canada accepts ITPs, internationally trained professionals—and I'm by no means speaking about all of them—who obtain citizenship but have not lived and worked for substantial timeframes in Canada but will retire in this country for many reasons, including the fact that we have an enviable health care system, are compassionate to our seniors, and are technically a safe, democratic country.
I'll ask my partner to continue.
As a committee devoted to assisting refugees who arrive in Canada--and some who need assistance to enter Canada--we are very concerned by both the process and substance of the amendments proposed to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act contained in Bill .
We believe that Canada is a country that is welcoming to immigrants and refugees, and that our future as a country depends largely on a fair, open, transparent, and humanitarian selection and refugee protection system.
We commend the government's stated objective to clear the backlog in immigration applications. The slow process of H and C applications for refugees is equally deserving of attention. However, we are not convinced that the changes proposed in Bill will be effective or necessary to achieve the goal, since proposed section 87.3 only affects applications made after February 2008.
The inclusion of amendments to the IRPA in a budget implementation bill is an inappropriate means to modify immigration law. The government is playing politics with this legislation and limiting the proper scrutiny of this committee and other interested parties, and forcing Parliament to choose between poor immigration legislation and forcing Canadians into another election. It would be better to seek consensus from all parties and interested groups in a clear proposal of amendments that are subject to the scrutiny of this committee and interested Canadians.
We are deeply concerned by the arbitrary discretionary powers given to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in Bill to make important changes to the immigration processing and acceptance systems, by issuing instructions without parliamentary oversight or mandatory consultations. Granting such extraordinary discretionary power without any accountability is an affront to democracy and circumvents the rule of law, which requires that ministerial authority function within the limits set by Parliament.
We are equally disturbed by the discretion accorded visa officers in proposed subsection 11(1). The change allows an officer discretion in issuing a visa, even though the officer is satisfied that the individual is not inadmissible and meets all other requirements under the act. This allows for the potential refusal of a visa on the basis of that particular officer's prejudices.
Also troubling is the move to eliminate the right to permanent residence for applicants who meet the requirements of the act, and the right to have an overseas application for humanitarian and compassionate consideration examined.
In the introduction of proposed section 87.3, proposed paragraphs (1) to (7) are the most disturbing of all. This new section proposes to give powers to the minister to create categories of applications, and then to establish an order to processing requests: limiting or setting the number of applications by category, or otherwise, to be processed in a given year.
These are extensive, sweeping powers given to the minister with little or no constraints. There is a lot which is completely unknown. For example, what are these categories of applications? Are we going to categorize people by geography, race, religion, skills?
While it may be useful to provide expedited review of applications from those who are in a skill category necessary to Canada, it would be very harmful if we limited people coming from a particular racial group or religion. Why not simply spell it out up front instead of creating these sweeping discretionary powers that have the potential to be abused? Even if they were not abused under this administration, we would not want to create a system which could later be abused.
As a refugee committee that has had a sanctuary case, we are concerned that proposed paragraph 87.3(3)(d) of this section could also prevent an application process for these cases.
The government, or the minister, has made responses to some of these criticisms, and I would like to express a few comments.
To the allegation regarding fairness, the government has responded that it would still be subject to the charter. First, the application of the charter comes only after the fact. The goal should be to make a fair rules-based system upfront. If an individual has to engage in a charter challenge, there is already a problem. We want a fair system from the outset. Second, there are costs involved in a charter challenge that are often too much for newcomers to Canada with little resources to begin with, as well as little knowledge of our legal system.
Why don't we simply create a more fair and transparent system at the outset? This system would alleviate the backlog. It is questionable as to whether this is the best approach to achieve what is a good goal, the alleviation of the immigration backlog. However, as the amendments put a lot of discretion in the hands of the minister, it seems that this would be a more time-consuming process for the minister, reviewing all of these individual cases, than to have fair rules in place and allow immigration refugee officers to administer those rules.
The minister would offer guidelines to immigration officers. If the minister is going to offer guidelines to officers and not intervene on a case-by-case basis, then why not legislate this new review process and hold it up to the scrutiny of the legislature and the public?
In conclusion, we urge this committee to recommend that the amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act contained in be severed from this bill, and that a new bill be presented to Parliament where substantive changes could be made and implemented after a meaningful consultation process. This is too important a subject for Canadians, and the proper forum for the review of proposed changes to this act is this committee, where interested Canadians can make a meaningful review of what is proposed.
Thank you for your attention.
I want to offer my apologies for not having a French text of our observations. We received the invitation to appear before this committee only last Friday, and we did not have time to prepare a French text.
I begin in the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate.
Mr. Chair, I first of all want to thank you and the clerk, Mr. Chaplin, for giving me this opportunity to appear before you and share my thoughts and my words with the honourable members on this committee. It is an issue that is very dear to me. It is an issue that is very important to me.
I was born in the country of Uganda in east Africa. When I was five years old, my family and I were exiled. Part of my father's family--the majority of them--went to England, and the rest of us came here to Canada. Although we were not refugees--my maternal aunts were already here, and we came as immigrants--I can see some issues in this proposed act that are very relevant and that could be of great concern.
First of all, we see that the honourable minister would have a significant amount of leeway. Where the law once upon a time stated or currently states that once somebody fulfills all the requirements of having a Canadian visitor visa or even an immigrant visa, the officer “shall” issue it, the wording now proposed--that the officer “may” issue it--has created a lot of discomfort for me personally and for a number of members of my community.
Basically, it can lead to a very true practical situation. I was born in a country in which a lot of authority was centralized in one individual, one person, or one ministry. The effects of that were very evident, and the destruction that was caused as a result of having too much authority consolidated in one individual, one department, or one ministry is something I do not need to elaborate upon.
If somebody has gone through a process and for example had their immigrant or visitor visa denied, up until now or before this law would be in effect, they would still have an opportunity to appeal, and they would be able to go through a process in which....
One of the foundations of our Canadian society has been that in case something was overlooked by one person, one bureaucrat, one member of the visa team or the consular team, somebody else might be able to check the appeal and be able to reflect upon it, to think it over and perhaps make a different decision based on that information and based on the new review, again with this potential or possibility for bias. While I may have my full trust in the current minister, and I don't doubt that she will abuse the authority, do you realize what precedent we are setting for the future? Though the minister now will be honest and hopefully have integrity, down the road we do not have any guarantee that the minister, whether they are from the same party or from a different party, will not enjoy these new-found powers that they have. This is the destruction, and this is the foreshadowing of something much greater.
It seems as though there's a certain degree of preparation for this type of thing to happen step by step. It's not going to be something that happens overnight, but today you give this power to a person, to an individual, whether it's the minister or consular officials in any country of the world, and from there it's a stepping stone to much broader and much more dictatorial things. I don't mean to cause fear in anyone's mind, but this is something that is a reality, which I have seen in many places that I have visited, and in many of the individuals I have counselled.
Our organization, the Islamic Humanitarian Service, has dealt with so many cases of people coming from countries in which this has happened. Basically if one person said no, that was the be-all and end-all, and I was always proud to say that Canada was not like that. If one individual says no, maybe they missed something. Maybe they overlooked something. Maybe there was something else that may not have been looked at by that individual or that official that somebody else might have caught on to.
Regarding the issue of the reunification of families, when a skilled worker comes to Canada, obviously this is an asset to the Canadian economy, to the Canadian culture, to Canada itself. Very rarely will you find just an individual who is single, unmarried. These are issues that we cannot legally and constitutionally ask about--who is married, who has children, and so on. Of course dependency can be asked about, but it is likely that somebody who is a skilled worker will have family--that is why they have the skills--and will be at an age, or they would be at least at a level where they had already established themselves and their families. So that has to be looked at very practically and very carefully.
Mr. Chair, my entire upbringing from kindergarten to grade 13 was in the city of Kitchener, Ontario, about a five- or six-hour drive from here. I got a chance to see not only my own community, which is the Muslim community of which I am the imam or the religious preacher, but also various other communities and various other cultures, faiths, and countries that were represented in my school. I went to public school.
And in my retail work and in my job experience as well, I met with people who have provided a very rich and wonderful wealth to Canada as a result of the policies we have had up until now.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to bring to your attention and perhaps to that of the members of the committee here that had these laws, this legislation, been in effect over the last few decades, how many members of Parliament who are immigrants, or whose families have immigrated here over the last 100 years, would be sitting at this table or be in Parliament today?
I believe that we want to try to keep Canada true north, strong and free, Mr. Chairman, and I think that by putting this bill into place we will be destroying that foundation and the fabric we have all fought for throughout our lives, if not our parents' lives.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, once again.
Thank you, members of the committee, for listening to me.
Thank you very much for the presentation. I just want to make a couple of points before I ask you a question.
The government and the parliamentary secretary will say that the act has to be charter-compliant. Security certificates were not charter-compliant for almost 25 years, before they went to court and the court finally ruled on them. So beware when somebody tells you it has to be charter-compliant, especially when the Conservatives stand up and say they're the great defenders of the charter, which they hate.
The other issue is that, essentially, what this does is that it removes transparency and accountability. We lead the world in terms of the openness of the point system, which came into place in 1967. We were copied by the Australians; we were copied by New Zealand; we were copied by Europe; and the Americans are now looking at it.
But we do have a problem, and I have to acknowledge the problem. The problem is that the 2002 changes to the point system created a situation that was way too elitist. It was pushed by the bureaucracy. It certainly wasn't pushed by the political end; it was pushed by the bureaucracy. And the government's response seems to be let's give more power to the bureaucrats. I say this because when you say the minister, forget the minister, because it's the bureaucrats. Anyway, the idea is let's give them more power and let's make them less accountable.
I really have a problem when you have policy made in the shadows, because one of the nice things about our system is that it's supposed to be blind to your religion, to your background, and to the country from which you come. But what they're proposing here really opens itself up to abuse.
We can fix the system; all we have to do is to look at the Australian and New Zealand models, and we can make it responsive to the economic needs of the country and still keep the transparency.
So my question to you is, to what extent do you oppose the closed nature of what the minister is doing, or what the government is doing, in terms of putting more power in the hands of the bureaucrats? And what do you think it will do to accountability?
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
First of all, let me tell you that I very much appreciated the comments that you have provided to us today. You were our last witnesses in this flurry of committee meetings that we have been holding since Monday morning. I think that you have summarized the general feeling that has emerged from the testimony. You tell us that responding to a labour shortage through immigration applications is only part of the picture. Our immigration process is not an employment agency for employers.
Ms. Seepersaud, you listed a number of qualities that should be considered when looking at immigration applications, such as loyalty to the country, and people's human qualities. Immigration means accepting citizens into our country. This is why it seems such a shame that we are being rushed after being confronted with the fact that just two pages of a 130-page bill suddenly start bringing in the whole area of processing immigration applications.
Like my colleague Mr. Fast, I am a member of the transport committee. In that committee, we just want to amend the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which seems to be easier than immigration. But it was dealt with in committee before a bill was brought forward to amend the current act. The transport committee followed a good process. Over here, where we are dealing with the question of immigration, which is a lot more important for people and for the country's reputation on the international stage, we find it a shame that things are being done differently.
Mr. St-Cyr and I are from the Bloc Québécois and we share your opinion. We understand the arguments you are putting forward and we are going to take them into consideration in the recommendations that we will begin to write after meeting you.
Perhaps you would like to add something to my comments.
I'm not going to direct any questions. I'll make some comments in my closing time.
I appreciate the strongly held views of the various witnesses, so I'm not about to challenge those views.
It seems to me that, looking at the legislation, refugee protection will not be affected by this legislation. The minister indicated yesterday, with respect to family reunification, that in the case of family-class applications Canada plans to accept approximately 70,000 applicants in 2008.
With respect to input in relation to the instruction, she said:
|| Prior to issuing the instructions, the government will consult with the provinces and territories, industry and government departments to shape the approach. And in consulting with the provinces, we will seek assurance that when say they need immigrants with certain skills, those immigrants can actually get their credentials recognized so that they can work.
||And finally, ministerial instructions will be subject to cabinet approval, ensuring government-wide accountability for the decisions taken. And, to be completely transparent, the instructions would be published in the Canada Gazette, on the departmental website, and be reported on in CIC's annual report, which is tabled in Parliament.
The legislation indicates that, generally, the guidelines are that they must be something that would best support the attainment of the immigration goals established by the Government of Canada.
And we heard from the CFIB, I think it was, that full-time employment plans of the next 12 months would show there would be an increase of 30%; that shortage of qualified labour was one of the top three--either one, two, or three--in the priorities; that the long-term vacancy rate was increasing for the percentage of jobs vacant for more than four months; that in a survey, 68% thought it would be harder rather than easier to find employees in the future; and that some would ignore new business opportunities, up to 38%, because of the difficulty in getting skilled labour or labour they would require. And in the economic class, the skilled worker class, 61% brought their spouses and dependants with them.
There are those who believe there needs to be a change in our system to ensure we can meet those needs, and they're of the view that accomplishes that. I know the chair raised yesterday whether any supported , and certainly a number of groups have said so. I know the Canada India Foundation, for instance, says “Bill C-50 is good for Canada and good for Canadian employers. By choosing to prioritize skilled labourers, while protecting family class...”—
Bell Canada, Canada Post Corporation, Canadian Airports Council, Canadian Association of Broadcasters, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canadian National Railway, Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian Trucking Alliance, Iron Ore Company of Canada, Maritime Employers Association of Canada, NavCanada, Purolator Courier Ltd., SaskTel, Telus, Western Grain Elevator Association, VIA Rail Canada.
Then we have the Canadian Trucking Alliance indicating:
||The concept of Ministerial Instructions should allow the Minister, subject to appropriate input and safeguards, to designate priority occupations that do not currently merit consideration as skilled workers. This should increase the capacity of the immigration system to attract immigrants to meet critical skill shortages in all parts of the economy.
Then we have the Canadian Pacific Railway that indicates “...we support your current efforts in this regard”.
We have ITAC saying,
||...our primary means of product is the knowledge and ingenuity of 600,000 Canadians who fuel our businesses. Not surprisingly, the availability of highly qualified talent that our industry requires is a persistent strategic concern for the members of ITAC.
|| Therefore, I am writing to applaud the changes you are making to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Then we have the Railway Association of Canada saying,
||On behalf of the Railway Association of Canada, I am writing in support of the government's efforts to revise Canada's immigration policy through Bill C-50 currently under consideration by the House of Commons.
Certainly I'm prepared to table those, simply to indicate that there is a difference of opinion among various people. Ultimately, it boils down to a policy decision, and ultimately, as I think one of the witnesses may have said, the government will set the policy and it is obviously accountable to the people. The minister would be accountable to the cabinet and to the government, and the government is accountable to the people, so they need to make those kinds of decisions.
As mentioned before, the legislation is meant to be charter-compliant, at the stage where the legislation is considered, also at the point of instruction, and finally, in the exercise of the instruction as well.
I appreciate there are strongly held views and I appreciate that those views can be legitimately held and there can be genuine disagreement as to the approach. My sense is that what is fairly common is the system that we now have is not working. It is broken and it needs to be changed, it needs to be more responsive, it needs to be more reflective. Whether this bill will do this or not, time will tell, and whether it goes through the House or not, time will tell, because in a democracy--and this is a democracy--every member of Parliament will have to be able to stand up on his own two feet and with his conscience either oppose it or support it. That 's the way our democracy works.
If the majority who are representing their constituents feel this bill is bad and genuinely feel so, they can go and--
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Again, perhaps I may respond to two aspects of the honourable member's issues.
At the very beginning of his seven minutes, he mentioned that the federal government and the minister herself are committed to speaking to the provinces and territories. Now it's his own admission to draft out future issues on immigration and skilled workers. By his own admission he has acknowledged that only the provinces and territories are to be consulted.
What I think has been a consensus here.... I'm not sure what the other witnesses have said, but at least the six of us sitting at this table are somewhat unanimous that there needs to be some sort of method of addressing the matter from the grassroots level, the people who are in the field, the people who are there, not the people who are sitting on Parliament Hill away from the common people. I'm not saying you are away from the people, but as a reality a lot of your work may not involve dealing with people's lives, one on one, in front of us.
You mentioned that the safeguards are there, but at the same time we've had sunset clauses on a lot of laws that never came to pass, and that's what I wanted to address. The issue of skilled workers, all those names you took, honourable members, we understand, and I understand, all those agencies, whether it was the Canada India Foundation, or whatever, were all agencies, organizations, and employers who were siding with the government on the skilled worker issue.
We don't have an issue. We understand the immigration legislation needs to be fixed. The immigration backlog needs to be fixed. But there are aspects of this that are way too broad for the mandate of only fixing the immigration problem and encouraging skilled workers to come to Canada. The issues are much deeper than that.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.