The House resumed from May 30 consideration of Bill , as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to engage in the debate on Bill . I will look particularly at the issue as it pertains to Part 6, which deals with changes to the Immigration Refugee Protection Act.
I will preface that by saying immigration has been the lifeblood, continues to be the lifeblood and will be the lifeblood of our country. We know in the next five years 100% of our net labour growth will be met by new immigrants. This is where we will have to look for growth. It is important for us to be cognizant of the demographic challenge we face as a nation.
I will go back a bit in the historical perspective, because there are a lot of things that are wrong with the bill.
First, the very fact that such huge, major changes to the Immigration Act are in a budget implementation bill is totally wrong. We heard in the House and across the country that it was not the way to deal with the legislation, to the extent the finance committee referred that section of the bill to the citizenship and immigration committee.
The committee unanimously passed a motion saying that part 6 pertaining to immigration should be struck from the bill because the changes contemplated would be major and would really determine, in a very real sense, the future of our country, the future population make-up of the country.
I said I wanted to go back and talk a bit about history. I remember when we changed the Immigration Act back in 2001. The changes proposed and ultimately adopted were ones that the citizenship and immigration committee itself opposed at the time. The reason we did that was we ended up with a very elitist point system. It essentially meant that many of the people the economy actually needed would not get into the country because of our immigration policies in terms of people applying to our country as economic class immigrants.
I want to underline that those changes were driven by the bureaucracy. I suppose it made their jobs easier, but it did not address the needs of our immigration system. One of the real disconcerting things about that, and as I said the bill was driven by the bureaucracy, was that we developed an elitist point system, which focused on education and abilities to speak the language.
By education. I mean university degrees or the ability to speak French or English. Those were the primary drivers of that point system. Under that point system, people like Frank Stronach of Magna International would never have come to Canada. Frank Hasenfratz, chairman of Linamar, who employs well over 10,000 people, would never have come to Canada. John A. Macdonald, the first prime minister of the our country would not have come to Canada, nor would Tommy Douglas. Wayne Gretzky's ancestors would not have come to Canada. Mike Lazaridis, the gentleman who invented the BlackBerry, which all members of the House like to use, would not have come to Canada because the system was too elitist.
When the committee tried to deal with the issues, when we tried to deal with the backlog, when we tried to deal with applying the new point system to ensure did not apply to people already in the queue, we were misinformed by the bureaucracy. This should be a real concern. It was not until the Dragan v. Canada case in the Federal Court, which dealt specifically with the issue, did we find that only was the committee misled by the bureaucracy, but governor in council was misled as well.
There is a basic problem with the way we make decisions around immigration issues. I have been on the citizenship and immigration committee since 1998, and during that time there have been seven immigration ministers. With seven ministers, the committee really did not have an opportunity to learn the file. The decision was, for the most part, and this has been my experience, driven by the bureaucracy.
The proposal in the legislation is not being driven by the present minister because she is a brand new minister. Her record of achievement includes being the first minister in a decade to miss our immigration targets of 240,000 to 265,000 people. She is also the minister who has created a record backlog in the refugee determination system. She is also the minister who denied the reality of lost Canadians, saying there were hundreds of people involved. Then we found out there were actually hundreds of thousands of lost Canadians, which necessitated the legislation. It is under the present minister that the backlog has grown by huge numbers. There was not a large backlog under the previous government.
The bill would remove certainty from people wishing to come to Canada. It would change dramatically the rules of those who play by the rules and qualify for entry. Instead of saying a visa would be issued to these folks, the legislation would say that a visa may be issued to them.
There are problems in our Immigration Act, but they are all fixable. The way we are proceeding, under a budget implementation act, without the scrutiny it should receive, we will not make the right decision any more now than we did in 2001. We are making the wrong decision now and it will totally destroy some of the good things in our immigration system like transparency and objectivity. Our system underlines a premise that has been copied by Australia, New Zealand and England. The United States is looking at it now.
We have to develop a points system that would mesh with what our economy needs. Under the proposed legislation, carpenters, or electricians or labourers, who we need, would not get in the country. These jobs are available all across Canada.
I travelled with the citizenship and immigration committee three times across Canada in the last five years. One thing that has become clear is the fact that there is a real disconnect between what the economy needs and what individuals we allow to come in under the points system.
It would be impossible for me to outline all the changes that I think should be made. I agree with most of the witnesses who appeared at committee. We can make changes that are transparent. We can make changes that will deal with the needs of the economy. We can do this with certainty.
The system we are devising would make us dependent on thousands of temporary foreign workers, yet the people at the lower end of the skill set would be unable to bring their families with them. This is reminiscent of the time when the Chinese were brought into our country to help build the railway in the late 1800s. When the railway was finished, we tried to get rid of them. We do not want to go down that path again.
We need an immigration system that is realistic. We need an immigration system that not only reflects family reunification, but also reflects what our economy needs. We can also make better use of humanitarian clauses as they relate to refugees.
Mr. Speaker, perhaps no other area is indicative of the kind of incompetence we have seen over the last 20 years as the immigration area.
Essentially, under the former Liberal government and under the current Conservative government, we have seen chronic underfunding in immigration, which has led to huge backlogs developing.
The immigration system is a lot like the health care system. If we underfund it, if beds are not in place and if we do not have doctors and nurses staffing a hospital, then an adequate degree of health care cannot be provided.
That is exactly what we have seen from this chronic obsession with corporate tax cuts that has developed, particularly over the last 15 years.
The Conservatives and Liberals have been falling over each other trying to see who can give the biggest corporate tax cut to the most profitable companies in Canada without any exchange of jobs or any positive economic repercussions, which I will come back to in a moment. We have seen underfunding in immigration that has led to a crisis in the immigration sector.
The member for said that this was a recent development, that the hundreds of thousands of people in the backlog in the system is a result of recent Conservative policies.
The Conservatives have mismanaged and botched this file enormously but to be fair to them, 700,000 of the over 900,000 people who are now in backlog in the system come from the former Liberal government. That chronic mismanagement, that underfunding, that inability to adequately staff consular offices and embassies around the world so we can adequately deal with the immigration work the government must be dealing with, started under the Liberals. We have seen mismanagement from the former Liberal government and mismanagement from the current Conservative government, and that has led to this backlog of nearly one million individuals.
What is the solution? The NDP has been saying very clearly what the solution needs to be. We need to invest in the immigration system so that it functions, in the same way we need to invest in the health care system. The government has to stop this appalling obsession with bigger and bigger corporate tax cuts, which has led over the last 20 years to two-thirds of Canadians earning less now than they were in 1989.
That strategy, that one note band that we have seen under the Liberals and the Conservatives, clearly has not functioned. We need to reinvest so that we have a federal government and government institutions that are functioning effectively. Instead of doing that, we have the Conservatives trying to rewrite the rule book. They realize the backlog is too long so under Bill in the immigration provision they give the minister dictatorial powers to simply delete names from a list.
Does that make any sense whatsoever? If the backlog is a problem, we give the minister power to delete names. That is essentially what the Conservatives are offering.
They have another strategy. They want to turn the immigration system from encouraging family reunification and encouraging building communities. In my community in , the bulk of the community has come from immigration over time and those families who have reunited here in Canada have helped to build and underpin the growth of our communities.
Instead of doing that, the Conservatives have decided that they want to import temporary foreign workers at lower wages and not subject to health and safety standards, essentially indentured servants. They will be brought in by companies but if they quit or are fired because of appalling working conditions, they will be sent home.
That is not how Canada was built. I had hoped that we had learned the lessons of the 19th century and the appalling racism that existed then but, no. We see the Conservatives trying to re-enact the kind of indentured servitude that we saw in the past.
The NDP is opposing this legislation because it simply does not make sense. The Conservatives lack managerial capacity. It is obvious from the fact that the now holds four ministerial portfolios because there is nobody, outside of himself, who is considered by the to actually have the ministerial competence to handle a ministry.
The Conservatives, obviously, are unable to effectively manage government institutions. We see the net result of that in the government's great strategy. The brain trusts, the rocket scientists in the PMO have solved the problem. They want to give the minister the power to delete names from the list and then we no longer have a waiting list.
We can extend this to other areas as well, such as health care. Why do we not just delete sick patients from the list and then all of a sudden the Canadian population would be much healthier? The Conservative approach to management boggles the mind. When we say “effective Conservative management”, that is an oxymoron.
We have a bad bill. We have a bill that does not deal with the backlog and the chronic underfunding in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. It simply gives the minister power to delete names and bring in temporary foreign workers. The NDP rises in the House and says that it will fight this bill on behalf of new Canadians from coast to coast to coast because it is bad policy and it is bad for Canada.
The folks who actually caused the immigration backlog, or most of it, the 700,000 names that were on the backlog list until January 2006 under the Liberal watch, they say that that they opposed to the bill but that they will let it go through. Some members will speak against it, and some principled members, like the member from Kitchener, will actually vote against it, but the leader of the Liberal Party will let this bill go through. It is absolutely appalling.
If the Liberals recognize that this is a completely wrong-headed approach to dealing with the crisis of underfunding in the immigration department, then they should have the courage of their convictions to stand in the House of Commons and vote against this bill. They should follow the lead of the NDP and the member for and say that this is bad for Canada and that they will vote against it.
We know that will not happen because we have seen, over the past year, time and time again, the Liberal leader prop up and support the Conservative government on all issues, not just on immigration and on the budget, but on the security and prosperity partnership and a wide range of issues. On the war in Afghanistan, we saw the Liberals as simply an appendage of the Conservative government. That is just not good enough.
Members of Parliament are elected to stand in the House and vote. Members of Parliament are elected to take principled stands when we know a bill is bad for Canada and that it will harm this country and the approach we have had on immigration which has helped to build better communities across this country from coast to coast to coast. When we know a bill is bad it is our job to stand in the House and oppose it. The leader of the Liberal Party, however, will not oppose any Conservative policy that has a confidence vote attached to it. The Conservatives essentially have free rein.
In the few moments I have remaining, I would like to deal with some of the myths and misconceptions that the Conservatives have put out about Bill . One of the things the Conservatives have said is that they have welcomed more people to Canada. That is not true. In fact, the landed immigrant status numbers have gone down.
However, what has happened is an explosion of temporary foreign workers, indentured servants, who are being brought into Canada on a temporary basis if they are on good behaviour with their companies. As we have seen in many cases, people are working 70 or 80 hour weeks with no overtime and are often being paid below minimum wage. They are not subject to health and safety standards. If they speak out about being paid minimum wage or below minimum wage they could get shipped back home. It is simply not true that the numbers have increased.
Bill contains nothing to deal with the fundamental mismanagement that we saw under the Liberal Party and now under the Conservative Party. It contains nothing to deal with the fundamental truth that neither of those parties are very good managers. It is for those reasons that the NDP will rise in the House and oppose the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on the budget implementation bill, Bill .
In the normal course of parliamentary debate, a budget discussion would ordinarily reflect a thorough examination of the government's fiscal policies and the state of the nation's finances. However, for some strange reason, the Conservatives have chosen to depart from our parliamentary tradition, and it is strange that they have decided to sneak in a major shift in immigration policy through the back door.
Our parliamentary tradition calls upon the government to introduce legislation according to departmental responsibilities, which is to say that a transportation bill would be proposed by the or a defence bill would be proposed by the . Again, under normal circumstances, a proposed act is then debated separately for the simple reason that respective parliamentary committees, such as, for example, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, or the Standing Committee on National Defence, would have the opportunity to review the proposed legislation according to its area of responsibility.
This is how a parliamentary democracy works. It is really quite straightforward.
My question, then, is this: on what grounds is the government justified in lumping an immigration bill in with the budget implementation act? If the is so convinced that her proposal is of vital importance to the country, why is she so afraid to introduce a separate bill and face the scrutiny where it is supposed to be faced? Why does the government insist upon making this a confidence motion?
Canadians know that Canada has been and continues to be the first choice for immigrants all across the world. I am an immigrant myself. The consequences of living in countries where the political environment is not conducive, or where citizens are expelled just because of their creed or colour, is a very devastating experience. Hence, we are fortunate to live in country like Canada, which is a pluralistic society that respects diversity. It respects the diversity of its citizens. It does not just tolerate it but respects it.
Therefore, why is the government trying in an underhanded manner to force an election by any means possible?
Canadians are not gullible. Just a few months ago, the attempted to force an election through Canada's participation in an the NATO mission in Afghanistan. When the Canadian public told the Prime Minister to stop playing politics with the lives of our men and women serving in the Canadian armed forces, he beat a hasty retreat back to the dark confines of the PMO in order to devise yet another scheme to force an election.
My constituents have told me and Canadians have repeatedly told us that they do not have a burning desire for an election. We have been elected as members of Parliament so that we can work on behalf of our constituents, not so we can run in series of continuous elections like some hamster on a treadmill. My colleagues in the Liberal caucus are committed to make this Parliament work, so let us take a closer look at the immigration proposal we now have before us.
Bill proposes a series of amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that, quite frankly, are regressive. Successive Liberal governments had developed a system that would allow immigrant applications to proceed on their own merits in a fair and unbiased process. Everyone knows that for a small country like ours to grow it needs people, so there were certain criteria set up, and we know that we have had a diverse population come in and settle in Canada.
As the system evolved, the ministers relinquished their direct involvement in individual files in order to reduce any backlog, thereby making the process more efficient. Why does this minister want to go back? Why does she want the power to choose which people she wants to come in? Under the bill, the Conservatives are seeking to abandon all sense of transparency and objectivity in the selection process and simply empower the minister with absolute discretion and the ability to cherry-pick applications at will.
A Montreal-based immigration lawyer recently put it this way:
--the [current] selection of immigrants is based purely on objective criteria...everyone who chooses to submit an application to come live in Canada is entitled to be considered fairly. Under the new [immigration act], the Minister of Immigration...would have the discretion to determine not only which applications will be processed quickly and which ones will be held at the visa office until a later date, but also that some applications will be returned without any consideration at all. These are the ones that we should be most concerned about.
In other words, the Conservatives are attempting to toss out objectivity and fairness under the guise of expediency. Yes, there is a current backlog, but not because of the process. Rather, it is because the Conservatives have not made immigration a priority and have held back on new resources for the immigration department.
This bill represents a major change in the way we choose who is to become a Canadian citizen, yet the Conservatives feel it is okay to sneak it into a budget bill and somehow bamboozle the Canadian public. It is not going to work, because we will have to ensure that the House and all members of Parliament give it thoughtful consideration and that we debate it in a manner which is dignified and upholds our constituents and our people, who wish us to do a good job in debating this bill.
It seems that the Conservative members of this House are fixated on forcing an election rather than acting as a responsible government. When an election eventually occurs, I am sure that Canadians will remember this, because the Liberal government, under its Liberal policies, had invested a lot in immigration. If I remember where Vegreville came from, it was not under the Conservative government.
That we need efficiency in the system nobody denies, but we need to ensure that the process is transparent, fair and equitable and that the minister does not use her power of instruction to determine who would come in and who would not.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to part 6 of Bill and the changes that are intended ostensibly for the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Really, however, these are changes that will make a difference in a negative way, I believe, in the lives of people in Canada and in the lives of people who will be encouraged to come to Canada but of course not stay.
This country was built on immigration. If Canada were not a country that believed in immigration, then I do not know who would be sitting here today. I do not believe that in this House today we have anyone whose family did not at some time immigrate to this country from another mother country, not 10 or 20 years ago but 100 or 150 years ago. The history of the very building of this country, from literally the first building built, has been one of people who have immigrated here.
The need for immigration also has been shown over the years. That is only becoming clearer as people have fewer children or choose to not have children. We need immigrants. We need new people coming to Canada in order to have this country be sustainable.
Very often in the current debate and in the debate that I have seen over the last few years, some of this gets driven by fear. So much of what we do and what happens, not just in our country but around the world, is based on fear. People talk about immigrants taking the jobs or immigrants getting ahead of them, as opposed to what immigrants have done for our country. Quite frankly, what immigrants have done for our country is actually to build it.
Before I move on to some specifics, for me this also speaks to an issue of how we manage things in government. I confess to being a first term federal member of Parliament, but I have served in a number of governments and am familiar with management strategies.
The management strategy when we have a long list is to simply decide that we will not serve some of the people on the list, that we will delete them, and it is not a management strategy that I would consider to be either particularly fair or particularly proactive. I ask my colleagues, where does this go next? Do we take a surgical wait list and decide that it is too long, that if a person's name starts with a B, for example, he or she is suddenly not on that list? Is that a management strategy?
There is a management strategy that we often see in government, not just in this government but we do it see here as well, in regard to government putting forth a policy that it thinks many Canadians are going to be unhappy with. This will be familiar to all people who have served in governments. The government will put it out late on Friday afternoon or on the last day of the sitting or try to include it in a much broader bill, where hopefully it will not get the same profile that it would as a stand-alone bill.
As has already been stated, this should have been brought forward as a stand-alone, as a change to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. If this is a new management strategy, and if old ones of course are used as well, I do not consider it to be very positive management.
We cannot now in this country even manage the professional immigrants who have come and who we have encouraged to come. They cannot practice their professions in Canada. There have been some small steps taken, but there are many physicians, engineers and accountants who are here and cannot get work in their trained professions. They are doing other work. All work is valuable work, but they are not working in the areas in which we so desperately encourage them and in which we so desperately need them.
This part of Bill went to the immigration committee. The committee looked at it and recommended that it not be included at all. I think the committee's unanimous advice, certainly that of the majority, was not to include this.
There is this interesting thing that happens in government with committees. They do a lot of work, they even pass a report, but there is no obligation after having done all this work for a government to actually act upon it.
In my experience in the community in which I come from, where probably 40% of people certainly are recently from other places other than Canada, it is that they have been waiting for two, three or four years and they are part of that group of 925,000 people waiting for their family members to join them. Sometimes it is grown sons and daughters who have all kinds of skills that they can bring to Canada.
I have seen families that have actually bought a new home that has a room in readiness for the person that they are so certain will at some time get to the top of the list and be allowed to come here. For many of these people, it has been at least five years of hopeful waiting, of counting on having parents, children, whoever that is here. Then they are told, “I am sorry, but those are some of the names that we took off the list. Better luck another time”. It is not fair to change the rules in midstream.
Again in my community, I know that the immigrant community is part of a huge economic driver in Surrey. It makes Surrey a very successful city. We are treating temporary workers as a product. We use them for three months and then dispose of them.
We can talk about how they will be safe and looked after, but there is no history to prove that. We have had workers come before, and we have seen that very recently in Vancouver, they do not make minimum wage. Sometimes they do. They do not get overtime. There is no guarantee of work and safety for them. I think people know that.
We have never had people come and say to them, “You don't have the right if you like being here to come back, to apply to stay here”. That is an abuse of wages. That is an abuse of people by putting them in unsafe working conditions. I thought we were long past having to put canaries down in mines. If these people dare to complain, then they are gone. They take it because that is the only money they will have.
I have been very pleased with what I have heard from the Liberal members. I am sure that as we vote on this, they will all be standing up to oppose it. I will be looking forward to seeing that because I judge people by their actions. All I have heard in the newspapers, in forums and in the House, is how bad Bill is. Naturally, I know that I can look forward tonight to all those members standing up and opposing the bill.
Mr. Speaker, we have before us deceptive, damaging and dangerous changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act sneaked through the budget implementation bill by the Conservative government and supported by their new friends, the Liberal Party of Canada. The bill is a direct attack on immigrant communities and a real threat to the future of Canada.
The NDP is very proud to stand up in partnership with immigrant communities across Canada. We will not roll over. We will not run away from voting. We will not run away from standing up for the immigrant communities. We will not be kept silent and we will speak out against the bill.
There were hearings through the immigration and citizenship committee and the finance committee. We have noticed that there was a resounding no to the Conservative immigration changes, and they were from the Canadian Bar Association, Canadian Arab Federation, Chinese Canadian National Council, Canadian Ethnocultural Council, Portuguese communities, Asian communities, Hispanic and many other communities. They were all saying no to the Conservative immigration changes.
In a country like ours, where all citizens, except first nations communities, are immigrants, we should be celebrating and embracing our diversity rather than curtailing it.
The infrastructure that created Canada was built by immigrants. The railroad that connected our vast landscape, bringing the east and west coasts together, was constructed, one spike at a time, by immigrants. The bridges, tunnels, roads, schools and buildings that make up our cityscapes, our landscapes, were built by the blood, sweat and tears of immigrants who came here for a better future.
One would imagine that today, in 2008, Canada would be moving toward a more inclusive and open immigration policy that welcomes the skills, innovation and contributions of immigrants rather than a policy that reeks up the dark days of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Continuous Passage Act, which were designed to keep out immigrant groups.
Canada has made many mistakes in the past, oftentimes because of discriminatory policies based on race, religion or nationality.
In 1939 we refused to allow the ocean liner S.S. St. Louis to dock on our shore, forcing 900 Jewish refugees to return to Germany, and many of the passengers did not survive. During World War II, Canada only accepted 5,000 Jewish refugees, one of the worst records among all refugee-receiving countries.
Let us also not forget that from 1941 to 1945 Canada interned, displaced, dispossessed, and detained 23,000 Japanese Canadians, over half of which were Canadian born. Has the Conservative government not learned anything from the mistakes of our past?
The bill before us is deceptive. Why? It has nothing to do with the tremendous backlog of 925,000 people that are on the wait list. The bill will come into effect after the backlog, and would not have any impact on shortening the wait list for these applicants. That is why it is deceptive, given the minister keeps talking about the backlog.
Mr. Hassan Yussuff, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress, stated:
We think embedding the reform in the budget bill is wrong. There has been a failure to conduct meaningful and inclusive consultations prior to the development of the initiative. Arbitrary powers granted to the minister fail the transparency and accountability test this government has promised.
If we allow these sweeping changes to go through, we will be drawing an irreversible line in the sand. From the moment these dangerous amendments are passed, our immigration system will be radically altered and it will be irreversible. Do not let any other party say that perhaps afterward it can be fixed. By that time, it will be too late.
Why is this change damaging? The Conservative vision of Canada is about treating immigrants as economic units, as foreign workers. There will be winners and losers. The losers will be the family members who are trying to reunite with their loved ones in Canada. Instead, the workers are the ones who will have priority.
Debbie Douglas, the executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, states that the government is heading in the wrong direction by expanding the temporary foreign workers program at the expense of nation building and citizenship. She said:
Immigration should not be just about bringing people to work in Canada. You cannot just treat immigrants as an economic unit and not care about developing citizenship, a sense of commitment, belonging and ownership among the people we bring into this country.
With the Conservative government at the helm, democracy, transparency and accountability in our immigration policy will be replaced by arbitrary discriminatory policies and power grabbing. We must not forget that these immigration changes are being pushed through as part of the budget implementation act, all the more to prove that immigrants are seen as commodities, to be imported as cheap and exploitable economic units. That is not the way we should be treating immigrants.
These amendments are not in the best interests of our country. They are shortsighted and are intended to benefit the needs of big businesses at the expense of ordinary Canadians.
I also said it is dangerous. Why? Because these sweeping changes give incredible power to the .
Mr. Stephen Green, treasurer of the Canadian Bar Association, states that these changes will affect our family, economic, temporary and humanitarian classes of immigrants. The Canadian Bar Association, which was not consulted in the process of drafting these amendments, stated in its submission to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration:
Quite candidly, we have instructions being issued with no oversight.
Mr. Green added:
It is our submission that if this legislation passes it will result in Canada's going back to the dark ages of immigration selection and processing. It would allow the minister to operate in an unfettered manner, opening the back door to many interest groups.
It's a danger because the minister would be allowed to close the door any time he or she chooses. Any government could do that when they come in. There's no predictability. There's no rule of law. Families applying to come could be told they are not allowed, that they're not the flavour of the time.
Janet Dench, of the Canadian Council for Refugees, warned that intentions are not law. She urges us as parliamentarians to ask ourselves how the law might be used in the future, not just how the current government proposes to use the new powers. She said that expressions of current intentions are no protection against future uses of the powers in very different ways.
Speaking about family reunification on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, Ms. Dench added that the government has suggested it would continue to examine all family related humanitarian and compassionate applications. She said that this is only an expression of intention, and if the bill is passed in its present form, a future government could issue instructions leading to family related applications not being examined.
Finally, the Canadian Arab Federation asked why no one had bothered to consult with immigrant groups. The federation is extremely worried that the minister might decide that Canada does not want Arabs and Muslims in this country. He asked who would prevent her if she gave herself this ultimate power.
I urge my fellow members of Parliament across party lines to take a principled stand and to stand with the members of the New Democrats against the Conservatives' damaging, deceptive and dangerous immigration amendments. Together we can stop the Conservative government from turning back our immigration policy and repeating mistakes of the past.
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by acknowledging all the work the member for has done on this aspect of Bill . I know many other members of the New Democratic Party have risen in the House to raise concerns around the immigration aspect of Bill C-50, and I will add my voice to those other voices who have spoken out against what many would allege as a potential abuse of power by the .
One of the things we know from the throne speech, the budget speech and now the budget implementation bill is there are some very serious issues that face our country with which the bill is simply failing to deal, whether it is forestry communities like mine where we have lost hundreds and hundreds of jobs over the last six months and now many forestry workers have run out of employment insurance because of the way the unemployment rate in our area is determined and there is no remedy for these forestry, or the fact that first nations, Métis and Inuit across the country still suffer from a lack of good, safe, quality housing, or first nations children cannot access the same quality of schools that other Canadian children can expect, or that many communities simply do not have access to clean, safe drinking water, or where many families are unable to access quality affordable publicly funded child care.
Once again, the bill was an opportunity to take a look at some of these very pressing and urgent matters facing workers and their families across the country.
However, we are talking specifically about immigration, and I will turn my attention to it.
In preparation for speaking in the House today, I asked my office to take a look at a variety of the immigration and refugee cases they dealt with as case work. The government alleges that this legislation would deal with the backlog. Yet we hear from people, fairly consistently, that this will simply shuffle the priorities around without dealing with the substantial numbers of people who want to come to Canada and make it their home.
There are a myriad of problems with which my office deals, so this is a quick look at some of the things we face in our office in .
One of the problems is the length of time it takes to process applications. It is difficult to see how resetting different priorities would deal with the length of time of applications. It will certainly fast track some people. It will certainly make some people get to Canada more quickly. However, when we are dealing with the 900,000 plus who are currently in the system, I fail to see how, without substantially more resources, juggling people around will deal with that substantial backlog.
The second is the arbitrary decisions of immigration and visa officers and the lack of appeal venues. Many times we have seen the applications of people turned down. The supporting documentation by the person who applies to come to the country seems to be all there, yet the reasons of the denial do not seem to match up with the information on file. Sometimes the lack of clear and effective communication between applicants and immigration staff is problematic. People do not exactly know why they have been turned down. What we have seen in many cases is applicants will be requested to provide a particular information. The applicants provide that piece of information and then the staff will come back and say that they now need another piece of information. Therefore, applicants provide that information, and this goes on month after month.
In another case a fairly prominent member of the community was getting married. This person wanted to bring in her mother and sister to Canada. All the appropriate forms were filled out and the office abroad said that the sponsoring person in my riding of had to make a decision. Either her mother or her sister could come to the wedding, but not both. This was not an application for immigration. It was simply a visitor's visa. However, the legislation will not address all of those problems in the system,
I know member for and others have called for stand-alone legislation that would go in front of the immigration committee, where there would be an opportunity to fully review the legislation, to call witnesses, to talk about how the legislation would impact people's lives and to potentially amend it so it would be more reflective of what Canadians wanted to see in immigration legislation.
Unless we are one of the original peoples, each and every one of us in the House came from immigrant stock at one point. My mother is a first generation Canadian, I am very proud to say. My daughter-in-law is an immigrant. My grandson is a first generation Canadian on the mother's side.
Each and every one of us, at some point, are ancestors, unless we were one of the original peoples. We are immigrants. We know that immigrants have contributed to the richness and the diversity of ours country. We want an immigration system that reflects what we often have valued as Canadians, and that is fairness and transparency, equality of access, timely processing, which, sadly, is not the case right now.
A number of groups across Canada have spoken out and raised serious concerns about the legislation, including the bar association. It has said, “The Canadian Bar Association is urging Parliament to remove and not pass amendments”, calling them “a major step backwards in the evolution of Canadian immigration law.
Bill would return Canada “to a time when visas were given out on a discretionary basis, without sufficient objective criteria” said Stephen Green. He said, “the amendments are not necessary to meet Canada’s immigration goals”. He went on to say that the amendments were not necessary to meet Canada's immigrations goals. The changes would fast-track highly coveted immigrants, such as doctors and other skilled labourers, while others would be forced to wait in a queue. They would allow governments to set annual limits on a number of applications process.
Part of the argument around the legislation as well is that it would help us address critical skills shortages in Canada. Any of us who had been paying attention over the last 15 or 20 years knew quite well there would be some very serious critical skills shortages in a number of areas and called on the federal and provincial governments to jointly develop a human resource strategy that would address some of those critical skills shortages, whether it was in trades apprenticeships, or physicians, nurses, medical technologists, the list goes on and on. We have had 15 to 20 years. The baby boom was no surprise. We knew it was coming. We knew there would be a massive wave of retirements. Anybody could predict that Canada would be in some periods of economic growth, which would require a skilled labour force to meet those needs.
Instead, we have had successive federal governments simply sit on their hands instead of turning their energy into developing a human resource strategy that would address these critical skills shortages.
The Vancouver Olympics is a really good case in point. The Vancouver Olympics, once it was awarded, was an opportunity to train apprentices in Canada. Many first nations and Métis in British Columbia would have made highly qualified tradespeople, with some effort and attention. Instead, we are meeting much of the needs of the Olympics with temporary foreign workers. It was an opportunity to train first nations and Métis in the construction trades that would have left a legacy in their own communities once the Olympics was over. That would have been a true legacy left by the Olympics.
However, again, the federal government failed to move in that direction. Working closely with the provincial governments, it had an opportunity to do that and it failed. We now have workers coming in, building the buildings, the roads, all the structures that go into place to support the Olympics. Then they will leave and we will still have first nations and Métis who could have been quite successful tradespeople. It was a lost opportunity.
Many others have spoken up, including the UFCW, about the fact that the bill is a back door way to give the minister unfettered powers. Regulations will be put into place that we will have no oversight over because they are not part of the legislation.
I would argue that the House should not support Bill as a total because of the immigration changes inherent in the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for for touching on that particular issue.
In Canada, we know that in some provinces, such as Manitoba and Saskatchewan, first nations and Métis are going to be a large part of the workforce in the next 20 years. In Canada, first nations, Métis and Inuit have had significant population growth over the last 15 years.
It could be a very viable part of the future workforce, but what that requires is an investment right from early learning and child care, right from birth, all the way through a person's working career. It is called life long learning.
What we know is that for every dollar that we invest under the age of six, we save $7 in the long-run, whether it is in education, justice, welfare or health care.
Then from K to 12 we know that what we need is culturally appropriate education. We need education that is safe, clean and affordable for families. We need to make sure that there is access to computers, libraries, technical supports, speech therapy and special needs, and in that K to 12 system we know that will set the groundwork for young first nations, Métis and Inuit students to go on and take part in vocational training, apprenticeship training and university with a human resource plan.
I was at a conference last week that talked about a human resource strategy for the future, things such as the AHRDA agreements where first nations do have control over educational dollars and they are investing in human resources strategies that will help meet the labour shortage gaps.
This again is an opportunity for Canada, for the federal government, to take a look at making sure first nations, Métis and Inuit are well positioned to take part in the jobs that are emerging and will continue to emerge over the next 10 or 15 years.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in this debate on the budget implementation bill. We are debating specific amendments to the surprise addition to this legislation pertaining to immigration.
Let me say at the outset for all those watching this debate that this is a matter of fundamental significance for Parliament. We are dealing today with the government's budget and an act to implement the budget. This is an issue of confidence. The government must defend its record and win the support of enough colleagues to see its budget implemented so no election occurs.
By all accounts, if people are watching this debate, they should ask themselves how, if the Liberals are opposed to the budget and if the Bloc and New Democrats are opposed to the budget, is it possible for the government to still stand when there is very little confidence in this chamber and from Canadians across this land for the government's bill?
How can we and Canadians have confidence in the government for its road map for the future at a time when there is no job strategy in place, at a time when there is no industrial strategy in place, and at a time when there is not a shred of mention in the budget pertaining to health care, child care, education, training for the future, aboriginal people, or the environment?
Every issue that is of importance to Canadians today is ignored in the budget. The Conservative government is squandering a golden opportunity to take the surplus it still has and invest it in areas that are important to Canadians.
The government made a very unusual move when it slipped in to the bill a whole new section dealing with immigration. There was nothing in the budget about immigration when it was announced by the . There was no reference to dealing with this supposed grave situation. Suddenly, in the midst of our debate on the budget, the government decided to throw in the issue of immigration. Why? Either it is indicative of just poor planning and poor collective work around the areas of importance to Canadians, or the government is trying to stick it to the Liberals.
We know this budget is not supported by the Liberals, so the government has thrown one more curve at them. This is a significant issue. It is so significant that it should make the Liberals stand up today and say whatever the consequences they will not support the government. This issue is so important that they should stand up and say they will not support a budget that does not meet the needs of ordinary Canadians. They should stand up and say they will not support a budget that does irreversible damage to Canada's longstanding record and progressive history when it comes to citizenship and immigration.
Bill must be defeated. The Liberals must have the courage of their convictions, and stand up once and for all and be counted because it matters. It matters that we tell Canadians that we mean what we say, and we do what we say we are going to do. Is it not fundamental to parenting, fundamental to families, and fundamental to communities, that we have integrity, honesty and decency?
How can we send a message to Canadians that this place is worth investing in, that it is important to vote, that it is important to run and get elected, if every time they turn around some politicians from the Liberals or the Conservatives are saying they do not like something but they are not going to do anything about it?
How is it today that Liberals are allowing the Conservatives to rule as if they have a majority? How can the Conservatives get away with these fundamental changes to our immigration system that will have lasting impacts all across this land?
I come from a riding that is one of the most multicultural constituencies in the country--
We all do.
Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis: Yes, Mr. Speaker, someone said we all do. And I am proud of it.
People from the Punjab, the Philippines, Germany, Ukraine, Vietnam, Laos, Africa, South America, from every part of the world, are coming to my constituency like they have come to others across the land. They want their needs, concerns and interests represented just as much as longstanding Canadians want their needs, concerns and interests represented.
It is not conducive to encourage new citizens to participate fully and freely in our democratic system if the first thing they see upon their citizenship is a government that says “too bad, so sad, we cannot stand up for you any more, we cannot stand up for the principles that brought you into this country”. What happened to the fundamentals of our immigration system?
They have been thrown out the window with this legislation, potentially, because they give the minister unilateral, arbitrary discretion to pick and choose immigrants as she so chooses, and as members of her government so choose, not on the basis of objective criteria that fit into a plan and a framework, something that has been wanted for years when it comes to immigration and that the Liberals failed to deliver on.
Now, instead of dealing with the problem and fixing the problem, we have a government that is going to play at the edges and tamper with the principles, and apply subjectivity to something as fundamental as citizenship and immigration in this country.
That is wrong and there is an easy way for the government to deal with it. It is to recognize the principles and then fix the problems in accordance with those fundamental issues. One is that, yes, we want to bring in people to help meet the economic requirements of this land. So rather than throw out the whole system, we are bringing in one that is open to total subjectivity on the part of the minister who can say “well, maybe we do not like people from the Philippines and the Punjab”. That would have a devastating effect on my riding. I am not saying she would, but who is to stop her from saying that? Who is to prevent that from happening?
Instead, we need a minister who says we need people in these particular skills and occupational categories just like the Manitoba government does now with respect to the Manitoba provincial nominee program. The minister does not pick and choose. There is a set of criteria that must be followed and individuals must meet the criteria in order to come to this country.
Then, they are not treated as temporary foreign workers, they are allowed to bring their families. They are allowed to stay. They are allowed to settle. They are allowed to be recognized as full participating members of our society, able to access our citizenship system and become voting members and fully participating members in our democracy. So that is one area.
Instead of fixing the problem, what the government is doing is simply making chaos out of an already confused system, the one that the Liberals brought in with Bill C-11 in 2001. Do not forget that we were supposed to deal with this whole area just seven years ago. Instead of revamping our immigration system so that it could stand on its own for centuries to come, the government decided to bring in an economic classification that was impossible for most ordinary people around this world to meet.
That is why we are now dealing with this huge backlog and confusion in the system because we have a lousy system to begin with. We do not have a strong foundation from which to build and attract people to this country.
The first thing would be for the government to open up the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and change the economic classification to ensure that people who work hard, who have skills, and who have a contribution to make are able to come. Not just those who have degrees, who have long service in a particular area, and have two languages. Not just picking the cream of the crop, not cherry-picking, but actually opening the doors as our country did when our forefathers and foremothers came to this country, as my bubba and zayde did when they came in the early 1900s.
They came as peasants, but they came to open up the land, to farm and to give. And they did. They had 13 children, my father being one of them. They gave and gave to this country, and they made a difference. They may have been illiterate when they came, they may not have had any money, they may not have had any education, but they made a difference. That is what we need in this country.
I know my time is almost up, but the second principle is that of family sponsorship. Family is the bedrock of society. This proposal by the government and by the minister has the possibility of throwing out the whole notion of family reunification, making it more difficult for those already in line. We have people waiting to sponsor their mothers and fathers going on four, five, six, even seven years. What is humane and decent about that? No wonder we have backlogs. It is time we balance our economic requirements as a nation with our fundamental belief in family as a bedrock institution of society.
Finally, we must have a system that is grounded in the issues of compassion and humanitarian concerns. In that way, we can put in place a proper system to ensure refugees have access to this country when they deserve it, a system that allows for emergencies that will not deny people visiting relatives when someone has died or getting married and a system that is a golden light for all the world to see and will stand on the principles of fairness, equality, justice and humanity.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a few minutes to express my views on the amendments to Bill we are discussing.
First of all Bill , in parliamentary terms, is intended to “implement” the budget, that is enact it, put into effect the announcements made, heard and clearly understood when the throne speech was delivered.
If that is the objective of this bill, then why has the Conservative government deliberately chosen to devote an entire part to immigration reform? And yet, a meagre $22 million over two years is allocated to this reform. Naturally, more monies are promised in future but they are not attached to anything at all.
There is something rather odd in the government's official documents. For example, on page 9 of the Budget in Brief, which discusses the reorganization—or modernization, to quote precisely—of the immigration system, one of the key phrases states that the goal is to make the immigration system more competitive.
When I read that, once again it made me think that it all part of the ideology espoused by the Conservative Party. Most of the time it considers the government to be a private corporation.
Why is this section on immigration included? I wonder.
Could it be an attempt to mislead parliamentarians? If not, could it be an attempt to humiliate the Liberals by introducing, in a confidence bill, a measure they would quite likely find unacceptable? The Liberals would find it unacceptable, but if they act as they have been acting for a number of weeks now, they will do anything but vote to bring down this government.
On the one hand, there are principles and convictions; on the other, there is the way these Liberals will choose to act in this House, because they are all legitimately elected members.
I see that my friend from does not agree with what I am saying. He can ask me questions about it.
As members and representatives of their constituents, the 305 members currently in this House have an obligation to vote with integrity, on behalf of the people they represent. I would add that, as a general rule, we should avoid abstaining. This is just my opinion, but as I am entitled to it, I am sharing it.
The Liberals have said again that Canadians do not want an election. My friend said so earlier this morning in this House. Every time I hear that, I wonder when people ever do want an election. We are not talking about a national sport.
Often, when a crisis or scandal occurs, people's confidence in the government is so badly shaken that they call for an election. But it is not a question of waiting until the public calls for an election; it is a question of whether we in this House should pass bills that make sense and respect the people we represent.
Let us get to the heart of the matter: immigration. People who submit immigration or permanent residence applications often belong to the groups we call the most vulnerable—it saddens me to use that word, but this is true. Much of what we do, we do for these groups.
For the Conservatives to play “petty politics”—and I use the term “politics” loosely—at the expense of these people is truly disgraceful, especially when it seems to me that they are doing so specifically to humiliate the official opposition.
Looking at the provisions of the bill we are now discussing, I noticed the somewhat questionable direction the Conservative government wants to take in processing immigration applications.
The purpose of the change is to give as much latitude as possible to the minister—and therefore the government—in handling applications. This seems obvious to me and this has been said during the debate in this House. A number of my colleagues and I feel that that is the problem.
The goal is to bring in the workers needed most by industry, as quickly as possible, to the detriment of other types of workers. That is most likely why the government used that infamous expression I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, “a more competitive immigration system”, an expression typical of the private sector. Competition is fine, but should it drive our concerns as legislators? We have to wonder about that and debate the issue.
We know that the minister can give instructions on the following: the categories of applications to which the instructions apply; the order in which the applications are processed; the number of applications to be processed each year, by category; and what is done with the applications, including those that are re-submitted.
The instructions she gives will at least be published in the Canada Gazette. But how many MPs in this House, including myself, and how many of those watching us can say that they read the Canada Gazette at least once a year? It is not really a good tool for those affected or those targeted by this.
Obviously, during this time of labour shortage, applications need to be processed more quickly for those who want to come and work here. Nonetheless, the process can be sped up in different ways. More resources could be allocated to accelerate the process.
We all remember what happened at Passport Canada not so long ago, less than a year and a half ago. The number of applications made it impossible to issue passports efficiently, that is, in less than two months. The wait was more like two, three, even five months. The necessary resources were allocated and staff recruited, after which the government and officials were finally able to clear up the horrible backlog and process the applications.
Why has the government not looked into this possibility more closely?
The bill proposes making the rules arbitrary. When we hear the word “arbitrary”, alarm bells should go off, since making something arbitrary is always dangerous, regardless of who is in charge. The bill should have provided for changes to the rules, as I was saying earlier, to find the skilled workers we need, and to allocate money and the necessary resources.
I get the impression that this method could create a number of injustices—and when in doubt, we should be asking ourselves a lot of questions. Immigrants who submit an application for a resident permit on humanitarian grounds will find their claims have been added to the backlog. Furthermore, the bill explicitly gives the immigration officer the discretion to issue visas and other documents required to enter the country. In my opinion, this is a big setback for immigrants. Immigrants whose applications are not processed within the year or within the time set by the minister will probably have their applications returned.
I heard some Conservatives say that this was transparency, because this way people would know that their application had not been processed. But I think that if one of the members opposite were an immigrant, submitted an application and received similar treatment, he would be asking questions.
The Conservative government is choosing the solution that costs nothing, but, I believe, is an injustice, instead of choosing the logical solution, which would be to allocate the necessary funds to speed up the processing of applications, to make the process more predictable and to not restrict access for immigrants submitting an application for resident permits on humanitarian grounds.
These are the points I wanted to make. I am sure my colleagues in this House understand that I will vote in favour of the amendments proposed by the member for .