Mr. Speaker, in speaking to the bill today I want to highlight not only what my concerns are about some of the things contained in Bill , but actually about some of the things that should be and are not.
I want to begin, for instance, with the millennium scholarship fund, the cancelling of the fund, and the current redistribution of the money to students.
On the surface, this seems like a very good thing, but the point is it was not made stable. The millennium scholarship fund had been there for 10 years. This new fund is now there for who knows how long. The Canadian Alliance of Students Associations said that part of the budget for students lacked any sort of long term vision. Putting in little bits and pieces that may sound good on the surface on a one shot deal quite often is of great concern, when we think that the issues of productivity and competitiveness in this country will have to do with skills and training, and an educated labour force.
The fact also that the fund will now be distributed mainly as an income-based fund and not a need-based fund makes a big difference. We cannot expect this party to understand that difference, I understand, but when we look at the millennium scholarship fund, it used to be based on cost of living, tuition, cost of books and was based on student resources and need regardless of income.
The Education Policy Institute in Quebec noted that this seemingly simple shift in language could create a loss to Quebec students of over $80 million a year since the Quebec system is based on need.
Here we have a system again that had been changed. I do not know why, but the government did not give much thought to what the consequences would be. We now have a province that is going to have a problem with its own students having the ability to access the funds.
The new student fund also seeks to increase the number of students who will get the grants that the millennium scholarship fund used to bring forward. However, we now find that this could create larger numbers of students getting perhaps $2,000 instead of $3,000, and for a student a thousand dollars less a year is a lot of money.
The other thing is that this has been taken away from the arm's length body that used to manage the millennium scholarship fund and it has gone now directly to HRSD to be looked at, and we have seen what happens when programs go directly under HRSD. The summer student program fiasco last year had the government scrambling to do damage control and it did. However, again, it was short term, one year, damage control.
This year, we see the same thing happening. I am getting letters and I am getting calls from many NGOs who cannot get students this year, never mind the fact that students are being deprived of the ability to have that apprenticeship experience in their field of studies. Once again, we see this kind of one shot deal, this kind of shiny object in the window that happens for a year but does not have any substance to it that can actually achieve a long term objective of having more students accessing education.
The MSF is only one example of how the government is very good at playing with language which is designed to fool the people. It is the old Harris trick. The problem is that citizens actually get hurt in the end.
We need to remember that the strengthened plan for students' access to post-secondary education brought forward in the Liberal fiscal plan of 2005 and the fiscal update brought in by the then finance minister was hastily tanked by the NDP who love to speak about students and its wish to help students. In its rush to get to the polls to gain a couple more seats, in spite of the fact that it had been asked to wait until February or until a budget came forward that would actually cement in place some of the excellent policies that were coming forward with the then Liberal government, such as a national housing strategy, a national child care program, the Kelowna accord, and all of those would have been enshrined in the budget, the NDP put at risk and eventually allowed the cancellation of some extraordinary programs. One of them was for students, as we can see.
Now we have proposed legislative changes, for instance, in the bill to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. It is buried in a budget implementation bill. I put it to the House that this is a way of bypassing due process that would have allowed real input by the Canadian public, by trade unions, by trade councils, by business communities, and all of these stakeholders and players. We would have been able to look at where we need to go as we are poised on the brink of 2011, a year in which we are told we are going to be dependent for 100% of our net labour force on immigration.
Everyone knew this was coming. The last Liberal government, over the course of two years, had begun to plan with the provinces on how to deal with this and what the essential costs of changing the system would be, so that we could deal with the need for a labour force, at the same time remembering that immigration is far more than merely a tool for accessing a labour force.
However, we had put in an effective strategy. We had talked to the provinces. A plan was in the works. The then immigration minister had put in $700 million to help with integration, to help with retention of people in areas and helping to deal with cutting down the long waiting list, which as we hear is the reason why the bill was hastily pushed into a budget implementation bill without due process. All of those things were there. They were in the works. What happened to that? What happened to the $700 million.
The minister is putting in $60 million. Great. We used to have $700 million targeted. What happened to the other $640 million? Where did it go? These are questions that we really need to ask.
If the government really cared about the issue of labour force, if it really wanted to look at how immigration in Canada could actually be preparing Canada for the 21st century, then we would have done it the right way. The Conservatives would have been able to bring this forward as an appropriate bill under the appropriate minister. They would have been able to let the bill go to the citizenship and immigration committee. There would have been the usual travelling of the committee, getting input, getting information from all of the players, so that we could have had a substantive bill that would have been a vision implementation, building for perhaps the next 20 years in terms of a solid way of looking at immigration and refugees in this country.
However, that was not done. What we now have instead is this little fly-by-night thing, an edge through, put in with the right words and put into a sort of trap in which it is left in a confidence motion in the budget, so that nobody really has any input, but with the threat that if we do not pass this, then we will bring down the government.
This is a sort of cheesy kind of flouting of the democratic process that actually bothers some of us across the aisle because it really is not about something substantive. It is really just about cheap political tricks.
I want to speak a little bit about why the government did not go through the process. Why did it not do the proper consultation? One of the things we see is that the minister would now be the only person, the point of entry and the point of exit into the system.
The department will be the only place people can go if they seek to come here as immigrants to this country. Everyone used to know what the rules were. They applied according to the rules and then they went through a process. There were appeals built into the process. That is now gone. There is one judge and one jury, and that happens to be the minister, who will decide who will get in, with no accountability.
Again, we see, and this is a problem surfacing every day in the House, a lack of accountability of the government for the things that it intends to do, a lack of process and structure that would allow the Conservatives to explain to Canadians what they are doing and why they are doing it, and then to be accountable for whether it worked or it did not work. That has gone.
What we see now are some problems that will create issues. Suddenly we bring in labour market immigrants. They come in and they are unable to have access to jobs because it is not just getting into the country that allows a person access to a job. There are many barriers in the way and there is nothing put in place to deal with those barriers.
This is what I felt was very interesting. Currently, we have about 500,000 internationally trained workers in this country who are unemployed or underemployed with regard to work in this country. It is not because no one cares.
In 2004 I was given the job by the then prime minister to set up an immediate medium and long term plan to deal with the internationally trained workers, not only the people who were here and who could not get jobs, but the people who would come into the country in the future.
We recognize that there were a number of barriers. It was not a one shot deal. People walk in and what happens? They get a 1-800 number to call, which is the government's answer to an internationally trained worker. Give people a 1-800 number, call the government, and what will it do?
The point is, it cannot do anything because it is multi-jurisdictional. When we set it up, and we did set up a long term plan for this in 2004, we put money into the top priority, which was getting internationally trained physicians to work in this country because we realized that was a crisis situation at the time. In 2005 enough money was put in to deal with the other issues, and what were the issues?
First and foremost, the government cannot make someone have a job. One must become accredited and have one's papers assessed. This is a provincial jurisdiction. One has to work with the provinces. One has to be able to work with the credentialing bodies under provincial legislation. Do those bodies believe that the person has the right skills, has the right education to be able to do the work according to Canadian standards? These are questions only credentialing bodies can answer, so one has to work with the credentialling bodies.
Second, in some sectors language is a huge issue. If someone does not have an enhanced or an expanded access to language and an understanding of the depth of language, like a physician or a nurse or a social worker, they cannot actually deal with the Canadian population in English or in French. Language training was a huge problem and our government put forward $20 million a year under the minister to give access to that kind of enhanced language training.
What is happening to that? Where is that money? Is it happening?
The third problem that we found was that immigrants came to this country and they went to three cities: Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. The jobs were not there, yet the immigrants stayed there. They could not get the jobs and we tried to get them into other provinces, working with the provinces as we did. We tried to get them into rural areas where they would leave at the end of a year, and so retention became a problem. The former Liberal immigration minister had put in a substantial amount of money to deal with the problem of retaining people in areas where they were needed.
Finally, there is the issue of apprenticeship. Some people who come to Canada may have the on-paper training, but they do not have the Canadian experience. In our plan, that the Liberals tabled, we were going to give them apprenticeship training, help them to work in areas where they could get the kind of Canadian experience that they needed.
This was not a simple thing. It was a complex plan. It took us a year to set up and we began to roll the plan out, and I am asking this question. What is the minister going to achieve by allowing internationally trained workers to come into this country without a plan that was an extremely costly plan when we put it forward?
It was the beginning of a five year plan. Without that plan in place, people would just be left, as I said earlier on, calling a 1-800 number and nothing would be solved at all, because this is not something that the federal government can do alone.
My question is this. Where is our plan that we tabled and where is the money that we had put in, in the first two years to implement that plan? We do not know where it is. Therefore, we have again this sort of sleight of hand, of bringing in what sounds like a choice piece of legislation or amendments into an act which does not really deal with the problem at all and which is done by stealth, putting it into the wrong bill.
Not only that, we talked about the labour force, which we all know is an issue that we need to deal with. However, how could the minister bypass the provinces that have a provincial nominee program, and that have been involved in deciding what they need in their diverse areas for their workforce? That has not been done. Suddenly, the federal government has taken it all over and there has been no consultation with the provinces and no ability to work with the provinces.
All the work that had been done by the Liberal government has been thrown out the window and we are starting from scratch with no plan and no money.
At the same time, immigration is not only about the labour force. Many of us who have come to this country over the last 300 years came here not merely to find work but to find freedom, to find opportunity, and to build a nation. Immigration is about nation-building and when all we do is set it up to be something that is an in and out scheme to get workers in and nothing more, we do not take into consideration that if people are going to put roots down, grow families and build a nation, they are going to need a family class. They are going to need to be able to bring their families and have a vision for this country, and truly belong.
None of that has been taken into consideration in this immigration amendment that we see.
I said that I would talk about the things that concern me. Those are some of the things that concern me, but I also want to talk about the things that are absolutely not present and that should have been done.
We know that productivity and competitiveness is a huge problem right now in this country. There is no vision for this. We see manufacturing jobs being lost. There was an opportunity here. The government had three budgets in 2006, 2007 and 2008 to set down a plan for productivity and competitiveness, for the forestry sector a real plan, an action plan, not merely words that have not really resulted in any change at all.
Workers in the automobile and manufacturing sectors are losing their jobs. Not a single idea has been put forward. There was an opportunity to do it in the budget. The opportunity was lost.
The stood in the House and said he was concerned about the rising epidemic of obesity in the country. In fact, the minister then said that the government had put forward a $5 million plan. The $5 million came out of the money that the Liberal government had allocated to deal with community participation.
In a $140 million budget, $5 million was taken out of it for ParticipAction. ParticipAction, as devised by the government, is a television ad and that is it. We found out that the reason young people were not participating, even though there was community program money for them to play sport, was they needed places to play. It is called sports infrastructure, like gyms, having coaches helping children to learn to play a sport that would result in better physical activity and better health for the children.
None of that was put in the budget. Our Liberal government had in place an infrastructure fund specifically for community sport infrastructure. Where is that money? Where did it go? A $5 million TV advertising program does not even hope to touch that.
Talking about immigration and the international trade worker initiative, we read in the newspapers that more and more Canadians are having less and less access to health care. We all know the Canadian Medical Association and other bodies have studied this. They tell us the reason people are being denied access to health care is the lack of health human resources such as doctors, nurses and lab technicians.
The government had a huge opportunity to deal with the health human resource crisis, with the lack of physicians. In 2005 our government had allocated money to bring in 1,000 new family practitioners. What happened to that money? Where did it go? What happened to the 1,000 new family practitioners? What happened to that plan? No wonder there is no access almost three years later and things are going downhill. It is about opportunities missed.
Government is about a vision for a nation, not just little one-shot, one-off deals where the government thinks it can fool the people of Canada. The people of Canada are too smart to be fooled. They see the results of a lack of a plan and vision. This is what we are talking about, opportunities missed, opportunities lost on the ability to build a nation, to look to the future, to protect jobs, to find new creative and innovative ways of bringing Canada into the 21st century and to compete in a global marketplace. None of those things have been in any of these budgets. In this budget there was a hope something would to deal with some of these issues, but was nothing.
We talk about all the little pieces of programs here. Government is about vision and looking to the future. With only 32 million people in our country, we do not have the ability to compete in numbers with Asia, China, India and other populous countries, countries with large populations like Europe and even the United States to the south of us. Even if we double our population by some magic figure in 10 years time, we will still be a small country, so we need to have the best, brightest and most trained workers.
We have to foster innovation and creativity in the country so companies want to come here because they can get good workers and people who think outside the box. It should be about looking at ways to deal with energy, the environment and creating a Canada that can stand tall in the world.
In 2004 we were number one in the world. We had taken a country that was almost a developing country with a huge $43 billion deficit, with no jobs, with people losing their mortgages and we built it with a vision, not just with one-shot deals, into a nation that was holding its head high above the world. We had nine balanced budgets and a huge surplus. We are now looking at a deficit and the possibility of a recession. Jobs are being lost. This is what happened in two years under the Conservative government and that is because it has no plan, no vision and it does not even understand what our country is about.