Mr. Speaker, I move that the Second Report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, presented on Tuesday, March 6, 2012, be concurred in.
It is with pleasure that I rise today to express a great deal of concern that Liberals have with regard to the approach of the in dealing with backlogs and, one could ultimately say, immigration in general. It is fair to say that history might reflect this particular minister as being one of the weaker ministers of citizenship and immigration that we have seen in the last 20 or 30 years.
A report was provided to the House that dealt with the issue of backlogs. I have had the opportunity to see the on numerous occasions inside the House, outside the House and inside committees, try to deal with the issue of backlogs. At the very least, one could say that he is somewhat misleading in many of his comments with regard to backlogs, especially when it comes to the creation of them.
I felt it was appropriate to stand today because it was just last week when the minister appeared before the citizenship and immigration committee and provided a report. Part of the report dealt with the issue of backlogs. What struck me as one of the more significant mistakes of the government is the skilled worker backlog. This is an issue that came up last year. It was part of the huge budget backdoor release of numerous pieces of legislation, the Conservative majority-style government saying it has figured out how to get rid of the backlog. What the did was present to the House what Liberals would argue was an unfair approach at dealing with the backlog.
Many would suggest that he cut it; I suggest what he really did was hit the delete button. I know the is a little sensitive on that particular issue, but that is, indeed, the reality of it. There are two issues on which I want to take exception with the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism regarding that component of the backlog.
Number one is the idea that it was the Liberal Party that created this huge backlog and the Conservatives have been unable to deal with it in a fair fashion. I agree the Conservatives have not been able to deal with the backlog in a fair fashion, but the creation of the backlog is not true. I do not believe anyone will find a minister of citizenship and immigration in recent history, recent history being the last 30-plus years, who created a backlog to the degree the minister has in one ministerial instruction. Back in 2008, he was the minister, brought in this MI 1 and created a 140,000-plus backlog virtually overnight in one category.
Having created a mess, what did he do? A few years later he talked about wanting to fix the backlog, did not want to take responsibility for his own incompetence and tried to pass off the blame on the former Liberal government, when in fact the responsibility fell on the minister who created the problem. What did he do? He hit the delete button.
Imagine that there are tens of thousands of people around the world who have hopes and dreams, like generations prior, to come to Canada and call Canada their home. They put in their applications to come here under the skilled worker program, many having friends and family throughout our great nation. Sisters, brothers, parents, just name it, are in Canada, providing them advice, telling them to come to Canada because Canada is a wonderful place to be.
Many of those individuals bought into that. They had incredible credentials in their homeland, whether India, the Philippines or any other part of the world, and they put in their applications in good faith. Many would have paid consultants or lawyers to ensure their paperwork was being filled out properly. In most part, they met the criteria. Then they waited. They got in the queue. They submitted their application.
A couple of years go by, and we understand that the demand for immigration to Canada has been increasing quite a bit. At the end of the day, there was a two- to three-year wait period, but no more than that when they had initially put in their application. However, one thing leads to another, and sadly, we have a Conservative who has a totally different agenda in terms of immigration policy, which at the end of the day adds to this huge backlog by creating an MI 1 ministerial instruction. It was the minister's first attempt, and what a mess it was. As a result of that, these individuals were then put into an even longer backlog.
Fast forward to last year—and this is after we had this report brought forward—and we now have the saying that he is going to attempt to clean up his mess, even though he tries to put it on to another political party. It is his mess, and he now wants to clean it up. He decides the best way to do that is to hit the delete button.
Imagine being an individual who, five or six years ago, put in an application and was looking forward to getting processed to come to Canada, but receives in the mail a letter saying, “So sorry; you have been deleted and are no longer able to come to Canada”. Enclosed in this envelope, if one is fortunate enough, one will get a reimbursement of the processing and landing fees. Imagine receiving a letter of that nature.
A few thoughts come to my mind. One could ultimately question it, and there has been a class action suit that is taking place in Ontario on that issue; on the minister's reaction. However, what of those who took the time to pay an immigration consultant, lawyer or agency? This is not a few hundreds dollars, but for many people that would go into the thousands of dollars. Immigration services are not cheap; they cost a great deal of money. For a lot of people, and we are talking thousands of individuals, who would have paid thousands of dollars, none of that money is reimbursed; none at all.
There are those individuals who spent money or changed their lives in anticipation that they would be able to come to Canada. They put their lives on hold in their countries for what I could classify as a deferral of gratification. They were in that on-hold system and possibly prevented from going to other regions of the world. Why? It is because they believed they had an opportunity to come to Canada. In talking to their family and friends, they genuinely felt that would be in the best interest of their children, themselves and their family. They were prepared to wait and make the sacrifices necessary because they believed that Canada was the place to go. We cannot blame them for that. Canada is the best country in the world to live and call home. It is a land of opportunities.
At the end of the day, for tens of thousands of people worldwide, that dream and that hope was taken away by the . He felt it was time to deal with the backlog problem that he created, by hitting the delete button, and I would suggest, in a very cold-hearted fashion.
There is a difference between Conservative immigration policy and Liberal immigration policy. All people need to do is take a look at our leaders, whether it is Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Jean Chrétien or Paul Martin. If we take a look at our immigration planning and programming, it is more holistic and all-encompassing.
We can talk about meeting labour needs. It was the Liberal Party that created the temporary worker program. It was the Liberal Party that created the live-in caregiver program.
The most successful economic program today is the provincial nominee program. We hear a lot about the 338,000 temporary foreign workers who are here today. We understand the degree to which the government has dropped the ball on this issue and has made a mess of this issue.
All we need to do is take a look at the province of Manitoba, and look at the temporary foreign worker numbers in terms of visas going to that province, which has been virtually status quo and has not really changed. On the other hand, Manitoba has used the nominee program to meet the needs of the province. Its immigration numbers have gone from roughly 3,500 annually to well over 10,000 annually.
The need has not increased for the temporary foreign workers, because we recognize the value of immigration. We recognize the contributions that good, sound policy has on our country.
When the starts talking about the backlogs, he needs to reflect on some of the mistakes he has made and the results in terms of dreams that have been devastated, the results in regard to the number of individuals on whom he has had a direct impact.
I challenge the minister's Conservative colleagues to start thinking of ways in which we can utilize immigration in a more positive fashion for our country. If we want to try to address the labour needs, for example, what we should be doing and what the Liberal Party has been calling for is to look at ways we can enhance the nominee program.
We see the demand from other provinces continuing to rise, and yet we see Ottawa saying no. One of the ironic things about it is that the likes to take credit for getting more immigrants every year. Well, if it was not for Jean Chrétien's nominee program, we would not have the numbers we have today. However, I get sidetracked.
If we take a look at that particular program, why not explore the opportunities of other communities and municipalities? We could explore the opportunities that might be there for expanding an economic nominee program.
If the government was to really engage people on that issue, I believe the demand for the temporary foreign worker program would greatly diminish.
The issue with the temporary foreign worker program is that when we were in government, whether it was the Paul Martin government or the Jean Chrétien government, what we saw in the temporary foreign worker program was the Canadian first policy. If there was a Canadian or a landed resident living in Canada who could take on that job, that is what the Liberal governments wanted to happen. That is why they put into place a protocol that ensured that Canadians and landed residents here in Canada, first and foremost, would have the opportunity to get those jobs.
Even when the economy was at its peak and doing its best, we never saw more than 160,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada. Today, we see 338,000 temporary foreign workers. The government is using that particular program to manipulate other factors in our country, factors like the influence it has on wages, the amount of money individuals are being paid, and taking away jobs from other individuals who would love to be able to work.
What about the government sitting down with the stakeholders who are being affected by some of its policies? Has it sat down with any pilots to hear the concerns they have to raise? Whether it is on the phone from the Toronto airport or sitting down at a McDonald's restaurant in my community or talking to others, pilots are concerned and are saying they are frustrated because they can fly planes yet there are temporary workers who are being brought in. There are other issues that need to be looked at in regard to that. At the very least the government needs to acknowledge that there is something there. It needs to recognize there are many different jobs that are questionable.
I appreciate the apology that came forward from the Royal Bank. It recognized that a mistake was indeed made. The Royal Bank does not have a monopoly in terms of areas where there is the potential for abuse, and I applaud it coming forward and making that apology. However, I do believe there is more to it.
We need to look into that because, at the end of the day, we need to protect the temporary foreign worker program, which has saved industries in Canada. That is why it was brought into being. There are certain industries that are dependent on it, and if they did not have foreign temporary workers, those industries would collapse. If those industries collapsed or if there were jobs that were taken away, the impact of that would be profound on all Canadians, all of us who live in and call Canada our home, because those jobs that were not or could not be filled by those living in Canada contribute to our GDP and our lifestyle.
Therefore, when we talk about the issue of backlogs, maybe it is because the government was not processing those skilled workers in the same fashion as the Liberal administrations before it. In some cases, that could be one of the reasons why we might have more temporary foreign workers in Canada. As I pointed out, there is a multitude of different reasons. That is likely one of them. It is very important that the start really looking at the issue of backlogs from a different perspective.
In bringing forward this report, I was happy to listen to the hours of presentations. There was a lot of discussion on this particular report. We made a number of recommendations at the end of the report. I think we hit the double digits in terms of the number of recommendations. However, in the appendix at the back of the report we did provide a Liberal Party opinion report on it. I can say that, if had more resources, I probably could have had up to nine pages of report. However, I had to settle for only a couple of pages.
I can assure the House that there is much that could be addressed and that this particular is doing a poor job on. Unfortunately, because of limitations of the committee, we were unable to address what I believe were all the important issues that needed to be addressed. Therefore, I would appeal to the committee, on which I am one of the vice-chairs, to start looking at other issues, such as the provincial nominee program and the temporary foreign worker program, and look at ways in which we can take a more holistic approach—
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on the subject of immigration, as I myself transitioned in Canada from an international student to a landed immigrant to, finally, a citizen. It has been a pleasure living in this country for the last 45 years.
Our Conservative government's focus remains jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity. Our government is taking concrete action to help unemployed and underemployed Canadians work at their full skill level and to ensure that Canadians and permanent residents are given the first chance at available jobs.
In addition to these efforts, immigration will continue to be a key part of Canada's plan to tackle labour market needs as Canada's workforce continues to age. In order to do that effectively, we could not continue with what was, quite frankly, a dysfunctional immigration system that did not work in Canada's best interests. Our government is committed to moving away from that slow and passive immigration system, with massive backlogs and lengthy wait times, to a proactive just-in-time system that brings economic immigrants to Canada, in a timely fashion, with the skills our economy needs today and will need in the future.
There are countless people across the globe who want to immigrate to Canada. If we look at the latest statistics, there are a total of seven billion people in the world. With extrapolation, we could understand that more than two billion would like to live in Canada. However, we are mindful of the fact that Canada has the capacity to settle and integrate only a limited number of people each year. That is why the government sets out an annual immigration level plan.
Since 2006, Canada has welcomed the highest sustained level of immigration in Canadian history. However, because the previous dysfunctional immigration system legally required the government to process to completion every application it received, and year after year, the number of applications received was almost double the number of admissions, massive backlogs accumulated in every immigration stream.
Some people, including both opposition parties, have advocated the simplistic option of raising immigration levels to solve this problem. They are wrong. Even raising immigration levels to 1%, which is the official policy of both the NDP and the Liberals, would have only a limited impact, and massive backlogs and long wait times would persist.
I would also point out that raising levels is out of step with the views of Canadians, including immigrants, who do not support significant increases in immigration levels. It is not because of anti-immigration sentiment, as immigrants are just as likely to hold these views as those born in Canada. It is because of practicality. People understand that there is limited capacity and funds to integrate newcomers.
The only way to actually prevent massive immigration backlogs and skyrocketing wait times is to align the number of applications with the number of admissions. Some would say, “So what if people have to wait?”
The fact is that immigration backlogs have had real and negative consequences for immigrants and for the Canadian economy. Immigrants had to put their lives on hold while they waited years for an answer. Due to outdated selection criteria, too many of them had to wait to come to Canada, only to face unemployment or underemployment. For Canadians and the Canadian economy, it meant lost productivity and acute skills shortages that were still not being filled. It also meant that Canada was losing the global competition to attract and retain the best and brightest talent from across the globe.
As we can clearly see, Canada's previous immigration system made no sense. After years of neglect from previous governments and ministers of immigration who were too afraid to make the necessary reforms, our Conservative government acted. We are aggressively pursuing transformational change to Canada's immigration system, moving toward to an immigration system that functions in the best interests of Canada's economy and also of immigrants.
As a result of these long overdue reforms, I was very proud to announce just a few weeks ago that the total immigration backlog has seen a dramatic reduction of 40%. This is major progress. It is important to understand where we were and where we were headed, compared to how far we have come as a result of the transformational changes we continue to implement.
I will give some examples. The federal skilled worker program is Canada's flagship economic immigration system. More economic immigrants came through this system than through any other system. Under the old system, by 2008, approximately 640,000 applications had accumulated in the backlog. Applicants were waiting six years for a decision. The backlog was projected to balloon to over 1.5 million, with wait times of 15 years by 2015.
Canada competes for the top talent in a globalized world. Many of our peer countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, are mindful of this and have fast and flexible immigration systems that process applications within a matter of months. You can imagine that if given the option of waiting a decade in a queue or obtaining permanent residency in a matter of months that any rational person would choose the latter. Canada was losing the competition for the best and brightest talent from around the world. To resolve this major issue, the government took the difficult but necessary step of eliminating most of the old applications in the federal skilled worker backlog.
It is very telling that this Liberal member would claim to be outraged at the idea of eliminating old federal skilled worker applications. I say that because the Liberals tried to do the exact same thing in 2003, when they were in government, but they failed, because the court ruled against their efforts. The difference is that where they were incompetent and failed, our government was successful and competent. What is even more disturbing about the hypocrisy is that the Liberal immigration critic is not aware of his own party's record on immigration. I think that is a serious cause for concern.
In addition, we temporarily paused the federal skilled worker program while we improved the outdated points system. For too long, too many immigrants were coming through the federal skilled worker program only to face unemployment or underemployment. We pored through a large volume of research, which consistently showed that language proficiency, youth and pre-arranged job offers were the most important factors associated with the economic success of immigrants.
On May 4, we will open the new FSW program with an updated points system and a requirement to have one's overseas education assessed before applying so that one has a realistic understanding of how it compares to the Canadian standard. It is what I like to call truth in advertising.
As a result of these actions, along with other important steps we have taken, beginning in 2008 with the introduction of ministerial instructions, we are well on our way to a federal skilled worker program that functions on a just-in-time basis. Today we have gone from a backlog of 640,000 to only 90,000 and from a wait time of six years headed toward 15 years to a wait time of only one year.
The backlog reduction in the federal skilled worker program clears the way for the move toward an innovative system based on what we call an expression of interest. Applicants will eventually go into a large pool of qualified immigration applicants for Canada, giving us their consent to share their applications with employers, and indeed, with provincial governments, so that those employers can come into the pool of qualified immigrant applicants and do their international labour recruitment from within that pool.
For example, if Canadian engineers start retiring in large numbers as the baby boomers retire, and an engineering firm will need 10 additional engineers next year and will be looking for engineers within a particular specialized area, it would be able to go into the system and do a query to look for the qualified prospective immigrants in that field in that pool. It would be able to look at their applications and their pre-assessed education and credentials. If it was satisfied and wanted to do its due diligence, the firm would offer that person a job. The government would then bring in that immigrant applicant on a lightning-speed basis.
We did some very interesting research that showed that immigrants who arrive with pre-arranged jobs in Canada are earning almost $80,000 in income after their third year, which is much higher than the average. This is where we want to head.
Coming with a pre-arranged job means that people get past the survival job gap and go straight into employment at their skill level. They are making good money and are paying taxes so that we can provide health care and our social programs. That is why we need a fast, flexible system. That is why we must deal decisively with these backlogs.
I am very proud of the progress we have made, thanks to the decisive action we have taken.
There is more good news. The federal skilled worker program is not the only immigration stream that has seen major progress. The second is for parents and grandparents. In addition to addressing labour market needs, Canada's immigration system also facilitates family re-unification. Over the years, the parent and grandparent program experienced a growing number of applications to the point where the backlog grew to over 160,000 applications and a wait time of eight years. I think we can all agree that this was unfair to applicants and their families.
What actions have we taken? This is the reason we have introduced the action plan for faster family re-unification. By admitting the highest number of parents and grandparents in 20 years over 2012 and 2013, while placing a temporary pause on the program, we have seen a dramatic reduction of 50% in the backlog.
In addition, the new super visa allows parents and grandparents, many who do not want permanent residence but want to spend an extended period of time with their children and grandchildren, to visit Canada for two years at a time over a 10-year period. Over 1,000 super visas are issued every month. The approval rate is high at over 85%. In fact, had we not acted in 2011, the wait times would have grown to 250,000, with a 15-year wait time, by 2015.
However, the opposition parties have opposed improvements to the parent and grandparent program. Both the NDP and the Liberals have committed to returning to the pre-2011 program.
We need to avoid going back to the old system of ballooning backlogs and skyrocketing wait times. We have spent the last year consulting with Canadians on a new parent and grandparent program, which will be unveiled later this year. It is important that the new program be sustainable, and most importantly, that it avoids backlogs in the future.
The options could not be clearer: people can wait 15 years to be reunited with parents or wait two years or less. The parties advocating for unlimited applications are not supporting family re-unification. Exactly the opposite is true. Lengthy wait times keep families apart.
There has also been significant progress in reducing the backlog in business class. The backlog had increased to over 100,000, with a wait time of almost a decade. It would have grown to over 250,000, with an astonishing 20-year wait time, by 2015.
By pausing applications for the investor and entrepreneur programs, we have managed to reduce the backlogs and the wait times slightly. While the program remains paused, we are working on a new program that will move from a passive program with no actual long-term investment to a program that reflects demand and requires active investment and job creation in Canada.
There are obviously more streams where progress has been made and some in which progress has not been made. However, the pattern is the same. In programs where we have taken action to better align the number of applications with the number of admissions, backlogs have gone down, and wait times have decreased.
In conclusion, to maintain Canada's tradition of openness and generosity, we must ensure that our immigration system functions so as to best support our national interests and our country's long-term economic prosperity. That is why our government has initiated a series of transformational changes that enhance Canada's economic immigration system and allow us to keep pace with our country's evolving needs.
Our new and improved immigration system would help ensure Canada's long-term economic prosperity by allowing us to select the skilled immigrants our country needs and the ones who are the most likely to succeed when they get here. This would ensure that newcomers are able to contribute their full potential, help alleviate labour shortages and grow Canada's economy.
Our ultimate goal is a just-in-time immigration system that recruits people with the right skills to meet Canada's labour market needs, fast-tracks their applications and gets them working in a period of months, not years. To get there, we have taken clear and decisive action to dramatically reduce backlogs. However, we still have work to do in that area as we strive to attain our goal of having a fast and nimble immigration system.
We want to bring highly skilled newcomers into the Canadian workforce more quickly so that they can help fuel our economic growth and fully contribute to our nation's productivity. We have made tremendous progress toward this goal over the past year, and we will continue to build our achievements in the months and years to come.
Mr. Speaker, with regard to the report being debated, the NDP has a supplemental report attached to it and I would urge all members to read it.
It comes as no surprise to anybody that Canada is a nation of immigrants. Outside of first nations communities, we are all immigrants. The children and grandchildren are further descendants of people who came to Canada to make this land their new home. Our forefathers and foremothers were given a chance to start a new life here, to grow and succeed. In this endeavour, we have all been helped, every one of us in the House.
We think that Canadians, even today, believe that Canada's immigration policies need to be nation-building polices, not policies of division and fear, not policies of uncertainty where we treat people in a shabby manner. To that extent, I want to talk about the kind of image that gets projected overseas when we make changes, which the government has done. By the way, my colleagues sitting in that corner are not absolutely clear of blame for the direction a lot of these policies have taken because the backlogs started growing under their watch.
Because of the kinds of changes that were made without due diligence, without consultation with Canadians right across the country and without thinking about how all the different pieces fit together, we have ended up with a lot of uncertainty in our immigration system. People outside of Canada going to our website are never sure if things are going to change today or tomorrow or things that they are promised today may be taken away tomorrow or the day after. At the same time, the government has made piecemeal changes to this file that are not coherent and do not make up a multifaceted and enriching experience for new people coming to our country. The government needs to acknowledge that it has messed up this file in a really bad way.
First, let us take a look at our international reputation that has been damaged. Someone hit the delete button on 267,000 files of skilled workers who applied according to Canadian-made rules. They played by our rules. They applied, were qualified and were told to wait in line until their turn came. Then came the year 2012 and the minister had an idea that the backlogs were too long and we had to look at how to reduce them. There is a multitude of ways to reduce backlogs. We have suggested some and shared ideas. Instead, the minister chose one, which was to hit the delete button and told the applicants that the government would return their fees that were paid for five to 10 years ago.
Yes, we gave their fees back, but what kind of reputation did we earn as a country that could not be trusted to live up to its word? What happened to the dreams and aspirations of all the skilled workers, who we recognized as skilled workers and the contributions they would have made to our country, as well as the damage that was done to their families' dreams and aspirations?
Whenever the minister says that the government has reduced the backlog, I always want to tell him that it is easy to reduce the backlog if he keeps hitting the delete button. The other way it is easy to reduce the backlog is to tell people that for two years they cannot apply to bring their parents or grandparents to Canada.
It is really hard for me to explain to people in different communities across Canada why the party sitting across there in government often talks about family values and the importance of family. What I hear from new immigrants, the ones who have taken up our citizenship—and it is heartbreaking when they ask me this question—is “If families are so important, whose family is important? Is my family not important?”
I could stand for hours talking about the economic and social gains to be made with family reunification, when families can be united with parents and grandparents. I could tell the House stories of how much I learned from my grandparents and what a critical role they played in my life.
There are also economic gains. For many people, they could go out to work with a lot more comfort knowing that their children are at home being looked after by a family member. By the way, this is not a government that has provided for universal child care. In many ways there are huge vacuums in our communities right across Canada. It is very difficult.
In many communities across this country, parents feel more comfortable leaving their children with family members, with grandparents. Those families would be far more productive at work, and absences from work and mental illness issues would all be reduced. That would be a huge savings to our health care system as well.
The other area of backlogs that we have to talk about very seriously is when people get married to someone overseas. My riding of Newton—North Delta is one of the most diverse ridings going. I am sure many MPs say that. I have people come in and tell me that they were married three years ago and now have a two-year-old, and have even had DNA tests done to prove that they are the dad or mom and, still, they are waiting.
Those issues have to be addressed. It seems that certain CIC centres around the globe take an inordinately long period. We are talking about family reunification, parents and grandparents, yes, but when we are talking about spouses being kept apart from newborn infants, I think we must all acknowledge that is a huge problem in our society. We all know the importance of the family unit, the importance of newborns being with a mother and a father, growing up in that family unit.
When we are talking about our reputation overseas, let us take a look at how the minister has managed the refugee file and the cuts to health care. Right now people are waiting for their loved ones, to be reunited here. The government has created so-called safe countries, is putting so much power in the hands of the minister and is creating a two-tiered refugee system. All of that sends out shock waves, and people are asking if it is really safe.
We have that leaked document that indicated that the UN was even wondering if it was really safe to send people to Canada if they do not even get basic health care, wondering if it wanted to take that kind of a chance. There are some huge issues that have been created.
Every time we turn around, there are more financial barriers. Every time I ask about family reunification for parents and grandparents, we are always told about the super visa. Well, the super visa does not apply to young siblings. It only applies to parents and grandparents.
Touted over and over again is what a huge success the super visa has been. Many people do not even qualify, because the economic requirements for the super visa are high, and even if parents are only coming to visit for a month, they have to have medical insurance for a whole year. It is private insurance. Buying medical insurance for a whole year, for many new young families, is a huge financial burden.
If one is only coming for a month, why would one not get medical insurance for a month? Often, it is young families who are struggling, knowing they cannot apply for their parents and grandparents but at least get to be with them for a month, who would now have to put that huge sum of money upfront for a year even though they are only coming for a month. That seems bizarre to me.
Let me make it clear that even though they buy insurance for a year, if the parents only come and stay for a month, they still have an 11-month credit. However, that kind of credit only works for people who have a little money in their back pocket. Not everybody in my riding has the luxury of being able to put out the huge sum of money that is required for medical insurance.
Also, there are many people who are almost put off from applying for a super visa—and I am speaking from experience in talking to people—when I tell them how much the medical insurance is. By the time they factor in the cost of it, they sit in my office and cry. I have heard this from other MPs as well, who tell me this is a barrier.
We are not saying that the super visa is a bad thing. We absolutely think there is a place for a super visa, but it does not replace family reunification. Someone can visit for a week, a month or two months, but that does not replace a family unit living together and supporting each other.
To get back to the federal skilled workers program, we got rid of the backlog by deleting. For the family reunification, we just did not let people apply. However, there were other options available to the government, but the Conservatives did not use those options. They used some draconian measures so that publicly they could say they had reduced.
Well, if the Conservatives stop applications to the investment class, freeze applications to the federal skilled workers program, hit the delete button, have horrendous delays in spousal reunification, do not allow parents and grandparents to apply, of course they can say the backlog has gone down. However, when the two years are up for those parents and grandparents, are they going to forget that they want to be with their families or are they going to apply? What has the Conservative government arranged in the way of resources to address the increase in applications it will face in two years' time?
There is fear in the communities for those who have been waiting for two years to apply and have the application filled out and ready to hand in. Just as the government hit the delete button, it might have plans it has not shared with parliamentarians about this program as well. I urge my colleagues across the way to remember that they say family is important. If family is important for them, then family has to be important for all Canadians and all the people who live here.
We often talk about the importance of family and other kinds of wait lists. I hear from many MP offices on this, and believe it or not, I even hear from some of my Conservative colleagues, but one of the things that is driving many MP offices is when temporary resident visas are turned down. We are not saying that no visa applicant should ever be turned down. We have to do our due diligence. However, in cases of people who have been to Canada before, are leaving their son and daughter in a private school in India, and their husband and their parents, but they want to come here for their niece's wedding, the comment they get is: “not a good enough reason to visit”. Let me say that nothing would keep me from attending the wedding of my nephews and nieces.
Yet, I have to listen to constituents, in my office, who are absolutely heartbroken because they cannot attend or they cannot bring even one family member over to attend some of those functions.
I have thousands of those kinds of examples.
Just last week, a woman in my riding passed away. The family applied for a visa, in India, for one of her daughters who lives in India to be allowed to come here to the funeral and was rejected. Then they came to my office and said, “We never thought we would get rejected for a daughter to attend her mother's funeral”.
We have to look at the kind of image we are sending out. Canada is a beautiful country. I have chosen to make it my home and I am very proud of my country.
However, these kinds of things are happening. It gives me grave concern for the future. Our backlogs do have to be addressed. However, let us address them in a real way instead of doing cosmetic PR stunts just to say we have done it, but in the process we are harming a lot of innocent people, without paying due attention to the kind of impact it has upon them.
One of the other issues I want to talk about, and I know it will be in the announcement we are going to hear today, is the increasing financial barriers. Sometimes the sums of money for different fees may not seem huge to us. For example, if people apply for a temporary resident visa and get rejected, there is no appeal. All they get is this form, and often it tells them very little. Then they have to reapply and pay the fee all over again. When I look at the increasing fees we are charging people who want to come to this country or who want to bring their family members here, then I really think we have to ensure we are not putting unnecessary financial barriers in the way.
The immigration file is a huge file. It is absolutely the cornerstone of who we are as Canadians. I appeal to my colleagues across the way. Instead of making this up as we go along, putting a little plug here, a little plug there, hitting a delete button here, shutting the door there, I think it is time to absolutely take the necessary action where abuse is happening, as in the temporary foreign worker program. However, then let us take the time, through parliamentary debate and discussions with Canadians right across Canada, to come up with a system that would truly reflect who we are as a nation.
The temporary foreign worker story is not new. I know that since I have been a critic for this area, I have been raising it in this House on a regular basis, yet it took two key stories, the HD Mining and the RBC story, to draw Canadians' attention to it. What it showed is that we have a temporary foreign worker program—and by the way, let me make it very clear that the NDP supports a program that addresses genuine and legitimate labour shortage needs for Canada, and there are different ways to address those labour shortage needs; we support a temporary foreign worker program that responds to those temporary needs while we grow our own talent; and we support that temporary need that occurs where there is a severe shortage in a particular sector.
However, what we do not support is the kind of manipulation that we have seen of the temporary foreign worker program. We are hearing that instead of LMOs, many ALMOs are being given, which were only really meant for highly skilled workers, and they are being given without due oversight and due diligence.
So, instead of actually spending time looking for Canadian workers, very quickly, instead of going for an LMO, they go for an ALMO, and bingo.
Then the government, by saying it is going to pay 15% less, is basically accommodating a race to the bottom. It has an impact by suppressing salaries for Canadians, but it also gives less pay to those who are coming to do the same work.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this issue today because there has been a huge increase in the number of people in my riding of Vancouver Centre seeking to make their way through this massive backlog and these terrible rules. There are now four times the number of people in my riding in this situation. People are coming from other ridings because representatives elsewhere do not want to meet with them, discuss the issues or help them. My riding is the catch-all, so I can personally talk about the number of people suffering as a result of some of these problems.
We have heard everyone in the House talk about visitor visas. Many people come here to visit their families, and they are usually parents or grandparents. They want to come in a hurry, because quite often they are coming to help with births. Perhaps their daughter is giving birth and they need to be there with her, or they are coming for a funeral or to be with someone who is critically ill and may or may not survive. In order for them to get here on time for some of these things, the process has to be quick.
Constituents come begging and pleading, asking what we can do to help them. Some people have finally been able to come long after the person has died or long after the birth of a child. For things like funerals, weddings, et cetera, there is a problem. All of us have families. Most of us belong to some kind of family group, and we know of the importance and relevance of these kinds of events in our lives.
Often when young couples come here, they are separated from their families and are in a strange new country. For daughters giving birth to a child or going through the last part of a pregnancy, having their mothers or grandmothers with them is extremely important. Families being able to get here in time helps young people psychologically. We know that the ability of people to survive illnesses or other kinds of events depends on being comfortable and knowing they have someone to support them. We know how important it is for young moms to have family present at the births of their babies, as they are scared and do not have a clue about what is happening and need both cultural and physical support to be there.
This is a problem. It is a problem that used to exist many years ago. Everyone knew that the backlog was increasing and that it was taking longer and longer to deal with visas, but quite often a minister would intervene when he or she noticed that people needed to come here quickly because of a death, a serious illness, the imminent birth of a child or something else that could not be postponed. The minister would often give that kind of ministerial okay. In many instances, the ability to get a visitor's visa was cleared up because we had ministers who had a hands-on approach and did not listen only to their own parties.
Everyone in the House knows that they have come to ministers before, and I am not speaking only of the last Liberal government but of the government of Prime Minister Mulroney before that. There was an ability to understand the human condition.
The current government is quick to intervene if it thinks there is a problem, but it jumps in feet first. It does not look at what the outcomes would be or the unintended consequences. It just jumps in and does a quick fix. We have seen that happen before.
With regard to the backlog, the minister issued his ministerial instructions, one, two and three, and it made everything worse. If we look, for instance, at the skilled worker program, there is a backlog because the minister intervened with some brilliant initiative, or one that was considered to be brilliant. There are now 140,000 more people in the backlog.
The answer, of course, to quickly fix a problem that was not well thought out in the first place is to then do a chop and get rid of it. The idea was to do a quick fix, a silver bullet.
However, the silver bullet only made matters worse. If there are 140,000 skilled workers in the backlog, what is the answer? The answer is to get rid of the backlog by telling people they cannot come—just eliminate it, make it disappear.
It reminds of playing peek-a-boo with little kids. They think that because they cannot see me, I cannot see them. They have the ability to pretend that something will go away if they do not notice it too much or if they pretend it is not there; it will automatically go away because the minister waves a magic wand.
This is the kind of thing we are seeing. It is not only in skilled worker programs that we are seeing backlogs. It is not happening only in the backlogs of getting, in a timely manner, visitor's visas to come for important family occasions. I am not talking about coming for a holiday, but about important family occasions, although a visitor's visa to come for a holiday, spend some time with family and spend some money in the country is a good thing. However, we have seen our tourism rates dropping remarkably because people cannot get here and spend money in the economy and do things. As a nation like Canada, we need to have tourists come in. That is another story, and we will not get into that one.
I wanted to talk about this quick fix that has caused some of the problems we are talking about today.
We have a minister who decides that he has all the answers, jumps on them and does not consult with anyone. When I say “consult”, I do not just mean consulting with the people he knows and with people who support his initiatives in the first place. Consulting broadly with Canadians is a time-honoured thing that immigration ministers used to do. They would actually go and sit down, shut up and listen to what people were telling them. They would listen to some creative ideas about resolving some of the problems we face with immigration backlogs and other problems such as foreign skilled workers, temporary foreign workers, et cetera. They would listen and try to make the situation better, because sometimes provinces and local communities on the ground had answers. People had ways of finding answers to some of the problems.
That does not happen anymore.
The minister knows what to do. The minister always knows what to do, but we have a problem with the minister who, to prevent a backlog, created an even bigger backlog, and then, to ensure it would go away, just said he did not want these people in the backlog anymore. In other words, if he put his hands over his eyes and said no, everything would disappear.
We have seen that time and again. We have seen it with the temporary foreign worker program. That program existed for a very long time, and it was there in order to do two things.
One was to find a worker when we could not find a Canadian with the skills, ability or knowledge to fill that job. That was when we got in a temporary foreign worker. Otherwise, it was for jobs that Canadians did not want to do, for whatever reasons.
As a result, there was a temporary foreign worker program that brought in people to fill these jobs, and they filled them, but those workers also had the ability to stay. It was found that after a while, the temporary foreign workers were coming here back and forth, either for seasonal programs in the agricultural sector or in other sectors. In Vancouver, for example, in the construction sector in 2010 when we were trying to develop a new system of rapid transit between our Vancouver airport into downtown, we had people coming from Costa Rica and other places because they were able to do the work. We did not even have the ability to use the machinery, and they were able to do so.
In other words, we need people to come. That is a good thing. Let us make that happen.
Let us make it happen on a level playing field, though. I heard the minister say today, in an answer in question period, that it would be 15% and no more. Fifteen per cent is a massive amount of money. However, we saw in Vancouver, during the building of our rapid transit for 2010, that people were being paid half the amount of other people, even though they had the same skills.
We have a government that turns a blind eye. It watches a program that has worked for a long time; then it decides it wants to find a better way to fill the skilled labour shortage because of the backlog and the fact that it had not done any of the work needed to get skilled workers to come into this country to work at the jobs they are trained to do. It was a massive loss of skilled workers that we could have had. We all know of the doctors driving taxis and the neurosurgeon who is using a backhoe somewhere, trying to help somebody do construction work.
The current minister is not looking at what other governments have done. It is interesting that governments have tended to build on good things that other governments have done. They built on them and created something new, but they did not demolish; the current government seeks to demolish anything that was put in place before it came to power.
The minister decided he wanted a lot of temporary workers. The met with businesses and said if they wanted to get people in, they could go up to 15% lower in the rate and they did not even have to give the government reasons, as they used to be required to do. People used to have to show that a Canadian could not fill the job. People used to have to show that they had sent out applications, that they had advertised a job and that either they could not find somebody with the skills or they could not find anybody who wanted to take the job. That was when the temporary foreign skilled workers came in.
What we have now is that the both the and the intervened, and they created a mess. Now we have temporary foreign workers coming in because businesses can pay them less, and they are taking Canadian jobs that Canadians had the skills to do and wanted to do.
Just as we see the minister caused a problem with the backlog of 140,000 in the skilled worker program and then pretended that the only way to get rid of it was to cancel it with a pen on a piece of paper, now we have a government that created the problem with the temporary foreign workers. It made a huge mess of it, and when people began to scream and yell, it suddenly arrived like a knight in shining armour and pretended to fix the problem it had caused.
If I were not so despairing of some of the things that go on with the government, I would find it amusing, because it is so incompetent. It is such an example of profound incompetence, a sense of "I know what I am doing" and of omnipotence when the government goes ahead, causes a problem, and then, when the problem hits it in the face, pretends that it has just solved the problem by going back to what used to be.
We heard about the temporary foreign worker program, which is what it used to be based on. Who changed it? The Conservative government changed it. Now it is going back to what worked. It seems like such a waste of time. It is not just a waste of time, it is a waste of human resources and of people who try to come to this country. These people are bent on a hope that they can get a job and that if they come and work three years as a temporary foreign worker, they will learn the language, they will learn some skills and learn about how the workplace in Canada works. Then, they can apply to become an immigrant in this country. They can apply to become a landed immigrant and to be able to bring their families and to build a nation.
We only talk about workers. The government has taken the whole immigration program and turned it into a workforce only program. When we look at the grandparents and the parents who are now waiting two years before they can come to this country to be with their families, family reunification is a huge part of building a family and building a nation.
It used to be that we saw immigration, and even refugees, as people who came to this country looking for the kinds of things that we were proud that Canada had to offer, such as economic opportunity and the ability to escape some sort of aggression or discrimination in the home country. Canada even went above and beyond the United Nations' refugee rules and set up its own rules to bring in women who were at risk of discrimination in their own countries and to bring in people who were refugees that did not meet the usual categories, because we understood their need to come to this country and build a new life.
It is interesting. As many of us came to this country as immigrants, as soon as we came to Canada, we put our roots down, we began to have families, we began to bring our parents and grandparents and we began to build our extended families who were born here and which most of us enjoy. Immigrants need that extended family.
We decided to put down roots, and when we put down roots, what we do is suddenly have a stake in Canada. What is good for Canada is good for us and our families and what is good for us and our families is good for Canada. Suddenly, we start working together to build a better country and a better nation.
This is what immigration used to be about. We now see that it is not about that anymore. Uniting families is something that people do not seem to think about. It is as if the people on that side of the House are out of touch with reality. They are out of touch with real people and real Canadians and what they suffer.
With many immigrant families who come here, both of them are working. They are working two jobs and trying to make ends meet. They are trying to build something. We have seen how successful Canada has been with that.
By the second generation, we have seen immigrants suddenly become wealthy, putting a stake in our country, creating jobs, building our nation, strengthening it, integrating themselves into the economic, social, political and cultural life of our country, being creators, actors, writers, business people, strong families and building strong citizens within their families and those of their children.
We used to be proud of that. We were number one in the world in terms of how people came here and settled, and not only settled with the ability to say that they were in Canada and now they could be Canadians, but also being told that they should also remember where they came from, their language, culture and roots, that in fact that enriched our nation.
When I was minister for multiculturalism, in 1997 we had asked for a research paper to be done on how immigrants were benefiting the country and how immigrants where integrating. We found that in fact by encouraging immigrants to come and to maintain a sense of identity with where they came from, while at the same time becoming strong Canadians, obeying the laws and looking at the values of Canada, we suddenly had a massive advantage as a trading nation.
The Conference Board showed us this advantage in 1997. As a trading nation, we depend on trade for 45% of our gross domestic product. We were able to go to countries from which all of immigrants came, taking with them their understanding of the language, culture and marketplace. We had the ability to trade with other countries in a sensitive manner.
That is how Canada opened up to China. That is why we are doing so much trade with India. That is why we see people from other nations coming here and bringing the gift of that ability to increase our trade to us. Then Prime Minister Chrétien, as soon as that report came out, started his trade missions, bringing first and second-generation immigrants with him as he tried to lead trade with all the countries we had never traded with before.
Immigration was about that. This idea is gone. Immigrants are people we want to bring in to use them and discard them when we do not need them anymore. The idea of nation building is not as strong as it was. The idea of nation building is laughed at. It is seen as some sort of joke.
Young couples working hard would want their grandparents to come. They do not have the ability to get a national child care program going. They need to have their grandma or their mother looking after their kids at home, so they can work and contribute to the economy.
It is this kind of ability to understand how things link and integrate with each other to form a society, whether that society is economically productive or not. The government does not seem to get that.
What the government is doing is intervening, as it has done in looking at the backlog, creating an even worse backlog. It continues to create problems because of a lack of in-depth understanding, an inability to consult with people and find some answers from a broadbase of Canadians and not simply from its friends and colleagues who agree with it.
If we keep talking to ourselves all the time, creativity and innovation will never occur, solutions to problems that have been dogging us will not occur. The government does not seem to understand that. It continues to make its decisions from within. It continues to make decisions that make matters worse.
Then, when the problem explodes in everyone's face and the public suddenly realizes there is a problem, we suddenly see ministers scurrying about and going right back to the old ways in order to say that they have fixed it. It is a farce and it is a joke. It shows the incompetence of the government. Spin is great, having one-liners is great and sitting there and reading their answers in question period is great when it does not seem to get or understand the complexity of the situations we face.
The whole issue of backlogs and of temporary foreign workers is only one small example of how we have become a nation that many of us do not recognize anymore. I hear this every day, not only in my riding but across the country.
People who are Canadians and who have been Canadians, who are immigrants, new and old, are all saying that they do not recognize Canada anymore. They do not know who we are or what we are doing. They desperately want their old Canada back.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to participate in the concurrence motion today. As a member of the citizenship and immigration committee, I was there day in and day out participating in the study on the issue of backlogs in our immigration system. It is a problem that started with the Liberal government and has not been dealt with sufficiently by our current Conservative government. The immigration backlog today stands at over one million applications and has increased by 250,000 applications since 2006.
Backlogs leave families in a state of uncertainty and in perpetual limbo. Working as the member of Parliament for Scarborough—Rouge River, I have spoken with many families who have been waiting years and years to have their parents and grandparents join them here in Canada. They have been waiting years for their families to be reunited.
Canada is a country built on immigration. Many of us in the room, including myself, have benefited from the policies that have encouraged families to come together to Canada. My father came first and then he sponsored my mother and my three sisters. We were able to be reunited as a family because of Canada's immigration policies.
The current backlog and inequalities in our immigration system shamefully leave people waiting too long to be reunited with their families. We need to invest in resources that would address the backlog and the inequities. We need to ensure that we are encouraging people to come to Canada, to be a part of their family, to help build our communities in Canada and help our economy grow, especially help the local economic development of our communities.
Canada needs immigration to help build and sustain our economy. However, what we are seeing is a dramatic increase in the number of temporary foreign workers, where workers come to Canada alone without their families, send their wages home and then leave Canada at the end of their contract. To these workers, we are saying they are good enough to come work here, but not good enough to come live here. Then the other situation is where we are seeing many permanent residents of Canada, the cream of the crop in their home countries, who have been invited to come to Canada as permanent residents. They are having difficulty finding work, probably because the government likes to fill the available jobs with temporary foreign workers. We are telling these people who have come to Canada on the permanent residency track that they are good enough to come live here, but not good enough to come work here.
There is a clear problem in the government's response and ideas of immigration. There is a clear split personality disorder happening here with the government. It has shifted its focus from prioritizing permanent resident applications to the temporary foreign worker program, meaning that the applicants in the family class have to actually compete for the very limited processing resources. We heard this from the Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials who came as witnesses in front of our committee.
This shift in the priorities is certainly not helping to reduce the backlog, but rather is helping to increase Canada's backlog. We need to address the inequalities that exist in the system and develop a creative, balanced and equitable approach to dealing with the backlog. This includes possibly raising the overall level of immigration so that we are accepting 1% of our population here in Canada.
In the report from the citizenship and immigration committee, we saw that there were over one million applications in the queue and wait times have reached patently unacceptable levels. On average, we are seeing that, for sponsors who are trying to have their parents reunited with them here in Canada, it could take between 10 and 13 years for a parent or grandparent to be united with their family. Sadly, for multiple cases in Scarborough, for families I have been trying to help, grandparents have passed on before they were able to even come here to meet their grandchildren. Sadly, our immigration system is failing so many Canadians who are just trying to have their families united.
It also means that employers who are seeking to attract skilled workers frequently have to wait between four and seven years. We know that with the changing trends in the labour market and the changing needs of the labour market, if an employer has to wait four to seven years for a worker to be able to fill a job vacancy, that employer is probably not even going to be in business by the time the employee it has sponsored is able to join it in the labour force.
We are seeing live-in caregivers seeking to reunite with their spouses and children wait an average of five years from the date that they complete their obligations under that program.
We heard about spousal applications. At committee we heard the minister and officials from CIC say that is the class of sponsorship that is given the highest priority. Its goal is, from beginning to end, 12 months of processing time. The sad reality is it is taking more than two years to process a spousal application, depending on the country. This situation presents a serious problem for the integrity of Canada's immigration system. Families remain separated. Employers are frustrated. Overall, it is the Canadian economy that continues to suffer.
I would like to talk about some of the changing labour force trends we are seeing in Canada. The statistics I am about to present are from a study done by Statistics Canada called “Projected Trends to 2031 for the Canadian Labour Force” by Laurent Martel, Éric Caron Malenfant, Jean-Dominique Morency, André Lebel, Alain Bélanger and Nicolas Bastien.
The authors have written that in 2010, Canada's labour force was 18.5 million persons. By 2031, it is projected to grow to reach between 20.5 million and 22.5 million people.
The total population aged 15 and over, that is of course the overall labour force participation rate, will fall. The authors say that their share of the labour force is projected to decrease. The participation rate will fall from 67% in 2010 to between 59.7% and 62.6% in 2031. These levels have not been observed since the 1970s.
Furthermore, the authors have said that there will be an increase in the number of labour force participants aged 55 and over. In 2001, approximately 10% of the labour force were aged 55 and over. By 2010, it grew to 17%. By 2021, it will grow to approximately 24%. One out of four people are going to be 55 and over. We know that with the changes to the qualification for old age security and guaranteed income supplement, many of our seniors who would have retired... At the time this report was prepared, that legislation had not come into effect, so the authors took labour force participation to age 65 rather than 67. The numbers will be changing and we will see even more than 24% of our labour force by 2021 being people who are aged 55 to 67.
Furthermore, by 2031, the authors project fewer than three people in the labour force for each person who is 65 and over and who is not in the labour force. These numbers will have to be adjusted for the new changes to the age of 67. That same ratio was close to 5:1 in 2010. These changes show there is going to be an increase in demand for the labour force to be filled. These vacancies in the labour force are not going to be filled by our children, but they can only be filled by immigration.
At committee, Statistics Canada mentioned that CIC projected that within five years, that is 60 months from the time that the report was written, immigration will be responsible for 100% of Canada's new labour market growth needs.
Therefore, the growth we see in the labour market will be filled 100% by higher immigration levels. For that, we need to see our immigration backlogs gone and the timely processing of our applications to maintain our integrity as a country that accepts immigrants and the fact that Canada is still a viable option for immigrants, both skilled and family class, who are coming here to build our country.
Canada has received more applications per year than the federal government chooses to admit to the country. This was told to us in committee by Citizenship and Immigration officials, and I will read a quote from the CIC officials, who said:
CIC strives to process applications in a timely manner, but it is an ongoing challenge for CIC to meet the IRPA objectives simultaneously. Every year, we receive many more applications than can be processed resulting in large backlogs in many categories, which in turn have led to long wait times for applicants.
Even CIC officials know that our applicants are waiting far too long.
The numbers presented to the committee reveal that even a modest increase in the annual number of visas issued would actually go a substantial distance toward successfully addressing the backlogs. Mr. Marc Audet, from Desjardins Trust Inc., provided the committee with statistical information from CIC that showed that, over the last five years, increasing the annual visas issued by 10% from current levels would completely arrest the growth of the backlog. Any increase above that would start to reverse the backlog. The minister and CIC know that, as this is witness testimony in committee.
However, the question is whether an increase in Canada's annual visas issued, or levels, is justified and desirable on economic and social grounds. The evidence is overwhelming that a gradual and prudent increase to annual levels would not only address the backlog, but is essential for our labour market trends. As I mentioned earlier, we need to address the changes in the labour market trends.
Once again, from the study I mentioned earlier, the proportion of foreign-born individuals in the Canadian labour force in 1991 was 18.5%; in 2006, it grew to 21.2%; and by 2031, it will grow to 33% if we maintain our current immigration levels. However, we know that current immigration levels are not sufficient to fill the labour market vacancies that will become available. Therefore, the authors of the study wrote, “Although sustained immigration...could neither prevent the overall participation rate from declining nor lessen the aging of the labour force, it could contribute to labour force growth while also filling various specific labour force needs.”
The experts who wrote this study also suggested that increasing immigration levels would actually help meet the labour force needs in Canada. They mentioned that the size and growth of the labour force over the next two decades are sensitive to two factors: immigration and fertility.
As we know, fertility rates in Canada are declining. The study showed that if Canada were to admit no immigrants over the next two decades, the labour force would actually begin to shrink by 2017. That is just a few short years away. The labour force would be reduced to 17.8 million by 2031 if we were to stop immigration, whereas if we maintained our current levels, we would see our labour force grow to, if I remember correctly, about 33 million by 2031, according to the authors of the study.
Once again, increasing immigration levels is a clear solution that was offered by many witnesses who came to our committee as well as experts in the field of statistics and labour market trends. Also, industry representatives at committee pointed to a significant present and future deficit in the labour supply.
The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association testified that its members will have 142,000 job vacancies in 2025.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and many building trades affiliate labour unions have publicly stated that they are dependent upon temporary foreign workers because of a shortage of permanent-stream immigrants and skilled Canadians.
We need to stop investing in temporary foreign workers and actually invest in training Canadians to have the skills that are needed to fulfill the labour market needs and to, also, as we accept people to come to Canada, ensure that we are accepting people on a permanent track rather than as temporary foreign workers.
New Democrats have fought strongly against many of the unfair changes made to our immigration system this past year. We know that one solution the minister came up with to reduce the backlog was to hit delete. The minister approved the deletion of 280,000 applications that were in the permanent stream. This is absolutely unfair for the people who were waiting patiently. They were told to wait patiently. They were told to follow the rules. They were constantly told to wait and be patient, follow the rules, that in due time their application would be processed.
Instead, all applications before February 2007 were just deleted and the applicants were told they could have a refund if they wanted, but they needed to reapply if they were still interested in coming to Canada.
It is absolutely unfair to the people who put in an application on time, did their time. They waited throughout that long backlog, that long wait period, to come to Canada and now in my riding the family members of many of these people who are now deleted are writing to me, asking for fairness.
Where is the fairness in this program, in the changes to immigration that the current government and the current minister have put forward? I do not know where the fairness is.
I want to talk briefly about the importance of parents and grandparents. The backlog for parents and grandparents currently sits at about 150,000 applicants, yet, rather than committing to look for a creative balanced solution to the backlog, the Conservatives have reverted to, of course, their usual strategy: cuts. They have imposed a moratorium on parent and grandparent class sponsorships. We are actually nervous that their temporary try on the moratorium of parent and grandparent class sponsorship might actually lead to permanent quotas, which would mean that too many young children in Canada, too many young Canadian children, are not going to have the benefit of knowing their grandparents.
I was lucky. I had the opportunity to meet my grandparents in Canada. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to meet all of my grandparents, as my paternal grandfather had passed away before he was able to come and visit us here in Canada. However, I had the great pleasure and luxury of knowing my maternal grandparents and my paternal grandmother who lived with us, who I learned from, who I was cultured by. They helped me understand who I am and my roots. My grandmother taught me to cook. Those simple things in life, but also the principles and values of a strong, united family, I learned these values from my grandparents.
Sadly, too many Canadian children are not going to have the luxury of knowing their grandparents if the government continues in its style of not allowing parent and grandparent sponsorships.
There is a family sponsorship case in the riding that the MP office has been working on since December 2006, which has been stalled in the medical and background checks for what seems like an inordinate amount of time. The sponsor has been trying to bring his mother to Canada as he would like her to spend her remaining years with him and his children. She is very elderly and is now in need of support from her family at this late stage of her life.
Even though it has been seven years that I have been working with him to try to help expedite the process so that the grandchildren of this woman will be able to have that experience, we have still not been successful. He is bogged down in red tape.
Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to speak to the second report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration presented on Tuesday, March 6, 2012.
We, in our party, under the leadership of the member for as immigration critic, have expressed significant concern about the way the government is approaching immigration issues. There seems to be a startling lack of vision as to the importance to Canada's economy and Canada's cultural mosiac of immigration in the past, immigration in the present and immigration in the future.
There seems to be a commodification of immigrants, almost as widgets, as the member for said in terms of some of the Conservatives referring to immigrants coming here for just-in-time delivery. They describe immigration as one would a manufacturing protocol. In many ways, it does not reflect the incredible importance of Canada's multicultural communities and the contributions they have made to our economy and to our country and regions as nation-builders.
It is very important, on all sides of the House and in all parties, that we demonstrate leadership on the immigration issue. Part of good, responsible politics is pedagogy whereby we actually go out and change people's minds.
There are some myths and some perceptions about immigration that I think the public may have sometimes that we have to challenge as members of Parliament and as thought leaders, not only in this Parliament but in our greater communities. One is that immigrants, when they come here, are always taking jobs from Canadians. I witnessed this even in the last election. I represent a rural and small town riding in Nova Scotia, in Hants Country in the Annapolis Valley.
One thing I think we need, not just in cities but in rural and small town Canada, is to attract and retain more new Canadians. When I was asked in the last election, sometimes at all-candidates meetings, about ideas to create growth and opportunity in Kings—Hants and in rural Nova Scotia, I often cited the potential of immigration. When I did, some people would ask if those people would not just come here and take jobs from them.
When I talked to people, I found that there was a broad perception that this was a zero-sum game. I did a little research on this. In fact, The Chronicle Herald, the provincial newspaper in Nova Scotia, did an online survey of its readership a couple of years ago. They asked if people would support programs to attract and retain more new Canadians to Nova Scotia. It was not a scientific poll; it was an online poll in the paper. Sixty-five percent of the respondents said that they would not support programs to attract and retain more new Canadians to Nova Scotia. I read some of the comments. The comments asked why we would help more new Canadians come here when we cannot keep our own young people employed and are losing them to other parts of the country. There are not enough jobs for them.
I challenge that misperception when I am dealing with people in my riding and elsewhere, because when I think of new Canadians who have come to Nova Scotia, I think of people who were not only successful in creating their own employment but in creating jobs for other Nova Scotians. I think of people of like Pete Luckett or Hanspeter Stutz or Doris Hagmann. I think of Joe Rafih or Basim Halef or Fred George or Wadih Fares. These are people who came to Nova Scotia with nothing.
Keep in mind what constitutes being an entrepreneur. One has to be a risk taker. One has to risk it all to succeed. The moment people leave their country and choose Canada as a new home, they are demonstrating what it takes to be entrepreneurs. They are risking it all.
It should be of little surprise to people that these are some of the greatest entrepreneurs we have in our province, in our region and in our country, because by the very decision to come here, they rolled the dice. They took that risk. They were entrepreneurs who took a chance and bet it all to come to Canada. They are the most special Canadians, in many ways.
My family has been in Canada, in Hants county, since the late 1700s. We have been blessed to be here for such a long time. I was lucky enough to be born in this magnificent country, in a beautiful part of Nova Scotia, and raised in a community like Cheverie, but I did not have to take any risk to have that privilege. We take it for granted. These people risked it all to come here.
Sometimes it is important for us to refocus this debate a little bit on the extraordinary people who choose to come to Canada. They are not commodities. They are not widgets. They are living, breathing, nation builders of the finest order. We need them to build businesses and opportunities for themselves, their families and our families.
We need them as natural bridges to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. When we talk about trade, the reality is that we have growing trade deficits under the Conservative government. For a long time we have recognized multiculturalism as a very successful social policy in Canada, but far too often we do not recognize what a remarkable economic advantage multiculturalism gives us. In those human bridges to these fast-growing economies, there are opportunities for us, whether it is in research connections between our universities and colleges and their universities and colleges or whether it is in business and trade. We have to remind ourselves that we are part of a globalized economy and that our trade relationships and cultural ties are increasingly important.
We see multiculturalism increasingly in the face of this Parliament among my colleagues from all parties in this House. Think of how important it is to bring that into the debates that we have the perspectives representing our multicultural communities here in the House of Commons. That is important and represents progress.
It is important also to realize that we pressed the delete button on 300,000 files. The government may look at them as files, but these are not files; these are families. These are families with real hopes, aspirations and dreams of coming here and building a better Canada.
Part of the reason the temporary foreign workers program grew to be mismanaged, and in some cases perhaps abused or at least used for purposes that were contrary to the stated objectives of the program from its genesis, was because the government hit the delete button and eliminated a lot of applications for skilled workers and professionals who wanted to come to Canada.
From a public policy perspective, that is not the way to deal with an issue to that effect. If there is an issue, then let us put more resources into the processing of these applications. Instead, we know that the government is cutting programs and agencies. Based on a report by Kevin Page a few weeks ago, these cuts are affecting government front-line services, such as immigration.
At the finance committee recently, and in my motion, Motion No. 315, which passed in this House last June, mandating the House of Commons finance committee to study the issue of income inequality, we heard that one of the contributors to income inequality is the fact that there is little investment in settling new Canadians so that they get a good start. We know that is important. It is one of the contributors to growing levels of income and opportunity inequality in Canada. We need to make more investments with respect to immigrant settlement. However, we do not hear that as a priority of the government. All we hear about is cuts and a startling lack of vision.
The potential for these new Canadians to contribute significantly not only to the prosperity of their families but to the prosperity of all our families and communities would be exponentially increased with an even modest increase in investment in resettlement.
Also, I have noticed the government's movement with respect to language criteria and wanting new Canadians coming here to speak one of the two official languages. That may be popular with the general public, but I am not sure it is right or smart economically or socially. There are an awful lot of tremendously successful people who came to Canada who could not speak either of the official languages yet were great nation builders. There are people in this House of Commons whose parents came to Canada as immigrants and could not speak the language when they arrived. I have sat in caucus with members of Parliament who when they arrived in Canada could not speak one of the two official languages and ended up being members of Parliament and cabinet ministers.
Frank Stronach was an industrialist who arrived in Canada unable to speak either of Canada's official languages, yet he built a global business in Magna International, employing thousands of people and becoming a billionaire. He arrived in Canada with a trade. I think he was a machinist, but he had no capacity to speak either of Canada's official languages. Under these new rules, someone like Frank Stronach would not have made it. Think about that.
Therefore, it is important that we be a lot more open-minded about immigration and work to change people's mindsets to avoid some of the language I have heard in this debate when we are talking about immigrants. Let us move toward increased resources aimed at attracting, retaining and supporting new Canadians when they get to our country.
I want to speak a bit about my region of Atlantic Canada, specifically Nova Scotia and rural Nova Scotia. In Nova Scotia, and in the Maritimes in general, we are dealing with both a population teetering on the brink of decline and an aging population. That is an economic and demographic time bomb, because as our population gets smaller and older, we will have fewer people actively in the workforce paying into the system. More people will be at an age and stage in life when they will be drawing from the system. Seniors contribute massively to our communities, but a lot of the senior citizens I talk with are equally concerned about this demographic trend.
Five years ago, the median age of the Nova Scotia population was 42 years of age. It is now 44 years of age. Five years ago, the percentage of the population age 65 and over was 15.1%. It is now 16.6%. Additionally, 3,000 fewer students are starting school each year in Nova Scotia.
These trends should scare the heck out of us in my province. A larger percentage of retirees and a smaller proportion of productive workers means lower productive output and higher demands for social services. Fewer young people working equals a declining tax base and it also reflects fewer creative minds and ultimately less innovation, less entrepreneurism, less research and development and less commercialization.
The reality is that the best way to tackle the demographic time bomb in our region is to attract more new Canadians to Atlantic Canada. The Nova Scotia government has recognized our demographic challenge and it has announced an intention to do more to attract new Canadians to Nova Scotia.
However, one of the challenges faced by provincial governments is the immigration cap imposed by the federal government. If the four Atlantic provinces worked together on a common immigration strategy, I believe they would have more clout in dealing with the Conservative government on this issue.
I believe we can learn from Manitoba's successful immigration model. Manitoba and Nova Scotia have similarly sized populations, but in the last ten years, Manitoba's population has grown by almost 9%, while Nova Scotia's population has only grown by a little over 1%. The key difference is immigration. Last year, Nova Scotia took in 15% of the total number of immigrants recruited by Manitoba. That is 2,400 in Nova Scotia versus 16,000 in Manitoba.
Manitoba has made immigration a priority across every department of government and in partnership with businesses, communities, volunteer organizations, schools and health care providers. As a result of immigration, Manitoba's population is growing and it is getting younger. Furthermore, Manitoba has been successful in attracting immigrants not just to Winnipeg but to small towns and communities across the province. We can learn from what they have done in Manitoba.
In Nova Scotia, we have some of the finest higher education institutions in the country, some world-class universities. We have hundreds of students from dozens of countries around the world studying in Nova Scotia. Imagine what would be possible if we could do more to encourage these bright and talented minds to live and work there after graduation, creating jobs and opportunities in Nova Scotia.
Our geographic position on the Atlantic Ocean is a natural advantage, and we should be aiming to become world class in all things ocean-related. Nova Scotia is home to 450 Ph.D.s in ocean-related disciplines. That is the third highest concentration in the world. The Bedford Institute of Oceanography has 700 scientists, engineers and technicians. Approximately 200 ocean technology companies now account for a third of our province's research and development. A lot of those people are coming from other countries.
When we think of the innovation companies as examples of success, whether it is Acadian Seaplants Ltd. or Ocean Nutrition, we need more new Canadians to help develop that industry and other industries. We need more new Canadians to help develop the growing grape and wine industry in Nova Scotia. The reality is that in 1997, there were 2 wineries in Nova Scotia and today there are almost 19. To put it into perspective, in 1997 there were 19 wineries in the Niagara region and today there are 130.
We need people to develop that industry, and one of the things that is interesting right now is that the hardest hit European economies include countries like Portugal, Italy, Spain and France, which have some of the highest concentrations of expertise in grapes and wine in the world. We should be having targeted immigration, like the Manitoba model, bringing the business community and the governments together at all levels. We should have a targeted immigration strategy on bringing that expertise and those people from those countries, some of which have a 40% to 50% youth unemployment rate. We should bring those people in and give them an opportunity to help us turbocharge our wine industry.
These are ideas we should be developing in the House, working across party lines in a constructive and positive way and speaking about immigration as a source not just of multicultural diversity but of economic opportunity for our country. That is the way this debate should be shaped. It should not be based on partisan differences and trying to pit people against one another, and particularly—