That, the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration presented on Thursday, March 23, 2017 be concurred in.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about some important work the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration did earlier in this Parliament in relation to the modernization of client service delivery within Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. This was a very extensive report, which the committee put a lot of time into, with the goal of trying to improve the experience for people who are applying, through various processes, through this department to legally come into Canada.
There were many witnesses who appeared before our committee, and there were many recommendations put forward by the committee, unanimously, as a matter of fact, to improve that experience. I will note, however, that it has been many months, over a year, since this report was tabled, and the government has not responded to many of the recommendations herein, nor has the government accepted the reality that we have seen a major change in the operating environment in Canada, with the influx of tens of thousands of people at the Lacolle border crossing trying to illegally enter the country and subsequently claim asylum, and the impact that has had on the overall client service delivery experience for people who are trying to access the immigration system.
The genesis of this report was earlier in this Parliament, as I mentioned. The purpose was to look at ways IRCC could improve the user experience for people entering the system. There were many reasons the study was undertaken. I can think of a few.
I would like to talk about the public servants who work within IRCC. For the past two years, they have had to deal with a lot of immigration policy decisions being made on the fly by the current government. They have done their best to respond, but because of the rigid system of processing within the department, it has become a very inflexible system. We are seeing delays and backlogs happen more and more, especially now, since the government did not budget or take into account in its levels plan that by the end of this year, the minister will have overseen what could be close to 100,000 people illegally crossing the border into Canada and claiming asylum. That has had an enormous impact on the processing system as well as on client service delivery for IRCC.
I listened to the minister's responses to four hours of questioning last week with regard to the illegal border crossing crisis. He made many assertions about the government's record on client service delivery. I want to set the context of the system he came into.
Previous Liberal governments created a backlog of 108,000 for the parents and grandparents application stream alone. The previous Liberal government also increased wait times for parents and grandparents to 64 months and created a total immigration backlog of 830,000. Previous Liberal governments also imposed a right-of-landing fee of $975 on new immigrants.
When we came into government, obviously it was a very daunting task to address the backlog, and we had a lot of success. Our former Conservative government had an action plan for faster family reunification. It included increased numbers of parents and grandparents as permanent residents and managing the number of new applications to reduce the backlog, including introducing the super visa and cutting the backlog and processing times in half. Part of the reason we introduced the super visa, in terms of service delivery, was to ensure that families were reunited faster. It was a 10-year multiple-entry visa, introduced by our Conservative government. Some 50,000 super visas were launched, with an average processing time of only three months. It also protected taxpayers by requiring private health insurance. Again, we were being cognizant not only of client service delivery but of the sustainability of Canada's social programs.
We saw more parents and grandparents welcomed as permanent residents under our government as compared to the previous Liberal government. Over 171,000 parents and grandparents were admitted, versus 154,000 grandparents admitted from 1997 to 2005. I should go through the numbers, because government members keep standing up to talk about the illegal border crossing crisis, which, of course, was launched by the Prime Minister's #WelcomeToCanada tweet. Some keep trying to say that somehow it was Stephen Harper's fault that the Prime Minister tweeted #WelcomeToCanada.
We need to focus on client service delivery right now, because all members in the House are getting calls in our riding offices from people who are trying to legally enter the country and are now encountering seven-year-plus wait times to come in under certain streams. What I think is most disgusting is the fact that the government is prioritizing the allocation of resources to process people who are illegally entering the country and is taking resources away from streams such as the privately sponsored refugee program, in which we now see wait times of up to seven years.
Do they think about that? Someone languishing in a UNHCR camp, who does not have access to a lot of resources, is now facing that long of a backlog. Meanwhile, the work the committee did over a year ago needs to be updated, given that the immigration levels report has been blown out of the water. In fact, the immigration levels report is probably birdcage liner at this point. This report not only needs to be concurred in, it needs to be updated because of the backlogs that are being created because of the reallocation of resources.
The minister will stand up here and tell us that this is not happening, that there are different processing lines, and that this is bananas. However, that is just cover, because we know that as of six months ago, over 80 processing staff from other lines of processing were reallocated to processing illegal border crossers, and I think that number has increased over time. When one thinks about removing 80 staff members, although I am sure it is at over 100 now, to process the crisis that is happening at Roxham Road, and we have seen these numbers exponentially increase since that figure was put forward, certainly we will continue to see backlogs. That is going to reduce the client service delivery experience for people who are trying to legally enter the country.
We should be prioritizing some of the recommendations included in this report, because we should be trying to prioritize the client service delivery experience for people who are legally entering the country as opposed to people who are illegally entering the country. If we continue to build tent cities and send people to process their applications and turn the CBSA and the RCMP into a glorified concierge service, we are, in fact, incenting people to continue with this activity rather than trying to enter the country legally.
I would argue that client service delivery for people who are trying to legally enter the country would be improved if the minister would seek to close the loophole in the safe third country agreement. If the minister closed the loophole in the safe third country agreement, or sought legislation that would allow him to designate the entire Canadian border an official point of entry for the purposes of being applied to the safe third country agreement only, we would reduce demand on the system for processing the applications of illegal border crossers, thus allowing resources to be freed up for legal border crosses, which is what this report talks about.
To me, it is very important that the House move this report forward, but the committee should probably update this report as well. I think it is another piece of work we could do to investigate the burden of this border crossing crisis, which is squarely the Prime Minister's fault. It is squarely the Prime Minister's fault that he has refused to walk back his tweet, and these services are being impacted.
I would be very curious to see how the government votes on concurrence on this report, because many of the recommendations outlined here the government has not responded to. They have been exacerbated under the government's tenure.
I would like to point out some other things. There is a call centre. If a person is trying to access information when applying for permanent residency, citizenship, or any of the myriad of other services IRCC provides, there is a call centre that a client, ostensibly, should be able to call to get information.
Here is an interesting piece of information from the study:
The IRCC Call Centre has been the subject of numerous complaints about poor client service. Departmental officials provided detailed information regarding complaints received. Specifically, they noted that, with regard to the 4,453 feedback web forms received in 2015, there were 35 complaints specific to the Call Centre;
For those of us who do a lot of casework related to immigration, which would be almost every single person in the House, we understand the problem with the call centre intimately, because our staff actually have a hard time calling into it. Under the tenure of the former immigration minister, John McCallum, the government tried to remove the dedicated line for members' staff who were enquiring on behalf of their constituents. This report recommends that the government, under all circumstances, keep that line ongoing. It is very important for the House to accept that recommendation, because sometimes it is the last line of defence under the incompetence of the government in terms of being able to get information on an application that is pending.
My colleague, who has Vegreville in her riding, seconded this motion. She has been making an impassioned plea to the government. We have this whole report on client service delivery, and the government has decided to shut that processing centre down, even though, first, it is one of the most efficient processing centres in Canada, and second, the union of labourers there has been saying that there have not been job guarantees for all workers. Third, why is it kicking Alberta when it is down? It is taking away the equivalent of taking 100,000 jobs out of Toronto in terms of the impact it will have on the community of Vegreville. It is completely decimating that community. I do not think the minister even bothered to visit Vegreville.
When we are looking at client service delivery, we have all these recommendations in the report that have not been responded to, which the government is making worse by closing one of the most effective processing centres in the country. There were also documents that came out that showed that there would be an additional expense to the government to shut down this processing centre. The Liberals' whole argument for closing it down was that it was supposed to be more efficient and save the taxpayers money, when, in fact, it is going to make the taxpayers spend more money. We get less efficiency and an increased cost for taxpayers. That is the hallmark of Liberal management.
There is one other thing I want to point out. The last time I tried to get concurrence on a report from the Citizenship and Immigration committee, it was on the issue of immigration consultants who were essentially fraudulent. We know that there are instances of people we would call ghost consultants. These are people who contract themselves out to newcomers to Canada under the guise of providing services promising to get them to Canada faster. It is very difficult for people who are working like this to face any sort of punishment under our current system.
Liberal and Conservative governments have made changes in how the immigration consulting profession is regulated. We know that there are still a lot of problems with that. I believe the committee put forward a unanimous report on recommendations on how to fix some of these things. However, the government, including the members on the committee that voted for the recommendations, when we tried to have it concurred in in the House, voted against the concurrence motion, therefore showing the true colours of the government on immigration, which is that it does not really care about improving client service delivery for people.
Why am I talking about immigration consultants in the context of this report? If we are talking about client service delivery, in a lot of ways, people should not have to contract an immigration consultant to do some of the most basic work it takes to apply to come to this country. We should be looking at ways to streamline and simplify processing for people who are seeking to enter the country.
This is what I have been saying all the time. When the immigration system of a country like Canada is functioning well, it should be a debate about process and how we improve processes. We can have partisan differences on that, but we should not be having a discussion about the fact that the entire system is melting down because the government has no control over a planned, orderly migration system.
What is striking to me is that since this report was written in March 2017, we have seen close to 40,000 people illegally entering the country from the United States of America, which we know is safe third country, to claim asylum. A lot of the processing issues that are noted within this report have been exacerbated because the government has refused to respond to this report in any sort of meaningful way after the recommendations were put forward by the committee, and then, of course, the additional burden on the system has made things worse.
The current government is very good at standing up in the House of Commons and using one thing to describe its action on a file: the amount of money spent. I am assuming that the remarks the parliamentary secretary is about to give on this matter will be that the government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars. I am sure the government is quite proud that it has made a more expensive plan to deal with the Prime Minister's tweet. However, the reality is that it is throwing money into things and it is getting worse. The metric here should not be how much money the government has spent. In fact, I would argue the opposite. I think the government should be saying it has created efficiencies while saving the taxpayers' money. It should be about how we are moving back to a planned, orderly migration system wherein we are talking about things like how we modernize client service delivery for people who are seeking to legally enter the country. However, we are not there.
Where we are today is that we have the minister on national TV spreading falsehoods that Parliament can put forward legislation that could technically deem the entire Canadian border as a legal point of entry. There are ways we can legislate it such that it would only apply to the safe third country agreement. I think it is probably Parliament's job to look at legislation that could do that. However, the government refuses to walk back the ill-advised tweet that the Prime Minister put out, essentially for his own ego. I wonder also why the Prime Minister has not staged a photo-op at the refugee camp at Roxham Road. Perhaps the photo opportunities are not as good there as they are in other places.
I should not be glib. We should be providing incentives for as many people as possible to come to Canada through legal, planned, orderly migration that meets the needs of Canada's growing economy, that meets the needs of our obligations to humanitarian immigration. However, it needs to be done in a way that we are focusing on integration, not on entitlement, and on an easy-to-use, good system that would provide incentives for people to legally enter into the country. We should not be talking about spending hundreds of millions of dollars, which could be upward of a billion dollars, to the court's failed asylum claimants who have come in under the current government's watch. In fact, that is going to be one of the legacies of the current Prime Minister. In years to come, we will be looking at the tab he created for deportations of people he is essentially pedalling false hope to, who had no hope of ever claiming asylum in Canada. The cost to the Canadian taxpayer, and that diversion of resources that could have been used for the modernization of services for people who are legally entering the country, is something I do not think he or anyone else should be proud of.
I think this report is good. I might have a few quibbles here and there, but there are some good ways that I think are non-partisan. We could improve client service delivery. There are practical things. I love that the department officials at IRCC could be focusing on implementing these recommendations rather than having to focus their time on the tire fire that is happening at Roxham Road. It is very simple to me.
Therefore, I would like the government to acknowledge my points today by voting to concur in this report on modernizing client service delivery. We could reset the tone in this House. We could say that we want to focus on legal, planned immigration, on resources for the live-in caregivers, the reunification of parents and grandparents, and all of these people for whom we know we did a good job under our Conservative government. This report should be concurred in to do that.