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View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
I have a quick question. It may have been the translation, but when my colleague, Ms. Vignola, was asking about COVID spending, you seemed to state that all of the COVID spending was on the Government of Canada's website, which is the opposite of what Parliamentary Budget Officer stated, whom you say you highly esteem.
Who's right, and who's wrong, or is it just lost in translation?
View Jean-Yves Duclos Profile
Lib. (QC)
No. What I tried to say—and I certainly would like to be as precise as I can and should be—is that all of the financial information related to the budgetary estimates process in which you are, obviously, very involved is available on GC InfoBase with a lot more detail than we can perhaps talk about at the meeting.
View Dane Lloyd Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay. We'll hold you to that, Minister.
Here's my next question. Given all the money that's pouring out, which is necessary for this COVID pandemic, and given that there's been a great deal of change in the way that the private sector is working in the lives of everyday Canadians, has your department undertaken any efforts to identify possible savings during this pandemic? If so, can you tell the committee about those?
View Jean-Yves Duclos Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Lloyd. You're exactly correct in suggesting that we should focus our efforts on the pandemic. That's what we are doing.
Of course, we are also trying to be mindful that if we want to exit strongly and united out of this crisis, we also need to be acknowledging the vulnerabilities and inequality that existed before the pandemic with respect, for instance, to indigenous peoples. That requires—
View Glen Motz Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Minister for being here.
Minister, the Eglinton West Crips were taken down recently by a joint police investigation. They seized 31 firearms; seven kilograms of cocaine; two kilograms of fentanyl; two kilograms of meth; other drugs including heroine, oxycodone, Percocet and MDA; along with $300,000 in cash.
How many of those arrested were licensed firearms owners, and how many of the firearms were legal in Canada?
Minister, no, I'm not going to ask you to answer that because we already know the answer. You and I, as well as all Canadians, know that the answer to that question is “none”. None of those arrested were licensed firearms owners, and none of those firearms were legal in this country.
Since coming into government in the last five years, your government has spent over $4 billion more on public safety departments and agencies than in the previous five years, yet with all that extra funding, since 2015, every crime statistic tracked by Statistics Canada has increased. The crime rate is up. The crime severity index is up. Gang shootings are up. Gang homicides are up. Domestic violence is up. Drug use, drug addiction and drug overdoses are up. Police resource challenges are up. Border security concerns are up. Cybercrimes are up; and I could go on.
Canadians have lost trust in you and your party to protect them, regardless of the huge sums of taxpayer money that you continue to pour on the problems. Your plan is obviously failing, Minister.
Why is your massive spending failing to protect Canadians and reduce crime, as they expect their governments to do for them?
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
One thing I would point out, because you began talking about some of the outstanding work that was done by the police in Ontario to deal with guns and gangs in their jurisdiction, is that we committed $327 million to that effort, including $65 million in the province of Ontario.
I would contrast that, Glen, with the investment that the Conservative government, in 10 years, made in dealing with gun and gang violence in Canada. In comparison to the $327 million that we invested in a robust police response to deal with those criminals and that violence, in 10 years of Conservative government, it was not a nickel: Not a single dollar was allocated to support those police efforts.
I appreciate that you don't think we should make investments in policing, but we do, and that's—
View Tony Baldinelli Profile
CPC (ON)
In your remarks, you had mentioned the role of Destination Canada. You had started in August—the $30-million fund—working with the provincial and territorial destination marking boards, which is great. It is a start. You were also saying that you're going to be targeting that $40 billion that had been previously spent abroad by Canadians to kind of stay home.
That's why I was kind of surprised when I was looking at the supplementary estimates (B) for 2021 and noticed that no new money was committed by the federal government to the Canadian Tourism Commission, which is now known as Destination Canada.
What is your reaction to that?
Marsha Walden
View Marsha Walden Profile
Marsha Walden
2020-10-29 11:35
We work with the appropriations that we are provided. We make the best possible use of those in the markets where we feel there's the most opportunity.
At this time we do not have any insight into changes to our budget. We feel that we can do good work with the appropriation that we have.
Benson Cowan
View Benson Cowan Profile
Benson Cowan
2020-07-23 12:31
Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
I'm the chief executive officer of the Legal Services Board of Nunavut, which is the territorial legal aid provider.
Nunavut's legal aid context is a little different. There are very few private lawyers in Nunavut. The Legal Services Board is by far the largest employer of lawyers in Nunavut, perhaps even in the Arctic. Certainly that's the case with respect to criminal law. Almost 100% of criminal cases pass through our staff lawyers and our contract lawyers at some point, and we probably carry more than 90% of them to conclusion.
I reside in Rankin Inlet, which is a community of about 2,500 people in the Kivalliq region in central Nunavut. I've been there since January 2019. I grew up in a series of remote first nations communities in northern Manitoba and northern Ontario. While I have a lot of experience working and living with indigenous communities, I want to be really clear that my perspective is not that of an indigenous person. I was listening in on the previous witnesses. With respect to Nunavut, President Obed and President Kotierk's evidence and perspective is, I'd submit, the lens through which these issues need to be dealt with. I can offer some technical advice, but I want to be really clear that I don't experience the systemic racism in the same way that the Inuit members of my community do.
When we talk about systemic racism, for me it's a fairly simple equation: Is there a racialized group that is experiencing a disproportionate burden or barrier? Is that ongoing and persistent? Are remedial efforts ineffective or nonexistent? I would submit that the evidence that this is the case with respect to policing in Nunavut is overwhelming.
We can start in terms of evidence. We can look at the data from StatsCan that suggest that Nunavummiut, people who reside in Nunavut outside of Iqaluit—in most communities, that's over 90%—are four times as likely to be charged with a criminal offence than other Canadians. Once charged, they're more likely to be prosecuted. Once prosecuted, they're more likely to be convicted. Once convicted, they're more likely to be sentenced to jail. They are sentenced to longer sentences, and they serve more of those sentences. I've summarized some of that data in the Legal Services Board 2018-19 annual report, if you're interested, and there are sources for it as well.
Also, when we look at the evidence of systemic racism with respect to policing in Nunavut, we can also look at the repeated instances that we hear throughout the justice system of interactions between the police and members of the community that are fraught with violence and that are otherwise problematic. I summarized almost 30 of those last June and forwarded them to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. I met with the commissioner and asked her to consider doing a systemic review. However, those instances that I reported on are still a fraction of what we hear in the community on a regular and ongoing basis. They're present in the courts. There's a consistent process of charges being withdrawn or judicial commentary on these instances. There is a wealth of evidence that there are, on the ground, problematic interactions of a nature that, frankly, just don't exist to the same extent in other jurisdictions in the country.
Then the other piece of evidence is sort of what's missing: any systematic, public or transparent approach to the conduct in criminal investigations and proceedings in relation to this conduct. There have been a few conduct investigations and one set of criminal charges that have been laid in Nunavut against police over the past 20 years.
Generally speaking, I estimate that partly because there is very little in the way of a systematic approach to conduct investigations on the part of the RCMP senior management and partly because it's not a transparent model, we just don't see evidence of these matters being addressed.
Very quickly, I'd say that obviously it's really clear that a new model is required for policing in Nunavut. Regardless of the content of that model, I'd say that there are three elements that must be addressed for any change to be possible.
One is increased resources to front-line policing. In this age of “defund the police”, I know that's not a very popular point of view, but the conditions that rank-and-file officers are forced to deal with are unbelievably arduous and stressful, and no change is possible without more resources. Also, frankly, you're never going to attract qualified Inuit applicants to go and work in those conditions either. Without increased funding for front-line policing, no change is possible.
Second, you need increased resources for restorative justice and social services in the communities. I cannot emphasize enough the lack of alternative dispute resolution or counselling or therapeutic services in Nunavut communities. There is basically a dearth of any of the range of services that are provided in other communities in this country. As a result, all these problems are handed to the police, and they respond with the tools they have, which more often than not are tools of coercion, arrest and charging.
The third thing that has to change is there needs to be meaningful, robust, independent civilian oversight. That means independent civilian investigations on criminal and use-of-force and death allegations, independent complaint-based conduct investigations, and independent oversight at the national level of RCMP policy and strategic direction. I think it's clear that the senior management of the RCMP are unable to drive change and respond to this. The current situation, in which they're not accountable to civilian oversight in a structured way, is part of the problem.
View Kristina Michaud Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. White.
Mr. Cowan, you also touched on the issue of funding, which is a divisive issue. Some people talk about defunding, while others talk about having more resources. How do you see that on your side?
Benson Cowan
View Benson Cowan Profile
Benson Cowan
2020-07-23 13:04
Thank you for the question.
I think that, again, in the Nunavut context, the question of defunding is entirely.... It's a red herring. Most communities have a handful of officers who are subject to arduous conditions, and it's impossible to imagine any positive change taking place unless you had more resources and more stability in community detachments.
I do think, alongside that, you need a massive investment in community resources as well. Certainly, in remote northern communities, policing is so important in a way that it has a different character and flavour than it does in the south. If it's not properly funded, it destroys public trust in a whole range of justice institutions. It makes the communities less safe. It makes vulnerable people less likely to go to the police for help.
View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
We'll follow up in the next round.
I'm very pleased to see you talking about the disparity faced by indigenous police in what is being treated as a program. In the communities we represent in Treaty No. 9 with the Nishnawbe Aski Police, who do incredible work, we've had a hell of a time getting them radios, getting backup. One officer told me, “I've slept in places you wouldn't let a dog sleep in.” Their underfunding has put their ability to serve people at risk.
When I see the struggle that we have in Nishnawbe Aski territory to get good policing, and then I see, for example, the RCMP buying two armoured vehicles at a time when we're talking about de-escalating and demilitarizing, I have to ask, what kind of priority is that? We're buying old gear from Iraq, but the RCMP can afford that? We can't get backup radios to ensure police protection in isolated communities such as Kingfisher Lake or Pikangikum.
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
Your question, I think, highlights a flaw in the existing system, where those indigenous police services in Ontario that you cite are funded on a funding model where the federal government pays 52% of the salary and costs of policing, and the province pays 48%. That model of program funding has created, I think, very serious deficiencies in those police services.
By the way, I know the men and women who serve in those services, and their leadership too. They're really great people, and they're doing their very best under very difficult and challenging circumstances. It's one of the things that motivates my government to create that new legislative framework to serve those communities better and to give them the type of appropriately resourced policing services they deserve and need.
View Michael Cooper Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you Auditor General Hogan for appearing today. Again, congratulations on your appointment.
You noted in your testimony that it will take years in terms of audits to go through the COVID spending. Just having regard for the scope of COVID and the additional mandate that places on your office, the $10.8-million request was made at a time when the office had already had its mandate expanded and was already doing additional work without additional resources. Is that not correct?
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2020-06-22 12:45
You are correct. Back in 2017, there was an initial request made by Mr. Ferguson. Some funds were received in 2018. It was about a third of what was requested. Then the $10.8 million was part of the second tranche that Mr. Ferguson had been looking for.
As you mentioned, that was following some mandates we received that were unfunded. Since then, there have been additional mandates added. Then there are the three orders from the House related to investing in Canada, special warrants and COVID-19. Then, as well, just dealing with our technology gap, we were able to fund some of the other requests earlier on that we need to address.
The $10.8 million is an outdated request and, as I mentioned in my opening statement, one that we are looking at and hope to be able to refresh very soon.
View Michael Cooper Profile
CPC (AB)
Would it be fair to say that it's a significantly outdated request?
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2020-06-22 12:46
Three years is a very long time even without a pandemic in the middle of all that, so yes, it would be fair to say that it's significantly outdated.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thanks, Mr. Chair, and thanks, Ms. Ropar, Mr. Casola, and Mr. Morley for being here today. We hope your families are safe and healthy.
I want to start by asking a very simple question. How much money has the Infrastructure Bank received from the federal government to date, over the length of its existence, and what have been the operational expenses?
Annie Ropar
View Annie Ropar Profile
Annie Ropar
2020-06-22 14:18
I can take that question.
We can divide up the appropriations between two parts. There are capital appropriations, which are amounts that are funded for investments. As of the end of Q3 of the 2019-20 fiscal year, which is the last set of financials we have published, that totals just over a billion dollars. Obviously, that was in support of the REM transaction.
In terms of operating costs and expenses, the most recent fiscal quarter, this would be December 31, 2019, the total operating costs are roughly about $16.6 million on that front.
I want to point out that obviously that is the cost side of the equation, but there is also a revenue side to the equation. As of the end of Q3 of that same period, we roughly have about $9.7 million in accrued interest revenue on our transactions.
Annie Ropar
View Annie Ropar Profile
Annie Ropar
2020-06-22 14:20
I'm sorry, that's just for the year-to-date fiscal Q3, December 2019. Last year, our full year fiscal expenses were about $11.4 million, the last fiscal year ending March 2019.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
The Minister of Infrastructure claims that the government funded 52,000 infrastructure projects. Yesterday, the Parliamentary Budget Officer said that about 20,000 projects were missing from the list submitted by the government.
Will the government's financial snapshot provide all the details of each of these projects, yes or no?
View Catherine McKenna Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Chair, I have decided to make my response in English in response to the misleading words that were spoken in the House yesterday by the member for Carleton. I'd like to believe the member would not deliberately mislead the House, so I would ask that he retract and correct his false claim that the PBO said infrastructure projects are missing. In fact, the PBO report confirms—
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you.
I have a simple question. If they exist, will the minister commit to providing the dates, amounts, locations and all the other details regarding the 52,000 projects, yes or no?
View Catherine McKenna Profile
Lib. (ON)
I'm asking the member for Carleton in French to correct what he said in Parliament, because it's false. We certainly submitted the 53,000 projects. I'm asking the member to correct what he said.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It's estimates week in Ottawa, so I thought I would take a look at some of the government's spending.
We had an Order Paper question come back recently, listing thousands and millions of dollars of Canadian taxpayers' money spent on hospitality in a period of just a couple of months.
I want to start with the CRA. In their departmental plan, they state that they're deeply committed to open and honest communication and to transparency. In the Order Paper, there are 620 items of hospitality listed and over $1 million of spending, without a single detail released about the description of goods, number of employees, attendees or hospitality, except to mention a $2,100 order for Subway.
Why is the CRA transparent on nothing except for Subway sandwiches?
View Diane Lebouthillier Profile
Lib. (QC)
I can tell my colleague that, at Revenue Canada, we are very proud of the work that we have done, whether it is on the issue of tax evasion or in terms of customer service. This is also National Public Service Week. We have arranged for 8.5 million people to be able to receive the CERB.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
Its own departmental plan stated that transparency. I'm sure Jared from Subway would be very proud of that answer.
The departmental plan for the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, also known as OSFI, signed by Minister Morneau, states its mandate is to protect, strengthen and stabilize the financial environment for taxpayers.
Another Order Paper question we have shows that the money spent on office furniture for OSFI over the last four years was almost $2 million for brand new furniture, despite the fact that PSPC has warehouses full of furniture available in Ottawa. How does almost $2 million in furniture for a small department of barely 400 people strengthen the financial environment for taxpayers?
View Mona Fortier Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Chair, since the beginning of this crisis we've put the priority on Canadians' health and safety. We're continuing to make sure we provide those services and programs. We have been concentrating on making sure businesses and workers are being supported effectively. We will continue to do this, and we want to prioritize the health and safety of Canadians.
View Alain Rayes Profile
CPC (QC)
Mr. Chair, now that we know that the CERB will be extended, I would like to know how much it has cost over the last three months.
View Bill Morneau Profile
Lib. (ON)
Based on the economic snapshot, in the coming weeks, I will be pleased to inform Canadians of where we are—
View Alain Rayes Profile
CPC (QC)
Mr. Chair, we will be voting on supply today. We have been told that the CERB will be extended, but the Minister of Finance cannot even tell us how much it has cost over the last three months. That is unacceptable. It is disrespectful to the general public, who are paying through their taxes for these announcements that the Prime Minister makes every day from the steps of his house.
How much has the CERB cost in the last three months? Providing us with that figure is simple. Clearly, the minister knows what it is.
View Bill Morneau Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Chair, we know that about eight million Canadians have used the CERB, a very important program to protect them. It gave them $500 a week. So if we do the math, it is clear.
We are now going to extend the CERB to protect people. With a cautious reopening, I think fewer and fewer people are going to be using the CERB—
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
Again, there's no answer.
Now let's move on to infrastructure. The government says that it has funded 52,122 infrastructure projects. Will this snapshot give the date, location, cost and project description for every single one of those projects, yes or no?
View Catherine McKenna Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Chair, I am very pleased to see that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has confirmed our historic investing in Canada plan continues to create jobs. We were up from 31,000 full-time equivalent jobs in 2016 to more than 91,000 jobs last year. We've invested in more than 53,000 projects, confirmed by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and more than $51 billion—
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
Will the government table a list of all 52,122 projects, yes or no?
View Catherine McKenna Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Chair, I know how much the member opposite loves reading reports, so I encourage him to read the Parliamentary Budget Officer's report where he confirms the more than 53,000—
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
I did actually read the report and it confirms that the government has not supplied a list for all 52,000 projects. There are roughly 20,000 missing. Here's a simple question: Will the government provide a complete list of all of these projects, yes or no?
View Catherine McKenna Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Chair, can the member opposite confirm, yes or no, that he has actually read the report?
We have provided details of those projects to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and he should be jumping for joy because we have created more than 91,000—
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you very much.
The minister asked me a yes or no question. Have I read the report? Yes, I have read the report. Yes, it is possible to answer a yes or no question. That was the comment, so I will give the minister a fourth opportunity to do so.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer says there are roughly 20,000 missing projects. Will this snapshot that we expect in July provide a complete list of those projects, yes or no?
View Catherine McKenna Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Chair, I want to make it 100% clear that the PBO confirmed that these projects exist, that they are creating jobs across the country and that they are growing our economy, and we are going to continue moving forward.
Let me remind everyone in the House, and Canadians, that the member opposite was part of a party that wanted to cut infrastructure programs. I'd like to know which of the 53,000 projects the member opposite would like to cut.
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
Welcome to meeting number 6 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. The committee meeting today is being held at the request of four members, pursuant to Standing Order 106(4), to discuss undertaking a study of the government's spending priorities under Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
I hope all of you have been keeping yourselves safe and that everyone is well. It has been a difficult last few months. The last time I went back to Toronto from Ottawa was on March 13, and I just drove yesterday. We have to make sure that we keep ourselves safe. We are still not out of the woods yet, so please continue following public health advice and keep yourselves and your loved ones safe.
Today's meeting is taking place in person and is being broadcast on ParlVU. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. Just to ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules that we all need to follow, as we are all going through these unprecedented times.
First, occupational health, safety and environment has requested that we all limit our movement in the room. Individuals should always respect social distancing rules and remain at least two metres away from each other. Also to minimize health risks, you will note that limited personnel have been permitted to attend today. Staff have received a phone number where they can listen in to the proceedings in real time.
No paper documents have been distributed. All documents have been distributed electronically to members. Should you require a copy of a document, please advise the clerk of the committee immediately by emailing the committee at cimm@parl.gc.ca. Also, please follow the directions on the floor signs indicating which way to walk in and which way to walk back. Even when we finish the meeting, please don't go out as a group. Try to maintain the social distancing rules. We need to make sure we leave a difference of a few minutes and not go out as a big group. Make sure that we follow all of the rules of physical distancing. These were some of the instructions from the logistics point of view.
Welcome to meeting number 6 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, and welcome to Ottawa.
Mr. Kent.
View Peter Kent Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, Chair.
Thank you, colleagues, for assembling in something closer to our regular committee meeting, and thank you to the clerk for arranging and enabling today's gathering, which is, in effect and however briefly, closer to a procedurally normal exception to the deficiencies of the virtual committee in the House and other committees.
Chair, our Conservative members wrote the letter to you requesting this meeting. I won't go through the entire letter. I'm sure it's been consumed by all. Essentially, it was because, on May 26, the government, as we said in the letter, used closure, supported by the NDP, to end debate and to pass a motion that modified the usual process for consideration of the supplementary estimates at the end of the supply cycle.
In the interest of the short time available between now and one o'clock—now and noon for the minister—I would like to suggest that the committee accept the motion as set out in the letter: that the committee invite the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to appear before the committee for no less than one hour to answer questions from members on the spending priorities of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
(Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
View Marco Mendicino Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank all members of the committee for indulging us as we've overcome some of the technical difficulties this morning.
I want to thank the members of the opposition as well for their collaboration in allowing me to appear in person.
Madam Chair and members of the committee, let me first acknowledge that this committee gathers on the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation.
I appear before you today at an important juncture. I'm here to provide this committee with an update on the critical priorities that are being advanced by my department as part of the Government of Canada's overall response to a once-in-100-year global pandemic. In marshalling a COVID-19 strategy, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has demonstrated its agility, efficiency and resilience in meeting the short-term urgent needs of our population, while keeping an eye focused on our long-term mandate to grow and strengthen the country through immigration.
From the earliest days of the pandemic my department has helped to create the necessary border conduits to ensure that Canadians continue to access the food, fuel and medical supplies we need, while putting in place the necessary health screens and mandatory isolation protocols to guard against the spread of COVID-19.
As the curve continues to flatten, we were also recently able to announce a new travel exemption that would allow immediate family members to reunite with Canadian permanent residents. We know it has been a difficult time for many families, but we are not free and clear of the virus yet.
Let me say a few words about how immigration has proven to be a lifeline in maintaining food security for all Canadians. This pandemic has etched into our national consciousness that temporary foreign workers play a key role in the production and distribution of Canada's food supply.
Temporary foreign workers are an essential component in the production and distribution of Canada's food supply. We've taken action to support them. That's why I want to take a moment to speak about the situation that we're currently facing.
Bonifacio Eugenio Romero and Rogelio Muñoz Santos were two migrant workers from Mexico. They were here to help feed Canadians and to support their families back home, and they died in that cause. This should never have happened.
We mourn their loss but that is not enough. We must do more. As a country, we are committed to the safety and well-being of all workers, Canadians and migrants alike. That's why our government took quick action to support this vulnerable community by providing financial aid for workers so they would have safer accommodations, wage protection, work permit flexibility and a compliance regime to enforce their rights.
However, numerous outbreaks along the supply chain have reminded us there is still more work to do to protect migrant workers, including considering pathways to permanent residency. Along with my ministerial colleagues, I am committed to collaborating with all parliamentarians, my provincial counterparts, farmers and advocates to explore this and other options.
I thought that it was important to take stock of the situation. I'll have the opportunity to speak about the various measures that we've put in place when I answer your questions.
In the same vein, I want to highlight for a moment how refugees and asylum seekers have distinguished themselves throughout the pandemic. Despite having overcome significant adversity just to get here, we've seen how they are stepping up to support the communities that sponsored them. In Quebec asylum seekers are contributing in exceptional ways by helping front-line health workers, especially in our long-term care retirement homes where the virus has ravaged seniors and the sick.
These uncommon acts of sacrifice and heroism should embolden us to fight against the stigma that refugees and asylum seekers are merely a burden. They are not. They are here to contribute. Therefore, in our supplementary estimates we are putting forward a proposed $102.5 million, reprofiled from the previous fiscal year, for the interim housing assistance program. This will provide crucial assistance to provinces and municipalities as they facilitate integration.
Specifically, these funds will be used to conclude funding arrangements with the City of Toronto and province of Quebec for costs associated with refugee protection claimants in 2019.
In addition to these highlights, I hope to be able to discuss during my appearance how international students will drive our economic recovery, as well as our 2020 levels plan, which is the blueprint for us to continue growing the country through immigration.
In closing, I want to emphasize that we've learned a lot over the last several months. We're adapting, accelerating and evolving our immigration system in a way that should inspire confidence among Canadians. Canada has long benefited from immigration, and the same will hold true as we restart the economy and boldly chart out our future.
Thank you.
View Peter Kent Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for making that long walk across. I wish we had been able to arrange for you to appear in person originally.
Despite the finest efforts of the staff here on the Hill, the deficiencies of virtual committee meetings, virtual appearances, have been laid clear by this almost hour-long delay in getting the committee going today.
Minister, the Prime Minister's four-year suspension of the safe third country treaty has left Canada with an asylum backlog of more than 90,000. That's the highest in Canada's history.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer's report, “Costing Irregular Migration across Canada's Southern Border”, pointed out that your government has provided no guidance regarding the reimbursement of outstanding and future support expenses for asylums that are burdening cities and provinces.
With regard to that $200-million line item in the supplementary estimates for the housing of asylum claimants, can you explain more specifically where those dollars are going? As I said earlier, in questions to you in the virtual committee in the House, this would seem to be a very small down payment on the costs assumed so far by municipalities and provinces, and their estimates of significant millions of dollars going forward.
View Marco Mendicino Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Kent, for the question. I'll begin by just expanding that the supplementary estimate request we put in today will be allocated towards the interim housing assistance program, which is a crucial initiative that facilitates the co-operation that exists between the federal level of government, the provinces and the municipalities. As I said, we've seen a number of municipalities that have played a significant role in enhancing the integration of our asylum seekers and refugees. The request we have put through the supplementary estimates builds on the $370 million that has already been invested in interim housing.
In addition to that, we had launched, approximately a year and a half ago, a border enforcement strategy, with an investment of $1.2 billion, to not only advance the priorities of facilitating integration through interim housing and help for refugees and asylum seekers, but also to maintain that integrity in the border.
I'm confident that these are important initiatives that will contribute to our asylum system, which is revered around the world.
View Peter Kent Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, Minister.
The City of Toronto is looking at something like $150 million, back due, with similar amounts ongoing, so I would hope you would address those issues in the days, weeks and months ahead.
Minister, you spoke to the willingness of some asylum claimants—a significant number—in Quebec to continue working in high-risk, long-term care home facilities, including some claimants whose claims have been rejected. We know you are under pressure from some of your Quebec cabinet colleagues to suspend the normal protocols of the Immigration and Refugee Board to accommodate asylum claimants who are working in those front-line care facilities.
Can you tell us where you are in your policy development to date? Are you looking to override the normal protocols and processes of the IRB?
View Marco Mendicino Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Kent. This allows me the opportunity to shed some additional light on the sacrifices that have been made by asylum seekers. As I pointed out in my introductory remarks, these are individuals who often overcome tremendous adversity just to get to Canada. As you well know, and as other members of this committee will know, these are individuals who are fleeing persecution, conflict, war and, increasingly, climate change, and have sought safe harbour in Canada.
It is true that there is a process by which those claims are adjudicated, and the Immigration and Refugee Board is charged with that responsibility. The individuals who have come to light in Quebec are stepping up in very significant ways, particularly in retirement homes, and I would just point out that asylum seekers, who often are living in shelters and in precarious housing, are already exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19.
Notwithstanding that, and notwithstanding any of the debate that has followed as a result of that, they continue to sacrifice themselves to support front-line health care workers and to aid the elderly and the sick, who, again, are disproportionately bearing the burden of this awful virus.
The debate we have engaged in is whether or not there is a way to recognize those contributions. Certainly, I hope to have more to say about that in due course.
View Peter Kent Profile
CPC (ON)
Minister, you are aware that under the Canada-Quebec accord, and given that this is essentially a Quebec issue and the pressure is coming from advocates in the province of Quebec, Quebec has the power to use its jurisdiction to provide whatever comfort that province may see as adequate.
View Marco Mendicino Profile
Lib. (ON)
You make reference to the Canada-Quebec accord, and I would point out that this is a well-established agreement, which works well for both the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec. There are clearly delineated responsibilities around economic immigration, as well as refugees and asylum seekers, which remain within the remit of the Government of Canada.
At all stages, we continue to collaborate and communicate very closely with the Government of Quebec, which is also, I understand, considering this issue. As I said, I hope to have an update in the not-too-distant future.
View Marc Serré Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Marc Serré Profile
2020-06-17 11:59
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank the minister for taking the time to speak to us and for being flexible. I also want to thank him and his staff for their work on the immigration system. It's very important for our country.
My question concerns the rural and northern immigration pilot program.
The northern Ontario Liberal caucus has worked hard, because we've heard from MPs, mayors, municipalities, chambers of commerce and employers about the need for workers, and the provincial nominee program doesn't meet the needs of the employers in northern Ontario. Ninety-eight per cent of provincial nominee immigration goes to southern Ontario, very little to northern Ontario.
I want to take the time here to go over the rural immigration pilot project. I know that COVID has changed the landscape on the immigration side a wee bit, and I want you to be able to update the committee on where the rural and northern immigration pilot project is at and how it is helping to get pathways to permanent residency for our residents and also to support our employers locally in northern Ontario.
View Marco Mendicino Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you for your question, Mr. Serré, and for your very important work in your constituency.
We know that immigration contributes significantly to Canada's economy. That's one of our reasons for creating this pilot project, which supports immigrants who want to start the next chapter of their lives in rural communities. We're using the expertise and experience of rural communities to match the immigrants' experience with the needs of the community.
Just to expand on that, the rural and northern immigration pilot is one of those innovations that seeks to tap into the expertise of rural communities—the experiences, the needs—and to align those needs with the skill sets of those who wish to start the next chapter of their lives in rural communities. I'm very pleased to report that nine of the 11 communities involved have launched their pilots already.
This is a good news story. It's one I hope that all parliamentarians will share in celebrating. Obviously, there's more work to be done.
View Marc Serré Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Marc Serré Profile
2020-06-17 12:01
Thank you.
Also, I've been hearing from employers. Specifically, I have a mining company here in northern Ontario, in greater Sudbury, that wants to bring in an engineer from Venezuela, but because of COVID and the challenges, the English test cannot be done in person. Is there anything we could do as a government to support the employer and the skilled candidate who wants to come to northern Ontario, to greater Sudbury, by somehow completing the English test online?
View Marco Mendicino Profile
Lib. (ON)
You raise a really important point, and that is that COVID-19 has created certain disruptions within our immigration system. The department has looked at ways to stand up new alternative processes, in particular around moving applications forward electronically and remotely where we can. We've provided our staff and our officials with the additional technological tools they need to overcome some of that disruption.
When it comes to testing and other milestones that have to be reached to move aspiring immigrants who wish to come to Canada to ply their trade, whether it's in engineering or in a skill or a trade, we continue to explore ways in which we can do that.
Again, it's a real testament to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, which has shown great resilience throughout the course of managing this pandemic.
View Marc Serré Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Marc Serré Profile
2020-06-17 12:03
Thank you.
Also, now with international students, in Greater Sudbury and in my riding Nickel Belt have Laurentian University, Cambrian College and Collège Boréal. Together the three post-secondary institutions, which are bilingual, also have about 2,000 international students.
With COVID and the uncertainty of the school year, I wanted to take the opportunity here for you to elaborate what we are doing to support international students and also to support the colleges and the communities that have these important students in our community, getting educated and also hopefully staying longer.
View Marco Mendicino Profile
Lib. (ON)
As I've testified before this committee, international students bring tremendous benefits to Canada economically, socially and culturally, and as a result of that reality, we have certainly looked to continue the great successes of the international student program, notwithstanding the challenges COVID-19 has presented.
We continue to partner very closely with universities and colleges right across the country, not just in large cities but in small and medium-sized municipalities as well, many of which require this cohort, require international students, to attend and take that next step in their career by acquiring a first-rate educational experience here in Canada.
We've made a number of modifications to the program to account for the disruption. We have created more flexibility within the work permits that attach to international student visas for those who are taking a degree and are working in an essential service sector. Again, I think the health sector is a prime example of that.
We've also provided some relaxation when it comes to online education because campuses remain closed. Those who are here will be able to take their courses up to 100% online, without any penalty to their postgraduate work experience.
View Christine Normandin Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for joining us today. It's always nice to see you again, especially in person.
I'll address the issues raised by my colleague, even though this wasn't my original plan.
You spoke about the international students who are already here. However, I also want to hear about the international students who are expected to arrive and who often make up 20% to 25% of the CEGEP and university student cohorts in the regions. They're currently unable to obtain their biometrics. We don't know whether their study permit applications will be processed in time for the start of the school year.
What's being done for international students who must arrive in the fall?
View Marco Mendicino Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Ms. Normandin. It's always a great pleasure to be here in person to answer the committee members' questions.
As I said, international students bring tremendous benefits to Canada economically, culturally and socially. International students who had valid study permits or whose applications for study permits were approved when the travel restrictions came into effect on March 18, 2020, can travel to Canada by air or land. We're continuing to assess the impact and current situations, and we're making the necessary adjustments.
With regard to your specific question, we're continuing to look for solutions to the biometrics issues. In other immigration categories, such as foreign workers, we've allowed for greater flexibility. Your suggestion is one of the ideas that we'll keep exploring.
View Christine Normandin Profile
BQ (QC)
With respect to essential workers, during the crisis, a directive stated that their work permit applications had to be processed within 10 days. This was done in the context of the crisis. However, when a paper application is submitted, it's almost impossible to find the paper file at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in order to process it quickly.
I'm thinking of a Venezuelan nurse I know whose application was submitted in February and still hasn't been processed. Doctors in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield submitted their applications in April and these applications still haven't been processed. The hospital needs them and is waiting for them.
Minister, do you agree that the directive put in place was impossible to implement?
View Marco Mendicino Profile
Lib. (ON)
The short answer is no. It isn't impossible. As I've said several times, my department introduced measures to help temporary visitors, both workers and students. We made the system much more flexible to expedite the approval of applications.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, if you applied for a work permit, you had to wait several months. With respect to the essential worker category, our process is much faster now. However, I know that there's a great deal of pressure with regard to this priority. We'll keep working on it.
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