Mr. Omar Alghabra (Mississauga—Erindale, Lib.)
|| That, in the opinion of the House, immigrants to Canada and persons seeking Canadian citizenship are poorly served by this government.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I stand before the House today to express the concerns of Canadians about the direction or, more specifically, the lack of direction that the Conservative government has taken toward helping immigrants and new Canadians reach their optimum potential in society.
Canadians are quite rightly proud of our diversity and our reputation for welcoming immigrants. Immigration is more than just a symbol to Canadians, it is also an economic necessity.
At the turn of the last century, Sir Wilfrid Laurier's government started settling our vast land with “men in sheepskin coats”. Immigration levels peaked in 1913 when 400,818 immigrants, the equivalent of 1.5 million in today's terms, came to Canada. Today some 5.4 million Canadians, or 18.6% of the population, are foreign born, the highest rate of diversity in 70 years.
The retirement of baby boomers will have a significant impact on the competitiveness of Canada's economy. In 2001, boomers from ages 37 to 55 comprised 47% of the labour force and in 10 years half of them will be 55 or older and 18% will be over the age of 60.
According to the 2001 census, for the first time in history immigration over the preceding five year period accounted for more than 50% of Canada's population boom. Over the past decade, immigration has accounted for 70% of Canada's net labour force growth. Statistics Canada research predicts that between 2011 and 2015, 100% of our net labour force and population growth will come from immigration.
The Conference Board of Canada estimates that by 2020 a labour shortage will leave one million jobs unfilled. There is global competition for immigrants from growing economic powerhouses like China and India, in addition to the traditional pull of other industrialized nations, like the United States and Australia.
The benefit of immigration to a country is more than just economic. Immigrants bring diversity, vitality and innovation to Canada.
As American public policy expert, Richard Florida; has noted, “diversity is an essential component of a thriving country”. In short, over the next 10 years the country that can best attract and integrate immigrants will have an advantage in the global race. Canada desperately needs to excel at attracting and integrating immigrants as Canadian immigrants are falling further behind.
By the year 2000, the gap in earnings between immigrant men and Canadian born men registered at an astonishing 40%. The gap was even more pronounced for recent immigrant women as they received 44% lower earnings than their non-immigrant counterparts.
In addition, one-quarter of recent immigrants were low paid in 2000 compared to one-sixth of Canadian born workers. The problem is worsening. A 2005 report by RBC Financial Group shows that since the mid-eighties, immigrants have, as a group, experienced declining starting incomes and their salaries are taking longer to catch up to native born Canadians. Housing ownership rates among new Canadians are also in decline.
The Conference Board of Canada estimates the loss of income associated with unrecognized skills and credentials to be as high as $6 billion per year, half of which is constituted by the lower earnings of foreign born workers.
The toll of underutilization of immigrants can perhaps best be seen by our social agencies. In 2005, people not born in Canada made up approximately half of the population of 175,000 people using food banks in the greater Toronto area, or about 87,500 people. Immigrants using food banks are highly skilled. A remarkable 60% of them have university level education or trade certification. This is nearly double that of the Canadian born food bank population with just 36% who have university level education or a trade certification.
Furthermore, within that 60%, 80% of immigrants using food banks have a post-graduate degree. This is approximately eight times the Canadian born average of just over 1%. There is a growing attrition rate among business class and skilled worker immigrants who are increasingly returning to their country of origin or another destination in search of meaningful employment. More than half of those who leave do so within their first year of arrival.
Our reputation as a welcoming country is at stake. A recent online article out of New Delhi warns:
||--for many immigrants Canada has emerged as a land of unmitigated disaster. From rampant discrimination to hidden booby traps, Indians have been forced into an economic quagmire, having to settle for a dead end job.
Immigrant success should be everybody's business and, indeed, it should be a priority for the government.
The previous government realized the need for real and serious measures to respond to the growing needs of our immigrants. This was not just rhetoric. It was backed up by action and tangible improvement.
For the record, let me highlight some of the initiatives that we implemented under the previous Liberal government.
We invested an additional $700 million over five years to improve the immigration system. This included funding to reduce the inventory of backlogged immigration applications and to allow international students or visitors with Canadian experience to apply for permanent residence status.
We signed the Canada-Ontario immigration agreement that included an additional $920 million over five years. This was the first comprehensive immigration agreement between Ontario and the federal government and was intended to help newcomers reach their full potential in Ontario by increasing funding for settlement, language training and integration services.
We launched the $150 million internationally trained worker initiative that included addressing shortages of health care professionals and the start up of the foreign credential recognition secretariat.
We introduced measures to speed up the processing of sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents and an additional $69 million investment over two years to process citizenship applications faster.
We invested $20 million to conduct a review of the existing Citizenship Act. We allowed spouses and common-law partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, regardless of their status, to remain in Canada while their immigration application was being considered.
We allowed international students to work off campus while enrolled at an eligible post-secondary educational institute.
Why did I mention all of that? I wanted to illustrate that when a government identifies certain needs it must act upon those needs. It derives a plan, it implements actual initiatives and it enacts concrete steps.
Let us contrast that to what the minority Conservative government has done. Imprisoned by its ideology, short on ideas and void of a vision, it cancelled some of the previous initiatives and claimed to be a champion of immigration. Using the only method it could think of to solve a problem, the Conservatives offered to cut the landing fee by half and claimed that it was the solution to the challenge that many immigrants face.
I will admit that reducing the landing fees is a welcome relief for all new immigrants, and we support it, but that step offers no strategy and no solution to the short, medium and long term challenges that immigrants face. They also claim that they increased settlement services funding by $300 million and misled Canadians by suggesting that this was a new increase in funding. However, in reality it was a decrease from the overall dedicated funding that the previous government had allocated. Then they shamelessly claimed that they were helping immigrants with their foreign credentials.
Not only have they paralyzed the already created secretariat to assist immigrants, they chose to create a new phantom agency with a lot less money and no mandate.
The Prime Minister exploited the angst of many new Canadians and used, for his political expediency, his promise to fix the difficulties they face when they try to get their foreign trained skills accredited . Now many are wondering if that pledge was just another phony promise that has now been filed in some distant drawer.
I wish it would end with just unfulfilled promises or lack of a vision and a plan, but unfortunately the negligence is exacerbated by a negative attitude that the Conservatives have toward minorities and immigrants. It is not only what they have not done on this file to date; it gets worse when we examine what they have done.
One of the first actions of the Conservative government was to cancel the court challenges program. This relatively inexpensive program offered minor financial assistance to minorities and other groups to enable them to access the Supreme Court to test laws that may have discriminated against them.
The program had been highly successful in providing minorities or disadvantaged groups a voice and a process to ensure that any law that may have inadvertently neglected to consider their rights could be challenged and perhaps corrected.
In the 1980s, and I cannot believe this, immigrant women were not eligible to receive English as a second language training because they were not considered to be the breadwinner of the family. As such, it was thought that they did not need language training. The court challenges program corrected that.
Sikh students were not allowed to wear their kirpan, part of their religious tradition, to school. The court challenges program corrected that.
Tomorrow the Supreme Court will issue a ruling on the security certificate legislation, thanks to the court challenges program.
The opportunity offered to minorities to assert their rights has vanished, thanks exclusively to the Conservatives.
The Conservatives are also bent on making Canadians who hold dual citizenships feel guilty and are quite willing to question their loyalty.
Many of these Canadians are new to Canada and are proud of their new identity, but also cherish their roots and connections to other parts of the world. Many Canadians are offended that the Conservatives would consider their dual citizenship to be a sign of weak Canadian identity and have expressed their anxiety about the direction the Conservatives want our citizenship to take.
Speaking of citizenship, as we celebrate our country's 60th anniversary of the Citizenship Act, we have become aware of various flaws in both the 1947 and the 1977 legislation that have caused countless Canadians to lose their citizenship unexpectedly.
As Canadians learn more about this problem, we find that we have a minister who is dismissive of the challenge and unprepared to confront it. It is not like she did not acknowledge that we have fundamental weaknesses in our citizenship law. She admitted that in committee just this week. What is amazing is that she has no plan to address these weaknesses. In fact, her government cut a $20 million initiative that was started by the previous government to review the act and propose remedies.
How can we have any confidence in the seriousness of the government with respect to immigration and citizenship files when the minister has no plan to address these citizenship loopholes?
All of this incompetence is compounded with a negative historical attitude that is rampant among the Conservative benches. We frequently see glimpses of the Reform-Alliance ghost rear its ugly head and raise alarm levels among immigrants and Canadians.
Last spring, the Conservatives and the Prime Minister attempted to appoint a commissioner, to be in charge of all 6,000 government appointments, who is on the record as accusing immigrants of importing a culture of violence. He is also on the record as condemning Canadian multiculturalism.
These are the kinds of people our Prime Minister trusts to be fair and objective when it comes to selecting people for government-appointed roles at a time when many immigrants and minorities confront various challenges in finding equal access and representation in our society. It is very shameful.
I must take this opportunity to comment on what happened in this chamber yesterday during question period. What happened was an ugly and disgusting demonstration of how low the Prime Minister can go to try to score political points. He did not hesitate to perpetuate unsubstantiated allegations about a member of this House and his family without regard for facts. That was a shameful display of poor judgment and a willingness to tarnish our colleague's reputation, for cheap political points. I want to take this opportunity to repeat the numerous calls that were made in this House yesterday and urge the Prime Minister to apologize for his scandalous behaviour.
In closing, the Conservative government has offered no vision and no plan to help immigrants and new Canadians better integrate into Canadian society. It has done nothing to assist new Canadians in utilizing their skills to their maximum levels. It has refused to build on positive initiatives that were introduced by the previous government.
More importantly, Conservatives need to go a long way to alleviate the doubts Canadians have about their attitude toward minorities. Canadians want a government that is ambitious and is willing to confront challenges and offer a generous vision, not a lazy, simple-minded and ideological government.
Mr. Ed Komarnicki (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock.
I would like to respond to the motion that was raised by the member opposite. I would like to say, first, that I find that the remarks made belie the facts as they are and the situation as we find it.
First, let us have a look at the legacy we have inherited. We find that there was a $975 tax on immigrants or newcomers coming into Canada. Can members imagine attempting to help Canadians, attempting to get them on their feet, and imposing a $975 fee on every person at the time when they might need assistance, when they need to get on their feet, and when they need help to integrate? That is the legacy. That is the fact when we took over government.
Another fact is that during the years of tenure of the opposition party, the backlog increased by 750,000. We are still attempting to reduce that backlog today. Is that a vision? The member asked if we had a vision.
I can tell members that the previous government, in the 11 or 12 years, had no vision. It bumbled along and allowed the situation to get to where it is today. It froze settlement funding for 10 years. There was no settlement funding to help integrate new citizens, to help them gain another language, and to help them understand the society they were integrating into. Can members imagine marginally increasing the immigration totals without providing the agencies and third parties with the means to help newcomers become what they could be?
We have allocated $307 million over two years to over 400-and-some agencies in Canada that will help newcomers better integrate. That is a vision. That has the newcomer in mind. Where was the vision of the previous government?
In addition, we have granted over 11,000 off-campus work permits to international students. In fact, in this year, we have allowed international students to work off-campus, something the previous government did not do, and then allowed them to apply to become permanent residents of this country. That is a visionary move.
We have also set the highest targets that have been in place over the last 12 years. We are processing a record number of temporary foreign worker applications to meet the labour needs that have been experienced in our country.
We are also doing more. There is a provincial nominee program that we are certainly promoting. We are ensuring that all the provinces across Canada are able to utilize this program in order to have those applications processed within a year, which is something that had not happened under the previous government. We know that some provinces have taken advantage of that program in a significant way.
The immigration system is in fact an enormous operation. Every single day, thousands of people apply to come to Canada. They want to come here for a variety of reasons, whether to visit, to live, to work, to study or to find a place of refuge. We are proud to be the country of choice for many students, visitors, workers, and immigrants from all over the world.
Canada would not be such a wonderfully diverse, prosperous and successful place without the contribution of those who have come here from all over the world in search of a better life.
Canada's immigration officers make over two million decisions every year for people who want to come to Canada to live, visit, work or study. The government is going to stand behind the administration and the department to ensure they have the tools and the equipment to do their job, which is something the previous government failed to do.
Our commitment to service is demonstrated by the fact that, despite the volume, some of these decisions are made very quickly. For example, temporary resident visas for visitors, students and temporary workers are usually processed in less than a month. Visitor visas are now processed in less than two days. We are maintaining these times, despite an increase in the number of applications.
Unfortunately, even with that level of activity, there are wait times in some immigration categories. This is particularly true for people wishing to become permanent residents of Canada. We are committed to putting an end to the backlog that the Liberals allowed to accumulate when they were in government.
We are making progress. I am pleased to say that we are now processing more applications every year than we take in, reversing a trend that has contributed to the inventory for many years. If we process more than we take in, that will reduce the backlog and not increase it, as has happened over the last 10 or more years.
We have also taken steps to reduce processing times with encouraging results. About 70% of applications for spouses and children are processed in our overseas offices within six months. This represents a one month reduction in the processing time for this category, compared to the previous government in 2005.
We are also helping to ensure that Canada gets the skilled workers it needs in the right places in a timely fashion. Most provincially selected skilled workers are processed within a year of applying. We are certainly helping newcomers get work in Canada faster and we are also helping our labour market needs.
Finally, we have taken steps to improve the refugee protection system. I can say that the United Nations High Commissioner has praised our system as a model to other countries, and certainly we want to continue in that regard, and make it efficient and responsive to the needs of refugees.
The inventory of refugee outstanding claims has been cut by over 50% compared to 2001 under the previous government. At the same time we have reduced the processing time for refugee claims to just over one year, and we must continue to do better.
These improvements have strengthened Canada's refugee system which is already recognized by the United Nations as one of the best and fairest in the world. Understandably, given the demand, it takes time to process the number of applications we receive, but maintaining the integrity of our programs and the security of all Canadians is critical. There is a balance. We must therefore ensure that the proper medical and security checks have been done.
However, even with all the care that must be taken with each application, Canada accepts more than 200,000 new permanent residents a year as well as 100 temporary foreign workers, and those numbers are rising. This is something we should be proud of, contrary to the motion made by the member opposite.
Our government's commitment to service improvement does not stop there. We have also made advances in several other areas. For example, our award winning call centre is performing beyond industry standards. The call centre has been recognized nationally for its commitment to service improvement, answering over 90% of the calls and increasing client satisfaction to 73%. This is a vast improvement over 2003 when the call centre was answering less than 15% of the calls and client satisfaction stood at just over 50%.
We have added a new electronic service to our overseas visa offices that allows people to inquire about the status of their visa applications by email from anywhere in the world, or through their members of Parliament. The response time is within reasonable and acceptable levels.
We recognize that many of our service improvements must focus on making it faster for people to immigrate to Canada, but we cannot stop there. Our services also extend to helping immigrants settle and adapt to Canada after they arrive.
Building a better life in a strange, new country is not always easy. We have long ago learned that it is not enough to say to newcomers, “Welcome to Canada. Good luck. Take care and keep warm”. We must do more.
We must do everything we can to ensure they can become what they can be and that their talents are utilized to the maximum capacity. That means we must be very much interested in the services that are available to help them integrate into society. Just the challenges of taking a bus, opening a bank account, learning a second language, and adapting to the community are unique and in a lot of respects difficult.
I had the distinct pleasure of being in the front line workers offices, both in Winnipeg and Saskatchewan, to see how appreciative the newcomers are of those services that are provided. The $307 million that has been allocated over the next two years is well received by the front line workers who have been stretched to capacity, attempting to do a job without the funds, without the tools and without the resources.
We have given them the tools, the resources, and the funds to do what they have to do, so that newcomers can become what they can be, something the previous government failed to do. The Liberals shut their eyes without a vision and without any dollars to back those people who are on the front lines to make it happen.
We have done a number of things, like reducing the permanent residence fee, allowing $18 million to be allocated to foreign credential recognition, ensuring that credentials can be recognized appropriately and that immigrants can integrate into society and become proud citizens and co-citizens of our country, as they well should be.
Mr. Barry Devolin (Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak today on the matter of immigration and citizenship in Canada.
The motion before the House states:
|| That, in the opinion of the House, immigrants to Canada and persons seeking Canadian citizenship are poorly served by this government.
I have only been here two and a half years, but I think this may be the poorest worded motion that I have seen yet. There is no substance to it. It does not suggest anything, it is not specific and it is shallow. It is actually a pretty accurate reflection of the level of discussion I often hear on this issue from members in the Liberal Party.
I have learned a couple of things in the few months since I have been on the committee. First, issues of citizenship and immigration are very important. I visited the offices of Immigration Canada out in Vancouver. When I went in the back room, I saw all the files, I realized that every file represented a person. These are not changes to tax laws or other technicalities. There are real live people on the other side of those files, and it is important those be dealt with fairly and quickly.
It seems to me that the challenges facing the department are administrative and management in nature. These are not ideological issues. These are not partisan issues. I think every person in the House, in fact, every person in Canada understands we are a nation built on immigration. We need immigration and we will continue to need it in the future. This is the reality.
How do we manage this process? How many a year come into Canada? How do we ensure that we get the people our economy and nation needs? At the same time, how do we deal with those people fairly so when they get here, they are able to contribute to life in Canada?
As I think has been said already, there are several chapters in terms of Canadian citizenship. From 1867 until 1947, there was no Canadian citizenship per se. It was not until after the second world war, after 1947, that we had Canadian citizenship. In 1977, 30 years later, there was a re-write of the Citizenship Act and the rules around citizenship changed. Now we find ourselves 30 years later, in 2007, discussing the same issue again.
One of the issues that has been in the news recently is the notion of lost Canadians, people who have lost their citizenship or, in some cases, lost proof of their citizenship. The reason this exists for some people is because some of the rules have changed and have not been very well understood by many people.
Recently, the necessity for many Canadians to get passports for the first time has brought many of these problems to light. They are not new problems, but they have come forward for the first time.
One of 450 cases before the minister now is in my riding. A Canadian born in Ontario moved to Australia in the 1960s. He played hockey there and was asked to play on the Australian Olympic hockey team in 1968. His citizenship was quickly rushed through. It was 30 or 35 years later, when he moved back to Canada, married and worked here. When he went to get a passport, he discovered he was no longer a Canadian citizen. We have been working on that situation and we are going to get that resolved.
The other day when the minister was at committee she said that she had a two track process. The first track is to deal with the cases as they come forward. When individuals think they should be a Canadian citizens, but for some reason are told they are not, she will deal those one on one and assign a staff member to each case to get those cleaned up. At this point there are about 450 of those cases.
I was shocked recently when I heard other members of the House say that the number of lost Canadians was not in the hundreds or even in the thousands, but possibly in the tens or hundreds of thousands, even possibly one million. Those are crazy numbers. I do not know what the answer is, but I do know the minister has made a commitment that she and her staff will deal with them individually to resolve those cases.
The minister also said when she was at committee the other day she recognizes that some changes are needed within her department. She also recognizes that there is a vast amount of experience sitting around the citizenship and immigration committee table. She expressed a willingness and an interest in working with us moving forward and not to act unilaterally. That is the right course of action and is responsible on her part. I go back to my first point which is that this is neither an ideological nor a partisan issue, that is the appropriate way to go forward.
What I find frustrating is that I regularly hear members of the Liberal Party suggest either directly or through innuendo that somehow the Liberal Party is the party of immigration and by extension that other parties are not parties of immigration and even may be anti-immigration. This is patent nonsense.
The Liberals want to move into this top line number of admitting 250,000 or 280,000 or 300,000 people. We can pick whatever number we want as a target, we can set the bar as high as we want. The bottom line is we have to fix the management of the department so that these cases are dealt with more quickly and we get rid of the backlog. At that point we can have an honest discussion about possibly increasing the number of immigrants coming to Canada.
My staff and I actually looked at the number of immigrants who have landed in Canada from 1980 through until 2005. We made this simple little graph that I will table. The graph shows how the number of immigrants has changed from year to year.
What is really obvious when we look at this graph is that starting at about 1984-85 until about 1993-94 there was a dramatic increase in the number of immigrants coming into Canada every year. After 1993-94 it went up and down and up and down. Last year it finally got back to the level it was at in 1993.
I said that immigration is not a partisan issue but I cannot help but notice that it was under the last Conservative government that the number of immigrants coming into Canada grew consistently year after year after year and that during the 13 years of Liberal rule, it dropped and then it went up, and then it dropped some more and then it went up, and finally after 13 years, it probably got back to where it was.
If I accomplish nothing else here today, I would like to tell Canadians and I would like to remind my colleagues on the Liberal side that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. When the Liberals want to turn this into a partisan issue in terms of the Liberal Party being a party of immigration, that is patent nonsense, number one. Number two, my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, talked about the fact that we cut the landing fees in half. He said that after 10 years of resettlement fees being frozen in Canada, it was this government that increased it by over $300 million in the budget this year.
I believe that this government and the minister are making a good faith effort to deal with these issues, to try to expedite these processes, so that when people come to Canada, they can quickly start to make contributions not only to Canada and to our economy but to themselves and their families. Whether we are talking about foreign credentials recognition or whether we are talking about not putting people in a $1,000 hole when they get here, we are taking concrete steps to actually improve the process so that the department works better and we can bring the immigrants into Canada and we can treat those people fairly.
Today's motion suggests no remedy. It does not say we should do x, y and z to fix this problem. It just says that immigrants and persons seeking citizenship are poorly served by this country.
Immigrants coming to Canada could certainly be served better and people seeking Canadian citizenship could certainly be served better. Those are things this government intends to do and are things on which the minister is working. When people want to make the point that our system is not perfect and could be improved and if we work together we can improve it, I will buy that. But for members of the Liberal Party to suggest that somehow management of this file and dealing with immigrants and citizenship issues in Canada is one of the Liberals' strong suits and something they are proud of, as my colleague the parliamentary secretary said, three times the Citizenship Act got to the cusp and then there was an election, and two of those three times it was a Liberal majority government that dissolved itself.
I look forward to answering questions people have. I look forward to working on this file. I look forward to improving the situation for all Canadians.
Ms. Meili Faille (Vaudreuil-Soulanges, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleagues in the official opposition for giving the House this opportunity to discuss an issue as important as citizenship and immigration.
I must point out, however, that none of the successive governments we have seen has been very successful in this area. It is a very complex portfolio, one that needs significant changes in terms of policy decisions related to it.
The government we see before us has been improvising incessantly since coming into power, particularly concerning citizenship and immigration. This is nothing new. We have seen five different ministers in five years, and two Conservative ministers in one year. Frankly, the minister seems to change just when he or she begins to understand the file.
To illustrate just how poorly immigrants in Canada and people waiting to obtain Canadian citizenship are served by the federal government, it is important that I highlight three files, as examples. The immigration file is significant enough that we could debate it here for hours and hours. Some of the issues are: the refugee appeal division; the absence of mechanisms to find a long-term solution for individuals protected under the moratorium on deportation to their country of origin for security reasons; updating the Citizenship Act to address the issue of dual citizenship and to correct certain deficiencies that are causing people to fall victim to this archaic act.
Many people born between 1947 and 1977—as my hon. Conservative colleague mentioned earlier—are now learning, as they apply for their first passport or renew their passport, that they are no longer Canadians, because provisions of the Citizenship Act of 1947 apply. The Citizenship Act of 1977 was not retroactive. Thus, these people are now learning that they are not Canadian citizens.
The irony is that I asked the minister this week, and she was unable to say what would happen in the event of a negative decision. I understand that she is looking at cases individually and will try to expedite matters for people whose Canadian citizenship is not in doubt.
By the way, I am in favour of not removing people while their case is being studied. However, the minister is unable to tell the members of this House what would happen in the event of a negative decision. Some people who have lived here for many years have always believed they were Canadian citizens.
With regard to the time when the laws were in effect, the department has not proven that information was easily accessible and that people could be aware of everything that happened and all the legislative changes regarding citizenship. In short, these people have voted, they have received benefits and they have gone to school here. Then, when they are about to leave on a trip abroad and they apply for a passport, they find out that they are no longer Canadian citizens.
I find it unacceptable and unfair that people should be kept in such uncertainty. Losing one's citizenship has serious consequences, which could go as far as removal. Yet the minister has been unable to tell us here in this House what impact a negative decision would have and what legal recourse would be available.
Let us turn our attention back to the refugee appeal division. The Bloc Québécois has introduced Bill C-280. This is another example of the government's inaction. The legislation is in effect, yet the sections pertaining to the refugee appeal division have not been implemented or enforced since 2002. The Conservative government did not take the first opportunity to enforce legislation that was democratically adopted in this House, in order to correct the unfair treatment of refugees. We were therefore forced to introduce Bill C-280 on the refugee appeal division.
I just want to remind the hon. members why the refugee appeal division is needed: for the sake of efficiency. A refugee appeal division would make it possible to correct substantive errors in law.
Currently, mechanisms are in place that enable people to appeal to the Federal Court, although they must first obtain permission to have the case heard there. Only technical legal errors can be corrected at that level. The appeals division is the Conservative government's first opportunity to correct an injustice. We need the appeals division to make the system more efficient.
There is also a substantive reason: consistency of the law. A centralized appeals division ruling on merit, as well as decisions made by experts, would lead to a fairer legal interpretation of the need to protect a person seeking protection. In other words, these people could be certain—or at least more confident—that their case would be treated fairly and equitably.
Every day, our offices receive cases concerning refusal of refugee status. When we look at the files, we see that they have dragged on for quite some time. That is often the argument the government tries to use: it takes months and months to resolve refugee claims that are refused.
There is a big problem with the reasons for refusal. Careful analysis of the cases reveals a number of elements that are open to interpretation. Moreover, because the files could not be corrected early in the process, the problem persists. These people use every tool at their disposal to appeal and to try to get protection.
That is unfortunate, but I also understand where my Conservative colleagues are coming from. Under the Liberals, none of the ministers had the courage to set up the appeals division. The arguments were many and, at times, perhaps even valid. But the explanation given back then is no longer valid today.
As to the absence of political will, we are now dealing with a conservative ideology, and refugees are under unjustified attack.
Consequently, with respect to the appeal division, I would hope that the Conservatives' position is going to revert to what it was when they were the official opposition.
I would also like to point out that, at that time, one of our colleagues was the official critic for citizenship and immigration. She travelled twice across Canada to consult and she came to the conclusion that we needed the appeal division.
I would further like to remind this House that a motion was unanimously adopted in committee about the need for the appeal division. What I find utterly bizarre now is this reversal in the position taken by the Conservatives, who, now that they are in power, are dragging their feet.
I raised a second point, the fact of the thousands of foreign nationals who have been denied permanent residence and who cannot be sent back to their countries of origin because of a moratorium due to unsafe conditions. On that point, we are offered the argument that they can always return to their countries of origin. The primary reason they are here, however, is that their countries appear on a list and they are not being sent back because of the widespread climate of insecurity that prevails in those countries.
These people can be here for years without being able to get decent jobs, continue their education or get proper health care, as everyone else who comes here is able to do. So I would remind this House that these people come from countries that are on the list of moratorium countries, and that they cannot be sent back for reasons having to do with safety and security.
These measures affect nationals of Afghanistan, Burundi, the Dominican Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. They came here to the Hill to demonstrate, and they met with a number of members. New Democrat, Bloc and Liberal members have repeatedly raised the problem of people who have been living in legal limbo for a very long time.
Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have proposed any measures to create a mechanism for regularizing their status. One after another, the people responsible for immigration here have not shown the will to stop the injustices.
I will not repeat every point raised by my colleagues in relation to processing times and the backlog. I will remind this House that it was the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that raised the backlog problems.
In 2004, we asked the minister to table the number of cases in the backlog. Just this morning I was given the number of applications received in 2006 and 2007. I must say, frankly, that the situation in Asia and Africa has not improved significantly.
When I look at the numbers for the backlog in the regional office in Mississauga for processing the files of parents and grandparents, I do not see a clear improvement.
There is a lot of work left to do, whether in terms of permanent residents, qualified workers or business people who settle here. Entrepreneurs and business people who come here do not get any respect. The backlog keeps growing. These people arrive here wanting to enhance the economy. It is the same situation with refugees and sponsored persons.
The issue of citizenship is of concern to us right now. Since 2004, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, of which I have been a member since my election, has studied the Citizenship Act a number of times and found that this legislation is archaic.
Today we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the 1947 legislation. We are also celebrating the 30th anniversary of the 1977 legislation. Today we learn that people who thought they had Canadian citizenship, and who have enjoyed all the services and benefits that come with this citizenship, are not Canadian. This archaic legislation has created victims. I think we have a responsibility to remedy these injustices.
During the meeting with the minister, I also raised the issue of Canadian children and young people who are living abroad.
When I asked what information was available on the points of service and offices abroad, I was told that by going to the Web site of these offices or directly to these offices, I could get information on how young Canadians could register to keep their citizenship.
Before the end of the meeting, we learned that in the Hong Kong office and some others, the information was not even available. With all the technology and information available today, people still do not have access to information on how to register properly. How can we—in 1947, in 1977 or in 2007—tolerate anyone being a victim of legislation? We have repeated it many times in committee and in press conferences: this legislation is necessary.
I could go on about other issues, but for now, these are the three that perfectly illustrate the inaction of the Conservative government.
Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to participate in this morning's debate on the Liberal opposition day motion on immigration policy.
I have to say that I am a little disappointed in the Liberals' motion. It is a very vague motion. It does not give any specific suggestions about what the Liberals would do to fix the problems in our immigration system. I wish that the Liberals had been a little more specific and that we might have been able to pin them down and hold them accountable for some of their ideas in this debate, but I welcome the opportunity to highlight immigration policy and the need for improvements to our immigration system.
Other people mentioned the frequent changes in ministers at the head of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. I have been here since 2004 and there have been four different ministers of immigration, two under the last Liberal government and now two under the current Conservative government. That is a real problem for immigration policy. That is a real problem for leadership of this department that is so crucial to Canada, both socially and economically.
I think it is high time we did something to change the political sensibilities around this ministry. For too long it has been considered the dog job of cabinet, the cabinet job that nobody really wants. I think it is such a crucial job and is so important in the lives of so many Canadians that it is time we had ministers who are keen about this area of policy, who are interested in it, and who are interested in asserting political control over the bureaucracy in the department.
The situation of immigrants in Canada today is a very serious one. We know there is a significant prosperity gap for new immigrants. A recent Statistics Canada report indicated that new immigrants are today 3.2 times more likely to live in poverty than people born in Canada.
That is a huge problem for Canada. New immigrants should not have to live in poverty. Living a decent life should not be one of the things they have to give up when they come to Canada. They should not have to give up the dream of living a better life here in Canada, but that is definitely the experience of way too many immigrants in Canada.
This has not changed significantly for over than a decade. Through most of the 1990s, new immigrants were 3.5 times more likely to live in poverty.
The prosperity gap facing immigrants is something that we absolutely must address if we are going to have a successful immigration program and continue to entice people to come to Canada, and we also must address it just for plain fairness and justice reasons.
There is also increasing frustration among immigrants to Canada. I think this is a promise gap that we have here in Canada. We make promises to immigrants when we encourage them to apply to come to Canada. We tell them about how important their contributions are to Canada and how they will be welcomed in Canada. In our immigration application system, we give them points for their work experience and their education, validating that work experience and education, telling them through that process that it is important and is something that Canada values.
When they get to Canada, they find out that this is often not the case, that their work experience and their credentials from their education in their countries of origin are just not recognized here in Canada. That problem has gone on for far too long. I think it is a significant promise gap that we have with regard to new Canadians. We cannot afford to let that go on, because it is going to affect Canada's ability to attract immigrants in the future.
Those are some very general comments. Now I want to be very specific about what issues the NDP would take on in the area of immigration and citizenship policy. I want to be very specific and give concrete examples of what we in this corner of the House would do on these important policy areas.
The first thing I want to talk about is the need for a new Canadian citizenship act. We have heard how there were three attempts by the former Liberal government to update the immigration act, which has not been changed since 1977. Unfortunately, these attempts never got the priority they needed from the previous government to actually make it through the House of Commons. They all died on the order paper.
In the last Parliament, members of the citizenship and immigration committee heard from both ministers that if we worked on suggestions for a new citizenship act they would bring that act in. Neither of them did it. The committee prepared several reports on citizenship policy and I think made some excellent suggestions. We held cross-country hearings on the issue of citizenship. We diligently did the work we were asked to do. We made it the priority for the committee in the last Parliament, but unfortunately those ideas were not taken up.
Unfortunately, the new Conservative government is also refusing to bring forward a new citizenship act. In fact, it cut the budget money for the development of that act, the $20 million that was set aside. The new minister, again sounding like previous Liberal ministers, just this past week at committee said that if the committee did more work on suggestions for changes to the citizenship act, she would entertain them. We have done that work. It is on the record. The minister has access to it.
We need to look at issues like revocation of citizenship, which is important to new Canadians, who feel that, unlike people born in Canada, their citizenship can be revoked.
We need to look at the issue of lost Canadians, people who have a deep attachment to Canada, many of whom have lived in Canada all their lives but who do not have Canadian citizenship because of some quirk of the citizenship laws or a quirk in the way they were administered. That needs to be fixed legislatively. It is okay to deal with them as individual one-on-one problems, but there is no appeal of a decision that turns down citizenship after that kind of individual attention by the minister and her officials.
We need to look at the oath of citizenship, which should probably mention Canada. I think that would be a good thing, and we perhaps should talk about the charter and its importance in our society.
All of those things need to be in that new citizenship act.
In this corner of the House, we would also eliminate fees for an initial citizenship application. There should be no financial barrier to becoming a Canadian citizen. Unfortunately, as we know already, new immigrants often live below the poverty line. We know that many new immigrants cannot afford the application fees to take their full place in Canadian society. No one should have to put off making that important decision because they cannot afford the fee for an application. We would eliminate the fee for an initial citizenship application. I am pleased that in the last Parliament the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration agreed with that suggestion.
We would completely eliminate the right of landing fee that is charged to immigrants. When this fee was instituted back in the 1990s by the Liberal government, we saw it then as a head tax, a tax on new immigrants, a tax on people who need every penny they have access to as they are settling in Canada. These are some of the people who can least afford to pay a special levy or a special tax.
We opposed that fee when it was introduced and we have constantly called for its complete elimination. The Conservatives took a half measure. They reduced it by half, but if a $975 fee is wrong, a $475 fee is wrong, as would a $100 fee be wrong, and we call for its complete elimination.
Today again we heard about the importance of the recognition of international credentials. What a huge brain waste this represents to Canada. What a huge economic loss it is for Canada. What a huge spiritual loss it is for many new Canadians who are not allowed to practice the profession to which they feel called and for which they have been trained and have great experience in.
This has been tossed around. It has gone back and forth and up and down for years. We used to hear from the Liberals about how complicated this issue was. They would go on about all of the federal government departments, of which I think 14 are involved, and about how all the provinces and multiple departments in provincial governments have an interest, as do all the professional associations and unions and all the post-secondary educational institutions.
It is true that there are a lot of people who have an interest in this, but that does not absolve us from the responsibility of taking an appropriate initiative to help with the recognition of international credentials. There is no excuse for putting that off.
The Conservatives, to their credit, put some money toward this in the budget. Unfortunately we cannot give them full credit, because we have not seen any action on it yet. It is still being promised again and again. Just this past week, the minister used that same Liberal answer about the incredible complexity of the issue to excuse why no action has yet been taken on dealing with the important issue of the recognition of international credentials.
The NDP has put forward a seven point specific program about what an agency to deal with international credentials should look like and what its responsibilities should be. That work was done largely by my colleague from Trinity—Spadina. I would invite anyone interested in this issue to visit her website and take a look, because it is a very important and specific proposal on the issue of recognizing international credentials.
This is also an issue that contributes to the prosperity gap of new Canadians. If one is a trained professional, a doctor or an engineer for example, and ends up driving a taxi or working in a convenience store, one will suffer a real prosperity gap between potential income and what can be earned in those kinds of jobs. This is something that we have delayed for far too long. We need to take very specific measures on it, and we have made these kinds of specific proposals.
Another issue that has faced many immigrants is the definition of family in the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Unfortunately, it does not cover the range of important relationships that are part of Canadian families today. It does not recognize the diversity of family relationships of many people from different cultural backgrounds and more Eurocentric family configurations.
New Democrats have been proposing a solution to that for a number of years. We call it our once in a lifetime bill, whereby once in a lifetime a Canadian citizen or permanent resident could sponsor someone outside the current definition of family. We think this is a helpful solution. It is a helpful suggestion that would make it possible for families to be reunited here in Canada and for the important people in families to come to Canada. I am glad the NDP member for Parkdale—High Park has reintroduced that important legislation in this Parliament. It would be a small measure toward recognizing the importance of families and immigrant families here in Canada.
We heard this morning again about the need to implement the provisions of the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, passed by this Parliament in 2001, regarding the refugee appeal division. It is unbelievable that the Liberal government before this and the current Conservative government can refuse to act to implement the current immigration law. I think that shows contempt for Parliament. It is a very serious matter. We need that measure of fairness. It is not expensive. No one thinks that implementing this is going to bankrupt the department or the government. It is a very cheap measure considering what justice and fairness it involves.
It came out of a compromise during discussion on the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act when the IRB panels were reduced from two members to one. Everyone agreed that some measure of appeal was necessary against a decision made by only one person. That was when the paper screening process, the refugee appeal division, was added to the legislation. So there is especially no excuse for not implementing this when it came out of this kind of discussion and this kind of compromise on legislation in this chamber. There is no excuse. It is sad that we are debating a piece of legislation from the Bloc, a bill to implement provisions of a bill that was already passed. How ironic is that? How unnecessary is that?
Also on the issue of refugee policy, the private sponsorship program needs to be reaffirmed. This is the program that has brought Canada world recognition for its refugee policy. This is the program for which Canada was awarded the Nansen Medal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees back in the 1980s. This is the program whereby small groups of grassroots Canadians take responsibility for refugee settlement. There is no better program. This is a program that saves the government money because individual Canadians take on the financial responsibility for refugee families. It involves community members in resettlement work. The program guarantees successful settlement of refugees into our communities.
There is a backlog of 10,000 or 12,000 applications for the program. This means that groups of Canadians ready to receive a refugee, highly motivated Canadians, are not being allowed to take on that responsibility. It is not like there are no refugees waiting around the world to be resettled in Canada. The Canadians waiting to do this work will look for other opportunities if this volunteer possibility is not available for them. We cannot afford to lose this program. Everyone in the House stands up and talks about how Canada is recognized around the world for its refugee work and it is largely on the back of this particular program.
To have people in the public service tell people who work these programs, who run these programs, that it is being used as a backdoor for family reunification applications is completely unacceptable. We need to restore the integrity of this program and get rid of the backlog, and ensure that grassroots Canadians can take their place in this important work of refugee resettlement.
In this corner of the House we agree that we need special measures for persons fleeing militarism and who for reasons of conscience refuse to participate in illegal or unjust wars. The current example before us are people who served in the American armed forces who are refusing to serve in the war in Iraq. This is a war that Canada took a very clear position on. It refused to participate in it and now people who have also made that decision of conscience are seeking sanctuary in Canada after refusing further service in the American armed forces.
I have a motion on the order paper for a special program that would allow these people, after two years, to become permanent residents in Canada. Canada needs to take a stand against militarism, not unlike the one we took during the Vietnam war when many Americans who protested that war and service in the American armed forces found sanctuary in Canada.
We also need, and a motion is on the order paper, to eliminate the application fee for refugees whose status is determined in Canada. They should not have to pay the application fee for permanent residence. We do not make refugees, who are determined outside of Canada, pay this fee given that refugees are again some of the people who are most financially disadvantaged and often live in poverty. These are some of the people who can least afford to pay an application fee which should be eliminated immediately.
On the question of visitor visas, too many Canadians are refused the ability to have a family visit for an important occasion because relatives overseas are turned down for visitor visas. We need to ensure that there is a process in place that ensures that those important family occasions are able to take place and that people can come for a funeral, birth of a child or a wedding. It is absolutely unconscionable that Canadians would be denied the presence of family members from other countries for those kinds of important occasions.
We need to increase the processing capacity at Citizenship and Immigration Canada to ensure that the backlog goes down. That department took one of the hardest hits in the 1990s when the Liberals were doing their gutting. Immigration and environment were the two departments that took the most significant cuts and those have never been restored in all the time since then.
With the issue of temporary foreign workers, we need a program that ensures that Canadians have first crack at jobs here in Canada no matter where they live in Canada, and that foreign workers are not brought in until we can be assured that Canadians are not available to do those jobs. When we bring in foreign workers, we must ensure that they have the same rate of pay, the same wage standards, and the same employment standards that Canadians would expect on the job.
Unfortunately, the requirements to ensure that have not been put in place. We cannot allow temporary foreign workers to be exploited for their labour in Canada as has too often been the case in recent years and months.
We also need a greater emphasis on family reunification. We know that this is one of the key aspects of our immigration program. It has been for many years. We always talk about the needs of family reunification, the needs of the Canadian economy, the needs of nation building, and the needs of protection of people in danger when we talk about our immigration and refugee policy. Unfortunately, family reunification seems to have dropped off the radar. The Conservative ministers do not use that mantra. They do not use the family reunification piece of that.
Those are some of the things that we in this corner would do and to that end I would like to move an amendment to the Liberal motion.
The amendment reads that the motion be amended by adding the following after the word “government”: which should immediately remedy this situation by undertaking measures including introducing a new Citizenship Act, eliminating fees for initial citizenship applications, completely eliminating the right of landing fee charged to immigrants, immediately instituting an agency for the recognition of international credentials, changing the definition of family in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to better represent the reality of diverse family relationships, immediately implementing the Refugee Appeal Division as provided for in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, reaffirming the commitment to the private sponsorship program for refugees, instituting special measures for persons fleeing militarism and who for reasons of conscience refuse to participate in illegal or unjust wars, eliminating the application fee for refugees whose status is determined in Canada and for refugees who have experienced domestic violence, ensuring the issuance of visitor visas to allow overseas family members to attend important family occasions in Canada, increasing the processing capacity at Citizenship and Immigration Canada to significantly reduce the application backlog, ensuring temporary foreign workers do not fill jobs for which Canadians are available and that these workers enjoy employment conditions and wages at the established Canadian standard, and placing a greater emphasis on family reunification.
Ms. Raymonde Folco (Laval—Les Îles, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to participate in a debate that has been going on for a long time about a subject that is critical to this country's social and economic well-being. Although it is an honour, it is sad that it has come to this.
I support the motion tabled by my colleague from Mississauga—Erindale:
|| That, in the opinion of the House, immigrants to Canada and persons seeking Canadian citizenship are poorly served by this government.
Over the next 20 minutes, I will show just how poorly the Conservative government is treating immigrants. The fact is that the government talks a lot, but since it was elected to run this country, it has not done a thing to improve the difficult situation immigrants to Canada and persons seeking Canadian citizenship are experiencing. That was over a year ago. Actually, it has been a year and a half.
We have only heard talk, but seen no action. Immigration is a subject to which the Conservatives have paid lip service and which they believe they can sweep under the rug. They still think Canadians will be satisfied with the non-results.
I speak about the accusations the government has made against its own citizens living abroad in a time of their need, the promises for the recognition of their foreign credentials, the inability to deal effectively with the plight of foreign trained workers, in a holistic way, who are underemployed and unemployed.
The Conservative government has made promises that have not been kept. It has made non-announcements for the sake of making non-announcements. For example, it has offered a mere $18 million over a two year period to the provincial governments to support programs for the recognition of foreign trained professionals, and yet nothing is happening.
I will also speak about the lack of services to francophone minority groups living across the country, which the Conservative government has ignored under its own immigration agreement.
I will also briefly discuss the impact on small and medium-sized businesses who are not given any incentives to recruit and train new arrivals.
These concerns have been raised by the business leaders, unions, community groups and even the mothers I met during my travels across Canada over the past two years.
Small businesses cannot afford to bring in people for a year like big businesses can. Small and medium sized businesses need the training dollars because their businesses cannot afford to absorb these costs on their own.
Also, this includes the negative impact on these businesses if the Conservative government does not adjust the entry system to deal with the pressing need for semi-skilled workers and workers in trades that do not require university degrees. I am talking of the point system for prospective immigrants.
These skills that are needed to keep our economy thriving do not figure on the list of skills on the point system. How is the government then serving the underemployed and unemployed newcomers? As I travel across the country, the same story is told to me over and over again: the need for skilled workers upon which the Canadian economy depends. Yet the Conservative government, since it came to power, has refused to regularize the status of construction workers and has in fact deported many of them, even though there is a shortage of workers in many places.
I remember, for example, the Portuguese immigrants in Ontario, in Toronto specifically, who were deported by the government because they did not have the right papers. Yet their employers needed them to continue constructing houses in Toronto.
According to reports, at the point where the shortages are so acute, construction companies have been luring away workers from one site to another by offering them higher wage incentives.
We already know, according to Statistics Canada, that immigration is the cause of 70% of our labour market growth and if the trend continues, it will account for 100% of our growth. We also already know that all sectors in the Canadian economy rely on the immigration population. Topping the list is the manufacturing sector, which represents 57%. In that sector, 27% of the employed workforce is foreign born, while nearly one out of ten, specifically 9.4%, is a recent immigrant.
Within subsectors of manufacturing, such as clothing manufacturing, computer and electric products represents 39%, manufacturing plastics represents 33% and in rubber manufacturing, the share of employment held by immigrants is even more pronounced.
I am not inventing these numbers. I quote from the Canadian Labour and Business Centre, CLBC Handbook, “Immigration and Skills Shortages, 2004”, specifically page 13.
In the health and social services sector, immigrants account for 24% of net labour force growth.
Regardless of impressive qualifications, two major obstacles to the full participation of new Canadians in the labour market continue. First, many foreign credentials are not recognized nor valued by Canadian employers. Second, the governing boards of key trade and professional licensing boards have not been flexible in developing or ensuring there are the proper tools to access the equivalency of trained professionals within their respective disciplines from other countries.
Instead, what are these people doing? We have all heard these horror stories about doctors and engineers driving taxis in Saskatoon, for example. The accountants can probably be found sweeping the floors of big business. Instead they should be working in these businesses to the level of their own competencies. Where are some of the doctors? They are working in beauty salons as hairdressers and as estheticians. It seems as if I am exaggerating, but these are real cases that exist, and everybody knows about them.
It is ironic that while the credentials are part of the grid being used to allow access to Canada, that famous point system, these credentials also act as barriers to enter into the workforce. Therefore, what are the intentions of the government to balance the scales?
To the credit of the Ontario provincial Liberal government, under the Fair Access to Regulated Professions Act, passed December 2006, we see some improvement through internships, more focused language training, et cetera, all as a result of the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement signed in November 2005 by the previous Liberal federal government. We had reached a comprehensive immigration agreement with Ontario for the first time. The Liberals have also been responsible for signing an agreement, the very first of its kind, with my own province, Quebec.
With it, immigration agreements were firmly established between the federal government and each of the provinces. The planned investment of $920 million in Ontario over five years was designed to: increase the funding for services to help newcomers settle, integrate and receive language training; maximize the economic benefits of immigration and ensure that policies and programs respond to Ontario's social economic development and labour market priorities; develop the first ever Ontario provincial nominee program, which will allow Ontario to better match immigrants to its own labour market needs; and formalize the two levels of government, provincial and federal, to work together on immigration matters.
Where does the Conservative Government of Canada stand on this issue? I have heard from people in Saskatchewan, in British Columbia and in Alberta. These people who live in western Canada want to have more workers from other countries because they need the population. The Conservative government does not seem to be doing very much. Let us wait to see what the next budget will give us, but in its 2006 budget the Conservative government, in its attempt to reinvent the wheel, pledged $18 million to deal with the foreign credential dilemma, yet we have seen nothing so far. This was over a year ago. This is how poorly the new Conservative government works in serving immigrants to Canada and persons seeking Canadian citizenship.
What plans does the government have to systematically tap into the underutilization of our immigrant workforce? Instead of offering tax incentives to businesses to become more involved in training and retention of this workforce, the Conservative government continues to do short term fixes for short term gain but long term pain.
Businesses were astounded last November when the Conservative government went ahead and further expanded the foreign temporary worker's program. Even minimum wage jobs are included. According to reports at that time, and I quote the Winnipeg Free Press on November 15, 2006, the CEO of Winnipeg Airport Authority and other Canadian chamber board members, echoing each other, said that Canada “needs to build a plan that includes immigration and using under-utilized members of the workforce. We need to scour the country for people who will relocate”.
Again, I am asking the Conservative government what plans it has to systematically tap into the underutilization of our immigrant workforce. A recruitment strategy is needed for the entire country. The government has no real strategy to meet the needs of, for example, the Atlantic provinces or the west.
This is evident in the government's foreign temporary worker plan which I mentioned earlier. I checked the list. The Conservative government is offering a one year permit to businesses to bring in sales, marketing and advertising managers; retail trade managers; correspondence, publication and related clerks; loans officers; hairstylists and barbers. Surely, there are skilled and well-educated immigrants who are being ignored. Could they not be recruited?
What happens after the one year is up? Will these foreign temporary workers have to start the immigration process all over again? Businesses will no doubt have to start their recruiting process themselves. How much sense does that make? In the meantime, where are the training incentives for small and medium size businesses to train and retain people? We need a balanced approach to employment across this country and not one that would hurt one province and benefit another.
There is no end to the number of studies about the burden that will be put on the Canada pension plan by the small number of children of baby boomers who will not be able to contribute enough to ensure the longevity of the plan.
At the same time, the Conference Board of Canada study on the contribution of visible minorities released on April 4, 2004 noted that between 1992 to 2016, it is estimated that Canada's total real gross domestic product, the GDP, will increase to $794.7 billion in 1997 dollars. Visible minorities alone will account for $80.9 billion, or approximately 10% of that growth. If we attempt to extrapolate anything at all from these insights it is that new Canadians represent a consumer base worth at least $1 billion.
Several benefits will no doubt ensue that might have a positive impact within the local consumer markets, for example, housing. And yet, as I mentioned previously, the Conservative government has refused to listen to employers in the construction industry who say that the cost of housing has increased because of the ongoing shortages in this industry. Once again, what is the Conservative government doing about this?
If we pay attention at all to the 2001 census figures, they reveal that the number of household units developed between 1996 and 2001 grew by 7%. Further, almost one-third of the growth was due to an increase in households where the primary worker, that is, the person who pays most of the bills, is foreign born. In addition, over 40% of the households with immigrants who had arrived over the previous five years lived in a home owned by a family member. This shows that these people work hard and want to stay here.
We have known for a long time that Canada's baby boomers are now reaching retirement age, that our birth rate is below the replacement level at 1.2 children per family, and that young people cannot assume the costs of child care themselves and often choose not to have children at all.
This Conservative government thinks that $100 a month is enough to take care of a child. That is why it got rid of the plan devised by the Liberal government, which understood the principle of access to child care for minority linguistic communities outside Quebec, including francophone newcomers to various provinces. Is this any way to serve our citizens?
The Standing Committee on Official Languages recently heard witnesses from Yukon and Nunavut talking about the lack of services. They worry that the agreements signed under the action plan for official languages will not be renewed by this government after 2008. They are waiting for the government to offer explanations regarding the difficulties faced by the programs now in place and the measures that will be taken to ensure that services such as health are available to francophone minorities in these regions.
These linguistic minorities are not just minority communities; they continue to be, to a large extent, growing minorities in relation to the majority. These francophone minorities from across Canada want francophone immigrants to come to them. Francophones who immigrate to Canada will not go to these regions to help the minorities grow in numbers if services do not exist or are inadequate.
We have heard about the way in which the new government—as it continues to call itself despite the fact that it has been in power for more than a year—plans to serve people by remaining silent about the subject that counts most. Language is at the heart of our society. I represent a population that is mostly francophone, and in Quebec we know how not just important, but fundamental and essential an element it is. Without this language, our culture and our identity cannot be preserved. Language builds pride and self-confidence.
How does this Conservative government intend to preserve and integrate francophone minorities in this country? More specifically, how does this Conservative government plan to encourage the settlement of francophone newcomers in the provinces and territories if services in the minority language remain inaccessible, even to those who have moved from Quebec to other provinces? Is Canada really a bilingual country?
Although we are glad that the Conservatives used our action plan for official languages, which the Liberal government introduced in 2003, as the basis for a plan it unveiled in September 2006 to encourage francophone immigrants to settle in Manitoba, this government is continuing to do things in piecemeal fashion.
We are asking for a plan. I would like to believe that Canada has moved beyond the point where linguistic minorities were marginalized. We must not forget that the legislation in effect prohibited the use of French in the legal and legislative systems in the Northwest Territories in 1891 and prohibited French in Saskatchewan and Alberta when these provinces were created in 1905.
I would like to know why it is taking so long to put in place integrated services for minority language groups that want to move within Canada or come to Canada as immigrants.
I could talk all day about this issue—I know the members opposite may think so—and about how poorly this government is serving immigrants to Canada and people applying for Canadian citizenship, but I am almost out of time.
Before I conclude, I want to talk for a moment about a recent meeting of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that I attended. The minister appeared before the committee. When a committee member asked her why $20 million had been cut from the budget to implement the Citizenship Act—the act my colleagues referred to—the minister answered that they had made choices. The Conservative government chose to focus on Bill C-14, which pertains to automatic citizenship for children adopted abroad by Canadian citizens.
This is a bill that we ourselves introduced.
I do not believe that the government has invested this $20 million in granting automatic citizenship to these children. The question is: whose interests are this government serving? In my opinion, this government is serving the interests of the majority and forgetting about immigrants and francophone minorities.
Mr. Rahim Jaffer (Edmonton—Strathcona, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Mississauga—Streetsville.
The motion before the House speaks to this government's commitment to serving immigrants to Canada and persons seeking Canadian citizenship in the best interests of our country.
I am pleased to speak to this issue. Our government was elected on the promise to make government more accountable and I believe we have lived up to that promise. At the heart of accountability is that we are here to serve taxpayers and to spend their tax dollars in a way that reflects their interest, and we have delivered on that promise.
When I look at the programs run by my colleague, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, it is clear that she is working in the best interests of Canadians. Immigration is an important part of Canada's history. This country was built on immigration and immigration remains fundamental to our future. Our immigration system helps Canada succeed economically and it helps reunite families. It also helps us play a humanitarian role on the global stage by accepting refugees from around the world. These refugees are able to escape very difficult and often horrific situations and are given the opportunity to start a new life here in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, you are no stranger to my family's own experience. In the early 1970s my family came here as refugees. We escaped persecution in Uganda under the brutal regime of Idi Amin and we were very fortunate to be able to come to a country that welcomed us with open arms and gave us a brand new start. Very few countries around the world would allow a refugee family, and a refugee son in particular, to be able to sit in the federal Parliament of the country. It is very rare and we should be very proud of that fact.
Building on my family's experience, I will note that the minister recently announced that Canada will be accepting an additional 2,000 Karen refugees who have been living in horrible conditions for many years near the border or Thailand and Myanmar. This is an excellent example of how our government continues to deliver on our commitments. It also shows that we welcome newcomers to Canada and encourage them to contribute their skills to Canada's talent pool. It is clear that our government is working in the interests of all Canadians.
I want to assure the hon. member who presented this motion that the government is seeking to serve the interests of newcomers and all Canadians in our efforts to improve our immigration system. I would also like to remind the hon. member that it was his party that imposed the $975 right of permanent residence fee on new Canadians. It was our government that cut this fee to $490 in budget 2006. I am hoping that at one point we can even cut that further.
Immigration is an important aspect of the Canadian economy and I would like to direct my comments today to that issue.
Canada's birth rate, like that of many western nations, is currently declining. We need immigration in order to keep our population growing and our economy healthy. It is in our collective interests to ensure that our immigration programs serve our economic interests and are flexible to meet the demands of our labour market.
An example of how our government is addressing this labour shortage is through the work that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is doing, in conjunction with the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, on foreign credentials. Many newcomers arrive in Canada with specialized skills they have often obtained abroad but face the challenge of not being able to use their skills. They are unable to get their foreign credentials recognized. It is a complex issue that involves over 440 regulatory bodies, provinces, territories and many other stakeholder groups.
We have committed to working with these groups to create a path which qualified foreign trained professionals can follow to understand the requirements to have their credentials assessed and recognized. The end goal is to have these newcomers practise in their chosen fields right here in Canada.
Budget 2006 set aside $18 million over two years to take the first steps toward establishing this entity and advantage Canada reaffirmed that the government will move forward on this commitment. We continue to work with the provinces and territories to establish successful provincial nominee programs that give provinces and territories the flexibility to choose permanent residents who meet their specific labour market needs.
It is clear that there are areas in this country where the economy is so strong that Canadian workers cannot be found to fill the labour market need. To respond to these pressing labour market needs, we need to turn our temporary foreign workers program into something substantial.
I would like to outline some of the recent improvements Canada's new government has made to this program in an effort to meet the needs of employers. The temporary foreign worker program is an employer based program that addresses specific temporary labour market needs. The program allows eligible foreign workers to work in Canada for an authorized period of time. Employers must demonstrate that they are unable to find suitable Canadians or permanent residents to fill the jobs and that the entry of these workers will not have a negative impact on the Canadian labour market.
Employers from all types of businesses recruit foreign workers with a wide range of skills to meet temporary labour shortages. We see these labour shortages in many sectors. There are many labour shortages in my home province of Alberta as the energy sector fuels enormous growth in the economy of that province. It is affecting almost every other industry as well, including the service industry, as I hear from many people from the industry and the business with which I used be involved before arriving at this place.
The Ministers of Citizenship and Immigration and Human Resources and Social Development have been working to make this program more responsive and easier to use for employers who need it. They do this while continuing to protect the access of Canadian workers to the labour market.
At the heart of the motion before us today is the question of service. Thanks to concerted efforts, three-quarters of the temporary foreign workers permit applications are currently processed in less than a month and one-third of them are processed within a matter of days.
Last July we announced the creation of a new temporary foreign workers unit in Calgary and Vancouver. These units give employers easier access to temporary foreign workers. Both the Calgary and Vancouver units are now fully operational.
We also created regional lists of occupations under pressure, jobs where there is clearly an identified labour shortage. These will allow employers to reduce the time and scope of advertisements of available jobs before they are eligible to apply to hire a foreign worker, which will save time and money. This is more evidence to show that the government cares about service and works to effectively respond to the needs of regions with their acute market shortages.
We created new federal-provincial working groups in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Manitoba to speed the identification of existing and emerging skills shortages and to determine the best way the foreign worker program can help to address these shortages.
In addition, new information products offer practical step by step guidance to employers interested in hiring temporary foreign workers. Again, we want to ensure that the employers are served in the most efficient manner possible.
Since May, international students who are studying in Canada can now work off campus. It is a good work experience for them and it is also an important and previously untapped source of labour for employers.
Perhaps most important, the government has recognized that it is not enough to simply bring in more immigrants and end the story there. We have committed $307 million in additional settlement funding over the next two years to help them succeed. These are funds that our partners use to deliver programs and services that help newcomers get settled in this country.
The additional funding is an initiative of this government and we understand how important immigrants are to the makeup of Canada. These initiatives will ensure that Canada has a strong competitive economy. Strengthening our economy is one of the priorities of Canada's new government. Immigration has an important role to play in keeping our economy healthy but it is only part of the solution.
I think it is clear from what I have outlined that our government is committed to working with our partners in the provinces, the territories, the communities and the private sector. Together, we are developing and implementing the strategies that will ensure Canada has the people and the skills it needs to prosper.
Canada is a great country, not just because of geography and natural resources but also because millions of people around the world see Canada as a place where, if they work hard and play by the rules, they can achieve great things.
As to some of the Liberal legacy on immigration, I would like to quote the deputy leader of the Liberal Party, “I have to admit that we didn't get it done on immigration”.
I agree with the hon. member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore. In sharp contrast, Canada's new government is getting things done for all immigrants and all Canadians.
Mr. Wajid Khan (Mississauga—Streetsville, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, the motion before us today is one which fails to acknowledge the facts. The facts are that over 13 long years the former Liberal government paid much lip service to immigrants. However, the reality is that the Liberals, in the words of the deputy leader of the Liberal Party, just “didn't get it done” on immigration.
The Liberal legacy regarding citizenship and immigration is shameful. The Liberal member for Etobicoke Centre had this to say about the Liberal government's record on immigration:
||--I believe that our whole immigration system has become dysfunctional. That in fact it's at the point of being broken--
When Liberals say that they failed immigration, the Conservative government agrees. What exactly was the Liberal record on immigration? Let me summarize it for those who are unaware.
The Liberals imposed a $975 tax on immigrants. They promised to cut it but they did not. They allowed the application backlog to grow by 750,000. They froze settlement funding for over a decade and voted against providing $307 million in new settlement funding for immigrants. They had 13 years, six ministers, four mandates and three majority governments to modernize the Citizenship Act and did nothing.
We will not take lectures from the Liberal Party on how immigrants should be treated or respected. Let us remember that it was the Liberal member for Richmond who implied that some races of immigrants are somehow better than others when he said:
|| The Chinese community is very different from the Indo-Canadian community....The Chinese community are much more objective. No one can force them, or lure them, or cheat them into signing a membership form.
Canada's new government believes in respecting immigrants and making them feel at home in Canada, because since Confederation, Canada has welcomed newcomers from every part of the world. Newcomers work hard to build their lives in Canada. Their hard work has led to building strong communities and has made Canada what it is today, an extraordinary country, an endless opportunity available to those who seek it.
As we continue to welcome more newcomers to Canada, Canadian citizenship remains the link that holds us all together. It reminds us that we all share a common bond. That common bond of citizenship implies a sense of belonging, a sense of attachment and a sense of commitment.
Citizenship is about sharing values. It is about acknowledging and believing in rights and responsibilities.
It took 80 years for Canada to officially pass a Citizenship Act. The first Citizenship Act came into force in 1947. Thirty years later, a new Citizenship Act came into force which reflected the growth of Canada as a young country. Another 30 years have passed and new citizenship issues are emerging, and yet as the world continues to change, there is still a sense of wishing to belong, belonging to a specific group, belonging to a specific country. This will to belong is at the root of some of the concern that has been raised about so-called lost citizens.
A few situations have arisen where individuals thought they were Canadian citizens and found out that they were not. The reasons for this are complex and are often the result of antiquated legislation. It is easy to sympathize with people who find themselves in this situation, where they have spent most of their lives thinking that they belong to a specific group and country, and then find out that it is not the case. It is understandably troubling and shocking.
Our immediate aim is to rectify the most obvious cases of citizenship anomalies and that in the longer run we will try to modify the system to align it with current realities. Our government is taking every action possible to ensure that those who are in citizenship anomaly situations and who are entitled to Canadian citizenship get it without delay.
The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has already outlined the actions she has taken personally and the initiatives currently under way at citizenship and immigration to rectify those cases where there is a legitimate claim for citizenship.
CIC is also helping Canadians who have simply lost their proof of citizenship. Some Canadians are now discovering that they do not have the proof they require to be issued government documents, such as passports. This is important because that piece of paper represents a person's membership card to Canada. It is not something to be taken lightly.
At the same time, we have to ensure that our Canadian credentials, citizenship papers, passports, et cetera, are not used fraudulently. Almost every day we hear of people falsely using the goodwill of this country for nefarious purposes. This need for integrity also carries over to our immigration and refugee system.
Yes, Canada needs immigrants. Yes, Canada wishes to extend a hand to the world's refugees. Our job is to continue to manage an open, efficient and transparent system that allows people to come to Canada to begin new lives.
The motion before the House talks about immigrants to Canada and persons seeking Canadian citizenship being poorly served. There is a real difference between processing people quickly and processing people effectively. We have rules for a reason because there are certain standards that we want respected, such as the rule of law, and fairness and equity. If we do not meet these basic standards, then it is the people of Canada who are poorly served.
For example, we acknowledge that certain problems have come to light around the Citizenship Act.
In the short term, we have made some informed decisions on obvious cases of injustice. That is what good ministers do and that is what good governments do. These decisions have been made once all the facts were known and the standards of equity and fairness have been met.
In the longer term, the minister has indicated her openness with regard to amending the Citizenship Act. The minister expressed her willingness to entertain new ideas when she appeared before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on Monday, February 19, 2007.
To sum up, while the Liberals stood idly by for 13 long years, we are taking real action to address the needs of immigrants. We have cut the Liberal immigrant head tax in half, from $975 to $490. We are providing $307 million in additional settlement funding to new immigrants. We have granted over 11,000 off campus work permits to international students. We have set the highest targets for immigration in 12 years. This government is processing a record number of temporary foreign worker applicants. Canada's new government truly respects immigrants and is getting things done on citizenship and immigration.
As an immigrant to this country, I am proud to be part of a government that truly respects and is getting things done for immigrants.
Mr. Mario Silva (Davenport, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, today Canada continues to face many challenges with regard to this issue of immigration and those who wish to become citizens of this country.
Each year, over 200,000 new immigrants choose to make Canada their new home and their numbers are expected to increase. Immigration is one of the most significant issues at the federal level and we need to acknowledge that there are serious flaws with the current immigration system. These flaws negatively affect not only new immigrants or potential immigrants, but all Canadians as well.
The need to change our immigration system is reflected directly on how this system actually operates. Whether it is demonstrated in the clear inadequacies of the point system or the arbitrary and unfair deportation of undocumented workers, it is clear that things need to change.
Every time parents of Canadian-born children are deported, we are hurting Canadians. Every time family reunifications are endlessly delayed, we are hurting Canadians. Every time legitimate refugees are unjustly turned away, Canada's integrity and the spirit of our nation is diminished.
These realities must also be taken within the context of Canada's population dynamics. The current population trends in Canada clearly identify a serious shortage in terms of the future labour needs of this nation. Simply put, Canadians living here are having fewer children and the so-called baby boomers are beginning to retire en masse. As a result, there will not be enough workers in Canada's labour market to maintain the required level of workers.
Every time we delay the entry of qualified new immigrants to Canada, we are hurting the Canadian economy. The government needs to listen to the calls for change, if not for reasons of compassion, then for reasons of logic and common sense. There are very real economic implications that face our country if we do not address the flaws in our immigration system.
Frankly, there are extensive lists of immigration and citizenship issues that are in desperate need of attention and redress. Time will permit me to comment upon only a few of them.
The issue of undocumented workers is one that is very close to the hearts of my constituents of Davenport. It is an issue of vital importance and one that requires reason, logic, as well as compassion.
I have spoken in Parliament more than 30 times since the last election on this most important issue. Since my first days as a member of Parliament, I have been working hard to press for a solution to the issue of undocumented workers. I have met with stakeholders, government officials, unions, the business community, and of course undocumented workers. My goal has always been the same: a reasonable and compassionate solution to their plight.
Today in Canada there are as many as 200,000 undocumented workers. These are people who have come to Canada to do the jobs that Canadians either cannot or will not do, and they are filling a labour shortage that is real and pressing.
For example, one only has to speak with the union and business leaders within the construction industry in Toronto or Vancouver to realize just how pressing this situation really is for their sector. If these workers were not employed in the jobs they have, the construction boom that is sustaining in Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver, as well as countless other Canadian towns and cities, would simply grind to a halt.
The undocumented workers of whom I speak have settled in Canada. They enjoy and participate in Canadian culture. They are raising Canadian-born children. They pay their taxes and they have become an integral part of the Canadian social fabric and the communities in which they reside.
These workers would like nothing more than to regularize their status in Canada, to go through the system, pay their dues, pass the test, and become full citizens in the country they have grown to love.
The reality is that in many cases when they attempt to actually regularize their status, they are often simply deported from Canada. They are stable, integrated immigrants who are contributing to Canadian society and who have all the qualifications required to become Canadian citizens, and conceivably the current system we have would rather just deport them, regardless of the labour needs of this country. If sanity is defined as soundness of mind, then this policy is anything but sound. Rather it is quite frankly an insane policy.
These undocumented workers are trying to do what is right. They want to raise their families, pay their taxes and be part of the normal life of this country and yet our laws are scaring them into hiding. It reminds me of the quote by the philosopher Voltaire: “It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong”.
During the last Parliament and after much study, I presented to my colleagues a plan that would see the regularization of undocumented workers and which would completely retain the integrity of our immigration system. The plan had just made its way through the ministerial approval process when the election was called and of course, that is where it stayed. The current policy with regard to undocumented workers highlights one of the major flaws in our immigration laws.
Another example of the flawed system is the current backlog under the points system. The backlog is absolutely unacceptable and as a result the current rules are not meeting the needs of the Canadian economy. The system, for example, is encouraging skilled workers to come to work in Canada only to find themselves in fields totally unrelated to their expertise.
For the sake of our nation's future prosperity, we need the government to act. This is not an issue of partisan politics, but rather it is a matter of respect, logic, humanity, economics and good governance.
The reality is that instead of real action to address the issue, we are seeing inaction and confusion on the part of the government. We on this side of the House are willing to work with the government and all other parties including the provinces to implement the changes that are so desperately needed.
The truth is that the issue of undocumented workers and backlogs are part of the greater problem within our immigration system. The list of problems is unfortunately quite long and there is much work to be done.
Another example of the impracticality of our current system is the issue of so-called moratorium countries. Due to the danger that exists in certain countries, Canada has banned the removal of persons to a number of countries called moratorium countries. These countries include: Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan, among others.
Those immigrants who are not regularized and who come from these countries are forced to spend their lives in limbo. Some of these immigrants have been in Canada for over a decade and yet they are unable to obtain permanent resident status. Again as before, these people have woven themselves into the fabric of our society. They have children who were born here and are therefore Canadian citizens. They want to give back to this country. Instead, we tell them to live their lives on hold.
At some point we must bring compassion and reason to this issue. We must implement a system to assist these immigrants to live full lives here in Canada. It is unfair and unreasonable to leave them in bureaucratic limbo indefinitely.
The issue of the Vietnamese boat people stuck in the Philippines is one in which Canada should demonstrate leadership. Members may know that there is a relatively small number of so-called Vietnamese boat people still stranded in the Philippines. They are forced out of society, not allowed to work, and compelled to struggle for mere subsistence.
In the past Canada has shown generosity of spirit and an openness that speaks to the great character of our nation. We have opened the door to those truly in need. Indeed in the years between 1978 and 1981, over a million Vietnamese fled their country in boats seeking refuge abroad. They were interned in camps across Asia, many of which were really nothing more than prisons.
There were many others who were forced to remain adrift on board the boats they had used to flee Vietnam. Canada heard the cry of the Vietnamese boat people and opened its doors to many of them. It is to Canada's everlasting credit that those boat people were fully integrated into Canadian society. They have since gone on to leadership roles in our country.
Canada should be proud of how this community has joined our multicultural mosaic for its success is indeed our success as well. That being said, a few thousand of the Vietnamese boat people remain trapped in intolerable conditions in the Philippines, for example.
The Canadian Vietnamese community has asked that Canada once again show the generosity of spirit for which we are known all over the world by opening our doors to the remaining boat people. This community has offered to sponsor the refugees to help guide them into our society and to take on some of the financial costs of their integration. The government certainly has the legal means to address this issue under the humanitarian and compassionate clauses of the current immigration laws.
Another potentially troubling issue is the possibility that the government might force dual citizens of Canada to choose between their heritage and their homes. This issue has been publicly discussed and it is clear that this is a policy the government is considering. I must believe that the government simply does not understand the profound personal nature of dual citizenship.
Canadians with dual citizenship have a profound loyalty to Canada. They are grateful for the opportunities they have been granted here and feel a deep connection to a multicultural society. It is precisely because they are not forced to choose between their heritage and their home that these people feel blessed to be Canadians. Their dedication to Canadian society and their resolve to protect this great country is one of the great success stories of our nation.
Canada has succeeded in building a society that has embraced diversity, celebrates differences and yet still is a cohesive, vibrant and unified country striving toward shared goals. Whether it was the first nations people who came to North America thousands of years ago, or the French and English settlers of the 1600s or the diverse groups that immigrated after them from Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and every other point on the globe, we have managed to build a strong nation that is a model to the world.
What successive waves of Canadian immigrants have built should not be torn down by any government. Canada has been founded on diversity and our laws should certainly reflect this reality.
As a child, I came to Canada with my parents and found a home here. I am proud to be Canada's first member of Parliament of Portuguese heritage. I am proud to serve my fellow Canadians and represent them in the House.
We are a great and vast nation that stretches from sea to sea to sea. There is room for all of us to grow to our fullest potential. The truth is that it does not matter from where we have come. What matters is where we are going together.
Generations to come will either muse upon our missed opportunities with regret or they will revel in our incomparable accomplishments. Reinventing our immigration system so it is more responsive is not an easy challenge, but as a country we have always managed to succeed where many have failed.
The dream of Canada has been a new frontier for countless new Canadians who stepped from ships in Halifax on pier 21 or from planes at Pearson airport in later years, but all with the same goal of building a new life for themselves and their families. Let us not take the dream that is Canada and close it off from those who can help us to create a better future for our country and for them as well.
Despite repeated calls to do so, the current government has not replaced the $700 million it removed, which was originally allocated to target the immigration backlog. I mentioned a little earlier in my remarks that a good first step would be the return of these funds to address the completely unacceptable backlog. The reality is that the previous Liberal government was prepared to act on the serious issues facing our immigration system.
As mentioned before, the former government was ready to take action on the issue of undocumented workers. It had reached a comprehensive agreement with the province of Ontario that would have seen $920 million over five years allocated to increase funding for settlement services, maximize the economic benefits of immigration and develop the first ever Ontario provincial nominee program, which would have allowed the province to more closely link immigration policy to labour market needs.
Indeed, in the Liberal fiscal update of 2005 the government had committed $3.5 billion over five years for new labour market partnership agreements with the provinces. This money would have gone to improving workplace skills development and labour market integration of new immigrants. The former Liberal government also took action to ease family reunification, including allowing most spouses and common law partners to remain in Canada while their applications were processed.
In short, the Liberal government was taking the action needed to address the challenges of Canada's immigration system and more was to be done.
Today, I call upon the government to follow the Liberal government's lead and take the action needed to make our immigration system more equitable, responsible and logical. The solutions are within our grasp and I am confident we can all work together to realize them in the near future if there is will on the part of the government.
Let us build an immigration system for Canada's tomorrow, not for times that have long since passed. Like everything that has shone before in our collective history, we work better when we work together.
Mr. Raymond Gravel (Repentigny, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will share my time with my colleague, the member for Jeanne-Le Ber.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity today to discuss the Liberal motion before us, which states that immigrants to Canada and persons seeking Canadian citizenship are poorly served by this government.
The Bloc Québécois supports this motion. In fact, immigrants to this country and persons seeking Canadian citizenship are very poorly served by the current Conservative government. Unfortunately, I must also add that they were just as poorly served by the previous Liberal government. The crazy thing is that it is the Liberal Party that introduced this motion in the House today.
There is plenty of proof that immigrants and persons seeking Canadian citizenship have been and are being very poorly served by both the current and former governments.
For my part, I just want to discuss the issue concerning three sections of Bill C-11, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which came into force on June 28, 2002. In sections 110, 111 and 171, the act provides for a refugee appeal division. That division was never created.
Bill C-280 is quite straightforward. It simply aims to implement the refugee appeal division, commonly known as the RAD. Adopting this bill would mean that the three sections already included in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act concerning the refugee appeal division, or RAD, would simply be implemented.
This is a little strange, in fact it is nearly the height of absurdity, since the Bloc Québécois already introduced a bill to implement the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which was adopted in 2001 and which came into effect in June 2002, in its entirety. I am a new member of Parliament, but I did not know that a piece of legislation was needed to enact another piece of legislation.
A proper appeal process for refugee claimants ought to have been put in place as soon as the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act took effect, namely, in 2002. This is one of the significant changes required to ensure that all asylum seekers are treated fairly and equitably.
The creation of the refugee appeal division is a matter of justice. To persist in not making this change, as the two most recent governments have done, is to allow a situation that is unfair to asylum seekers to continue. When the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act was drafted, the refugee appeal division was seen as a fair compromise in response to the desire to move from two board members responsible for examining asylum claims to just one.
Yet, now we have the worst of both worlds. There is only one board member, not two, to examine the files, and there is no refugee appeal division in effect. This results in terrible, irreparable harm to asylum seekers, who are all too often victims of an arbitrary and faulty decision made by a board member, whose competency can be, in certain cases, uncertain, and all this with no appeal process.
The federal government maintains that a safety net already exists by virtue of the opportunity to request a pre-removal risk assessment, through judicial review by the Federal Court and through a request for permanent resident status on humanitarian grounds. But these two solutions do not offer any protection for refugees, because, as my colleague from Vaudreuil-Soulanges pointed out this morning, the Federal Court conducts only judicial reviews, reviews of form, and does not review the facts of a case when someone applies for asylum.
In addition, there is a blatant lack of political will to establish the refugee appeal division, because this division is already enshrined in the legislation, in sections 110, 111 and 171. In June 2002, after their own legislation came into effect, the Liberals avoided establishing the RAD. Now that the Conservatives are in power, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration still has not established the RAD, despite the positions her party has taken in the past.
In 2004, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration adopted a motion calling on the Liberal government at the time to establish the refugee appeal division or rapidly come up with a solution. The government consistently refused to comply with the committee's motion.
Many groups in civil society in Quebec, across Canada and in the international community have called for establishment of the RAD. Among these are the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Committee against Torture, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty International, la Ligue des droits et libertés and the KAIROS group.
In a Canadian Council for Refugees report, Professor François Crépeau, who teaches international law at the Université de Montréal, gave four reasons why the refugee appeal division should be put in place. I will simply list them, because my colleague also spoke about them this morning. The four reasons are efficiency, uniformity in the law, justice and politics.
The definition of a refugee or an asylum seeker has long been established in international conventions. The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted by the United Nations in 1951. More than 145 countries, including Canada, ratified the convention and its protocol.
According to this convention, Canada cannot directly or indirectly return refugees to a country where they will be persecuted. Refugees find themselves in very difficult situations and are very vulnerable.
We must never forget that when a person applies for refugee status, that person is always in a state of vulnerability and helplessness that we as citizens here, for the most part, have never known. This person leaves a difficult situation where their life was in danger for a number of religious, political or other reasons. This person arrives in the country and, in many cases, does not understand the language—neither French nor English. This person also arrives in a precarious economic situation, sometimes with just the shirt on their back. These are fragile, vulnerable and very poor people.
It is our moral duty to welcome these people with respect and compassion. To do so, Canada must do everything it can to ensure asylum seekers a fair process when they arrive in Canada, especially since a negative decision can have tragic consequences and very serious repercussions.
The Bloc Québécois is dismayed by the lack of justice toward refugees demonstrated by Citizenship and Immigration since the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act came into effect in 2002. The worst part is that Bill C-11 in 2002 was intended to correct the former Immigration Act of 1976, which did not include a refugee appeal division. Furthermore, this lack of a refugee appeal division was compensated for, at the time, by the presence of two board members who reviewed the asylum claims. Only one of the two board members needed to rule in favour of the asylum claim for the person to be granted asylum.
Currently, now there is just one board member instead of two, the refugee appeal division, RAD, seems even more important. Without the RAD, the risk of error is even greater and asylum seekers have no recourse if they are victims of an arbitrary negative decision.
Establishing a refugee appeal division would ensure that justice is done. It would also address the inconsistencies in the determination process. Furthermore, the costs of implementing this measure would be minimal. According to Jean-Guy Fleury, the chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, operating the RAD would cost $8 million per year. When we consider that the financial resources of the IRB are estimated at $116 million for 2006-2007, the RAD annual operating costs would represent only 7% of the total budget. The resulting savings must be considered.
In closing, I would just like to say that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the Liberal motion presented today. While it is true that immigrants to Canada and individuals who seek to obtain Canadian citizenship are poorly served by the government, I sincerely believe that by establishing this principle of fairness and justice for those asking for asylum, we could improve the condition of individuals seeking refugee status. The principles of fairness and justice must come from establishing the refugee appeal division.
Therefore Bill C-280 must be adopted to ensure that the three sections of the 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which have not yet come into force, are implemented.
Mr. Thierry St-Cyr (Jeanne-Le Ber, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, when we address the House, we often begin, “I am pleased to rise in this House to speak on X, Y or Z”. Unfortunately, I must say that this is not the case today. Quite frankly, I am not very happy about speaking to this matter in this House. It is a very sad topic. I am very sorry to see that the matter has not yet been resolved.
We support the motion because the government is not doing its part for immigrants. It is sad to see that we are talking about human beings in extremely difficult situations and to note that the government's only excuse for doing nothing is the Liberal's incompetence over the past 13 years. We know that the Liberals did not get the job done. They did not implement the refugee appeal division, as discussed earlier by my colleague for Repentigny. That does not justify the failure to take action.
As an MP, I represent the people in the riding of Jeanne-Le Ber, in the southwestern part of Montreal. In my riding, there are many immigrants, people who are trying to immigrate, refugees or individuals attempting to obtain refugee status and who want to settle and live there.
Many of these people come to my riding office because they are having problems with immigration. I meet with a number of them and I must say that, since I have been elected here, these are the saddest and most difficult moments in my work as a member of Parliament. The stories these people tell me are always sad and heartbreaking.
To see that the government is not able to implement simple mechanisms to help victims of arbitrary or bad decisions, to see people come cry in my office because they have to tell their painful story all over again and go over all their suffering so that I can help them, I always find this difficult.
I am urging the minister to use her power and make some decisions in order to resolve these absurd cases and resolve such situations. In any event, this should not be the normal way of functioning. There should be a refugee appeal division in order to allow these people to appeal a decision. This does not seem so unreasonable to me.
Earlier, my Conservative Party colleague from the Quebec City area asked a question. I am not sure if he was trying to prove that he was not listening to the presentation by the hon. member for Repentigny. I am not sure what he was trying to prove, but he asked a question in which he explained the case of a person who keeps appealing and where the procedures go on for months, even years. In my opinion, this is a good illustration of something that is quite common. The possibility of appealing is not a quirk in our legal system. We acknowledge the possibility for error.
Why, when we talk about the board members' decisions in matters of refugee status, do we not think it is normal, the same way we would for any other court ruling, for there to be an appeal?
Many of the board members are doing good work, but we cannot say the same about all of them. These appointments have often been questioned for their relevance, their partisan nature and the fact that they are not always based on qualification alone. There are cases where the board members reject practically every claim that comes their way. It is not very likely that one board member just happens to receive only unfounded cases.
To me, this is a strong signal that there is something wrong somewhere in the system. Perhaps these board members are not doing their work the way they should.
I may be mistaken, but I would like to suggest that the problem is that we have no way of knowing, because there is no refugee appeals division and no tribunal, administrative or otherwise, that makes it possible to review the board members' decisions. If such bodies were in place, we would be able to find out if there were any problems with certain board members. It seems to me that that would put a little pressure on them and encourage them to do their jobs as meticulously as possible. As I said, I am certain that most commissioners do their jobs well. However, I know that some do not.
Can we accept that the fate of individuals who come here claiming they are being persecuted in their own country is decided by a roll of the dice, that is, depending on which board member is assigned to their case? Do we not value human life enough to say that people who come here from around the world should not have their fate decided by a roll of the dice? We should give them a legitimate opportunity to appeal and to have a just and fair hearing. That is the issue before us today.
I would like to talk about an individual in my riding—Mr. Abdelkader Belaouini, who has been living in sanctuary at Saint-Gabriel church in Pointe-Saint-Charles for over a year. He is living in sanctuary because the government is still threatening to deport him, to send him back to the country he came from, despite the fact that he has successfully integrated into the Quebec community. He has the support of the entire community of Pointe-Saint-Charles. He did volunteer work in our riding for several months. In fact, the only reason he has not worked is that he is prohibited from doing so.
He is a very courageous man. He is diabetic and suffers from blindness. Despite all that, he wants to make a contribution to Quebec society. He has done that as a volunteer. He wants to do more, he wants to work, but he is prevented from doing so. This individual had the misfortune to come before a board member who, to all intents and purposes, denied every request he made.
I am not an expert on immigration, but I am persuaded that if Abdelkader Belaouini had been able to appeal the board member's decision and his case had been truly considered on its merits, including what he offers us and what he wants to do, he would probably not be taking refuge in a sanctuary today. Instead, he would be working, making a contribution to our society and helping our community to progress. He would be doing great things for us.
I am not certain, I am not an expert, but if we had at least had the refugee appeal division, we could have been sure, and we could have taken this farther.
In my opinion, this is a concrete example of what is not being done by the government. It was not done in the past by the Liberals. My colleague from Repentigny has observed how ironic this is. Today, the Liberals, who are in opposition, are saying that the government is doing nothing for refugees when they had 13 years to do something but did nothing. Nevertheless, that irony must not be used by the Conservatives as an excuse for continuing down the same path.
To conclude, I would like to issue an invitation to any of my colleagues here in this House who intends to vote against this motion. I invite them to come to my constituency office and meet someone who is in fear for his or her life, to explain to that person why we do not allow him or her to appeal the decision, and how the die was cast because the person happened to come before the wrong board member. That is my challenge to anyone in this House who intends to vote against this motion.