Evidence of meeting #70 for Finance in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site.) The winning word was clauses.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Gordon Boissonneault  Senior Advisor, Economic Analysis and Forecasting Division, Demand and Labour Analysis, Economic and Fiscal Policy Branch, Department of Finance
  • Sue Foster  Acting Director General, Policy, Appeals and Quality, Service Canada
  • Margaret Strysio  Director, Strategic Planning and Reporting, Parks Canada Agency
  • Stephen Bolton  Director, Border Law Enforcement Strategies Division, Public Safety Canada
  • Michael Zigayer  Senior Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice
  • Garry Jay  Chief Superintendent, Acting Director General, HR Workforce Programs and Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • Jeff Hutcheson  Director, HQ Programs and Financial Advisory Services, Coporate Management and Comptrollership, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • Darryl Hirsch  Senior Policy Analyst, Intelligence Policy and Coordination, Department of Public Safety
  • Ian Wright  Executive Advisor, Financial Markets Division, Financial Sector Policy Branch, Department of Finance
  • Nigel Harrison  Manager, Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
  • David Lee  Director, Office of Legislative and Regulatory Modernization, Policy, Planning and International Affairs Directorate, Health Products and Food Branch, Department of Health
  • Anthony Giles  Director General, Strategic Policy, Analysis and Workplace Information Directorate, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development
  • Bruno Rodrigue  Chief, Income Security, Federal-Provincial Relations and Social Policy Branch, Department of Finance
  • Gerard Peets  Senior Director, Strategy and Planning Directorate, Department of Industry
  • Suzanne Brisebois  Director General, Policy and Operations, Parole Board of Canada, Public Safety Canada
  • Louise Laflamme  Chief, Marine Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Department of Transport
  • Judith Buchanan  Acting Senior Manager, Labour Standards Operations, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
  • Mark Hodgson  Senior Policy Analyst, Labour Markets, Employment and Learning, Department of Finance
  • Stephen Johnson  Director General, Evaluation Directorate, Strategic Policy and Research Branch, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development
  • James McNamee  Deputy Director, Horizontal Immigration Policy Division, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Graham Barr  Director General, Transition Planning and Coordination, Shared Services Canada

10:25 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to say that it's a pleasure to be here, but really, when I look at the time, 10:25 of an evening, I'm sure we can all think of a million things we would rather be doing.

It's causing me a great deal of concern that here we are at this very late hour discussing something very fundamental and critical, and that is an immigration issue that, for some weird reason, is buried in a budget, a budget that is so large that it's hard to fathom everything in it.

What's of greater concern is that this issue has never been discussed by the immigration committee. It has not been before us. We did everything we could to sever it out of this report so that we could take it to that committee and have an informed discussion.

What we're talking about here, Mr. Chair, is not just numbers. We're not talking about the deletion of 300 people, not only them, but their families who waited very patiently in a lineup. We're actually talking about 300 families. I want you to imagine how many people this is impacting, and here we are at 10:25 at the end of a very long process, and I'm not sure how much justice we can give this.

These are the people who played by the rules we made. They didn't make the rules; we made the rules. I've often heard the minister saying—Jason Kenney, that is—there are so-called queue jumpers in our immigration system, but here we are punishing people who have been waiting in line and playing by the rules. That is just so un-Canadian.

This morning I had an e-mail from one of these applicants from Hong Kong, and he actually asked me what was happening to the compassionate Canada he had heard so much about. He actually applied to come to Canada rather than the United States, and now, after five years, he's being told, delete button, you're gone. He's thinking he could have applied five years earlier and been settled in the States and not been through the kind of pain he has been through.

It was brought home to me that here we have a black eye for Canada across the world, whether it's in Manilla, where there were demonstrations, whether it's in Hong Kong, whether it's in India, or whether it's in China. What these people are saying and what people in my riding and across Canada are saying is this is not the right way to go. This is just not fair.

By the way, Mr. Chair, there was a study done on the backlog point by the committee a few years ago, but let me assure you that not one person or one recommendation included hitting the delete button. As a matter of fact, the report is very, very clear. They put forward an array of ideas for eliminating the backlog, and there are three main options they did put forward, but not one of them was hitting the delete button. As a matter of fact, the report states that most witnesses recognized the government's legal obligation to process all applications.

Here we are in a budget discussion that is going to impact the lives of 300 families who waited patiently in a queue we put them in, and they were just waiting their turn to come to Canada. We're changing the rules on them.

I have to tell you that I've heard stories of families who make plans once they get in the queue, and they know they're going to come to Canada. I heard of a family who sold some of their assets in order to take English classes and put their son through a school in China because they felt he would be able to come here and assimilate a lot easier. There is a family in the Punjab who sold their land, and because of the cost of living they can't possibly buy back that land because it is now out of their reach.

I look at all of this, and I'm wondering what has happened to our sense of fairness. Even the committee that studied this issue earlier said that even when it came to ministerial instructions that are intended to alleviate the backlog, the perception of fairness prevails. The study actually goes on to say that terminating the applications of people who have been patiently waiting in the queue is a decision that cannot be made. That previous study accepted that this was not the way they could go, and here we are.

As a matter of fact, in that report the committee lauded the work done by the department to reduce the backlog to date, saying that the pre-February 2008 backlog for federal skilled worker applications had been reduced by half, two years ahead of schedule. That's on page 13, in case any of you are desperate for midnight reading tonight. It went on to say that the action plan for faster immigration marked a turning point in immigration application backlogs and progress toward backlog reduction. That's on page 23. Then why would the minister make such an unfair cut under these circumstances?

You look at what was in that report and the kinds of accolades that were given for the reduction, and then here we have a cleaver being taken and a very arbitrary date, 2008. Some of the other professionals and skilled workers who are waiting to come to Canada are saying things like “This year, it's 2008. We applied in 2010. Who's to say that a year down the road it won't be that anybody who applied before 2011 is gone?”

What are we doing to the pool of people we hope to attract to Canada in the future? What kind of an image of Canada are we projecting out there, that we would treat people in such a poor way?

We're a nation that is built by immigration. I'm a first-generation immigrant myself. I chose Canada to be my home. I applied for a teaching job. I came here. I thought it was going to be for a year or two, and I'm still here.

I love this country, but with the kinds of changes I'm seeing happening and the way we're starting to treat newcomers or potential newcomers with so little regard and so much disrespect, really, I would say we'll have many skilled workers out there wondering if Canada is really a place of fairness, of compassion, a place that is inclusive, where they want to come to raise their children, where they want to be part of nation-building.

I know it's very easy for those of us who live in Canada now. We think, “Well, they're not here yet. They're not Canadians. They have no rights.” Canada has never had that kind of an approach towards our international relationships or the way we treat people in other countries. Recently, with Bill C-31, and now with this buried in a budget and left to debate at the very last minute so we can spend very little time on it and really not do a proper analysis of impact, here we are at this late hour, thinking—or not thinking—about the impact we are going to have on families.

There's another case I want to share with you here. There's a family in China, where they have, as we all know, a one-child policy. Upon hearing that they were on the wait list and that they were going to get to come to Canada soon, this family actually sold their apartment. It wasn't a house, but it was their home. They sent their child over here to study because they thought that would really help in the assimilation and would help in the transition. Both the parents, professionals, have been taking English classes and learning as much about Canada as they can. I'm sure they know far more about Canada right now, from what they write, than I did the day I arrived.

For these people, it's not just that we're deleting their application. We're actually deleting their dreams and hopes and aspirations of a home in Canada. I want all of us to imagine what it would feel like if you were in those shoes, if that happened to you. How would you feel? What sense of betrayal would you feel?

As I look at this, I keep hearing about bogus this, bogus that, queue jumpers. In the last week or two the House and my committee have been filled with rhetoric about queue jumpers.

I keep thinking that here are people—normal folk—in other countries who wanted to come to Canada, as I did. They wanted to come here to make this their home. We looked at their applications and said, “Great. Well done. We're going to put you in the queue. We're only letting in so many a year.”

First of all, we didn't have to have that backlog; there was a way we could have been addressing it in a more aggressive manner. But then, out of the blue, we say to them, “You know what? We've changed our mind. If you applied before 2008, you're gone. We'll give you your money back.”

We can send them back a cheque for the processing fees, but how do we give them a cheque for their hopes and dreams? How do we do that? How do we address the absolute feeling of betrayal they're feeling right now from Canadians—all Canadians?

I know the opposition has been very vehemently opposed to these steps, and we will continue to oppose them. At the same time, as I sit here, I'm thinking of the conversation those families must be having and the kind of burden we have placed on their shoulders.

I sometimes wonder how some people—not on this side of the House, but definitely across the way—will be able to sleep at night, knowing they are absolutely impacting the hopes and aspirations of people to whom we gave hope. We gave them those aspirations. We took in their applications, and we had them wait.

It should also be noted that the backlog has actually grown, and I would say deliberately grown, since the Conservatives came to office in 2006. If there were a real intention to address that backlog, those ways would have been found. They were suggested by the committee. Instead, that backlog was allowed to grow, so now, in a piece of legislation that is buried in a 400-plus-page budget.... I don't see what the budget has to do with immigration in this case.

Anyway, here we are. It's buried in the budget, and we're going to hit the delete button. That is going to impact over 300,000 families, not individuals. I just want you to think about the impact that is going to have, not only on that immediate family, but on all the extended families. Many of those people have relatives over here, and they don't like the way Canada is going.

Thank you.

10:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you.

We'll go to Ms. McLeod, please.

10:35 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I think I need to address one of the comments my colleague across the way made, and then I'll get into some specifics.

The question keeps coming up why we needed to hive this piece--this should have been hived, that should have been hived, this should have been hived.

We have been in government for a year, and we've had to make sure that debate was given reasonable timeframes. There are approximately 17 pieces of legislation that have been passed. We are looking at a critical situation in Canada, with the global crisis in Europe. We look at what's happening in the United States. What we've done is to take the whole-of-government approach, and the whole-of-government approach is the plan for jobs, long-term growth, and prosperity.

If we moved on 70 separate pieces of legislation, we would be here ten years from now. That is even with our government making sure there was absolutely reasonable time for debate, but perhaps making sure that what was said was relevant and didn't keep getting repeated.

I also have to make a quick note. I'm getting a little bit confused about the NDP policy. Right now we're talking compassion. I absolutely agree. This was a very difficult decision. The minister said that quite frequently. But a little earlier your colleague was expressing concern about roving gangs of Lebanese temporary foreign workers stealing jobs from Canadians. We're getting mixed messages from the NDP, and to be quite frank, it's not coherent.

I do have to correct something. I believe, and perhaps the officials can say, that the backlog has gone down in recent years. Could we briefly address that?

10:40 p.m.

James McNamee Deputy Director, Horizontal Immigration Policy Division, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Yes, the federal skilled worker backlog, as was pointed out, was reduced by over 50%. This was the pre-February 27, 2008 backlog. The overall number of people awaiting a decision has reduced somewhat, but it's stayed relatively stable over the recent years.

10:40 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you.

What our government is doing, then, is we're taking a compassionate approach. How compassionate is it to wait six years or eight years for answers? What we need is a system that matches....

How compassionate is it to have people who come here, who don't have opportunities...? They come with skills, under a skilled worker program, and they're not given opportunities for employment. We have communities waiting for physicians. We need to create the efficiencies in this program.

Certainly it was a very difficult decision in terms of the federal skilled workers, but hopefully many of those people have the skills, and they will match, and they have the opportunity to reapply.

In the red tape reduction commission, as we travelled across the country, we heard across the country some of the challenges with the temporary foreign workers program. We listened. We are trying to adapt. We are making some changes. These are important changes for our immigration system, absolutely vital to Canada's future, to our economy. We can't wait for six years before we actually move forward on making these important changes.

Thank you very much.

10:40 p.m.

A voice

Well said.

10:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you, Ms. McLeod.

I have Ms. Nash, and then Ms. Glover.

June 5th, 2012 / 10:40 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Here tonight at the finance committee, after debating fish allocations, CSIS, and all kinds of other things, now we're debating the federal skilled workers program. I was very interested to hear my colleague say a few minutes ago that these specific changes have not been debated or brought to the immigration committee, yet here they are before the finance committee. I find that really quite strange for something that I would have thought for adequate debate would require the immigration critics from the various parties to have the opportunity to examine and debate this legislation, to make sure they hear the appropriate witnesses, and that there would be a thorough examination of this change.

She did say there had been some previous study about how to deal with the backlog, but absolutely no recommendation about simply hitting the delete button and eliminating close to 300,000 people by eliminating the backlog. What these changes propose is to delete all applications to the federal skilled worker program prior to February 27, 2008.

I have to say that if I'm in a lineup waiting for my turn, whether it's at the supermarket or getting on an airplane or a subway, to suddenly be told, after waiting as these people have, for four years, to forget it, you can't be considered, but someone who has come after you is going to be considered, is going to be accepted, I would find that unacceptable.

We do hear the minister talk about queue jumpers. Well, this seems to me to be queue jumping, because people who are applying later are going to be accepted earlier. It doesn't make sense. It seems to me like a real broken promise to the people who in good faith paid their money, invested time, energy, made plans, devoted their attention to trying to come to Canada because we were trying to recruit them.

Under the federal skilled workers program, we're trying to bring into Canada people who have the skills that we need in the Canadian economy. To keep these people waiting all this time and then to say retroactively that all of their applications are deleted seems like an incredible betrayal of them.

I've heard my colleagues say this is creating difficulties for us internationally, that our reputation is being affected because people feel that perhaps this is not a desirable country to come to if they cannot count on the process and clear rules being applied, that they can make an application and have a reasonable expectation—if they're in a queue—that ultimately they'll get to the front of that queue. It also seems like a dramatic shift in our policy, and it's difficult for people when the rules change in the middle of the game.

We talked earlier about the demographics in Canada showing that we have an aging population, not aging as rapidly as some countries, but we do have an aging population. Having an effective immigration program under which young skilled immigrants can come to Canada as part of our economic and social development is a positive for Canada. In fact, we're competing with countries around the world for skilled immigrants. Now, I know we have a big list of immigrants, but to change the rules in midstream and say that people who have been waiting all this time can never get here—there's no faint hope that they're going to get here—seems like a real betrayal and a confused policy.

In closing, I want to address my colleague's concern. She said there didn't seem to be coherence in the NDP approach to immigration policy.

Our immigration critic has joined our committee briefly, for these very few minutes we are discussing such an important change, and she has been very consistent on deleting the applications of 300,000 applicants to Canada under the federal skilled workers program. But I believe my colleague might have been referring to previous concerns expressed by a colleague about the elimination of the fair wage program and how that could combine with the temporary foreign worker program to create competitive issues because of the downward pressure on wages in Canada, if people brought in through the temporary foreign worker program undermine wages in the construction sector in Canada. I think that is where she has become confused. So I did want to just clarify that, because our immigration critic and our party have been very consistent and very clear on our position on the federal skilled workers program.

I just want to say that while the temporary foreign worker program has served a need, we think about people coming in under the temporary foreign worker program as working in the agricultural sector. Increasingly now, temporary foreign workers are in retail, in service, in manufacturing, and in all aspects of society, and there are people who have concerns that temporary foreign workers in Europe certainly have created balkanized communities and are not allowed to become integrated into broader society. There are people who feel that if people are good enough to come here to work in factories, on pipelines, in health care, and in the service sector, who come here without skills like my grandparents did, they should be able to find a way to become landed and bring their families and have more of a normal life.

The temporary foreign worker program is a whole other discussion. We've had some of that discussion here in the finance committee, but right now in the finance committee we're discussing the federal skilled workers program, and we have been consistent on both those elements of immigration policy.

Thank you.

10:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

I will go to Ms. Glover.

10:50 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Saint Boniface, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I will remind my colleagues that actually this section does include temporary foreign workers too, and I reiterate that I was quite offended by the comments made by Pat Martin with regard to roving gangs of Lebanese temporary foreign workers who are stealing Canadians' jobs. It is utterly atrocious to hear a parliamentarian speak of immigrants in such a fashion.

Nevertheless, I do have some questions for our wonderful guests, our witnesses who have waited all night to have a chance to speak. Rather than parliamentarians bantering back and forth with perhaps some inflated and exaggerated comments, I'm going to ask you why we are eliminating the foreign skilled workers backlog. Why?

10:50 p.m.

Deputy Director, Horizontal Immigration Policy Division, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

James McNamee

Essentially the backlog, if not eliminated, will be around for many more years to come. There are plenty of skilled workers currently in the queue. The government has expressed a desire to move to a greater emphasis on meeting immediate labour market needs, the current needs of Canada, and this transition would take many years to happen. This action will facilitate that occurring much more quickly than otherwise would be the case.

10:50 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Saint Boniface, MB

I just want to confirm something that was said earlier, because it wasn't quite clear. Our government has managed over recent years to reduce the FSW backlog, correct?

10:50 p.m.

Deputy Director, Horizontal Immigration Policy Division, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

10:50 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Saint Boniface, MB

Correct. So that is in absolute contrast to what was said by Ms. Sims, who is the critic, who ought to know better than to say it has not been reduced, because the fact remains that it has in fact been reduced. And we further need to reduce the backlog so that we can actually put foreign skilled workers into the jobs that exist.

We have a labour shortage in many of our provinces. Would you agree with that statement, Mr. McNamee?

10:50 p.m.

Deputy Director, Horizontal Immigration Policy Division, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

James McNamee

Yes, there are certainly acute shortages in many sectors and in particular regions of the country—for sure.