Debates of May 18th, 2005
House of Commons Hansard #101 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.
- Canada Day Poster Challenge
- Gananoque Remembers
- Craig Manufacturing
- Tembec Mill
- Women Veterans
- Dental Technology
- Niagara Folk Arts Festival
- Canadian Federation of Independent Business
- Customs Officers
- Official Languages
- B.C. New Democrats
- Member for Newmarket—Aurora
- Speech and Hearing Awareness Month
- Nappan Experimental Farm
- The Budget
- Sponsorship Program
- Employment Insurance
- Maher Arar Inquiry
- Sponsorship Program
- Transfer Payments
- Social Development
- Canada Post
- Aboriginal Affairs
- The Budget
- Shipbuilding Industry
- Oil and Gas Industry
- Natural Resources
- Forest Industry
- Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates
- Clothing and Textile Industry
- The Environment
- Presence in Gallery
- Points of Order
- Chief Electoral Officer
- Government Response to Petitions
- Interparliamentary Delegations
- Committees of the House
- Income Tax Act
- Broadcasting Act
- Committees of the House
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Question No. 122
- Question No. 123
- Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
- Question No. 124
- Motions for Papers
- Business of Supply
- Budget Implementation Act, 2005
- Committees of the House
- Treaties Act
Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON
Madam Speaker, I understand fully that the families have many unanswered questions. If anyone in this House lost a loved one in a similar tragedy, we would all have the same questions and would demand answers from government.
It is important to point out that Air-India was one of the longest and most complex investigations in the history of Canada. Law enforcement and security officials have worked tirelessly in the pursuit of justice in this case. We have seen many changes in security and air aviation policies over the last number of years. For example, shortly after the Air-India tragedy, the Government of Canada introduced stringent requirements that forbade the carrying of checked baggage on international flights unless the passenger was already on board. Canada was the first International Civil Aviation Organization member to introduce passenger-baggage reconciliation on international flights, a measure which was later extended to include domestic flights.
In closing, I would say that all of us in this House have a duty to protect the security interests of all Canadians. That is what the government will continue to do.
Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the town of Laurentian Hills in my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke as a follow up to the question I raised with the government on February 25 of this year.
It is important for the government to hear directly from the municipality involved. With that thought in mind, I would like to share the letter that I received from Mayor Vance Gutzman of the town of Laurentian Hills seeking my help:
Dear Member of Parliament:
I am writing this letter seeking your assistance in a matter of grave financial importance to the Town of Laurentian Hills. What it comes down to, basically, is the Town of Laurentian Hills is owed money from upper-tier levels of government for work which the town was ordered to undertake by those same levels of upper-tier government.
In the wake of the Walkerton water fiasco, municipalities across Ontario were ordered to undertake extensive, and expensive, upgrades to their water treatment systems. We were one of the municipalities that complied with the provincial directives. Many others did not comply and still have not complied. We complied, even though the lowest bidder we could find for the job came in at over two million dollars.
That's a lot of money for a small rural municipality, as you can well imagine, but we complied, based on promises that the federal and provincial governments would each contribute one-third of the funding for the project. That hasn't happened yet. That's not good enough.
The upgrades to our water treatment plant in the Village of Chalk River have been completed for some time now.
We have a state of the art water treatment system, sure, but we have had to place the burden of the costs of those upgrades squarely on the shoulders of the people in that same village.
The situation is simply intolerable. Our ratepayers cannot be expected to bear the brunt of broken promises.
The Town of Laurentian Hills complied with the terms of a deal handed down by the federal and provincial governments. Sadly, those same two levels of government don't appear willing to honour the terms of that same deal.
Any assistance you can give us on this matter, as our member of Parliament, would be greatly appreciated. We complied. Now we expect others to do the same.
Thunder Bay—Superior North
Joe Comuzzi Minister of State (Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario)
Madam Speaker, in answer to my colleague from Renfrew, let me first state that the federal government has never insisted that anyone undertake any water treatment programs.
I think, if she would refer to the letter that the mayor of Laurentian Hills sent to her, that was an onus put on communities within Ontario to upgrade their water treatment plants. The federal government was just a compliant partner coming in with the ability to finance through the Canada-Ontario infrastructure program, COIP, which made significant strides to improve the cost of municipal infrastructure across the whole of Ontario.
We have had over 500 projects under COIP representing a federal investment of almost $700 million. In one of the projects, as my colleague stated, we were a financial partner for $542,000. The investment provides incremental funds to augment provincial and municipal contributions to this project.
The Government of Canada has also supported several other projects in Laurentian Hills. It is indeed unfortunate, and I sympathize with my colleague, that the town of Laurentian Hills, when it went out for the bidding process experienced increases in the tender costs for this water treatment plant.
As she and I have discussed over several months, there are several programs within COIP that may not proceed. That will leave a surplus in the COIP account. We are trying to finalize what these projects are and if they are going to proceed. If they are not going to proceed, those funds that have been committed to COIP, and hopefully for Laurentian Hills, will come back and form part of the residue of the entire program. I sympathize with the member. Hopefully soon the program can be drawn to a conclusion. I think there is $700,000 or so. Hopefully we can make a substantial contribution.
On top of that, we do not do this exclusively on our own. There has to be an agreement between the Ontario and federal governments. I would hope that my colleague would also ask her colleagues in the provincial legislature to support this move if there are extra funds in the Canada-Ontario infrastructure program.
Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON
Madam Speaker, again I wish to thank Vance Gutzman, the mayor of Laurentian Hills, for his letter.
The federal share being requested is $294,620. That is not a lot of money by Ottawa standards, but it is a lot of money to these people.
I appreciate the cooperation that I have received from the minister on this issue. I look forward on behalf of the town of Laurentian Hills to a speedy resolution to the mayor's request.
Joe Comuzzi Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON
Madam Speaker, I do not mean to say this in jest to my hon. colleague, but we talk in such huge figures around here, billions for this and billions for that. I have to say that I have always respected the amounts of money, and $274,000 is a lot of money. I would hope that at the end of the day the federal contribution of $274,000 through this program will be made available. We will then have to negotiate with the province of Ontario to match that, because it is a cooperative program between the federal government and the provincial government.
As my colleague knows, as I talk to her on a regular basis on this issue and try to keep her abreast of the situation, sometimes the wheels of government grind slowly. I hope that this comes to a successful conclusion.
Mark Warawa Langley, BC
Madam Speaker, it is wonderful to represent my constituency of Langley, one of the most beautiful parts of Canada.
I want to share with the House a concern. I was hoping to ask a question of the minister, but it appears it will be the parliamentary secretary, dealing with SE2, sumas energy 2. It is a proposed generating plant that will be pumping tonnes of pollutants into the fragile Fraser Valley air shed. The battle opposing SE2 has been ongoing for a number of years. It went to EFSEC in the United States, and is now with NEB. It was denied at NEB and that process is being appealed by the applicant, SE2.
The history on this is it was the Conservative government that opposed it. I am disappointed that the Liberal-NDP alliance did not oppose it. It was local government that took the lead and it was the Conservative Party that went to these hearings as intervenors to speak against SE2 and the damage it would cause to the area.
I am wondering what the government is doing on this file. We arranged a meeting with an environmental expert from the Fraser Valley and with the environment minister's staff because we had not been getting any action from the previous environment minister or from the present one. I asked for a meeting with the staff and we were told that the government was going to be working on an international air quality agreement. That is important.
Why has it taken 12 years and we still do not have an international air quality agreement? Raw sewage is still being dumped into our oceans. Pollution levels are increasing. There are thousands of contaminated sites. We still do not have an international air quality plan.
We do have a Kyoto plan that deals with carbon dioxide being pumped into our air. The commitment to that plan was made eight years ago. Recently when our commitment came into effect, there was no plan so the government quickly got together a plan. That plan said that it is going to be very difficult to achieve those targets, but the government is going to collect approximately $10 billion from Canadians.
Where is that money going to come from? That $10 billion we are now hearing is going to be more like $50 billion. Where is that money going to come from?
It started off that the gas prices, what we pay at the pumps, were going to be approximately $2 a litre. Now the price is approaching $3 and more per litre. Canadians do not want that. They want a plan that deals with the pollution levels. They no longer want raw sewage to be dumped in our oceans. They want the contaminated sites cleaned up.
When is the government finally going to do something and clean up Canada, as is its responsibility?
Jerry Pickard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry
Madam Speaker, I would suggest to the member opposite that the Government of Canada is very concerned about pollution and air quality. We also are concerned about all the issues surrounding our environment. There is no question that this is a critical issue, and I commend him for bringing it forward today.
The climate change plan for Canada was released in November 2002 and it was developed with stakeholders across Canada. Obviously in one year, and even in the longer term, all solutions cannot be reached and maintained. I assure the member opposite that there is a tremendous amount of work going on, not only in the energy sphere or in the auto emissions standard. We just announced a couple of weeks ago a reduction of 5.3 megatonnes of CO
going into the atmosphere.
When we start moving into the question of air quality, there is no question that the Fraser Valley is a important area in Canada.
The Canada-U.S. air quality agreement was signed in 1991 to address transboundary acid rain, and that has been very successful. The recent release of the biennial progress report on the agreement demonstrates that both Canada and the United States have made tremendous reductions in their emissions of SO
, the major pollutant in acid rain, and that in some cases ecosystems have begun to recover.
However, we also know that more needs to be done to deal with transboundary smog and to obtain the reductions from the United States that are needed to continue the recovery from acid damage to our forest and lakes. In British Columbia's Fraser Valley in particular, Environment Canada is leading an initiative to address transboundary air quality with partner agencies in the Georgia Basin--Puget Sound and in the international airshed.
Furthermore, last August 17 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator and the Government of Canada endorsed a recommendation that would lead to a decision on a negotiation of a new annex to the Canada-U.S. air quality agreement to address transboundary air quality. We agreed that a future bilateral effort should address the issues identified in the shared airshed.
The government understands that the Washington State Sumas Energy 2 project is a serious concern to Fraser Valley residents. Environment Canada officials have consistently provided scientific assessment and written comments on the impact of the Sumas Energy 2 proposal. The progress of that is in Washington State right now.
All of us have to realize that we are in a court appeal over that issue and it would be inappropriate for the government to comment further at this time.
Mark Warawa Langley, BC
Madam Speaker, some would suggest what we are hearing is hot air and I do not want to go there. We need an absolute commitment from the government that it will deal with the problem.
I will make it easy for the parliamentary secretary. I will give one example. Raw sewage has been dumped into our ocean in Victoria. When we were talking to the Washington State governor, he told us if we stop the dumping of the raw sewage, they would deal with SO
When will the government deal with the raw sewage, stop it from happening and then we can move on and clean up the air? When will the government do something specific? No more excuses.
Jerry Pickard Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON
Madam Speaker, I am sure my colleague opposite well understands that raw sewage and sewage problems themselves are a cause of municipalities. We work hard to create infrastructure programs to help municipalities with the environment. Environmental projects such as sewage treatment plants and other issues are critical. However, the federal government does not control all the raw sewage in the country. We can only help fund and move that issue forward.
We have the same concerns as the member. However, we put pressure on local municipal governments as well as provincial governments to move forward on those issues and make those things happen. I, like the member, do not want to see raw sewage dumped into any waterway. No one does. We must put pressure on the right areas. The member should talk to his municipal and provincial people and get action where action is required, at the level which deals with that issue.
The Deputy Speaker
Pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), the motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been withdrawn. The House will now resolve itself into committee of the whole to study all votes under citizenship and immigration in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2006. I do now leave the chair for the House to resolve itself into committee of the whole.
(Consideration in committee of the whole of all votes under Citizenship and Immigration in the main estimates, Mr. Chuck Strahl in the chair)
May 18th, 2005 / 7:30 p.m.
I would like to open this session of the committee of the whole by making a short statement.
Tonight's debate is being held under Standing Order 81(4)(a), which provides for each of two sets of estimates selected by the Leader of the Opposition to be considered in committee of the whole for up to four hours and also under the terms of the motions adopted by unanimous consent earlier today.
Tonight's debate is a general one of all the votes under citizenship and immigration. The speaking rotation will be based on 15 minute slots. The first round will begin with the official opposition, followed by the government, the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party. After that we will follow the usual proportional rotation.
As provided in the motion adopted earlier today, parties may use each 15 minute slot for speeches or for questions and answers by one or more of their members. In the case of speeches, members of the party to which the period is allotted may speak one after the other.
When the time is to be used for questions and answers, the Chair will expect the minister's response will reflect approximately the time taken by the question since this time will be counted in the time originally allocated to the party. Though members may speak more than once, the Chair will generally try to ensure that all members wishing to speak are heard before inviting members to speak again while respecting the proportional party rotations for speakers.
Members need not be in their own seats to be recognized.
I would like to remind members that, pursuant to the motion adopted earlier today, no quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent shall be entertained during tonight's proceedings.
As your Chair, I will be guided by the rules of the committee of the whole and by motions adopted earlier today. However, in the interest of a full exchange, I am prepared to exercise discretion and flexibility in the application of these rules. In turn, I would call on all hon. members to also exercise discretion during this evening's debate. As I said a moment ago, this is a relatively new procedure that provides the House with an opportunity to focus on the estimates from one department and to engage in a prolonged exchange with the minister responsible.
It is important that the traditions of the House in relation to decorum be respected and that members make their remarks and pose their questions and that order is maintained throughout the evening. The Chair will expect all hon. members to focus on the subject matter of the debate, refrain from personal remarks and deal with the main estimates of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
I also wish to indicate that even in committee of the whole ministers and members should be referred to by their title or riding name and of course all remarks should be addressed through the Chair. I ask for everyone's cooperation in upholding all established standards of decorum, parliamentary language and behaviour.
At the conclusion of tonight's debate, the committee will rise, the estimates under Citizenship and Immigration will be deemed reported to the House and the House will adjourn until tomorrow.
House in committee of the whole pursuant to Standing Order 81(4)(a), the first appointed day, consideration in committee of the whole of all votes under citizenship and immigration in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2006.
Diane Ablonczy Calgary—Nose Hill, AB
Mr. Chair, it will be very interesting to participate in this new procedure in the House of having an exchange about the estimates of the immigration department.
As you know, Mr. Chair, this exchange takes place in an atmosphere where we have a number of distractions. Therefore, perhaps it is a bit of an unusual situation, but I think it will be helpful to talk about the immigration department and about its estimates, spending and priorities. I look forward to the exchange this evening.
I feel a little hard done by because all the experts are on the other side of the House, but I know they are here to help all of us. We appreciate the officials being here and being ready to provide us with information as required.
We have a situation in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration and I do not know if it is unique in any other department. There have been documents which have come to light which essentially show that the department has doubled its revenue over the last number of years, but there has been no corresponding increase in the budget of the department.
In fact, the documents we have say the following. I am quoting from a document dated February 5, 2001, where an official advises, including the deputy minister at the time. It states the department:
Doubled revenue generation & commitment to fiscal framework:…Exceeded revenue commitment to CRF [Consolidated Revenue Fund] of $1.5B by $195M since 1994, but no increase to Operating Budget …Decreased Operating Budget by $54M.
Since no programs were eliminated under the purview of the department and there were no cuts to the grants and contribution transfer portion of the department's operations, the document says that the only option was to cut the total personnel by 20% by eliminating face to face processing of applications, moving the call centres to a central location, closing offices abroad and cutting our CIC officers abroad by 35%. The risk management because of these cutbacks increased because of the number of interviews that were waved. This document goes on and I will not read the whole thing.
The point is that under the government's watch the department doubled its revenue from the fees taken from immigrant applications and at the same time did not receive enough budget to even keep the operation on a stable basis. The department was bringing in money but the resources were being cut back.
What has been the result of this? It has been rather sad actually. I quote from an interview given by a Liberal member from Bramalea—Gore—Malton who said December 14, 2004, “The immigration system is in the worse situation now than it has ever been”. Most members of Parliament would agree with that.
We have so many concerns and complaints from members of Parliament about a system that is not working. Why? Because the Liberal government has not put the resources that are needed to make the system work. In fact, the minister himself in answer to a question before committee said that this Parliament had not put one penny into the immigration department.
Who was controlling the purse during these last years, in fact for more than a decade? It was the Liberal government. Yet the minister admitted that money had not been put back into the department. Therefore, we have a number of real hardships to the clients of the department: immigrants and applicants under the immigration department.
In response to some of this, we also found out something rather shocking. Some of my colleagues who are in the House now will recall that the immigration committee met in Vancouver. We had as a witness an immigration lawyer named Mr. Richard Kurland. He brought before the committee documents which showed that the Liberal government had secretly closed down the parents and grandparents program.
Therefore, we had immigrants, newcomers to Canada and many of them Canadian citizens now, in good faith making applications to bring their parents and their grandparents to Canada. The CIC took in those applications, the application fee, the medical certificates and security checks, but the program had been shut down. The applications for parents and grandparents were not being processed.
After awhile, people who were applying to sponsor their parents and grandparents started asking what was happening. They had been waiting and waiting and it was only supposed to take a year. This was something else the department did. Instead of letting people know what had happened, it pretended that this process was going ahead the way it always had, and in fact, was publishing historic processing times on the CIC website. So people thought because the website said these would be processed within a year or 18 months, that this was happening.
Of course, as the months slipped by and 18 months became two years or more, they started to ask what was going on. When they phoned the department, they could not get an answer or any information about the files. They then started coming to members of Parliament. Members of Parliament could not get information. Then we heard that this program had in fact been shut down and that these files were not being processed. I heard it myself from three separate sources.
I put this to the minister in committee. I asked about these parents and grandparents and why they were not being processed. The minister denied that there was any slowdown or stoppage of processing these files. Then we came out with the documents from Mr. Richard Kurland to the CIC all party committee of this House demonstrating that it had been shut down and that officers in the field were aghast at this. They did not know what to tell people. The processing was half done. They did not know what they were going to say when it had shut down in the middle of the exercise, so to speak. Until it came out through the immigration lawyer, there was no admission to people who were accessing the process in good faith that this had happened. So there are a number of issues with this department that cry out to be explained.
There is the whole issue of international credentials and the recognition of those, so that people who are brought to Canada, because they have the skills and training we say that we need, can actually use those skills and training.
The Liberal government has been promising since its throne speech in 1994 that this was going to be addressed and yet there has been no progress. Again, the all party committee has just finished travelling across Canada. We heard from witnesses over and over crying their hearts out because they came to Canada to use their skills and abilities, but just could not find the way to get their credentials recognized here or a process whereby they could obtain Canadian equivalency.
This is a tremendous hardship. There are backlogs with people waiting to get applications processed in a whole number of areas. People wait two years or more just to get citizenship after they have already qualified. Sometimes, because the date is put off, these people have to get new medical records and new security checks which cost them money. This is no way to run a department.
The department admits it has doubled its revenue and yet the service has been cut back to an alarming degree and caused tremendous hardship and difficulty for honest, hardworking people who in good faith put their applications before the system.
The promises of the minister and of the department are not being kept. A few months ago we had a promise that tsunami victims would be fast-tracked into Canada. We know that there were over 1,000 applications from people in tsunami stricken areas. They were supposed to be fast-tracked and everyone was happy thinking their relatives and friends who had applications in the system would be coming to Canada in a few weeks time.
Here we are over six months later and I think that only 200 actually came to Canada. Yet, in the supplementary estimates the government asked for over $4 million more to process these applications and the operations of the department. The promise of bringing these individuals to Canada on an expedited basis, where they could be safe and have shelter from the disaster and loss that they experienced, has not come to fruition. Broken promises are unacceptable to vulnerable people who are counting on the government to keep its promises.
I know members of Parliament from all parties are going to be mentioning a number of areas in this department, a nation building department, that brings newcomers to Canada and works with us to build a great nation. However, people are treated in a very shabby fashion, are not given proper information, and made promises that are not kept in a timely manner.
I want to make it very clear that there is no blame to be attached to the civil servants who work in this department. They are committed and able. I have been a member of Parliament for over 11 years and have always found them extremely good to work with, but the policy-makers on the government side make it almost impossible for them to do their job in a way that would be a credit to Canada and would give us a reputation of respect and pride in the international community. This must be addressed.
It is sad that a government that has been in office for over a decade now and has this litany of failures, mismanagement and leaving people in the lurch is not going to have any answers. If the Liberal government were to have answers and the skill to manage an important department like this, we would not be where we are today. However, we are here today and I would like to ask the minister specifically about this secret shutdown of the parents and grandparents program.
Many newcomers to Canada promise their parents and grandparents that they will bring them here and care for them in their old age. Caring for elders is something that many cultures respect and expect of each other. A promise was made and people in good faith accessed the system and yet secretly behind the scenes the processing of these applications to sponsor the most vulnerable family members was shut down.
I would like the minister to explain that to these Canadians and newcomers who put their applications forward for their parents and grandparents. I think they are owed an explanation by the minister as to why in secret, without telling them and still taking their money, this program was shut down.
Before we go to the minister, I would ask members that when they start their presentations to indicate whether they intend to make a speech or ask questions. That way I can divvy the time up more appropriately. Obviously, we cannot have a 13 minute or 14 minute answer from the minister. The minister will have a couple of minutes to respond and then we will hear his remarks following that.
The hon. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has the floor.
Joe Volpe Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Mr. Chair, I am delighted to address some of the misperceptions that have been put on the record, and they are misperceptions. One needs to understand that the department, as the member said, is a nation building department. It provides a service that, as she advises, is absolutely crucial for maintaining relationships with the citizens of today and the citizens of tomorrow.
It would be instructive to understand that there has been a spike over the course of the last five years in applications to enter this country. That is a positive statement. It means that more people want to come here.
It is equally important to understand that in each of the last five years we have met the targets that Parliament indicated for this department. We have been well within the range of 220,000 to 240,000 over the course of the last five years each and every year.
As a result of that success, we have actually encouraged more applications to come forward. Hence the spike in the revenues that have come as a result of the application fees collected. Parliament has not indicated that it wanted to expand that range. I indicated, when I became minister four months ago, that we would look at that and we would present a new plan to Parliament. I need time to do that.
It is important to understand that we must deal with the accuracies inherent in the service that is provided by the department as reflected by the applications that accrue to come to our country, and not by idle misperceptions that are then not only exaggerated but repeated. Those misperceptions do great damage not only to the reputation of our country but, since the member brought them up, to the officials who manage this department.
While I am prepared to address the political issues that can be raised, it is important to begin to define what it is that we want to talk about. Does the member want me to continue to answer those questions, or is she prepared to actually hear what happens in the immigration department?
We will resume debate with the hon. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration who will have 15 minutes to say what he will about his department.