House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was immigration.

Topics

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Lee Richardson Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I inadvertently stood on the first round. My intention was to oppose the motion.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I assume the hon. member is voting no. We will hear the result accordingly.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #29

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion lost.

It being 6:19 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

December 12th, 2007 / 6:20 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

moved that Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-394, which I call the once in a lifetime bill. I call it that because it would amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that would allow a Canadian resident or permanent citizen to sponsor once in their lifetime a family member from outside the family classes currently defined under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Currently, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act defines family as: a spouse, a common law or conjugal partner who is at least 16 years of age; a dependent child under the age of 22; a child who is a full time student or is dependent upon a parent for financial support; a child who is disabled; a parent or grandparent; a child to be adopted under the age of 18; and a brother, sister, niece, nephew or grandchild who has been orphaned, is under the age of 18 and is not a spouse or common law partner.

What would my bill do? It proposes to add additional members to the sponsorship definition. It will cover, in addition, a son or daughter over the age of 22 who is not dependent on his or her parents. It will cover an aunt or uncle, a brother or sister, a niece or nephew or a first cousin. It will expand the definition of family so the sponsor could add additional people to the definition of those from whom they could choose to sponsor.

Why is this bill necessary? In short, as Statistics Canada recently reported, one in five Canadians is now born outside of Canada. It is an increase of 13.6% from 2001, with the vast majority of newcomers settling in my province of Ontario. We have found that 6.2 million people in Canada were born outside of the country and the foreign born population of our country is now at its highest proportion in 75 years.

In the past five years 1.1 million immigrants have come to Canada and have made it their home, most of them settling in Ontario, which is 52.3% of newcomers. In addition, 17% settled in Quebec and 16% settled in British Columbia.

Why is it important to have a broader definition of family for the purpose of sponsorship? There are three main reasons and I will elaborate on each of them. The first is to reunite families. The second is to help new Canadians who come to Canada succeed. The third is for the economic and social benefit of all Canadians.

First, reuniting families is a very important goal in and of itself. The current act recognizes the important role that family members play in the life of a new Canadian, but the current family class rules are simply too restrictive and it means that many close relatives are simply not eligible.

Many people have a close relative, such as a brother or sister, who they would desperately like to have join them in Canada. A brother can be as close to someone as a parent, or an aunt and uncle can be as close as a grandmother or grandfather, but the current rules do not allow for this. Therefore, families are kept apart.

I want to provide three examples of people of whom I know, but there are many people who find themselves in these kinds of situations.

I have a woman in my riding who is a 62-year-old an English teacher from Ukraine. The age requirement has prevented her from sponsoring her 31-year-old daughter and 15-year-old grandson to join her in Canada. She said:

It's hard. I'm getting to that age when I could need some help. And I want to care for my grandson as well. We don't want to be separated, but there's so little we can do.

She lives in Toronto with her older son. She said about her daughter, “We talk on the phone every day, but it's simply not the same”.

I know of another case, a refugee who came to Canada over 25 years ago from Vietnam. He is now in his forties and is very successful. He has a very elderly mother who lives with him. His only relative left in Vietnam is his sister, who just misses qualifying under the point system. He desperately wants to reunite his family. His mother is too old and does not want to travel to Vietnam. He wants to bring his sister to Canada.

I know of another person whose parents died when he was very young. He was the elder of three siblings and, in essence, raised his brother and sister. He has only one sibling left in his country of origin. He was like the parent to that sibling, but because they are now adults, they do not qualify under the current rules. Therefore, the bill would make all the difference to someone in that situation.

There are many examples that I could offer of people who are simply denied the ability to reunite their families under the current definition. Reuniting families should be a major aim of our immigration policy and the bill would help a great deal to do this.

The second reason for the bill is to help new Canadians succeed. Canada is a country of newcomers. Helping new Canadians adjust and thrive in their new country is one of the primary goals of our immigration policy. The bill would significantly help with that.

Many immigrants to Canada bring their children with them or have children soon after they arrive. This adds to our child care crisis. New Canadians are barely on their feet financially with almost no social network. They have to find enough revenue for the ever rising cost of child care because our country has failed parents. It has not introduced a national child care program to meet the needs of children with early learning and care, so parents, for the most part, are left on their own to cope and find child care. It is difficult to find and it is expensive.

This search on the part of new Canadians becomes especially difficult when parents are forced to upgrade their qualifications in order to work in their fields of expertise while in Canada. Costly and time consuming studies place an extra burden on their child care needs.

If brothers and sisters, or aunts and uncles were allowed to be sponsored under Bill C-394, they could play an important role in helping fulfill the family's child care needs. This would also help newcomers to get the work and the skills they need to succeed because they would be assured and would have the peace of mind that their children were cared for by a family member.

The families of many new Canadians include older parents or grandparents. Caring for an aging family member can place a great strain on anyone. However, for newcomers, with new social networks, lack of financial stability, an urgent need to acquire new skills and oftentimes with children to look after, the task becomes truly arduous and limits their capacity to adjust and succeed in Canada. Allowing the sponsorship of siblings, older children or nieces and nephews in Canada makes the family unit much stronger and capable of caring for its aging members.

Adjusting to a new life in Canada while finding work can be challenging. As I mentioned, many immigrants find themselves unable to get work in the fields of their expertise and specialization without upgrading their qualifications. The financial, emotional and social support that family members provide for each other makes it much more likely for a newcomer to succeed in finding work and the time and resources to upgrade their skills. The once in a lifetime bill would help reunite families and make them stronger.

The third reason I believe this definition should be expanded, as I have outlined in my bill, is it has economic and social benefits for all Canadians. Allowing new Canadians to reunite with important family members is critical to their success upon arrival in Canada. The success of immigrants to Canada is a net benefit to all Canadians.

As a member of the industry committee, I know there is a labour shortage in Canada. Allowing family members to come through a sponsorship program is a relatively risk free way of bringing in new Canadians who can be part of the economic strength of our country. The sooner and more efficiently new Canadians can adjust and enter the workforce, the better for our economy.

Lack of family reunification leads to a greater sense of isolation, fewer social supports, fewer resources and therefore a much more difficult time integrating into the Canadian economy and supporting oneself. Such circumstances are a greater strain on the country's social infrastructure and do not allow new Canadians to get ahead. It robs the national economy of valuable contributions.

The restrictive definition of family class in the current legislation does not allow for the sponsor of relatives who can greatly help new Canadians play an important role in our growing economy.

It is well known, after many years of budget cuts, that there are problems with the application processing within Citizenship and Immigration, but this should not impact the right of families to be reunited. The problem of the backlog lies with the funding and resourcing of the department and not with the families that submit applications.

What effect will the bill have on our current immigration targets? In a word, none. The bill would in no way modifies immigration targets or quotas, but it would positively affect the lives of Canadians who have family living abroad.

Bill C-394 has no impact on the current standards, regulations and rules stipulated for immigration to Canada. Additional family members sponsored under this new legislation would remain subject to all current immigration selection criteria.

In summary, Canada is a country of newcomers. We have based our success, our history, our economy on the efforts of generation, after generation of newcomers. We know newcomers do best when they have the benefit of strong family supports, just like all of us. However, newcomers face additional challenges. In fitting in the economy, they may face language barriers and the challenge of learning about their new society. It would make their lives much easier to have family members with them.

We know the current law is too restrictive and leaves many families separated and in distress. There are many examples, whether families are here from immigration or they came as a refugee. Families are separated and they desperately want to reunite with their family members, especially if they are isolated, alone, in the country of origin. They want to get that family members back to Canada.

The change I am proposing does not solve all the problems with immigration or even with the sponsorship program. However, it would solve a particular problem that today has no solution for so many families and creates such a crisis for so many landed immigrants and Canadians here.

Sponsorship is such a low risk form of immigration for Canada. The families bear the cost and the responsibility. We know that when people come to Canada through the sponsorship program, they have a greater chance of fitting in, of finding success and of settling in their new country because of the sponsorship program.

I want to add that many newcomer organizations strongly support this once in a lifetime bill. They are very excited about it. Many people have watched this debate closely and want to see its success.

I thank my colleagues in advance for their generous support.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, close to a million people from around the world are on a waiting list to come to Canada. Grandparents and parents right now have a waiting time of about three to four years, depending on where they come from, and sometimes the waiting time is even closer to six years.

I am not sure if the member is aware that we also allow an individual in Canada, if he or she has absolutely no other family, to sponsor a member of his or her family or a close relative.

This idea is something that was thought about and discussed. One thing that must happen is that the provinces sign on. Some provinces may not want to sign on because it will put a strain on them.

I am saying to the member that although this is a good idea, everyone who has immigrated to Canada would want to sponsor someone, once in his or her lifetime. There are close to seven million people who were not born in Canada and all of them would want to sponsor someone.

I am just wondering if the member has thought about the numbers when she says that this will have absolutely no strain on the immigration process. People who are getting sponsored, people who are waiting, people who are in line, the number of which is now close to 250,000 people, how many people are we going to allow under this category, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000? If so, if everyone wants to sponsor someone, that would be close to seven million.

How long is it going to take them to come to Canada? I am just wondering if the member has really crunched the numbers. Has she thought it out?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the hon. member was listening closely to my comments earlier. As I said before, the amendment being proposed in Bill C-394 does not change the limits on the overall numbers of people who would be allowed into Canada through the sponsorship program.

The difference between people who are now on the list and who may be waiting for some period of time is that the people who today do not qualify because the bill is not in place can never get on the list.

Yes, today some people have to wait a few years, but there are people today who have waited a lifetime and can never get on the list. That is what the bill is intended to address.

In terms of the member's statement that everyone will want to sponsor someone, I challenge that. A sponsorship application is very serious. It means a long term responsibility and a very serious financial commitment. I can tell the hon. member that not everyone wants to take that on. One has to be very serious about the responsibility under the sponsorship requirements.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Parkdale—High Park for tabling the bill.

There are others of us in the House who have tabled similar legislation in the past. The member for Vancouver East, the member for Winnipeg North and I have all tabled similar legislation, because we in the NDP caucus believe that the definition of family that is in the current immigration act does not apply to all families. We know that in many families the relationships that are formed between a brother and a sister are stronger than that between parents and that the definition discriminates against those families and those relationships.

It is something that we know is very important. We also know that it is very important to strengthen the whole family reunification aspect of our immigration law. That has been a keystone of immigration policy in Canada. It is one of the strongest aspects of our immigration policy, because people who arrive with family members already in Canada tend to be happier. They settle faster. They integrate into the communities faster because they have that family network to help them to settle successfully here in Canada.

This will also make Canada much more competitive with our main competitors for immigration, such as the United States, because we will be seen as a country that encourages the maintenance of family relationships when immigration happens.

I think that makes this a very pro-family piece of legislation. I would like the member to comment on how pro-family this piece of legislation is.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas for his work in presenting this kind of legislation in the past. While I am at it, I would like to also thank my colleague from Vancouver East and my colleague from Winnipeg North, who also in the past tabled similar legislation. They--

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order. I am sorry, but the time for questions and comments has expired.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative).

This private member's bill would grant every Canadian citizen or permanent resident the opportunity to sponsor once in his or her lifetime one foreign national who is a relative but not a member of the existing family class. The existing family class is a spouse, a common law or conjugal partner, a child under 22, a parent, or a grandparent. In that sense, there is an opportunity to sponsor family.

All of us appreciate the importance of strengthening families. Family reunification has been a cornerstone of Canadian immigration for decades, and this government is committed to ensuring that families represent a vibrant component of our immigration program in the years ahead. Indeed, that is what Canadians expect. Canadians expect a government that is firmly committed to families and to strengthening the ways that families can be reunited with their loved ones from overseas should they choose to make Canada their new home.

The issue raised by Bill C-394 is not new. There is a considerable history to it. The bill was previously introduced on two occasions and was defeated by significant margins at second reading. Bill C-272 was previously defeated on March 23, 2005 by a margin of 167 to 76. Bill C-436 was defeated on April 18, 2004 by a margin of 149 to 40. It is worth noting that both our party and the then Liberal government were clearly opposed to the previous incarnations of this bill.

The bill defines a relative as a brother or a sister of the sponsor, an aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, first cousin, or a child who is under 22 and not dependent on the sponsor.

The management and implementation of a provision for once in a lifetime sponsorship of a family member is problematic for a number of reasons, all of which apply to the private member's bill before the House today. Such a wide open expansion of the family class category would place an unsupportable burden on existing resources.

It is interesting that the member did not answer the question about the uptake, or how many people this might bring into the system. If, as she said, the targets were not going to be changed, where would those numbers come from, where would they be taken away from?

There is no doubt that it would increase inventories exponentially and likely result in substantial delays for processing other applications, including those from immediate family members or applicants from other family class categories. This clearly is not in the best interests of Canadians.

The hon. member for Parkdale—High Park knows there are extensive family reunification provisions in the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the regulations and guidelines thereunder. These regulations, passed in 2002, significantly enhance the family reunification program and more closely reflect today's social and cultural realities.

It is easier today for Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their loved ones from abroad in a well-managed and sustainable way.

These changes, for example, provide for equal treatment under the law for common law and conjugal partners. They expand the definition of dependent child to better reflect the new realities of children being reliant on their parents for longer periods of time. They lower the age at which Canadian citizens or permanent residents are eligible to sponsor from 19 years of age to 18 years of age.

Under the immigration and refugee protection regulations, Canadians and permanent residents can also sponsor any other relative, regardless of age or relationship, if the sponsor does not have a more immediate living family member.

These enhancements to the family class facilitate family reunification while ensuring an appropriate balance between economic and non-economic immigrants. In the absence of a significant increase in admissions and resources, the adoption of this bill would have significant impacts on the balance and on the overall inventory and processing.

While the previous Liberal government allowed the backlog to balloon to over 800,000, the ever-increasing number of applicants wishing to make Canada their home continues to put additional pressures on the immigration system which many say is already too cumbersome and slow. These pressures would be compounded exponentially by the implementation of Bill C-394.

Simply put, implementing this legislation would impede CIC's ability to ensure the program is balanced and responsive to government priorities, including the ability to meet labour market demands.

The proposed amendments would also have potential impacts on matters of provincial and territorial concern. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has consulted with other levels of government, partners and stakeholders to find a way to work on immigration issues in a more coordinated and cooperative way.

For example, under provincial and territorial immigration agreements, the government has removed the limit on the number of immigrants provinces can nominate each year, allowing the provinces a better opportunity to meet their unique economic, social and labour market needs.

We have also committed to find ways to help temporary foreign workers and students settle in the provinces. In recent years most have gone to Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver because large, established ethnic communities in those cities have made them attractive to newcomers. This has been a major challenge for the immigration system. Therefore, we have aligned our system to make it more responsive to labour market and regional needs.

As all members know, part of the government's plan for the coming year involves introducing a new avenue to immigration, a new economic class that will help attract and retain certain skilled temporary workers and international students with Canadian degrees and work experience.

We must ensure that the immigration program continues to meet the needs of all Canadians in the future. It is how the government will move forward in the future.

We agree with the concept of making it easier for families to reunite with their loved ones. We agree with the idea of strengthening families in general. But, the government has also a duty to properly manage the immigration program and ensure the principles of integrity and balance are upheld.

It is worth noting that the previous Liberal government was vehemently opposed to this legislation when it was introduced in previous sessions. On November 3, 2003, a former parliamentary secretary to the minister of citizenship and immigration said:

Such a wide open approach would significantly increase processing delays and the size of existing backlogs for every immigrant category. it would place an unsupportable burden on existing resources, and it would help to undermine the integrity of the entire immigration program by increasing the opportunities for fraud.

This position was echoed by another former Liberal parliamentary secretary to the minister of citizenship and immigration, the current member for Vancouver Centre, who, on February 12, 2004 said that the actual effect of the legislation would be:

--anyone could sponsor nearly anyone else as a member of the undefined relative class without any thought to fiscal support or employability. The new person could then repeat the exercise, as could their sponsored applicant, and so on, creating a multiplier effect. The result would be an almost limitless chain of family class immigration based simply on loose associations.

If this proposal is adopted, not only will we need significant resources to deal with a larger number of cases, but we will also need proportionally more resources to deal with the family class applications, simply to maintain the existing ratio between family and economic class immigration.

Moreover, this could result in new frauds and it could undermine the integrity of the economic class immigration, since a significant number of economic class immigrants have distant relatives in Canada who could sponsor them.

The changes proposed...runs counter...to the principles of fairness, balance and consultation, and so we cannot support it.

That is what that member said. Those are not our words.

Implementing Bill C-394 would have far-reaching negative implications on the integrity of the current immigration system. Its specific proposals to expand the family class are both unsustainable and unmanageable. We therefore cannot support Bill C-394 and urge all hon. members to do the same.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we witnessed today in question period, indeed, immigration is an important issue, an issue that requires vision, and an issue that speaks to the future of our country. When we look at the years 2011 to 2015, approximately 100% of the net labour force growth will come from immigration alone.

We take these private members' bills very seriously. We analyze them. We see how, in a holistic manner, they can address key concerns related to immigration. There is nobody in the House who does not care about reuniting families or helping new Canadians or understanding the economic and social benefits of immigration.

We do this as a modern society that has seen this country transform itself, and this bill is debated at a time when the census report, the 2006 statistics report, was actually released. What do we see? We see that the 2006 census enumerated 6,186,950 foreign born in Canada, representing one in five, that is 19.8% of total foreign born population, the highest proportion in 75 years.

Between 2001 and 2006, the foreign born population increased by 13.6%, four times higher than 3.3% growth of the Canadian born population, 19.8%. It is higher than the U.S. at 12.5%, and lower than Australia at 22.2%.

The census also estimates that 1,000,110 recent immigrants arrived in Canada between January 1, 2001 and May 16, 2006. These newcomers make up 17.9% of the total foreign born population and 3.6% of Canada's population of 31.2 million.

I say this to paint a picture of the new Canada that is emerging and the resources that will be required by this government and future governments to address the key issue of immigration and immigrant settlements. However, as I reviewed Bill C-394 it was déjà vu, because the material in Bill C-394 is not exactly new. Bill C-272 resembled it very much and so does Bill C-436.

This bill would allow Canadian citizens and permanent residents to sponsor once in a lifetime a relative who is not a member of the family class. It defines a relative as a brother or sister, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, first cousin or child who is 22 years of age or older and is not dependent on sponsors.

It mirrors some of the provisions which already exist in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act regulations to process relatives who do not normally fall under the family class.

The bill essentially could create an exponential influx of immigration applications that could result in delays in processing priority members of the family class that are spouses, partners and dependent children. That could happen. It would also further increase processing times for other members of family class, such as parents and grandparents.

Good intentions also have to be followed with proper analysis of numbers and resources that are available. After today's question period, it was pretty clear that the present government does not have enough resources to address the present issues that our immigration system faces. It simply does not make sense at this point in time, unless we are willing to engage in a broader review of the immigration system in Canada with brand new goals and of course greater resources, to look at this particular bill.

We already have a backlog of 800,000 applications. That is stretching the present resources of the government.

I am one of those who has said, as I asked today in question period, that in fact the proper resources need to be made available so that we can reduce the backlog to have an effective and efficient immigration system. A system where we are going to require, as a nation that is an aging society, to really tap for the future not only the obvious social and cultural benefits drawn from immigration. I believe that immigration is an economic imperative as we look at the competition that exists for skilled workers and labour force of the future.

The hon. member will have to answer many questions related to whether or not she has actually crunched the numbers, as we say, in relationship to her bill. My sense is that she actually has not and that in fact this would inflate the demand for applications abroad as well.

This, of course, would result in larger processing inventories for family cases when demand in family class has already exceeded government resources. This would hamper, also, the efforts to process priority family members, such as spouses, common-law partners, conjugal partners and dependent children, as quickly as possible. It would also add pressure to the processing of other family class applicants.

So, these bills cannot be just introduced ad hoc. The immigration system is a bit more complicated than perhaps the hon. member would believe. We need to look at it and balance the various needs.

It is clear, and it has been pointed out already by the parliamentary secretary, that in fact there are provisions that allow people obviously to come to Canada, that is how they get here, and this bill essentially would stress the already stressed resources of the immigration department at home as well as abroad.

Finally, I want to say to the hon. member that I have really not heard anything new from her that was not heard during the debates and presentations of Bill C-272 and Bill C-436. This is kind of déjà vu all over again.

It is a question that, once it has failed, we need to, as members of Parliament presenting private members' bill, present new evidence that in fact things can work better. With a government that is not willing to provide greater resources to immigration, that is going to be difficult.

However, I am one of those individuals who think that, given the challenges that we face as a country, as I said earlier, an aging population, skills shortages and reunification of families, we need to look at immigration in a broader scope. We need to redefine exactly what our targets are and redefine what it is that the government is willing to invest in immigration. Is the present government willing to make it a priority?

Because, quite frankly, what I have seen to date in the short time that I have been immigration critic is a government that has not made immigration a priority, although every indicator, social, cultural and economic, points to the fact that the future of our country largely depends on our ability to attract immigrants.

Whether we are talking about the 800,000 application backlog or whether we are talking about the $100 million shortfall with the Province of Ontario to help it deal with immigration issues, as well as the failure of the accreditation of foreign credentials, there is a lot of work to do in this portfolio.

I hope that the Prime Minister, as well as cabinet, begins to really realize that immigration in this country should not be an afterthought. Immigration is a key issue. It speaks to the future of our country and it should be taken more seriously by the Conservative government.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-394. This enactment would allow a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to sponsor, once in their lifetime, a relative who is not a member of the family class.

I would like to thank the member for Parkdale—High Park for raising this issue in response to repeated requests that we receive as members of Parliament when we meet citizens who wish to be reunited with family members. Their frustration on discovering that they cannot be reunited is evident. Moreover, those who already have a case in process tell us that they, too, experience frustration and exasperation when they find out how long they will have to wait before the government processes their case.

The Bloc Québécois believes that family is of vital importance. That is why we have always supported policies that help families. That applies to immigration too. This issue deserves a close look. I am very glad that one of our colleagues has opened the debate on this issue in the House. I think that the questions that will be raised and the discussion they will lead to will prove useful.

Canada has a moral obligation to do whatever it can to reunite families. We will therefore support the principles underlying this bill.

We would like this bill to go through a preliminary consultation process during meetings of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. We want to be sure that we understand the consequences of this bill on the immigration program.

The government will probably want to maintain the 60:40 balance between economic class immigration—business people, independent workers and skilled workers—and family class and refugee immigration.

I represent the riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges in Quebec. The number of immigrants in my riding is growing. Lots of people come to my office to ask me to help them sponsor a relative. I am sure that other ridings in Quebec are experiencing the same thing.

We would like to hear about what happened from 1988 to 1993, when the Conservatives in power at the time changed the sponsorship rules by expanding the family class. I think it found itself in a situation in which it did not have the ability to process all the files of everyone who took advantage of this legislative change. We should remember the backlog that existed at a number of immigration offices abroad. At that time, different programs in the public service were experiencing major budget cuts and immigration was no exception.

Now, maybe the federal government has the means, but that is not the case for all the provinces. It is true that there are big challenges to integrating immigrants, but that does not prevent this bill from moving forward and at least continuing somewhat, so that it can be considered in committee.

Although the list of people who can be sponsored under the family class was expanded a few years ago, Canada's regulations concerning immigration and refugees are still quite limited in their definition of family members. Unfortunately, efforts in recent years have not solved the problem of wait times.

It may be time to expand the family class. I believe that an in-depth review in committee will allow us to better assess the mechanisms and resources that will be needed if Parliament passes this bill.

Canada certainly has to be able to control its immigration and set some limits. The limit here is allowing someone, once in their lifetime, to sponsor a relative. I think the hon. member was trying to limit massive immigration of relatives, but I wonder if she is taking the right approach.

There are so many problems to resolve in our immigration system. Certain mechanisms and principles distort the real objectives of immigration. Insufficient resources are a major problem across the board in immigration.

The consideration of a bill like this will at least force a debate and keep the pressure on the government for adequate funding to provide proper settlement services for those we take in, while not ignoring our humanitarian duty and compassion.

We need to bring meaning back to the expression “human compassion”, far too often rendered meaningless by acts that are not consistent with the family reunification programs.

The social costs of prolonged periods of separation must not be forgotten in our decision.

Although we are in favour of the principle of this bill, we believe it poses some problems in terms of its application. Is the hon. member proposing an increase in the number of immigrants or more changes to the 60/40 ratio between economic class immigrants and family class immigrants? Will immigration targets vary within the current limits on the admissible number of immigrants or is the hon. member suggesting the limits be increased? If we maintain the current numbers and the current limits, what impact will this have on the already lengthy wait times? If we increase the number of files to process, is the department capable of absorbing the new workload? Considering the existing backlog in processing files, will this bill not make matters worse?

For now it would be important to look at whether this will have a significant impact on the ability of Quebec and Canada to integrate the people sponsored through this bill. There are other questions that need to be asked and these could be discussed in greater length during the next debate on this bill.

Not only is the protection of families a fundamental principle entrenched in international law, but the principle also appears in section 3 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. That section outlines the goals of the act and specifies that one of the goals is to ensure that families are reunited. We must not lose sight of that objective. It is from that perspective, I think, that the member introduced this bill. We must at least consider this bill, allow it to move forward and be studied in committee. We could then at least debate, once and for all, the shortcomings of the immigration system. We could identify its shortcomings and the opportunities presented.

In accordance with international human rights texts, the protection of families is a responsibility of the state. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifies that family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state. In other words, the state, which is Canada, must do everything it can to support family reunification. This is in the legislation and, as parliamentarians, we must examine the matter and not completely dismiss the possibility of debating such an important issue.

The Bloc Québécois believes that some of the existing mechanisms facilitating family reunification need to be remedied. As many people already know, among other things, I am extremely involved in refugee files. When a family reunification file takes eight or nine years to resolve, that is completely unacceptable. That is an example of how the family reunification policy must be improved. We must examine and assess the possibility of expanding the category immediately, as I was saying earlier. We must work from that perspective and with an objective that is as open as possible to other family members, as set out in this bill.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a privilege to speak on this fine legislation submitted by my colleague from Parkdale—High Park.

My colleague follows a long line of New Democrats who have proposed this idea to the House and who will keep proposing this idea to the House until it becomes a reality. Why? Because it is a good idea, it makes sense, and it will contribute enormously to the future of this country.

Those members who have tried to persuade Parliament to go down this path deserve acknowledgement and congratulations. My colleagues from Burnaby—Douglas, Vancouver East and of course Parkdale—High Park all deserve congratulations for their persistence and perseverance in bringing this forward to the House of Commons.

Because one day the bill will pass. One day the NDP will persuade a critical mass in the chamber that it is worth pursuing, because we are not talking about some outrageous, outlandish proposal that is going to bring this country to its knees. No, we are talking about a proposal that will fact build this country and create enormous potential for ensuring an economically prosperous future for every one of our citizens.

It is ludicrous for anyone to suggest, as has been suggested many times in this debate, that this proposal will cause the floodgates to open and thousands of immigrants will be knocking at our doors and pounding at the immigration system's door and demanding to get in. That is not going to be the case. We are talking about a proposal that would simply expand the definition of family to bring it into the 21st century, a definition of family which recognizes that sometimes it takes a whole group of extended family members to raise children and provide nurturing care because they have to or because they want to.

All the NDP is saying to members today is to get their heads out of their little boxes and think creatively. I want them to think about what it would mean to have aunts and uncles, cousins or other relatives coming to join them if they were alone and isolated in a foreign land. I ask them to think about what it would do for that family unit.

I ask them to think about what it would do to strengthen our communities. I ask them to think about what it would do in terms of providing services and supports that otherwise are required to be provided by the government and would cost the taxpayers money.

As we see this, it is a cost saving that we are talking about, not an added burden on our economy or to the taxpayers of this country. We are talking about strengthening society. That can only be good for us in all senses of the word.

I come from what I would consider probably the most diverse constituency in this country. I am sure my colleague from Vancouver East or others might take umbrage at that, but in fact Winnipeg North has such a great diversity of people that one could say we have the world in one constituency.

Many decades ago, immigrants built our community, whether they were of Ukrainian, Polish or German origin. Now there are waves of new immigrants who are continuing with that pioneering tradition and building the community, including Filipinos, Punjabis and many more. These are people who have contributed a great deal to the province of Manitoba and in fact to this entire country.

I want to say for the Conservative members here, and especially for the parliamentary secretary, that they should go back to a few years ago, six years, when this idea was presented to the immigration committee as those of us on that committee were dealing with Bill C-11, the supposed framework piece of legislation to revamp our immigration legislation and bring it into the modern century.

At that time, the NDP proposed an amendment to that bill to in fact expand the definition of family. That proposal was taken very seriously by the Conservatives, to such a point that they actually voted for the amendment. They joined with New Democrats to send a message to the Liberals to get their heads out the sand and start thinking about what it really means to build community, to give families support, and to create a country that is truly respectful of everyone's differences.

A motion was presented in 2001 during that debate on the bill and it was only narrowly defeated, by one vote, in a vote of seven to six at the immigration committee. Conservative members joined with New Democrats in supporting this idea because it truly is worthwhile to pursue.

Let us remember that we are not talking about a wide open, permanent solution. In effect, we are talking about a pilot project, a test run. We are talking about an idea that actually came from the minister of immigration at the time, Elinor Caplan, in discussions with my colleague from Vancouver East. The minister said that perhaps they could try, on a pilot project basis, this idea of once in a lifetime: that a family here, either citizens or permanent residents, could in fact sponsor a relative who was outside the traditional definition of family.

That was a very important suggestion. Unfortunately, her colleagues in the Liberal Party never pursued it and in fact have vetoed it and stopped it every step of the way.

I want to remind members that it was a Liberal cabinet minister who ran against me in the 2004 election and was defeated at the polls largely because he refused to accept this notion that family has a broad definition, and that if we are truly serious about an open door policy we would encourage this kind of sponsorship, knowing full well that it does not open the floodgates.

It is not going to produce all kinds of illegal immigrants because in fact these sponsorships have to go through the same rigorous rules that now apply to anyone who is sponsored, whether we are talking about a husband, a wife, a mother, a father, a grandparent or a child under the age of 22. We are just saying to open the definition, to try it and see what happens.

Let me say that I am disappointed in the Conservatives. I am not surprised given their record, which is like that of the Liberals, with respect to other proposals dealing with sensible family policies in the area of immigration. This is a government that claims to represent family but turns down a family because one child in that family has a disability.

I have now half a dozen cases on my plate of families that were accepted under the Manitoba provincial nominee program, because their skills were needed in our province and in this country, and they were turned down by the federal government because one child in that family of four, five or six has a disability.

I want to say shame on the Conservatives for that kind of discriminatory anti-human rights policy. If they are serious about building families, they will fix this matter of immigrants who come here with disabilities and stop enforcing this rigorous definition of economic and social demand on our society. We are talking about children with disabilities who are not going to cost our system one penny because they have families and relatives who will support them and help them every step of the way.

I want to say that if the government is serious about family, it will also deal with the backlogs that my colleagues in the House have mentioned today. They will deal with the fact that so many people cannot complete their sponsorships, whether we are talking about mothers, fathers, grandparents or children under the age of 22. They have to wait years because this government, like the previous Liberal government, refuses to bolster the numbers in the immigration department to ensure that all of our offices are properly resourced to provide for decent, humane treatment in our immigration system.

I call upon the government and all members in this House to support this bill. It is the least they can do if they are serious about an open door policy, about attracting skilled immigrants to this country, which we need so desperately, and about ensuring that the family is the bedrock of our society. If we cannot do that, we cannot guarantee a future for our citizens in this country. I would suggest that every member in this House should give this a chance and let it get to committee.

We are not saying that the whole thing must be supported right now. We are saying that for once in the history of this Parliament, after four private members' bills have been initiated in this chamber, allow one of those bills to go to committee for input, discussion and consideration. If we were to do that, we would truly know whether there are serious obstacles to this constructive proposal or whether the government and the Liberal members are simply being destructive and counterproductive in terms of building a strong country that is built on an open door policy and that is founded on the principles of humanitarian and compassionate actions.

I suggest that there is only one way for this Parliament to go and that is to give this bill a try and send it to committee. Let us ensure that we have an immigration policy that we can all be proud of.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.