House of Commons Hansard #103 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from British Columbia for her insights and for particularly connecting the dots between what is being proposed and what is happening in our communities. As she has mentioned, this is after all the budget implementation bill, strangely including proposed changes to immigration.

She focused on first nations. Last week we had the National Day of Action from first nations and aboriginal peoples. Could she elaborate a bit more on how we might be able to make that transfer of training and support to having people work in areas where there is a need for labour in places, be it for the Olympics or perhaps in other jurisdictions in the resource industry, or for that matter in the mining or oil sectors?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Ottawa Centre for touching on that particular issue.

In Canada, we know that in some provinces, such as Manitoba and Saskatchewan, first nations and Métis are going to be a large part of the workforce in the next 20 years. In Canada, first nations, Métis and Inuit have had significant population growth over the last 15 years.

It could be a very viable part of the future workforce, but what that requires is an investment right from early learning and child care, right from birth, all the way through a person's working career. It is called life long learning.

What we know is that for every dollar that we invest under the age of six, we save $7 in the long-run, whether it is in education, justice, welfare or health care.

Then from K to 12 we know that what we need is culturally appropriate education. We need education that is safe, clean and affordable for families. We need to make sure that there is access to computers, libraries, technical supports, speech therapy and special needs, and in that K to 12 system we know that will set the groundwork for young first nations, Métis and Inuit students to go on and take part in vocational training, apprenticeship training and university with a human resource plan.

I was at a conference last week that talked about a human resource strategy for the future, things such as the AHRDA agreements where first nations do have control over educational dollars and they are investing in human resources strategies that will help meet the labour shortage gaps.

This again is an opportunity for Canada, for the federal government, to take a look at making sure first nations, Métis and Inuit are well positioned to take part in the jobs that are emerging and will continue to emerge over the next 10 or 15 years.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in this debate on the budget implementation bill. We are debating specific amendments to the surprise addition to this legislation pertaining to immigration.

Let me say at the outset for all those watching this debate that this is a matter of fundamental significance for Parliament. We are dealing today with the government's budget and an act to implement the budget. This is an issue of confidence. The government must defend its record and win the support of enough colleagues to see its budget implemented so no election occurs.

By all accounts, if people are watching this debate, they should ask themselves how, if the Liberals are opposed to the budget and if the Bloc and New Democrats are opposed to the budget, is it possible for the government to still stand when there is very little confidence in this chamber and from Canadians across this land for the government's bill?

How can we and Canadians have confidence in the government for its road map for the future at a time when there is no job strategy in place, at a time when there is no industrial strategy in place, and at a time when there is not a shred of mention in the budget pertaining to health care, child care, education, training for the future, aboriginal people, or the environment?

Every issue that is of importance to Canadians today is ignored in the budget. The Conservative government is squandering a golden opportunity to take the surplus it still has and invest it in areas that are important to Canadians.

The government made a very unusual move when it slipped in to the bill a whole new section dealing with immigration. There was nothing in the budget about immigration when it was announced by the Minister of Finance. There was no reference to dealing with this supposed grave situation. Suddenly, in the midst of our debate on the budget, the government decided to throw in the issue of immigration. Why? Either it is indicative of just poor planning and poor collective work around the areas of importance to Canadians, or the government is trying to stick it to the Liberals.

We know this budget is not supported by the Liberals, so the government has thrown one more curve at them. This is a significant issue. It is so significant that it should make the Liberals stand up today and say whatever the consequences they will not support the government. This issue is so important that they should stand up and say they will not support a budget that does not meet the needs of ordinary Canadians. They should stand up and say they will not support a budget that does irreversible damage to Canada's longstanding record and progressive history when it comes to citizenship and immigration.

Bill C-50 must be defeated. The Liberals must have the courage of their convictions, and stand up once and for all and be counted because it matters. It matters that we tell Canadians that we mean what we say, and we do what we say we are going to do. Is it not fundamental to parenting, fundamental to families, and fundamental to communities, that we have integrity, honesty and decency?

How can we send a message to Canadians that this place is worth investing in, that it is important to vote, that it is important to run and get elected, if every time they turn around some politicians from the Liberals or the Conservatives are saying they do not like something but they are not going to do anything about it?

How is it today that Liberals are allowing the Conservatives to rule as if they have a majority? How can the Conservatives get away with these fundamental changes to our immigration system that will have lasting impacts all across this land?

I come from a riding that is one of the most multicultural constituencies in the country--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

We all do.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Yes, Mr. Speaker, someone said we all do. And I am proud of it.

People from the Punjab, the Philippines, Germany, Ukraine, Vietnam, Laos, Africa, South America, from every part of the world, are coming to my constituency like they have come to others across the land. They want their needs, concerns and interests represented just as much as longstanding Canadians want their needs, concerns and interests represented.

It is not conducive to encourage new citizens to participate fully and freely in our democratic system if the first thing they see upon their citizenship is a government that says “too bad, so sad, we cannot stand up for you any more, we cannot stand up for the principles that brought you into this country”. What happened to the fundamentals of our immigration system?

They have been thrown out the window with this legislation, potentially, because they give the minister unilateral, arbitrary discretion to pick and choose immigrants as she so chooses, and as members of her government so choose, not on the basis of objective criteria that fit into a plan and a framework, something that has been wanted for years when it comes to immigration and that the Liberals failed to deliver on.

Now, instead of dealing with the problem and fixing the problem, we have a government that is going to play at the edges and tamper with the principles, and apply subjectivity to something as fundamental as citizenship and immigration in this country.

That is wrong and there is an easy way for the government to deal with it. It is to recognize the principles and then fix the problems in accordance with those fundamental issues. One is that, yes, we want to bring in people to help meet the economic requirements of this land. So rather than throw out the whole system, we are bringing in one that is open to total subjectivity on the part of the minister who can say “well, maybe we do not like people from the Philippines and the Punjab”. That would have a devastating effect on my riding. I am not saying she would, but who is to stop her from saying that? Who is to prevent that from happening?

Instead, we need a minister who says we need people in these particular skills and occupational categories just like the Manitoba government does now with respect to the Manitoba provincial nominee program. The minister does not pick and choose. There is a set of criteria that must be followed and individuals must meet the criteria in order to come to this country.

Then, they are not treated as temporary foreign workers, they are allowed to bring their families. They are allowed to stay. They are allowed to settle. They are allowed to be recognized as full participating members of our society, able to access our citizenship system and become voting members and fully participating members in our democracy. So that is one area.

Instead of fixing the problem, what the government is doing is simply making chaos out of an already confused system, the one that the Liberals brought in with Bill C-11 in 2001. Do not forget that we were supposed to deal with this whole area just seven years ago. Instead of revamping our immigration system so that it could stand on its own for centuries to come, the government decided to bring in an economic classification that was impossible for most ordinary people around this world to meet.

That is why we are now dealing with this huge backlog and confusion in the system because we have a lousy system to begin with. We do not have a strong foundation from which to build and attract people to this country.

The first thing would be for the government to open up the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and change the economic classification to ensure that people who work hard, who have skills, and who have a contribution to make are able to come. Not just those who have degrees, who have long service in a particular area, and have two languages. Not just picking the cream of the crop, not cherry-picking, but actually opening the doors as our country did when our forefathers and foremothers came to this country, as my bubba and zayde did when they came in the early 1900s.

They came as peasants, but they came to open up the land, to farm and to give. And they did. They had 13 children, my father being one of them. They gave and gave to this country, and they made a difference. They may have been illiterate when they came, they may not have had any money, they may not have had any education, but they made a difference. That is what we need in this country.

I know my time is almost up, but the second principle is that of family sponsorship. Family is the bedrock of society. This proposal by the government and by the minister has the possibility of throwing out the whole notion of family reunification, making it more difficult for those already in line. We have people waiting to sponsor their mothers and fathers going on four, five, six, even seven years. What is humane and decent about that? No wonder we have backlogs. It is time we balance our economic requirements as a nation with our fundamental belief in family as a bedrock institution of society.

Finally, we must have a system that is grounded in the issues of compassion and humanitarian concerns. In that way, we can put in place a proper system to ensure refugees have access to this country when they deserve it, a system that allows for emergencies that will not deny people visiting relatives when someone has died or getting married and a system that is a golden light for all the world to see and will stand on the principles of fairness, equality, justice and humanity.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives spent $1.1 million of taxpayer money on advertising the immigration changes. One would think that it would be mightily proud of the legislation in front of us but it is curious why they are not here to defend their immigration changes. When we were dealing with the clause by clause changes in the finance committee, there was no defence for these kinds of sweeping changes.

If this is such an incredibly welcomed change, one would think the Conservatives would be proud of them and stand in the House of Commons to debate why they made the changes. Why is there silence? Perhaps they are afraid of the responses they have been hearing from the immigrant communities that no amount of advertising in papers will change.

Does the hon. member think that is the reason for the huge silence in the House right now?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, nothing about this matter makes any sense whatsoever. The government first chose to sneak in this initiative as part of the budget implementation bill without any mention in the budget. It then proceeded to spurn Parliament by ignoring the democratic process and the concerns of parliamentarians who were elected to serve their people right across this country from the wide diversity that we are as a nation.

Instead, it put all its money and time into advertisements to create this illusion of action and fairness, all the while clouding the issue at hand, rather than fixing the serious problems with the immigration system. It is serious when there is that kind of a backlog, when there were cutbacks by the Liberals back in 1995 that have never been restored, when we have an immigration bill that ignores all the fundamentals and when a country is dying for responsible decision making to ensure economic occupations and needs are addressed and to ensure that family reunification is at the heart of it.

None of this makes sense other than to believe, which is all we have left to believe, that the government is shrouding a real agenda of trying to close the door, restrict immigration, go back on humanitarian and compassionate traditions in this country and is prepared to advance its own agenda of playing on the fears of Canadians about where the jobs will be and how they will be able to provide for their families. Instead of being up front, honest and courageous about the problems at hand, the government is sneaky, subversive and not exactly transparent and open, although this was the great mantra that the government ran on in the last election.

It is time to overhaul the Immigration Act but we need to do it properly. We need to do it based on the fundamentals of ensuring economic skills are addressed, families are able to be reunited and humanitarian and compassionate values guide us every step of the way.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Winnipeg North for citing the historical framework of our immigration system and the fact that it has been built over many years. She was careful to say that we do not believe the system presently is good enough. That is important to underline.

One does not take the measures the government has taken to address the present system and the concerns we all have with it because it undermines all the good things in the system and does not deal with the concerns that have been raised. I note that the government mentioned the backlog of 900,000 people. It will also acknowledge, very quietly, that this bill would not address the backlog, while, on the other hand, saying that it has to bring in these measures to address the backlog.

I would like my colleague's comments and thoughts about the fact that, on the one hand, the government is saying that the changes will do one thing, but on the other hand they are saying that they cannot do it. What are we to make of this?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Ottawa Centre is absolutely right. There is very little in this initiative to give hope to Canadians that the problems in our immigration and citizenship program will be fixed.

We knew we had a problem back in 2001 when the Liberals brought in their legislation, which was recognized by hundreds of presenters and witnesses right across this country as weak and flawed. We tried to convince the Liberals to change their minds. We introduced 81 amendments to fix Bill C-11, to make it a more understandable document and one that was grounded in principles that could withstand the test of time.

The Liberals chose to ignore every one of those amendments to the point where, today, we now have the Conservatives taking advantage of the negligence of the Liberals and, for example, denying families who have been accepted here under the Manitoba nominee program because one of their children has a disability.

That is the kind of legacy left by the Liberals, rather than a system based on fairness.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a few minutes to express my views on the amendments to Bill C-50 we are discussing.

First of all Bill C-50, in parliamentary terms, is intended to “implement” the budget, that is enact it, put into effect the announcements made, heard and clearly understood when the throne speech was delivered.

If that is the objective of this bill, then why has the Conservative government deliberately chosen to devote an entire part to immigration reform? And yet, a meagre $22 million over two years is allocated to this reform. Naturally, more monies are promised in future but they are not attached to anything at all.

There is something rather odd in the government's official documents. For example, on page 9 of the Budget in Brief, which discusses the reorganization—or modernization, to quote precisely—of the immigration system, one of the key phrases states that the goal is to make the immigration system more competitive.

When I read that, once again it made me think that it all part of the ideology espoused by the Conservative Party. Most of the time it considers the government to be a private corporation.

Why is this section on immigration included? I wonder.

Could it be an attempt to mislead parliamentarians? If not, could it be an attempt to humiliate the Liberals by introducing, in a confidence bill, a measure they would quite likely find unacceptable? The Liberals would find it unacceptable, but if they act as they have been acting for a number of weeks now, they will do anything but vote to bring down this government.

On the one hand, there are principles and convictions; on the other, there is the way these Liberals will choose to act in this House, because they are all legitimately elected members.

I see that my friend from Hull—Aylmer does not agree with what I am saying. He can ask me questions about it.

As members and representatives of their constituents, the 305 members currently in this House have an obligation to vote with integrity, on behalf of the people they represent. I would add that, as a general rule, we should avoid abstaining. This is just my opinion, but as I am entitled to it, I am sharing it.

The Liberals have said again that Canadians do not want an election. My friend said so earlier this morning in this House. Every time I hear that, I wonder when people ever do want an election. We are not talking about a national sport.

Often, when a crisis or scandal occurs, people's confidence in the government is so badly shaken that they call for an election. But it is not a question of waiting until the public calls for an election; it is a question of whether we in this House should pass bills that make sense and respect the people we represent.

Let us get to the heart of the matter: immigration. People who submit immigration or permanent residence applications often belong to the groups we call the most vulnerable—it saddens me to use that word, but this is true. Much of what we do, we do for these groups.

For the Conservatives to play “petty politics”—and I use the term “politics” loosely—at the expense of these people is truly disgraceful, especially when it seems to me that they are doing so specifically to humiliate the official opposition.

Looking at the provisions of the bill we are now discussing, I noticed the somewhat questionable direction the Conservative government wants to take in processing immigration applications.

The purpose of the change is to give as much latitude as possible to the minister—and therefore the government—in handling applications. This seems obvious to me and this has been said during the debate in this House. A number of my colleagues and I feel that that is the problem.

The goal is to bring in the workers needed most by industry, as quickly as possible, to the detriment of other types of workers. That is most likely why the government used that infamous expression I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, “a more competitive immigration system”, an expression typical of the private sector. Competition is fine, but should it drive our concerns as legislators? We have to wonder about that and debate the issue.

We know that the minister can give instructions on the following: the categories of applications to which the instructions apply; the order in which the applications are processed; the number of applications to be processed each year, by category; and what is done with the applications, including those that are re-submitted.

The instructions she gives will at least be published in the Canada Gazette. But how many MPs in this House, including myself, and how many of those watching us can say that they read the Canada Gazette at least once a year? It is not really a good tool for those affected or those targeted by this.

Obviously, during this time of labour shortage, applications need to be processed more quickly for those who want to come and work here. Nonetheless, the process can be sped up in different ways. More resources could be allocated to accelerate the process.

We all remember what happened at Passport Canada not so long ago, less than a year and a half ago. The number of applications made it impossible to issue passports efficiently, that is, in less than two months. The wait was more like two, three, even five months. The necessary resources were allocated and staff recruited, after which the government and officials were finally able to clear up the horrible backlog and process the applications.

Why has the government not looked into this possibility more closely?

The bill proposes making the rules arbitrary. When we hear the word “arbitrary”, alarm bells should go off, since making something arbitrary is always dangerous, regardless of who is in charge. The bill should have provided for changes to the rules, as I was saying earlier, to find the skilled workers we need, and to allocate money and the necessary resources.

I get the impression that this method could create a number of injustices—and when in doubt, we should be asking ourselves a lot of questions. Immigrants who submit an application for a resident permit on humanitarian grounds will find their claims have been added to the backlog. Furthermore, the bill explicitly gives the immigration officer the discretion to issue visas and other documents required to enter the country. In my opinion, this is a big setback for immigrants. Immigrants whose applications are not processed within the year or within the time set by the minister will probably have their applications returned.

I heard some Conservatives say that this was transparency, because this way people would know that their application had not been processed. But I think that if one of the members opposite were an immigrant, submitted an application and received similar treatment, he would be asking questions.

The Conservative government is choosing the solution that costs nothing, but, I believe, is an injustice, instead of choosing the logical solution, which would be to allocate the necessary funds to speed up the processing of applications, to make the process more predictable and to not restrict access for immigrants submitting an application for resident permits on humanitarian grounds.

These are the points I wanted to make. I am sure my colleagues in this House understand that I will vote in favour of the amendments proposed by the member for Jeanne-Le Ber.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to provide some comment and to pose a question. Like us, the member is very concerned about the changes in Bill C-50, the budget implementation bill, particularly as it affects immigrants in our immigration system.

One of the concerns we have had is that there is a real shift taking place. Instead of focusing on family reunification and bringing people to Canada as permanent residents, there is an increase in the foreign worker program. We see this in the agricultural sector. We see it in large construction projects in British Columbia. We see it certainly in Alberta. There are now more foreign workers being processed than there are new permanent residents going to Alberta. There is a huge shift taking place.

When people come here as temporary workers, they virtually have no labour rights. They are very subservient to their employer because their permit comes from their employer.

I wonder if the member could comment on how the immigration system under this bill has dramatically shifted to this new class of workers and how it paves the way to exploitation. In fact already there are many documented cases of exploitation, of abuse, of people not getting even the minimum wage.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her comments and question.

First of all, with regard to Quebec, I want to remind my colleague of one thing, even though I am sure that she is well aware of it. I made this speech as a federal member, and I spoke on behalf of all the people I represent. We know that Quebec has its own program. Now back to the matter at hand.

There is cause for concern about the shift that our colleague just spoke of. This shift is a result of a deliberate decision by the Conservative government. I can interpret this only one way—and I tried to stay away from rhetoric in my comments because I never want to use that approach. I believe that behind these changes and supposed modernization hides the desire to eliminate an entire segment of our settlement program.

The focus is now solely on jobs, with no regard for the risks that exist for these workers whose rights are not enshrined or protected. Family reunification and humanitarian considerations no longer seem to be important.

What is important now is being able to respond quickly to the needs of private enterprise. There is a mad rush to respond, at the expense of another whole group of newcomers who have benefited from our hospitality and integration.

And I think that is something very serious. That is also the reason that I will vote in favour of these amendments.

Long Service Awards
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, next Monday, June 9, you will be hosting a long service award reception celebrating the achievements of the many people who have dedicated much of their working careers to the service of Canadians. I want to offer my sincere congratulations to all those receiving awards.

Since 2004, I have had the privilege to work beside one of those dedicated individuals being recognized next Monday. In October of this year, Lise Saulnier will have worked in the public service for 27 years. Lise has worked with six MPs, dating back to 1981. That alone must be a testament to her dedication.

Lise is a peer, a mentor and a friend to me and many others on the Hill. I often say that if someone does not know the answer to call Lise. If I could sum up in two words the career of Lise Saulnier, I would say, ultimate professional.

Again, to Lise Saulnier and all others receiving these long service awards, I say congratulations and thanks.

Canadian Institute of Forestry Silver Rings
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate Mattawa Jewellery on having recently been awarded the contract for producing the rings distributed in the Canadian Institute of Forestry's silver ring program.

The Canadian Institute of Forestry, whose headquarters are in the region, has been administering the ring program for graduates of university programs since 1967. The silver ring has a significance for students as it symbolizes a commitment to the practice of sound forestry, continual educational development and professional growth.

In addition to producing the two already existing silver ring designs, Mattawa Jewellery will also be developing the prototype for a third silver ring which will recognize CIF members who have made important contributions to forests through their work and their dedication to the institute itself.

Again, I would like to congratulate Mattawa Jewellery on this impressive achievement and wish it continued success in the future.