House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

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Question No. 153
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

With respect to debt owed to the Government of Canada and its agencies and entities by governments of the following seven countries, (i) Colombia, (ii) Peru, (iii) Pakistan, (iv) Bangladesh, (v) Indonesia, (vi) Vietnam, (vii) Ukraine: (a) what is the total amount of concessional debt owed by each country and to which agencies or entities, and in what amounts in each case; and (b) what is the total amount of non-concessional debt owed by each country and to which agencies or entities, and in what amounts in each case?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bill C-304—Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act—Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

April 29th, 2010 / 10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on April 1, 2010, by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons regarding the admissibility of an amendment adopted by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in its consideration of Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians. The bill containing the amendment in question was reported to the House on March 24.

I wish to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for having raised this issue as well as the hon. members for Joliette and Vancouver East for presenting their views on the matter.

The parliamentary secretary explained to the House that during the consideration of Bill C-304, the members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities overturned a decision of the chair concerning an amendment to Bill C-304 that had been ruled inadmissible. The committee then proceeded to adopt the amendment.

He pointed out that the purpose of Bill C-304 is to create a national housing strategy and, more specifically, that clause 3 of the bill provides for the minister to consult with the provincial and territorial ministers in order to establish that strategy. The parliamentary secretary stated that the amendment, which allows the province of Quebec to opt out with full compensation, is inconsistent with the purpose of the bill. He also argued that since there was no mention of a potential provincial exemption in the bill as adopted by the House at second reading, the amendment alters the purpose and goes beyond the scope and principle of the bill.

The parliamentary secretary made reference to a committee chairman's ruling on the admissibility of a similar amendment during clause-by-clause consideration of Bill S-3, an act to amend the Official Languages Act (promotion of English and French), by the Standing Committee on Official Languages on October 20, 2005. An amendment to exclude one province from the application of that bill was moved and ruled inadmissible by the committee chair since it was contrary to the principle of the bill.

In his intervention, the member for Joliette stated that, in his view, the amendment in question is admissible since the right of Quebec to be exempted is consistent with the principle of the bill. He also provided many examples of Canada-wide programs or strategies from which the province of Quebec is exempted.

In her intervention, the member for Vancouver East made reference to a Speaker's ruling of January 29, 2008 defining the principle and the scope of the bill. She explained that the principle of Bill C-304 is to develop a housing strategy and that the scope, which encompasses the mechanisms by which the principle is attained, includes the consultations leading to the establishment of the strategy. Furthermore, she claimed that the amendment in question is permissive, not mandatory, and that it merely seeks to clarify the scope of the bill.

As the House knows, the Speaker does not ordinarily intervene on committee matters unless a report has been presented in the House. With respect to legislation, the Speaker has been called upon to deal with such matters after the bill in question has been reported to the House.

The Chair believes that it would be useful to have a look at the amendment in question. It is a new clause added after clause 3 and reads as follows:

The Government of Quebec may choose to be exempted from the application of this Act and may, if it chooses to do so, receive an unconditional payment equal to the total of the amounts that would otherwise be paid within its territory under this Act.

In the Chair's view, there are two elements to this new clause. The first is the Government of Quebec's right to opt out of the strategy, and the second relates to the right to receive financial compensation if it chooses to do so.

With regard to the first element of the amendment, the members for Joliette and Vancouver East both have given examples of Canada-wide programs and policies of which the province of Quebec is exempted. The Chair is in no way questioning that such arrangements exist in current programs or could exist in future programs within specific legislative frameworks. However, the Chair has to determine if such an arrangement as defined by the amendment in question goes against the principle or broadens the scope of this bill as adopted by the House at second reading.

The Chair refers members to clause 3 of the bill which provides elements that should be part of a housing strategy, elements that are, in fact, defining the scope of the bill. The Chair views the nature of those elements as being very different from that proposed by the amendment in question and finds that an opting out provision is a new concept which exceeds the scope as defined in clause 3.

As for the second element, that of payments to provinces, the Chair has studied the bill very closely and finds no reference to payments that could be made to a province under this Act. Payments to provincial governments are not provided for in Bill C-304, and, therefore, it is clear that this element of the amendment goes beyond the scope of the bill.

The Chair also considered a number of precedents. In addition to the example of Bill S-3 cited by the parliamentary secretary, the Chair has found an example of similar amendments submitted at report stage. In fact, when Bill C-20, an Act to give effect to the requirement for clarity as set out in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec Secession Reference, was considered at report stage, amendments seeking the exemption of the province of Quebec were submitted and were found to be inadmissible.

The Speaker then explained in his ruling of March 13, 2000 at Debates page 4375 that:

“...from a strictly procedural perspective…I remain convinced that those amendments the hon. member referred to do in fact go beyond the scope and alter the principle of the bill as already agreed to by the House.”

While the Chair appreciates the efforts to improve proposed legislation made by committees in the course of clause-by-clause consideration, the fact remains that a committee must carry out its mandate without exceeding its powers. In my view, by adopting an amendment that goes against the principle of the bill and that introduces a notion broadening its scope, a committee ventures beyond the role that the House has assigned to it.

Consequently, I must order that the amendment creating clause 3.1 adopted by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities be declared null and void and no longer form part of the bill as reported to the House.

In addition, I am ordering that a reprint of Bill C-304 be published with all possible haste for use by the House at report stage to replace the reprint ordered by the committee.

I thank the House for its attention.

The House resumed from April 27 consideration of the motion that Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Federal Courts Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When the bill was last before the House the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley had the floor. There are eight minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Skeena--Bulkley Valley.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, eight minutes of course will not be enough to deal with the issue of immigration reform in Canada, which is long overdue, but I will do my best. I thank you for another wise ruling from the chairs the previous night.

Bill C-11 speaks, very importantly, to the nature and essence of reform of the immigration and refugee laws in Canada, particularly around refugee claimants.

The New Democrats have a number of concerns with the fundamentals that have been placed before us. We sought to move the bill to the committee before it had received the recommendation of the House in principle so that we could more fundamentally get at some of those problems. We recognize where the House is at right now and we will be seeking to improve the bill once it gets to committee. I want to focus in on couple of items today that are most critical to the plight of refugees and the treatment they receive when they come to Canada.

When dealing with the issue of immigration or dealing with refugees, it brings out both the best and worst in a country and in the politics that exist, and the attempt by any government to weave politics into a refugee system is one that must be resisted and avoided at all times. The temptation is there because we have well established communities within Canada that have various views on immigration policy and they will attempt to push certain angles and representations of those views on to any sitting government of the day.

What must be resisted is that these reforms do not last just through the next election cycle or the one beyond that, but can last for many years. There has been an unfortunate series of events over the last 100 to 150 years in this country where immigration and refugee claimant rules have been used to, in a sense, abuse certain groups coming from certain regions of the world that we just did not like at the time for political reasons.

The list has been well enunciated. The government is well aware of past claims and misdeeds by previous governments. Apologies have been issued. A bill was passed in the House just last night dealing with the treatment of Italian Canadians during the second world war. We have seen the error of our ways in the past and we must not be doomed to repeat them again.

Of particular concern in the bill right now is the list of safe countries. For those following the bill, they will be aware that the government has proposed this idea that there will be an ongoing list of countries that will be deemed to have one status and another list of countries that will be deemed to be less favourable for whatever domestic issues are going on in those countries at the time.This is unfortunate in a way because it applies methodology that may, in some circumstances, not work because all countries within themselves do not have uniform circumstances. A refugee claimant coming from one part of the Sudan will have a very different claim than one coming from another region. Someone coming from one part of Chile at a certain time will look very different from someone coming from another part, and the list goes on.

The concern we have, in looking through Bill C-11, is that not only is the list not provided of what countries the government will sanction and those that it will punish, but we are still looking for the criteria that will be used by the government to establish those lists. This is fundamental. It is very difficult for any member in this place to vote on legislation that will designate countries one way or another if we do not have the criteria and the rules before us. This is more than unfortunate. This is a trust me attitude from the government that is not acceptable. We need to clarify this. We need to nail it down.

I had brief conversations with the minister about the number of refugee claimants that will be permitted. We are looking forward to understanding that Canada will remain and enhance its accessibility to refugee claimants who come from abroad. We have a story about ourselves in Canada, that we are an open and forgiving place that will allow folks to come from all sorts of different situations, some of them very difficult, such as when a country is in crisis or when a particular group of citizens in a country is being targeted. Whether for their political beliefs, their gender, their sexual orientation or whatnot, we believe ourselves to be a welcoming place, a place that does not pass such judgments as is seen in other countries, particularly when there is great political upheaval, which we are seeing on the evening news almost every night.

However, we need an understanding of how we will judge a country and whether we will have the ability to specify regions within a country in which particular political persecution is going on.

I worked in Africa for a time and we would see at the state level of a certain government that a governor of that state would pass some atrocious decree thereby subjecting a whole group of its citizens to unfair treatment, persecution and sometimes death. This, unfortunately, was too common. We do not know if Bill C-11, this refugee reform, will have the dexterity to deal with situations like that.

We have also seen just recently, through our neighbours to the south, draconian laws being passed in Arizona where it legislated racial profiling for people coming from Mexico or looking like they may have come from Mexico. It is politics at its worst when we see a state deciding to racially profile a whole group of people and subject them to laws that no one else in society is subjected to simply because of the colour of their skin. One would hope that we had moved or devolved beyond this in the western world, but politics being what it is at times, folks playing for a few more votes will introduce bills like this. Properly, however, the President of the United States has condemned what the government at that state level is doing.

I only raise that example, not to cast aspersions on the government here in Canada, but to say that on this issue, if not more than any other, the temptation to play into some momentary passing political interest that is appealing to one interest or another, be it pro-immigration or anti-immigration, we have seen for far too long. I am the son of an immigrant family and there was wave after wave of immigrants coming into this country. One would assume that the wave that had just preceded the new wave of immigrants would be more sympathetic to the ones just coming but, unfortunately, there is some element of human nature that does not lend itself always that way. My family coming from Ireland may have had better treatment than others but not necessarily. The racial stereotypes and the mistreatment, not just of folks who are coming but their descendants, is consistent. I grew up in a city that was a multicultural as any in the world and yet still had this underlying tone.

That is something that the government, while it cannot appease entirely, must work through bills, like Bill C-11, to alleviate to their maximum possibility. If we are to be a welcoming and generous country and a country that continues to have a history of being proud of our immigrant population and encourage more to come, we must make the best reforms possible for refugee and immigration claimants. We must remove the politics as much as possible and allow the country to be as free, open and accessible as possible.

We are for a faster immigration system but we will not sacrifice the fairness aspect. We will not simply say that folks have eight days, cannot seek legal representation and that is it, and they are back out again, because that makes them potentially victims of these so-called immigration consultants that seem to pop up.

I hope we can get this right because it is critical that we do.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley for his thoughtful and heartfelt remarks about the importance of openness to immigration, which is part of our Canadian story, and I share his sentiments. I celebrate the fact that in Canada there is a broad political consensus that is perhaps unique in the democratic world that is favourable toward both immigration and the protection of refugees. I believe that consensus is reflected in the bill.

The question the member has raised rhetorically, as well as his colleague, the member for Sault Ste. Marie, both of whom, like myself, are descendants of Irish immigrants to this country. Consequently, we are all very sensitive to these issues. He and the member for Sault Ste. Marie want to ensure that we do not close Canada to those in need of our protection.

In point of fact, the balanced refugee reforms that we are discussing include, as part of the overall reform package, a historic increase in the number of targeted refugees for resettlement to Canada. We propose in this package to increase from 11,500 to 14,000 the number of refugees living abroad, often in UN camps in deplorable circumstances, victims of conflict, of ethnic cleansing, of persecution, that we will welcome to Canada. We propose a 20% increase in the number of resettled refugees and, more than that, a 20% increase in the refugee assistance program to give them assistance in getting settled in Canada.

That is not an easy decision to make. All members get this ridiculous email that goes around saying that refugees get more financial support than pensioners. Frankly, it is counterintuitive, from a political point of view, for the government to increase by 20% the assistance we are giving refugees for their settlement, but that has been frozen for 10 years and we think it is the right thing to do.

I want to emphasize two points for the member. First, with respect to the asylum reforms, there is nothing that would actually reduce access to the asylum system for refugee claimants. It simply renders the system more efficient while maintaining and enhancing its fairness. We are actually increasing by 20% the targeted number of resettled refugees, such as the 12,000 refugees from Iraq who I have announced we will be welcoming over the course of three years.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I wondered why I liked the minister and now I know. We share some ancestry.

The minister raised a point about the numbers. Will there be more or will there be less? This was a concern for New Democrats because we did not want to see a tightening of them. The world is becoming a smaller place but, unfortunately, it has as much turmoil in it now as it has ever had and one cannot predict it getting any better. Therefore, Canada must remain open.

The question is not necessarily so much about the numbers at this point, although we will be watching that, but it is more about who will be included in those numbers. Which countries will be on this magical list? If a country is on the list, it will get to appeal but if it is not, it will not be able to.

I understand what the government has gone after in terms of refugee claimants coming from countries that most Canadians would say seem to be safe places and would ask why they are claiming refugee status. What we anecdotally know to be a refugee is somebody who is fleeing from some sort of persecution where his or her life or the lives of family members may be at risk or in such detriment that they cannot live there.

It is an incredibly important power that the government is giving the minister, not just the present minister but future ones. It is important for us to get this right. It is important for us to understand what criteria the government is seeking to use to designate a country on or off the list.

My point about within country status is critical. We know that within countries there are vastly different contexts under which people live. We must be sensitive to that. If that is going to be a part of this reform package then let us have it part of the debate.

We will seek to amend this legislation to make it better and clarify it for Canadians and for our partner countries. It is important that Canada sends a clear and concise message that we are a country that is open and we are a country that seeks to have a safe harbour for those who are persecuted abroad.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, it is clear that a number of stakeholders have expressed similar views about the definition of a country of safe origin.

In previous debate and discussion responses from the government, there appears to be some openness. I presume that the list of countries would be handled by regulation. The government also seems to have indicated that it would be prepared to refer the draft regulations to the committee prior to gazetting and promulgating any regulations. That would give the committee an opportunity to comment on them. There is precedent for this in the Reproductive Technologies Act where all regulations had to go before the health committee for comment prior to the government moving forward. I would think that would be something that the committee may want to suggest.

I wonder if the member would find that having committee input prior to the publication of a regulation would be an acceptable approach.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague has raised an interesting point. The government has suggested that the committee would see these regulations before they come into effect.

We are looking for criteria here. We want to know what filter the government plans to use when deciding which countries will fit themselves in to being a safe or unsafe country.

The concern is this. The ability of a country to have its citizens apply for refugee status or immigration into another country oftentimes becomes a political football when two countries are not getting along. This could be used as a carrot and stick approach to countries. We saw this with the special designation from China in terms of allowing its citizens easier access to come to Canada as tourists. The impact on Canada's economy would be significant. China knows this. It is part of most deliberations around trade and sanctions and what happens in other areas.

We want to know that Canada's ability to accept refugees is not based on any of these other conversations but simply based on the merits of those refugees coming into Canada and applying for safe harbour. That is what it should be based on.

The regulations need to be sound on this. They cannot be of a give and take nature. We know about the recent dispute with Mexico. Mexico seems to be having a dispute with a few countries now about where its citizens can or cannot go.

This crosses over into a government's larger agenda about trade, about international relations and about what happens at one international table versus another. The list of safe countries is an interesting idea but it could become problematic if not done properly. It would give so much latitude to the government.

If the government seeks to pass all these regulations through committee before they go out the door, New Democrats will clearly be looking at that. This needs to be absolutely watertight, otherwise we could face further problems down the road and probably get accused of using the refugee and immigration system for other political advantages, which is, frankly, inappropriate.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, one of the things that my colleague is clearly looking for and that we are clearly looking for is equality and fairness. He has made that abundantly clear in his comments, and for that to happen, resources must be set aside for immigration.

As members know, since 2006, the backlog has continued to increase, mostly because many of the Liberal pals were fired or not rehired, and not replaced. So in essence, the government has actually created its own problem in terms of this backlog and now the urgency is there to make some changes.

I wonder if the member would like to comment about the resources that need to be put into the system.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, the problem with political appointments is that when the government switches, it tends not to want to reappoint those from its so-called enemies. In this case, when the Liberals were tossed from power, with the Gomery inquiry and all the rest that we all remember so fondly and that was brought up, surprisingly enough, by the government yesterday, the government that came in did not reappoint them, nor did it appoint its own cronies.

This is the problem with the government having a system, whereby it has an appointments process that is politically directed, where friends get to be put on boards, sometimes with great compensation for little work. There are hundreds of these and some of them actually matter, such as the IRB. So when the government did not replace these folks, the backlog came back again and now we have to have measures to deal with that.

Some have now since been replaced, but the fundamental thing is balancing the needs of speed, of getting folks through the system with some sense of fairness. Part of our concern is that with the speed, there are not the resources available, particularly with those who do not have a lot of money, such as a typical refugee, to be able to get though the process fairly and receive good treatment.