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NDP MP for Scarborough—Rouge River (Ontario)
Won her last election, in 2011, with 40.60% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Situation in Syria May 7th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, it is almost midnight and we are here debating because there is a civil war happening in Syria and we do need multilateral engagement and a multilateral solution. However, I find it a little rich for the Conservative government to disengage with the United Nations but now, today, rely on the same body to come up with a solution.
Canada has lost so much ground on the global scene. We have lost our seat on the Security Council. We have lost our ranking among the nations around the world. We used to be known as a peacekeeping nation that was in love with humanitarian aid, a country that was there at the beck and call of the world. We are not that country anymore.
Having said that, we know there is a crisis in Syria. We have heard members of the government say there is a crisis in Syria right now and it requires urgent address from our government.
I would like to speak about one aspect of this war, which is the women and children who are affected by it. As a woman, I am particularly moved by the fact that the majority of the Syrian refugees are indeed women and children.
I would like to share a personnel story.
I was born in the middle of a war, and I am probably one of the few members in the House of Commons who have lived through a war. It is not something a child should ever go through. I was smuggled in the cover of night with my mother and sisters, which was necessary in order to be safe. If one travelled in daylight, as a woman, one would be exposed to rape, which is used as a weapon of war. One would be exposed to extortion for oneself and one's daughters. I know that is not a condition under which anybody anywhere in the world should have to live. Being a child who witnessed people being bombed, and being shot at myself, I know we should not have any child in this world experience that.
Although I experienced being shot at when I was four or five years old, today it is still a vivid memory. It is as if it were yesterday. Since I have had the privilege to live, literally a second chance at life, I have the opportunity today to speak on behalf of those hundreds of thousands of people who remain voiceless, who do not have that opportunity.
Those children and women who are being victimized by this war did not choose to be part of it. It is up to the international community to speak up for them. It is up to us, as parliamentarians who have the privilege of speaking up for them, to actually do so.
We know this conflict has claimed more than 70,000 lives and it has forced more than one million Syrians to flee as refugees. Many are internally displaced people within the country and within the region. Many of these refugees have been recognized by the United Nations; they have UNHCR refugee cards.
It is our responsibility as global citizens to stand up for them. It is up to Canada as a have nation, not a have-not nation, to be the conscience of the world. Canada is a bountiful nation that has so many resources and richness.
It is up to us to be the conscience of the world. That is what Canada is known for. We are known for our history and for our legacy of being the conscience of the world. Having that history of being the humanitarian country, we are duty bound to these hundreds of thousands of people who are now being displaced, who are being affected by war.
We need to ensure there are not more and more children who are being inflicted with lifelong memories of war. It is our responsibility to remove those children from those situations. It is our responsibility to reunite families.
We know there are many people here in Canada of Syrian descent who have sponsored their spouses, siblings, nieces and nephews. We, as responsible parliamentarians, have the duty to ensure we are reuniting these families.
I know that my time is coming to an end, and with that I will leave the House with my last request for the government. My request to the government is that the government respect the wish of this House. When the NDP brought forward a motion, it was unanimously agreed to by this entire House. The motion called for support of the peace-building efforts in Syria; it called for the provision of emergency humanitarian assistance to the Syrians, to the families, to the Syrians who had families in Canada; and it called for us to expedite the process of family reunification for Syrians who have family members in Canada.
This was a motion that was unanimously agreed to by this entire House. My request to the government is that it respect the wishes of this House and that it provide that humanitarian relief, as well as expediting family reunification.
Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 1 May 7th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, my question to my colleague is following my meeting last night with many people of the ethno-culturally diverse press as they were celebrating the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day.
We learned that in the budget there are cuts after cuts, of course, but also that the government wants to control crown corporations like the CBC, which is the public broadcaster. It needs to maintain its independence in order for the press to have that freedom.
I would like my colleague to comment a little bit further, if he can, about the importance of the freedom of our press.
Employment May 1st, 2013
Mr. Speaker, tinkering around the edges will not help today's youth find a job. That is not even a plan.
When we actually look at the number of jobs available, the forecasts are even bleaker. For every job vacancy, there are 6.5 unemployed Canadians competing for it.
Canada's economic struggles are being compounded on the backs of Canada's youth. The Conservatives are simply ignoring this fact. Their failed inaction plans have resulted in the continual increase of the unemployment levels of our young people. What will they do today to mitigate the impacts of a sluggish economy for Canada's youth?
Employment April 30th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, the crisis of youth unemployment is knocking on the front door, but that minister is ignoring the problem. No one is home. The fact is, youth unemployment in Toronto and Hamilton is double the national average. In Oshawa, it is 19%. In London, it is 20%. In Windsor, it stands at 25%. In Peterborough, youth unemployment is now at a staggering 29%.
When will the Conservatives come forward with a real plan to get Canada's youth working again?
Committees of the House April 29th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's passionate intervention and her contribution to Canada's economic growth and viability and the contributions her mother has made that allowed a strong woman to, as a doctor, pursue her foreign credential recognition here in Canada, which is an extremely difficult process, and participate in Canada as a practising physician. I applaud her for that.
To answer the member's question about the importance of economic class as well as family class immigrants into Canada, yes it is imperative that we do have economic class immigrants coming in. As I mentioned in my speech, within five years 100% of our labour force needs will be filled by immigration. To satisfy the changes in our labour market trends, we will need to see economic class immigrants accepted into this country. However, for those economic class immigrants who are allowed in to plant deep roots and make as meaningful as possible contributions to Canada's economic viability, growth and development, they need to have their family. That means their spouse, their children and, as in the case of my colleague, possibly the grandparents to help with the rearing of—
Committees of the House April 29th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, my response to the comment from the Minister of State (Transport) is that all of us in Canada, except for aboriginal peoples, are immigrants. I may be first generation Canadian, she may be second generation, he may be third or seventh generation, but all of us in Canada, except for our aboriginal peoples, are immigrants or have the lineage of an immigrant.
In that respect, I agree with the minister in saying that the immigrants who came to Canada a century ago may have had difficulties communicating with their families abroad because the technologies were not available. However, if the minister is implying that, because Internet is now available and we can have Skype chats with family members abroad, juxtaposed, that should counter the need for immigration and for families to be truly united in a space, I truly do not know how to respond to that type of comment. There are so many parts of this world that are war-stricken or just do not have the capacity for broadband or do not have the capacity for a voice chat. There is a huge difference in the quality of life between reading a letter or having a phone conversation with somebody and being able to feel the embrace of a grandparent or parent.
Committees of the House April 29th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, he is right that commodifying humans is not okay. I come from a business background and just-in-time management might be suitable for widgets and parts, but it is not necessarily the best way forward for humans and not the smartest way of dealing with our immigration system.
Family reunification has been highlighted as a reason for Canada's success in attracting and retaining experienced and highly skilled applicants. It is even supposed to be a core principle of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and yet the Conservative government today wants workers to come to Canada, not families.
We know our grandparents are the ones raising our children. Many people in Scarborough—Rouge River speak to me about the importance of having their mother or father or parents, if they are alive, join them in Canada to help with child rearing. We know the government has refused the NDP's calls for a national child care strategy, which would ensure that both parents could go into the workforce, and yet it does not seem to like that idea either. It is the grandparents who are helping to raise our children. My grandmother helped raised me. She ensured that our local economy was stimulated by both parents working. With both parents working, of course, households have higher levels of income, which means they are stimulating the development of our local economies.
Committees of the House April 29th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to participate in the concurrence motion today. As a member of the citizenship and immigration committee, I was there day in and day out participating in the study on the issue of backlogs in our immigration system. It is a problem that started with the Liberal government and has not been dealt with sufficiently by our current Conservative government. The immigration backlog today stands at over one million applications and has increased by 250,000 applications since 2006.
Backlogs leave families in a state of uncertainty and in perpetual limbo. Working as the member of Parliament for Scarborough—Rouge River, I have spoken with many families who have been waiting years and years to have their parents and grandparents join them here in Canada. They have been waiting years for their families to be reunited.
Canada is a country built on immigration. Many of us in the room, including myself, have benefited from the policies that have encouraged families to come together to Canada. My father came first and then he sponsored my mother and my three sisters. We were able to be reunited as a family because of Canada's immigration policies.
The current backlog and inequalities in our immigration system shamefully leave people waiting too long to be reunited with their families. We need to invest in resources that would address the backlog and the inequities. We need to ensure that we are encouraging people to come to Canada, to be a part of their family, to help build our communities in Canada and help our economy grow, especially help the local economic development of our communities.
Canada needs immigration to help build and sustain our economy. However, what we are seeing is a dramatic increase in the number of temporary foreign workers, where workers come to Canada alone without their families, send their wages home and then leave Canada at the end of their contract. To these workers, we are saying they are good enough to come work here, but not good enough to come live here. Then the other situation is where we are seeing many permanent residents of Canada, the cream of the crop in their home countries, who have been invited to come to Canada as permanent residents. They are having difficulty finding work, probably because the government likes to fill the available jobs with temporary foreign workers. We are telling these people who have come to Canada on the permanent residency track that they are good enough to come live here, but not good enough to come work here.
There is a clear problem in the government's response and ideas of immigration. There is a clear split personality disorder happening here with the government. It has shifted its focus from prioritizing permanent resident applications to the temporary foreign worker program, meaning that the applicants in the family class have to actually compete for the very limited processing resources. We heard this from the Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials who came as witnesses in front of our committee.
This shift in the priorities is certainly not helping to reduce the backlog, but rather is helping to increase Canada's backlog. We need to address the inequalities that exist in the system and develop a creative, balanced and equitable approach to dealing with the backlog. This includes possibly raising the overall level of immigration so that we are accepting 1% of our population here in Canada.
In the report from the citizenship and immigration committee, we saw that there were over one million applications in the queue and wait times have reached patently unacceptable levels. On average, we are seeing that, for sponsors who are trying to have their parents reunited with them here in Canada, it could take between 10 and 13 years for a parent or grandparent to be united with their family. Sadly, for multiple cases in Scarborough, for families I have been trying to help, grandparents have passed on before they were able to even come here to meet their grandchildren. Sadly, our immigration system is failing so many Canadians who are just trying to have their families united.
It also means that employers who are seeking to attract skilled workers frequently have to wait between four and seven years. We know that with the changing trends in the labour market and the changing needs of the labour market, if an employer has to wait four to seven years for a worker to be able to fill a job vacancy, that employer is probably not even going to be in business by the time the employee it has sponsored is able to join it in the labour force.
We are seeing live-in caregivers seeking to reunite with their spouses and children wait an average of five years from the date that they complete their obligations under that program.
We heard about spousal applications. At committee we heard the minister and officials from CIC say that is the class of sponsorship that is given the highest priority. Its goal is, from beginning to end, 12 months of processing time. The sad reality is it is taking more than two years to process a spousal application, depending on the country. This situation presents a serious problem for the integrity of Canada's immigration system. Families remain separated. Employers are frustrated. Overall, it is the Canadian economy that continues to suffer.
I would like to talk about some of the changing labour force trends we are seeing in Canada. The statistics I am about to present are from a study done by Statistics Canada called “Projected Trends to 2031 for the Canadian Labour Force” by Laurent Martel, Éric Caron Malenfant, Jean-Dominique Morency, André Lebel, Alain Bélanger and Nicolas Bastien.
The authors have written that in 2010, Canada's labour force was 18.5 million persons. By 2031, it is projected to grow to reach between 20.5 million and 22.5 million people.
The total population aged 15 and over, that is of course the overall labour force participation rate, will fall. The authors say that their share of the labour force is projected to decrease. The participation rate will fall from 67% in 2010 to between 59.7% and 62.6% in 2031. These levels have not been observed since the 1970s.
Furthermore, the authors have said that there will be an increase in the number of labour force participants aged 55 and over. In 2001, approximately 10% of the labour force were aged 55 and over. By 2010, it grew to 17%. By 2021, it will grow to approximately 24%. One out of four people are going to be 55 and over. We know that with the changes to the qualification for old age security and guaranteed income supplement, many of our seniors who would have retired... At the time this report was prepared, that legislation had not come into effect, so the authors took labour force participation to age 65 rather than 67. The numbers will be changing and we will see even more than 24% of our labour force by 2021 being people who are aged 55 to 67.
Furthermore, by 2031, the authors project fewer than three people in the labour force for each person who is 65 and over and who is not in the labour force. These numbers will have to be adjusted for the new changes to the age of 67. That same ratio was close to 5:1 in 2010. These changes show there is going to be an increase in demand for the labour force to be filled. These vacancies in the labour force are not going to be filled by our children, but they can only be filled by immigration.
At committee, Statistics Canada mentioned that CIC projected that within five years, that is 60 months from the time that the report was written, immigration will be responsible for 100% of Canada's new labour market growth needs.
Therefore, the growth we see in the labour market will be filled 100% by higher immigration levels. For that, we need to see our immigration backlogs gone and the timely processing of our applications to maintain our integrity as a country that accepts immigrants and the fact that Canada is still a viable option for immigrants, both skilled and family class, who are coming here to build our country.
Canada has received more applications per year than the federal government chooses to admit to the country. This was told to us in committee by Citizenship and Immigration officials, and I will read a quote from the CIC officials, who said:
CIC strives to process applications in a timely manner, but it is an ongoing challenge for CIC to meet the IRPA objectives simultaneously. Every year, we receive many more applications than can be processed resulting in large backlogs in many categories, which in turn have led to long wait times for applicants.
Even CIC officials know that our applicants are waiting far too long.
The numbers presented to the committee reveal that even a modest increase in the annual number of visas issued would actually go a substantial distance toward successfully addressing the backlogs. Mr. Marc Audet, from Desjardins Trust Inc., provided the committee with statistical information from CIC that showed that, over the last five years, increasing the annual visas issued by 10% from current levels would completely arrest the growth of the backlog. Any increase above that would start to reverse the backlog. The minister and CIC know that, as this is witness testimony in committee.
However, the question is whether an increase in Canada's annual visas issued, or levels, is justified and desirable on economic and social grounds. The evidence is overwhelming that a gradual and prudent increase to annual levels would not only address the backlog, but is essential for our labour market trends. As I mentioned earlier, we need to address the changes in the labour market trends.
Once again, from the study I mentioned earlier, the proportion of foreign-born individuals in the Canadian labour force in 1991 was 18.5%; in 2006, it grew to 21.2%; and by 2031, it will grow to 33% if we maintain our current immigration levels. However, we know that current immigration levels are not sufficient to fill the labour market vacancies that will become available. Therefore, the authors of the study wrote, “Although sustained immigration...could neither prevent the overall participation rate from declining nor lessen the aging of the labour force, it could contribute to labour force growth while also filling various specific labour force needs.”
The experts who wrote this study also suggested that increasing immigration levels would actually help meet the labour force needs in Canada. They mentioned that the size and growth of the labour force over the next two decades are sensitive to two factors: immigration and fertility.
As we know, fertility rates in Canada are declining. The study showed that if Canada were to admit no immigrants over the next two decades, the labour force would actually begin to shrink by 2017. That is just a few short years away. The labour force would be reduced to 17.8 million by 2031 if we were to stop immigration, whereas if we maintained our current levels, we would see our labour force grow to, if I remember correctly, about 33 million by 2031, according to the authors of the study.
Once again, increasing immigration levels is a clear solution that was offered by many witnesses who came to our committee as well as experts in the field of statistics and labour market trends. Also, industry representatives at committee pointed to a significant present and future deficit in the labour supply.
The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association testified that its members will have 142,000 job vacancies in 2025.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and many building trades affiliate labour unions have publicly stated that they are dependent upon temporary foreign workers because of a shortage of permanent-stream immigrants and skilled Canadians.
We need to stop investing in temporary foreign workers and actually invest in training Canadians to have the skills that are needed to fulfill the labour market needs and to, also, as we accept people to come to Canada, ensure that we are accepting people on a permanent track rather than as temporary foreign workers.
New Democrats have fought strongly against many of the unfair changes made to our immigration system this past year. We know that one solution the minister came up with to reduce the backlog was to hit delete. The minister approved the deletion of 280,000 applications that were in the permanent stream. This is absolutely unfair for the people who were waiting patiently. They were told to wait patiently. They were told to follow the rules. They were constantly told to wait and be patient, follow the rules, that in due time their application would be processed.
Instead, all applications before February 2007 were just deleted and the applicants were told they could have a refund if they wanted, but they needed to reapply if they were still interested in coming to Canada.
It is absolutely unfair to the people who put in an application on time, did their time. They waited throughout that long backlog, that long wait period, to come to Canada and now in my riding the family members of many of these people who are now deleted are writing to me, asking for fairness.
Where is the fairness in this program, in the changes to immigration that the current government and the current minister have put forward? I do not know where the fairness is.
I want to talk briefly about the importance of parents and grandparents. The backlog for parents and grandparents currently sits at about 150,000 applicants. Yet, rather than committing to look for a creative balanced solution to the backlog, the Conservatives have reverted to, of course, their usual strategy: cuts. They have imposed a moratorium on parent and grandparent class sponsorships. We are actually nervous that their temporary try on the moratorium of parent and grandparent class sponsorship might actually lead to permanent quotas, which would mean that too many young children in Canada, too many young Canadian children, are not going to have the benefit of knowing their grandparents.
I was lucky. I had the opportunity to meet my grandparents in Canada. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to meet all of my grandparents, as my paternal grandfather had passed away before he was able to come and visit us here in Canada. However, I had the great pleasure and luxury of knowing my maternal grandparents and my paternal grandmother who lived with us, who I learned from, who I was cultured by. They helped me understand who I am and my roots. My grandmother taught me to cook. Those simple things in life, but also the principles and values of a strong, united family, I learned these values from my grandparents.
Sadly, too many Canadian children are not going to have the luxury of knowing their grandparents if the government continues in its style of not allowing parent and grandparent sponsorships.
There is a family sponsorship case in the Scarborough—Rouge River riding that the MP office has been working on since December 2006, which has been stalled in the medical and background checks for what seems like an inordinate amount of time. The sponsor has been trying to bring his mother to Canada as he would like her to spend her remaining years with him and his children. She is very elderly and is now in need of support from her family at this late stage of her life.
Even though it has been seven years that I have been working with him to try to help expedite the process so that the grandchildren of this woman will be able to have that experience, we have still not been successful. He is bogged down in red tape.
Employment April 25th, 2013
With respect, Mr. Speaker, I am not sure blaming the opposition is a wise recovery plan for the government. These are real problems that will cost millions of Canadians and billions to our Canadian economy.
In 2006, Canadian youth were unemployed for an average of seven weeks. Today, it is 14 weeks, nearly 2 more months of unemployment for our youth and the Conservatives twiddle their thumbs.
Could the minister cut her rhetoric and explain to my generation how the Conservatives will fix the damage they have caused?
Employment April 24th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, Conservative budgets and all of their initiatives consistently fail Canadian youth. Of course we voted against it. Even if the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism is laughing, young people have been left out of the economic recovery. More than two years after the recession, youth unemployment is stuck at a troubling 14%. That is double the national average.
According to TD Bank:
Being unemployed at a young age can have a long-lasting impact on an individual's career prospects.
When will the Conservatives stop their self-congratulations and start offering real solutions for Canada's youth?