Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill. It is also gives me great pleasure to say that the Liberals will be opposing this bill because we believe that it is not good for Canada. It is bad for Canada. We are therefore pleased to vote against it. We are opposing this bill mainly because it will make it increasingly difficult to become a Canadian citizen.
The government has already put up barriers in terms of rising waiting times. Under this law there are more and more barriers to becoming a citizen, as I will describe in a few minutes in more detail, and we do not think this is good for Canada.
As is often the case with a large and complex bill, it is not that we dislike everything in the bill. In particular, we like the legislation for lost Canadians, whereby citizenship will be restored to lost Canadians born before 1947 and to first generations born abroad. We are very much in favour of this measure. If the government were to produce stand-alone legislation on this topic, we would vote for it. However, given that it is surrounded by other pollutants that we cannot support, we cannot support the bill in its entirety. We would like it if we could support a separate bill on lost Canadians. We would certainly be happy to support that.
There is a second item on which we are in agreement with the government in spirit. We do favour measures to enhance the loyalty of citizens to Canada and to combat the issue of citizens of convenience. However, we are not convinced that the measures the government has proposed in this area are terribly effective, and we would have alternative measures. We might favour those. We do not think the government's measures in this area will be effective. We think that more harm is done by the barriers it is raising for well-behaved people, who are not citizens of convenience but hard-working, loyal, potential Canadians who are barred by various artificial means set up by the government from becoming citizens of this country.
The way I would like to put it, to frame it in more general terms, is that immigration policy has to be a balance between welcome and vigilance. One has to be vigilant because there are always some bad apples. There will always be some citizens of convenience with phony marriages. There will be people who want to play the system and people who are fraudulent. There are a very small number of people in that category, and for that category, one requires vigilance.
The vast numbers of people who come to Canada, whether as immigrants, visitors, or citizenship applicants, are good people. They are law-abiding people and should be welcomed. Yes, we require vigilance for the small number of bad apples, but we must also welcome the vast majority who are good.
It is my contention that Canadian governments, from John Diefenbaker to Paul Martin, have put the main focus on welcoming. The primary task was to welcome people to Canada, to welcome them to become landed immigrants and citizens and visitors. There was some focus on the bad apples, but the primary emphasis and priority was to welcome the large numbers of good people who wanted to come here.
All of that has changed under the current government. There is very little welcome. It is almost all vigilance. What we hear government members talking about day after day is people cheating the system, people with phony marriages, people who are citizens of convenience, as if that is the whole universe of people coming to this country. We agree that there are some of that type. However, the government spends all of its time talking about the bad side and the vigilance and at no time about welcoming people, which is the broader and more important task. I think it has tilted the priorities away from the traditional Canadian approach that we saw all the way from John Diefenbaker to Paul Martin.
Let me just give the House two examples, taken from the time of John Diefenbaker. John Diefenbaker, as the House may recall, was a Progressive Conservative Prime Minister. The members on that side should approve of some of the things he did. I certainly do. I will mention two examples.
The first of these is the Hungarian revolution of 1956-57. Under John Diefenbaker, there was a huge blip in immigration because his government allowed in some 38,000 refugees from Hungary. That is a huge number, and I applaud it. I am glad that the minister is applauding too. The country in those days was half the size it is today, so that would be the equivalent of some 80,000 people today.
I am glad that the minister is applauding, because we were talking earlier about Sweden letting in 14,000 refugees from Syria permanently. He claimed they were temporary, but they were not. Canada has a miserable number of 1,300 Syrian refugees, and they are not even here yet, partly because he has not given the authorization to the community groups who want to bring in refugees. He applauds 38,000, which is very good, but he is struggling with 1,300 some 50 years later. However, that is a different topic.
The point I am making is this. Did those 38,000 immigrants, refugees from Hungary, all pass difficult language tests? I doubt it. They came pretty quickly. Did they have to wait years? Did they have to go through this barrier, that barrier, and the next barrier to come to this country? No, they got onto those ships pretty quickly and all 38,000 of them were here pretty quickly. They were also welcomed warmly when they came to this country.
We welcomed them under Mr. Diefenbaker, and that is good. There were probably a few bad apples in that 38,000, just as there are in the Canadian population at large. The current government would focus all its time on the few bad apples of those 38,000 Hungarian refugees, whereas the government of the day and our party would focus on the great good that all of those people and their children would do and have done for this country.
The second reason I would praise Mr. Diefenbaker is that there was a member of Parliament who was convicted of spying on Canada for the Soviet Union. He was not a Conservative or a Liberal. I think he was a communist, but he was a member of Parliament. In the process of that happening, his citizenship was taken away. Mr. Diefenbaker thought that was really bad. He thought that even a Canadian convicted of treason should not have his citizenship taken away, so he brought in a law that would not allow governments to take away individual citizenship.
That was Mr. Diefenbaker, a Progressive Conservative. He was a small-l liberal on these matters, and he was focusing on the welcome rather than on vigilance. The same story goes through to Pierre Trudeau, who invented the modern system of immigration and multiculturalism. I would praise Brian Mulroney as well, who was also open to immigration. He was welcoming and he did not spend all of his time talking about the bad apples. The same goes for Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.
When we come to the current government, all of a sudden, the scales shift. Instead of welcoming people to this country, we spend all of our time talking about the small number of people who are not obeying the rules.
It works much better if we welcome newcomers with a smile, which we did, starting with Diefenbaker up until Martin, instead of welcoming them with a scowl, as the current government does. It is better to have “sunny ways”, as Wilfrid Laurier put it and as our leader recently quoted, rather than angry ways.
We welcomed people with a smile, from Diefenbaker to Trudeau, from Mulroney to Chrétien and Martin. With a smile, we had sunny ways. We had a smile for the newcomers. Now, under the Conservatives all they focus on is the negative side. So it is no longer sunny ways, but angry ways. That is not good for our country.
Why is it not good for the country to act in such a hostile manner? One reason is that we are trying to build Canada and, in order to do so, we have to welcome those who come here to live with us.
In one way or another, we are all descendants of immigrants and thus we must extend a warm welcome. It is not necessary to always be angry.
The economic aspect is another consideration. We are competing for immigrants with countries such as Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. We all have an aging population. We all need these immigrants. Consequently, if we give them a warm welcome, they will come to Canada instead of going to Australia or other countries. There are sound economic reasons for attracting these immigrants to our country.
My final point concerns the public's attitude. If the only thing the government says is that there are dishonest people who enter into fake marriages and do all these bad things, the public will start believing that these immigrants are bad and that they are criminals.
What the government is doing is sowing division, because it is always putting the emphasis on the bad side of immigrants, the cases where they do not obey the rules, and saying nothing about the much larger positive side. That gives ideas to Canadian people who hear the government talking about these immigrants, these visitors, as not to be trusted, that they might be really bad people. I think it sows division in this country.
My view is to let sunny ways rather than angry ways prevail. Greet the people with a smile instead of a scowl and do not put up these new barriers all the time.
Now I will come to the five new barriers that we do not like. We could call them the five new scowls provided by the Conservative Party to would-be citizens.
The first scowl is the fact that the Conservatives have doubled the processing times. The minister boasts that they will reduce those processing times at some point in the future, but over five long years they have doubled these processing times from 15 months to 31 months, and the reason they give is in the document. It does not talk about it being a Liberal system. They say explicitly that they did not put enough money into this system and that is why the waiting times, the processing times, have doubled.
That is the first scowl they have sent to would-be citizens: “Sorry, folks, instead of waiting 15 months like you did in 2007, you have to wait 31 months“, and sometimes it is way longer. I have constituents who wait way longer than 31 months. That is the first scowl, the first barrier.
The second one is this hostile provision about language. It was okay until now that people aged 15 to 54 did the test. Now the Conservatives are imposing a difficult language test on those aged 14 to 18 and 54 to 64. Why? It is because they want to create another barrier, another scowl. Why was it not okay for those aged 54 to 64 to speak okay English but not fantastic English and still make excellent contributions to this country, and for their children and their grandchildren to speak perfect English? It worked well before. They are loyal citizens. I know them very well, both citizens and landed immigrants.
The third point, another scowl, is regarding the people who come here as temporary foreign workers or as international students. It used to be the case that half of the time they had lived in this country as a student or a temporary foreign worker counted toward the time for citizenship. Now the government scowls at them again and grabs away that time and counts it for nothing. What is the point? Do the Conservatives want to deter these people? Do they want to send them to Australia? Do they not want them to come to Canada? There is no point, except malice, except wanting to scowl at them, instead of applying the sunny face of Liberals and perhaps even the NDP.
The fourth point is that people now have to stay here four out of six years instead of three out of four. That is another scowl. What makes one think that people will be more Canadian just because we make them stay an extra year? One more year is extra time to wait. It does not necessarily make people Canadian or deter citizens of convenience. It is just another nasty move by the Conservatives to make the barriers bigger against nice people who want to become citizens of our country.
Those are four bad things, four scowls, four angry gestures. I will mention one more, and this is one I have some sympathy with. I have perhaps been a little negative so far, but the four I have mentioned are all scowls, which I do not think add anything. There is some sense to the fifth, the idea of increased physical presence, that in four out of six years people should be here more than half the year, some 183 days. I have some sympathy with that because I have some concern with the phenomenon of citizens of convenience. I think it might be going a little far. Let us say that someone comes in as a landed immigrant, works for the Royal Bank—we can name any company—and that Canadian company then wants the person to work in the U.K., India, or wherever. That person as a Canadian could do it, but as a landed immigrant could not for more than a certain time.
I think there are some problems with the detailed specification there, but I would suggest another measure, which is more focused on the true bad behaviours and not hitting everyone. There will be many people coming to this country who are not citizens of convenience, but who, for some reason, their employers want them to work overseas and they want to spend some time there. It does not mean they are citizens of convenience. Therefore, everyone gets tarred by that brush.
Why not have strict residence requirements for health care? That would really target people who are citizens of convenience. I understand there was a court case heard by the B.C. Court of Appeal recently, which upheld the government position on that. To me, that is a more targeted approach to direct against potential citizens of convenience. We would hit them, but we would not hit everyone. A lot of the government measures are targeted at the bad people, but they hit all the good people as well and, therefore, are inefficient and unwelcoming. That is why I say they are not sunny ways but angry ways. We should welcome people with a smile and not with a scowl.
The Liberals will clearly vote against this bill. There are other problems to resolve when it comes to revoking an individual's citizenship. For example, what happens in the case of dual citizenship? I can think of at least two people with dual citizenship in the House: the Leader of the Opposition and my colleague and former leader of the Liberal Party, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville. Would the minister have the power to revoke their citizenship and deport them? That is far too much power for a single person.
Someone who is born in Canada can also have dual citizenship, as is the case with the two members I mentioned. It is not limited to people who were not born in Canada.
The government's proposal does not provide for sufficient legal recourse. It gives one person far too much arbitrary power.
In summary, the main reason Liberals are opposing this bill is that we want to welcome people to our country. We want to smile when they come in and not frown. We want to make it less of a burden and have shorter waiting times for people to become a citizen, an economic immigrant, or a visitor. The whole Conservative system is drowning in increased waiting times, which typically have doubled, drowning in red tape. This bill is yet another example of adding more and more barriers against the honest people who, thank goodness for us, want to become citizens of Canada. I say we should welcome them, not frown at them.