Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to members of the committee for inviting me here today to speak with you.
We've been asked to talk about the growing backlog of applications for admission to Canada, but before addressing that subject I'd like to take a minute to say a few words about my own background and qualifications to speak on the matter.
As a first-generation Canadian, my experience and my family's experience is typical of most immigrant families. My father came to Canada in 1952 from a Europe that was only just beginning to recover from the devastation of World War II. He was admitted to this country as a farmhand, and worked on a farm not far from here for more than a year while he learned the language.
He eventually became a Canadian citizen. He acquired a trade and started a small business that at its height employed more than 20 people. He met and married my mother, and together they raised four children, who I hope are all productive members of the communities in which they live.
Before joining the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies I was the director of communications and later director of government relations and diplomatic affairs for the Jewish human rights group B'nai Brith. As most of you probably know, it is very much involved in immigration from both a policy and a practical point of view.
In short, I am here today not just as a spokesperson for a public policy think-tank, but as someone with a strong personal interest in the subject as well.
Mr. Chairman, we all know the numbers. The backlog of people qualified to come to Canada as permanent residents who are waiting for their admission to be processed now exceeds one million. Some have to wait for years before being admitted. This isn't a new problem. The blame can be shared by different political parties. The number of qualified applications for admittance has exceeded both immigration targets and our capacity to process those applications for more than a decade.
There are two possible ways to reduce this backlog. The first is to relieve the bottleneck by either implementing reforms that will reduce the time required to process individual applications, or directing sufficient resources to the problem area to ensure that even without reforms, the department has the capacity to process more applications than are being fed into the system. The second way is to throttle back the number of applications by reducing the number of people who automatically qualify for admission as a result of an individual's successful application. I place the word “selection” in quotation marks, because really there is no true selection process to speak of. That's a subject for another conversation, however.
Although there are no doubt many things that can and ought to be done to improve the speed and efficiency of the admissions process, we at the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies believe that the proper course of action for the government to take is the latter of these two: that is, reduce the number of people who qualify for admittance simply because an individual to whom they are related has been selected. Furthermore, we believe that the best and fairest way to accomplish this reduction is by limiting relatives, who automatically qualify for admission to Canada under the family class, to spouses or their equivalent and dependent children.
We don't make these recommendations lightly. There are, however, a few inconvenient and unavoidable facts that compel us to do so. Ladies and gentlemen, the plain truth is that we actually don't manage immigration well in this country, despite the rhetoric.
To begin with, despite all the talk about immigrants filling labour shortages, there remains no credible mechanism in Canada to ensure that admissions are prioritized to meet current and emerging labour force needs. And even if there were, it would be useless, because we don't address the issue of recognizing foreign credentials.
Let's say hypothetically that we identify a need for doctors, and the department is empowered to fill that need by admitting doctors, regardless of where they are in the queue. None of those doctors would be able to practise medicine--in other words, fill the need for which they were admitted--unless their credentials were recognized, and more often than not they aren't. This is a serious problem, for which no serious solution has ever been proffered. The result is that we have a flood of highly qualified immigrants who are unemployable in their professions.
Let's assume that credentialling is not a problem, and after reforming admission procedures we're able to process 350,000 people a year, as opposed to 250,000. Provincial governments are barely able to keep up with the escalating costs of health care associated with current immigration levels, when combined with an aging population. Adding an extra 100,000 people a year to the system requires long-term, comprehensive planning that just hasn't been done.
Education budgets are also a concern. Where does the money come from to build the schools that are going to be needed to educate the children of so many new residents, especially when provincial budgets are under so much strain due to growing health care costs? There is no plan there either.
What about the infrastructure that has to be provided to service new housing? Our urban areas are unable to keep up with the current rate of growth of their populations. Anyone who spends time in Toronto, for instance, will understand the effects of urban sprawl and existing transportation leaks.
Let's not forget unseen services such as water supply, sewers, sewage treatment. What would be the impact of increasing the number of new arrivals on this aging, and in some cases failing, municipal infrastructure? Once again, no plan.
These are issues that other levels of government, and ultimately taxpayers, have to contend with that rarely, if ever, are taken into account when decisions are being made here with respect to the number of people being admitted into Canada each year.
Consider something as simple as garbage. The challenge of garbage disposal, which is directly related to population growth, is reaching crisis levels in some of our urban centres. Yet I'll wager that nobody here has ever thought about the impact on this problem of maintaining current levels of admissions, let alone increasing them.
Then there's the question of social and cultural integration. The character, ladies and gentlemen, of immigration has changed significantly over the years. We in Canada have not adjusted to these changes. We have yet, for example, to resolve the conflict between our desire to respect the cultural integrity of immigrant communities and the pressing need to encourage members of those communities to abandon certain aspects of their cultures that impede their successful integration into the broader Canadian society.
This is just a small sampling of the issues that must be taken into careful consideration when deciding on the proper level of immigration, but which are not. The point is this, my friends: immigration levels cannot be set in a vacuum. They impact a wide range of policy areas at all levels of government. We believe that Canada's capacity to successfully absorb new arrivals is now stretched to the breaking point and beyond. It may be that we can increase that capacity, but that would require careful and coordinated planning by all levels of government, and that's just not happening.