Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank all members of the committee for indulging us as we've overcome some of the technical difficulties this morning.
I want to thank the members of the opposition as well for their collaboration in allowing me to appear in person.
Madam Chair and members of the committee, let me first acknowledge that this committee gathers on the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation.
I appear before you today at an important juncture. I'm here to provide this committee with an update on the critical priorities that are being advanced by my department as part of the Government of Canada's overall response to a once-in-100-year global pandemic. In marshalling a COVID-19 strategy, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has demonstrated its agility, efficiency and resilience in meeting the short-term urgent needs of our population, while keeping an eye focused on our long-term mandate to grow and strengthen the country through immigration.
From the earliest days of the pandemic my department has helped to create the necessary border conduits to ensure that Canadians continue to access the food, fuel and medical supplies we need, while putting in place the necessary health screens and mandatory isolation protocols to guard against the spread of COVID-19.
As the curve continues to flatten, we were also recently able to announce a new travel exemption that would allow immediate family members to reunite with Canadian permanent residents. We know it has been a difficult time for many families, but we are not free and clear of the virus yet.
Let me say a few words about how immigration has proven to be a lifeline in maintaining food security for all Canadians. This pandemic has etched into our national consciousness that temporary foreign workers play a key role in the production and distribution of Canada's food supply.
Temporary foreign workers are an essential component in the production and distribution of Canada's food supply. We've taken action to support them. That's why I want to take a moment to speak about the situation that we're currently facing.
Bonifacio Eugenio Romero and Rogelio Muñoz Santos were two migrant workers from Mexico. They were here to help feed Canadians and to support their families back home, and they died in that cause. This should never have happened.
We mourn their loss but that is not enough. We must do more. As a country, we are committed to the safety and well-being of all workers, Canadians and migrants alike. That's why our government took quick action to support this vulnerable community by providing financial aid for workers so they would have safer accommodations, wage protection, work permit flexibility and a compliance regime to enforce their rights.
However, numerous outbreaks along the supply chain have reminded us there is still more work to do to protect migrant workers, including considering pathways to permanent residency. Along with my ministerial colleagues, I am committed to collaborating with all parliamentarians, my provincial counterparts, farmers and advocates to explore this and other options.
I thought that it was important to take stock of the situation. I'll have the opportunity to speak about the various measures that we've put in place when I answer your questions.
In the same vein, I want to highlight for a moment how refugees and asylum seekers have distinguished themselves throughout the pandemic. Despite having overcome significant adversity just to get here, we've seen how they are stepping up to support the communities that sponsored them. In Quebec asylum seekers are contributing in exceptional ways by helping front-line health workers, especially in our long-term care retirement homes where the virus has ravaged seniors and the sick.
These uncommon acts of sacrifice and heroism should embolden us to fight against the stigma that refugees and asylum seekers are merely a burden. They are not. They are here to contribute. Therefore, in our supplementary estimates we are putting forward a proposed $102.5 million, reprofiled from the previous fiscal year, for the interim housing assistance program. This will provide crucial assistance to provinces and municipalities as they facilitate integration.
Specifically, these funds will be used to conclude funding arrangements with the City of Toronto and province of Quebec for costs associated with refugee protection claimants in 2019.
In addition to these highlights, I hope to be able to discuss during my appearance how international students will drive our economic recovery, as well as our 2020 levels plan, which is the blueprint for us to continue growing the country through immigration.
In closing, I want to emphasize that we've learned a lot over the last several months. We're adapting, accelerating and evolving our immigration system in a way that should inspire confidence among Canadians. Canada has long benefited from immigration, and the same will hold true as we restart the economy and boldly chart out our future.