To my colleagues, the departmental officials made an assertion that people could attend a citizenship ceremony if they chose to after taking the oath of citizenship online. “Could” is not the same as “must.”
I think what's happened here is that we've seen a bunch of bureaucrats elect to make their lives easier by saying that they can process more citizenship applications if they remove the tradition of in-person citizenship ceremonies and put them online. Again, the officials here today said that they've been able to process more citizenship applications because they've taken away the requirement for in-person citizenship ceremonies. I see this as a failure of political leadership. It's a value judgment made by the government to agree that it is okay to replace an in-person ceremony with an online ceremony in favour of processing more applications.
I think, had it been one of us, we would have said that we need to have both in-person ceremonies and the same high rate of citizenship processing. We don't have to sacrifice one to get the other. That's certainly what I would have said. I would have refused the department's advice to do that. I would have said, “This is not acceptable. Find a way to do both.”
As Parliament, we do have the ability to direct the government in these matters. This amendment would allow us to direct the government in these matters to say that within the department, the word “could” is not okay. We don't accept “could”; we would like “must”.
Now, I do agree with Ms. Kwan and Mr. Kmiec that we should be looking for flexible options for people to attend citizenship ceremonies. Again, this is a failure of political leadership. If there aren't enough in-person ceremonies in rural areas or remote communities to meet the needs of new Canadians and changing labour forces, then it's up to the department to adapt, to be able to do that. That's if we value the shared tradition of an in-person citizenship ceremony, as opposed to saying it's easier for us as bureaucrats to put this online. I don't understand. I find this patently ridiculous.
If that were a briefing note that had come into my office as a former cabinet minister, I would have died. I'll just put it this way: That briefing note would not have come into my office, because my department would have known that I would have said no.
I get it. There are well-intentioned people who say there's a process efficiency to be had here. Our job as elected officials and political ministers is to weigh and balance things beyond process efficiencies and also look at the societal impact of some of our programs.
Again, the point we are arguing here is that “could” is not the same as “must”. Ensuring that people take in-person citizenship ceremonies—these were all of the stories that were told here—binds us together as a country, and that's worth fighting for.
Mr. Ali's assertion was patently false. The government has removed the requirement to have an in-person ceremony. The numbers that Mr. Kmiec read just outlined that. I'm certain that when the department comes back with these figures, there will be a delta between the number of people who elected to click a box and the number of people who elected to click a box and attend an in-person ceremony. The figures that Mr. Kmiec read that Ms. Lalonde signed off on in an Order Paper question already allude to that fact. Let's not kid ourselves here.
Mr. Ali said that we were misleading Canadians; he misled Canadians. The facts show that there are not enough citizenship ceremonies for people to attend in person. That is a choice of this government. The choice of the minister was to listen to his department officials, who say it's easier for them to get more citizenship applications processed by sacrificing the requirement of an in-person ceremony.
I find that wrong—absolutely wrong. Former Governor General Clarkson says it's wrong. Former Liberal cabinet ministers say it's wrong. The former mayor of Calgary—who does not share my political stripe—says it's wrong. When enough people say it's wrong, maybe it's right to change it.
I'm actually shocked that the minister—happy birthday to him—would be saying, “Yeah, this is okay.” I get it; he inherited quite a mess from his predecessors and he's doing his best, but what we should be discussing here is making it a “must” and then ensuring that the department gets a clear mandate from Parliament and from our committee that this is a must, and then let's talk about how we resource those various ceremonies.
There are rural and remote communities, as Mr. Kmiec said. Perhaps flexible hours, different times, looking at ways....
The Department of Immigration has staffed up massively over the last several years. We're not talking about a shrinking labour force here. The Department of Immigration has seen a dramatic, massive increase in public expenditures on full-time-equivalent employees, and we've had a dramatic decline in service. That's highly problematic. If I were hiring more people and getting fewer results, and then getting proposals on my desk saying, "We are cutting this service, but we hired a bunch more staff", that briefing note wouldn't have come up to my desk because the response would have been known: "No. Do better."
At the heart here, and what I'm trying to implore to colleagues, is that as parliamentarians in this committee, we have the capacity and the ability to direct government. That is what this amendment is about.
I think Mr. Ali, Mr. Dhaliwal and other people have talked about the importance of these ceremonies, but they have not acknowledged the fact that the government has reduced the capacity to attend them. That is fact. That is why all of these op-eds have been written. That's why there has been public outcry. That's why there have been demands to protest this.
Again, to put into context the comments from the officials, which are still firm statements that they've processed more applications, great, but we've had to sacrifice in-person ceremonies to do that. That's not great, not great at all. Also, they're saying that people “could” attend. Okay, it's good that they “could” attend, but they “should” attend. Those are two different things. We have sacrificed the principle of coming together in the moment—one of the most sacred, precious gifts on this planet, Canadian citizenship—for bureaucratic process efficiencies. That is ridiculous. If that briefing note had hit my desk.... This is a mild version of the rant that would have come to those department officials.
I would have been blown away that my time was wasted by such an offensive suggestion, particularly when asking our.... We just had the supplementary estimates (A) tabled. They want more money all the time for less service.
I think we should have this lovely carrot cake our chair has provided for you. I think we should have our carrot cake and eat it too. We should be able to go to the department and say that we would like more citizenship applications processed. Yes, the time that new Canadian citizens are waiting to have that citizenship application processed is absolutely ridiculous. Yes, it's absolutely ridiculous that those wait times have increased while we're spending more money on full-time-equivalent employees, McKinsey contracts and all of these other things, and that we've had to sacrifice in-person ceremonies. That's ridiculous, unbelievable. Who is managing the performance requirements of this department right now? It's unbelievable.
No, I do not accept the context that was given to us by these officials. I would like to know what the delta is between people who have elected online citizenships and have not attended a ceremony, which I know will refute Mr. Ali and Mr. Dhaliwal's assertions. Yes, I stand with Mayor Nenshi. I stand with Adrienne Clarkson. I stand with the former Liberal cabinet minister. I stand with Mansoor Ladha. I stand with hundreds of other people in this country who say that these ceremonies are worth protecting, and it shouldn't be "should"; it should be "must". That "must", yes, should be qualified with accessibility, regional location and meeting the needs of new Canadian citizens who are dealing with the affordability crisis and have to work crazy hours and so many side gigs because they can't afford to make rent—yes, but that doesn't mean that the requirement should be removed. This is a value principle that we should be standing for as parliamentarians.
I guess that's the difference between how some people approach their leadership position in cabinet and how others do.
I don't know if the minister's staff watches this, even though we're not of the same political stripe. He and I tend to have good conversations from time to time.
I would just ask him to really rethink this, and the same with the passport thing. What was that? Why would he do that? Why would he spend money on that? Come on,Sean. Give your head a shake.
It's the same with this. It's a waste of time. It's an unacceptable response from the department. Be a manager, be a leader, and stand up for the values that you have as a political leader. I just can't.... That response of “Oh, well, we've processed more citizenship applications.” I can't....
I implore my colleagues to support this motion that sends a clear political mandate that this is something worth fighting for. We can deal with resourcing. We can deal with all of those things afterwards, honestly, but let's not water down one of the very few shared traditions that we have as a country because some bureaucrats told us that they can't do it better.