Madam Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to reply to the minister's announcement.
This is a policy area of great importance to the people of Canada and to Canada's future. I hope the minister will regard the alternatives presented from this side of the House as constructive and will take them to heart.
I do not need again to point out that Canada is indeed a nation of immigrants. The country as we know it today would not exist were it not for the ambition, struggle and determination of millions of people who have landed on our shores in search of a better life.
Indeed, my parents were immigrants and as such I understand the desire for something better which has motivated millions over the years to come to Canada.
Along with the road to becoming a great nation built by immigrants, Canada has also gained the reputation as a compassionate nation. It is one that has opened its arms to hundreds of thousands of refugees, displaced persons and families wishing to be united.
We are a compassionate nation. We have stayed true to and even gone beyond the mandate created by the United Nations Secretary General regarding refugees. I am proud to be a citizen of a country that has gained an international reputation for its fairness, compassion and its acceptance of immigrants of all kinds.
Further, I represent a riding that more than any other in Calgary is populated by immigrants or the children of immigrants. During the course of my campaign I was fortunate to have had an opportunity to receive input from hundreds of newcomers to this country.
In short, I applaud the minister, who is himself an immigrant, for his dedication in this area and his integrity. Nonetheless, I must seriously question the policy which the minister has announced. This policy could be of more harm than help to Canada given our economic state.
The minister has announced that immigration levels this year will be about 250,000, a substantial number I might add. Of those immigrants 111,000 will come from the family sponsorship class, 28,300 will be refugees and 110,700 will be economic and independent immigrants.
How does the minister justify this level of immigration? Is there a need at present for this number of immigrants? Upon what rationale does the minister base his numbers? The answers to these questions should be discoverable from the minister's statement today or from his press kit.
However when one searches the minister's statement regarding today's announcement one finds that rather than answers regarding the rationale behind this level of immigration being answered, more questions arise. The minister wrote that in 1994 immigration levels balanced humanitarian considerations with demographic and economic needs. Could the minister please explain to this House exactly what sort of a balance has been achieved apart from a strictly numerical one?
In fact, the minister's projected numbers continue the pattern of allowing numbers of family and refugee class immigrants that are virtually unheard of in the industrialized world today. Is this a balance? Very few other governments would agree. What exactly are the demographic and economic needs that Canada faces which this proposed number of immigrants will address?
Further, the immigrants that Canada accepts do not settle in our sparsely populated regions. Rather they are attracted to our already overcrowded and overburdened metropolitan areas like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Those areas are already polluted. Their landfill sites are overflowing, their traffic is congested, their crime rates are steadily increasing and their schools and hospitals are overcrowded and short of funds. I wonder if the Liberal government took these issues into consideration when they put together a policy that would add more than a quarter of a million new people to Canada per year, people who will be attracted to those overburdened metro areas?
Why then does Canada need the number of immigrants announced? Yes, there was a time when Canada needed vast numbers of people, people with very specific skills to open up our underpopulated areas. That time has long since passed. Even today as a percentage of our population Canada is still accepting more immigrants than any other industrialized nation on earth. Why does this government want to up the number even more?
The government seems to believe that with our fertility rate, which is currently about 1.7, the Canadian population will begin to decline at some point in the future and further, that the aging of our population will place increasing strains upon our social assistance systems and a drain upon our federal reserves as fewer and fewer young people in the population will be working to pay for these social programs.
It is as though the government is using a kind of social engineering to slow down the aging of the population through immigration. Had it studied the demographic projection model of the Economic Council of Canada, it would have discovered that the council's proposal recommends that immigration levels be set at the average of the last 25 years, which is .63 per cent of the population per year or about 170,000 immigrants.
Of the studies that the Reform caucus has examined even this number of 170,000 per year represents the high end. Compare that, Madam Speaker, with the 250,000 as the announcement indicates that this government proposes that we accept.
The government wants us to believe that we will reap enormous benefits by allowing this number of immigrants each year but it has neglected to mention the costs of immigration. A Southam study of literacy in Canada published in 1987 reported that about 34,000 functionally illiterate immigrants were admitted annually. Does this government not feel that there is a cost to be incurred by admitting tens of thousands of illiterate immigrants, especially with the cuts in English as a second language program that are being made across the country?
The provinces no longer have the funds necessary to support a poorly thought out federal immigration policy. For example, the Government of Ontario-and the minister alluded to this-is straining with the acceptance of 59 per cent of all of Canada's immigrants and while receiving 39 per cent of federal funds.
These sorts of problems will only be made worse if we accept the flood of immigrants proposed by this government, especially when those immigrants are chosen largely from the family or refugee classes and not as independent immigrants chosen for their human capital; chosen for their skills, their ability to quickly and independently integrate into Canadian life as well as their ability to contribute to the economic needs of this country. Choosing immigrants on this basis is the policy of the Reform Party. It is one which we believe would turn our present immigration dilemma into a solution to some of Canada's economic woes. Just some.
On the other hand, the immigration plan put forward by the government will actually discriminate against those immigrants who could contribute most to Canada's growth and prosperity. It gives preference to those immigrants who tend to be a drain upon our social services and will lower the average skill level of our work force.
This government is saying that we need to take in our fair share of refugees when in fact Canada's acceptance rate for refugee applicants is already among the highest in the world. This government says that we need to make family class a priority when our family class acceptance system is already among the most generous in the world.
The government in its red book states that we must take humanitarianism and compassion into account in our immigration policy. We are already being more compassionate than any other nation in the world. Is it not fair to demand that this compassion be mated with practicality and a consideration of the other needs in the country?
I want to stress that the Reform Party does not oppose immigration. On the contrary, the Reform Party recognizes that Canada is a nation of immigrants, that this nation was built by immigrants and could continue to benefit from immigration, but only if the immigration is based on a sensible, well thought out policy that reflects Canada's needs.
The Reform caucus strongly urges the government to re-examine its immigration policy. We strongly recommend that Canada return to its traditional policy for determining the admissible number of immigrants by first determining Canada's real economic needs.
The government must also re-examine its refugee determination process. We believe that only genuine refugees should be
welcome and that bogus refugees, illegal entrants and criminal offenders should be immediately deported. Further, anyone who engages in or encourages such activities should be subject to severe penalties.
I applaud the minister for his plan to open up to the Canadian people Canada's immigration policy. If a major overhaul is necessary, and it appears that it is, then it should be prompted by a national referendum. This would ensure that in the area of immigration the Canadian people and not special interests would shape this sensitive national policy.