Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak on behalf of our government and accord our other political friends on the other side to respond with respect to the levels document I just tabled for Parliament.
Immigration policy represents one of the most important and complex challenges facing our nation. Perhaps more than any other area of federal public policy, it is closely tied to our history, to the development of our values and indeed to our cultural diversity.
I want to put in place an open and progressive immigration policy that does not close the door to those who need our help or plan to contribute to the growth of our country. This government is committed to maintaining a very dynamic immigration program.
I am also committed to a realistic immigration policy. In the 1994 levels plan we are presenting today, I have identified realistic targets and I will push the program and our officials to achieve these targets, something that has not been done in recent years.
The levels also take into account the views expressed during the consultation process in 1993 before this government assumed office. Nevertheless we have made important changes to specific components, and all of these changes reflect the commitment this party made in the red book during the recent election which fully supports an immigration policy firmly based on family reunification while at the same time promoting the economic benefits of skilled immigrants and maintaining our humanitarian obligations to those who seek legitimate refuge.
You cannot discuss levels, whether it is this year or next, without looking and talking about the long term policy directives of our government.
Like most Canadians I want our immigration program to be managed in a firm and responsible manner. I intend to prevent
abuse, protect citizens' interests and limit costs. However, I do not agree with those who say that our generosity should give way to a tougher immigration approach.
Sometimes we forget or ignore the role that immigrants and immigration have played in the development of our great nation. Sometimes it does not take too long for the sons and daughters and grandchildren of immigrants, for instance, to look at the newcomers today and not see one of us but one of them.
Periodically throughout our history, especially during economic downturns-and we have lived through those in the recent years, to be sure-there have been calls to slam the door shut to immigrants and immigration. Regrettably that sentiment at various times has been translated by governments into restricted laws and policies.
Canada would not have flourished or progressed if we had locked ourselves into such a restrictive mindset that excluded the very people who have helped make us grow and prosper as a nation. At the same time, an immigration program must be effectively controlled and managed. Rules and regulations must and will be enforced. Attempts to abuse our immigration program at the expense of Canadians or at the expense of people who truly need Canada's assistance will not be tolerated.
Second, I believe decisions about immigration should be made from the perspective of a long term rather than narrow version. It is not enough to make those decisions with a view to short term gain or as a quick fix or to make decisions based on perception or mythology. Decisions made today have implications for future generations in our country. Therefore we need a clear and practical vision of the kind of nation we want to build and build for our children.
Third, I think Canadians should be offered a better chance to participate in the development of this vision. Consultations have been too limited in my opinion. Too many Canadians did not have their say in the process. As our immigration policy takes shape in the next 10 years, we will be faced with issues affecting the lives of all Canadians.
Fourth, I am convinced that we need stronger partnership with all levels of government and private sector organization in the delivery of our immigration programs. Let me assure my colleagues in this House that in the first 100 days of this government's mandate we have already begun to forge those very and much needed partnerships.
All of these principles underlie the 1994 immigration plan. While these levels would normally have been tabled last June in a previous Parliament, that session was not recalled. Consequently legislation requires that in such a case the plan be tabled within 15 days of the sitting of the new Parliament, which is what we are doing this afternoon.
However, the government's commitments regarding immigration are already well known. They were set out clearly in the red book during the recent election. The 1994 plan meets our basic commitment to support a dynamic immigration policy that balances humanitarian concerns, demographic and economic needs and our basic capacity to absorb our newcomers.
The highlights of the 1994 plan are as follows: Planned immigration levels for 1994 will be set at 250,000, thereby honouring our pledge to maintain an immigration level of approximately 1 per cent of Canada's population. That represents an increase of some 5,000 over the actual numbers in 1993.
Second, in this International Year of the Family, the level for family class immigrants will increase by 1,300 over last year to a total of 111,000. Consequently the family class portion of immigration will roughly represent 45 per cent of the overall levels in 1994-again, another commitment that this government made in the red book.
Moreover, the level for independent immigrants, those selected primarily for their labour market skills, will be increased by almost 10,000 individuals for a total of 86,700. When we join this level-that is to say, the skills this economy needs together with the stream of business and entrepreneur immigrants-that will reflect a 44 per cent chunk of the overall immigration levels. This reflects this party's commitment to give priority to independent and family class immigration, something that was clearly outlined in the red book. We made that commitment and today we are honouring that pledge.
Third, I stated in our red book that sponsorship for refugees for resettlement from abroad will be encouraged. In 1994 the number of refugees resettled from abroad through government sponsorship will be increased by some 700 for a total 7,300, an increase of some 10 per cent. Private sponsorships will increase by 1,400 for a total of 6,000 refugees, an increase of some 30 per cent.
This is an olive branch to the communities that traditionally have come forward to sponsor refugees. We are saying, through this statement, that this government is back in the business of working with communities that come forward to sponsor refugees as a collaborative effort to celebrate that collectivity, but also because it is those communities that will be picking up the settlement costs rather than simply having the state do that. I assure those communities that have played a tremendous role in years gone by that our department will strive to process those
applications much more effectively and efficiently than was the case in the past nine years under the Conservative government.
The numbers for overseas refugee resettlement are at a ceiling if we are to tie the budgets that are in place for resettlement and integration programs. It would simply be irresponsible and misleading of this minister and this government to suggest any inflated figure for refugees without having respect for the fact that a proper level of integration programs is needed. This minister will not draw those invisible lines in the sand, as was the case in the last nine years. The Conservative government that preceded us would always put an inflated level of 13,000 to 15,000 government sponsored refugees and in the last years of its mandate delivered 6,000. Our number of 7,300 is realistic and will be delivered.
In addition, we will also be accepting an estimated 15,000 successful in Canada refugee claimants. Those are the individuals who apply for refugee status under our refugee determination system in Canada. Together the total estimated number of refugees for 1994 is 28,300, an increase of some 3,500 individuals.
This government intends to maintain its international obligations towards those who legitimately seek refuge in this country. We will try as much as we can to mobilize overseas sponsorship because it is cost effective, it is quick, and it speaks to those refugees who need help the most.
We are also doing other things that cannot be disconnected from any discussion on levels, but I am sensitive to the time we have for this ministerial statement. For instance, there are the work permits we announced last week, rather than individuals being forced onto welfare; or our action on deterring welfare abuse; or the review of how we can enforce those elements of the Immigration Act to keep out those individuals or criminals who wish to play with our system and abuse that very foundation; or the review we have talked about with respect to our humanitarian programs as well as a review of business immigration, so we can ensure that we are maximizing those job opportunities and economic benefits for all Canadians.
What about our special program for refugee women, which is unique in the world? What about pushing the international community to come to grips with the sea of humanity that is striving for things that sometimes you and I take for granted? We are not going to preach to the world, but we are going to tell that world that it does not make sense to have an international corridor of locked doors, that we are fooling ourselves if we think if we close our front doors we will not get pressure through our back doors or through our windows. We will tell those countries locking their doors that this is unacceptable and unfair to those countries whose doors are still open and whose doorsteps are therefore crowded.
We should move ensemble as an international community. If we move together, not only will we be addressing those individuals who clearly need that legitimate refuge, but as individual nations we will also be addressing the domestic pressures that obviously confront countries of the world.
The second part of the levels document we tabled this afternoon concerns how we consult Canadians. The government has decided to undertake a new kind of consultation. I am announcing today the establishment of a new 10-year strategic framework under which 5-year immigration plans will be outlined.
I know that there are many sincere but conflicting convictions on basic immigration issues and how to approach them. It is more important than ever for people to engage in an open, long-term and comprehensive discussion on immigration problems.
We need a form of consultation in which the process is not dictated solely by the interests of one government but rather shaped by the interests of all of those taking part, provincial and municipal levels of government, non-governmental organizations, business entities and Canadians.
That is why I have asked the public policy forum to join us in designing and implementing this more democratic and consequently more effective way of discussing and talking to Canadians.
In early March representatives from a broad range of organizations within Canada as well as international experts will come together to debate and define the issues. They will also help establish a number of individual expert panels that will examine in detail the eight, nine, or ten questions that are the underpinning of our immigration challenges.
In addition, Canadians normally excluded from the process will be involved in regional, community and round table discussions. The results of these consultations will then be the focus of a major conference to be held later this fall so that it may be forming the basis of the next 1995 immigration levels.
More important, we must begin to answer the question of where we want to go as a country in the next 10 to 15 years and how immigration as one important tool of nation building can help us meet those goals and dreams.
In that regard this minister and this government look forward to working together with all Canadians and all members and all political parties represented in the House of Commons.
Canada does face some difficult problems. The economy has experienced very difficult times of late. Canadians are in a sense angry and frustrated over unemployment. They are concerned about losing or regaining their jobs. They are worried about the
diminished prospects of their families and they worry about the careers of their children, and they have every right to feel those pressures and those dilemmas.
In the process some are casting blame on governments, be they national, provincial or municipal. Some are casting blame on those well off, the powerful and the rich in our communities. Others are also placing the blame on immigrants, on refugees, on newcomers, that they somehow cost us jobs, that they somehow cannot adapt to our country, that they somehow are engulfing our social assistance welfare roles.
I have heard those voices and if we are honest today, we have all heard those voices. I am not questioning the freedom of those voices to ring in this place. I ask those voices in this place and across the country if you are to express those concerns, and we will have that debate, rather than only talking about the C.D. Howe report, also look at the Economic Council report that talked about moving toward 1 per cent gradually, that talked about the creation of jobs by immigrants.
I ask those voices to be concerned with the fact that immigrants are also consumers, that immigrants also become entrepreneurs. I ask them to understand as well if you are going to look at statistics, Canada's statistics show that on average foreign-born Canadians spend less time on unemployment insurance than native born.
I am not castigating anybody, but we have to also speak to the fact that if we talk about the welfare rolls we also have to talk about the facts. In the province of Ontario, the province that receives the most immigrants and refugees, in 1993 had a case load of 615,000 individuals on welfare. The proportion of refugees on those rolls according to Ontario officials put to me in my meeting with them on Monday is 4 per cent, 20,000 to 25,000 people out of 615,000.
I ask my fellow Canadians, in the province of Ontario and elsewhere, are we really subsidizing those refugees or immigrants?
I have heard some of those voices and I am prepared to discuss with those individuals the concerns they are expressing. If we recall our history as a nation we know that such voices are not entirely new.
Many new groups of people have come to Canada over the years, each of them justifying its faith in our country. They raised families, they worked hard and they too sacrificed. They helped build our railroads, they helped plough our new frontiers out west and they helped raise the great cities of Canada. They, along with all of us, helped build the great country and nation that we are proud to call home.
Why should we believe now at this juncture of Canada's history and development that such nation building will all of a sudden come to a halt? Why should we contemplate now at this juncture of our history and development that today's immigrants, today's newcomers cannot be tomorrow's leaders? Our government and immigration are still about building a better and more prosperous Canada.