Madam Speaker, let me preface my remarks by saying I support the consolidation of the functions of immigration and citizenship within the new ministry of citizenship and immigration. It is a logical combination and needed to be done. I am glad it has been done with such expediency providing the hon. member from the Bloc here a follow through, at least not with objections but rather support.
I would also like to take this opportunity to wish my hon. colleague, the soon-to-be official Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, the very best. This portfolio needs a lot of support and I realize it is a difficult position. It requires extreme wisdom, caution and concern. The department deals with more than just dollars and cents. It deals with people's lives. At the same time we must also realize that this department, along with all other departments in the government, must examine their financial commitment and the way money is spent.
As opposition members we must bring to the attention of the department of immigration the requirement to examine all its expenditures and do its share in reducing the massive debt and deficit that the country faces. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is also required to balance the needs of Canada with our international commitments, that portion of the hundreds of millions or so of migrants in the world that are seeking a place in Canada.
Canada has a long tradition of humanitarianism when it comes to immigration. We have a legacy that is unique to just a few nations on earth of being built almost entirely by succeeding waves of immigrants. That legacy has become etched into Canada's collective conscience. It has become part of our self-image as Canadians.
However, the present day manifestation of a legacy of immigration in Canada is now in a precarious position. The majority of Canadians, while being thankful for our immigrant past and while still treasuring Canada's tolerance toward newcomers, are mystified at the direction the immigration policy has gone in the last 10 years or so.
They see present day immigration patterns no longer as a boon but are concerned about what is happening. That is a problem to which our new immigration and citizenship minister must pay very careful attention. Any government that ignores the wishes of the majority of the population for significant policy change is staring grave political danger in the face.
While I congratulate the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration on his post and on behalf of Canadians wish him the best of luck I am saddened to report that some of the policies of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration have gone awry. Canada had grave problems with immigration policy six months ago and those problems are even greater today.
Six months ago concern was expressed that Canada was accepting too many immigrants. That is a frank statement I know. It is a statement that will send many stakeholders, as they are called in modern bureaucratic parlance, into a tizzy. It is a fact. Today there are but three major immigrant-accepting countries in the world: Canada, Australia, and the United States.
The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is fond of talking about immigration targets in percentages, so let us do that. The United States and Australia both take in yearly about .4 per cent of their population as immigrants. This year, as this government frequently points out, Canada will accept 1 per cent of its population as immigrants. That is .25 times the number of immigrants per capita as the next closest immigrant accepting nation on earth, 2.5 times as many immigrants yearly.
The Reform Party on the other hand thinks that Canada should accept about 150,000 immigrants yearly. For this modest proposal my colleague, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, accuses us of being inflammatory and anti-immigrant. Getting back to percentages, 150,000 immigrants per year represents about .55 per cent of the population.
Therefore, if the policies of the Reform Party were enacted Canada would still be accepting by a wide margin more immigrants than any other nation on earth, even with that adjustment. For that we have sometimes been accused of being anti-immigrant and inflammatory. Who is being inflammatory: the Reform Party for suggesting that Canada continue to be the leading immigrant-accepting nation on earth, or the minister for suggesting that we are anti-immigrant or that we have an anti-immigrant bias? The answer is more than clear.
The Canadian people have been told that immigration targets were based on facts, that there was data which suggested the necessity of accepting one-quarter of a million immigrants per year. Well, we are still waiting. Where are those facts? They have not been presented in this House and they have not been presented to the Canadian people.
The closest the minister has come to presenting a factual basis for his government's claim that Canada needs to accept the equivalent of the population of Calgary in the next three years has been to dredge up a 1991 report by the Economic Council of Canada, despite the fact that on page 32 of the report in its conclusion it calls this year for a target of about 175,000 immigrants. It also says that 250,000 immigrants per year or more would not be advisable because Canada would have difficulty integrating that level. Some facts, and that is all this minister has been able to produce.
I am happy to say there are facts out there. If this minister is short on empirical data, I would be more than happy to help him with some of the numbers. Here are some facts: Since 1979 the performance of immigrants in the economy has dropped dramatically. It used to be that immigrants had a higher level of education and higher levels of income than Canadians. Well, no more. The sheer number of immigrants means that immigrants are having more and more difficulty adapting socially and economically than they ever did before.
The minister talks about the need to replenish an aging population. The facts are these: Canada's population is not in decline. In fact it is growing and will continue to grow even without immigration until the year 2026, when our population will top 30 million. That is without immigration. From then it would go into a slow decline before levelling off some 100 years from now at between 18 to 20 million. The fact is that even the demographic review says if Canada really wants to increase its population, the way to go about doing that is to create incentives to fertility, in other words within and not through immigration.
The minister has spoken about an aging population and about a demographic shift that can only be cured through immigration. Again the facts are quite different. All the demographic research to date makes it very clear that immigration will never solve the aging of the population. Why? Because immigrants are getting older too. Research has already clearly proven that the average age of immigrants coming into our country is about four years younger than the average age of the Canadian born or the Canadian population.
Research indicates that trying to make the population younger with immigrants will not solve the impending social security crunch. The only way to do that is to raise the productivity of all Canadians, to raise everyone's standard of living in order to replenish and enrich the tax base. Right now, countries like the United Kingdom and Sweden are where Canada will be in the future in terms of an aging population. They have solved the social security crunch not with immigrants but through sensible economic measures.
Those are just some of the facts. Unfortunately, I do not believe this minister has the facts to support the government's contention that 250,000 immigrants are vital to Canada. Why 250,000? Why are these incredibly high immigration numbers maintained? I do not know and I do not believe the Canadian people know. Does the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration have the answer? If he does, where is the data to support it?
When this year's immigration targets were released in February the question remained about selection and the selection process. The government said that of the 250,000 immigrants to Canada this year 44 per cent would be immigrants from the independent class. Those are immigrants who have been selected according to their skills, their education and their ability to quickly adjust to Canada and to make a positive contribution.
The government's own numbers reveal that there is not 44 per cent from the independent class, not 40 per cent, not 30 per cent. In fact only 15 per cent of a quarter of a million immigrants this year will be from the independent class. The minister arrived at this questionable 40 per cent figure by adding to the number of independent immigrants their spouses, their children and their parents, all brought in under the family reunification program.
That is not what we should expect from this department which indicates the minister and the department wants to make the immigration program more transparent for Canadians. Let us lay it all out on the table the way it really should be.
The Reform Party wants to bring some sense back into the refugee system. Canada should be proud of its record of accepting immigrants. Over the past few years no other nation on earth has accepted as many refugees as Canada on a percentage basis of our population. However, our refugee determination system is out of control. We are now accepting as refugees about 70 per cent of all claimants who make it to our shores. The world-wide average for refugee acceptance is 14 per cent. We will accept about 30,000 refugees this year.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has estimated that there are about 60,000 people in the world who meet the description of a true or genuine refugee. That same agency estimates that last year of those 60,000 refugees fully 35,000 did not find a safe refuge. In other words they had no country that would accept them. How is it possible then that Canada could accept 30,000 refugees while the UN estimates that world-wide between all of the refugee receiving nations on earth less than 30,000 refugees were accepted?
The truth is that only a small percentage of the people Canada accepts as real refugees are real refugees. The hard truth is that the majority of people who are granted refugee status in Canada are not refugees at all but economic migrants. These are people who see how attractive Canada is and want to start a new life here. We certainly cannot fault them for that, but they are not real refugees. They are not genuine refugees.
If they desire to start a new life in Canada then they should have the opportunity to apply through regular channels like all other immigrants. Let us leave the quota spots open for real refugees, people who are languishing in camps and are displaced overseas, people who the United Nations tell us are in the most desperate of straits. Those are the truly needy. Those are the most deserving: Rwandans, Bosnians.
The inland refugee determination process is an unbelievably expensive mire. When the minister says that Canada is living up to its humanitarian commitments, that just will not wash. We are not. We could be doing far more with far less.
On page 337 of this year's estimates under the Department of Citizenship and Immigration we read that the inland refugee claims cost Canadian taxpayers anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 just to process their claims. Those are direct costs. Multiply that out and the bill to Canadian taxpayers is somewhere around $750 million to $1.25 billion, just to settle 16,000 people whose refugee claims are accepted inland. It is easy to misunderstand big numbers like these until they are put into the correct perspective. Allow me to put that billion dollar number into perspective.
The entire budget last year for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees was just over $1 billion. With that amount of money the UN resettled or repatriated five million refugees. With that amount of money Canada resettled 16,000. There is something wrong.
The refugee determination system is an injustice of mammoth proportions. Not only is it an injustice to Canadian taxpayers who have to foot the bill, but also to those tens of thousands of desperate genuine refugees overseas who are literally bumped
off the list to make way for economic migrants who arrive, along with some refugees, and claim refugee status in Canada.
The minister is aware of these facts. The minister is more than aware of the outcry which has been issuing forth from Canadians over some of the people the Immigration and Refugee Board is either allowing into the country or allowing to stay when their deportations are appealed.
Several weeks ago in this House the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration promised to get tough with the system. Those are fine words but they do not correlate with his actions. This get tough minister has to answer for the following record which he has created in just six months on the job.
The number of refugees accepted through the inland determination system has skyrocketed even from the non-refugee producing nations.
This minister has appointed several dozen of the most unrepresentative appointees to the IRB that have ever graced the board. The vast majority of them have been immigration lawyers or advocates. It is little wonder that the acceptance rate has gone through the roof.
He has supervised the expanding of the definition of refugee well beyond what it used to mean in Canada. It is well beyond anything the UN which wrote the definition ever intended. He intends to create a whole new layer for refugee determination, making it easier for failed refugee claimants to stay in Canada under humanitarian and compassionate grounds. All this is to happen in six months.
The minister says he wants to do what all Canadians want for the refugee system. They want a fair, sensible system that is humanitarian, which takes care of those who are genuine refugees. We want to do our international share but we are not doing that.
The minister says he wants to get tough. That is what we need to do. We need to get tough with the inland refugee determination system so that we can channel more of our resources into helping people who we know need the most help. That is not happening. Instead, the system is being fed this massive immigration and refugee bureaucracy. It feeds this massive industry of advocates and lawyers who are earning more than a decent living at the expense of the taxpayer and real refugees.
Some years ago Canada began the process of drafting a treaty agreement with the United States relating to asylum. This treaty would mutually recognize Canada and the U.S. as safe third countries for the purpose of asylum. The effect of such a treaty would be to stop people from asylum shopping between Canada and the United States. It would prevent those with the economic wherewithal to travel from passing through the United States before entering Canada and declaring themselves to be refugees.
This is not a hard measure. This is not an inhumane measure. It is common sense. This process should stop. Over 7,000 people last year travelled through the United States before registering a refugee claim in Canada. That caused an enormous drain on our refugee determination system and has the effect, once again, of limiting our ability to divert our resources to those refugees who need our help the most.
There have been calls for the minister to sign the agreement which has been in the drafting stage for some time now but he refuses. The minister says that until the United States adopts a refugee determination system similar to Canada's, he will not enter into the treaty. I can assure the minister that will not happen. The Americans will never adopt our system.
Canada has an international reputation for accepting almost anyone as a refugee who manages to make it here. This year, almost 70 per cent of all claimants have been accepted as refugees. The U.S. would never agree to adopt our system. In fact it is talking otherwise. Neither will Australia and neither will Europe.
I believe the minister, before he left for the western European nations really could not teach those European nations much about immigration that would be acceptable to them. It is time for Canada to sign the treaty with the United States. It should have been signed a long time ago. It is not enough just to talk tough. There has to be some action.
Since this department began its operation, the minister promised he would consult Canadians to determine what the future would hold in terms of immigration policy. The minister is spending $1 million to set up town halls, to distribute questionnaires around the country in order to determine what Canadians think about immigration. At least that is what he says.
In fact the concluding document of the Montebello meeting where this consultation process was devised makes the minister's real intention more than clear. In the document, we read of the need to convince the majority of Canadians who oppose current immigration levels that they are wrong and that the government is right. We read of the need for public education. We read of constructively engaging the press and putting a positive spin on ultra high immigration levels. That is called consulting when in fact it is nothing of the sort.
The Reform Party stands for including the public in national debates on vital issues. It is necessary. The minister knows that Canadians want to be included, so this process was set up. Is it to pacify Canadians? Is it to make them feel included when the real goal is to shut them out by controlling the dialogue? It is a good question to ask.
Needless to say the Reform Party wants all Canadians to have their voices heard in the immigration debate. In fact we want to let Canadians decide the major immigration issues by way of national referenda. Why could there not be a referendum on the levels, the numbers and why should there not be one on the selection process? It is quite easily arranged. However there will be no immigration debate under this government. There will be an immigration mandate. If Canadians do not like it, then they can attend one of the education classes to learn how to properly think about immigration.
The minister said that he wanted an expanded role for the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. What has been done? The committee has derailed the important work and a strawman issue has been developed instead. The minister has decided that the Citizenship Act needs to be rewritten. He has decided that the committee needs to spend its valuable time looking at issues that no one thought needed review at this point in time, certainly not a review that would cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, a review that would take up weeks of the committee's time, a review that will call on Pierre Trudeau and Mr. Dressup to tell us what it means to be a Canadian.
What a waste of time. The committee ought to be spending its time reviewing the very questionable appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Board. It ought to be examining the effect that the highest rate of immigration in the world is having on Canada. It ought to be looking at ways to make the refugee determination system more effective, more humanitarian. Instead the minister insists that we redefine Canadian citizenship. Is that reasonable?
It was revealed to the House that immigrants are not tested for HIV before entering Canada. They are tested for TB. They are screened for cancer or kidney disease. They are tested for syphilis. But there is no testing for AIDS.
After this revelation the minister promised to look into the issue and take the necessary steps to bring Canada's medical testing requirement into the 20th century. That was a month ago. What action has been taken? Nothing.