moved that Bill C-73, an act to provide borrowing authority for the fiscal year beginning on April 1, 1995, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in this historic budget debate, specifically Bill C-73, which will give borrowing authority and put into effect the measures announced by the government and the Minister of Finance on Monday evening.
I start by paying tribute to my colleague and friend, the Minister of Finance, whose budget is cradled in that wellspring of traditional Canadian thought and liberalism, compassion and integrity. His statement reflects both those important values and principles. It is a clear example of the difference between management and leadership. A manager only imitates, while a leader initiates.
Everyone in this country has a part to play in this economic plan, in this blueprint. We are all making sacrifices. Those who work in the public service across our country; the farmers who work the land; those who fish the seas; business people who run our shops and factories; and Canadian families every day of the week across this country, all of them are making sacrifices. That is an important principle of the fairness and equity which provides a sturdy foundation to the budget put before this Chamber by the Liberal government.
Newcomers to the Canadian family will also contribute their share to this process of nation building in the form of a landing fee, not a head tax. The landing fee will be put toward the services that help them integrate into Canadian society.
This fee is not a barrier at our borders but simply a fee that is fair and just. It is not meant to control or regulate those who come to Canada. Rather it is an effort to secure the value and tradition of settlement integration programs in Canada. It is uniquely Canadian and very much different from how things are done in the United States for instance where there is no settlement, no integration and no language training.
I ask what cost a society pays for not having a system up front that not only welcomes newcomers but integrates them into the Canadian family and then sees them flourish and move upward. Newcomers can be business people, business leaders, members of Parliament, social workers, professors, Canadians like all of us. That is the difference and it is unique to this country. This government feels it is worth the price of preserving a system that not only works for the newcomers but works for this country.
How we deliver those services will be the subject of ongoing discussions with our partners in the provinces, the municipalities and the non-governmental organizations who help deliver those settlement services. And yes, there will be discussions with those who need and would make use of those services.
It is within the context of fairness and the necessity for compassion, integrity and the need to do things better and still show fiscal responsibility that this government moves forward. Today, the government is announcing a plan to streamline Canada's process for identifying refugees who need this country's protection. In doing so, the refugee determination system will become fairer, faster and more cost effective. Canada needs these changes.
The immigration and refugee discussion is one of the more controversial and difficult public policy issues faced in this Chamber and across the country. We all hear it. We discuss it in our riding offices, in the coffee shops or on the steps of our places of worship.
This planet is awash with people on the move. Yes, I know that in the dry environment of statistics it is very easy to pluck numbers from tables, charts and graphs. However, when the United Nations catalogues the movement of more than 125 million people in one year and notes that of these, 23 million
happen to be refugees, the human mind balks and stutters at the numbers. The more staggering the figure, the more difficulty we have in comprehending it.
Let me put it into perspective. We are talking about five metropolitan Torontos, ten Vancouvers. Even more simply, more than three times the entire population of Canada is on the move worldwide every year. Of course, these are not just numbers; they are men, women and children. The vast majority of refugees indeed are women and young children.
Refugees are the unfortunate but horribly logical consequence of a world wrestling with overpopulation, underdevelopment and politics coming from the end of a machete or out of the barrel of a gun.
There are those within the sound of my voice who by utterance, deed or innuendo have tried to make refugee a dirty word. This government and I believe the Canadian people will have none of that. Why? Because it touches on our national soul, our very sense of ourselves as a nation and as a people. So we ask ourselves: Who is that refugee? Who is that stranger among us?
Make no mistake. Canada has greeted refugees just two steps ahead of the death squads. They are people like the brave women who testified against war criminals and war atrocities in the Balkans. Otto Jelinek who served with honour in the cabinet of previous governments was a refugee. I look across the aisle at the critic from Her Majesty's loyal opposition, a refugee from Chile.
Refugees seek Canada for protection, not for charity. Canada has a record in which we can all take pride. At the same time let us not sound too altruistic because there has been a major benefit to Canada as well. We should never forget that this is very much a win-win situation. Canada is good to immigrants and refugees seeking a home, but those newcomers and eventual Canadian citizens of all persuasions are equally loyal and fiercely defend this country from sea to sea.
Yes, we want to continue to be humanitarian but we also refuse to be taken for granted. Our focus was, is and will be on resettlement. We reject outright the standards of some nations where ethnic backgrounds and ethnic backgrounds alone allow access to citizenship. That would never be the Canadian way.
Today, if we take a breath and look at the world around us, there can be some cause for worry and concern. We are vulnerable to the pressures from outside our control which can overwhelm and swamp our immigration and refugee processing systems with very little advanced warning or notice.
Canada is not alone. At this moment, western Europe is pulsating with people on the move. The figures are mind boggling. In 1993 for instance, Germany received 425,000 refugees seeking a roof over their heads. Last year the Netherlands took in 55,000 refugees. The U.S. has millions of illegal residents and has a backlog of 425,000 refugee claimants.
The world needs to work together. Quite frankly, it needs to work together in a better and more interconnected way so that we can come to grips with this massive migration, not exclusively to one country or a few countries, but all over the globe.
That is one reason Canada is working diligently to reach an agreement with the United States and other nations. It would stop or discourage so-called asylum shopping while maintaining and ensuring protection for those in need.
Just last week we moved closer to that reality. Our Prime Minister and the President of the United States announced an accord to improve border management. Within six months, we are to pursue negotiations on a memorandum of understanding between our two countries built on the integrity of our system and protection for those who deserve it.
An integral part of our refugee policy and program is the Immigration and Refugee Board. Since its creation in 1989 the board has evolved and matured. Its goals are to identify those in need of Canada's protection as convention refugees and to adjudicate as well all immigration appeals and inquiries.
The board's challenge has been to do that fairly and effectively in the face of changing world conditions. The IRB decision making process operates at arm's length from government. We intend to maintain it just that way.
There has been criticism directed at the board. There is no attempt on my part here today to minimize or downplay the worries or concerns of our fellow citizens.
This government has made changes and adjustments to Canada's refugee policy. We recently improved the adjustment assistance program.
You also probably know that at one time refugee claimants were not allowed to work while awaiting processing. Our government changed that last year in order to alleviate the burden on social services.
In addition, we are working with a number of municipalities to prevent duplication of services and multiple claims. This House recently gave third reading to Bill C-44, which will provide us with the means to address the case of criminals who, while few in number, have the potential to undermine our Canadian system.
Canadians must have faith in their system. This government has listened to their concerns and we have moved quickly, but those changes are not enough.
First, the report by Professor James Hathaway signalled a commitment to change, to improvements. In response a number of administrative and management changes will be announced tomorrow by the chairperson of the IRB as she is responsible and justifiably so, for the day to day management and operations of the IRB.
Because of the importance of this entire issue it might be an opportune time for the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to invite the chair of the IRB to meet with them. They could not only explore and discuss some of the changes and adaptations that she and the IRB will be announcing tomorrow, but they could also look into the workings of the board in the fulsome of time and study.
Second, there are a number of policy and legislative changes that the government will make to the Immigration and Refugee Board. This is a straightforward matter of getting government right. There has been agency and program review and the IRB is part of that. Part of my job is to detail the policy and legislative changes to the IRB which we believe are needed to make it run more effectively and make better use of the taxpayers' dollars, while maintaining the integrity of the Canadian borders.
The government realized there was concern over methods of appointments to the board and to some extent over the quality and consistency of the decisions. We also knew that the in Canada refugee determination system had to be streamlined to keep pace with both fiscal restraint and world developments. It is our belief there is a remedy at hand which involves both policy and legislative changes.
In this regard the government has decided to reduce the panel size for refugee hearings from two board members to one. The reduction in the refugee division members from 175 to approximately 112 will lead to an annual savings of almost $6 million. Consistent with the strategic plan that I announced in November in the House, the savings will be targeted to helping refugees.
The appointment process for panel members has been cause for some concern. Again the government recognizes this point and as a result we have decided to establish an independent advisory committee to examine the qualification of all candidates for the Immigration and Refugee Board. The advisory committee will ensure that only qualified candidates are recommended to the government for appointment. The committee will be responsible for ensuring that a balance is met between the board's objective standards and an increasing public demand for more political accountability.
We want the top candidates for the job. It is mandatory that the best people are named to the board, because the reduction in panel size requires unquestioned and unflinching competence from every board member. This new process will be applicable to new appointments in the future.
I am also pleased to announce that Gordon Fairweather has agreed to be the chairperson of the advisory committee. As a former Conservative member of Parliament, chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board and international human rights advocate, we believe he is ideally suited for the job.
Today the government is also filling two vacant and key positions at the Immigration and Refugee Board, that of deputy chair and executive director. The new deputy chair will be Mr. John Frecker, while the duties of the executive director will be assumed by Mr. Jean-Guy Fleury.
As I mentioned earlier, there are savings in the new procedure. Our target date for full implementation is January 1996. We expect to realize annual savings of $5.7 million by 1997. In the estimates before the House and its committees, the IRB has also put on the table savings of some $6 million in addition to the savings I have announced today.
The board is not only part of the program and budget review process. It is also sensitive that it too must become a partner in putting the finances of the country first and the integrity of the system on the same level playing field. Most of the money will be utilized for settlement of refugees from abroad. We can see that this is not a project merely to camouflage cost savings so government can pocket the money.
I have a real sense that although they mean well some would build walls and allow only hand-picked refugees into our country. It is our obligation under the Geneva convention not to send back legitimate refugees. This is a country and this is a government which live up to their obligations. We are good citizens of the world and world leaders. It is not me as minister bragging that we are world leaders; it is people around the globe and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees telling us.
Three days ago I met with Mr. Chefeke, director of the UNHCR bureau for all the Americas, and apprised him of the government's plans. I am pleased to confirm that he is very supportive of the changes we are bringing forward this morning. Canada and the UNHCR have long been partners and friends. It has always been thus and it will continue to be that way.
In closing, let me hearken back to the Governor General's installation message when he asked us to give good news a chance. His Excellency noted that we were all immigrants to this land; it was just that some came sooner than others. He paid special tribute to the refugees of recent years and special tribute to the communities that opened their arms and their hearts and adopted the refugees. He told us how they came with their hands
empty, forlorn of everything except their hopes, and how through effort and hard work they flourished.
More of these people will come. We have the will and we have the way.