House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was promise.


Order In Council AppointmentsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick


Paul Zed LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table in both official languages a number of order in council appointments which were made by the government. Pursuant to the provisions of Standing Order 110(1), these are deemed referred to the appropriate standing committees, the list of which is attached.

1997 Immigration PlanRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Saint-Henri—Westmount Québec


Lucienne Robillard LiberalMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I would like to table the 1997 Immigration Plan.

Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick


Paul Zed LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table in both official languages the government's response to 14 petitions.

ImmigrationRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Saint-Henri—Westmount Québec


Lucienne Robillard LiberalMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, it is a legal requirement that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration rise in this House and table an annual plan on the immigration levels. This is a responsibility which I welcome this morning.

The 1997 immigration plan is a tangible example of this government's pro-immigration philosophy. This government, and the Canadians that it serves, recognizes the importance of promoting immigration as an instrument of positive social and economic development. I would ask all the members of the House to not lose sight of what they represent when they look at the numbers I will be tabling today.

Immigration policy is not about charts and graphs. Every number in every column represents a human being with dreams and fears and hopes. When you skim down the columns, think of the people in your neighbourhood. Your friends. Your colleagues. People in this House. Chances are they-or their parents or grandparents-were immigrants.

We should never lose sight of the human face of immigration. Our government does not, and it is reflected in our policies. This is demonstrated in the 1997 plan I am tabling today.

We are clearly attracting the economic immigrants we need to strengthen our economy. We are also bringing in skilled workers to meet specific labour market needs. At the same time we remain committed to family reunification and the realization of Canada's humanitarian mission.

Immigration is obviously a front and centre policy issue in this country. Immigration programs have a profound impact on all aspects of life in Canada. This is true now and it has been true for over 130 years.

Even before Canada existed as a country, people recognized that immigration was the key to building the Canadian society. Unifying the British North American colonies was seen as a good way of attracting the farmers and labourers needed to kickstart the young economy.

The visionaries who met in Charlottetown to create this country knew that immigration was the key to unlocking our potential. Immigration was a cornerstone of the national policy of Sir John A. Macdonald.

Immigrants helped fuel the engine of Canadian growth. They worked in the factories of Toronto and Montreal; they tilled the land; they helped develop the Atlantic fisheries.

Laurier predicted that the 20th century would belong to Canada. He knew at that time that immigration would be a key to realizing this goal so he entrusted Sir Clifford Sifton to bring immigrants to open the west. Sifton did just that. Under his direction, waves of immigrants from across Europe made the leap of faith and came to this country. Their dreams and determination helped shape our destiny.

More recently during the Pearson and Trudeau administrations, immigration was perceived as a way of not only strengthening our country economically, but also of bringing new ideas and new perspectives to Canada. Immigration policies in the 1960s and 1970s helped shape Canada into the multicultural and multi-ethnic country we enjoy today.

Immigration has served Canadians very well and it continues to do so. Immigration will be an important component in guaranteeing our future development.

Our government is following a clear direction. Two years ago the Canadian government produced a 10-year strategic framework that committed us to building an immigration program that is fair, sustainable, affordable and based on partnerships. The 1997 immigration plan represents our ongoing commitment to achieving those goals. That is why we have chosen to call the document "Staying the Course".

We have a very good plan which has set a reasoned path. In 1994 we set a strategic course which we are following now. That is what good and responsible government is all about. As hon. members can see from the numbers, we are attaining the levels which were laid out last year. This means just over 200,000 people will come to this country in 1996.

I would like to announce that the 1997 plan calls for the same level of immigration next year, between 195,000 and 220,000 people. I cannot stress enough that this is not a quota. We do not set quotas in Canada. These numbers are targets. We do not and will not close the door on immigrants if we happen to hit the top level.

I would like to announce that the 1997 plan calls for the same level of immigration next year: between 195,000 and 220,000, including 27,000 for the province of Quebec. But I cannot stress enough: this is not a quota. We do not set quotas in Canada.

These numbers are targets. We do not-and will not-close the door on immigrants if we happen to hit the top level. These are not arbitrary numbers. They were developed in a fair and reasoned way, based on a variety of factors, such as Canada's needs, and our ability to integrate newcomers. The result is the numbers you see before you today.

I draw your attention to our 1993 campaign promise laid out on page 87 of the Red Book: "We need to target immigration levels of approximately 1 per cent of the population", considering, "our ability to absorb and settle immigrants".

The Liberal government's 1997 immigration plan is in line with this commitment. I know that many of you might find it difficult to wade through the numbers and graphs in the document. Allow me to draw your attention to a few key points.

In Citizenship and Immigration Canada's ten year strategy, we stated our intention to put a greater emphasis on attracting economic immigrants. This is a move which Canadians whole-heartedly endorse. We heard this time and time again during the nation wide consultations in 1994.

Business professionals and skilled workers bring expertise and entrepreneurial strength which is important to our economy. They have the skills to integrate quickly and contribute to the community. They make a vital contribution to our standard of living and our lives.

I think that the data and studies speak for themselves. Immigrant investors injected nearly $606 million in investment capital into our country last year. Current studies show that immigrants account for about half of Canada's labour force growth. This contribution is expected to increase as we move into the 21st century.

We have all heard people say that immigrants take jobs away from Canadians. That is one myth that must be laid to rest. Evidence suggests the contrary. Immigrants create at least as many jobs as they take. Immigrants and newcomers also enhance Canada's ability to expand into global markets and to build trade links throughout the world.

The value of these connections can be seen in the success of the Prime Minister's Team Canada missions. Many of the participants in these initiatives have been recent immigrants. Their connections and familiarity with international business practices have been invaluable. We are selecting the men and women who have the best potential to contribute to Canada's long term growth.

I am happy to say that we are already seeing an increase in the numbers of immigrants to this country who come in under the economic designation. In fact, the number of economic immigrants exceeded our expectations. The 1997 plan anticipates that these levels will be maintained.

But we are not just looking at the economic bottom line. Immigration is not-nor will it ever be-simply about dollars and cents with this government. There are other issues which must come into play. We are talking about future citizens of our country-not units on a balance sheet.

We need to recognize the importance of factors such as family reunification when we address immigration policy. The bonds of family are very important to Canadians. The support and love which family members give is an essential part of life. I think that our commitment to family reunification speaks volumes about what kind of society we are. It shows what kind of heart and soul unite us together.

I know that all Canadians can sympathize with the woman in Toronto who wants to be brought together with her husband in New Delhi. Or the son in Red Deer who wants to be joined by his father in Manila. That is why we offer priority processing to facilitate the reunion of Canadian families. We want to eliminate unnecessary anxiety.

I know that many of you will look at the numbers and ask why there has been a gradual decline in the family class component. There are several factors that account for this, including the modification of the definition of family in our regulations in 1992 and the somewhat tough economic times.

Whatever the reason for the declining numbers, I do not believe they are a cause for alarm. We should remember that family members accompanying independent immigrants are included in the economic category.

I strongly believe that we need to keep our family class commitments in mind when drafting policies. For instance, as many will know, I am looking at various options to strengthen sponsorship regulations. Some people have asked why it seems to be taking so long. It is simple really. We want to get it right. The stakes are very high and we will not be rushed.

We want to make sure that whatever regulations we develop will be fair and effective. I also want to make sure that they will not have an undue effect on numbers within the family class category. This is important to me personally and it is important to all Canadians.

I would like to turn to another very important subject to Canadians, a subject that shows what kind of a country we are. I am speaking about our record in resettling refugees. We have always taken our international responsibilities very seriously. Canada prides itself on being a good citizen in the international community. Part of this is a commitment to respond to people in need.

Since World War II this country has helped to resettle over 700,000 refugees. We have provided a safe haven in a world of hunger, war and instability. I am proud of our accomplishments. I know Canadians are behind me when I say that we will continue to do what we can to offer a helping hand to those most in need.

Right now the government is working closely with non-governmental organizations to develop strategies which will allow us to continue to meet our humanitarian commitments.

For example, last year we responded to an urgent appeal from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to help resettle refugees from the former Yugoslavia. Canada committed to resettling a minimum of 500 refugees in this country. We developed the 3/9 project to do this, a partnership between the Canadian government and community groups. I am proud to say that at the conclusion of the program, Canada resettled over 1,000 people. This is an example of what can be accomplished when we work together.

I am happy to report that last year we met and even exceeded our refugee resettlement targets.

The document I am tabling today is a success story. It shows that we set goals and achieve them. As I have mentioned, we hit our global immigration targets.

In 1996, slightly more than 200,000 people will choose Canada as their adoptive home. We believe that it will be the same for 1997. We also achieved our refugee resettlement predictions. We are clearly continuing to move forward with a positive vision of immigration.

In conclusion, Canada has a dynamic immigration program.

This is crucial because immigration is going to become more and more important in the coming decades. Immigration has helped shape our past.

We are what we are because of generations of immigrants. Immigration will continue to shape our destiny as we look to the 21st century and beyond. That is why we must stay the course.

ImmigrationRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.


Osvaldo Nunez Bloc Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened carefully to the speech by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. There is nothing new in what she says. The levels set by the government for 1997 are about the same as for this year.

There are, however, a couple of changes. Economic immigrants take up far more of the total: 60 per cent of immigration. Canada will take in between 82,000 and 90,000 skilled workers and between 20,000 and 30,000 business persons. This, I feel, is a good decision, but one that was made at the expense of the family reunification program.

The family reunification program, which involves spouses, fiancés, parents and grandparents, will account for only 35 per cent of immigration to Canada. Until the Liberals came into power, the family class and the economic class were almost equal. This is no longer the case. In all, there will be a total of between 168,900 and

187,700 new immigrants. With the refugees, that makes a total of between 195,000 and 220,000 newcomers to Canada in 1997.

The minister does not, however, mention that some 80,000 people leave Canada each year. The positive balance will, therefore, range between 115,000 and 140,000 new people in Canada.

There is one other comment I would like to make. The government had created the category of provincial or territorial nominee. Last year, the objective for these persons to be nominated by the provinces or territories was set at 1,000. The number for next year will be the same. I have some questions, and the minister is not giving us any answers. Is this new category a failure? Are the provinces not interested in taking part in this program? The Bloc Quebecois believes that provinces ought to play a far greater role in immigration, a far more active role, because immigration is a jurisdiction shared between the federal and provincial governments.

The minister does not indicate where these new immigrants will be coming from, either. As at present, two-thirds of the new immigrants will come from Asia, particularly Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. The rest will come particularly from the former Yugoslavia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Pakistan.

When I asked departmental employees this morning, they were unable to tell me how many new immigrants are expected from Latin America.

There are no figures because the numbers have shrunk and are so small that Latin American countries do not rank among countries that provide high levels of immigration. In my opinion, Canada should make a special effort to attract more immigrants from Latin America, as we approach continental economic integration.

NAFTA will be expanded to create a broad economic zone from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, involving the mobility of capital, investment, services and goods. As far as mobility of individuals is concerned, however, problems on our own continent are increasing, and Canada is not very generous to Latin America as far as immigration is concerned.

Africa has the same problem. Today, 42 per cent of the world's refugees come from Africa, this out of a total of 25 million. We see what is happening today in Africa, but the minister remains silent on these tragic events.

However, I do want to point out that the Bloc Quebecois agrees in principle with the target figures proposed by the minister for 1997, although the government is still far removed from the objective set in the red book, which proposed annual immigration levels equivalent to 1 per cent of the population of Canada.

I am critical of the fact that the minister has considerably reduced the family component. There has been a major reduction in this class, which goes against the promises made by the Liberal Party in its red book, where family reunification was one of their priorities. That is not the case. I closely followed the proceedings of the convention of the Liberal Party of Canada on the weekend. They said their record was very positive: 78 per cent of their promises had been kept.

The government's policy is a dismal failure as far as family reunification is concerned. Last year's target figures, which were much higher, were not met.

Under the Conservative government, about 250,000 new immigrants were admitted to Canada annually, but this year, the real figure will be less than 200,000. It is expected that next year, the real figures will also be well below the target figures.

The minister said in her speech, and I agree with her on this point, that we should never lose sight of the human aspect of immigration. However the immigration tax imposed by the federal government in the 1995 budget is certainly not indicative of a policy that is open and fair to all aspirant immigrants.

The fact that each individual has to pay $975 to obtain permanent residence in Canada is a major hurdle for immigrants from developing countries. I realize that at this last convention some Liberals tabled a resolution to eliminate this tax. I also realize that some members, even Liberal members, as yet do not agree with this discriminatory tax, which goes against the government's family reunification program.

This tax is even more irritating when applied to refugees. Even the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expressed very serious reservations about this refugee tax. I think it goes against the spirit of the Geneva convention, which is aimed at protecting persecuted people, victims of conflicts, and so on.

I must also point out that this tax is a significant source of revenue for the government, bringing in over $250 million a year. With the other fees immigrants must pay to have their files reviewed, obtain work permits, etc., the Department of Citizenship and Immigration's total revenues exceed $400 million a year, while its overall annual budget is only $600 million.

I would like to say a few words on the issue of refugees and displaced persons. The situation is tragic. In addition to the 23 million refugees I just referred to, there are over 100 million people displaced from one country to another or within their own countries as a result of wars, persecutions, natural disasters, racial or religious troubles, ethnic intolerance, political repression, poverty, and human rights violations.

I think that, without exceeding the general goals set by the minister today, we could make an additional effort for world refugees, especially women and children, who make up 80 per cent of all refugees and persecuted people.

I was very affected by the horrific scenes in Zaire we recently saw on television. In the Goma region alone, 200,000 refugees have gathered in the past few days. With its 214,000 refugees, the new Mugumpa refugee camp is the biggest in the world.

Again, as the Bloc Quebecois did yesterday, I call on the government to help these hundreds of thousands of sick people without drinking water or the basic means to survive.

Even though the war in Bosnia is over, there is still a problem. Some people have returned to Bosnia, but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees tells us it is still too early. Some are so traumatized by the war that they cannot return to Bosnia right away.

There are problems in Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, the Sudan, etc. But it is mainly what is happening in Zaire that should concern the Canadian people. We must provide humanitarian assistance to the African continent. We need special programs to deal with the human tragedies facing Zaire and other African nations.

Under the Canada-Quebec agreement, Quebec set its levels at 27,000 new immigrants for the year 1997. I must point out that Quebec is the most generous province for refugees. In 1995 alone, Quebec welcomed 12,019 asylum seekers, compared to 11,546 for Ontario, the most populous province in Canada. Quebec welcomes 47 per cent of refugee claimants, compared to 45 per cent only for Ontario.

The minister makes no mention of it. In their recruiting campaign, Canada and the Canadian government should promote francophone immigration in Quebec. Quebec is the only French-speaking country, the only French-speaking nation, the only French-speaking state in America and, as such, it has to protect its French-speaking immigration. Quebec believes that it is enriched economically, socially and culturally through immigration.

I would like to mention in passing a survey published today in La Presse , which indicates that the people of Quebec are quite open to immigration. A survey released yesterday by Quebec immigration minister André Boisclair shows that two Quebecers out of three are receptive to cultural diversity and pleased with the number of immigrants coming here every year.

Quebecers are very tolerant, I have always said so, and they do not display any signs of xenophobia toward the minorities. This survey tells us that 67 per cent of Quebecers are receptive to cultural diversity; 56 per cent believe that immigration promotes economic development; and 72 per cent regard immigrants as contributing to the province's cultural richness. Also, 64 per cent of Quebecers, or 11 per cent more than in 1992, believe that immigrants work hard to fit into Quebec society.

Here is what this very serious survey conducted in April says. It shows how open Quebecers are, contrary to what some members have been saying, members of the Reform Party in particular and also members of the Liberal Party.

I agree, as I have just said, with the minister that the positive aspects of immigration should be emphasized. Immigrants make a substantial economic, cultural, social and political contribution. I notice that the minister did not address either, unfortunately, the hostility perceived today in Canadian society toward immigrants and more particularly refugees.

Contrary to a certain statements, immigrants contribute more than they receive. They do not tend to use social services as much as people who were born in Canada. The crime rate is lower among them than among people of Canadian stock. This needs to be repeated in this House, and it is the minister's responsibility to educate the Canadian public on the enormous contribution made by immigrants and refugees as well, since most refugees are young and highly educated individuals fleeing persecution and looking for a better life for themselves, their families and their children. They come to Canada with all this energy they have. They are prepared to contribute to economic growth and to employment development.

I will conclude with a few comments on the IRB. Time and time again the minister has said that the IRB is an independent tribunal, but in Bill C-49 before us, she is giving herself the power to remove the IRB chairperson at any time. Under the current legislation, the chairperson may be removed only after five years, coinciding with the end of his or her mandate. With this new legislation, she would be authorized to dismiss the chairperson after a year or two, then renew his or her mandate, chose someone else, and so on. For these reasons and others, the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to Bill C-49.

ImmigrationRoutine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.


Val Meredith Reform Surrey—White Rock—South Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, almost a year ago the previous Minister of Citizenship and Immigration rose in the House to announce the 1996 immigration levels. At that time he painted a very rosy picture of Canada's immigration situation.

This year the current minister paints a similarly rosy picture and says that this government will be staying the course. However, there are very serious problems with Canada's immigration system.

The minister is aware of her own department's surveys which show that over 60 per cent of Canadians have little faith in this government's immigration policy. Why do Liberal immigration ministers stand in the House and tell the country how wonderful things are when they know that there are major problems with our immigration system?

It is so typical of this government to put forth its don't worry, be happy philosophy instead of dealing with today's reality. The reality is our immigration system is in need of repair. The reality is that if Canadians are to regain their confidence and give their support to immigration, the government must act now to make the necessary changes.

The first issue that needs to be addressed is the type of immigrants Canada is accepting. Last year the previous minister of immigration stated that he wanted to see the percentage of economic immigrants and their families increased to 50 per cent of the total. However, to be precise, we must remember that the principal immigrant, that is the individual who actually qualifies under the point system, made up only 37 per cent of the economic class. This year, while the number of economic immigrants is higher, the percentage of principals in that total has dropped to only 25 per cent, which means that there are no more economic immigrants than there were two years ago. It is just that they are bringing more dependants with them.

This still means that Canada chooses only about 14 per cent of the newcomers to this country each year. Or, to express it in other terms, when we include the dependants of economic immigrants with a family class immigrant that means that over 85 per cent of all immigrants to Canada are dependant immigrants.

The ability of Canada to select immigrants based on their potential to contribute to our economy must increase beyond the current 14 per cent.

The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration has reviewed a number of studies that have shown that economic immigrants have had a positive economic benefit for Canada. The statistics are there. The average incomes of these immigrants are 40 per cent higher than those of average Canadians.

In addition, over the last 10 years the immigrant investor program has attracted more than 13,000 business people who have invested over $2.5 billion to the Canadian economy. These investments have created over 17,000 jobs. This is the positive side of immigration and must be promoted.

However, there is a downside even to the economic immigrant portion of Canada's immigration plan. This past January my community of Surrey was faced with a tragedy of one such investor immigrant who killed his mother, his wife and two of his three children before killing himself. It was later determined that this individual who committed the horrendous act was over $200 million in debt in his native Taiwan. Despite the fact that this individual's financial woes were publicly known throughout Taiwan, he was able to immigrate to Canada on the basis of a $350,000 investment. Immigration officials apparently were unconcerned about the other financial situation.

While this may be the most tragic example of the investor plan going astray, there are other cases that raise even greater concerns. On May 25, 1992 Canada admitted Lee Chau-Ping and her family as investor immigrants, as she was supposedly putting money into a fast food chicken franchise in northern Saskatchewan. In reality, Lee Chau-Ping never made it past Vancouver as she continued to run her other more lucrative business of trafficking in illicit drugs.

Despite being under investigation by the royal Hong Kong police since 1986, Canadian immigration still accepted Lee as an investor immigrant. This case caused a Hong Kong crown prosecutor to make this statement: "Canadian immigration is very much a laughing stock of criminals and Canada is being used by criminals such as drug traffickers as a soft spot for the entry of drugs into North America and as an exit point for the laundering of funds".

If there is one thing this government should be concerned about it is its investors program and the likelihood that it will be used as a money laundering scheme. It is a concern of academics who specialize in immigration matters and it is especially a concern for law enforcement officials.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to meet with members of the co-ordinated law enforcement unit in Vancouver. This unit contains members of the RCMP and other municipal police forces in the greater Vancouver area and specializes in organized crime.

These members informed me that the investor immigrant program is an absolutely wonderful way for organized crime to launder money, for once these investors cash in their investment no bank in the world is going to question large deposits that came from the Canadian government. I hope that this government is not so desperate for money that it would close its eyes to funds earned by criminal activity.

Notwithstanding these concerns, it is apparent that Canada has reaped the economic benefits from the independent class immigrant. Unfortunately, it has been equally apparent that when it comes to immigrants under the family class sponsorship breakdowns have caused Canadian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Nobody argues with the validity of family class unification. It is a valid reason for immigration. But the underpinning basis of family reunification is that such immigration is not to have an adverse economic impact on the country. In cases of family reunification the sponsor makes a 10 year commitment to provide for the immigrant.

In the past there did not seem to be any great effort to enforce these obligations. In 1993 a survey by the department found that 14 per cent of sponsorships were in default, costing the taxpayers some $700 million in social services.

This government likes to claim that it has made improvements in getting sponsors to honour their commitments. However, last year the previous minister made a big deal about setting higher financial requirements to ensure that sponsorships were honoured. And under this minister that announcement has gone where most Liberal promises have gone, absolutely nowhere, which means that this government will continue to ignore defaulted sponsorships.

Most sponsors and family class immigrants are honest people, but there are some who abuse the system. My constituency office became aware of a situation where a woman was trying to sponsor her fourth immigrant husband in four years. It is situations like this that create a great deal of cynicism among the general public about the validity of family reunification programs. Is the program there to reunite loved ones or is it there for some Canadians to earn a quick buck by marrying foreigners so they can enter the country?

Finally, we come to the area of refugees. This year the government is suggesting that Canada will accept between 26,000 and 32,000 refugees. Canada has long had a reputation as being a compassionate country that accepts its fair share of refugees.

The majority of Canadians have no problem with our accepting of genuine refugees who have been displaced from their homeland by war or other domestic disputes. However, the majority of Canadians also have a great deal of problems with a system that allows bogus refugees to remain in our country for years.

The minister herself experienced some of these scams this past summer when she observed the process firsthand at some of our points of entry. The minister was surprised when the immigration officer had to admit the Ukrainian refugee claimant who stated that his claim was not based on a well founded fear of government persecution but rather on the fact that he was afraid of his neighbour. The minister then observed a Chilean refugee claimant who admitted that his claim was based on the fact that he could not find work in his native Chile.

If this is the type of criteria that refugee claims are being based on, then Canada itself is home to millions of potential refugees.

It is precisely these types of ridiculous claims that have brought the whole refugee process into disrepute. We now have the trend where people come to Canada, claim refugee status here and then get smuggled into the United States.

We are being viewed around the world as a consolation prize by people smugglers. They might not get their clients into the United States but, at worst, their clients will be accepted in Canada. That is the problem with our refugee system. It rewards dishonesty and criminality.

Last April a Hong Kong man was stopped at the Vancouver international airport and was found to be carrying four additional passports to his own. Sure enough, the other individuals from the same flight were claiming refugee status at the same time. These four claimants paid the agent thousands of dollars to get to Vancouver. The presence of these four refugee claimants in Vancouver is going to cost the Canadian taxpayer thousands of dollars.

When we finally catch one of these people smugglers red handed, what do they get? One day in jail as a sentence. Won't that teach these people smugglers not to mess around with Canada? These guys must be laughing all the way to the bank.

As bad as the situation was, there are even worse things that take place. In July Dennis Garcia escaped from a Montana prison where he was serving a 20 year sentence for viciously assaulting a female store owner. The judge who sentenced Garcia also designated him to be a dangerous offender. When Garcia was arrested near the border of British Columbia, everyone should have been happy that this dangerous individual had finally been captured.

Unfortunately, that is not the way things work with the government refugee program. Instead of being immediately returned to the United States to finish his sentence, Garcia was sent to Vancouver and brought before an immigration adjudicator. Garcia claimed refugee status and, lo and behold, he was released pending his hearing; that is right, an escaped dangerous offender was released because he claimed refugee status.

Did Garcia show up for his hearing? Of course not. He is an escaped fugitive. Garcia is dangerous but not stupid. That is a label that is reserved for our refugee laws that allow such a travesty to happen.

As long as this government allows cases like Garcia to occur, the Canadian public will have little faith in our refugee program, much to the detriment of those genuine refugees who truly deserve our protection.

This country was built on immigration, which makes it all the more ironic that so many Canadians have so little faith in today's system.

The system needs to be made fairer. Perhaps the minister could start this fairness by renegotiating the Canada-Quebec accord. This accord gives Quebec a flat rate of $90 million a year for settlement funds. That is approximately one-third of the total amount that the federal government spends. Is Quebec receiving a third of the immigrants to Canada? Actually, the number of immigrants that Quebec is receiving continues to drop.

When the accord was first signed in 1991, Quebec received 22 per cent of all immigrants to Canada. Last year that figure dropped to 13 per cent and this year Quebec, which gets to set its own numbers, will be taking in almost 10 per cent fewer immigrants. Even those numbers are deceptive. By the Quebec government's own numbers, between 70 and 80 per cent of investor immigrants to that province have left Quebec for other destinations in Canada.

Yet despite these numbers, Quebec continues to receive over 33 per cent of the settlement funds, which means that the two provinces that receive the bulk of Canadian immigrants, Ontario and British Columbia, receive a significantly smaller amount for each newcomer they accept.

The current system is not fair and must be amended so that this government funds every immigrant and refugee at the same rate no matter what province they settle in. That is what Canadians are looking for in our immigration system: fairness. They want a system where everyone is treated in a fair and honest manner as quickly as possible. They want a system where dishonesty and criminality are not rewarded. Once the Canadian government can accomplish these goals, I am sure that Canadians will once again have confidence in our immigration system and will support it.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.


George S. Rideout Liberal Moncton, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the third report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.

Pursuant to the order of reference of Thursday, October 3, 1996, your committee has considered Bill C-41, an act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and the Canadian Shipping Act, and your committee has agreed to report it with amendments.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.


Ed Harper Reform Simcoe Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions to present today on behalf of the constituents of Simcoe Centre.

The first petition requests that Parliament pass legislation to strengthen the Young Offenders Act including publishing the names of young offenders, lowering the age of application and transferring serious offenders to adult court.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.


Ed Harper Reform Simcoe Centre, ON

The second group of petitioners are requesting that the Government of Canada not amend federal legislation to include the undefined phrase of sexual orientation. The petitioners are troubled about not defining the phrase of sexual orientation. They have a legitimate concern that such a broad term could include all kinds of sexual behaviour.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.


Ed Harper Reform Simcoe Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the final petition concerns age of consent laws. The petitioners ask that Parliament set the age of consent at 18 years to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick


Paul Zed LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, Question No. Q-75 will be answered today.

Question No. 75-

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.


Philip Mayfield Reform Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

With regard to the reinstatement of Indian status under Bill C-31 passed in 1985, from 1985 until 1995, ( a ) how many income tax returns have been reassessed, ( b ) how much income tax has been refunded, ( c ) for which year(s) did each tax return apply, ( d ) what was the total amount of each refund and ( e ) from which government department or agency was the refund money provided?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.

London West Ontario


Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue

Since Revenue Canada has no way to identify the clients who were affected by the passage of Bill C-31, an act to amend the Indian Act, the department is unable to provide numbers with respect to any applicable refunds or reassessments.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.


Paul Zed Liberal Fundy Royal, NB

I ask, Mr. Speaker, that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

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11 a.m.

Some hon. members


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11 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I wish to inform the House that, because of the ministerial statement, Government Orders will be extended by 54 minutes.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-35, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code (minimum wage) as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

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11 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There are two motions in amendment standing on the Notice Paper for the report stage of Bill C-35, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code.

Motion No. 1 will be debated and voted upon separately.

The motion will be debated and voted on separately.

I will now submit Motion No. 1 to the House.

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11 a.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC


Motion No. 1

That Bill C-35, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing line 12 on page 1 with the following:

"employee is usually employed or, if the employee works in more than one province, the minimum hourly rate of the province that is highest, and that is".

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in today's debate, at report stage of Bill C-35, which, for all intents and purposes, eliminates the federal minimum wage, aligning it with the minimum wages established by the provinces.

We supported Bill C-35 with the feeling that we had to do our work as the official opposition and help improve this legislation. This is why we proposed an amendment. Let me elaborate.

As you know, the federal minimum wage was set at $4 in 1986 and has not been reviewed since. The situation was a bit paradoxical: in a given territory, there could be two categories of workers. Indeed, workers doing the same job in the same company were not necessarily paid the same salary.

Three main considerations must be kept in mind when we deal with minimum wage. First, those affected are often part-time workers, employees whose jobs are precarious, and people who live below the poverty line, or just at that level. In this regard, the government should have introduced, along with the minimum wage review, a bill that would have truly targeted the causes of poverty.

We can never say it too often: the issue of minimum wage should remind parliamentarians that, in Canada, one person in six currently lives below the established poverty levels. This proportion increases in the case of certain groups, particularly single parents.

What does being poor mean in today's Quebec and Canadian society? We know what it means. It is not a reality that escapes us. We know precisely what it means. From a statistical point of view, a person is considered to be poor when he or she must spend more than 56 per cent of his or her salary on housing, food and clothes.

It would have been a good thing for the government to deal with this issue. It is hard to square the minimum wage bill with something like the Employment Insurance Act, which is a factor in poverty, because we know for a fact that only 38 per cent of the labour force will qualify under that legislation.

The amendment we are presenting today introduces a mobility provision whereby a worker employed by a company operating interprovincially, or conducting business in two or more provinces, will receive the minimum wage that is most to his advantage. It is a cause for some concern that the government did not think of this.

When the minister appeared before the committee, we pointed out to him that the situation was, of course, clear when a worker was employed by Ontario. When he works in an area coming under federal jurisdiction but the head office of the company or the place where he works is in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba or Prince Edward Island, understandably everything is crystal clear, and he is paid the minimum wage in effect in that province.

But what will happen when this same worker is required to work in one or more provinces, when there is no set place of work? Such a situation can arise. With the advent of telework, the whole question of interprovincial mobility and, of course, interprovincial transport, this is more than just an isolated case. Had the official opposition not been vigilant, there would have been an omission in the act that must most definitely be corrected today.

I would remind members that the intention of the amendment is to have the legislation spell out very clearly that, when a worker is

called upon to provide services or work in more than one place within the Canadian common market, he will be paid the highest rate.

You know how widely the minimum wage varies in Canada. It ranges from $5 in certain provinces to $7 in British Columbia, the most generous province in this connection and undoubtedly the one with the most favourable financial situation.

I would like to emphasize, for the benefit of viewers, just how much the situation varies. This must be borne in mind. We are certainly not talking about a uniform situation where the minimum wage is concerned.

I will give the example of Alberta, where the minimum wage is $5. In British Columbia, it is $7; in Prince Edward Island it will be raised to $5.40; in Manitoba it is $5.40; in New Brunswick, $5.50; in Nova Scotia, $5.35; in Ontario, $6.85; in Quebec, $6.70; in Saskatchewan, $5.35; in Newfoundland, $5.25; in the Northwest Territories, $7; and in the Yukon, $6.86.

It could, therefore, be a great temptation for a employer with interprovincial mobility to decide that the place of employment of a given worker is a specific province. If a worker works in three or four provinces, for example, the employer could have his choice of province. He could say: "I consider that the place of work to which the worker is attached is the province with the lowest minimum wage." This is a trap which must be avoided for, as we have seen, there is a disparity between provincial wage levels.

When speaking of minimum wage, we must keep in mind that often non-unionized workers are involved, people who lack the protection of a large union to which they pay dues, which looks after the rights of workers, which is certainly not the case for minimum wage earners.

Generally speaking, this minimum wage covers 10 per cent of people in the work force. Ten per cent of workers therefore come under federal jurisdiction. Obviously, therefore, the bulk of workers are in areas where legislation other than that of the federal government applies. Nevertheless, 10 per cent of the work force is involved in the sectors of transportation, banking and communications particularly, but not exclusively, affected by Bill C-35. Of that 10 per cent, a very large majority, which the minister estimates at 60 per cent, are not protected by a union and work at minimum wage.

It is, therefore, important to ensure that, if the government were preparing to defeat the official opposition amendment to Bill C-35-which I doubt, since I believe the parliamentary secretary is nodding that he will support the amendment by the official opposition-but at any rate, if the government were preparing to defeat the opposition amendment, well, then we would find ourselves in a legal vacuum. In the case of workers with several different places of work, working in more than one province, workers having to move about within the broad Canadian common market, it could be extremely tempting for the employer to make a decision that would not be to their advantage, choosing to attach them to the place of work where the minimum wage was lowest, to the workers' disadvantage.

I will close my remarks by saying that, today, we are just beginning the process. Bill C-35 is the first indication that the government intends to review part I of the Canada Labour Code, as the hon. member for Québec is well aware-and I know she is very concerned about the plight of workers today. Parts II and III will also be reviewed.

This review process has given rise to considerable debate on, for instance, the possible unionization of the RCMP and the issue of replacement workers. In report after report, year after year, the government has been urged to bring peace to the workplace and introduce anti-scab legislation that make the use of replacement workers an unfair practice and as such subject to sanctions by the Canada Labour Board. I know that the hon. member for Bourassa, a long-standing member of the labour movement, has some very specific proposals in mind.

So as part of this review process, it will be very important to ensure, of course, that the Canada Labour Code is the locus for establishing a certain balance of forces, where the legislation defines a number of positions to be used in dealing with future labour disputes. But I think it is also important to ensure, in 1996 and in the years to come, that the Canada Labour Code is also a weapon against poverty. Why not consider including provisions in the Canada Labour Code that would set limits on working hours and overtime?

The minister told me he was regularly asked to authorize overtime in the private sector because a federal provision says that the minister's authorization is required for work in excess of the statutory number of hours. I think, at a time when one Canadian out of six lives in poverty, in other words, 2.8 million Canadians in all Canadian provinces, that we should ensure that the Canada Labour Code is also a weapon against poverty.

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11:15 a.m.

Hillsborough P.E.I.


George Proud LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, we have listened to the concerns of my fellow members with regard to the wording of the amendment and we have given the matter very careful study.

The hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and the opposition were originally concerned to clarify that employees who perform work in more than one province be paid the rate of the province in which they are employed. They were concerned over any loophole which would permit a lower rate than that of the employee's province of employment. Now the hon. member is proposing an amendment that is somewhat different. It is proposed

that where an employee performs work in several provinces, the minimum wage would be that of the province with the highest rate.

While I appreciate my colleague's concern for clarity to protect the worker, I believe that the solution will create more problems than it will solve.

The proposal would be cumbersome to administer. Even one trip across a provincial border could alter a truck driver's hourly rate. What would be the justification for this approach? Surely we would want to establish labour standards that reflect the conditions in the local area.

The whole approach of this bill has been to align the federal minimum wage with regional economies. Why would the government impose the rate designed for one region on an enterprise within another? Furthermore, in the case of an employee who makes infrequent trips outside the province, it is unclear how long the higher rate would apply. Would it apply for a day, a week or a month?

The amendment would impose unnecessary rigidities on an employer who might have to refuse small amounts of business in another province. Surely we do not wish to place additional complexities and paperwork on businesses, and small businesses in particular.

The amendment would create inequities within an enterprise. For example, two employees travel the same distance but one travels across a provincial border while the other is going in another direction and does not cross that provincial border. Under this proposal the two drivers would not be entitled to the same rates.

Most important, the amendment is unnecessary. Our legal advisors do not see any difficulties with the present French and English texts of the bill. The current wording refers to more than one province where an employee works. It relates to the overall employment relationship which includes the province where the employee reports to work, where he or she picks up equipment and tools, is supervised by his or her employer and where, for example, the provincial worker compensation laws apply.

Similarly, the term usually or habituellement relates to where the relationship customarily takes place or commonly occurs, rather than simply the notion of time. When this was raised in the committee, the minister explained that in the case of a truck driver who drives across a provincial border the rate of the province in which the employee's home terminal was situated would be used in applying the law.

Very few workers are paid the federal minimum wage. About 2 per cent of workers come under the jurisdiction of the federal act and even fewer in the kind of employment that would take them outside the province. Since the minimum wage order came into effect on July 17, 1996 establishing the rates current in the provinces at that time, there have been no problems or complaints on the issue of concern to my hon. colleague.

Given the problems with the amendment proposed and the assurance of the Department of Justice that the existing bill is enforceable, I cannot support the Bloc's amendment and ask members to pass the bill as it stands.

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11:20 a.m.


Lee Morrison Reform Swift Current—Maple Creek—Assiniboia, SK

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of Bill C-35 is to align federal minimum wage rates with the general minimum wage rates established by the provinces. The involvement of the federal government in setting minimum wages is only about 30 years old.

In 1935 Canada ratified an ILO Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery Convention which had actually been introduced in 1928. It specified that workers would be guaranteed a minimum wage mainly in cases where wages were exceptionally low. However, it was 1965 before Canada actually began setting minimum wage rates. The Canada Labour Code covered less than a million workers so the government of the day did not feel pressured to establish a federal rule.

Between 1965 and 1986 there were sporadic changes in the federal minimum wage rate but 10 years ago only one-tenth of 1 per cent, or 7,000 workers under federal jurisdiction were directly affected. While updated estimates are not available from department officials, there is a presumption on our part that very little may have changed.

The big changes for Canadian workers over the last 30 years have been the diminished opportunities and lack of security which they now endure. Today one in every four Canadians is afraid of losing his or her job.

If the government was really concerned about workers and their wages it would not be sidestepping the real issue. It would be lowering the payroll taxes that kill jobs. At a time when 1.4 million Canadians are unemployed, about 2.3 million Canadians are underemployed and 500,000 Canadians have given up looking for a job, the best the government can come up with is a plan to realign minimum wage rates with the provinces. This is not even a decent band-aid.

If the government was really concerned about helping workers make ends meet it would be launching a plan, like the Reform Party's fresh start proposal, that would give workers much needed tax relief. Canadian workers deserve a tax break because they are working harder for less money.

The Fraser Institute estimates that the average worker's income has decreased by over $3,000 since the government was elected three years ago. Why are Canadians taking home less money? The government wants to lay the blame by pointing a finger at

employers. However, the real culprit is the ever increasing tax burden.

In 1996 the average family pays a staggering 46 per cent of its income in taxes. Twenty-five years ago, when one income families were the norm, families could pay their way and even prosper. Today it takes two incomes just to scrape by. One partner works just to pay the taxes for the household.

If the government was really concerned about Canadian workers' wages it would get its greedy hands at least part way out of the workers' pockets. If the government was really interested in helping workers it would streamline its operations and relinquish jurisdiction to the provinces in those areas that the provinces are best equipped to manage.

Take Bill C-35, for instance. On one hand the government is saying that it trusts the provinces to set realistic and fair minimum wage rates. However, on the other hand it is saying that it does not trust future provincial legislatures to set realistic and fair minimum wage rates so it will retain the right to set its rates whenever it sees fit. The provinces have already proven that they are better fiscal managers than their federal counterparts. What governments in this country have succeeded in balancing their budgets? Provincial governments.

Now is the time for the federal government to show that it is serious about streamlining and delegating more power to the provinces. Instead of retaining the right to set the rate, the government should seize this opportunity to enter into agreements with its provincial counterparts to give them sole discretion over the setting of rates. The agreements could feature clauses stipulating that each province and territory retain a minimum wage rate. It would be obligatory. That would protect Canada's international commitments and the free trade agreement.

The provisions of Bill C-35 have actually been in effect since July 1996. This is not a concern for Reformers since the overall intent of the bill is positive. However, there is still time to improve the bill.

Section 178(3) gives the governor in council the option of "replacing the minimum hourly rate that has been fixed with respect to employment in a province with another rate, or fix a minimum hourly rate with respect to the employment in a province if no such hourly rate has been fixed".

An amendment has been tabled calling for the deletion of section 178(3). If the government adopts this amendment the bill will receive our support, although with certain reservations. The amendment moved by the member for Edmonton Southwest, seconded by me, is:

That Bill C-35 in clause 1 be amended by deleting lines 1 to 8 on page 2.

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11:25 a.m.


Osvaldo Nunez Bloc Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House to debate Bill C-35 at report stage. This bill tabled on May 9, 1996, is to align the federal minimum wage rate with the general minimum wage rates established from time to time by the provinces and the territories. Let me say right off the bat that I support the amendment put forward by my colleague, the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

This is a subject in which I have a great interest. As a previous speaker indicated, I was involved in the Quebec labour movement for a long time and, at every convention of the Fédération des travailleurs du Québec or of the Congrès du travail du Canada, resolutions were passed requesting that the federal and provincial governments raise the minimum wage, which is consistently too low.

I have often criticized the federal government, arguing that, in its capacity, it should be an example to the provinces in the area of labour law in Canada. As a member of the International Labour Organization, the federal government is the one that signs international conventions respecting minimum wage and other principles important to the workers.

Like the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, I think that the best way for low-wage workers to improve their conditions is to unionize. The unions can do something to improve the plight of these workers. Those who earn minimum wage are not even entitled to social benefits. I think that raising the minimum wage is a great way of fighting poverty.

Under Bill C-35, the rate paid to any particular employee is that of the employee's province or territory of employment. The Governor in Council retains the authority to establish a minimum wage rate that can apply to employees on a provincial or territorial basis and that differs from the rate set by a province or territory.

This bill is important to the official opposition, and it is in our best interest to support it. Of course, once this legislation is completed by the antiscab bill I tabled in this House last week and the other necessary amendments to the Canada Labour Code, we can then state loud and clear that the Canada Labour Code is in line with reality at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. Make no mistake about it, the Canada Labour Code still has some major flaws.

I support this bill, which-it is important to emphasize this-concerns more specifically the most vulnerable in our society. For example, workers who are not covered by a collective agreement or who hold precarious, often part time jobs, increasingly concentrated in industrial and economic sectors that are sensitive to fluctuations, the soft sectors in the economy.

Two thirds of minimum wage workers are women. Many are immigrants and young people. Of course, the harmonization of the minimum wage based on the rate in effect in the province or territory should be hailed. In fact, the Government of Canada has not raised its ridiculous $4 hourly rate since 1986. This rate is so out of step with today's cost of living, it seems like an anachronism. There was an urgent need to raise it as soon as possible.

It is interesting to compare this $4 hourly rate with the rate in effect in the Canadian provinces, which average around $5.60. In Ontario, the minimum wage rate is $6.85, while Quebec raised its rate to $6.70 on October 1. I must point out that this increase is due in part to the women who, in May 1995, participated in the "bread and roses march" from Montreal to Quebec City.

In the Prairies, the minimum wage rate hovers around $5 an hour: it is $5.35 in Saskatchewan, $5.40 in Manitoba, $5 in Alberta. I do not understand how a province as rich as Alberta can have such a low minimum rate. The minimum wage in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories is $7 an hour, compared to $6.86 in Yukon. It is $4.75 in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, $5.50 in New Brunswick, and $5.35 in Nova Scotia.

As I said before, it is quite clear that raising the minimum wage is an important tool in the fight against poverty. Such a policy makes the economy of a country or a province more dynamic, in that it helps reduce the underground economy, while stimulating the consumption of goods and services.

Also, in the case of a welfare recipient, working outside the family home becomes more interesting when the minimum salary is more decent and in line with the costs involved. It is important to remember that, over the years, the gap between minimum wage and the poverty line has decreased.

It would have been a good thing to table this bill and to announce at the same time the implementation of a true policy to fight poverty in Canada and in Quebec. One Canadian in six currently lives in poverty. The proportion is even greater in the case of women, children, immigrants and young people.

Canada's population is increasingly poor. I am not the only one to say so and to deplore this fact. The loss of jobs and the cuts in the federal public service payroll and in social programs are meant to help reduce the public debt, but they do little to put a stop to the impoverishment of our society.

Moreover, this situation does not only affect the poor, but also social classes which were thought to be immune from a deterioration of their quality of life.

This is why I can only support whatever attempt this government makes to help protect the interests of Canadian and Quebec workers. The federal government should show the way regarding minimum wage and everything that relates to labour law. Unfortunately, it is not the case.

Still, the proposed legislation is a step in the right direction. This is why I support Bill C-35.

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11:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion of the hon. member for Swift Current-Maple Creek-Assiniboia relates to the next motion, so we will postpone that until we deal with the second motion.

Is the House ready for the question?

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11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members