Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by summarizing somewhat.
I did start my remarks with a statement that in my belief there is no higher honour one can have than that of being a citizen in a democracy. I mean that quite sincerely. I believe that all Canadians value that in their lives as indicated by the fact that we had an overwhelming outpouring of representations by Canadians to the citizenship committee on this bill. Thirty-seven presenters brought forward their points of view and many of those points made it into the actual bill and now form what we know as Bill C-16.
I did make the connection between the concept of citizenship and the building of community. There are really three things: the idea that a citizen is part of something larger, the sense of community, and how we in the New Democratic Party view that sense as being at risk somewhat in a day that champions the individual, it seems, more than the collective. Operating as a collective is much more a Canadian point of view. Canadians make that connection and value citizenship.
The bill that we are looking at today started life as Bill C-63. Most of Bill C-63 is still contained in Bill C-16. We brought recommendations forward at the various stages of Bill C-63 hoping to improve the bill because many of the groups that came to see us on Bill C-63 were not entirely enamoured with the bill as it stood. They had serious reservations about aspects of the bill and as is proper, they brought those concerns to the committee. We listened carefully. We tried to make meaningful amendments to try to satisfy some of their concerns. As it stands, we believe that Bill C-16 is an improved version of Bill C-63.
The real point that has been made today by other speakers as well is that we would like to get on with this bill. We would like to finish with debate on the bill and get it back to committee. We would get through the final stages and put it to bed because most Canadians are quite anxious to address other immigration and refugee matters, issues other than Bill C-16.
Citizenship as such deals with people who have already landed in the country, who have already made it to our shores and have settled in for a number of years and are now at that final stage of becoming a new Canadian and going through the act of getting their citizenship papers.
The real concern that most Canadians are bringing to my attention as the critic for the NDP is the much broader issue of immigration to Canada. How do we attract the right new Canadians to this country to help us grow the economy and help the country grow? How do we seek out and find these people? How do we convince them that Canada is the country they should come to? There is growing competition around the world for the skilled workers of the world and certainly we need to do more outreach than we have done in the past in terms of reaching out to people and offering what we have to offer in a very public way. We have to advertise and promote ourselves if we are to attract more people to these shores.
I made the point earlier that we in the New Democratic Party believe that immigration is an engine of economic growth. We would like to see more immigration to this country and we are very critical of those in the country and some in the House of Commons who would argue that we should close the doors now on immigration. This is an attitude that has been largely driven by fear or ignorance, I would say, and fear generated by some of the recent events of this summer which saw migrant boat people drifting up on our shore on the west coast.
If I could take one moment just to talk about that one subject. It has been a source of great frustration to me as this whole issue got blown so badly out of proportion. There were 500 or 600 desperate Chinese migrants who landed on our shores looking for safe refuge, looking for sanctuary, looking for a better life. The reaction of certain Canadians was “Oh my goodness, our borders are a sieve, it is a threat to national security in some way, we have to slam the door shut and lock these people up and send them back”. In fact, the Reform Party had a public press conference when the first boat landed and said that we should send them back without even a hearing, that we should just simply put them on another boat and send them back where they came from without any knowledge of what their circumstances were or if there could have been legitimate refugee claims.
Thankfully, this country has better policies than that and our policy is that everyone deserves the right to a full hearing, the right to counsel and the right to have their case heard. Some will be eligible and some will not.
We in the New Democratic Party went a bit further. We wanted to understand a little bit more about this idea of the migration of people throughout the world. It is getting to be very common for people to seek better economic situations and to move around the globe. We did a bit of research on the Fujian province, from where these people originated. We learned that the Fujian province is one of the first places in China that had what we call free economic trade zones.
I spoke earlier in my speech about the globalization of capital threatening the concepts of citizenship, the nation-state and democracy. Here is a graphic illustration in these free economic trade zones.
The ILO did some research to say that one should be making about 85 cents an hour in these trade zones to have a standard of living comparable to a working class Chinese person in that area. These trade zones, where all kinds of western goods, such as clothing and toys, are manufactured, pay on the average 18 cents an hour. Here are these people making western products for you and I and our children to enjoy who are making one-fifth of what it takes to have the standard of living of a Chinese peasant in a fenced compound in China and having some knowledge of the western world, that there is a better world out there.
Their motivation, I suppose, was to elevate their standard of wages and working conditions by getting out of there, but there was no legitimate way to get to some place like Canada, to get to the west. There is only one place to go to get papers to apply for a Canadian visa or a permit to come to Canada and that is in Beijing. It is a heck of a long way from the Fujian province. They cannot get here from there. There is no legitimate way for them to apply to come to Canada and, under the current rules, they probably would not qualify anyway.
When we know a little bit more about the people who wound up on the shores of B.C., we are a little less threatened by them. The fear and the ignorance will hopefully dissipate as the story really gets out on who these people are and how we should really be dealing with them. I wanted to speak to that a little bit as we do get calls. Even as recently as today, we got faxes from Canadians who are not as open-minded about this issue. I hope the truth is finally getting out.
We have been dealing with the estimates, the spending of the government and various aspects of government. I would hope that as we get through the estimates regarding the immigration department that more money is put toward the promotion of immigration than it is toward the enforcement of immigration rules, which are really designed to keep people out.
It has always been of great frustration to our caucus that much of the energies and resources of the immigration officials and bureaucracy are dedicated to keeping people out of the country and not to welcoming them in. It sends absolutely the wrong message. The more barriers, obstacles and roadblocks we put in the way of people who are coming or who seek to make Canada their home, the more the message spreads out around the world that it is a difficult place to come to, that they will be frustrated and that it will not be easy. They will then go someplace else.
If we are serious about building this country, we had better change that perception. That means some resources will need to be spent in specifically targeted parts of the world where we know workers with the skills we need reside. We can invite and attract them and promote this country so that they choose to come here and make Canada their home.
With regard to the citizenship bill, in the last minute or two that I have I will deal with some of the specifics and some of the reservations we have about Bill C-16. We are eager to see it go back to the committee so that we can deal with it in further depth and we can hear a few more groups make representation to us to see what they think about its current form as opposed to its format under the former Bill C-63.
One of the things raised at length by the member of the Bloc Quebecois was that there was some objection to having the Queen referenced in the citizenship oath. Frankly, I think that is a matter so minor and insignificant that it does not even warrant comment in the House of Commons. Surely we have better things to dwell on than an issue such as that, but we did hear quite a bit of debate on that subject from other speakers.
There was some really serious concern that the abolition of the citizenship judges would be a step backward if they were replaced with citizenship commissioners in terms of getting a fair adjudication. This work would now be done by bureaucrats who may not have the same abilities to weigh the variables in a complicated citizenship case.
We also believe that the citizenship tests should be available in either official language and, if translation is needed, it should be available. I believe that has been addressed and we are happy to see it.
I have one remaining point that I need to comment on. We believe that the rules regarding the actual physical presence of a person in this country are too stringent. Under the current rules, one has to be physically present for three of the last six years before citizenship papers are granted. We believe that places an undue burden on those who may have interests outside the country and who may often need to travel outside the country to take care of their business interests elsewhere. We would like to see that addressed at the committee stage and we will soon have an opportunity to do so.