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House of Commons Hansard #93 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Reform

Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, last year Canada had to deal with migrant boats. That is something the hon. member made reference to in his speech. I understand that now the snake heads are charging $60,000 per head, a marked increase from last year, which indicates that they feel as though the Canadian government has not dealt with the situation. The Canadian government has sent the wrong signals to the snake heads and the people smugglers and, as a result, the demands are even higher and the snake heads charge even higher amounts of money per person.

What does the hon. member think of the dollar figure rising because of the lack of action by this government? In the minister's responses to questions in the House, she seems to be claiming that basically since they have not seen any boats quite just yet there really is not a problem. She says there is no way we can anticipate that there will be problems on the coast of British Columbia this summer with regard to migrant boats. I would like the hon. member to address that.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Reform

Reed Elley Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, having lived on the coast last summer I experienced firsthand what happened and the way it was handled by the government, or the inability of the government to handle the situation.

There is no question that the snake heads and others who are getting rich on this kind of activity would see Canada as an easy target. They see that people get in and are helped by our government. They become dependent upon our social welfare system and our health system. They are taken care of from that standpoint and not simply turned away and sent back. Because of this they will, of course, get more business. It gives them the opportunity to say to people in China and other places “This works. Line up. We will take your money and we will be glad to get you to Canada because when you get there they will take care of you really well”.

I do not think we have a problem with taking care of people, but this encourages this kind of thing and allows us to be seen in the sort of underworld international community as an easy mark. It is no wonder the price has gone up and the snake heads make more money.

The other point the member mentioned was a very famous quote that was attributed to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration during the time the boats were coming over. It seemed to be a very simplistic answer to the whole situation: “Pretty soon we will have the storm season upon us, winter will be upon us and that will take care of the waves of boats that are coming over”. If that is the way the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, who is supposed to be a very responsible person in the Government of Canada, views the situation and if that is the kind of answer she has to deal with it, then it is no wonder we are in serious trouble.

The storms are getting less frequent on the coast. There is good weather coming to Vancouver Island and I suspect that this will be repeated again, and it will probably be even greater than it was last year. I do not think this legislation will prepare us for that and it will be even worse. We will have to see what happens.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Reform

Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, just to follow up on that question, my understanding is that the People's Liberation Army of the People's Republic of China, otherwise the communist tyranny that is the Chinese mainland government, is directly involved in much of this snake head and people smuggling operation and that Canada is seen as a weak link in the military alliance that makes up Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and Great Britain. ANZUS, I believe, is the title of that organization. The People's Liberation Army and the snake heads are in a sense doing some of these things to raise funds so they can infiltrate the military network known as ANZUS to be able to access information which they feel they cannot get through the other partners of that military alliance.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Reform

Reed Elley Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the government's answer to an allegation like that was to send the minister and a couple of Liberal members to China to negotiate with the government. You and I were not privy to that negotiation. We do not know what went on, but the government would have us believe, of course, that it has it all under control. We will see.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Reform

Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, listening to the member made me think of my riding, which has a high percentage of refugee claimants. Unfortunately, a high percentage of them turn out to be criminal refugee claimants.

These people simply arrive at our borders to claim refugee status and then are released into society. However, since almost all of them have to change planes in Frankfurt, Heathrow or Miami to get here, there has always been a question in my mind that they are not legitimate refugees by virtue of the fact that they did not claim in the first safe country they reached. I wonder if the critic could comment on the ways in which we could solve that problem.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Reform

Reed Elley Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is very clear, as my hon. colleague has pointed out, that there are many illegal immigrants who come into this country through airports, certainly far more than come in through the boat route. There were somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25,000 illegal immigrants who came to the country last year. Probably 98% of them came in through airports.

How do they get in? How do they maintain that they are legal immigrants when they do not declare their intentions in the country of origin?

What happens, I am sure, even though I have never been on a plane to see this happen, is that they simply take their identity cards and flush them down the toilet. By the time they get here they can say that they have no record of who they are, that they are displaced people who want to claim refugee status.

When those people come to these shores we should have something in place immediately to determine very quickly whether they are legal immigrants. If they are not, then they should simply be sent back to the country of origin and from there go through the proper procedures to make sure they enter this country in the right way.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Reform

Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, we have this scenario whereby people would like to come to this country. Of course we always wonder whether it is for legitimate purposes in circumstances where they would not qualify as independent class immigrants, et cetera.

How does the hon. member feel about having bonds posted, for whatever amount, maybe $10,000 or more? I have heard people suggest as high as $50,000. Those bonds would be forfeited if they did not return to their country and if they violated the promise they gave to Canadian officials.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Reform

Reed Elley Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think that is a very interesting suggestion. I am just wondering if the government has ever taken it under consideration. I think we need to have all of the good wisdom and suggestions from members on both sides of the House. We should pool our resources to come up with the very best, and this may be one of the solutions.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to take part in the debate on Bill C-31 to amend the Immigration Act.

That bill was long overdue to say the least. Members will remember that the Bloc requested a reform of the Immigration Act several times in the House. If my information is correct, the Immigration Act has been amended about 20 times in the past. I think it was high time we had an overall view of immigration, and I congratulate the minister on her initiative.

Of course, the bill is far from perfect and I know that we can count on the courage and determination of the young member for Rosemont to work toward that aim in committee. We will even be able to count on the opposition, the Bloc Quebecois, to make the bill as perfect as can be.

Immigration is not an insignificant factor in the life of countries like Canada or Quebec. Let us just think that Canada and Quebec have always been extremely open to immigration. My colleague will understand if I say that Quebec has all it needs to be a country, but I realize that, for the time being, very large parts of the immigration policy, and especially its administrative aspects, are under federal jurisdiction.

From the post-war years up until now, Canada has accepted an average of 150,000 to 250,000 immigrants. There are four major countries across the world that are what we would called countries of immigration. I am talking of course about Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

When we look at the effort these countries have put into their immigration policy and we compare it with what Quebec is doing in that area, we see that Quebec is comparing well with the United States on a per capita basis.

Minister Boisclair, now the Minister of Social Solidarity, was the Minister of Relations with the Citizens and Immigration three years ago, when he issued a policy statement on immigration that revealed that we accept roughly the equivalent of 0.8% of our population.

This is a considerable effort. Quebec accepts between 50,000 and 65,000 immigrants every year. This raises questions about integration policies, because it is important to have a generous immigration policy, especially since Quebec and Canada, like many countries on this side of the hemisphere, are societies that do not carry the seeds of their natural renewal.

For nearly 15 years, if not 20 years, the natural growth of our population has not been enough to ensure us of the new generations. It would take a fertility rate of 2.2% instead of the current 1.8%.

I invite all my colleagues—I will try to do my share directly or indirectly—to reflect on the importance for a society to reproduce itself.

It is an important issue that was hotly debated in the past and which is far from resolved. Some believe we need tax incentives. Others say we need not only tax incentives, but also a real family policy.

Having children is something that one plans for in one's life. Take for example our colleague from Longueuil, whose son is now 20 months old. She planned to have a child. It may not change the world, but it definitely structures your life. I do not want to linger over biographical details, which could lead us to release information which is protected, so to speak. I am talking about the information, not the partner of our colleague from Longueuil.

Historically, like other societies, Quebec has been quite open and generous when it comes to immigration policies. It is a basic component of our society. However, our fellow citizens must realize that, unfortunately, because of its current constitutional status, Quebec does not have control over all the levers that would allow it to have a real immigration policy of its own.

We know how immigration works. Under the act, every year in the month of October, and I understand this requirement will not be modified, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration releases a public report on the number of immigrants the country will be receiving. Their number is between 200,000 and 250,000. These newcomers, who will ultimately become Canadian citizens, are divided into three main categories.

There are, of course, those who immigrate for humanitarian considerations. These people are persecuted in their own country. There is reason to fear for their bodily security. Either because of their religious or political beliefs or because of their economic distress, they have to leave their country and claim asylum. I will come back to this category.

There are those who come to Canada and Quebec to join their family. These cases are in the category of sponsoring. Their brothers or sisters, their mother or father, their sons or daughters who came here before them as to sponsor a member of their family. This is the family reunification category.

There is also a more economic type of immigration. Governments in Canada, Quebec, Germany, France and other countries have been seduced by economic immigration in recent years. They have tried to establish a link between the employability profile of people choosing a country of adoption and the resulting immigration.

This economic immigration category can include independent workers and investors. Some people come to Canada or to Quebec because they want to invest money, to set up businesses and to create jobs.

There again, members know about the handicap created by Quebec's constitutional status. I will digress for a moment to recall with pleasure that, during the 14th convention of the Parti Quebecois held last weekend in Montreal, the Premier of Quebec pointed out that Quebec sovereignty, which should mobilize all Quebecers in the months to come, will be on the constitutional and political agenda.

The reason we want to become a country must be reflected in the current debate because, again, Quebec does not have full control over its immigration policy. In saying that, I say that Quebec has nothing to say as to how many new immigrants will come to its territory and what the entry procedures will be, but in the end, Quebec has a complete and clear responsibility as to their integration. Members will understand the gap between the objectives that Quebec wants to pursue and the means at its disposal.

One of the reasons we want to achieve sovereignty is of course because we want control over immigration, like France, Germany, United States, Japan and all the great powers of the world. Speaking of great powers, I cannot avoid mentioning that a sovereign Quebec would be the fifteen economic power on this planet. If we look at the countries that have the means to become sovereign, Quebecers can be fully confident in their destiny and in their capacity to control their future.

I would not want to digress too much from the subject at hand. We support the principle of the bill. We acknowledge that the Immigration Act and the Citizenship Act were in need of a comprehensive reform.

My colleagues from Louis-Hébert, Longueuil and Drummond—this makes me the only man in this House to be surrounded with women—will recall that I was the immigration critic for about two years. I have pleasant memories of those days. Back then, we did not have a plethora of issues, but everything will not be settled by this bill. It was a nice experience meeting people who had chosen Quebec as their home. I also had the opportunity to witness the difficulties they were experiencing with a piece of legislation that was badly outdated in many ways.

We endorse the bill, and I will indicate which points we consider positive. The first one is obviously the consolidation in a single structure of the refugee status determination process and of the adjudication process. This is a positive goal. The government deserves our congratulations for this.

The refugee status determination process was for many years a real nightmare for successive governments, as much under Prime Minister Mulroney—whose party is now represented by just a few members in the House, but who knows what the future may have in store—as under the current Prime Minister. The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada is the most important administrative tribunal in Canada.

It may easily take an average of two years or two and a half years between the moment when a refugee sets foot in Canada and meets a Canadian official, and when a decision on his refugee status is made. Members will understand that all of this is not negligible as far as the costs to society are concerned.

I want to digress to say that 90% of all claims for asylum claims and political refugee status concern three major Canadian cities, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Slowly, a kind of pocket is beginning to emerge in Winnipeg, but the three big immigration centres are, of course, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

However, the inefficiency of the operating procedures of the Immigration and the Refugee Board of Canada costs the Quebec treasury on average between $70 million and $90 million. So, it is important to have an act that we will allow processing of these files as diligently as possible. We—myself in particular—also welcome the inclusion in the bill of the recognition of same sex partners.

Hon. members will recall that, at the time of the introduction of Bill C-23 we considered recently—and allow me again to thank all my hon. colleagues who supported this bill willingly and enthusiastically—we were told “We cannot recognize same sex partners in this omnibus bill because, in the area of immigration, they cannot be recognized in the same way that they are in the Income Tax Act or the Criminal Code”.

As we can all see, a new person has taken over the chair. In spite of all the appearances of continuity, each of these persons has his or her own style.

I myself had concluded that it was not desirable, in the bill under consideration, to recognise same sex partners. Why? The question is worth asking and I am convinced that my colleagues are itching to ask. Well, here I go. Why was it not desirable, immigration wise, to recognise same sex partners? The answer is that, two people cannot establish that they are living in a same sex relationship in the same way, in Canada and abroad.

When we talk about recognizing same sex partners, a certain number of factors are involved: cohabitation, recognition as a couple and mutual support. Obviously, if one's partner lives in Cuba and one is living in Montreal, the cohabitation criteria does not apply. Recognition as a couple begins to be a bit remote and mutual support is of course a little more of a monthly thing instead than a daily thing. Therefore, we needed evidence that was different from what we usually get. These are the positive aspects of the bill. However, I repeat, the bill is far from complete. It can be greatly improved.

The third positive aspect worth mentioning is the series of very tough measures concerning people trafficking and smugglers who bring into Canada people who do not deserve the status they claim.

The former Minister of Immigration and member for Westmount—Ville-Marie said on numerous occasions in the past that one of things that characterizes the 21st century is the trafficking in human beings. There is not just a trade in goods and in capital. There is an illegal trade in people, an underworld black market. This forces us to be extremely vigilant and severe toward those who are involved in trading human beings.

I therefore wish to focus attention on the clause of this bill that will provide very heavy punishment for those involved in this trade. The bill puts all the odds on the side of the law for dismantling these trafficking networks.

So much for the positive aspects of the bill. There are some a bit less positive, which is why the Bloc Quebecois will be bringing in some amendments, via the charming and dynamic member for Rosemont.

I personally worked on this issue when I was immigration critic. Obviously, there is the whole issue of the 8, 9 and 10 year-olds being brought into Canada by the traffickers. They are detained far too long in prison. This approach is contrary to the international conventions of which Canada itself is a signatory. I will come back to this point at a later time.

Since I have only one minute left, I will now conclude, although I have the impression that I have barely touched on everything I wanted to say. The question of detaining young people is a problem for us. The lack of explicit reference in the bill to Canada's international obligations—and by this I am of course thinking of the conventions on refugees, on torture and on the rights of the child—is also problematical to us.

I also wish to state that we have a problem with the added powers assigned to immigration officers and the potential discretionary nature of some of the decisions to be reached.

I trust the government will be open to the amendments by the Bloc Quebecois. We will be bringing our customary serious approach to the work in committee.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

May 9th, 2000 / 5 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand that there have been discussions with the parties and there would be unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any standing order, the response by the government to the second report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade may be tabled as late as May 18, 2000.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the deputy government whip have unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Reform

Deepak Obhrai Reform Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-31, the immigration and refugee protection act. This is a very important bill for Canada. It has been in the making for a long time. We are pleased to see that it has been presented because it gives us an opportunity to talk about immigration and its impact on Canada.

Who are we talking about? We are talking about people. The government has released the total number of refugees into the country. When some 187,000 immigrants are coming into Canada it is important to recognize what is happening. They are human beings. These are people who have needs. Like any other issue that deals with human beings it has an emotional aspect. It deals with relationships, with aspirations and all such things.

We recognize what is happening. We have come to the very sad conclusion that our immigration system is falling down rapidly. More and more people are genuinely coming into the country. They have made the effort to come to our country but are facing problems. They get discouraged and walk away. At the end of the day Canada is the loser when this happens.

The auditor general reported on the immigration department. What do we see? We see what every MP knows, I would presume. There is something seriously wrong with our immigration system. As a matter of fact I have a full time staff, as do other MPs, trying to solve the immigration mess. It creates horror stories.

Old ladies have come to me crying because our system, despite what the government says, is inconsistent and allows people to abuse it. It is inconsistent in terms of what is going on in the country. It creates doubt among immigrants and upsets Canadians when they see that the system is subject to so much abuse.

The problem as far as I am concerned is that the government has made a habit of listening to self-interest groups. In this case I am talking about immigration consultants and immigration lawyers who try to hijack the agenda because it is in their interest. If the system is not functioning they are the beneficiaries, and the government agrees to that.

Let us talk about consultants. Anyone can be a consultant in this country. They just have to open up an office and say they are immigration consultants. Do they know about immigration rules? No. All they care about is money. This is happening in my own riding. Immigration consultants take money and give wrong advice to immigrants or to refugees, resulting in them coming to us to solve this mess.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

An hon. member

Our staffs are better consultants.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Reform

Deepak Obhrai Reform Calgary East, AB

My colleague is absolutely right. Yes, they are experts. They could become immigration consultants and do a better job.

I am not putting down all immigration lawyers. There is definitely a need for consultation, but the government has made a habit of listening to these people and then trying to draft legislation which is weak and leaves many loopholes. Who takes advantage of those loopholes? We all know that. All we have to do is look at the stories in the newspapers.

Chinese boatloads came here because of a loophole in the system created by the government. Everywhere around the world it is becoming quite clear that the loopholes existing in Canada are numerous, which has created human smuggling that plays with people's lives.

The minister of immigration has said that she would be very tough on human smugglers. The bottom line is that a market was created for human smugglers because of our lax law. Our lax law has given them a market of which they are taking advantage and playing with people's lives.

If we had a tighter or a speedier law, or if we had a procedure with which we could address these things very quickly and rapidly, would the human smugglers have a market? No, they would not. We would do people a favour if we had a clear-cut, concise and fast processing system. We would do a favour for people who cross the oceans and threaten their own lives so that human smugglers and drug abusers can take advantage of them.

Let me talk about what is wrong with the current immigration system. The auditor general said it was mismanaged and backlogged. We do not keep track of what is going on, and that is absolutely true. From the experience in my office I can say that is absolutely true.

Let us talk about spousal applications. The minister says that it takes six months for a spousal application. I am saying that it does not take six months. It takes over a year and a half before Canadians who marry outside Canada can bring their spouses into this country. Yet the government talks about a system which it says is fair and will take only six months.

People have left this country, lost their status, and want to come back with a returning resident permit. Everything takes time, time, time. From the time I was elected in 1997 until now all I have seen is a longer process, and this is for legitimate immigrants to Canada. When we talk to immigration officers and our counsellors overseas only one point comes up, that they do not have the resources.

The minister of immigration says she will bring in 300,000 people. She says that is our new target. We are only at 178,000 because there are no resources. Because there are no resources immigration officers cannot do their jobs. Haphazard decisions are made. People fall through the cracks. People take advantage of that and walk into the country.

Any immigration officer will tell us that. I have visited New Delhi. I have visited Sydney. I have talked to immigration officers in Africa, and the simple point is a lack of resources. Some say that they want more, but as my colleague said the current system should be fixed first before anything else is done.

Let me give another example. The immigration department may allow people with professional degrees into this country but they cannot get jobs. There is an inconsistency. What is the point of getting professionals to come to the country if they cannot work? They cannot work here because we have professional associations that do not allow them to work.

We should tell them that we need immigration and that we need professional people. We should ask them how many they can accommodate. Then we should go ahead and do it. They should make arbitrary decisions because they are playing with people's lives.

Let us talk about visitor visas. I have to use the minister of immigration's offices to get visitor visas approved. Canada has a huge population from every corner of the world. Naturally they have families. Naturally they have ties outside the country. It is a common sense situation. They would like their family members to come. There is nothing wrong with that. A Canadian can go to India with no problem, but the poor guy who wants to bring someone from India here is denied entry into Canada. He is denied entry into Canada because the government says we cannot trust him to go back. We cannot trust him to go back. We do not know whether he will go back based on our past experience.

Where did the problem originate? The problem originates here. We allow them to stay here. We allow them to come to this country and make a claim and they can stay here for two and a half years. It takes two and a half years to process a refugee claim. Within two and a half years people can stay in this country and not go back. Where did the problem originate? The problem originates here.

It is a very small number. It is not a high number but others pay the price for it. Genuine visitors who want to come here pay the price for it. Over three-quarters of my files are people who want to come here on visitor visas to attend marriages and funerals. Why can we not look at the facts for those who come over here and want to make an application, even if it is a refugee claim. If there was a faster system, all these problems would not be there.

While I am talking of refugees, let us talk about our refugee determination system. Despite the fact that we have an appeal process and an IRB that is supposedly an independent one, the whole refugee determination system is bogged down. It takes two and a half to three years before a refugee's claim is heard, genuine or non-genuine. He has all that time to do whatever he wants to do. The so-called Honduras drug dealers in Vancouver sell drugs. Why is there not a faster process?

Nobody denies that a refugee has the right to flee persecution and come to our country. We are proud of that tradition. There is nothing wrong with that tradition. That is not the problem. The problem is it takes two and a half to three years to process a claim.

There is an individual in my riding who has been here for the last three and a half years as a refugee. The man was actually crying in my office and asking me to please tell him what it takes, why was he in limbo, why was he in no man's land. His wife and child are overseas. His wife suffered a heart attack. He cannot go back home because he fears being persecuted there. He cannot go back home but his wife has had a heart attack. His claim cannot be processed so he cannot bring his wife here. Why are we allowing all this human tragedy to be caught up in the bureaucratic mess we have created?

Why can we not have a faster process? If we are going to have an immigration and refugee policy, then let us implement it the way it is supposed to be implemented, not mismanage it.

Let us talk about some of our immigration officers. It is amazing. I actually tell people that their visas to Canada will be approved depending on which side of the bed the immigration officer got up. If he is in a good mood, they are in; if he is in a bad mood, they are out. There is no consistency. I have seen similar cases where one said yes and one said no. Then what happens? It is okay for the immigration officer overseas to say no but it throws the Canadian party into an appeal process.

The appeal process is expensive in hiring an immigration lawyer and going before the IRB. And we do not know when the IRB will hold its hearings. It could take six or eight months. It could take a year and a half for an immigration officer to make a decision. The poor guy has to wait for two years and then the immigration officer after assessing it says “Sorry, you do not follow this in my view”. I repeat that it is in his view. I agree he should have some view, but there has to be more consistency.

We have started to hire local officers. Local officers do interviews up front to allow people to come here as visitors or as immigrants. That is because the government cut the funding. They are local personnel.

What is Canada's desire? What do Canadians feel about how our system is run? I have encountered local immigration officers. We write to them and they ignore the missives of members of parliament. I had to write back saying that it is a democracy in this country. The people of Canada speak through their elected officials; they do not speak through their bureaucrats. These people do not understand. They do not know what is Canada's desire and who wants to come here. But these people are making decisions and throwing people into an appeal process which costs them pain and money.

More and more people are coming to my office saying to abandon the claim, that they are sick and tired of the whole process. This did not happen before, but it is becoming more and more common. The delays are becoming more and more common. But there is no problem for the guys who want to abuse our system. They do it and they do it fast. They are in the country. This creates tension because Canadians hate to see their laws being abused. They hate it.

I had call after call after call when the boat people came here. Every member of parliament did. What was the reason behind those calls? That our laws were being abused. It bothered Canadians that our laws were being abused. It bothered people who had applied for family members to come here or people in general who wanted to come to Canada. It bothered everybody, prospective immigrants, recently arrived immigrants, Canadians who have been here for generations. The bottom line was that the laws were being abused.

Have we tightened up the law? Have we even improved it? The bill begs the question, have we improved anything? I do not think so. I do not think anything has been improved. We are back to the same old system. I will be back out there listening to the cries of Canadians.

Canadians are travellers. They find new partners around the world. There needs to be sincerity. Immigration officers need to understand that Canadians travel. Sometimes Canadians find spouses overseas.

In summary, I go back to the main point that bothers our party, the official opposition. Has the bill cleaned up anything? Has it done anything to fix the old system? I say to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, please fix the old system.

The official opposition will keep a strong watch on this. My colleague the immigration critic will be bringing a lot of amendments to the committee when we study this bill which will give us more opportunity to discuss this important issue.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Reform Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have several questions for my colleague, but I will limit it to one for now. If I get a chance I will certainly come back and ask another.

My colleague brought up the issue of visitors visas. What does he think the impact will be on people who apply for visitors visas as a result of the change to the Immigration Act through this legislation which will allow people to apply for permanent residency from within Canada?

In certain select cases such as students who have completed an education in a field which is in demand in this country, this may make sense. However, a fairly broad and general change in law which would allow people to apply for permanent residency from within the country has failed in the past. It has caused huge backlogs which the system cannot handle. Immigration officials know it is happening. They know that anybody applying for a visitors visa may decide he or she wants to stay and will add to that backlog, which reflects poorly on them.

What impact does the member think this change which will allow people to apply within the country will have on people applying for visitors visas? My colleague already expressed a concern that the system is not working now and he is right.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Reform

Deepak Obhrai Reform Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is right in mentioning there are certain circumstances such as students. He is also right to point the finger at the visitors visa issue. Will the bureaucrats apply the law in such a manner that visitors who want to come to Canada will be denied entry? How it is going to be interpreted is the biggest question on this issue.

As I said in my speech, the immigration officers will interpret the law in whatever manner they want. He is absolutely right. This is where the danger lies. There will be more cases of people being denied visitors visas to come into the country. The impact on the bureaucrats who will be making the decisions must be studied very clearly. Are they going to deny entry to more people? If they are going to deny entry to more people then what is the purpose of this?

My colleague is absolutely right. The impact on visitors visas to come into the country is an issue we have to study before we think it is good.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Cadman Reform Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments.

In my constituency of Surrey North, I too have a very high caseload, about 80% of which is immigration files. A large number of those tend to deal with the whole visitors visa problems. One of the main problems we see is with people who are trying to have relatives come over for a funeral, a wedding or for any number of reasons. Of course, we want our front line officers to be vigilant to make sure that people are properly screened.

I have had cases where I suspected the applicants were perfectly reasonable but they were denied. At this end, people have actually offered to sign affidavits to put up tens of thousands of dollars in bonds. People who have made the application in the country of origin have agreed to put up tens of thousands of dollars or the equivalent size bond. For some reason Immigration Canada is loath to accept these bonds and has denied entry to these people.

Does my colleague have any comment on the bond issue? Should it be explored and opened up a bit more?

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Reform

Deepak Obhrai Reform Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague underlined a very basic point on the issue of bonds. This issue is frustrating to individuals because they cannot get their relatives or friends into Canada for whatever reason. They go to extremes and say “Please let them come. I am willing to pay the money”. That is not the most important issue. The more important issue is the process in Canada. When a person comes to Canada with a visitor's visa and applies for refugee status, if the process were faster we would have less refugee claimants applying from overseas. This would make visitor's visas easier to get and would provide open entry for immigrants because they would know that they cannot stay here.

The system we have devised does not address how quickly we can finalize applications of those who apply for refugee status. That is what this legislation should aim to do.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

I should advise the House that when the debate on Bill C-31 resumes, the hon. member for Calgary East will have four minutes remaining in the period allotted for questions or comments.

The House resumed from March 23 consideration of the motion, of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.

Employment InsurancePrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, we are resuming debate today on a private member's motion that was brought forward by the member for Acadie—Bathurst dealing with the restoration of unemployment insurance benefits to seasonal workers.

The motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take immediate action to restore employment insurance benefits to seasonal workers.

The member's riding, like my own and like many ridings in Canada, would be considered by the government to be a rural riding. It is interesting to note that in many of these ridings, the workers have suffered as a result of the changes to the Employment Insurance Act that the government introduced before the last election. Understandably, the workers were upset by that and showed their displeasure with the changes by voting against the governing party.

The question would have to be asked: Has the government learned from the voter's verdict on the changes to the unemployment insurance system? One would think that it may have learned somewhat of a lesson.

Those who watched the Liberal convention that was held some time ago heard the Prime Minister, probably to the chagrin of his Minister of Finance and certainly to the chagrin of some of his cabinet ministers sitting here today, admit that perhaps the people were right. He stopped short of saying that perhaps the NDP was right. We knew all along that the government's changes to the EI program were wrong. The Prime Minister did not want to give us too much credit so he, kind of appropriately, went over our heads to the sovereign people who sent a message to the government, especially those in Atlantic Canada, that the changes made them suffer.

One would think that the Liberals would welcome the motion from the member for Acadie—Bathurst. It would allow them to vote in favour of this motion and admit that they learned their lesson. They could say that they are listening to the Prime Minister and are prepared to restore the funding to employment insurance.

Instead, in what is, I would say, a tricky manoeuvre, the Liberals moved an amendment. The amendment to the motion would make it read as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should review employment insurance benefits for seasonal workers.

We do not need a review. The people of Atlantic Canada do not need a review. The people who are seasonal workers in every part of this country, whether they are working in the woods in British Columbia, in the tourism industry in Alberta or in any industry across Canada, do not need another review.

The changes to the unemployment insurance act were imposed by the government under former minister Doug Young who is now a member of the Canadian Alliance Party, I guess. A review took place in 1995 when a working committee was set up to examine the issue of seasonal work and employment insurance. In terms of the Liberal amendment, the review has taken place.

The working group found some interesting statistics and reports. First, and this needs to be said, the report found that what is seasonal is not the workers. We refer to seasonal workers, but it is the jobs that are seasonal. The working group also found that the needs of that particular group in the labour force were largely ignored. Moreover, it noted that there was a negative attitude toward seasonal workers that was emerging in society and that the workers themselves were somehow considered responsible because of the fact that their jobs were temporary.

There are certain realities in this country. We live in a harsh climate. There is certain work that can be done in the summer that cannot be done in the winter. There are tourist seasons that are not year round. It is not the workers who are seasonal. It is that in certain parts of the country employment follows things that are beyond our control. One of those factors is weather. Another is where investment falls.

However, it is not the workers who say “I think I'll get up in May since I've hibernated for the winter and I'll go get a job”. They also in the fall do not say “I've had it with work and I'm going to sit down”. These are hardworking people who want work but the reality is that in the part of the country where they live the work tends to be seasonal in nature.

The working group also found that the Liberal government of the day warned that changes to unemployment insurance would disproportionately affect seasonal workers. I have already commented on that. It is clear that it did.

Finally, the working group predicted that the EI reform would have a negative impact on women. We already know that study after study has indicated that it is in many cases women who have lost their eligibility for employment insurance. They have paid into the fund and have been discriminated against by the changes to the employment insurance program.

As far as the amendment goes, while it is perhaps a friendly amendment, there is no need for us to study any more. This to me sounds like an election ploy. It is kind of like what the Prime Minister said at the convention when he said that we needed to review the Employment Insurance Act. A review can mean anything. It can mean that the act will be even more draconian at the end of the review, once and if the Liberals lucky enough to get another mandate.

Let us have a show of faith here this evening on this member's motion. Let us see members put their votes where their comments were at the Liberal convention and let us see them vote in favour of this member's motion. I do not think it will happen. I would be readily surprised if it did, but one never knows. We have been surprised in the House before.

Let me also comment on the value of seasonal work to the economy. People tend to think that seasonal work is perhaps not on that high of a plane because it is seasonal in nature. However, when we look at it, tourism ranks 12th among the major sectors of the economy. While I am discussing tourism, it is important for me to comment a little bit about my own constituency.

It is ironic that we should be debating this motion the day after the government invoked closure on Bill C-11, an act by the government to take away the jobs of miners in Cape Breton. What is the government's solution to the economic problems in places like Cape Breton where it is challenged with helping to develop an economy? It says that tourism is the answer. The government should talk to the women, in particular, who work in the tourism industry in my riding in towns like Baddeck and Ingonish. I know my colleague from Bras d'Or—Cape Breton would echo the same thoughts for the women who work in the tourism industry in her riding, as would all my colleagues.

Let me say that many people in the tourism industry in particular, but also in the construction trades, the fishing trades, the agriculture industry and the lumber industry rely on employment insurance to see them through. That is only natural. They pay into an insurance fund. It used to be called unemployment insurance until the government decided to play word games and call it employment insurance. They pay into that with their hard-earned money and surely at the end of the season they are entitled to get that money back.

The Canadian people have spoken about the government's changes to the employment insurance program. The Canadian people resoundingly oppose those changes. I ask the government members, whose Prime Minister has indicated he is prepared to see things our way, to vote in favour of the motion.