Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague from the New Democratic Party for bringing forward this private member's bill. I know she has a very caring heart and has worked closely with immigrant communities.
The difficulty I have with the bill is twofold. One is that there has been a concerted effort by a number of other parties to label our party as anti-immigrant. That is not the case. However, because that perception is out there, it is sometimes very difficult for us to speak on these kinds of matters because no matter what we say, we are attacked with that perception in mind.
Therefore, I would like first to make it clear that our party is very pro-immigrant. In fact we have a very diverse ethic group in our caucus. Many of our members of Parliament in the Canadian Alliance were not born in Canada. They are in fact immigrants, children of immigrants, including myself. Therefore, we are very pro-immigration, and I want to enter the debate with that very clearly in mind.
The second difficulty I have with the bill is on some practical matters. It would be wonderful if we could move ahead, as my colleague has suggested, with each person being able to sponsor someone once in a lifetime to come to Canada. That would certainly be a wonderful gift to many people, but there are some results that would flow from that kind of change in policy. Therefore, we need to look at those carefully before we decide whether this matter should go ahead.
The main concern I have, and I know a lot of immigrants to Canada have, is the huge backlog that exists in our immigration system. I have had some heartbreaking cases in my office. I imagine that each one of us, as members of Parliament, could stand in our place and tell stories of people who have tried so hard to get their spouse, their fiancée, their children, their parents to Canada under the family class sponsorship but have had the most horrendous roadblocks put in their way with a huge backlog.
I have had many such cases. One that was recent was a constituent who worked very hard to get his wife to come to Canada. She was pregnant at the time. The application started in May 2001. He was told, though a letter from the immigration department, that the whole process would take about 15 months, which would have brought his wife to Canada about the summer of 2002. Unfortunately, their child would not be born in Canada and that was a real concern to him. He was very proud of Canada and wanted his child to be born here.
I do not have time to go over the horrendous series of events that took place between the time my constituent made his application to bring his wife to Canada and when she finally arrived in September 2003. That was two and a half years from the time he made his application, and there was such heartbreak for this man, his wife and his little daughter.
My concern is that immigrants, who are in these situations, who want to bring elderly parents, many of whom are not well and need family to care for them and to be with them, or who want to bring their children or their spouse to Canada, already have such a difficult time. By loading up the queue, so to speak, with new categories of entrants, new categories of people who are able to make an application to come to Canada, we have to think about the impact on those who are already in the queue. That is a tremendous concern to many citizens and immigrants who are already trying to get close family members into Canada.
Both my colleague in the New Democratic Party and the government member, the parliamentary secretary, spoke of the lack of resources in our system. It is a real concern for all of us. The lack of resources are impacting newcomers to Canada very severely.
We all know that settlement services continually are cut back. That really means newcomers to Canada do not have the kind of language training they require. Newcomers to Canada do not get the employment counselling that is so important to them. There is a lack of resources in housing, so we have cities like Vancouver and Toronto where the housing costs are so horrendous that newcomers find it difficult to establish themselves and their families.
Resources are being cut back for counselling overseas. It used to be that our people at missions abroad would take at least a half hour with everyone intending to come to Canada and counsel them on things like the climate, the tax system and some of the cultural expectations when it came to disciplining children, which is a huge concern for newcomers to Canada. They would give them some idea for what they needed to prepared.
Now, because of lack of resources and the huge backlog, individuals are simply pushed through the queue without having the kind of preparation that is so important. When they come to Canada, they find that their family members are so busy and tied up in making a living and establishing themselves that the extra help we want to give immigrants simply is not available to them.
Therefore, we need to think very clearly about whether loading the system further really will be a benefit to newcomers in Canada, to families in Canada and to our country or whether it simply will exacerbate the problems that in my opinion ought to be fixed first.
Once in a lifetime has been suggested but that is a very arbitrary limit. Why is it only once in a lifetime? If we are to open up a new category, why would it only be once in a lifetime? We will have some tremendous problems in administering that.
An immigration lawyer, who was the former head of the Canadian Bar Association immigration subsection, said to me that immigrants were able to sponsor a relative with a one page document, supported by another one page document their about financial resources, but now there was different criteria for specific countries and it was a bureaucratic nightmare.
I would suggest we need to start streamlining our system so there is not such a nightmare for people wanting to come to Canada, before we add to categories of sponsorship. We also want to ensure that we have the resources to care for and establish people in our country so they can succeed very quickly, as many of them work hard to do but the tools are not there for them.
My colleague knows that one of the real concerns we all have in the House, from all parties, is the lack of recognition of foreign credentials. We have horror stories of people coming to our country and not being able to establish themselves in their trade and profession such that they can really succeed. They struggle to survive at low paying jobs.
I have a constituent who was brought to Canada because he had two masters degrees: one in education and one in science. He taught ESL in his country of origin and was very fluent in English. He found to his horror and dismay when he got to Canada, and no one had told him this, that he could not teach. He is now working stocking vending machines, with two masters degrees.
These situations need to be looked after. They need to be cleaned up and cleared up before we bring more people in to suffer the same frustrations that so many others have experienced.
While I applaud my colleague and her generosity of spirit, which I think is shared by all Canadians, I think in practical ways we need to clean up our system to make it more effective and efficient before we add to the categories of sponsorship.