Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this morning to take part in the debate on this important and interesting bill.
In principle, I believe the member for Vancouver East has her heart in the right place and the bill has the right intent. I have a lot of questions to ask about the bill which I will bring up later on in my remarks.
First of all, I wish to thank this country for having a family sponsorship program because I would not be standing here today if that sponsorship program had not been put in place. In fact, I would not be in Canada at all if it were not for the program. However, if it was not for the Chinese Exclusion Act, I would have probably been in this country a lot earlier.
Using myself as an example, I am actually a third generation Canadian by immigration because my family was excluded from this country. When my father came here, he just escaped the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923. It was not repealed until 1947. That tax was put in by the Liberal government of the day. I came in the fifties under the family reunification program. The doors were opened and people were allowed to come to this country to join their families.
It is important that we be serious about family unification. All the excuses I heard this morning throughout the debate were just that, excuses. I do not think there is anyone in this House who does not have a relative or who does not know someone personally who came to this country through the family sponsorship program at one time or another, if not in the last decade, certainly 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago.
We believe that families are the foundation of this country. Who built this country? It was built by families and immigrants who came here, certainly the first and second generations. They came here not to use the country and ask for hand-outs. They came here to contribute to this country, much like the pioneers of the early days in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s. We must not forget that.
We believe that uniting families is important. It is just like our own immediate families. That is how important it is. Imagine being separated from them for decades and not being able to have them come home: our own children, our nephews and nieces. If we were to put a reality perspective on it, I think most members in the House would agree that it makes sense.
I do not believe immigrants or their family members want to come here for a free ride. They want to come to contribute and help this country grow. That is why conditions need to be put in place.
I had a private member's bill put together on the same topic back in February 2002. I did not take the time to table it. In that bill, I qualified the definition of citizen making an application. A qualified citizen meant a person who had been a Canadian citizen for 25 years or more. In other words, people had to show credibility. They had to have contributed to this country, to its growth, and to its success.
Under section (b) qualified citizens would have to satisfy the minister of their ability to provide for the necessities of life and fulfill the legal obligation of a person sponsored under section 2.2 for 10 years following the person's arrival in Canada, either financially, partly financially or partly in time, and undertake in the prescribed manner to do so, if necessary. Also, that the qualified citizen had not previously sponsored a qualified person under that same section. In other words, the citizen had to guarantee that the family member or individual would be looked after, not at the expense of the country, but at the expense of the sponsor.
When we look at families that probably makes sense and is rational, because if we want family members to be here then we should be obligated to look after them.
On the numbers side, even according to the Liberal records, roughly 25% of family members who come to this country annually are sponsored under the family class. This year we are looking at something like 44,227, which met 75% of the target. When the Liberal target is something like 300,000, 1% or roughly a quarter million is the annual average, 44,000 is not a lot of people.
If we put in a qualifier in terms of who is qualified to make the sponsorship, I do not believe we would get an onslaught of applications. First, as I indicated, people should have been citizens who have helped generate wealth in this country for 25 years, which is a number I picked out of the air. We could make it 10 years if it would be more applicable. I do not believe we would get a huge onslaught.
It is so ironic that the Liberal government over the last 10 years has wanted to take the credit for all the immigration numbers, as the member for Vancouver East alluded to earlier in her speech. In the 10 years the Liberals have been in power they have actually lowered immigration levels. That is hard to believe. They are the ones who have been promoting that it should be 1% or 300,000 people. The intent of their proposal is that all these new immigrants will vote Liberal. They are more interested in their vote than how they will contribute to the creation of wealth in this country.
Over the last 10 years the Liberals have actually lowered immigration levels in the range of 232,000 to 257,000 in the last three years. During the last three years of the former Progressive Conservative government, they were actually a lot larger. In fact in 1992-93 immigration levels were about 0.9% of the population and right now they are just over 0.7%. How does the Liberal government explain that? It has been the government for the last 10 years that has promoted immigration and yet the actual levels of immigration are less than they were in 1992-93.
In principle I agree with the intent of the bill. I know that with the diverse population base, the people who are watching this debate, I am sure, support the bill. Diversity and family reunification creates wealth but it has to be done in a qualified and right way.