Mr. Speaker, there are certain debates in this House that require making decisions in the light of a particular context and realities that cannot be ignored. Today, I have the opportunity to speak on a question that demands serious thought in order to arrive at our position. Here we see reason clashing with passion.
Bill C-436, sponsored by the hon. member for Vancouver East, seeks to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The proposed amendment reads as follows:
Subject to the regulations, a Canadian citizen or permanent resident may, once in their lifetime, sponsor one foreign national who is a relative but is not a member of the family class.
We are well acquainted with the hon. member for Vancouver East. This proposal reflects her humanitarianism and her great generosity. We commend her on the spirit behind this bill.
Unfortunately, we cannot support her bill as it is currently formulated. Three major reasons underlie our position: the lack of clarity of Bill C-436; immigration priorities, particularly Canada's role in refugee protection; and finally, budgetary constraints and the resulting choices for the allocation of resources.
What do we mean when we say that the hon. NDP member's proposal lacks clarity? What does she mean by a “foreign national who is a relative but is not a member of the family class”? What are the acceptable limits of the definition of “a relative”? For example, is a third cousin counted as a relative? Is there a requirement that they share a genetic ancestor and, if so, to what percentage? What is the dividing line between an acceptable relative and one who is not, if the list of admissible persons has not been defined?
We easily see that there is a great deal of room for arbitrary decisions. If the hon. member wishes to broaden the family class to include other specific family members, she should state that in her bill, because without that, it is too vague and does not make it possible to determine which cases are admissible and which are not.
For example, we know that certain cultures consider family much more broadly than blood relations. For some people, a very close friend or neighbour is like a brother or at least like a member of the family.
The current list of persons admissible in the family class is already well defined. How could we justify an amendment this far-reaching without including some limits?
That way, the hon. member should be able to show how many people would be affected by this new measure. Has she any credible and relevant studies on this? For now, we can only presume that this kind of proposal would have allowed 229,091 additional sponsorship applications in 2002.
This piece of the pie, which is Canada's immigration plan, is split 60-40. In other words, immigrants are selected as follows: 60% are economic immigrants, meaning business people, and self-employed and skilled workers; the remaining 40% are family class immigrants, asylum seekers and so forth.
Of this 40%, approximately 30% are family class immigrants, 10% are refugees, and 1% other. If the number of individuals who qualify for family class is increased, who will pay? Since the total is split 60-40, asylum seekers will clearly pay the price of these new measures.
Those members interested in reducing the 60% should remember that, before family members of a permanent resident or Canadian citizen can be brought over, the primary applicant must qualify to enter Canada as part of the 60% in the economic class. So, this proposal, which would reduce that percentage, does little to improve the situation.
With respect to the 40%, headlines show deportation cases for asylum seekers being dismissed almost every week. Clearly, the numerous conflicts and civil wars in a growing number of countries—Colombia, Algeria, Palestine, Israel, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan—should make democratic countries pay closer attention to refugee claimants. Every year, small budgets cause Canada to turn away thousands of asylum seekers whose lives are in danger in their country of origin. With bigger budgets, Canada could further meet its obligations as a signatory of the Geneva convention with respect to protecting refugees.
By allowing more immigrants to sponsor relatives, we are using resources that could save lives by accepting more asylum seekers. Politics and public administration are no exception, as with daily life we have to make responsible choices while taking various constraints into account. Would it be better to bring a distant cousin to Canada or offer asylum to a Colombian family whose members might be tortured or killed if they were returned to Colombia? In an ideal world we could do both, but for now this is not possible.
Although the humanitarian intent of the NDP member is praiseworthy, her bill does not take into consideration the realities of Citizenship and Immigration Canada's budget.
Canada's immigration objective is to admit the equivalent of 1% of the Canadian population, or 310,000 immigrants annually. There are two key reasons for this: compensating for the recorded drop in population and filling the need for skilled workers, particularly with economic category immigrants.
In 2002, Canada admitted 229,091 immigrants, compared to the 2001 figure of 250,484. The drop was in part a result of the department's inability to process any more because of budget restraints and the costs related to settlement and integration. It is not enough just to admit people into the country; it is also important to ensure that they receive proper services for a smooth integration into the host society.
This past spring, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration's trip across Canada gave us a good idea of the inadequate funds available for settlement of newcomers and the unfortunate consequences of this situation. The quality of services to new arrivals is as important as, if not more important than the quantity of newcomers. What is the point of bringing in distant cousins and neighbours, if we are not even in a position to properly service those already here in Quebec and in Canada?
It is important to clearly understand that the Bloc Quebecois recognizes the humanitarian aspect of Bill C-436, and if the hon. member agrees to take it back to the drawing board and fine tune her proposal, particularly by improving its focus and clarifying those who would be eligible, it is possible that we might support it when time comes to vote. For the moment, however, common sense and responsibility dictate that we instead favour providing proper settlement services for those who are admitted. As well, our humanitarian duty toward asylum seekers requires us to afford them priority when resources are being allocated. For them it is often a matter of life or death. As the old saying has it, “You should not bite off more than you can chew”. We are better to not bite off so much that we develop problems later.