Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-272, a private member's bill before the House. I am grateful because it is important to recognize the initiatives of individual parliamentarians. I know that the parliamentarian who has sponsored this bill here today is well intentioned, but I have some thoughts on this bill.
I am speaking not only as a parliamentarian and a member of the House but also as an immigrant to Canada. I am now a Canadian citizen, but my family and I immigrated from the Mediterranean island of Malta. I am certainly very grateful to this country for everything it has provided to me and my own children.
The bill seeks to amend Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act by granting every citizen or permanent resident the opportunity to sponsor, once in the sponsor's lifetime, one foreign national who is a relative but not a member of the family class. The concept of a once in a lifetime sponsorship is not new. Governments and stakeholders have debated and analyzed whether such a provision would be workable for very many years now. All of us believe in the principle of strengthening the family class and making it easier for people to sponsor loved ones who now live abroad. However, the one time sponsorship option as presented in Bill C-272 is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons.
Past experience indicates that even with more resources, the increase in backlogs and processing time for this and other categories of immigrants that could be generated by such an open-ended system would seriously undermine the integrity and the credibility of the whole immigration program. The bill before us today addresses one of the many shortcomings of earlier legislation from another honourable member by defining an eligible relative as a brother or sister of the sponsor, an aunt or uncle, nephew or niece, first cousin or child of the sponsor who is 22 years of age or older, and is not dependent upon the sponsor.
However, past experience indicates that such an expansion of the family class would be unsustainable, unmanageable, and seriously impede the government's ability to uphold the will of Parliament by maintaining the current sixty-forty mix of economic to non-economic immigration. This has also been noted by other parliamentarians in the House.
In 1988, family intake nearly doubled over two years, thanks to a similar arrangement to include all unmarried sons and daughters in the family class. The escalated number of backlogs rising out of that program, despite its termination in 1993, is still having an impact and effect on the Department of Citizenship and Immigration even today.
We have already made provision for processing applications from relatives who would not normally fall under the family class, under certain circumstances. There is little reason to duplicate this in a separate piece of legislation with such serious problems. Canadians and permanent residents today can sponsor a relative, regardless of relationship or age, if they have no family residing in Canada or abroad. Section 117(1)(h) of the new immigration and refugee protection regulations defines a foreign national as a member of the family class with respect to a sponsor if he or she is “a relative of the sponsor, regardless of age, if the sponsor does not have a spouse, a common-law partner, a conjugal partner”, or any other immediate family member in Canada or abroad.
In addition, section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act can be used to permit the sponsorship of a foreign national relative who would not otherwise qualify as a member of the family class, if exceptional humanitarian and compassionate grounds exist. Furthermore, foreign nationals who apply as skilled workers and have close family members in Canada are given the advantage of five additional points on the selection grid.
The government passed a series of new regulations in 2002 to make it much easier for Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their loved ones from abroad, and significantly expanded the family class in a well managed and sustainable way, even though I and other colleagues in the House still have backlog problems with this department.
These changes provided for equal treatment under the law for common-law couples of the opposite and same sex by expanding the family class to include the term “common-law partners and conjugal partners”. They also expand the definition of dependent child to better reflect longer child dependencies. They reduce the age at which Canadians citizens or permanent residents are eligible to sponsor from 19 to 18 years of age.
These enhancements to the family class reflect the government's policy intention of easing family reunification while ensuring that the immigration program itself maintains an appropriate balance between the intake of refugees as well as economic and family class immigrants. We have expanded the family class in a well planned and responsible way. The government has also made provision for individuals who wish to sponsor an individual not included in the family class without jeopardizing the integrity of the immigration program itself.
I find it difficult to support the concept of a once in a lifetime sponsorship and will not vote in favour of what I still consider a flawed scheme as set out in Bill C-272.
I also know that in every community there is stress on the receiving end for municipalities and other levels of government that must put the programs in place. I see it in some of the relocation and training programs, whether it is skills or language. We want to properly resource on location when people come to this country. I think we do have a proper balance in this country. There could be more resources so that the system could run smoother.
I thank the hon. member for bringing this up. He has good intentions. I know he contributes in a meaningful way in the House and will continue to do so. With regard to this situation and in these particular set of circumstances, I do not agree with him, but there may be another time when I will.