Mr. Speaker, in joining this debate, I would like to respond to the member for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock who spoke for the government.
Having been on the citizenship and immigration committee since 1998, I recognize speeches written by bureaucrats, who are exactly the people who wrote that speech. I refused to give some of those speeches when I was parliamentary secretary to the minister of citizenship immigration because I believed that as a member of Parliament I had an obligation to the House, as well as to my constituents, the country and my fellow members of Parliament.
The member made the comment that it was disingenuous for people on this side to criticize the government because we were in government before. The record will show that in previous Parliaments when the Liberals were in government, we supported settling this question about the Vietnamese boat people. I might also say to the member that the Conservatives also supported it.
When the bureaucrats came to the committee, Daniel Jean spoke to the committee and said that the government would try to deal with this. I remember the critic, the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill, saying the following:
Thank you, gentlemen, for your information to the committee.
The committee is pleased, I believe it's fair to say, with this reversal by the government of their long-standing objection to resettling these Vietnamese who were without status in the Philippines. However, the devil is always in the details, isn't it?
We are finding out that is the case. The point I want to make is that the Conservative members of the committee supported it, as did the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Bloc. There was general support in the committee to make this happen.
I have another issue I want to focus on. We often talk about cooperating with our allies or other folks to make things happen. We started off with 2,000 people who needed to be resettled. Australia, a smaller country than ours, took in 256 people. Our allies to the south took many more. The United Kingdom took some and Norway resettled some.
We are talking about a relatively small number but the significance of it is huge. It is huge because we would get to wrap up the adventure we began back in 1975 when we dealt with the Vietnamese boat people, as well as people from Cambodia and the Laotians. Canada did a very admirable job. It took in over 20% of all the Vietnamese boat people, Cambodians and Laotians who needed to be resettled. This is an opportunity for us to wrap it up. We are talking about 125 plus 27 who were born in the Philippines and who have a mixed heritage of Philippine and Vietnamese.
I have been here since 1998 and the only consistent thing has been the department's opposition to some of these issues.
The situation is fairly simple. The minister has all the power to make this happen. It does not take a lot. He can sign off on it very quickly. He could go through the criminality and health checks to satisfy himself that these people would meet those criteria. All it takes is a little political will.
Unfortunately, and this I find has been a problem, immigration and citizenship is not a big priority for the government. It had a very able candidate for the position in the member for Calgary—Nose Hill, who was their critic. She understood the department. The Conservatives also had a number of members, such as the member from Edmonton, who served on the committee for a long period of time. They had expertise to put in the position as minister.
The Prime Minister chose not to do that. He picked a member who had absolutely no exposure to citizenship and immigration issues. He may be a fine member, but he was put in charge of a department without any prior experience in the portfolio. The same thing is true for the position of parliamentary secretary.
We have the Prime Minister appointing people to the position of minister and parliamentary secretary, people who have no previous experience in the department. Why would the Prime Minister not give priority to something as important as citizenship and immigration, which affects so many Canadians in the country?
I want to get back to the 152 people about whom we are talking. There is absolutely no excuse. If the government had not changed the members of the government on the committee, the committee would not be parroting the line handed to them by the bureaucrats or by their whip. They would be still pushing to resettle this group of people, where we only have 152 people left out of a group of about 2,000.
Let me get back to the previous Liberal government when it dealt with this issue. I mentioned that the committee members, and the member for Burnaby—Douglas will know this, oftentimes did not go the way that the parliamentary secretary would have gone or the government might have wanted to go. The members on the committee used their best judgment upon hearing the evidence, keeping in mind they were parliamentarians. When we sit on committees, it is our job to hold the bureaucracy accountable as well as the government.
This is one area where I am sad to say the Conservative government has really been failing. If we check the minutes of the committee meetings and if we look at the voting pattern of the members on the government side, it is unanimously one position. We can tell this by the way the parliamentary secretary votes.
In the previous Parliament, when the Liberals were in government, the parliamentary secretary did not dominate the committee in terms of speaking time. The time then was shared by all the members. Now we have a parliamentary secretary who essentially dominates the speaking time on behalf of the government. Instead of allowing committees to work, we have a situation where the government line is put out and pushed. This inhibits the committee from doing its job either holding the government or the bureaucracy accountable. That is unfortunate.
The Vietnamese Canadian community is a very viable one in Canada. One of the real pleasures one gets being in committee is hearing presentations from Canadians from across the country. We all have members of the Vietnamese Canadian community in our ridings. My colleague from Winnipeg said that he would like to have them all go to his riding.
When we travelled across the country and talked on the issue of immigration and citizenship, one of the things we heard, universally, was that we needed more immigrants. When we were in the Maritimes, we heard that undocumented workers seemed to be a problem to the government, that it was trying to get rid of them on a daily basis. They wanted them to relocate there because they were desperate for people to settle in their communities. Canadians have recognized that immigration population growth leads to more economic activity and prosperity. This has not been happening.
As I mentioned, we have a very viable Vietnamese community. I hope it keeps pushing this issue in the communities. Governments being unresponsive and making decisions of this type have to be held accountable.
When I came here in 1993 as a new member of Parliament, I sat on the government side of the House and Reform Party members sat on the other side. They said that they came here because they wanted to do what was right by their constituents. They said that they wanted to vote the way their constituents instructed them to vote. Sadly, that bit of innovation has disappeared. We now have the Conservative Party and members vote the way they are told. If they dare vote their conscience, or for that matter vote as instructed by their constituents, they quickly find themselves out the door. I think the public is fast becoming aware of this flip-flop.
The reality is we are dealing with a small issue here. We are talking about 152 people and wrapping up the whole Vietnam boat experience, which was a traumatic event in many of our lives. We could also give closure to those Canadians of Vietnamese background who went through that experience. They see that the people in the Philippines are suffering. They are stateless and cannot settle anywhere. They are often harassed by the police. They are shaken down for bribes.
For the psychological well-being of our Vietnamese Canadian community, we need to wrap this up. We need to do our part with the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway and Australia. Right now we are not doing that. It will not take any great deal of work on the part of the government to make this happen. The minister could very easily sign one piece of paper saying we want these people. This is exactly what we should be doing. We should be wrapping this up if we want to maintain our reputation.
In 1975 we did great work with the boat people and the Vietnamese community. We did it because the Canadian public in many ways demanded that we do it. About this time 50 years ago, the Hungarian revolution wound down and people were displaced. They went to Austria. It was the reaction of Canadians that drove the government to action.
We have to recapture the spirit of those times because, ultimately, not that many things have to divide us when it comes to humanitarian activity. I think we would find overwhelming consensus across the country that people would want to see this chapter closed, that they would want those people to be given an opportunity to come to Canada and, as I said, close the book on that chapter. It would not take very much at all.