This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was immigration.

Topics

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

An hon. member

A national child care program.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

My colleague from Halifax suggests a national child care program. The entire Kelowna accord was $5 billion. There were meaningful things that we could have done with this $5 billion, things that would have made a difference. We would not have this squandering. The irresponsible spending of the Conservative Party is astounding.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell NDP Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Winnipeg Centre, who has spoken many times in this House about homelessness and poverty in his riding. We are seeing much more of that across the country.

In the statement I made this afternoon in the House, I said that we had just had a study done in British Columbia which showed that we have 10,500 homeless in the province of British Columbia. That was a study done in over 60 cities, not just downtown Vancouver, and it was not done in downtown Toronto, Ontario. Just in 60 communities in British Columbia, there are over 10,000 homeless people. That is a shame.

However, at the same time, we see the government giving huge tax breaks to large corporations. Some of those corporations are doing business in the tar sands of Alberta. Those companies are building pipelines to take the raw bitumen to cities in the U.S.A. to be processed. That could be a potential loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

I want to know why these large corporations, which are cross-border shopping for our oil and our natural resources, taking jobs out of this country, and making billions of dollars in profits, are being given such huge tax breaks while at the same time they are increasing their carbon emissions. They are making Canada's greenhouse gases go up at the expense of all these people in our communities who are living on the streets and in their cars. There are people who are in dire need of some assistance. They could have had that from the government instead of seeing it give all that money to huge corporations.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Vancouver Island North for pointing out another good reason why we oppose the fall 2007 economic update. It simply rewards, with wheelbarrows full of money, these businesses that do not need the support. It is a reward worth billions of dollars.

We usually use our tax strategy and tax policy to encourage good behaviour by some businesses and discourage bad behaviour by others, or to encourage growth in sectors that otherwise would not grow and need the support.

In other words, we do not need to support growth in the oil sector right now. That sector is doing just fine without yet another wheelbarrow full of dough delivered dutifully to them by the Conservative government.

I believe the Conservatives have squandered yet another multi-billion dollar surplus by misdirecting it. Instead of choosing the priorities of ordinary Canadians, they are choosing the priorities of the sectors they choose to pamper. I should point out that we might not be facing this difficulty if they would only implement the part of the Federal Accountability Act that would create a parliamentary budget officer. That is so we do not get blindsided by these multi-billion dollar surpluses that the Conservatives deny and deny, right up until the date they announce them, and then shovel them to their friends.

If we had more transparency in the budgetary process so that Canadians knew, or at least had some fighting chance to know, what the budgetary surplus really was, I think we would see Canadians mobilizing and demanding spending on the priorities they care about and not having the government squander it by blowing it all on its friends.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like my colleague to give us his views on an issue that affects many of us: the situation of our seniors. This situation is very disturbing, because we know that thousands of seniors are living well below the poverty line. Earlier, the member made comments about democracy. He just made other comments about the surplus.

I would like to know whether he believes, as many of us do, that the government should be focusing on rectifying the lack of action, the fundamental lack of concern about increasing the guaranteed income supplement and making decent retroactive payments to those people who were shortchanged. Bill C-28 does not address this issue.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's question regarding the guaranteed income supplement for senior Canadians. Those who qualify for the guaranteed income supplement are the poorest of the poor. People are not eligible until they are at a very, very low level of income.

When we learned that the government was aware of some 300,000 people who qualified for the GIS but were not receiving it, we leaped into action. With the cooperation of colleagues from the Bloc, we forced the Liberal government of the day to remedy that situation by at least making more seniors aware of the eligibility for the GIS.

However, then there was the retroactivity. Some of them were not collecting the benefit for which they were eligible for 10 or 11 years, but the retroactivity was only 11 months. My colleague is correct. With such a huge budgetary surplus, why not change the lives of these low income seniors in a dramatic way by giving them the money they were eligible for all along?

Here is my question on a lot of poverty issues, whether it is first nations poverty or the child poverty that we experience in our own ridings. If not now, when? If not now, when there is a $10 billion budgetary surplus to elevate the social conditions of low income Canadians, then when? Let us imagine the unrealized potential of a child who grows up without the basics needed to flourish. Let us imagine the lost opportunity of these kids who do not have adequate housing or basic nutrition and who have basic needs.

For heaven's sake, 10 record surplus budgets in a row and it is still not time to address basic social needs, but it is time to give even further tax cuts to the biggest and most profitable corporations in the country? There is something fundamentally wrong with the way the Conservatives think. They are missing it.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Independent

Bill Casey Independent Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, I would like to add my own thoughts about what just happened in the vote.

I am an independent member and there are a number of independent members here. We were not given any advance notice about the vote. I was in the lobby and I remember the clock showing that there were 11 minutes and 40 seconds left before the vote. However, when I walked into the chamber the vote was under way.

All I can say is that there are tools that we can use and one of the tools is unanimous consent. If that is the way the game is to be played, that is the way we will play it too. We are a part of this. We were elected and we are entitled to vote. It was just a rotten piece of business the way the vote was conducted.

I want to add my remarks to Bill C-28, the budget implementation bill, and I want to focus on an issue that is very important to Atlantic Canada, and that is the Atlantic accord. Bill C-28 does impact the Atlantic accord, which is a very important part of it.

First I want to say that the Atlantic accords originally were a number of agreements that were not all called Atlantic accords but are assumed now to be called Atlantic accords. Everybody has adopted the term “Atlantic accords” for a number of agreements that took place over a period of time.

Basically, the accords guaranteed that Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador would receive 100% of the revenue from their offshore oil resources. The last agreement was signed on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2005, with Nova Scotia and negotiated and signed by Dr. John Hamm and the former prime minister of Canada. that agreement was very specific that the Atlantic accord arrangement and the Atlantic accord payment would be based on the equalization formula that existed at the time that the calculation was made.

It is ironic that the original agreement that I just mentioned, signed on February 14, is two pages long and nine paragraphs long and yet there are 24 pages of amendments in Bill C-28 to amend that two page document.

It is not as simple as that, I understand, but that is what has happened with the Atlantic accord issue. It has gone from a very simple, straightforward agreement, to a very complicated, convoluted agreement that is now subject to interpretation and manipulation.

The government said that the Atlantic accords have been honoured and respected. Now it is saying that it has made them whole with the agreement in Bill C-28. With all due respect, that is not true. The government broke the Atlantic accords and everybody in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland knows it. They have been broken. They are not respected. They are not honoured and they have not been made whole. The only way they can made whole is if this little agreement, this nine paragraph agreement, is honoured.

None of the other alternatives that the government has come up, its different interpretations or manipulations, will satisfy the people in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

There is a lot of confusion surrounding this and I want to go through some of the confusing issues, because it has been confusing for everybody involved with this arrangement, and why the deal was broken.

The province of Nova Scotia put out a brochure telling every Nova Scotian that:

That budget [in March 2007] effectively ripped up our Offshore Accord and all of the opportunities it is expected to bring to Nova Scotians.

The province of Nova Scotia even started an online petition demanding that Ottawa honour the offshore accord and all agreements it signs with any province or territory.

To me, that is a simple concept, a simple principle that all governments should honour. They should honour signed contracts with the province or territory with which they are made or with an individual, a company or another country.

It is unbelievable that the Government of Canada would break a signed contract. I refer again to the Atlantic accord, which is two pages long. It was signed by a minister of the federal government and a minister of the provincial government. It was a signed contract and the government just decided to disregard that contract, to rip it up in the March 19 budget.

A few things are confusing. It is confusing that a lot of the people who came to the House from Alberta and the western provinces were very upset about the national energy program that was foisted on Alberta in the eighties. It redirected revenue from the gas and oil business in Alberta to the federal government and they were very upset about that. It almost caused a revolution in western Canada. However, those same people turned around and did the same thing to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. They imposed changes on the gas and oil regime to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland that took away our share of the revenue or reduced our share in the same way that the NEP took away from Alberta.

I do not understand why they can be so upset about the Alberta experience but then turn around and not hesitate to do it to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

I find it confusing that the government has representatives in Nova Scotia and in Newfoundland but none of them were asked for advice, given any consultation or given an opportunity to represent their constituents through this whole exercise of bringing forth these amendments to the Atlantic accord.

Even more amazing, the government has ministers in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and neither one of them were informed. They were blind-sided as much as everyone else.

When the budget came down on March 19, everyone was surprised. No politician east of Ontario was consulted on these changes even though they severely impacted Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and I do not understand that.

I do not understand why the government would not consult with the provincial people, the province of Nova Scotia and the province of Newfoundland, if it were going to make profound changes to this signed contract, but again it did not.

I refer to a statement that Premier Danny Williams made today. He said, “Essentially, we are being railroaded into an untenable situation whereby we are forced to choose the O’Brien formula” and the traditional formula.

The province is being railroaded. That is not the way to run a government and have intergovernmental relations if it wants to succeed.

I do not understand this one. The Prime Minister said that the government essentially broke the accords because it wanted to have one equalization formula in the country and it thought that by doing this that would do it.

However, in the summary of Bill C-28, part 11 states:

Part 11 amends the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act to provide for an additional fiscal equalization payment that may be paid to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Therefore, two provinces now have one equalization formula and the other eight provinces have a different one. It is good for Nova Scotia and for Newfoundland and Labrador but it is contrary to what the Prime Minister said. He said that he wanted to have one equalization formula but right here it says that additional fiscal equalization payments will be paid to two provinces but not the others. That does not make sense to me.

Another thing that does not make sense to me, again in the same light that the Prime Minister said that he wanted to have one equalization formula, is that now two provinces under Bill C-28 have the opportunity to calculate an equalization formula, use that formula and take advantage of it, which has a 3.5% escalator clause for every year until 2020. Two provinces have it and eight do not. Again, we have a different equalization program.

The ironic thing is that when we had the Atlantic accord and equalization, we did have a uniform equalization program across the country, plus the Atlantic accord. However, now the government has actually enshrined two different equalization programs in the country, which seems to go against everything the Prime Minister said that he wanted to do and every justification he had for breaking the accords in the first place.

Another issue that confuses me is what the Minister of Finance wrote in the Halifax Herald on June 9. He said, “There will be no side deals on this equalization business”.

This is the ultimate side deal. Every year the province of Nova Scotia and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, if they choose to take it, will be able to calculate a parallel equalization formula and then at the end of the year, if that parallel calculation is more than the O'Brien formula, the Government of Canada writes a cheque to the province of Nova Scotia. If that is not a side deal that is renewed every year, I do not know what is.

Another thing is, if I understand this correctly, and I think I do, the O'Brien formula goes to 2013. Eight provinces have a commitment on equalization to 2013. Bill C-28 makes a commitment to 2020 for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland that they would get the old amended formula of equalization. Essentially, there is one deal for two provinces to go to 2020 and one deal for the other eight provinces that goes to 2013.

Again, the whole basis for breaking the accords in the first place, based on the government's statement, was to have one principle based equalization formula.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley but the time has arrived for a deferred recorded division. He has 10 minutes left in his 20-minute speech when the House returns to this matter.

The House resumed from December 5 consideration of the motion.

Aboriginal AffairsPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

It being 5:30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on Motion No. 296.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #27

Aboriginal AffairsPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed from December 6 consideration of the motion that Bill C-411, An Act to amend the Special Import Measures Act (domestic prices), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Special Import Measures ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order, please. The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading of Bill C-411, under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #28

Special Import Measures ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion lost.

The House resumed from December 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-251, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-251 under private members' business.

Before the Clerk announced the results of the vote:

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Calgary Centre appears to have voted twice, once in favour and once against. I would appreciate clarification from him on which way he really intended to vote in this matter.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Lee Richardson Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I inadvertently stood on the first round. My intention was to oppose the motion.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I assume the hon. member is voting no. We will hear the result accordingly.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #29

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion lost.

It being 6:19 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

moved that Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-394, which I call the once in a lifetime bill. I call it that because it would amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that would allow a Canadian resident or permanent citizen to sponsor once in their lifetime a family member from outside the family classes currently defined under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Currently, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act defines family as: a spouse, a common law or conjugal partner who is at least 16 years of age; a dependent child under the age of 22; a child who is a full time student or is dependent upon a parent for financial support; a child who is disabled; a parent or grandparent; a child to be adopted under the age of 18; and a brother, sister, niece, nephew or grandchild who has been orphaned, is under the age of 18 and is not a spouse or common law partner.

What would my bill do? It proposes to add additional members to the sponsorship definition. It will cover, in addition, a son or daughter over the age of 22 who is not dependent on his or her parents. It will cover an aunt or uncle, a brother or sister, a niece or nephew or a first cousin. It will expand the definition of family so the sponsor could add additional people to the definition of those from whom they could choose to sponsor.

Why is this bill necessary? In short, as Statistics Canada recently reported, one in five Canadians is now born outside of Canada. It is an increase of 13.6% from 2001, with the vast majority of newcomers settling in my province of Ontario. We have found that 6.2 million people in Canada were born outside of the country and the foreign born population of our country is now at its highest proportion in 75 years.

In the past five years 1.1 million immigrants have come to Canada and have made it their home, most of them settling in Ontario, which is 52.3% of newcomers. In addition, 17% settled in Quebec and 16% settled in British Columbia.

Why is it important to have a broader definition of family for the purpose of sponsorship? There are three main reasons and I will elaborate on each of them. The first is to reunite families. The second is to help new Canadians who come to Canada succeed. The third is for the economic and social benefit of all Canadians.

First, reuniting families is a very important goal in and of itself. The current act recognizes the important role that family members play in the life of a new Canadian, but the current family class rules are simply too restrictive and it means that many close relatives are simply not eligible.

Many people have a close relative, such as a brother or sister, who they would desperately like to have join them in Canada. A brother can be as close to someone as a parent, or an aunt and uncle can be as close as a grandmother or grandfather, but the current rules do not allow for this. Therefore, families are kept apart.

I want to provide three examples of people of whom I know, but there are many people who find themselves in these kinds of situations.

I have a woman in my riding who is a 62-year-old an English teacher from Ukraine. The age requirement has prevented her from sponsoring her 31-year-old daughter and 15-year-old grandson to join her in Canada. She said:

It's hard. I'm getting to that age when I could need some help. And I want to care for my grandson as well. We don't want to be separated, but there's so little we can do.

She lives in Toronto with her older son. She said about her daughter, “We talk on the phone every day, but it's simply not the same”.

I know of another case, a refugee who came to Canada over 25 years ago from Vietnam. He is now in his forties and is very successful. He has a very elderly mother who lives with him. His only relative left in Vietnam is his sister, who just misses qualifying under the point system. He desperately wants to reunite his family. His mother is too old and does not want to travel to Vietnam. He wants to bring his sister to Canada.

I know of another person whose parents died when he was very young. He was the elder of three siblings and, in essence, raised his brother and sister. He has only one sibling left in his country of origin. He was like the parent to that sibling, but because they are now adults, they do not qualify under the current rules. Therefore, the bill would make all the difference to someone in that situation.

There are many examples that I could offer of people who are simply denied the ability to reunite their families under the current definition. Reuniting families should be a major aim of our immigration policy and the bill would help a great deal to do this.

The second reason for the bill is to help new Canadians succeed. Canada is a country of newcomers. Helping new Canadians adjust and thrive in their new country is one of the primary goals of our immigration policy. The bill would significantly help with that.

Many immigrants to Canada bring their children with them or have children soon after they arrive. This adds to our child care crisis. New Canadians are barely on their feet financially with almost no social network. They have to find enough revenue for the ever rising cost of child care because our country has failed parents. It has not introduced a national child care program to meet the needs of children with early learning and care, so parents, for the most part, are left on their own to cope and find child care. It is difficult to find and it is expensive.

This search on the part of new Canadians becomes especially difficult when parents are forced to upgrade their qualifications in order to work in their fields of expertise while in Canada. Costly and time consuming studies place an extra burden on their child care needs.

If brothers and sisters, or aunts and uncles were allowed to be sponsored under Bill C-394, they could play an important role in helping fulfill the family's child care needs. This would also help newcomers to get the work and the skills they need to succeed because they would be assured and would have the peace of mind that their children were cared for by a family member.

The families of many new Canadians include older parents or grandparents. Caring for an aging family member can place a great strain on anyone. However, for newcomers, with new social networks, lack of financial stability, an urgent need to acquire new skills and oftentimes with children to look after, the task becomes truly arduous and limits their capacity to adjust and succeed in Canada. Allowing the sponsorship of siblings, older children or nieces and nephews in Canada makes the family unit much stronger and capable of caring for its aging members.

Adjusting to a new life in Canada while finding work can be challenging. As I mentioned, many immigrants find themselves unable to get work in the fields of their expertise and specialization without upgrading their qualifications. The financial, emotional and social support that family members provide for each other makes it much more likely for a newcomer to succeed in finding work and the time and resources to upgrade their skills. The once in a lifetime bill would help reunite families and make them stronger.

The third reason I believe this definition should be expanded, as I have outlined in my bill, is it has economic and social benefits for all Canadians. Allowing new Canadians to reunite with important family members is critical to their success upon arrival in Canada. The success of immigrants to Canada is a net benefit to all Canadians.

As a member of the industry committee, I know there is a labour shortage in Canada. Allowing family members to come through a sponsorship program is a relatively risk free way of bringing in new Canadians who can be part of the economic strength of our country. The sooner and more efficiently new Canadians can adjust and enter the workforce, the better for our economy.

Lack of family reunification leads to a greater sense of isolation, fewer social supports, fewer resources and therefore a much more difficult time integrating into the Canadian economy and supporting oneself. Such circumstances are a greater strain on the country's social infrastructure and do not allow new Canadians to get ahead. It robs the national economy of valuable contributions.

The restrictive definition of family class in the current legislation does not allow for the sponsor of relatives who can greatly help new Canadians play an important role in our growing economy.

It is well known, after many years of budget cuts, that there are problems with the application processing within Citizenship and Immigration, but this should not impact the right of families to be reunited. The problem of the backlog lies with the funding and resourcing of the department and not with the families that submit applications.

What effect will the bill have on our current immigration targets? In a word, none. The bill would in no way modifies immigration targets or quotas, but it would positively affect the lives of Canadians who have family living abroad.

Bill C-394 has no impact on the current standards, regulations and rules stipulated for immigration to Canada. Additional family members sponsored under this new legislation would remain subject to all current immigration selection criteria.

In summary, Canada is a country of newcomers. We have based our success, our history, our economy on the efforts of generation, after generation of newcomers. We know newcomers do best when they have the benefit of strong family supports, just like all of us. However, newcomers face additional challenges. In fitting in the economy, they may face language barriers and the challenge of learning about their new society. It would make their lives much easier to have family members with them.

We know the current law is too restrictive and leaves many families separated and in distress. There are many examples, whether families are here from immigration or they came as a refugee. Families are separated and they desperately want to reunite with their family members, especially if they are isolated, alone, in the country of origin. They want to get that family members back to Canada.

The change I am proposing does not solve all the problems with immigration or even with the sponsorship program. However, it would solve a particular problem that today has no solution for so many families and creates such a crisis for so many landed immigrants and Canadians here.

Sponsorship is such a low risk form of immigration for Canada. The families bear the cost and the responsibility. We know that when people come to Canada through the sponsorship program, they have a greater chance of fitting in, of finding success and of settling in their new country because of the sponsorship program.

I want to add that many newcomer organizations strongly support this once in a lifetime bill. They are very excited about it. Many people have watched this debate closely and want to see its success.

I thank my colleagues in advance for their generous support.