Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to participate in a debate that has been going on for a long time about a subject that is critical to this country's social and economic well-being. Although it is an honour, it is sad that it has come to this.
I support the motion tabled by my colleague from Mississauga—Erindale:
That, in the opinion of the House, immigrants to Canada and persons seeking Canadian citizenship are poorly served by this government.
Over the next 20 minutes, I will show just how poorly the Conservative government is treating immigrants. The fact is that the government talks a lot, but since it was elected to run this country, it has not done a thing to improve the difficult situation immigrants to Canada and persons seeking Canadian citizenship are experiencing. That was over a year ago. Actually, it has been a year and a half.
We have only heard talk, but seen no action. Immigration is a subject to which the Conservatives have paid lip service and which they believe they can sweep under the rug. They still think Canadians will be satisfied with the non-results.
I speak about the accusations the government has made against its own citizens living abroad in a time of their need, the promises for the recognition of their foreign credentials, the inability to deal effectively with the plight of foreign trained workers, in a holistic way, who are underemployed and unemployed.
The Conservative government has made promises that have not been kept. It has made non-announcements for the sake of making non-announcements. For example, it has offered a mere $18 million over a two year period to the provincial governments to support programs for the recognition of foreign trained professionals, and yet nothing is happening.
I will also speak about the lack of services to francophone minority groups living across the country, which the Conservative government has ignored under its own immigration agreement.
I will also briefly discuss the impact on small and medium-sized businesses who are not given any incentives to recruit and train new arrivals.
These concerns have been raised by the business leaders, unions, community groups and even the mothers I met during my travels across Canada over the past two years.
Small businesses cannot afford to bring in people for a year like big businesses can. Small and medium sized businesses need the training dollars because their businesses cannot afford to absorb these costs on their own.
Also, this includes the negative impact on these businesses if the Conservative government does not adjust the entry system to deal with the pressing need for semi-skilled workers and workers in trades that do not require university degrees. I am talking of the point system for prospective immigrants.
These skills that are needed to keep our economy thriving do not figure on the list of skills on the point system. How is the government then serving the underemployed and unemployed newcomers? As I travel across the country, the same story is told to me over and over again: the need for skilled workers upon which the Canadian economy depends. Yet the Conservative government, since it came to power, has refused to regularize the status of construction workers and has in fact deported many of them, even though there is a shortage of workers in many places.
I remember, for example, the Portuguese immigrants in Ontario, in Toronto specifically, who were deported by the government because they did not have the right papers. Yet their employers needed them to continue constructing houses in Toronto.
According to reports, at the point where the shortages are so acute, construction companies have been luring away workers from one site to another by offering them higher wage incentives.
We already know, according to Statistics Canada, that immigration is the cause of 70% of our labour market growth and if the trend continues, it will account for 100% of our growth. We also already know that all sectors in the Canadian economy rely on the immigration population. Topping the list is the manufacturing sector, which represents 57%. In that sector, 27% of the employed workforce is foreign born, while nearly one out of ten, specifically 9.4%, is a recent immigrant.
Within subsectors of manufacturing, such as clothing manufacturing, computer and electric products represents 39%, manufacturing plastics represents 33% and in rubber manufacturing, the share of employment held by immigrants is even more pronounced.
I am not inventing these numbers. I quote from the Canadian Labour and Business Centre, CLBC Handbook, “Immigration and Skills Shortages, 2004”, specifically page 13.
In the health and social services sector, immigrants account for 24% of net labour force growth.
Regardless of impressive qualifications, two major obstacles to the full participation of new Canadians in the labour market continue. First, many foreign credentials are not recognized nor valued by Canadian employers. Second, the governing boards of key trade and professional licensing boards have not been flexible in developing or ensuring there are the proper tools to access the equivalency of trained professionals within their respective disciplines from other countries.
Instead, what are these people doing? We have all heard these horror stories about doctors and engineers driving taxis in Saskatoon, for example. The accountants can probably be found sweeping the floors of big business. Instead they should be working in these businesses to the level of their own competencies. Where are some of the doctors? They are working in beauty salons as hairdressers and as estheticians. It seems as if I am exaggerating, but these are real cases that exist, and everybody knows about them.
It is ironic that while the credentials are part of the grid being used to allow access to Canada, that famous point system, these credentials also act as barriers to enter into the workforce. Therefore, what are the intentions of the government to balance the scales?
To the credit of the Ontario provincial Liberal government, under the Fair Access to Regulated Professions Act, passed December 2006, we see some improvement through internships, more focused language training, et cetera, all as a result of the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement signed in November 2005 by the previous Liberal federal government. We had reached a comprehensive immigration agreement with Ontario for the first time. The Liberals have also been responsible for signing an agreement, the very first of its kind, with my own province, Quebec.
With it, immigration agreements were firmly established between the federal government and each of the provinces. The planned investment of $920 million in Ontario over five years was designed to: increase the funding for services to help newcomers settle, integrate and receive language training; maximize the economic benefits of immigration and ensure that policies and programs respond to Ontario's social economic development and labour market priorities; develop the first ever Ontario provincial nominee program, which will allow Ontario to better match immigrants to its own labour market needs; and formalize the two levels of government, provincial and federal, to work together on immigration matters.
Where does the Conservative Government of Canada stand on this issue? I have heard from people in Saskatchewan, in British Columbia and in Alberta. These people who live in western Canada want to have more workers from other countries because they need the population. The Conservative government does not seem to be doing very much. Let us wait to see what the next budget will give us, but in its 2006 budget the Conservative government, in its attempt to reinvent the wheel, pledged $18 million to deal with the foreign credential dilemma, yet we have seen nothing so far. This was over a year ago. This is how poorly the new Conservative government works in serving immigrants to Canada and persons seeking Canadian citizenship.
What plans does the government have to systematically tap into the underutilization of our immigrant workforce? Instead of offering tax incentives to businesses to become more involved in training and retention of this workforce, the Conservative government continues to do short term fixes for short term gain but long term pain.
Businesses were astounded last November when the Conservative government went ahead and further expanded the foreign temporary worker's program. Even minimum wage jobs are included. According to reports at that time, and I quote the Winnipeg Free Press on November 15, 2006, the CEO of Winnipeg Airport Authority and other Canadian chamber board members, echoing each other, said that Canada “needs to build a plan that includes immigration and using under-utilized members of the workforce. We need to scour the country for people who will relocate”.
Again, I am asking the Conservative government what plans it has to systematically tap into the underutilization of our immigrant workforce. A recruitment strategy is needed for the entire country. The government has no real strategy to meet the needs of, for example, the Atlantic provinces or the west.
This is evident in the government's foreign temporary worker plan which I mentioned earlier. I checked the list. The Conservative government is offering a one year permit to businesses to bring in sales, marketing and advertising managers; retail trade managers; correspondence, publication and related clerks; loans officers; hairstylists and barbers. Surely, there are skilled and well-educated immigrants who are being ignored. Could they not be recruited?
What happens after the one year is up? Will these foreign temporary workers have to start the immigration process all over again? Businesses will no doubt have to start their recruiting process themselves. How much sense does that make? In the meantime, where are the training incentives for small and medium size businesses to train and retain people? We need a balanced approach to employment across this country and not one that would hurt one province and benefit another.
There is no end to the number of studies about the burden that will be put on the Canada pension plan by the small number of children of baby boomers who will not be able to contribute enough to ensure the longevity of the plan.
At the same time, the Conference Board of Canada study on the contribution of visible minorities released on April 4, 2004 noted that between 1992 to 2016, it is estimated that Canada's total real gross domestic product, the GDP, will increase to $794.7 billion in 1997 dollars. Visible minorities alone will account for $80.9 billion, or approximately 10% of that growth. If we attempt to extrapolate anything at all from these insights it is that new Canadians represent a consumer base worth at least $1 billion.
Several benefits will no doubt ensue that might have a positive impact within the local consumer markets, for example, housing. And yet, as I mentioned previously, the Conservative government has refused to listen to employers in the construction industry who say that the cost of housing has increased because of the ongoing shortages in this industry. Once again, what is the Conservative government doing about this?
If we pay attention at all to the 2001 census figures, they reveal that the number of household units developed between 1996 and 2001 grew by 7%. Further, almost one-third of the growth was due to an increase in households where the primary worker, that is, the person who pays most of the bills, is foreign born. In addition, over 40% of the households with immigrants who had arrived over the previous five years lived in a home owned by a family member. This shows that these people work hard and want to stay here.
We have known for a long time that Canada's baby boomers are now reaching retirement age, that our birth rate is below the replacement level at 1.2 children per family, and that young people cannot assume the costs of child care themselves and often choose not to have children at all.
This Conservative government thinks that $100 a month is enough to take care of a child. That is why it got rid of the plan devised by the Liberal government, which understood the principle of access to child care for minority linguistic communities outside Quebec, including francophone newcomers to various provinces. Is this any way to serve our citizens?
The Standing Committee on Official Languages recently heard witnesses from Yukon and Nunavut talking about the lack of services. They worry that the agreements signed under the action plan for official languages will not be renewed by this government after 2008. They are waiting for the government to offer explanations regarding the difficulties faced by the programs now in place and the measures that will be taken to ensure that services such as health are available to francophone minorities in these regions.
These linguistic minorities are not just minority communities; they continue to be, to a large extent, growing minorities in relation to the majority. These francophone minorities from across Canada want francophone immigrants to come to them. Francophones who immigrate to Canada will not go to these regions to help the minorities grow in numbers if services do not exist or are inadequate.
We have heard about the way in which the new government—as it continues to call itself despite the fact that it has been in power for more than a year—plans to serve people by remaining silent about the subject that counts most. Language is at the heart of our society. I represent a population that is mostly francophone, and in Quebec we know how not just important, but fundamental and essential an element it is. Without this language, our culture and our identity cannot be preserved. Language builds pride and self-confidence.
How does this Conservative government intend to preserve and integrate francophone minorities in this country? More specifically, how does this Conservative government plan to encourage the settlement of francophone newcomers in the provinces and territories if services in the minority language remain inaccessible, even to those who have moved from Quebec to other provinces? Is Canada really a bilingual country?
Although we are glad that the Conservatives used our action plan for official languages, which the Liberal government introduced in 2003, as the basis for a plan it unveiled in September 2006 to encourage francophone immigrants to settle in Manitoba, this government is continuing to do things in piecemeal fashion.
We are asking for a plan. I would like to believe that Canada has moved beyond the point where linguistic minorities were marginalized. We must not forget that the legislation in effect prohibited the use of French in the legal and legislative systems in the Northwest Territories in 1891 and prohibited French in Saskatchewan and Alberta when these provinces were created in 1905.
I would like to know why it is taking so long to put in place integrated services for minority language groups that want to move within Canada or come to Canada as immigrants.
I could talk all day about this issue—I know the members opposite may think so—and about how poorly this government is serving immigrants to Canada and people applying for Canadian citizenship, but I am almost out of time.
Before I conclude, I want to talk for a moment about a recent meeting of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that I attended. The minister appeared before the committee. When a committee member asked her why $20 million had been cut from the budget to implement the Citizenship Act—the act my colleagues referred to—the minister answered that they had made choices. The Conservative government chose to focus on Bill C-14, which pertains to automatic citizenship for children adopted abroad by Canadian citizens.
This is a bill that we ourselves introduced.
I do not believe that the government has invested this $20 million in granting automatic citizenship to these children. The question is: whose interests are this government serving? In my opinion, this government is serving the interests of the majority and forgetting about immigrants and francophone minorities.