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House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was immigrants.

Topics

A message from Her Excellency the Governor General transmitting supplementary estimates (B) for the financial year ending March 31, 2007, was presented by the President of the Treasury Board and read by the Speaker to the House.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

February 22nd, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development in relation to its consideration of the issue of cluster bombs.

Veterans AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Anders Conservative Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs in relation to the veterans ombudsman entitled, “A Helping Hand for Veterans: Mandate for a Veterans Ombudsman”.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 113(1), I have the honour to present the 36th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the membership of the legislative committee on Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences).

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Pursuant to Standing Order 113(1), the report is deemed adopted.

(Motion agreed to)

Employment insurancePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to present a petition signed by hundreds of people who are calling for the elimination of the mandatory waiting period so that workers can apply for and receive employment insurance the day they stop receiving wages.

The petitioners are also asking that claimants be served by competent and knowledgeable employees in local Service Canada offices, and that they have a choice between submitting a claim on paper or online.

Veterans AffairsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the privilege of presenting a petition today on behalf of veterans in my riding of Hamilton Mountain, as well as their families and friends, in support of Bill C-238, which was moved by the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore.

Presently, if a veteran's spouse dies when a veteran is 50 years of age and that veteran re-marries at age 59, the second spouse is entitled to all the pension benefits. However, if the veteran re-marries at the age of 60, the second spouse is entitled to nothing upon the veteran's death. That must to change.

The House expressed its support for the veterans first motion and we believe that the age discrimination of 60 has to end. It is time the gold digger clause is gone. We believe we should treat our veterans and all people fairly and that is what the petitioners concur in.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and ImmigrationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga—Erindale, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, immigrants to Canada and persons seeking Canadian citizenship are poorly served by this government.

Mr. Speaker, I stand before the House today to express the concerns of Canadians about the direction or, more specifically, the lack of direction that the Conservative government has taken toward helping immigrants and new Canadians reach their optimum potential in society.

Canadians are quite rightly proud of our diversity and our reputation for welcoming immigrants. Immigration is more than just a symbol to Canadians, it is also an economic necessity.

At the turn of the last century, Sir Wilfrid Laurier's government started settling our vast land with “men in sheepskin coats”. Immigration levels peaked in 1913 when 400,818 immigrants, the equivalent of 1.5 million in today's terms, came to Canada. Today some 5.4 million Canadians, or 18.6% of the population, are foreign born, the highest rate of diversity in 70 years.

The retirement of baby boomers will have a significant impact on the competitiveness of Canada's economy. In 2001, boomers from ages 37 to 55 comprised 47% of the labour force and in 10 years half of them will be 55 or older and 18% will be over the age of 60.

According to the 2001 census, for the first time in history immigration over the preceding five year period accounted for more than 50% of Canada's population boom. Over the past decade, immigration has accounted for 70% of Canada's net labour force growth. Statistics Canada research predicts that between 2011 and 2015, 100% of our net labour force and population growth will come from immigration.

The Conference Board of Canada estimates that by 2020 a labour shortage will leave one million jobs unfilled. There is global competition for immigrants from growing economic powerhouses like China and India, in addition to the traditional pull of other industrialized nations, like the United States and Australia.

The benefit of immigration to a country is more than just economic. Immigrants bring diversity, vitality and innovation to Canada.

As American public policy expert, Richard Florida; has noted, “diversity is an essential component of a thriving country”. In short, over the next 10 years the country that can best attract and integrate immigrants will have an advantage in the global race. Canada desperately needs to excel at attracting and integrating immigrants as Canadian immigrants are falling further behind.

By the year 2000, the gap in earnings between immigrant men and Canadian born men registered at an astonishing 40%. The gap was even more pronounced for recent immigrant women as they received 44% lower earnings than their non-immigrant counterparts.

In addition, one-quarter of recent immigrants were low paid in 2000 compared to one-sixth of Canadian born workers. The problem is worsening. A 2005 report by RBC Financial Group shows that since the mid-eighties, immigrants have, as a group, experienced declining starting incomes and their salaries are taking longer to catch up to native born Canadians. Housing ownership rates among new Canadians are also in decline.

The Conference Board of Canada estimates the loss of income associated with unrecognized skills and credentials to be as high as $6 billion per year, half of which is constituted by the lower earnings of foreign born workers.

The toll of underutilization of immigrants can perhaps best be seen by our social agencies. In 2005, people not born in Canada made up approximately half of the population of 175,000 people using food banks in the greater Toronto area, or about 87,500 people. Immigrants using food banks are highly skilled. A remarkable 60% of them have university level education or trade certification. This is nearly double that of the Canadian born food bank population with just 36% who have university level education or a trade certification.

Furthermore, within that 60%, 80% of immigrants using food banks have a post-graduate degree. This is approximately eight times the Canadian born average of just over 1%. There is a growing attrition rate among business class and skilled worker immigrants who are increasingly returning to their country of origin or another destination in search of meaningful employment. More than half of those who leave do so within their first year of arrival.

Our reputation as a welcoming country is at stake. A recent online article out of New Delhi warns:

--for many immigrants Canada has emerged as a land of unmitigated disaster. From rampant discrimination to hidden booby traps, Indians have been forced into an economic quagmire, having to settle for a dead end job.

Immigrant success should be everybody's business and, indeed, it should be a priority for the government.

The previous government realized the need for real and serious measures to respond to the growing needs of our immigrants. This was not just rhetoric. It was backed up by action and tangible improvement.

For the record, let me highlight some of the initiatives that we implemented under the previous Liberal government.

We invested an additional $700 million over five years to improve the immigration system. This included funding to reduce the inventory of backlogged immigration applications and to allow international students or visitors with Canadian experience to apply for permanent residence status.

We signed the Canada-Ontario immigration agreement that included an additional $920 million over five years. This was the first comprehensive immigration agreement between Ontario and the federal government and was intended to help newcomers reach their full potential in Ontario by increasing funding for settlement, language training and integration services.

We launched the $150 million internationally trained worker initiative that included addressing shortages of health care professionals and the start up of the foreign credential recognition secretariat.

We introduced measures to speed up the processing of sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents and an additional $69 million investment over two years to process citizenship applications faster.

We invested $20 million to conduct a review of the existing Citizenship Act. We allowed spouses and common-law partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, regardless of their status, to remain in Canada while their immigration application was being considered.

We allowed international students to work off campus while enrolled at an eligible post-secondary educational institute.

Why did I mention all of that? I wanted to illustrate that when a government identifies certain needs it must act upon those needs. It derives a plan, it implements actual initiatives and it enacts concrete steps.

Let us contrast that to what the minority Conservative government has done. Imprisoned by its ideology, short on ideas and void of a vision, it cancelled some of the previous initiatives and claimed to be a champion of immigration. Using the only method it could think of to solve a problem, the Conservatives offered to cut the landing fee by half and claimed that it was the solution to the challenge that many immigrants face.

I will admit that reducing the landing fees is a welcome relief for all new immigrants, and we support it, but that step offers no strategy and no solution to the short, medium and long term challenges that immigrants face. They also claim that they increased settlement services funding by $300 million and misled Canadians by suggesting that this was a new increase in funding. However, in reality it was a decrease from the overall dedicated funding that the previous government had allocated. Then they shamelessly claimed that they were helping immigrants with their foreign credentials.

Not only have they paralyzed the already created secretariat to assist immigrants, they chose to create a new phantom agency with a lot less money and no mandate.

The Prime Minister exploited the angst of many new Canadians and used, for his political expediency, his promise to fix the difficulties they face when they try to get their foreign trained skills accredited . Now many are wondering if that pledge was just another phony promise that has now been filed in some distant drawer.

I wish it would end with just unfulfilled promises or lack of a vision and a plan, but unfortunately the negligence is exacerbated by a negative attitude that the Conservatives have toward minorities and immigrants. It is not only what they have not done on this file to date; it gets worse when we examine what they have done.

One of the first actions of the Conservative government was to cancel the court challenges program. This relatively inexpensive program offered minor financial assistance to minorities and other groups to enable them to access the Supreme Court to test laws that may have discriminated against them.

The program had been highly successful in providing minorities or disadvantaged groups a voice and a process to ensure that any law that may have inadvertently neglected to consider their rights could be challenged and perhaps corrected.

In the 1980s, and I cannot believe this, immigrant women were not eligible to receive English as a second language training because they were not considered to be the breadwinner of the family. As such, it was thought that they did not need language training. The court challenges program corrected that.

Sikh students were not allowed to wear their kirpan, part of their religious tradition, to school. The court challenges program corrected that.

Tomorrow the Supreme Court will issue a ruling on the security certificate legislation, thanks to the court challenges program.

The opportunity offered to minorities to assert their rights has vanished, thanks exclusively to the Conservatives.

The Conservatives are also bent on making Canadians who hold dual citizenships feel guilty and are quite willing to question their loyalty.

Many of these Canadians are new to Canada and are proud of their new identity, but also cherish their roots and connections to other parts of the world. Many Canadians are offended that the Conservatives would consider their dual citizenship to be a sign of weak Canadian identity and have expressed their anxiety about the direction the Conservatives want our citizenship to take.

Speaking of citizenship, as we celebrate our country's 60th anniversary of the Citizenship Act, we have become aware of various flaws in both the 1947 and the 1977 legislation that have caused countless Canadians to lose their citizenship unexpectedly.

As Canadians learn more about this problem, we find that we have a minister who is dismissive of the challenge and unprepared to confront it. It is not like she did not acknowledge that we have fundamental weaknesses in our citizenship law. She admitted that in committee just this week. What is amazing is that she has no plan to address these weaknesses. In fact, her government cut a $20 million initiative that was started by the previous government to review the act and propose remedies.

How can we have any confidence in the seriousness of the government with respect to immigration and citizenship files when the minister has no plan to address these citizenship loopholes?

All of this incompetence is compounded with a negative historical attitude that is rampant among the Conservative benches. We frequently see glimpses of the Reform-Alliance ghost rear its ugly head and raise alarm levels among immigrants and Canadians.

Last spring, the Conservatives and the Prime Minister attempted to appoint a commissioner, to be in charge of all 6,000 government appointments, who is on the record as accusing immigrants of importing a culture of violence. He is also on the record as condemning Canadian multiculturalism.

These are the kinds of people our Prime Minister trusts to be fair and objective when it comes to selecting people for government-appointed roles at a time when many immigrants and minorities confront various challenges in finding equal access and representation in our society. It is very shameful.

I must take this opportunity to comment on what happened in this chamber yesterday during question period. What happened was an ugly and disgusting demonstration of how low the Prime Minister can go to try to score political points. He did not hesitate to perpetuate unsubstantiated allegations about a member of this House and his family without regard for facts. That was a shameful display of poor judgment and a willingness to tarnish our colleague's reputation, for cheap political points. I want to take this opportunity to repeat the numerous calls that were made in this House yesterday and urge the Prime Minister to apologize for his scandalous behaviour.

In closing, the Conservative government has offered no vision and no plan to help immigrants and new Canadians better integrate into Canadian society. It has done nothing to assist new Canadians in utilizing their skills to their maximum levels. It has refused to build on positive initiatives that were introduced by the previous government.

More importantly, Conservatives need to go a long way to alleviate the doubts Canadians have about their attitude toward minorities. Canadians want a government that is ambitious and is willing to confront challenges and offer a generous vision, not a lazy, simple-minded and ideological government.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and ImmigrationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I find it astounding that the member for Mississauga—Erindale would bring forward a motion such as this when he knows full well that some of the problems that we are correcting and trying to do something about have arisen over the past 10 or 13 years, when I can count one, two, three, four, five, six different ministers in the Liberal opposition who have been at the helm. It was under that tenure that the backlog actually increased to 750,000 and now to 800,000, a backlog that we are reversing.

In addition to that, there was a freeze on settlement funding to help newcomers and immigrants with second language training and integration into our society. I wonder how the member and his party saw fit to vote against a $307 million allocation toward integration of newcomers into this country, when in fact the previous government, of which he was a part, froze funding for a decade and allowed people to attempt to deal with this issue without putting any money toward it.

Having said that, I find it remarkable that for the problems we face today, the member would try to suggest that somehow they did not originate from the 1990s, during which time the opposition was in power. Perhaps he can tell us why those members would not support the reduction of the permanent landing fee and in particular the allocation of $307 million, as well as $18 million for credential recognition, something the Liberals failed to do when they had 10 or 13 years and ample time to get the job done. They failed to do it.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and ImmigrationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rest my case. The hon. member did not listen to anything I said and in fact used rhetoric to make an accusation that was inaccurate.

I want to take this opportunity to repeat what the previous government had done and what the current government has abandoned: a $700 million investment over five years to improve the immigration system; $920 million over five years in a Canada-Ontario immigration agreement; $150 million to help internationally trained workers, in contrast to Conservatives' measly $18 million; a $69 million investment over two years to process citizenship applications faster; helping parents and grandparents expedite their immigration sponsorship faster; a $20 million investment to conduct a review of the existing Citizenship Act; allowing international students to work off campus while enrolled at an eligible post-secondary institution; and allowing spouses and common law partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, regardless of their status, to remain in Canada while their applications are being considered.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and ImmigrationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have always heard that the Liberals campaign from the left and govern from the right, but has that ever been thrown into sharp relief over the last few weeks in the House.

Earlier this week, the Liberals supported the NDP's call for a $10 minimum wage, but in government, the McGuinty Liberals in Ontario are doing everything they can to prevent that from happening.

Similarly, when the Liberals were in, government greenhouse gas emissions rose under their watch, but now that they are in opposition they are wrapping themselves in green scarves and are hoping that everyone will forget their record.

Today we have a motion before us that decries the immigration system as being woefully inadequate when it is the very system that the Liberals created when they were in government.

This is the same system that has made life a misery for refugee applicants like the Valencia family in my riding, who have been in Canada for over five years and are still in limbo about their future status. The same is true of the Castro family and the Orban family. These families deserve better. They deserve a timely decision so that their lives are not thrown into chaos when they have been here so long that their children's educational future hangs in the balance.

What about the foreign trained professionals we lure here with promises of jobs when they cannot get their credentials accredited?

I know the member for Mississauga—Erindale is new to the House, but how can he praise the so-called accomplishments of the last Liberal government when it is precisely the system that government created that has made the Canadian experience so disappointing for so many newcomers?

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and ImmigrationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand what the hon. member is saying, but for the record I want to let her know that the lowest minimum wages in this country are in provinces that are governed by NDP governments.

Having said that, I also understand that she needed a podium to express her rhetorical position, but at the end of the day I know that she agrees with me and that she and her party will be supporting the motion that the Conservative government has not served immigrants in our country well and has no plan or vision to help new Canadian immigrants better integrate into our society.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and ImmigrationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Fitzpatrick Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have a short question for the member.

It seemed to me that the last Parliament was dominated by a very controversial policy whereby the immigration minister seemed to have it as her priority to bring people like strippers into her riding so they could have jobs in bars and so on. Is this the kind of policy the member is talking about when he says he rests his case and stands behind the record of the former Liberal government, the policy of accelerating and fast-tracking strippers through the immigration system?

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and ImmigrationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, how cheap can one get? First, it was the previous government that cancelled that program. Second, I have no problem with telling the hon. member that if the Conservatives have no plan or vision, they should step aside. The Liberal Party is ready to take over and implement all of these plans to help immigrants and new Canadians integrate better into this society, not just for their benefit but for the benefit of our country, our nation and the collective well-being of all Canadians.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and ImmigrationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is nice to hear a refreshing view of the Liberal years in power, but the Liberals had huge surpluses and three majorities, and what did they do? Tonight more Canadian children are going to bed hungry than ever before in this country. More Canadian families are sleeping in the streets.

It was the Liberal government that invented the sandwich generation. We had great hope in the 1990s when all parties in the House talked about getting rid of child poverty in 10 years. What happened? The Martin Liberal government of the day put debt reduction ahead of taking care of Canadian children.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and ImmigrationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I would caution the hon. member not to use the name of the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, the former prime minister.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and ImmigrationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

I apologize, Mr. Speaker.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and ImmigrationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my hon. colleague that we all have to accept responsibility. As parliamentarians, we must confront the challenges that our society is facing. I am very proud to say that the previous Liberal government and the Liberal Party were and are willing to take on that responsibility and have implemented a lot of steps to do so.

Are we there yet? No, but I can say one thing: with the current government we are rolling back the clock. We are rolling back the clock and setting back by at least 30 years every social development and creative initiative that has been implemented over the last few years.

It took Liberals years to clean up the mess after the previous Mulroney government, to clear the debt and the $40 billion deficit that previous Conservative governments left us with. We started making progress and seeing signs of improvement. The government now is setting back the clock on all of that.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and ImmigrationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pose a question to the member for Mississauga—Erindale who referred to an issue that was a problem with the 1947 piece of legislation.

He indicated how the past government, the Liberal opposition now, was able to get things done. Six ministers and many years, and not one thing passed. Eleven years of majority government and the Liberals had ample opportunity to fix what needed fixing. Now, in 51 days, the member would like the government to fix what they did not do in 11 or 12 years. Absolutely, they have left this place in a mess and it will need to be fixed.

We are going about fixing it in the short term and in the long term. It will not take us 12 years to say we might have done something, or we are just on the cusp of getting it done, when we all know that is simply rhetoric. The fact is, they did nothing in those years. The fact is, that act needs fixing and we will fix it.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and ImmigrationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can tell the House that I am very amused by the hon. member's attitude and perception of reality. I guess he is entitled to feel good about himself, otherwise, what else could he do, resign from his parliamentary secretary role?

The minister himself admitted in committee when he was there that the Conservatives cut the $20 million that was set aside to review that Citizenship Act. He was there when the minister said the Conservatives had no plans to fix that problem.

For him to stand up and accuse us of doing nothing is shameless and hypocritical. He should go back to his minister and tell her that we have to fix this problem. We cannot just stand aside and do nothing about it.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and ImmigrationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock.

I would like to respond to the motion that was raised by the member opposite. I would like to say, first, that I find that the remarks made belie the facts as they are and the situation as we find it.

First, let us have a look at the legacy we have inherited. We find that there was a $975 tax on immigrants or newcomers coming into Canada. Can members imagine attempting to help Canadians, attempting to get them on their feet, and imposing a $975 fee on every person at the time when they might need assistance, when they need to get on their feet, and when they need help to integrate? That is the legacy. That is the fact when we took over government.

Another fact is that during the years of tenure of the opposition party, the backlog increased by 750,000. We are still attempting to reduce that backlog today. Is that a vision? The member asked if we had a vision.

I can tell members that the previous government, in the 11 or 12 years, had no vision. It bumbled along and allowed the situation to get to where it is today. It froze settlement funding for 10 years. There was no settlement funding to help integrate new citizens, to help them gain another language, and to help them understand the society they were integrating into. Can members imagine marginally increasing the immigration totals without providing the agencies and third parties with the means to help newcomers become what they could be?

We have allocated $307 million over two years to over 400-and-some agencies in Canada that will help newcomers better integrate. That is a vision. That has the newcomer in mind. Where was the vision of the previous government?

In addition, we have granted over 11,000 off-campus work permits to international students. In fact, in this year, we have allowed international students to work off-campus, something the previous government did not do, and then allowed them to apply to become permanent residents of this country. That is a visionary move.

We have also set the highest targets that have been in place over the last 12 years. We are processing a record number of temporary foreign worker applications to meet the labour needs that have been experienced in our country.

We are also doing more. There is a provincial nominee program that we are certainly promoting. We are ensuring that all the provinces across Canada are able to utilize this program in order to have those applications processed within a year, which is something that had not happened under the previous government. We know that some provinces have taken advantage of that program in a significant way.

The immigration system is in fact an enormous operation. Every single day, thousands of people apply to come to Canada. They want to come here for a variety of reasons, whether to visit, to live, to work, to study or to find a place of refuge. We are proud to be the country of choice for many students, visitors, workers, and immigrants from all over the world.

Canada would not be such a wonderfully diverse, prosperous and successful place without the contribution of those who have come here from all over the world in search of a better life.

Canada's immigration officers make over two million decisions every year for people who want to come to Canada to live, visit, work or study. The government is going to stand behind the administration and the department to ensure they have the tools and the equipment to do their job, which is something the previous government failed to do.

Our commitment to service is demonstrated by the fact that, despite the volume, some of these decisions are made very quickly. For example, temporary resident visas for visitors, students and temporary workers are usually processed in less than a month. Visitor visas are now processed in less than two days. We are maintaining these times, despite an increase in the number of applications.

Unfortunately, even with that level of activity, there are wait times in some immigration categories. This is particularly true for people wishing to become permanent residents of Canada. We are committed to putting an end to the backlog that the Liberals allowed to accumulate when they were in government.

We are making progress. I am pleased to say that we are now processing more applications every year than we take in, reversing a trend that has contributed to the inventory for many years. If we process more than we take in, that will reduce the backlog and not increase it, as has happened over the last 10 or more years.

We have also taken steps to reduce processing times with encouraging results. About 70% of applications for spouses and children are processed in our overseas offices within six months. This represents a one month reduction in the processing time for this category, compared to the previous government in 2005.

We are also helping to ensure that Canada gets the skilled workers it needs in the right places in a timely fashion. Most provincially selected skilled workers are processed within a year of applying. We are certainly helping newcomers get work in Canada faster and we are also helping our labour market needs.

Finally, we have taken steps to improve the refugee protection system. I can say that the United Nations High Commissioner has praised our system as a model to other countries, and certainly we want to continue in that regard, and make it efficient and responsive to the needs of refugees.

The inventory of refugee outstanding claims has been cut by over 50% compared to 2001 under the previous government. At the same time we have reduced the processing time for refugee claims to just over one year, and we must continue to do better.

These improvements have strengthened Canada's refugee system which is already recognized by the United Nations as one of the best and fairest in the world. Understandably, given the demand, it takes time to process the number of applications we receive, but maintaining the integrity of our programs and the security of all Canadians is critical. There is a balance. We must therefore ensure that the proper medical and security checks have been done.

However, even with all the care that must be taken with each application, Canada accepts more than 200,000 new permanent residents a year as well as 100 temporary foreign workers, and those numbers are rising. This is something we should be proud of, contrary to the motion made by the member opposite.

Our government's commitment to service improvement does not stop there. We have also made advances in several other areas. For example, our award winning call centre is performing beyond industry standards. The call centre has been recognized nationally for its commitment to service improvement, answering over 90% of the calls and increasing client satisfaction to 73%. This is a vast improvement over 2003 when the call centre was answering less than 15% of the calls and client satisfaction stood at just over 50%.

We have added a new electronic service to our overseas visa offices that allows people to inquire about the status of their visa applications by email from anywhere in the world, or through their members of Parliament. The response time is within reasonable and acceptable levels.

We recognize that many of our service improvements must focus on making it faster for people to immigrate to Canada, but we cannot stop there. Our services also extend to helping immigrants settle and adapt to Canada after they arrive.

Building a better life in a strange, new country is not always easy. We have long ago learned that it is not enough to say to newcomers, “Welcome to Canada. Good luck. Take care and keep warm”. We must do more.

We must do everything we can to ensure they can become what they can be and that their talents are utilized to the maximum capacity. That means we must be very much interested in the services that are available to help them integrate into society. Just the challenges of taking a bus, opening a bank account, learning a second language, and adapting to the community are unique and in a lot of respects difficult.

I had the distinct pleasure of being in the front line workers offices, both in Winnipeg and Saskatchewan, to see how appreciative the newcomers are of those services that are provided. The $307 million that has been allocated over the next two years is well received by the front line workers who have been stretched to capacity, attempting to do a job without the funds, without the tools and without the resources.

We have given them the tools, the resources, and the funds to do what they have to do, so that newcomers can become what they can be, something the previous government failed to do. The Liberals shut their eyes without a vision and without any dollars to back those people who are on the front lines to make it happen.

We have done a number of things, like reducing the permanent residence fee, allowing $18 million to be allocated to foreign credential recognition, ensuring that credentials can be recognized appropriately and that immigrants can integrate into society and become proud citizens and co-citizens of our country, as they well should be.

Opposition Motion--Citizenship and ImmigrationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are dealing with an issue that should be non-partisan because it affects all people in our country and the country as a whole.

My greatest disappoint with the Conservative government was the ministers and the members it put on the committee. Citizenship and immigration is a very complex issue and will always be a challenge for any government. The Conservative government put the former minister in the position and he had absolutely no experience in the portfolio. He stayed there for less than a year. The government then switched him and put in a minister who again did not have any experience in the portfolio. We also ended up with a parliamentary secretary who had no experience in the portfolio.

The Department of Citizenship and Immigration is in great need of an overhaul. This can only happen with political direction from the top.

I chaired the committee in the last Parliament. We had experienced members from the government side who could have offered that leadership. I dare say members of the committee tended to work in a non-partisan manner within the committee itself.

Could the member tell me why the government did not appoint the most knowledgeable individual, the member for Calgary—Nose Hill, who actually knows the portfolio? She was the critic of the portfolio for about four years and—