Mr. Speaker, I begin by thanking the official opposition for an opportunity to debate immigration, which is a matter of central importance to both the history and the future of Canada. I commend all members for the generally non-partisan fashion with which this debate has been conducted so far today. I think we all realize that there are systemic challenges in the immigration system, which have little or nothing to do with the political challenges of particular governments.
We, as the country with the highest relative intake of immigrants in the world, have enormous challenges in simply processing the administrative burden and challenges with respect to economic integration and ensuring that the 200,000 to 250,000 newcomers to our country every year can move up the economic ladder quickly, that they can have their foreign education recognized here appropriately.
However, our government coming in to office inherited some particular problems. We inherited a waiting list for immigrant applications of over 800,000. We received a waiting list of nearly 100,000 in the single category of parental reunification. We inherited a system of immigrant funding for settlement services that was arguably underfunded.
We have responded quickly. We responded by increasing immigrant settlement funding last spring in the budget by over $300 million a year. We responded by keeping our election commitment to cut in half the right of landing fee from $975 to $400 and some dollars, and we will keep our commitment to move that down to $100 to give new Canadians a head start economically.
When a family of four arrives here from abroad, a $4,000 collective family head tax is a significant economic burden for a family that has to put a deposit down on their first apartment or make their down payment on a mortgage. That is something the previous Liberal government brought into place. It is something that we are in the process of radically reducing.
We in the Conservative Party inherit also from our predecessors in the Conservative tradition a history of being a party of welcome and openness to the energy and talents brought from across the globe by those who seek to come to our country and enter its circle of prosperity.
I remind the House that it was the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker that brought in the Bill of Rights and the first Refugee Act, that began the first process of family reunification. It was the Conservative Party that saw the first black Canadian member of Parliament and member of cabinet, Lincoln Alexander; the first Chinese Canadian member of Parliament, Douglas Jung elected 50 years ago this summer; the first Canadian of Japanese origin MP and minister, the hon. Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women; the first Canadian of Chinese origin as the first minister belongs to this Conservative caucus; the first Canadian of the Muslim faith is the chairman of our national caucus; and one of the first two Indo-Canadian women elected to this place, is a member of this government's caucus.
This is the Conservative tradition that introduced the Multiculturalism Act in 1985. It is a tradition that recognized some of the deficiencies in our history through the redress of the Japanese wartime internment and more recently the redress and apology for the era of legislated discrimination through the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act.
This is a party and a tradition that is dedicated to ensuring that Canada is a warm and hospitable nation for people from throughout the globe, victims of persecution and oppression through our refugee system and those who seek a brighter future for their children and grandchildren as economic immigrants.
We need to acknowledge that there are flaws and structural problems within our immigration system that we are dedicated to resolving. It will not be easy, and we cannot overnight resolve the backlog of 800,000 names, which we inherited from our predecessors.
We are committed to increasing resources. I anticipate that in the upcoming budget there will be resources to do just that, to assist our security forces in expediting the security clearance of immigrant applicants and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
One issue that I hear on a daily basis, as I meet with new Canadians and members of cultural communities from coast to coast, is the importance of recognizing foreign credentials and overseas education. In our point system, we essentially entice people to Canada. We bring them here on the basis of their higher education in their country of origin. Too many of those people arrive here and find that they cannot actually use that education. There is a disconnect between our immigration policies and our labour market policies, a disconnect which the previous government over 13 years did not adequately address.
We are committed to working with the provinces and, through them, with the over 440 professional agencies to accelerate the recognition of foreign diplomas and credentials. We set aside $17 million in funding for the creation of an agency for foreign credential referral and recognition. I know the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is focused on this like a laser beam. She will be coming out with what I think will be an exciting announcement in this regard in the weeks ahead.
If there were some way that we in the federal government could by fiat, just waving a kind of magic wand of federal authority, correct and resolve the foreign credential recognition problem overnight, we would do it but we cannot. This is principally an area that resides in the constitutional jurisdiction of the provinces. It is further complicated by the lack of cooperation by many professional agencies, which seem more focused on protecting their own labour market as opposed to welcoming newcomers from abroad.
This is a very difficult problem, but the federal government understands the challenge. We will do everything we can to use our moral persuasion, our fiscal resources and our leadership with the provinces and the professional agencies, so when people come here, we no longer have the aberration of medical doctors driving taxis or engineers working at corner stores. These people have something meaningful to contribute to our economy and they should be permitted to do so.
While I am pleased with much of the tone of the debate today, which has been conducted in a largely non-partisan fashion, I find a certain degree of hypocrisy, in particular coming from the sponsor of the motion, the member for Mississauga—Erindale. He ran for a party that allowed the backlog of 800,000 names to develop, that allowed a waiting time of four to seven years in processing to develop, that did not resolve the issue of the so-called lost Canadians and that saw the problems in terms of foreign credential recognition deepen and worsen rather than improve or accelerate.
We are left holding the bag as a new government. We are doing our best to resolve these issues. We are working in a number of other areas in ways that I think are sensitive to the concerns and priorities of cultural communities, cultural minorities and new Canadians, such as the Prime Minister's historic apology and redress for the injustice of the Chinese head tax and related discriminatory measures and the appointment of the judicial inquiry into the Air-India terrorist attack in 1985, which was the central topic in this place today in question period.
The government of the day back in 1985 made an insensitive mistake when, following the Air-India attack, it issued condolences to the government of India. The vast majority of victims of the worst crime in Canadian history were Canadian citizens. The families of those citizens deserve to know what happened. They deserve as much as possible to see justice done.
That is a significant priority within the Indo-Canadian community, a community of over a million Canadians who have come from the tremendous cultural diversity of south Asia. They expect to see justice done. They hope that the two provisions sunsetted in the Anti-terrorism Act will be renewed by Parliament in the days ahead.
I encourage my friends in the opposition. If they really want to show their sensitivity to the serious concerns of new Canadians, particularly in the Indo-Canadian community, having failed to do it with the Chinese head tax for the Chinese community, perhaps they could show that sensitivity to the priority of Indo-Canadians right now and vote to renew those sunsetted provisions of the ATA.
I again thank the House for the tone of this debate. I look forward to continuing to work in my capacity with cultural communities to ensure their successful integration, their entry into the circle of prosperity in this the best country in the world.