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.