Mr. Speaker, I obviously support the motion and the report. I have a great deal of experience with this issue, having spent a couple of years actually working on the solution. There is no doubt that there are several thousand undocumented workers in Canada and actually the number is much larger than that. We all know that.
I am going to give members a bit of a chronology to give citizens an understanding of the issue.
I am splitting my time with my colleague from Brampton West.
In 2003 I met with the labour and construction industry, with both business and labour representatives, who informed me that they were desperate to keep qualified workers in this country. Most of these workers come from Portugal or Eastern Europe and most are undocumented.
At that meeting, I learned a great deal about who these undocumented workers really are, what kind of lives they lead in this country, and where they come from. They are skilled labourers who in many cases came as visitors, with a visa, and overstayed. They are refugee claimants who failed the refugee status requirements and stayed.
Most, if not all, of these people are paying taxes in this country. Many of them own their own businesses by now and are creating jobs in addition to their own jobs. Most of them are actually owners of homes and are contributing to our Canadian society. Most of their children, if not all, are either born or raised here.
If were to look at these people, normally we would say that they are stable, settled Canadians. Again, most of the children have never been in their parents' country. Those who were raised and born here have never seen Portugal or Eastern Europe or wherever. Some of them do not even speak those languages. The only country they have ever known is Canada, their country of birth in many cases and certainly their country of adoption.
That is a very quick profile of undocumented workers. Most of them are working in the construction industry, although not all of them, but I am focusing on that industry because it is the one that I was working with for a while.
This does not mean that there are no bad apples in this group. I am not suggesting that all of the people working here as undocumented workers have no difficulties, but I would say that in the main they are hard-working and law-abiding people who are raising families, contributing to Canada's economy, and working very well, as I already have said. Many of them own houses and have created their own businesses, and their children are being educated here.
The labour representatives and the construction companies I met with told me that their industry desperately needed skilled labour. This is not something new. This has been going on for some time. In fact, I was a volunteer helping with the immigrant settlement program for about 20 years. I know that in the 1980s we were talking about the fact that the average age of a construction worker at that time was 50 years and the area was becoming de-skilled.
In fact, the industry has been trying for some time to try to get the government to fast track some of the applicants, which was mentioned by the government representative earlier. The industry is trying to do that because in addition to its undocumented workers here, it needs more skilled workers. One does not cancel out the other.
In fact, some contractors told me that they were no longer bidding on jobs and contracts because they were not able to find enough labour to fulfill the commitment they would be taking on. That is pretty serious in an industry that is very fundamental to our country's economy.
The average age of a construction worker today is about 60, probably more by now, and even if the undocumented workers were allowed to stay in Canada, the industry still would be facing a shortage of skilled labour, so this is not one or the other. It is an issue that is very major to that industry. The industry has been trying desperately to resolve this with the CREWS program, which was mentioned earlier, to try to fast track skilled workers to this country.
Both labour and industry went on to describe who undocumented workers are and what they do. They said that they work very long hours and that most of them pay taxes to this country. They said that they are raising Canadian-born children or children who came here as young children and are now Canadians. They also said that they keep the construction industry from collapsing because that is where they are needed.
Unless undocumented workers are regularized, they have no rights of any kind in this country. They cannot access any benefits and are not paying into pensions, therefore, as they grow older they will not be able to look after themselves. They will be living in poverty because they are not contributing to CPP and so forth. If they should become injured they cannot access workers compensation or anything else because they have no rights. If they become ill they have no access to health care. These are all major issues.
In a sense, they are making major contributions to our country but they are marginalized in many ways in terms of the benefits they can access from this country.
In essence, Canada is benefiting from the labour of these people without having to give them any rights or payments in the form of services, which is unfortunate. Some people have said that the way to resolve that is to deport everybody. I will talk a little about that because that is the wrong way to go and it does not resolve the issue in any case.
When I met with both the labour and the construction industries they asked that we try to find ways to regularize the situation for these people in a legal manner, respecting the immigration regulations, laws and security provisions.
In my work with them, we looked at a number of options for possible solutions. One option was to ask the undocumented workers to come forward and ID themselves and then ask them to go back to their native country with the understanding that they could apply for landed status in Canada. We would try to facilitate that provided they had no criminal record or problems.
This was a difficult situation to work with because we did not think the undocumented workers would accept it because it was a bit of a risk. The best solution we came up with was to have the undocumented workers come forward and, after the normal checks for security and whatever, give them a three year work permit and then, like all other workers who come to Canada from abroad, they would be able to apply for landed status after three years. We felt this process would help the construction industry with its chronic manpower skills shortages. It would also help children, either born or raised here, to have stability, to know who they are and to help their parents live their lives without fear of detection. They would pay into pensions, receive health care and other services and become proud and productive Canadians. This also would help the industry tremendously and keep it from collapsing into the crisis that it is in today.
This was a solution that was being worked on by the previous minister just before the election. In fact, the solution had been arrived at and it was a matter of tabling and bringing it forward when we lost the election.
I would suggest to the current government that instead of trying to deport people, we should look at the compassionate reality and the fact that this country desperately needs their skills which they have been providing for all these years. The industry is desperately looking for this kind of solution. This would be the only humane and compassionate way, instead of turfing out families and forcing them to sell their businesses, which creates unemployment, and selling their homes and yanking their children, many of whom were here or who have been here for 14, 15 or 16 years, from school and moving them to, basically, a foreign country.
I think this is a very reasonable solution that the government should look at because it is the only one that makes sense and it is compassionate.