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House of Commons Hansard #57 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was airbus.

Topics

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, happy Friday to you. First, I would like to commend my colleague for all her extremely serious and diligent work in the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. I find it reassuring that a parliament has an ethics committee. Ethics are neither laws nor morals, but the best behaviour that one must display in all circumstances. I know that my colleague has worked very hard, read the documents and questioned the witnesses. In fact, journalists have even relayed the questions she has asked in committee. We have seen the relevance of her questions on TVA and Radio-Canada.

I have two or three questions for her so that she can help us understand something that seems quite incredible, and that is how a former Prime Minister, who held the most senior office in the country, could have accepted contracts in the final days of his public life. He was no longer the Prime Minister, but he was still a member of Parliament.

I would like our colleague to go over some things. When the former Prime Minister agreed to meet with Mr. Schreiber and do some lobbying work, a code of ethics already existed in the House of Commons for all members of Parliament. I would like our colleague to comment on how the former Prime Minister ended up breaching this code of ethics.

I would also like her to show us how important it is for a parliamentary committee or public representatives, who are elected, to play the role of guardian. We are the guardians of public integrity. It is very important that this committee be more than just any committee.

I have always thought that the contribution of MPs to an issue like this is important in terms of research, even though I have heard some analysts say that we do not have the same means available to a public inquiry. There is no doubt about that. And nor do we want parliamentary committees to turn into courts of law, but the fact remains that parliamentarians have a job to do.

I would like her to describe her contribution and that of her committee to clarifying one of the most disturbing political events of past few years.

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Hochelaga for his question.

First, the code of ethics exists to guide elected representatives in acting with integrity, thereby maintaining the public's trust in them. That is extremely important. Most of the provisions in the code of ethics say that not only must one not do certain things, but also one must not appear to have done or appear to be doing certain things.

The matter before us now involves several elements of the code of ethics that existed at the time. Those elements still apply, and many have even been strengthened. For example, one may not benefit or appear to benefit from one's regular work here in Parliament, nor may one's family. That is the code of ethics. One must act with integrity and appear to be acting with integrity. That is extremely important.

I would like to share a story, but unfortunately, there is not enough time. The Bloc Québécois is made up of people of integrity who pay for things out of their own pockets so that they do not appear to be taking something that is a public asset.

The committee made a particularly significant contribution. Every member of the committee worked very hard. As I said earlier, each member worked in his or her own way to achieve his or her goals, but most sought to shed light on matters of concern to the committee and to all Canadians and Quebeckers. People want to know what really happened.

The committee concluded that only a public inquiry with the broadest possible mandate could help us answer the many questions that remain unanswered. The most important question is, where did the Airbus commissions paid to Mr. Schreiber end up? We are talking about $20 million. Apparently, $10 million of that was given to politicians on Parliament Hill. That is what people everywhere have said. Yet that money seems to have disappeared without a trace. We simply have to find it.

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I attended the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics as an observer and I very much appreciated the hon. member's contribution. I have a brief question for her.

Unfortunately, we will not have the opportunity to question Mr. Mulroney a second time. However, if the other inquiry has the opportunity to question Mr. Mulroney, I wonder if the member would agree with the following questions.

First of all, Mr. Mulroney said nothing to Luc Lavoie, his spokesperson, regarding the amount of money he received from Mr. Schreiber during the Airbus scandal. That was after Mr. Lavoie charged more than half a million dollars in fees to Canadian taxpayers. Why did Mr. Mulroney not say anything to Mr. Lavoie?

Second, in 1991, Fred Doucet had many meetings and conversations with Mr. Mulroney and other members of the Conservative Party to discuss the Bear Head project. However, Norman Spector said it was clear that Mr. Mulroney cancelled that project. Why did Mr. Mulroney not say anything to Fred Doucet, his long time friend from Nova Scotia? Why did he not say anything to Fred Doucet in 1991?

I consider these two questions very important. Even if it takes him 10 or 15 minutes, why will Mr. Mulroney not attend the meeting of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics?

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his two excellent questions.

We had a number of questions to ask, but we were not able to do so because of the inherent limitations of a parliamentary committee. At other times, this is fine, but for this inquiry, we did not have enough time to ask all the questions we would have liked to ask or hear all the answers we wanted to hear. It was very frustrating and very difficult to understand what was going on and to get real answers about certain topics.

This is why a public inquiry is so important. A commission of inquiry would have access to research services, more time and expertise to question and cross-examine.

I think that we did shed light on it. My colleague was a member of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, and he asked excellent questions, but we were not able to ask everything we wanted to.

The two questions he is asking are excellent. Why was Luc Lavoie so curious about everything that was going on with the Airbus affair publicly? And why was he so incurious when he spoke to his boss, his friend, Brian Mulroney? He had worked with Mr. Mulroney for years and was his spokesperson. When a person speaks for someone else publicly, they should at least know what to say. If they have to answer media questions on behalf of someone else, they should at least know the answers to any questions that may come up.

Luc Lavoie is a prominent communications professional, an expert in communications. Unfortunately, a public inquiry will have to ask him that question, as well as the question the member asked concerning Mr. Mulroney, who did not tell his friend Fred Doucet and his friends at GCI that the Bear Head project was dead.

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Before moving on to the next speaker, I would like to thank the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for her gracious acceptance of my earlier reproach.

The member for Winnipeg Centre.

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will serve notice at the beginning of my speech that I will be sharing my time with the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

As the vice-chair of the ethics committee, I have spent the last three months totally immersed in a very dark and troubling period of Canadian history. It seems there was a time when our great country was hijacked by some very bad people, people who abused the power of their office for their own self-interest and benefit, who would break faith with the Canadian people by abusing the checks, balances and rules that we put in place to preclude such a thing from ever happening.

We have been studying an era of Canadian politics where corporate lobbyists were running roughshod over everything that was good and decent about Canadian politics and our democratic institutions. We have been studying an era where corrupt politicians abused the power of their office to line their own pockets. We have been researching a period of history where there were mandatory 5% minimum kickbacks on public works projects.

These are facts. These are not theories before our committee. Some of those corrupt politicians were caught, tried and convicted in subsequent years. Some continue to enjoy the spoils of their malfeasance and their abuse of our system. Some of the key actors in fact of this era continue to operate unmolested in exactly the same way today.

This might be one of the most disturbing things that we realized as committee members. Some of the very key actors in this, the darkest period of recent Canadian history, continue to operate in the same modus operandi that so offended the sensibilities of Canadians at the time and in subsequent generations.

The question as to whether there was political interference in the Airbus purchase for Air Canada has taken us on a long circuitous journey, a journey where we have learned of a parcel of rogues perhaps unparalleled in Canadian history. We have witnessed the dark underbelly of Ottawa, some place that I never care to go again, some place frankly that nauseates me as a Canadian, as it would offend the sensibilities of all good people in our country who expect better from their public office-holders.

Our research took us back to a disturbing period in Canadian history where foreign money undertook a silent coup in Canada. Franz Josef Strauss, premier of Bavaria, a man who the media in his country calls an unrepentant Nazi, and also the CEO of Airbus, rigged the 1983 Conservative convention to unseat Joe Clark and six months later put in place Brian Mulroney. That alone should have been enough to horrify Canadians. They should have taken to the rooftops to scream their derision over this political interference by foreign powers, an unrepentant Nazi from a foreign country running roughshod over our democratic process in Canada.

This was orchestrated by the team that put Brian Mulroney in place: Walter Wolf, Karl Heinz-Schreiber, Frank Moore, Gary Ouellet and the Doucet brothers. Yet Brian Mulroney claimed he had absolutely nothing to do with the Airbus purchase. However, as soon as he was in power, put in place by this dirty money from an unrepentant Nazi, one of the first things he did was fire 13 of the 15 members of the board of directors of Air Canada and put in place 13 Conservative allies, one of whom was Frank Moores, the chief lobbyist for Airbus.

We also took note that the CEO of Air Canada at the time was Pierre Jeanniot. Where did he retire to? As soon as the Airbus purchase was officially announced in 1988, Mr. Jeanniot retired to Toulouse, France, home of Airbus. It was an odd choice, coincidence, I suppose.

These are the things with which we have been dealing. That is where the story started.

We now move on to the issue of the $2.1 million that Canada paid out in the defamation lawsuit that Brian Mulroney filed against the Government of Canada. Brian Mulroney filed a lawsuit for $50 million to sue the people of Canada because they implied that he took money from Karlheinz Schreiber. We now know that he did take money from Karlheinz Schreiber in the most shady of circumstances. This phantom lobbying where he claims that he earned the $300,000, he admits that it was a mistake, but now he would have us believe he earned that money legitimately.

Let me say at the outset of this particular section that no amount of bafflegab will ever take the stink off the image that is tattooed, that is emblazoned on people's minds of a former prime minister of Canada taking sacks full of cash from an arms dealer in secret hotel room meetings. We could have studies for years and explanations by hired mouthpieces on behalf of Brian Mulroney for years. Nobody will ever forget that image and we are horrified even as we speak of it today.

The reason I say “phantom lobbying” is because the very company he says that he was lobbying for, ThyssenKrupp, the arms of Krupp, did not know that Brian Mulroney was on its payroll. We have all read our history books on the second world war. Those are the guys who armed the Nazis and they now own one of the largest companies in the world in terms of arms dealers. How Brian Mulroney could be lobbying for such a huge international corporation and how a huge corporation like that did not know that a former head of state of a G-7 nation was on its payroll, defies credulity, and some of us on the committee simply cannot accept that without some more proof.

We asked Mr. Mulroney to please present some documentation to prove that he did meet with the leaders of China, Russia and France to earn the $300,000 he was given. Some of us think that was awfully rich compensation for three brief meetings with three heads of state, but it also begs the question as to why Mr. Mulroney would he be trying to sell tanks to China right after Tiananmen Square when he was so outraged and we had international agreements to not arm those Communist countries at that time. The story simply begs for further investigation and validation.

Our committee was wrestling with a number of issues that time does not permit me to go through, but let me know say that as of 12:10 today, the chair of our committee introduced the third report of the Standing Committee on Ethics which clearly states that the work of our committee is now concluded. We are not hearing anymore witnesses. I am proud of the work that our committee did. I would be happy to debate any of the armchair quarterbacks who have criticized the work that we did, mostly Conservative Party members in the country who do not like this era of Canadian history being dredged up.

We did a great deal in a short period of time at no cost to the taxpayers because, I remind colleagues, that our committee meets every Tuesday and Thursday whether we have Brian Mulroney as our witness or anybody else. It was at no cost to the taxpayer and we moved the puck down the ice a great deal in the struggle to shed some light on this dark era. It is now time to pass the puck to those best able to put it in the net and that means the public inquiry should begin without delay. This is the subject of our opposition day motion we are debating today. The Liberals are trying to change the channel from the humiliation of having to vote in favour of the Conservative budget, so they want us to talk about Schreiber-Mulroney, which is fine, we have this opportunity.

The Prime Minister of Canada and the justice minister have both stood in their place promising Canadians that there would be a full public inquiry. They said, “let's wait until the ethics committee finishes hearing witnesses”. We are finished. All some of us want to do is go home, take a shower and pretend it never happened, but we now are passing the files, passing the baton over to the public inquiry. It should be implemented and begun without delay. We understand that it takes some time to set up a full public inquiry but that process should begin today.

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I look forward as well to a public inquiry but I am not sure it would be scoped out broadly enough to include an examination of the money that went missing from Airbus to some individuals. I wish it would because it is clear that some money changed hands.

I know it is a bit inappropriate to mention names but I have always been intrigued by the notion that a role might have been played by Lucien Bouchard. I think an inquiry would clear his name if he was not involved at all. At the time of the Airbus transaction, Mr. Bouchard was the ambassador for Canada to France. It is no secret that Airbus is a consortium which involves France and it is probably no secret to conclude that Mr. Bouchard may have felt stronger allegiances to France than to Canada because as a separatist he does not have too many allegiances to this country. In fact, he became leader of the Parti Québécois some time later. I have always been curious.

Airbus at that time was anxious to establish a presence in the North American airplane market, especially the passenger market because it did not have any presence there and it was desperate to get a leghold on the North American market. Its competition was Boeing. If money did change hands, this is probably why.

At the same time, Air Canada had a very rigorous evaluation of the bids. A group evaluated the bids from Boeing and Airbus along a number of different lines, such as operational efficiency, capacity, fuel economy, price, et cetera. Airbus really sharpened its pencils and had a very good bid proposal because it wanted to penetrate the North American passenger airplane market. I am quite confident of that fact.

With respect to the point about the board of directors, I personally believe that Prime Minister Mulroney probably did not receive much directly in terms of the money from the Karlheinz Schreiber's of the world, but I do believe a lot of these other people did get some money. Sometimes I think it is a question of showing one's influence.

However, in my wildest dreams I cannot imagine the former prime minister picking up the phone and saying to the chairman of Air Canada that they really had to do this with Airbus. It goes beyond the realm of possibility in my mind.

The member for Winnipeg Centre touched on the question of the appointment of board directors sympathetic to Mr. Mulroney and other aspects. I wonder if he could comment on whether he believes Mr. Lucien Bouchard may have been involved.

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's knowledge and his flushing out of some of the details about the Airbus sale which added to the debate.

I will simply say that Mr. Bouchard's name has come up a number of times in our inquiry. We do not know the extent of his involvement but I too would be very interested to learn what influence he may have exerted as the ambassador to France. I have no doubt that he was involved or included in this process in some way.

I did not have time in my speech to deal with where the money went but there were millions of dollars of grease money. It was not unusual for European companies at that time to realize that in order to grease the wheels of commerce for a sale of that size they had to sprinkle some money around. In this case it was $20 million, about $10 million on the European side and $10 million on the Canadian side. We do not know who the beneficiaries were of that grease money.

We have a better idea of where the commissions went. They went to Frank Moores and GCI. Some have alleged that GCI was a lobby firm set up by Brian Mulroney's closest associates to act as a piggy bank, to hold the loot until such time as the smoke cleared and the beneficiaries could avail themselves of the loot. There were foreign bank accounts.

It is extremely complex, which this is why a public inquiry may be able to put the puck in the net where we can only move the puck down the ice.

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think I will get most of my 10 minutes in and I may be able to avoid questions. I would expect one or two intelligent ones from this House but that may be a fond hope.

My opening comments will be somewhat critical of this motion coming forward at this time. As one looks at it and at the other issues confronting us in this Parliament right now, the budget and the debate around that in particular, one cannot help but wonder about the motivation of the Liberals. They obviously do not want to be confronted with their flexibility on the budget and their unwillingness to stand up, as they should as the formal official opposition, and challenge the government on a great deal of this budget. They would rather sit on their hands, as they have so often done in these last six months, and not play the role they properly should and protect the Canadian people in the kind of budget that we have. Instead, they move on this.

I do not want to downplay in any way or demean the significance of the Mulroney-Schreiber and Airbus inquiry and the need for it, but that message has been clearly sent out by the ethics committee, by a great deal of the positions of all political parties, except for the Conservatives, and by the Canadian public generally.

This debate today, I would suggest, is not really necessary because all the points that I have heard so far today have been made repeatedly in the past. The political pressure is on the House and, more specifically, on the government to get the public inquiry going as quickly as possible.

It is quite obvious that the government is very interested in prolonging the establishment of the public inquiry until the next election occurs and have the election done and over with before the public inquiry gets started and certainly before it completes its work.

In that regard, I think the crucial issue here is not only to get the inquiry going, but that a mandate for that inquiry be given. If it follows the very clear message from the government at the present time and, to some degree, the recommendations that came from Dr. Johnston, this will be a very limited mandate that basically will do nothing.

I would argue strongly that, if we see that limited mandate, it is intentional that it will not do anything. We will spend a chunk of money on it, we will put a lot of resources into it for a very limited mandate and we will come to no conclusions.

I want to acknowledge the work that my colleague from Winnipeg has done on the committee and the work of the committee generally in moving this forward. We also need to recognize the limitations it was functioning under. It lacked the financial and professional resources and, in particular, the forensic accounting resources that would have allowed the committee to move it even further along.

It has been a rather significant problem for me as I analyze how Parliament and our committees function as opposed to the way committees function in other Parliaments around the globe. As we see with the present government and as we saw with the prior Liberal government with the sponsorship scandal, we do not provide sufficient resources in the structure within this House and within the committees. Our structure is not flexible enough and not resourced enough to do the job that we are required to do or expected to do when we are faced with this kind of an issue and these kinds of facts. I address it specifically as a situation where we as a committee are expected to conduct a quasi inquiry without having anywhere near the resources.

We saw that very clearly during the sponsorship scandal. I remember speaking at that time with the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, who was an accountant himself, and saying that this was everything we had and that there was no way we would be able to get to the bottom of it. The committee did excellent work but, because of the limited resources, it took the Gomery inquiry to get much further along that line.

We saw the same thing here. Excellent work, as I saw it, by the ethics committee, as far as it could go. But we saw with Mr. Mulroney his refusal to give documentation to back up what was a fairly incredible story. However, the one that really got me was when he claimed that his income tax returns were sacred.

My relationship with my wife is sacred. My relationship with my children is sacred. I want to be very clear to this House that my relationship with my accountant and the Revenue Canada office is not sacred, and neither should Mr. Mulroney's be.

That is what we are up against and not having adequate resources to really challenge that. That is why we need the inquiry established as quickly as possible and follow the report that was tabled today. We say to the Prime Minister that he must do it now and must make it with a mandate that is broad enough to get at all of the issues and to finally put this to bed for all Canadians.

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It being 1:15 p.m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the business of supply.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five members or more having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 45, the recorded division stands deferred until Monday, March 3, 2008, at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment.

The member for Selkirk—Interlake on a point of order.

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I ask that you see the clock at 1:30 p.m.

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is that agreed?

Opposition Motion — Public Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber AffairBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from December 12, 2007 consideration of the motion that Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

1:15 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, to allow for the once in a lifetime sponsorship of a relative.

As all members have heard, the bill before the House is not new. Governments and stakeholders have debated and analyzed for several years whether such a provision would be workable.

All of us believe in the principle of reuniting families. That is not an issue. The list of those who can be sponsored from abroad is already quite extensive, contrary to the assertion made previously by the member for Parkdale—High Park. This is a point I will return to later.

Currently, those who can be sponsored include: spouses; common-law and conjugal partners; parents; grandparents; dependent children, including those who are adopted; as well as orphaned brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces or grandchildren who are under the age of 18.

The one time sponsorship option, such as that proposed in Bill C-394, is fundamentally flawed because it is an expansion of the family class which would be unsustainable and unmanageable.

Bill C-394 would define an eligible relative to include a brother or sister, an aunt or uncle, a niece or nephew, and so on.

Past experience has shown that even with more resources such an open-ended system would generate an increase in the backlog and processing times for this and other categories of immigrants, and would seriously undermine the integrity and credibility of the entire immigration program.

Responsible members will also recognize that such an expansion of the family class would create additional problems for our immigration program. As it is, our officers are already pouring significant time and effort into the family relation verification process.

Understandably, we must ensure that family members and relatives are who they say they are. Expanding the family class in the way this bill proposes would make the family relation verification process extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Provisions already exist to process applications from relatives who are not immediate family members in certain circumstances. There is little reason to duplicate this in a separate piece of legislation with such serious problems.

If Canadians and permanent residents have no close family members in Canada, and none abroad whom they can sponsor, they can sponsor a more distant relative, regardless of their age or relationship.

Paragraph 117(1)(h) of the immigration and refugee protection regulations defines foreign nationals as members of the family class with respect to a sponsor if they are a relative of the sponsor, regardless of their age and if the sponsor does not have a spouse, common-law partner or conjugal partner, or any other immediate family member in Canada or abroad.

In addition, section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act can be used to permit the sponsorship of a foreign national relative who would not otherwise qualify as a member of the family class if exceptional humanitarian and compassionate grounds exist.

Furthermore, foreign nationals who apply as skilled workers and who have close family members in Canada are given the advantage of five additional points on the selection grid.

As well, regulations already exist to make it much easier for Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their loved ones from abroad and expand the family class in a well managed and sustainable way.

Our system for sponsoring family members is one of the most flexible in the world. Canada allows citizens, as well as permanent residents, equal opportunity to sponsor members of their family. This is different from countries such as the United States, which restricts some sponsorship privileges only to citizens.

Canada is also different from some other countries in that we do not apply economic selection criteria to family class members. Far from being too restrictive, Canada's family class program is expansive in a balanced and well managed way.

Today we include spouses, common-law and conjugal partners, dependent children, as well as orphaned siblings, nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

Canadians and permanent residents can also sponsor their parents and grandparents. If a citizen or permanent resident has none of these close relatives, that person may sponsor any other relative who would not otherwise be eligible for sponsorship from abroad.

In exceptional cases certain requirements of the family class program can be waived on humanitarian and compassionate grounds to allow individuals to sponsor their loved ones who otherwise would not qualify.

Countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom include different and various combinations of individuals in their respective definitions of family class members, but none of those four follow the wide open example of the private member's bill before us today. This could greatly increase the potential for fraud and abuse, in addition to having an incalculable impact on the backlog and processing times, all imposed controls on intake through either their selection criteria or more restrictive definitions of who may be considered a family member. The model Canada has chosen, therefore, compares favourably on the world stage.

The family class has already been expanded in a well planned and responsible way. Provisions already exist for individuals who wish to sponsor an individual not included in the family class without jeopardizing the integrity of the immigration program itself.

Once again, I must repeat that such a potentially wide open approach would have a huge impact on our processing capacity and would significantly increase the already large backlog our government inherited from the previous government.

That said, I would note that the previous Liberal government expressed clear opposition to this legislation when it came up for debate in previous versions of the bill. Our colleagues in the Liberal Party have also expressed misgivings about this bill more recently, during the first hour of debate. The former Liberal parliamentary secretary, the current member for Vancouver Centre, said on February 12, 2004:

If this proposal is adopted, not only will we need significant resources to deal with a larger number of cases, but we will also need proportionally more resources to deal with the family class applications, simply to maintain the existing ratio between family and economic class immigration.

She went on to say:

The changes proposed...runs counter to...the principles of fairness, balance and consultation, and so we cannot support it.

More recently, in the first hour of debate on this bill, the Liberal immigration critic and member for Vaughan said:

The bill essentially could create an exponential influx of immigration applications that could result in delays in processing priority members of the family class that are spouses, partners and dependent children.

These are the words of the opposition in this legislature and are not our own but are worth repeating. They are positions that have been expressed by the Liberal Party, both when it was in government and in opposition, and they are positions that it still holds. I hope the Liberal Party will do the responsible thing and oppose this legislation as it did a short time ago when it was in government.

Before I close, I must say that I find the NDP position on the immigration backlog issue astounding. As the NDP has already indicated, it will be voting against our measures in budget 2008 that will help reduce the immigration backlog. Not only is it going to vote against measures to reduce the backlog but through Bill C-394 it is actively working to exponentially increase that backlog. That is what this bill does.

I cannot stand for that and I encourage my colleagues in the House not to stand for it, either. I cannot support the concept of a once in a lifetime sponsorship and will vote against this fundamentally flawed scheme set out in Bill C-394. I hope that all hon. members will join me by not voting for this bill.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-394, this private member's bill, is not a new initiative. It is a repeat of several previous initiatives of private members to put forward amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that would change the definition of family class, expanding it to allow a greater number of people in the relative class to be viewed as family class.

Taken in isolation, it might be seen as somewhat benign and not complex. Certainly, as I will mention later, the proposal in concept has been received favourably in immigration quarters, among immigration groups and settlement groups. One can understand why they might see this as a positive change, but I will address some of those issues later in relation to immigration settlement.

We in the Liberal Party know that immigration is a critical and fundamental component of Canada's future growth and prosperity. Without a healthy immigration program, our country, our children's country, may fail to achieve many of the very promising objectives that we see out there in the future, both economically and sociologically.

We see that immigration has not just built the country to where it is now, but that it is actually fundamental in taking us from the present into the future as a strong and independent economy with the necessary skills and connection to the rest of the world. We are a trading nation and we see that immigration is a factor in how we will maintain and improve our trade relationships around the world.

The current immigration intake in Canada is approximately 300,000 persons per year. It is just slightly under that, but I will use the round number of 300,000.

Within that number, there are included what we call the economic class, which would be the skilled workers, investors and other persons in those categories, and there is the family class, where the criteria applied, aside from the normal criteria involving health and criminal record checks, simply involve the relationship between the Canadian who sponsors and the family member who has applied. That category of immigration has served us well and is continuing to do so. Then there is the refugee class, a small component of the 300,000, but in the vicinity of 15,000 to 25,000 persons each year.

With all of that coming together, we have a fairly decent immigration flow. The one point I would make in understanding this is that between the family class and the economic class, based on a policy decision, those numbers are split between 60% being economic class and 40% being family class. It used to be in the range of fifty-fifty, but a decision was taken at about the time of the adoption of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, based on the advice of the standing committee and other stakeholders, that 60% of our non-refugee class intake be economic class people with skills and 40% be family class.

That has a big impact on how we operate the immigration system now. It has huge implications for the type of bill proposed in this case, which would purport to expand the family class.

We have had a lot of complaints in the House, going back many years, about the so-called immigration backlog. Everyone says that the processing times take too long, but if we look closely at the immigration system, we will see, not to our surprise, that in virtually every year, going back 25 years, we have succeeded in bringing into Canada numbers of people within our targets.

Those targets are selected every year by the government and by the department. Every year, we have successfully brought into Canada the exact number of people, give or take a few thousand, of persons that we projected we would bring in. In order to bring in those people, we have to process them, get them into Canada and get them settled here. There is a whole process involved in that and it is complex too.

Therefore, even though we have a so-called backlog of approximately 800,000 people, we are succeeding every year as a country in bringing in exactly the same number of people that we want to bring in, and that is approximately 300,000. If we have a backlog of 800,000 and we bring in about 300,000, that averages out to about two and a half to three years of inventory of applications. That is a given.

Thus, somebody who complains that there is a three year processing time for a particular immigrant is simply looking at the reality, because it takes us three years to move the 800,000 people through the system. There is no way to do it any more quickly. The officials abroad cannot process any more quickly than they do.

Our immigration receiving areas, including Toronto, where I proudly represent a riding, Vancouver, Montreal and other places where we receive large numbers of immigrants, are hardly capable of assimilating and settling numbers much larger than what is coming in now. These people must have places to live, jobs, opportunities and schools. There are large numbers coming in now, with approximately 1% of our population coming in every year, and this is a huge challenge for communities. We invest federal money in that process.

The point is that the complaints about processing times are in most cases completely unfounded and do not take into account the fact that the department successfully achieves its targets every year.

What the current bill would do is expand the definition of family class, but if we think about it, all the bill would do is expand that 40% family class component and push it out beyond where it is now. If we stick to the 40% rule for the family class, the backlog in the number of applications will just get bigger and suddenly we will have a six year or seven year backlog, which may impair our ability to prioritize the spousal component of family class.

We do process spouses within six to twelve months. If we promise to do that, but the rest of the family class is still sitting there in a queue and this current bill adds thousands and thousands of new family class applicants who are not in the spousal category, that family class queue is going to go out to five to ten years. I do not think members of the House would want to see that happen.

My time is quickly coming to an end. It is normal for immigration groups and settlement groups to want to support a bill like this, but we have to keep in mind that those people legitimately speak in favour of their clients and their members. They naturally have an interest in expanding the family immigration class.

However, we have to look at the bill in the overall picture. We have to look at the overall immigration system. At the present time, it simply is not doable. It is not achievable to simply change the definition and hope that all the rest of the system will work well. I regret that.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak to the bill of my colleague from Parkdale—High Park. I listened carefully to what my colleagues said earlier. If this does raise concerns about allowing more people to enter Canada, we should examine this bill from another perspective.

When we talk about people who can be a sponsor once in their lifetime, we are speaking of human beings and not quotas or numbers. We are talking about people who came to Canada, perhaps years earlier, with dreams and sometimes without possessions, and who were able to integrate, to put down roots, to contribute to society and who now wish to have family members—not necessarily immediate family members—join them so they, too can have a better future and a better life.

There is nothing more noble than wanting to help someone who would like to immigrate to Quebec or Canada, even if you are a distant relative. We must not forget that when people leave their own country to go elsewhere, it is because they are looking for a better life in place where they can grow financially, physically and spiritually. That should be uppermost in our minds as we talk about this bill.

I am able to speak to this bill in this way because two people in my riding whom I know quite well are political refugees from Tanzania. These people have a specific problem today. They would like to be reunited with their family and have their children come and join them. Unfortunately, that is proving to be very difficult.

There has been mention of an immigration backlog. There certainly is a backlog, because roughly 50 of the 156 commissioner positions have been cut, even though there are 115,000 immigration applications. There were 115,000 as of September 2005, and then 50 position were cut. How are the poor commissioners who are left supposed to examine more applications? They are not robots.

These cuts were made after the Conservatives came to power. When the Conservatives took power two years ago, Canada was short five commissioners. The person who was to appoint replacements had a list of 80 people who could fill the positions effectively and immediately. But instead of acting right away, the government preferred to wait and leave the positions vacant.

If there is a backlog, it is not because Canada is accepting too many immigrants, but because the government cut immigration commissioner positions.

The two people who live in my riding are Tanzanian refugees who met in a refugee camp. The woman had children whom she believed had died when her village was attacked. She narrowly escaped death and was taken to the refugee camp before being brought here.

Imagine her surprise a few years ago when she was told her children had been seen alive. Since then she has been trying to find them to reunite with them, but she has had to go through so much red tape.

The case of the man in this couple also concerns us. He was working for the Tanzanian government at the time. When he realized that something bad was brewing, he quit his job. He was then perceived as an enemy of the military and he was set to be assassinated. He also ended up in a refugee camp. He then came here as a political refugee. When he left the camp, he failed to mention that he had children because he feared for their lives.

The one believed her children were dead and the other did not want his children to be killed. Today, these two people are having difficulty bringing their children here. They are being denied DNA testing, under the pretext that it is too complicated and too expensive.

All these immigrants are asking for is permission to sponsor a member of their extended family once in their lives. The government is in a position to help them. As my colleague said earlier, when immigrants come here, they have to find a school or a job, they have to put down roots and integrate and so on. Is there a better way for people to integrate than to come to a country where they know people, where they have family, people who love them and will help them settle in? Is there a better way than being able to count on people upon arriving rather than finding oneself alone, which was, sadly, the case for these two people?

I do not think there is a better way than that. Claiming that this would put the country at risk is not a valid argument. How could it possibly put the country at risk? People who were allowed to become permanent residents and citizens here have already had their backgrounds checked. The people they want to invite here, the people they want to sponsor, will also have to go through background checks. If an immigrant seeks to sponsor a person once in his or her life, that does not mean that the applicant will be exempt from the process that all immigrants have to go through. That is nonsense. People are trying to misrepresent the issue by saying anything they please to make others believe that this bill is no good.

I am sorry, but we believe this bill has merit and certainly deserves to be referred to committee for further study and review of the parameters. If certain things about the bill bother or upset the members, they can examine them. That is what parliamentary committees are for.

I hope my hon. colleagues will not listen to our Conservative colleague and that, quite the opposite, they will be willing to side with reason for once, and vote to refer this bill to committee.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

February 29th, 2008 / 1:40 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise in the House today to support Bill C-394, put forward by the member for Parkdale—High Park.

This is a terrific bill. All members of the NDP have given very strong support to this idea. It is one simple thing we can do to fix our terrible immigration system. We support the idea of allowing families in Canada to sponsor, once in a lifetime, a relative who would not otherwise qualify under the existing family clause.

Originally I sponsored the bill and I am delighted now that the member for Parkdale—High Park has it. I know she has been a passionate advocate for family reunification, as have all of us in the NDP.

I want to remind the House, because members have probably forgotten, especially the Liberals, that the idea of being able to sponsor a family member once in a lifetime came from a former Liberal citizenship and immigration minister. We know the Liberals like to turn their backs on all the things in which they once believed, and this is another example of that.

The minister, Elinor Caplan, suggested this program. She came to Vancouver and talked about it publicly. It got a huge reception in the community and people thought it was a great idea. She came back to Ottawa and the bureaucrats got hold of her, I think, and maybe other members of her caucus, and that was the end of it. I thought this was a good opportunity, and as a result of that, we developed this bill, and we have not let go of it since. We believe it is a very sound idea.

It is interesting to hear the debate today. It is interesting to hear the Conservative members say that the bill will be unsustainable and unmanageable and that it will create a huge backlog. Is that not the party that claimed it would fix the immigration system? Is that not the party that went out and campaigned on this? Yet we still have a system in which people get completely clogged. It takes years and years to get a family member here, to reunite with a loved one, to come here as an independent. The Conservatives did nothing, as the Liberals before them.

Therefore, I find it ironic that the folks who said they would clean up the immigration system and allow people to come to Canada now deny this very straightforward simple proposal, which would allow families here at least some relief, some way of reuniting with a family member.

As well, it strikes me ironic that in Canada, for example, we have the province of Manitoba, which has the most successful provincial nominee program in Canada. The Premier of Manitoba just came back from the Philippines with agreements and proposals to increase immigration from the Philippines. I know that Manitoba, over the last year, has seen something like 10,000 new immigrants come to that province along with their family members. It is using its provincial nominee program because it is so fed up with the fact that the federal program does not work any more. This is an indication of something that actually works. We should give credit to the Government of Manitoba for recognizing the importance of immigration in its community.

I know in my own community of Vancouver East, we would not exist in Vancouver. The history of immigration has built our city, the people who work in our city, the people who provide businesses, who provide services and cultural contributions. Vancouver would not exist as a modern day city if it were not for immigration.

I, like all my colleagues in the NDP, and I am sure other members of the House, have people coming to my office every day with the most heartfelt stories of being unable to be reunited with family members. We deal with hundreds of cases every year. Some of them just make us want to cry when we hear the stories that unfold of how people have to deal with this system and the heartbreak they go through, when all they want to do is to have a reunification of their families.

The studies and the evidence of what the net benefits are to Canada from immigration are huge. I do not think anybody here would dispute that. Therefore, the question that remains is this. Why today, when we have an opportunity to vote on the bill, would we have the Conservatives and the Liberals speaking against it? Why would we not take this opportunity to do something straightforward and simple, something that will not affect the system overall, but will make a huge difference in the lives of tens of thousands of families in our country to have the opportunity to bring forward a son or a daughter over the age of 22 who is not a dependant, or maybe an aunt or an uncle, a brother or sister or a first cousin? It might be someone who is very close to them in their family relations, but under existing provisions would be prohibited and prevented from doing so.

The bill has always been a complete win-win situation. It speaks to our deep values and the history of supporting and encouraging immigration and seeing the incredible positive benefits coming from it. We know the system overall doe not work, but we have the opportunity now to at least do this one thing that would allow some people to come here and be reunited with their family.

It is disappointing today to hear Conservative members dish this and say that it will not work. It is disappointing to hear Liberal members say that they do not care about this any more and that they will not allow it to happen.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

An hon. member

Where is Elinor when you need her?