Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-50, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 26, 2008 and to enact provisions to preserve the fiscal plan set out in that budget.
As a new member of Parliament representing the constituency of Vancouver Quadra, I again thank the residents of Vancouver Quadra for their confidence in me. The people of Vancouver Quadra are educated, engaged and informed citizens whom it is an honour to represent. I intend to advocate tirelessly for their interests in Ottawa.
The Conservative government included many Liberal programs in this budget bill, albeit in watered down versions, for example, post-secondary education. Many of the people who work and study at UBC live in my riding and the quality and accessibility of post-secondary education is an important priority for them as it is for me.
Past Liberal governments were known for their many investments to benefit universities, students and research. Billions of dollars for these purposes in the Liberal budget update of fall 2005 were cut by the Conservative government. I note that due to the work of the Liberal leader and members, the government in this budget has sprinkled back some of those post-secondary investments.
The previous Liberal government left this country's finances in a strong position but Bill C-50 underlines the mismanagement by the government that has drained the fiscal gas tank of our nation. This is entirely consistent with the abysmal record of past Conservative governments, including the Mulroney government and the Ontario provincial Conservatives, whose finance minister, now the federal Conservative finance minister, helped leave the incoming Liberals in Ontario a landmine: a whopping $5.6 billion deficit.
Most unacceptable in this bill is part 6 and it is to that section to which I will address my remarks.
Part 6 consists of amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. These amendments are substantive, are bad public policy and are of deep concern to new Canadians in my riding and across Canada and to their overseas family members. These amendments should never have been buried in this budget implementation bill.
The Conservative government cannot be trusted, especially when one considers the past comments the Prime Minister has made about immigration. For example, in 2001 he stated:
...west of Winnipeg the ridings the Liberals hold are dominated by people who are either recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from Eastern Canada; people who live in ghettos and are not integrated into Western Canadian society.
What did he mean by that? Was he referring to my riding of Vancouver Quadra? Is he someone who can be trusted to amend immigration laws?
The Liberals, in stark contrast, have long been supportive of immigrants to Canada and their unique contribution to our multicultural landscape. I am proud to continue that tradition as the member of Parliament for Vancouver Quadra. This is an issue of great importance to me as an immigrant myself.
The Minister of Immigration cannot be trusted. She has already misspoken in the House by claiming that last year about 430,000 new Canadians were welcomed into Canada under the Conservative government, more than under the Liberals. That is not true. She later had to retract that claim and essentially confessed that it was inflated by including students and temporary workers.
Actually, 36,000 fewer permanent residents have been accepted since the Conservative government came to power 27 months ago. Will the door continue to close arbitrarily to immigrants under the government's proposed amendments?
The type of changes to the very foundation of Canada's immigration policy that the government is proposing must be considered in the open and not slipped into a budget bill through the back door. The government is seeking to make changes that would close the door to immigrants, but even more concerning is that the amendment would give the government the power to be prejudicial in their implementation.
The Conservative government has already demonstrated its meanspiritedness over and over by cancelling the court challenges program that supported the most vulnerable Canadians, by weakening the infrastructure helping women advance our equality in Canadian society and by voting against a motion to lower the Peace Tower flag on the day a Canadian soldier is killed overseas. This is meanspirited.
In part 6, section 11(1), for example, by changing one word “shall” to “may” in the regulations, immigrants who meet all the requirements may find Canada slamming the door in their face. That is meanspirited.
As well, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration would have the power to make arbitrary and unaccountable decisions, which would enable her to pick some immigrants over others, send some to the back of the line to start all over again or slam the door shut altogether. We do not know whether applications will be denied due to an immigrant's country of origin or some other factor.
According to Naeem Noorani, the publisher of The Canadian Immigrant, as quoted in the Toronto Star on Tuesday, “This sets a dangerous precedent for a healthy democratic system”.
It is precisely because of past Conservative insensitivity toward Canada's immigrants that it is not appropriate for the government to have that power. The measures the government is seeking to introduce stand in contrast to the fairness, transparency and welcoming of new Canadians under past Liberal governments, a welcoming that has led to Vancouver becoming a thriving urban region underpinned by the contribution of new Canadians.
My riding of Vancouver Quadra has welcomed more than 40,000 immigrants to Canada. Many are long-time residents now, which others have arrived more recently. Vancouver Quadra community members who have self-identified in the census as being a visible minority include Chinese, South Asian, Korean, Japanese, West Asian, Filipino, Black, Southeast Asian and Arab, among others. This diversity contributes to the richness of the community in so many ways.
Of note, more than 23,000 residents of Vancouver Quadra are of Chinese origin, whether from Hong Kong, Mainland China or Taiwan. These new Canadians make important contributions to the social, cultural and economic life of Vancouver Quadra and Canada.
Just 10 days after I was elected, I organized a round table discussion to hear from 20 leaders in the Chinese community, my very first public consultation as a member of Parliament. The changes the government proposes could prevent their family members from joining them here. The changes the government proposes could prevent those working in a particular field from becoming part of Canadian society. Through one stroke of the pen, the minister could place specific countries at the bottom of the list. In reality, we really do not know who will be acceptable to the Conservative government, a government that cannot be trusted to be fair.
The government hopes to change Canada's immigration laws so that at a minister's whim people who aim to come to this great country to make a better life and a better Canada could be prevented from even being considered. These are substantive changes that should be discussed openly and accorded a full debate.
I am against part 6, the section of this budget bill that deals with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Part 6 should be considered separately, not as a part of Bill C-50, and part 6 should be rejected.