Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to engage in debate on this budget implementation bill.
Budget implementation bills are usually pretty complex and technical things at the best of times, and most Canadians will appreciate that this bill is of that nature. However, what has happened in this particular bill, for reasons that I do not think have been adequately explained in the House by the government, is that it has buried in the middle of this bill a provision dealing with the Immigration Act and it proposes changes to how the immigration flow is managed. I found that quite odd.
Someone here suggested that the proposals are secret. The government members have said that they are not secret, that they are right there in the bill that Parliament will have a chance to debate and pass.
The problem is that the provisions of the bill allow for the creation of what are called instructions that will be given by the minister. The perception is that it is those instructions, not the provisions of the bill, that will be “secret”; that the instructions will not be seen until they hit the street. They are supposed to be published in the Canada Gazette but we are not clear and even I as a member am not clear at this moment whether we are able to see all of the rules governing immigration.
I put a notice of motion for the production of papers on the order paper this week so I could see the Immigration Control Manual, a document that, unbelievably, has been revoked from the public. It is no longer available. I want to see this document but the Conservative government has pulled it from public access.
That is not transparent. That is operating by stealth. That is just a bit of a sidebar because the real issue here is what the government plans to do with these so-called instructions. This, by itself, is a departure.
It is true that under the Income Tax Act there is a provision that allows for the issuance of guidelines. However, I think taxpayers and most Canadians will appreciate that in the Income Tax Act there is a lot of complexity. A whole industry of tax lawyers is out there manoeuvring 25 hours a day to deal with the Income Tax Act in all its complexity. Therefore, we have accepted, in Parliament, that there can be guidelines issued by the minister.
However, in the Immigration Act, the government, quite a novel suggestion, has decided that it will create this category of instructions and they will simply be sent out.
The reason why, in rule of law, we object to that is that we never get a chance to see them, review them, verify them or validate them. If the government had chosen to make regulations containing these instructions, then we could see them as regulations. They would be pre-published for consultation in the Canada Gazette, be adopted in the usual way and then would stand referred to the Standing Committee for Scrutiny of Regulations where they would be reviewed for legality and constitutionality.
The government has not even done that in this case. It has simply said that it will create a category of instructions that will simply be logged out there to all the immigration officers around the world and they will operate based on those instructions.
Many of us here in Parliament are concerned that these instructions will be arbitrary and may get into an area which has been fought for centuries by the Westminster Parliament, a category of executive branch activity we call the pretended power of dispensation. What that means is that Parliament will pass a law and then the King says that he will make a regulation under the law. The King then purports to grant an exemption, a dispensation from the law, from the regulation. Parliament has always told the King that he cannot do that because there is no power of dispensation and no power of exemption. Parliament has said that when it writes a law, it is the law for everybody.
What if the government begins to build into these instructions dispensations? In other words, one instruction says that ABC shall prevail, but the minister may exempt or an immigration officer may exempt. What if some of these exemptions involve receipt of political favours or giving of political favours or money, God forbid? It is a whole area where we do not want to go. The government is apparently authorizing this in this bill.
In fairness to the government, it says it is trying to fix this problem of backlog under the immigration act. The backlog is a bit of an issue, but I suggest to the House that the 800,000 person backlog is not such a bad thing. It is actually an asset.
If we had no backlog in our immigration program, we would say our immigration program was a failure. We have to have an inventory of immigrants coming here. The backlog is on average only two and a half years worth of immigrants. As other colleagues have pointed out, we need a strong, vibrant immigration program. We like to have a lineup. It is not just one lineup. The immigration queue or the 800,000 person backlog is about six lineups.
There is a special lineup for family class-spousal. That lineup only takes six months to a year. Then the rest of the family class, including parents, in some countries can go up to seven years.
Then we have skilled workers. Some of those skilled workers can take up to seven years. If the person is a skilled worker, provincial nominee class, that person can be here within months. Then we have investors, refugee class, humanitarian class and the inland processing.
All of these are different lineups. There is not one 800,000 person lineup out there. There are half a dozen at least. The average inventory wait is two and a half years, but I do say that having a family member having to wait seven years is far too long.
The reason why that has happened, of course, is that we have decided the policy as a country, that we want the intake every year to be balanced between economic class and family class: 60% economic class and that is skilled workers, investors, et cetera, and 40% family class. That is why each of our offices has to stream these lines, so that the intake of immigrants to Canada is 60% economic each year and 40% family class.
I do think we have to fix this. We do not want to raise unrealistic expectations that we can get rid of the backlog of 800,000 persons overnight. If we did that we would not have any inventory. We would not have anyone in the lineup. There would be no one coming.
What we have to do is to find a way to manage the longer lineups to ensure that people in them know how long is involved and that they are not unduly extended way beyond times. Some parents I have seen go from being in good health at age 63 and in seven years they are up to 70 years of age, and they fall into bad health and their immigration application is prejudiced as a result.
This is a problem we simply must deal with. I am not sure that by criticizing the backlog day in and day out that we do service to the immigration program the way it is.
I want to also talk about the importance of viewing the immigration backlog as a symptom of a positive immigration program.
I have heard words in this House that say that under the Conservative government the number of immigrants has been increased to the highest level, if not ever, at least in recent memory. I think that is a bit disingenuous. It is fairly clear from the numbers that the number of visas issued for immigrants over the last couple of years has been about the same as it was under the previous government.
Every year the immigration department issues about 250,000 to 275,000 immigration visas of all the classes I mentioned earlier: the family class, the skilled worker class, the investor class and the humanitarian class.
What the government has done in this case is it has taken the student visas which are not immigrant visas, and it has taken work visas which are not immigrant visas and it has added them in to say, “Look, we have got 400,000 immigrants”. That is not a fair figure. That is not a fair way to do it. It is misleading. If we are going to get increases in our immigration intake, let us get a real intake.
Mr. Speaker, you are signaling that I am near the end of my 11 minutes. I look forward to finishing the balance of my remarks at a later date.