Mr. Speaker, the member for Trinity—Spadina has not only heard me ask her a question but I will address some of her concerns as I speak for the next little while. The minister has spoken in the House of course, and she will hear from not only me and the minister but from all Canadians if this matter is put to a test because Canadians want us to be doing what we are in fact doing for immigration.
It is not a matter that is hidden. There is absolutely no limit on debate. This matter can be debated here and it will go to committee where further representations can be made. It is a fine time and finally time to deal with this matter in a positive way.
I am happy to speak to the New Democratic Party's ill-conceived amendment that seeks to stifle debate on Bill C-50, the government's budget implementation act. I say this because the NDP allegations in this motion are baseless, misleading and completely unfounded. We would see more immigrants coming in, more quickly and in a more efficient fashion than we have seen in the past.
However, we should not be surprised with the NDP, or the Liberal tactics for that matter, when it comes to immigration. When they cannot win a debate based on facts, they resort to fearmongering, but that will not wash. It will not happen.
Let us call it what it is. The NDP is playing politics by tabling this motion today. It is doing it to embarrass the Liberals, plain and simple. It is, quite frankly, shameful. While the NDP plays its petty little games, it is holding up vital legislation that is necessary for the socio-economic well-being of our country.
Before I address the NDP amendment itself, this debate on immigration needs to be put into context. Last year, under the strong leadership of our Prime Minister, Canada welcomed the highest number of newcomers in our history, 429,649, surpassing the previous high set almost 100 years ago. There will be continuing increases in the numbers we bring in.
This record number of immigrants admitted to our country is a reflection of our government's unequivocal and strong commitment to immigrants and immigration. Our government recognizes that immigrants and immigration are critical contributors to the socio-economic well-being of our country. Our government wants newcomers and their families to succeed. We want more immigrants and newcomers to come to Canada. We also want newcomer families to be reunited faster and skilled workers to come here sooner.
That is our priority but it is becoming more and more difficult, thanks to the massive backlog in immigration applications inherited from the previous Liberal governments. Successive Liberal governments stood by and watched the backlog balloon and mushroom from 50,000 to more than 800,000, and growing. Liberal neglect of the immigration system has resulted in a situation where those applying to come to Canada are waiting, on average, four to six years just to have their application looked at. That is not acceptable.
Canada is losing out on talented immigrants who are choosing to go to other countries such as Australia where the wait time is six months, not six years. It is unconscionable. Canadians expect better. Canadians will get better in this new proposed budget bill that we are putting forward on immigration.
Canada is losing out on talented immigrants. In fact, it comes as no surprise that other countries can claim that their best marketing tool is to attract immigrants because of Canada's long wait times. Put simply, our amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act would reduce the backlog created by the Liberal Party of Canada and result in shorter wait times for immigrants to come to Canada. By accusing us of shutting the door to immigrants, the Liberals and NDP are not only misleading Canadians and would-be immigrants, they are practising a low level shameful type of politics.
To mislead those who trust politicians and to prey on the fears of immigrant families is, simply put, not acceptable. Rhetoric and fearmongering aside, immigrants and Canadians deserve to know why the Liberals and the NDP want to keep families waiting for longer periods than they already are.
Canadian businesses deserve to know why the Liberals and NDP want to prevent them from getting the skilled and unskilled workers they so desperately need. As we travelled across the country, business people told us that they were frustrated. They are frustrated because they cannot meet the needs, they cannot progress and they cannot build and develop this country because they do not have the people resources they need so desperately. They are looking to us to do something positive and they say that finally something is being done.
On this side of the House, our position is clear. The minister has said on numerous occasions in this place, and it bears repeating, that our government is taking urgent measures to clean up the Liberal mess, so that more families can be reunited faster and more skilled workers can get here sooner.
The claims of the NDP and the Liberal Party that we are shutting the door on immigration is completely without basis and without fact. It was the Liberals who closed the door to immigration by letting the backlog balloon to unmanageable levels. Without our actions, wait times would rise to 10 years by the year 2012. This is completely and totally unacceptable. That would be an indication of a system totally in chaos and not functional.
One of the goals of this legislation is to respond to Canada's labour market needs, but let me be clear. These amendments will not apply to refugees and are not intended to affect family reunification at all. We want families to be reunited faster and we have made it a priority. Family reunification cases are now being done 20% to 40% faster than under the previous Liberal governments.
However, we want to do even better, and so in budget 2008 we have invested $22 million for two years, growing to $37 million per year. This funding will help us speed up the application process for those seeking to come to Canada.
These important steps are just some of the things we are doing to help newcomers. We have also cut in half the tax on immigrants that the Liberal Party implemented. We have invested $1.4 billion into settlement programs that help newcomers with language training and help finding a job after the previous Liberal government had effectively frozen funding for almost a decade. We cannot bring newcomers in without having the support bases and the infrastructure to ensure that they can become what they can be and that they can succeed when they come here.
While the NDP and the Liberal Party claim they represent the best interests of immigrants, their track record speaks for itself. Both parties have voted against virtually every initiative we have taken to help newcomers come to Canada.
They opposed us cutting the Liberal immigrant head tax in half. They opposed us providing $1.4 billion to help newcomers to Canada integrate and settle in our country. They opposed the establishment of the foreign credentials referral office, and the Liberals, while they were in government, allowed the backlog to balloon from 50,000 to over 800,000.
Now, incredibly, the Liberals and the NDP are opposing the very changes that would reduce wait times and allow more newcomers to come to Canada and reunite with their families. Canadians are not with them on this issue. Right across the whole spectrum of this country, people are not with them on this issue.
I have heard the NDP and Liberals suggest that we should simply devote more resources to processing applications. As I stated earlier, our government is indeed doing this, but money alone will not resolve the problem because the system itself has built-in inefficiencies. Foundational changes need to happen for it to be successful.
As the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration said yesterday, it is not enough just to throw money at it and put ourselves back into deficit, as the Liberals would have us do. We need to do better. We need to do it more efficiently. We need to do it smarter, and that is precisely what we are doing.
Under the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, we are generally required to process applications in the order that we receive them, and each application must be processed to a final decision. This undermines our ability to adapt to changing economic and labour market conditions.
For example, Canada might need medical technicians, pipefitters, plumbers and many other trades, but under the current system we cannot ensure that they can reach our labour market in a timely fashion, that we can get the right people to the right place at the right time. The system is failing us. The system is failing Canadians. The system is failing newcomers. The system is failing and we need to give it attention.
This is not fair to immigrants who want to come to our country, to those who are waiting for loved ones to join them, and to employers who want to hire skilled and unskilled workers. It is not in Canada's interests. It limits our ability to select people the labour market needs the most and it discourages many newcomers from applying.
The skilled and unskilled workers that Canada needs will not wait. They will go elsewhere and they have gone elsewhere. We must change our attitude and our legislation to ensure that does not continue. Our amendments would help bring the backlog under control and restore public confidence in the immigration system. Canada's immigration system would become more competitive with those of other countries.
Another fearmongering tactic that the NDP and the Liberals have been using is to accuse us of having an agenda to discriminate against newcomers based on their race, religion or ethnicity.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The minister's instructions will be charter compliant as the charter applies to those who would apply through the process. The minister's instructions will also be consistent with the objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, referred to as IRPA. IRPA's objectives include: supporting Canada's economy, reuniting families, and providing protection to those who need protection. Our proposed amendments will not change that.
To be clear, our approach to immigration will continue to be universal and non-discriminatory. There will be no discrimination based on race, religion or ethnicity. Any assertions or allegations to the contrary are simply unfounded.
With respect to the criticism that too much power will be vested in the hands of the minister, let me be clear. The minister has said and she will consult with provinces and other key stakeholders prior to publishing instructions. The minister's instructions will be open and transparent. They will be published in the Canada Gazette. They will be reported in the annual report to Parliament and published on Citizenship and Immigration Canada's website.
Ultimately, at election time, the minister and this government will be held accountable to all Canadians for the decisions they take and I say that Canadians will be supporting these decisions.
If the Liberals are so opposed to improving our immigration system, they will have an opportunity to vote against the Budget Implementation Act and these provisions, but the fact is that no one takes the Liberal Party seriously because when it comes to backing up their own rhetoric by voting against our measures, they are either not found here or they do not vote.
They are interested primarily in self-interest, self-preservation and not the best interests of Canadians. If they truly believe their own criticism, they would do something about it because the reality is that the Liberals' prime objective is not to do what is right for the country but to obtain power. They will stop at nothing to avoid their responsibilities in order to preserve their best interests.
In this regard I would like to quote from the March 17 article by Angelo Persichilli in The Hill Times. In this article he states:
--however, what we don't need are lectures from the Liberals on this issue because, again, according to the numbers, not the demagoguery, they too badly mismanaged this issue for political reasons.
The difference between the Conservatives and the Liberals is that the former are handling immigration by trying to get results; the latter to get votes.
Therefore, the NDPers and Liberals can fearmonger all they want. The fact of the matter is our plan is getting strong support right across the country from ordinary Canadians, from newcomers, from stakeholders, from business, and I would challenge them to test that.
Let me quote from a March 15, 2008, editorial in the Winnipeg Free Press. It states:
What the Conservatives propose is common sense...This is good policy...For the Liberals to exploit this, however, not only ignores the national need for the party's own political advantage, but also ignores the ugly truth that it was the Liberals who created this problem...Canadians, new and old, have been offered a clear choice: Conservative policy that will benefit Canada, or politics that will benefit Liberals.
A March 24 Vancouver Province editorial had this to say about our proposed amendments:
Reform of Canada's immigration laws is long overdue. [...] What the Tories are proposing is to bring order to the current chaos, while allowing immigration patterns to match national priorities. Surely, that's to the benefit of all Canadians, immigrants included.
A March 17 Globe and Mail editorial had this to say:
Now, the Conservatives are proposing a bolder reform...But it stands to benefit our economy. Immigration policy...should first and foremost fit Canada's needs... he Tories surely anticipated how their opponents would misrepresent their policies. That they are pressing on regardless shows a strong commitment to this country's interests.
Time will tell when we look back to say that this was a historic moment, with the changing of the immigration policy, that ended up serving the needs of all Canadians and building this country to what it can be.
James Bissett, the former director of the Canadian Immigration Services and a Canadian diplomat, had this to say: “I entirely agree with the minister. It is a long overdue and badly needed fix of a system that's needed fixing for a long time. You can't keep people waiting for up to six years to get a visa to come here after they've met the requirements and have paid the fees. It's unfair and the minister is absolutely right in trying to step in and correct the situation”.
Other immigrant stakeholders also expressed support for our plan. In an article in today's National Post, it states:
Wojciech Sniegowski, president of the Canada-Poland Chamber of Commerce in Toronto, said he's come to the conclusion there is no inherent danger in the proposals and that they are designed merely to give the minister flexibility to respond to labour shortages.
“The most important thing is that, if nothing is done, by 2012 the backlog will be such that people will be waiting 10 years for their applications to be heard. I'm glad to see the government doing something,” he said.
It stands to reason. The article goes on to state:
Tom Pang of the Chinese Canadian Community Alliance in Toronto said the bill is good legislation. “It has everything to do with skills and it will bring the right type of people into Canada. Unfortunately, some people in the community think it is designed to stop people of certain ethnic backgrounds from coming to Canada but that is not what it is about,” he said.
He is absolutely right on that point.
Contrary to what the Canadian Bar Association will have us believe, we are also getting support from various individuals in the legal community. An article dated March 31 in the Calgary Herald states:
Edmonton immigration lawyer Shirish Chotalia said it's the start of creating a fairer system, because the government will be more forthcoming about what types of immigrants the country needs instead of giving people false hopes. “They want to consult with employers and target special skill sets as we go along,” Chotalia said.
Another immigration lawyer, Warren Creates, told the CBC: “This is a very clever landmark change, I would call it, in overhauling the immigration program...it makes a minister accountable for explaining it and reporting to Parliament and therefore to the Canadian public”.
David Garson, an immigration lawyer with Guberman, Garson, Bush, said the following, with respect to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration: “She's a tremendous individual and very pro-immigrant”.
With respect to the NDP motion at hand, I must reiterate that nothing in our proposed amendments will take away from our commitments to family reunification and refugees. Our government recognizes that immigration is more than just economics. That is because our government understands the importance of families and the aim of reuniting them as quickly as we can.
As I said earlier, we have reduced by between 20% and 40% the processing times for those immigrants in Canada who are seeking to bring their family members to Canada from other countries. In fact, 80% of the applicants from sponsored spouses are now finalized within eight months.
Our government continues to embrace Canada's proud history of providing protection to those in need. We are a model to other countries. We will continue to be the model to other countries because of our generosity and compassion.
That is why the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration recently announced that we would double the number of Iraqi refugees we accept this year and, among other things, has also made commitments to bring in several thousand Karen refugees from Myanmar and refugees from Bhutan, two places that do not get a lot of media attention but where people are suffering nonetheless.
The changes we propose also would affect those in Canada seeking humanitarian and compassionate consideration of their applications to stay in this country. They can continue to make those applications and the legislation would not affect them.
Our proposed amendments would ensure that Canada's immigration program carefully balances its economic goals with its family reunification and refugee protection components.
Family reunification and refugee protection remain priorities for the Government of Canada and key components of our immigration program. Nothing in our proposed amendments will change that.
In closing, let me say that it is most unfortunate that the NDP are holding up desperately needed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, changes that would make the immigration system more fair and more transparent.
Ultimately, the NDP and the other opposition parties will have to be accountable to the Canadian public for their attempts at preventing vital changes to the immigration system.
This proposed change will stand the test of time. This proposed change will dramatically reform immigration and make it more efficient, more acceptable, and in line with the Canadian public's views.
I urge all members of this place to oppose the NDP's obstructionist tactics and vote against this amendment.