Mr. Speaker, it is indeed nice to be the first one up on this Friday morning.
It is with a heavy heart that I am participating in this debate on Bill C-50. For years the Department of Citizenship and Immigration has been struggling to keep up with the number of applications submitted from people who want to come to Canada. However, it would be worthwhile to take a historical look at this department over the last two decades. It has always had its difficulties; however, in the last two years it has been totally dysfunctional. Conservative minister after Conservative minister has tried to resolve the problems they are facing, yet they are finding themselves in more trouble.
I am not going to say that under the Liberals the department was perfect. It had its challenges. However, in the last two years, the department has become the challenge.
When the Liberals took office in 1993, we inherited a country that was in total chaos and almost bankrupt. The inflation rate was running amok. The deficit was $42 billion and we had a debt to the tune of $600 billion-plus dollars.
We had such a bad credit rating at that time that it drove international investors and creditors away in hordes. Not only did it drive creditors and investors away, it also deterred prospective immigrants from wanting to apply to come to Canada. In 1993, we had an inventory of almost 50,000 applications from people waiting to come to Canada.
However, over the years the situation in Canada changed and times became better. The annual deficit was no longer around. We started paying down the debt. For the first time in a few decades, Canada started having surpluses and the good times were here again under the Liberals. Our credit rating went up and investors started investing in Canada again.
As Canada started attracting investors and money from overseas, we also started attracting new immigrants and more applications, applications by the thousands. Canada became a destination of choice for most immigrants. Many immigrants could have chosen to emigrate to the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany or Australia, just to name a few. However, many of these people chose Canada.
The rest is history. Our inventory application levels increased. Waiting times started to become longer. People had to wait a few years in order to come to Canada and start their new lives. However, people waited patiently, and even to this day people are willing to wait a little longer in order to come to their first choice of destination.
Just recently, a few weeks ago, I travelled to India and met with many people: university students, professionals and business people. They expressed to me that their first choice of place to emigrate was Canada. Although it would still take a few years before they could emigrate to Canada, they told me it was still worth the wait.
Let us fast-forward to today and examine the department under the Conservatives, especially under their two ministers. Under the previous minister, we had a department that came under a lot of strain when the crisis in Lebanon occurred. The then minister of citizenship and immigration and his counterpart, the then minister of foreign affairs, totally botched the evacuation of Canadian citizens from Lebanon.
Then the Conservatives started fearmongering that we were evacuating people who had no business to be evacuated, and that these people, although claiming to have residency in Canada, returned to Lebanon as soon as things were good again. Reports were slipped to the media about thousands of people who returned to Lebanon, people, they said, who should not have been evacuated.
The real truth, however, was the fact that the protocols developed in the departments, under the Liberals, to look after Canadians and their loved ones abroad when a natural or a man-made disaster occurs were completely ignored and misplaced. The Conservative ministers were running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off and did not know what to do.
During the Liberal regime, there were protocols in place such that should there be a natural or a man-made disaster, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration was ready to respond. Let us look at some examples. Under the Liberals, when the tsunami struck in South and Southeast Asia, family class applications were expedited and placed at the front of the line. Similarly, when the earthquake struck in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, these protocols were put in place, and again family class applications were expedited.
However, when the man-made disaster occurred in Lebanon, the Conservative ministers were slow to react and the tested protocols were shelved and ignored. The Prime Minister even went to Cyprus to pick up a few stranded Canadians. If someone were to ask me, this was an expensive photo op.
Then we had the disaster of the lost Canadians. The minister and her department's officials mismanaged that particular file.
They even went so as far as to mislead the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. When the minister and the deputy minister came in front of the committee, I asked them if they had advertised about Canadians who might have lost their citizenship. Both the minister and the deputy minister went on to mislead and outright distort the truth by saying that they had advertised in different media outlets on this matter. When a few days later they were pushed to reveal facts and figures, the minister and her deputy sent a letter of explanation to the committee admitting that they had given us false information about advertising.
The mockery of this department under the Conservatives continues even today. A few months ago, I asked under the access to information about the real figures in inventories and waiting times since the Conservatives took power. The real nightmare was then exposed. The question posed was:
With regard to Immigration Applications for each Canadian High Commission, Embassy and Consulate around the world, present and for the years 2004, 2005 and 2006, in actual numbers:
(a) How many Spousal Sponsorships, Parental Sponsorships and Independent Applicant cases are or were in inventory;
(b) What is or was the length of time required to process these applications--Spousal Sponsorships, Parental Sponsorships and Independent Applicants?
The Conservative government had assured parliamentarians that processing times would decrease. Instead of seeing an overall decrease in processing timelines, what I discovered was an overall increase.
I was able to determine a decrease in processing times and the number of cases in the regions of Europe and South America, but a dramatic increase in processing times and the number of cases in the regions of the world such as the Middle East, East Asia and South Asia.
Close to 50% of our total inventory of applications comes from seven countries. To be exact, Beijing contributes 6.45% of our total applications; Colombo, 1.29%; Damascus, 5.27%; Hong Kong, 6.66%; Islamabad, 6.16%; New Delhi, 18.87%; and Manila 1.7%. Exactly, that is 46.51%.
During the last two years of the Conservative regime, the number of cases decreased by 1.93% and the time processing has increased by 20.79%.
Here are some of these nightmares. For Colombo, skilled workers' processing timelines increased by 53.65%, and parents' and grandparents' processing timelines increased by 36.36%. While the processing timelines in Colombo have gone up overall by 20.83%, the amount of processed cases has dropped by 1.74%.
Beijing is the real nightmare. Skilled workers' processing timelines increased by 36.17%, spouses' and partners' processing timelines increased by 25%, and dependent children's timelines increased by 33.33%, while the amount of cases processed dropped by 4.07%. Parents' and grandparents' processing timelines increased by 54.54%, while the amount of cases processed dropped by 29.68%. Overall, in Beijing the processing timelines increased by 40.78%, while the amount of cases processed dropped by 48.05%.
For Damascus, skilled workers' processing timelines have increased by 20%, and parents' and grandparents' processing timelines increased by 11.76%.
For Hong Kong, skilled workers' processing timelines increased by 25.45%, while applications dropped by 6%. Parents' and grandparents' processing timelines increased by 28.57%. In Hong Kong, while the processing timelines went up by 10.28%, the processed cases dropped by 28%.
For Islamabad, skilled workers' processing timelines increased by 43.18%, and parents' and grandparents' processing timelines increased by 8.1%.
For New Delhi, skilled workers' processing times increased by 38%, and spouses and partners' processing timelines increased by 66.66%, while the amount of cases processed has dropped by 10%. For dependent children, processing timelines increased by 66.67%, while parents' and grandparents' processing timelines increased by 21.62%. Overall in New Delhi, processing timelines increased by 11.45%.
In Manila, parent's and grandparents' processing timelines increased by 51.85%. Overall, processing timelines increased by 5.88%.
Finally, the minister finally had a revelation. She noticed that the train had run away and that she needed to do something. What to do? What to do? Let us ask the bureaucrats, it was decided, and here comes the nightmare: some bright individual wanting to have a quick passage of the legislation placed it in the budget and called it a motion of confidence.
Let us examine what this piece of legislation, Bill C-50, will do specifically. I will be very brief, because other people before me have examined what is in store for us under this legislation.
This legislation has amendments that would give the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration unilateral authority to determine priorities for processing immigration applications and requests.
Bill C-50 puts too much power in the hands of the minister to cherry-pick the kinds of immigrants that the Conservative Party would find acceptable. It eliminates the right of every application to be given fair review and consideration, regardless of background, country of origin or skill set. The amendments put no limit on the minister's new discretionary powers to make them consistent with existing federal-provincial immigration regulations.
The minister would have wide-ranging new powers allowing him or her to give the following instructions with respect to the processing of application requests: establish categories of applications or requests; establish an order by category or otherwise for processing; set the number of applications or requests by category or otherwise to be processed in any year; and provide for the disposition of applications or requests, including those made subsequent to the first application or request.
In addition, immigration and refugee officers shall comply with ministerial instructions before processing or when processing applications or requests. Applications not processed may be returned, retained or disposed of in accordance with the instructions by the minister. This does not constitute a decision not to issue a visa or other document, or grant the status or exemption in relation to which the application or request is made. Instructions shall be published in the Canada Gazette. Nothing in this section limits in any way the power of the minister to otherwise determine the most efficient manner in which to administer this act.
These amendments essentially give the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration carte blanche to decide which applications to process, which to hold, and which to return without even processing. Particular immigration categories will be adversely affected, such as the family class and permanent resident status made on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, H and C grounds.
The amendments will reduce the incentive for the government to do what it should do: dedicate the necessary resources to increase departmental and human resource capacity to process the number of applications received each year.
However, the bright individual on the government side decided to go a little further. The bright individual decided that the government would take this piece of legislation out of its regular place and refer it to the finance committee.
The place that this bill should be debated is specifically the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, where both the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and the minister responsible for CBSA can be invited. Also, community groups, stakeholders, lawyers, immigration practitioners and others would have an opportunity to testify and give evidence on whether they would be in favour and/or against this ill thought out piece of legislation.
However, that will not be the case this time. The Conservatives have decided to circumvent all of this, put the bill in front of the House, declare it a motion of confidence, and get it passed in order for the minister to look after the backlog of immigration cases, so she says.
I have news for the minister. Whether she will open her ears and listen, however, is another story. This piece of legislation will be challenged in court and struck down. This piece of legislation is not charter compliant, although she claims it is.
I would like at this time to refer to a few famous Conservative quotes on citizenship and immigration. Maybe my colleagues across the way will open their ears and listen.
The first quote is as follows:
You have to remember that 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 who are not integrated into Western Canadian society.
Who said that? The present Prime Minister.
The second quote is as follows:
Well, I've always believed that we have to be a lot tougher with undocumented refugee claimants. Whether the best thing is to send them right out of the country or simply detain them until we get more information, we can look at either, this is a problem that does need to be fixed. Particularly post 9/11, we can't take these kinds of security risks.
Who said that? The current Prime Minister.
If members were to take a look at www.oneconservativevoice.ca., they would see another quote, “Another potential threat to domestic security is Canada's refugee determination”.
When the Prime Minister was the chief policy officer of the Reform Party, his party platform stated that “immigration should be essentially economic in nature” and should not “be explicitly designed to radically or suddenly alter the ethnic makeup of Canada”. This was stated in the Platform and Statement of Principles of the Reform Party of Canada dated August 14, 1988.
I have another quote: “Multiculturalism policy has been an abject failure...immigration continues to change the country's face more extensively than at any time since the turn of the century”. Who said that? The member for Kootenay—Columbia as reported in the Calgary Herald.
The Canadian people simply do not trust the Conservatives to deliver on immigration and, frankly, neither do I, so I will be voting against this misguided legislation.