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House of Commons Hansard #72 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was s-203.

Topics

The House resumed from April 3 consideration of the motion that 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, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10 a.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

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.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I think the member loses himself in statistics. I wonder how he explains that last year we had the highest number of newcomers in our history, 429,649. We actually did have that number.

I can say that with the two ministers we have had we have passed legislation that will get thousands of lost Canadians back into the fold. With the new minister, we are amending the act to ensure we can bring more people in quicker and faster. I would encourage him to support that legislation.

One of his own people, the member for Etobicoke Centre, said:

I'm almost reaching the point where I believe that our whole immigration system has become dysfunctional. That in fact it's at the point of being broken.

That was said in September 2004, after 13 years of a Liberal government, six ministers, four terms in office, some of them with majorities, and absolutely nothing to reform the act.

An editorial in the Winnipeg Free Press stated:

What the Conservatives propose is common sense--cut back on accepting new applications until progress is made in cleaning out the backlog.

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. In the years 1993-2006, the immigration backlog grew from 50,000 to 800,000. Canadians, new and old, have been offered a clear choice: Conservative policy that will benefit Canada, or politics that will benefit Liberals.

Will the member do the honourable thing and stand up, in accordance with the instructions of his leader, to vote in favour of this legislation when it comes up for a vote?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great interest that I listened to the parliamentary secretary. Half the time he seems to know what he is talking about and the other half he is out in left field.

This time the parliamentary secretary he is out in left field. He knows very well that the number he has quoted about people coming into Canada is fudged. He knows very well that the number that he has quoted is blown up and includes foreign workers, people on TRVs and I could go on. The real figure is that this year the government will let in less immigrants than in any other years.

The parliamentary secretary knows very well that the only place to discuss this is in the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. It is the only place where we can have a fair discussion and call the minister there. She has not shown up time after time when the committee has invited her. The only place where we can have a fair discussion with stakeholders, community groups, refugee associations and even us as members of Parliament is in the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

Will the parliamentary secretary do the honourable thing and ask his minister to send this bill to that committee or are the Conservatives going to hide behind everything and send it to the finance committee? I would ask them to have the guts to do the right thing.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that the issue of an immigration policy in Canada stirs much energy from my hon. colleague and from others around this place.

I think the question is about what the government is actually proposing and how it is that it is proposing to make these drastic changes. Some have called them the biggest changes in Canadian immigration law ever, if not in the last 40 years.

It seems to me that in previous administrations the rule and policy was “Who you know in the PMO”. This had great effect as to which groups and which particular cases were given attention. We saw incident after incident under the Liberals where connections were more important than the quality of the actual immigration application.

We are now switching over to a system in which, by fiat, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration under the current Conservative government, which is obviously at the Prime Minister's discretion, will pick the winners and losers. I think there is some interest for Canadians that the bill is being promoted by the finance minister and will go to the finance committee where suddenly immigration has become a purely financial and economic matter and nothing else. It is ironic in a country that prides itself on being a refuge and a place built on the energy and enthusiasm of the immigrants who have come here.

I think the reason we have so much passion in this place for this issue is that so many of us are, like myself, the sons or daughters of immigrants or immigrants ourselves. It brings forward great passion to think that families, like my own who came to this country, would no longer be accepted because they would not fit through this narrow financial consideration, which the Minister of Finance is somehow now in charge of immigration policy, an immigration policy that is made through budget measures. How ridiculous is that?

I am interested to know if my hon. colleague can give us some proper accounting. He indicated today that he would vote against this measure. I wonder if he actually will show up to vote and express his lack of confidence in the government as New Democrats have? Does he have any assessment or understanding of any other Liberals in this place who may also rise on their feet and express non-confidence in this immigration policy and in the government? Where does the Liberal Party stand?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to go back about a year ago today when the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration was discussing at the time undocumented workers.

We were looking at the plight of individuals who have been here for a number of years, some for five, six or ten years, and were working underground and being exploited. They were trying to get themselves normalized in Canada. A motion that was in front of the committee was brought to the House. The motion stated that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration study the motion and that undocumented workers should not be deported from Canada until the committee had an opportunity to finally look at it.

I came to the House and asked for unanimous consent to move that motion. The Conservatives did not stand up and oppose it, nor did the Liberals and the Bloc. The only person who ran in huffing and puffing and said that she would not give unanimous consent to the motion was a member of the NDP. The NDP found faith by siding with the Conservatives in wanting to throw undocumented workers out of this country. The hon. member should take that up with his colleague from Trinity—Spadina because she was the only one who ran in here and opposed it.

How does the member and the NDP dare to stand up and give this side of the House lessons? They should look at themselves in the mirror and maybe when they get up in the morning it will crack.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is an issue on which the member may be able to assist us, as he is a member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. It concerns the question as to whether the real issue is the backlog or the number of landed Canadians in a year. It would appear that there can be external forces which affect the backlog or the number of applicants. However, when it really gets down to it, what is the real record of landing Canadians since 2005?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I was making my speech I stated that in the years under the Conservatives the application records have gone down, especially out of mainland China where we used to get tons of people applying to come to Canada. In my riding of Scarborough--Agincourt, a great number of people are applying from mainland China to come to Scarborough. Their applications dropped by about 50%. The real issue is, indeed, the backlog and we need to deal with that.

It is very simple. We should allocate resources where they are needed. We should expedite cases where we should. For example, a spousal case out of Colombo is taking two years, where in other places it takes six months. Although the issue is the backlog, it is also a matter of taking resources from different posts and putting them to posts where we need them to deal with the processing of applications.

Maybe the minister will do something about reallocating the resources instead of having SWAT teams. She has SWAT teams of retired immigration officers who are going from country to country to deal with the backlog. These people are not getting paid normal wages. These people get paid exorbitant wages and are put in fancy hotels, which costs the department an arm and a leg.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I also want to thank my committee chair for his encouragement, especially since we are from different parties.

I am very pleased to rise today to speak about implementing the budget. By implementing the budget, we will skirt several major issues for all Quebeckers. The Bloc Québécois has been expressing specific demands since January. Those demands have been very clear, and we will see that not one of them has been met in this budget.

The budget implementation bill aims to put in place various measures that were announced when the federal budget was presented on February 26. This bill has 10 different sections that amend various Canadian laws. Part 1 amends the Income Tax Act in order to create tax-free savings accounts, increase the number of years an individual can contribute to a registered education savings plan, increase tax deductions for northern residents, increase the tax credit for medical expenses, modify the eligibility requirements for the registered disability savings plan (RDSP), extend the mineral exploration tax credit by one year, modify the rules surrounding tax credits for charitable donations, readjust the tax threshold for corporate dividends and put in place various legislative provisions to prevent implementation of the Liberal Bill C-253, which would allow RDSP contributions to be tax-free.

Parts 2 and 3 of the bill amend the excise tax legislation to adjust the tax on various tobacco products and make certain medical services GST-exempt. Part 4 dissolves the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. Part 5 amends the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act and the Canada Student Loans Act to modify the system and increase the number of students who are eligible for assistance. Part 6 amends the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to authorize the minister to give priority to certain applications and refuse others without having to provide justification to the applicants.

Part 7 creates the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board. The board's mandate is to set the premium rate and manage a financial reserve. In other words, employment insurance will be managed independently and any surpluses will no longer be paid into the government's consolidated revenue account. Parts 8 and 9 authorize payments to be made out of the 2007-08 surplus to various organizations and programs. This part of the budget implementation bill includes the payments for carbon capture in Saskatchewan and the $400 million fund to recruit new police officers. Part 10 amends various acts.

I want to reiterate the Bloc's position. This may seem like a good budget, but it has next to nothing for Quebec and Quebeckers. Clearly, the Conservative members from Quebec have done nothing to defend Quebec's interests. Obviously, a member of a party that defends Alberta, cannot defend Quebec's interests at the same time. Members will see this as I go along, and I will come back to this point at the end.

Budget 2008 may seem like a good budget, but it does not comply with the demands the Bloc Québécois made public on January 23, 2008. First, it does not provide any direct, immediate assistance for the manufacturing and forestry industries, which are in crisis. Tens of thousands of jobs have now been lost in Quebec, and this government has done nothing and does not intend to do anything in this budget.

The budget does nothing to help the workers and communities hit by the crisis. It contains no measures to reimburse seniors who have been shortchanged by the guaranteed income supplement program. It continues to take a polluter-paid approach to the Alberta oil companies, rather than a polluter-pay approach, and it refuses to make a 180-degree turn on the environment. The budget makes no major investment in culture and does not undo the ideological cuts made by the Conservative government. It reiterates the government's intention of creating a single securities commission.

For all these reasons, the Bloc Québécois is against this bill and will vote against it.

Let us talk about the problem with immigration. The minister is giving herself discretionary power. Bill C-50 offers far too much discretionary power to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in determining who can and cannot enter Canada. The minister is arguing that we have to be able to clear the backlog as quickly as possible in order to give priority to those who could alleviate the labour shortage in Canada and Quebec. She will be able to determine which persons will have priority to enter Canada based on the individual's training or occupation. The Conservatives are saying that training and occupation can negatively affect a person's chance at entering Canada. If persons applying to enter Canada have the misfortune of not having the training or occupations in demand in Canada, they may have to wait much longer than other immigrants to obtain a visa to enter the country.

Although the Bloc Québécois supports the idea of reducing the backlog, it is opposed to replacing the existing transparent and objective immigration system. The government might say that we have to be fair. The goal of any good legislation is to prevent things from getting out of control. Bill C-50 gives far too much power to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. This can open the door to abuse because there is nothing to counterbalance the minister's discretionary powers.

The Bloc Québécois prefers an immigration system based on a system that is fair, transparent and equitable for everyone. By comparison, in order to accelerate the contract awarding process, would it be acceptable for a minister to have discretionary power to offer contracts and circumvent the call for tenders system for the simple reason that waiting times need to be shortened? The answer is self-evident.

The Bloc Québécois is also deeply concerned about the fact that the federal government would no longer be required to review applications for permanent residency, on humanitarian grounds, from foreign nationals applying from outside Canada. In the absence of a real refugee appeal division, the option of entering Canada on humanitarian grounds is often the only alternative available to refugees. This is proof that the Conservatives are insensitive to the suffering endured by some people in the world. We have a humanitarian obligation to at least consider their requests.

Rather than completely overhauling the system and getting rid of a transparent system, there are other ways for the government to speed up case processing. It could increase staffing in foreign countries, and it could speed up the appointment of commissioners to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Since coming to power, the Conservatives have slowed the commissioner appointment process down considerably. Delays in case processing in Canada are due primarily to staff shortages, to a shortage of commissioners. The Conservatives are partly to blame for this problem.

With Bill C-50, the Conservatives are trying to fix a problem that they themselves created. Since the Conservatives have formed the government, the selection committee has recommended some 60 qualified individuals to fill the vacant commissioner positions. When the Conservatives came to power, there were five vacancies at the IRB. Currently, there are just under 50 vacant commissioner positions out of 156.

There are two reasons for that gap. First, the Conservative government has been making fewer new appointments. Since coming to power in February 2006, the Conservatives have appointed just 27 commissioners. Moreover, they have renewed very few of the commissioners whose terms have expired. Since February 2006, only seven commissioners' appointments have been renewed.

I should explain that a commissioner's term lasts three years. What usually happens is that one-third of the commissioners are appointed every year to compensate for terms that expire that year. The problem is not a shortage of candidates. When the former chairperson of the commission, Jean-Guy Fleury, appeared before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, he said that the minister had a list of 80 candidates when Mr. Fleury left his job on March 16, 2007. The government is taking its own sweet time appointing commissioners.

Because there are so many vacancies at the IRB, case processing is slowing down again. The waiting list is starting to get longer. At the end of 2006, there were 23,495 applications pending, an increase of 3,000 applications over the previous year at that time. In the past year, the average application processing time has increased from 11.7 months to 14.3 months. These delays have resulted in three major problems. The Government of Quebec has to pay for social services until refugee claimants get an answer.

Thus, the longer it takes to complete the process, the more it costs the Quebec government.

In the case of family reunification, it is the families that must pay while awaiting the decision. The family must meet the needs of its family members who are applying to stay in Canada. Thus, the longer it takes to complete the process, the more it costs the families.

Some refugee claimants are denied status based on a criminal record or shady past. Thus, the longer it takes to complete the process, the greater the risk of security problems.

Experts are accusing Stephen Harper's government of delaying the appointments because the candidates proposed so far do not share the Conservative Party ideology.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

An hon. member

She named the Prime Minister.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

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

I apologize, Mr. Speaker. I meant to say the Conservative government. I am sorry.

In the agriculture file, the Bloc Québécois called for the implementation of an action plan to address the crisis in the livestock industry—pork and beef, in particular—as well as improvements to the income support programs. In this Conservative budget, farmers will have to make do with an additional $72 million over two years for agricultural programs, while forestry workers will not see any new money at all.

The government says it intends to change how emergency advances are given through the advance payments program, by allocating $22.1 million to that adjustment in 2008-09. That measure was introduced in Bill C-44.

The government says it will create a cull breeding swine program. The federal government will invest $50 million in 2007-08 in this program, which will be administered by the Canadian Pork Council. Ottawa thereby hopes to reduce the Canadian breeding swine inventory by 10%. The government hopes this will facilitate the transition for any producers who wish to get out of the pork industry. Payments would be based on the number of animals and on reimbursement costs for humane slaughter and carcass disposal.

As we can see, the Harper government has ignored the appeals—

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh!

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

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

The Conservative government, I mean, has ignored the appeals for assistance from farmers and forestry workers who have been the victims of an unprecedented income crisis.

Another one of the Bloc's demands that comes up often has to do with employment insurance. The Bloc Québécois was calling for the creation of an independent employment insurance fund and for significant improvements to the plan. In particular, we were calling on the government to implement a minimum eligibility threshold of 360 hours for all regions and all claimants. Under this minimum eligibility threshold, however, claimants would be eligible for a varying number of weeks of benefits, based on the unemployment rate in their region. We also called on the government to lengthen the benefit period by five weeks for all regions, regardless of the number of hours required to qualify. The maximum number of weeks of benefits would go from 45 to 50 weeks. Furthermore, we wanted the rate of benefits to be increased from 55% to 60%.

What do we have in the Conservative budget? The budget provides for a new crown corporation, the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, which will report to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development.

This board will be responsible for managing a separate bank account. Each year, any employment insurance fund surplus will be saved and invested until it is needed to cover the program costs.

Moreover, as of 2009, a new rate-setting mechanism will be put in place. It will take into account any surpluses or deficits so that income and expenses balance out over the years. The rates set by the board cannot fluctuate more than 15% in a given year, in order to ensure a stable rate.

In addition, the government plans on maintaining a balance of $2 billion in the bank account of the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board.

As we can see, the Conservatives have finally bowed to one Bloc demand and will stop pillaging the employment insurance fund. The Bloc Québécois believes that instead of creating a new crown corporation, the mandate of the employment insurance commission could have been amended. The Bloc Québécois believes that creating an independent fund should improve the plan and not just reduce contributions.

In addition, the Conservative government is ignoring the $54 billion debt to those who contributed to the plan and to all Quebeckers. It is paradoxical that the Conservatives say they hope to “ensure that EI premiums are dedicated exclusively to the EI program” but that in a few weeks time they will take the 2007-08 surplus and pay down the debt.

They seem to be going against their own philosophy. The Bloc Québécois asked that a $1.5 billion fund be established to ensure that this year's surplus be used strictly for the employment insurance fund. The Conservative budget fails to enhance in any way the employment insurance fund and, once again, there is a lack of consideration by this government for the unemployed. Nevertheless, we must consider the creation of this fund to be an immense victory for the Bloc Québécois.

With regard to aboriginal peoples, the Bloc Québécois had demanded that the federal government respect the agreements between the former government and aboriginal peoples and make provision for the required funding. The Bloc Québécois also expects the federal government to meet the urgent need for housing on reserves.

The 2008 budget sets aside an additional $660 million over two years for economic development and the improvement of academic performance, health, and the well-being of children and families, as well as the improvement of water quality and management. Unfortunately, although the $660 million investment may seem to be a large amount at first glance, the funds come primarily from monies set aside in the 2006 budget.

The budget does not meet the needs of aboriginal Canadians, since the money should have been announced in 2006. This funding comes too late and is just a drop in the bucket when compared to the defunct Kelowna accord. Expectations were high when the Kelowna accord was signed, and now there is major disappointment. No significant money was provided for social housing on reserves. Despite the need for more than 10,000 homes in Quebec alone, there is not enough allocated to improving the socio-economic conditions in first nations communities. Although there was a surplus in the last fiscal year, no money was set aside to fight poverty among aboriginals.

I would now like to talk about the Bloc's demand concerning the status of women. The Bloc Québécois wanted a series of measures to foster equality between men and women, in particular, the reinstatement of the court challenges program, the reinstatement of funding for Status of Women Canada and the improvement of the employment insurance plan, which is currently not advantageous for women. The Conservative budget does nothing for women. In fact, the word appears only six times in the budget, including the note in the French text regarding the use of the masculine gender to cover both men and women.

The budget includes the following paragraph entitled, “Advancing Equality of Women”. It reads, “Budget 2007 increased the women's program budget to $20 million. Over the next year, the government will build on this achievement through the development of an action plan that will advance the equality of women across Canada through the improvement of their economic and social conditions and their participation in democratic life.”

Members will recall that women's rights groups saw their funding disappear, since they were excluded from the new women's program, and will also recall that the women's program was funded through cuts to Status of Women.

The Conservative budget ignores women's concerns such as pay equity and the fight for equality. The Bloc Québécois is eagerly awaiting the Conservative action plan, but is expecting the same reactionary and backward-looking vision we are used to on this issue. And I will not even begin to speak about Bill C-484, introduced by a Conservative member, which is an embarrassment to all women.

The Bloc Québécois had even more expectations in terms of international cooperation, including achieving the goal of 0.7% of the GDP by 2015, as set out by the UN. We could reach that by increasing ODA budgets by 12% per year over the next three years and then by 15% per year until 2015.

In the 2008 budget, the government is committing to double international aid based on 2001-02 numbers, to bring it up to $5 billion by 2010-11. The budget also includes an additional $100 million for the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, which would bring the projected value of Canada's aid program in Afghanistan up to $280 million in 2008-09. As well, aid to Africa would be doubled by 2008-09.

There is $450 million, for the next three years, for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. As well there is $50 million over two years for an innovation fund. However, the federal budget still does not present a credible plan for achieving the goal of 0.7% of the GDP by 2015 so that Canada can reach the UN's millennium goals.

All of the Bloc's demands were ignored. There is nothing for workers. There is no POWA, no regional development, no reinvestment in culture and nothing for social housing. It is equally bleak for women. For these reasons, the Bloc Québécois will vote against this bill.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I want to state to the member that of course the minister's instructions would be only those that would support the attainment of the immigration goals established by the Government of Canada. They will not be individual or case to case decisions.

Those instructions will be open and transparent. They will be published in the Canada Gazette, reported in the annual report to Parliament, and published on the CIC website.

Obviously, they will need to be charter compliant. The instructions will be debated in this House. They will be debated in committee. They will come back to this House for further debate. The opportunity will be there for members to stand up and vote for or against this.

I would like to ask for the member's comments on what the state of immigration is now after 13 years of the Liberal Party in office. The backlog of 50,000 cases has now increased to 800,000. I wonder if the member can comment on what the acceptability of that might be to her and her party, and whether or not the immigration system is in need of some drastic reform and change.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to the parliamentary secretary, I must say, first of all, since this government has been in power for over two years now, it is time he stop talking about the 13 years of Liberal government and blaming everything on the Liberals.

That being said, Bill C-50 poses a problem: it gives far too much discretionary power to the minister. It is a bad solution to a real problem. This real problem is the backlog of applications. The secretary said that 850 applications were delayed. According to the information I have, 24,000 applications have not yet been processed.

The problem is not that the minister does not make decisions quickly because she lacks sufficient power to make them. The problem is that there is a shortage of commissioners at the Immigration and Refugee Board.

This government has not appointed the necessary commissioners. As I said earlier, there are 156 vacant positions. More correctly, there are currently a little less than 50 vacant commissioner positions out of 156.

Two reasons account for this gap. First, the government has slowed the pace of appointments. Since coming to power, it has appointed only 27 commissioners. Furthermore, it has renewed almost none of the terms of commissioners whose terms have expired. Since February 2006, the mandates of only seven commissioners have been renewed. That is the real problem.

The government should perhaps begin by appointing all the commissioners that should be appointed. Then, if that solution does not work, it could perhaps give greater discretionary power to the minister or come up with other solutions—because giving greater discretionary power is not necessarily a solution.

Some people believe that the Conservative government does not want to appoint new commissioners because it cannot find enough people who share the Conservative ideology on immigration.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with a great deal of interest to the presentation by my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert. I was glad she mentioned how badly women have been neglected in this budget.

I would like her to give me her opinion about the fact that, in its platform, the Conservative government says that it will come up with a plan to help women achieve equality, yet all the plans it has put forward to date lack vision. As a result, we have quite frequently voted against these plans.

Could she also comment on the fact that, in its budget, the Conservative government has allocated only $20 million for the status of women, which represents $1.21 per woman for the whole year? What does she think of this position?

In addition, what does she think about the fact that defence spending has risen by 69% in the past 10 years, whereas social spending has increased by only 0.6%, as the lack of social housing will attest?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I cannot say that I am unhappy with this question. In fact, the status of women has always been of great importance to me.

I had the pleasure of contributing to the founding of the Fédération des femmes du Québec a few years ago. I hardly dare say that it was 35 years ago, but I was quite young; I was very precocious.

On a more serious note, this government's attitude towards women and gender equality is quite disturbing. It is very worrisome for all manner of reasons, including the cuts to Status of Women Canada. Its core funding was slashed. It was an organization that performed very well and promoted gender equality. The reasons given by the government are ridiculous pretexts.

I am somewhat concerned about the plan that the Conservatives wish to present. I speak for myself but I also know, from speaking to many other women, that there is a great deal of concern about the actions of this government.

We know that it pays a great deal of attention and is more responsive to the lobbying group, REAL Women, which promotes the interests of women who stay at home. That is not a choice for me. We all have the choice of working or staying at home. But when a government implements measures that are of greater benefit to women at home under the pretext of supporting families, that is worrisome.

It is also troubling when this government supports one of its members who promotes in this House a bill which, under the pretext of protecting pregnant women, represents a first attack against the right to abortion. It is very disturbing. Hence, not—

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order, please. The honourable Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons wishes to rise on a point of order.

Remarks by Member for Regina--Lumsden--Lake CentrePrivilegeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of privilege and I thank you for recognizing me.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to offer through you and to you and to every member in the House my deepest apologies for some profoundly unacceptable and offensive remarks that I have made in the past which have recently come to the public forum, particularly in the last 24 hours.

Despite the fact that I made these comments just about 17 years ago does not lessen the shame that I feel for making those comments in the first place, nor does it diminish the hurtful aspect of those comments that were contained in my remarks of 1991. Therefore, I feel absolutely compelled that I must stand here today and publicly apologize to a number of people.

First and foremost, I want to apologize to all of my friends and colleagues who are gay or lesbian. I have no idea what they must think of me now. I have no idea what they were thinking when they first heard or read about my comments. To say that I am ashamed is not putting it in context and certainly not putting it in strong enough terms.

Their friendship and support for me during my entire career and my personal life has been extremely important to me, and today I ask their forgiveness. Just being in the public sphere means little to me compared to the opinion that I value of their opinion toward me, and to them I say I am truly sorry.

To the entire gay and lesbian community, I also want to extend my deepest and most abject apologies.

The comments I made should not be tolerated in any society. They should not be tolerated today. They should not have been tolerated in 1991. They should not have been tolerated in years previous to that. The words I used were more than just hurtful. They are words that should not be allowed to be spoken today, either publicly or privately.

I know there is an awful lot of anger directed toward me from members of the gay and lesbian community. That anger is certainly understandable and, I would say, it is justified. All I can say is that I hope that over the passage of time, my apologies will be accepted.

There are many other people to whom I need to apologize because of their relationship to me. Because of that relationship the criticisms that will be made directed toward me will end up affecting these people. They will in effect probably bear the brunt of much of that criticism, when in fact they had absolutely nothing to do with this incident.

To my family, to my friends, to my colleagues, to my staff, to my Prime Minister, to the people of Saskatchewan and, most particularly, to the people of Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, I offer not only my apologies for my remarks, but I apologize for the embarrassment and the hurt that I have surely caused them.

I also want to make a comment to the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas who raised this issue in question period yesterday. I simply want to thank the hon. member for allowing me to personally apologize to him. He accepted my phone call with that in mind. I will never forget the member's generosity and kindness.

There are times when people say things they do not mean, and this is one of those times with respect to my comments. While it is very, very true I made those hurtful comments, they do not reflect my personal beliefs. They did not reflect my personal beliefs in 1991. They do not reflect my personal beliefs now, which lends itself to the obvious question, if I did not mean what I said, why did I say those things to begin with?

The only explanation that I can give to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the members of this House is that I was stupid, thoughtless and insensitive. I am not using that as a defence. I am merely stating the way that I felt and the actions that I took.

Let me conclude by saying that there is absolutely nothing I could say inside or outside of this assembly that would be an adequate apology to those people whom I have hurt. I deeply regret and I have deep remorse for my words of 17 years ago. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, and all of my colleagues in this House that I will spend the rest of my career and my life trying to make up for those shameful comments.

Remarks by Member for Regina--Lumsden--Lake CentrePrivilegeGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for his difficult remarks.

Brandon's Business Person of the YearStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to salute and offer congratulations to Mr. Paul Crane of Brandon, Manitoba, who was recently named Brandon's Business Person of the Year. Mr. Crane joins a very distinguished group of Brandon business people in being the 27th recipient of this prestigious award.

Paul and his wife, Gail, established Crane Steel Structures in 1981. Expanding it to Winnipeg in 1985, their business has developed into one of the largest design build contractors specializing in pre-engineered steel buildings.

Chamber President Lee Bass summed it up best by stating, “Paul's honesty and integrity in business dealings and in community dealings are beyond reproach”.

Paul Crane is quick to credit his family and his staff, whose support and hard work have made Crane Steel what it is today.

On behalf of the people of Brandon—Souris, I want to congratulate Paul Crane, Brandon's Business Person of the Year.

Ontario BudgetStatements By Members

April 4th, 2008 / 11 a.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Ontario budget offered a balanced approach to fiscal management with these elements of responsible leadership: investments in manufacturing, funding for job creation, targeted poverty reduction, and competitive taxes.

In his speech before the legislature, Ontario's finance minister addressed these areas where partnerships would serve Ontarians and Canadians better: strategic investment in transit, addressing congestion and climate change; a federal initiative to increase transfers for settlement services to match other provinces; and creation of a new border crossing at Windsor, the busiest international trade link in the world.

Ontario is moving forward with health care, infrastructure, manufacturing initiatives and appears to be in tune with mainstream thinking on what drives long term economic growth.

Historically, Ontarians in good times and bad have contributed through equalization to maintain a strong and fair union, and truly in the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, have been an honest and reliable friend.

I am certain this House agrees that it is in the national interest to nurture that friendship through partnerships that inspire a new legacy of hope for Ontarians and all Canadians.

Martin Luther King, Jr.Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, Martin Luther King was assassinated 40 years ago today in Memphis. We all recall his famous speech, which is forever etched in our memories, entitled “I have a dream”, condemning the segregation of blacks in the United States. His action resulted in the adoption of legislation guaranteeing blacks the same rights as whites in public places and polling stations.

Dr. King fought for equality between whites and blacks and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was a hero of the black civil rights movement and advocated a fairer distribution of wealth and social justice. The night before he died, Reverend Martin Luther King said he wanted to live a long time. The next day he was assassinated at the age of 39.

Forty years later, his spirit lives on in those who believe in justice, equality and freedom. Let us pay tribute to this great man today and keep in mind the principle of equality among people in our actions as legislators in this House.

Animal CrueltyStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, tragically, animal abuse and cruelty are alive and well in this country. A quick glance at recent news headlines makes the case: a man threw five puppies down an outhouse pit; a cat was cooked to death in a microwave by a group of teens; a cat was strangled and hung for public display; 27 horses were found dead from starvation.

Canadians have been trying to strengthen Canada's 115-year-old animal cruelty laws, but Canada's federal governments have shamefully refused to pass tougher animal cruelty sentences.

Of Canadians polled, 93% support tough anti-animal cruelty legislation, including law enforcement officers, researchers, farmers, hunters and animal welfare organizations.

We need to crack down on animal abusers with long overdue tough legislation in the country. We will not achieve this through Bill S-203.

I stand with my NDP colleagues to demand that the government end the neglect and cruelty by bringing forward genuine animal protection laws immediately.

Hockeyville ContestStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Fabian Manning Conservative Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians love the sport of hockey. I am proud to stand and offer a show of support to the town of Port-aux-Basque on its selection as one of the top five entries in the Hockeyville contest.

Mr. Andrew Parsons has led the charge for the gateway town to be named Hockeyville, the Canadian community that best embodies the spirit of hockey and hometown pride.

The town has been awarded $20,000 for arena upgrades for making it to the top five and now hopes to be selected number one. The winner of the competition will receive $100,000 for its local arena and will host an NHL exhibition game next September.

The town's contest entry has focused on the economic difficulty faced by small rural towns, yet hockey bonds the communities together and remains strong in spite of all the other challenges.

The town has had its challenges with its rink burning down one September, but it was able to have a new multi-million dollar facility constructed and people skating in November in the following year.

The community is thrilled with making it to the top five and hockey fever is high. We applaud the community's spirit, team effort and success to date and are rooting for them to take home the big prize.