Mr. Speaker, I think we all know, and government members know, that there is nothing in the current legislation that limits the power of the minister to otherwise determine the most efficient manner in which to administer the act. She has that kind of power. There is all the power that the minister could possibly have, except that it is transparent.
Maybe we need to have a little definition about what we mean by immigrant. I was one. I came here in 1957 as a child. I was very much involved with immigrant communities in the city of Toronto as a volunteer. Let us see, these are people who apply to come to Canada as permanent residents. Once they are approved, they arrive here. They have a residency card. After three years they are eligible to apply for citizenship. Then they become full participants in our social, economic, cultural and political life, and the infrastructure of Canada. They become an inherent part of our nation and participate in the future building of our country.
That is pretty clear, I would think. Nonetheless, the government insists on saying, or as the minister just corrected a few minutes ago, that we have allowed in the country 429,649 new Canadians. In my view, in all of my 30 years of volunteerism in the community, new immigrants means new Canadians. They are still immigrants who come to settle here.
However, that figure is not really true because in 2007, only 236,689 were actually given landed status visas, and the previous year it was 262,000, so actually 36,000 less came.
The number is being inflated we know now by foreign students, foreign workers and all kinds of visitors visas, et cetera. Some of these people are coming here to assist with work and some are coming here to study. They are not immigrants, people who are fighting to come to this country. The government is purposely misleading Canadians, purposely fudging the numbers, intentionally to confuse and complicate the whole thing.
I am quite insulted by all of that. Having worked with immigrant communities for decades in the city of Toronto, I find this totally offensive and so will many people.
Let me tell the hon. members opposite how reform of immigration is actually done. When the former minister of immigration, the hon. Lucienne Robillard, decided that we needed to upgrade the Canada Immigration Act and the Refugee Act, she actually commissioned a study. Then the minister, the bureaucrats and other members of the House travelled across this country of ours and consulted with Canadians to determine what kind of Canada they wanted to see, the kinds of rules they thought were needed, and the kinds of changes that should be made to the Immigration Act.
Open and transparent legislation was placed in the House of Commons. It was debated at committee. The rules and regulations were gazetted for a period of, I believe, 90 days, so that again we could have feedback from Canadians as to whether those rules would have unintended consequences or cause problems. It was a transparent and open process administered by a minister who was open and worked with Canadians. That is how we change the situation.
The present government, unfortunately, is doing something altogether different. First, it has not tabled a proper bill in the House. It has tacked it after the fact to the budget bill, which is totally insulting to not only the House but Canadians of different backgrounds and all citizens in this country.
The government is trying to excuse itself by saying that we have 900,000 people backlogged in the system and that is why we have to do this.
First of all, the powers for the minister to decide at the last minute to change categories, changing which category comes in, more or less, whether it is the family class or not, the minister may decide to reduce these numbers and nobody would know.
To do all of these changes, none of those things will affect the backlog. She can cherry-pick a few people or change the categories, but it will not change the backlog. What would change that is if the government had followed through on $700 million of monies that had been allocated to address the problem of human resources at the immigration department.
I have said for many years that one of the problems of the immigration department was that it did not have enough human resources to deal with the applicants and deal with the work that it had.
But no, the government chose to cut that back and now it is trying to say it is dealing with a backlog to which it has been a partner in increasing for the last while and that is supposed to resolve the problem. The minister in private quarters, somewhere invisible, unobserved and unchecked by anyone, is going to change things and decide when, where and who gets to come to this country.
There is right now, for instance, a point system. If the minister really and truly decides that we need to have more skilled labour, that is fewer university graduates and more skilled labour because that is where the shortage is, she is free to change the point system.
She is free to publish that in the Canada Gazette openly and for people to comment. The minister has all the powers under the current legislation to act and adjust if she needs to. She does not have to totally eliminate that part and have the government give her the kinds of powers where she can do as she pleases behind closed doors.
I remember a time, which was before my time, but I do remember history, when southern Europeans were not allowed into this country. There were very few Italian Canadians or southern Europeans who came and only worked on the railway in the northern part of the country. They were not necessarily allowed to bring their spouses.
We know what happened to the members of the Chinese community with the Chinese head tax. We also know what happened to Italian Canadians during the last world war when they were put in military camps and declared enemies of the state. We know what happens when there is too much power and it is not transparent.
We live in a modern democracy. We are not a backward third world country and Canada's history is not unblemished. Obviously, in the past, with the kind of policy that existed, my family and I would never have been able to come here because we are from the Mediterranean part of Europe.
Therefore, these changes scare me. I find them offensive. I think they are extremely destructive and anti-democratic. I believe that the government needs to review its reasons for doing what it wants to do. The numbers are clear. I think it is time that the government stop purposely misinforming the public and the House with its numbers.
When the minister proudly stands up and says 429,000 new Canadians, they are not new Canadians. They are not here to stay. A student is here to study and will most likely leave unless in a year he or she applies. Some individuals with work permits come here on a temporary basis unless they apply.
Immigrants are people who have decided to make their life in this country on a permanent basis, to commit for the rest of their life to this country. That is a new Canadian and they are not visitors either.
This is highly unacceptable, highly insulting, and I would hope that the government members will review their conscience and get out of the gutter that they have been in with respect to their former Reform situation because that is where they were.
When I listened to some of the members from the Reform Party when I was in the House and the racial slurs that they used to throw across the floor at that time, it made me worry about the kinds of policies that they would bring forward.
I think today I have seen it. I have seen what they can do and this is exactly what it is: secrecy, behind closed doors policy, no transparency, no democracy.