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House of Commons Hansard #103 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, yes, I do. The bill should be called “Bill C-50, the indentured servant act” because I think that portrays the Conservative Party's intention behind this bill. It wants to bring in indentured servants, to turn the clock back to the 19th century, obviously considered halcyon days for the Conservative Party.

It is more than just underfunding at embassies and consulates around the world. There are other problems that we do not have time to go into. We are talking about chronic underfunding in English language programs to actually allow that transition for landed immigrants or refugees when they come to Canada to actually get into the job market and make their contribution.

We have chronic underfunding in British Columbia. It has been disadvantaged by both the former Liberal government and the current Conservative government in terms of per capita immigration funding. Other provinces get much more support for immigration than British Columbia gets. We feel this acutely in the area of Burnaby—New Westminster where a lot of new Canadians, about half of all refugees into British Columbia, come. There is not sufficient funding for ESL nor for that transition.

We need a reinvestment in our immigration system and we did not see that from the former Liberals nor have we seen it from the current Conservatives.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I cannot let the member get away with calling this the indentured servant thing. That is just a pile of hooey.

What we have at this particular point is the opportunity for people to come to Canada and work with employers in Canada. All of their protection is in place. For the member to be characterizing it the way he is, is deeply regrettable. The employers of Canada need these workers and the workers want to come to Canada. I wish the member would--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster has 30 seconds for his response.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think the facts prove that the Conservative pretensions around this bill are hooey. We have seen a rapid rise in temporary foreign workers. The hon. parliamentary secretary knows full well that they are not subject to Canadian health and safety regulations nor are they subject to any of the provisions that exist under the Labour Code, which is why we have had controversy--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Don Valley East.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on the budget implementation bill, Bill C-50.

In the normal course of parliamentary debate, a budget discussion would ordinarily reflect a thorough examination of the government's fiscal policies and the state of the nation's finances. However, for some strange reason, the Conservatives have chosen to depart from our parliamentary tradition, and it is strange that they have decided to sneak in a major shift in immigration policy through the back door.

Our parliamentary tradition calls upon the government to introduce legislation according to departmental responsibilities, which is to say that a transportation bill would be proposed by the Minister of Transport or a defence bill would be proposed by the Minister of National Defence. Again, under normal circumstances, a proposed act is then debated separately for the simple reason that respective parliamentary committees, such as, for example, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, or the Standing Committee on National Defence, would have the opportunity to review the proposed legislation according to its area of responsibility.

This is how a parliamentary democracy works. It is really quite straightforward.

My question, then, is this: on what grounds is the government justified in lumping an immigration bill in with the budget implementation act? If the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is so convinced that her proposal is of vital importance to the country, why is she so afraid to introduce a separate bill and face the scrutiny where it is supposed to be faced? Why does the government insist upon making this a confidence motion?

Canadians know that Canada has been and continues to be the first choice for immigrants all across the world. I am an immigrant myself. The consequences of living in countries where the political environment is not conducive, or where citizens are expelled just because of their creed or colour, is a very devastating experience. Hence, we are fortunate to live in country like Canada, which is a pluralistic society that respects diversity. It respects the diversity of its citizens. It does not just tolerate it but respects it.

Therefore, why is the government trying in an underhanded manner to force an election by any means possible?

Canadians are not gullible. Just a few months ago, the Prime Minister attempted to force an election through Canada's participation in an the NATO mission in Afghanistan. When the Canadian public told the Prime Minister to stop playing politics with the lives of our men and women serving in the Canadian armed forces, he beat a hasty retreat back to the dark confines of the PMO in order to devise yet another scheme to force an election.

My constituents have told me and Canadians have repeatedly told us that they do not have a burning desire for an election. We have been elected as members of Parliament so that we can work on behalf of our constituents, not so we can run in series of continuous elections like some hamster on a treadmill. My colleagues in the Liberal caucus are committed to make this Parliament work, so let us take a closer look at the immigration proposal we now have before us.

Bill C-50 proposes a series of amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that, quite frankly, are regressive. Successive Liberal governments had developed a system that would allow immigrant applications to proceed on their own merits in a fair and unbiased process. Everyone knows that for a small country like ours to grow it needs people, so there were certain criteria set up, and we know that we have had a diverse population come in and settle in Canada.

As the system evolved, the ministers relinquished their direct involvement in individual files in order to reduce any backlog, thereby making the process more efficient. Why does this minister want to go back? Why does she want the power to choose which people she wants to come in? Under the bill, the Conservatives are seeking to abandon all sense of transparency and objectivity in the selection process and simply empower the minister with absolute discretion and the ability to cherry-pick applications at will.

A Montreal-based immigration lawyer recently put it this way:

--the [current] selection of immigrants is based purely on objective criteria...everyone who chooses to submit an application to come live in Canada is entitled to be considered fairly. Under the new [immigration act], the Minister of Immigration...would have the discretion to determine not only which applications will be processed quickly and which ones will be held at the visa office until a later date, but also that some applications will be returned without any consideration at all. These are the ones that we should be most concerned about.

In other words, the Conservatives are attempting to toss out objectivity and fairness under the guise of expediency. Yes, there is a current backlog, but not because of the process. Rather, it is because the Conservatives have not made immigration a priority and have held back on new resources for the immigration department.

This bill represents a major change in the way we choose who is to become a Canadian citizen, yet the Conservatives feel it is okay to sneak it into a budget bill and somehow bamboozle the Canadian public. It is not going to work, because we will have to ensure that the House and all members of Parliament give it thoughtful consideration and that we debate it in a manner which is dignified and upholds our constituents and our people, who wish us to do a good job in debating this bill.

It seems that the Conservative members of this House are fixated on forcing an election rather than acting as a responsible government. When an election eventually occurs, I am sure that Canadians will remember this, because the Liberal government, under its Liberal policies, had invested a lot in immigration. If I remember where Vegreville came from, it was not under the Conservative government.

That we need efficiency in the system nobody denies, but we need to ensure that the process is transparent, fair and equitable and that the minister does not use her power of instruction to determine who would come in and who would not.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, could the hon. member who has just spoken speak to the effect on families who have been waiting for a very long time for an expected reunification with their loved ones?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, as does the hon. member for Surrey North, I have a lot of people who question me about how they can have their parents, their siblings or their spouses come to Canada.

The immigration process has different lines and different ways for the application process. The government has decided that it wants temporary workers before it wants family reunification. I do not think that is fair to the people who want family reunification.

We are a country where immigrants helped us build this nation. By the year 2011, statistics show, our labour force will come from immigration. However, we need those immigrants to come in, settle down and be consistent so that we can sustain our economy. Therefore, I think it is important that this bill be looked at thoroughly, without a haphazard method, without forcing an election and without trying to sneak it in under a budget bill.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to part 6 of Bill C-50 and the changes that are intended ostensibly for the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Really, however, these are changes that will make a difference in a negative way, I believe, in the lives of people in Canada and in the lives of people who will be encouraged to come to Canada but of course not stay.

This country was built on immigration. If Canada were not a country that believed in immigration, then I do not know who would be sitting here today. I do not believe that in this House today we have anyone whose family did not at some time immigrate to this country from another mother country, not 10 or 20 years ago but 100 or 150 years ago. The history of the very building of this country, from literally the first building built, has been one of people who have immigrated here.

The need for immigration also has been shown over the years. That is only becoming clearer as people have fewer children or choose to not have children. We need immigrants. We need new people coming to Canada in order to have this country be sustainable.

Very often in the current debate and in the debate that I have seen over the last few years, some of this gets driven by fear. So much of what we do and what happens, not just in our country but around the world, is based on fear. People talk about immigrants taking the jobs or immigrants getting ahead of them, as opposed to what immigrants have done for our country. Quite frankly, what immigrants have done for our country is actually to build it.

Before I move on to some specifics, for me this also speaks to an issue of how we manage things in government. I confess to being a first term federal member of Parliament, but I have served in a number of governments and am familiar with management strategies.

The management strategy when we have a long list is to simply decide that we will not serve some of the people on the list, that we will delete them, and it is not a management strategy that I would consider to be either particularly fair or particularly proactive. I ask my colleagues, where does this go next? Do we take a surgical wait list and decide that it is too long, that if a person's name starts with a B, for example, he or she is suddenly not on that list? Is that a management strategy?

There is a management strategy that we often see in government, not just in this government but we do it see here as well, in regard to government putting forth a policy that it thinks many Canadians are going to be unhappy with. This will be familiar to all people who have served in governments. The government will put it out late on Friday afternoon or on the last day of the sitting or try to include it in a much broader bill, where hopefully it will not get the same profile that it would as a stand-alone bill.

As has already been stated, this should have been brought forward as a stand-alone, as a change to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. If this is a new management strategy, and if old ones of course are used as well, I do not consider it to be very positive management.

We cannot now in this country even manage the professional immigrants who have come and who we have encouraged to come. They cannot practice their professions in Canada. There have been some small steps taken, but there are many physicians, engineers and accountants who are here and cannot get work in their trained professions. They are doing other work. All work is valuable work, but they are not working in the areas in which we so desperately encourage them and in which we so desperately need them.

This part of Bill C-50 went to the immigration committee. The committee looked at it and recommended that it not be included at all. I think the committee's unanimous advice, certainly that of the majority, was not to include this.

There is this interesting thing that happens in government with committees. They do a lot of work, they even pass a report, but there is no obligation after having done all this work for a government to actually act upon it.

In my experience in the community in which I come from, where probably 40% of people certainly are recently from other places other than Canada, it is that they have been waiting for two, three or four years and they are part of that group of 925,000 people waiting for their family members to join them. Sometimes it is grown sons and daughters who have all kinds of skills that they can bring to Canada.

I have seen families that have actually bought a new home that has a room in readiness for the person that they are so certain will at some time get to the top of the list and be allowed to come here. For many of these people, it has been at least five years of hopeful waiting, of counting on having parents, children, whoever that is here. Then they are told, “I am sorry, but those are some of the names that we took off the list. Better luck another time”. It is not fair to change the rules in midstream.

Again in my community, I know that the immigrant community is part of a huge economic driver in Surrey. It makes Surrey a very successful city. We are treating temporary workers as a product. We use them for three months and then dispose of them.

We can talk about how they will be safe and looked after, but there is no history to prove that. We have had workers come before, and we have seen that very recently in Vancouver, they do not make minimum wage. Sometimes they do. They do not get overtime. There is no guarantee of work and safety for them. I think people know that.

We have never had people come and say to them, “You don't have the right if you like being here to come back, to apply to stay here”. That is an abuse of wages. That is an abuse of people by putting them in unsafe working conditions. I thought we were long past having to put canaries down in mines. If these people dare to complain, then they are gone. They take it because that is the only money they will have.

I have been very pleased with what I have heard from the Liberal members. I am sure that as we vote on this, they will all be standing up to oppose it. I will be looking forward to seeing that because I judge people by their actions. All I have heard in the newspapers, in forums and in the House, is how bad Bill C-50 is. Naturally, I know that I can look forward tonight to all those members standing up and opposing the bill.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has a large number of south Asians in her community.

Throughout the last few months, as the immigration part of Bill C-50 has been debated, a large number of people from the community have phoned talk shows like Radio India and asked, how can the minister be above the law? Under the proposed legislation, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration would be able to make decisions on what kinds of immigrants she and her department would like to have come in to the country without going through Parliament.

Many immigrant groups have said that one of the reasons they came to Canada was because of democracy and because Canada believes in the rule of law. They have said that elected representatives in the House of Commons should be making the decisions and those decisions should be given weight and value.

They are also alarmed by the fact that if the bill were to pass, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration would, behind closed doors and without any consultation, make the decisions. Her decisions would then be published in the Canada Gazette.

How many of the member's constituents, especially from the south Asian community, read the Canada Gazette? Does she think they will know what kinds of changes would occur and what kinds of instructions the minister would give if the bill were to pass?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not think they are going to read the Canada Gazette unless we ensure that everybody has a copy, and naturally we will.

It is not only south Asians who are being vocal about this issue but also people from the Philippines and so on. They are very interested in what is happening and they have been very vocal about it. The member is right, they have been very vocal on talk shows. The last rally was about 24 hours ago. These people came here because they could not do that in the country they came from. They embrace the fact that Canada is a democratic country where things like what they are seeing should not happen.

These people are also very frightened because they do not know who would be eliminated from the list. It could be a friend, a family member, or just someone they know. Believe me, these people have long memories and they will be watching this very carefully.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have before us deceptive, damaging and dangerous changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act sneaked through the budget implementation bill by the Conservative government and supported by their new friends, the Liberal Party of Canada. The bill is a direct attack on immigrant communities and a real threat to the future of Canada.

The NDP is very proud to stand up in partnership with immigrant communities across Canada. We will not roll over. We will not run away from voting. We will not run away from standing up for the immigrant communities. We will not be kept silent and we will speak out against the bill.

There were hearings through the immigration and citizenship committee and the finance committee. We have noticed that there was a resounding no to the Conservative immigration changes, and they were from the Canadian Bar Association, Canadian Arab Federation, Chinese Canadian National Council, Canadian Ethnocultural Council, Portuguese communities, Asian communities, Hispanic and many other communities. They were all saying no to the Conservative immigration changes.

In a country like ours, where all citizens, except first nations communities, are immigrants, we should be celebrating and embracing our diversity rather than curtailing it.

The infrastructure that created Canada was built by immigrants. The railroad that connected our vast landscape, bringing the east and west coasts together, was constructed, one spike at a time, by immigrants. The bridges, tunnels, roads, schools and buildings that make up our cityscapes, our landscapes, were built by the blood, sweat and tears of immigrants who came here for a better future.

One would imagine that today, in 2008, Canada would be moving toward a more inclusive and open immigration policy that welcomes the skills, innovation and contributions of immigrants rather than a policy that reeks up the dark days of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Continuous Passage Act, which were designed to keep out immigrant groups.

Canada has made many mistakes in the past, oftentimes because of discriminatory policies based on race, religion or nationality.

In 1939 we refused to allow the ocean liner S.S. St. Louis to dock on our shore, forcing 900 Jewish refugees to return to Germany, and many of the passengers did not survive. During World War II, Canada only accepted 5,000 Jewish refugees, one of the worst records among all refugee-receiving countries.

Let us also not forget that from 1941 to 1945 Canada interned, displaced, dispossessed, and detained 23,000 Japanese Canadians, over half of which were Canadian born. Has the Conservative government not learned anything from the mistakes of our past?

The bill before us is deceptive. Why? It has nothing to do with the tremendous backlog of 925,000 people that are on the wait list. The bill will come into effect after the backlog, and would not have any impact on shortening the wait list for these applicants. That is why it is deceptive, given the minister keeps talking about the backlog.

Mr. Hassan Yussuff, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress, stated:

We think embedding the reform in the budget bill is wrong. There has been a failure to conduct meaningful and inclusive consultations prior to the development of the initiative. Arbitrary powers granted to the minister fail the transparency and accountability test this government has promised.

If we allow these sweeping changes to go through, we will be drawing an irreversible line in the sand. From the moment these dangerous amendments are passed, our immigration system will be radically altered and it will be irreversible. Do not let any other party say that perhaps afterward it can be fixed. By that time, it will be too late.

Why is this change damaging? The Conservative vision of Canada is about treating immigrants as economic units, as foreign workers. There will be winners and losers. The losers will be the family members who are trying to reunite with their loved ones in Canada. Instead, the workers are the ones who will have priority.

Debbie Douglas, the executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, states that the government is heading in the wrong direction by expanding the temporary foreign workers program at the expense of nation building and citizenship. She said:

Immigration should not be just about bringing people to work in Canada. You cannot just treat immigrants as an economic unit and not care about developing citizenship, a sense of commitment, belonging and ownership among the people we bring into this country.

With the Conservative government at the helm, democracy, transparency and accountability in our immigration policy will be replaced by arbitrary discriminatory policies and power grabbing. We must not forget that these immigration changes are being pushed through as part of the budget implementation act, all the more to prove that immigrants are seen as commodities, to be imported as cheap and exploitable economic units. That is not the way we should be treating immigrants.

These amendments are not in the best interests of our country. They are shortsighted and are intended to benefit the needs of big businesses at the expense of ordinary Canadians.

I also said it is dangerous. Why? Because these sweeping changes give incredible power to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Mr. Stephen Green, treasurer of the Canadian Bar Association, states that these changes will affect our family, economic, temporary and humanitarian classes of immigrants. The Canadian Bar Association, which was not consulted in the process of drafting these amendments, stated in its submission to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration:

Quite candidly, we have instructions being issued with no oversight.

Mr. Green added:

It is our submission that if this legislation passes it will result in Canada's going back to the dark ages of immigration selection and processing. It would allow the minister to operate in an unfettered manner, opening the back door to many interest groups.

He warned:

It's a danger because the minister would be allowed to close the door any time he or she chooses. Any government could do that when they come in. There's no predictability. There's no rule of law. Families applying to come could be told they are not allowed, that they're not the flavour of the time.

Janet Dench, of the Canadian Council for Refugees, warned that intentions are not law. She urges us as parliamentarians to ask ourselves how the law might be used in the future, not just how the current government proposes to use the new powers. She said that expressions of current intentions are no protection against future uses of the powers in very different ways.

Speaking about family reunification on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, Ms. Dench added that the government has suggested it would continue to examine all family related humanitarian and compassionate applications. She said that this is only an expression of intention, and if the bill is passed in its present form, a future government could issue instructions leading to family related applications not being examined.

Finally, the Canadian Arab Federation asked why no one had bothered to consult with immigrant groups. The federation is extremely worried that the minister might decide that Canada does not want Arabs and Muslims in this country. He asked who would prevent her if she gave herself this ultimate power.

I urge my fellow members of Parliament across party lines to take a principled stand and to stand with the members of the New Democrats against the Conservatives' damaging, deceptive and dangerous immigration amendments. Together we can stop the Conservative government from turning back our immigration policy and repeating mistakes of the past.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

June 2nd, 2008 / 1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, when one looks at the record of the current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, she is the first one in a decade to have missed her numbers. She came in with less than 237,000 landed people versus what the Conservatives said they were going to land. Under her watch, the backlog in refugee cases has spiralled out of control. Before the Conservatives came into office the backlog was under 20,000, but now it is at 45,000 and is projected to go over 60,000 by year end.

Would the member agree with me that the minister's record does not bode well for any changes she might propose in terms of getting more powers into her hands?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member that the minister's record does not bode well. The Immigration and Refugee Board has a huge backlog partially because there are a lot of vacancies on the board. The whole system is not working. Even though Parliament has said to implement the law and establish a refugee appeal division so that refugees would have an appeal process, she has not done so.

In terms of numbers, permanent landed immigrants to Canada dropped by 10,587. The number went from 262,000 in 2005 to 251,000 in 2006. The numbers for 2007 are just coming out. The problem is that while the number of permanent residents is falling, the number of temporary foreign workers coming to this country is rising.

In Alberta alone there is an increase of somewhere close to 300% in temporary foreign workers. A lot of the immigrants who are coming in now are coming in not as immigrants but as migrants. They have no future in Canada. They are most likely not able to stay in Canada. They cannot bring their family members to Canada. That is really unfortunate.

The backlog under the Liberal government and now the Conservative government has increased dramatically to 925,000. That is very unacceptable. Furthermore, speaking about things not being in order, we found out today that there are empty visa forms--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Winnipeg North.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member for Trinity—Spadina about the significance of these changes. We have heard many speeches today about how the government will have the ability to pick and choose immigrants and cause possible permanent damage to our system.

I would like to know what my colleague's assessment is of the significance of these changes and whether or not this is so serious that it warrants Liberal members of Parliament to consider the wisdom of allowing this budget implementation bill to pass with these changes intact. Would it not be wise for Liberal members to consider whatever the consequences are of standing up for their principles, because they have spoken out so vehemently against these changes on the immigration front, and to let the chips fall where they may knowing at least they were true to their consciences, policies and philosophies?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, by changing a word, “shall” to “may”, in the act, applicants could meet all the immigration requirements, receive sufficient points, but still be rejected.

That is perhaps one of the reasons the Liberal leader attacked this bill every day for two weeks in the House of Commons during question period. I read the newsletters going to constituents about how terrible these changes to the immigration act are and yet the Liberals run, hide and do not speak at the finance committee or in this House. Now, without the House of Commons even approving this bill, the Liberal dominated Senate is beginning to fast-track Bill C-50 through the Senate.

The Liberals are saying one thing to their communities, but acting completely different from that here in the House.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by acknowledging all the work the member for Trinity—Spadina has done on this aspect of Bill C-50. I know many other members of the New Democratic Party have risen in the House to raise concerns around the immigration aspect of Bill C-50, and I will add my voice to those other voices who have spoken out against what many would allege as a potential abuse of power by the immigration minister.

One of the things we know from the throne speech, the budget speech and now the budget implementation bill is there are some very serious issues that face our country with which the bill is simply failing to deal, whether it is forestry communities like mine where we have lost hundreds and hundreds of jobs over the last six months and now many forestry workers have run out of employment insurance because of the way the unemployment rate in our area is determined and there is no remedy for these forestry, or the fact that first nations, Métis and Inuit across the country still suffer from a lack of good, safe, quality housing, or first nations children cannot access the same quality of schools that other Canadian children can expect, or that many communities simply do not have access to clean, safe drinking water, or where many families are unable to access quality affordable publicly funded child care.

Once again, the bill was an opportunity to take a look at some of these very pressing and urgent matters facing workers and their families across the country.

However, we are talking specifically about immigration, and I will turn my attention to it.

In preparation for speaking in the House today, I asked my office to take a look at a variety of the immigration and refugee cases they dealt with as case work. The government alleges that this legislation would deal with the backlog. Yet we hear from people, fairly consistently, that this will simply shuffle the priorities around without dealing with the substantial numbers of people who want to come to Canada and make it their home.

There are a myriad of problems with which my office deals, so this is a quick look at some of the things we face in our office in Nanaimo—Cowichan.

One of the problems is the length of time it takes to process applications. It is difficult to see how resetting different priorities would deal with the length of time of applications. It will certainly fast track some people. It will certainly make some people get to Canada more quickly. However, when we are dealing with the 900,000 plus who are currently in the system, I fail to see how, without substantially more resources, juggling people around will deal with that substantial backlog.

The second is the arbitrary decisions of immigration and visa officers and the lack of appeal venues. Many times we have seen the applications of people turned down. The supporting documentation by the person who applies to come to the country seems to be all there, yet the reasons of the denial do not seem to match up with the information on file. Sometimes the lack of clear and effective communication between applicants and immigration staff is problematic. People do not exactly know why they have been turned down. What we have seen in many cases is applicants will be requested to provide a particular information. The applicants provide that piece of information and then the staff will come back and say that they now need another piece of information. Therefore, applicants provide that information, and this goes on month after month.

In another case a fairly prominent member of the community was getting married. This person wanted to bring in her mother and sister to Canada. All the appropriate forms were filled out and the office abroad said that the sponsoring person in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan had to make a decision. Either her mother or her sister could come to the wedding, but not both. This was not an application for immigration. It was simply a visitor's visa. However, the legislation will not address all of those problems in the system,

I know member for Trinity—Spadina and others have called for stand-alone legislation that would go in front of the immigration committee, where there would be an opportunity to fully review the legislation, to call witnesses, to talk about how the legislation would impact people's lives and to potentially amend it so it would be more reflective of what Canadians wanted to see in immigration legislation.

Unless we are one of the original peoples, each and every one of us in the House came from immigrant stock at one point. My mother is a first generation Canadian, I am very proud to say. My daughter-in-law is an immigrant. My grandson is a first generation Canadian on the mother's side.

Each and every one of us, at some point, are ancestors, unless we were one of the original peoples. We are immigrants. We know that immigrants have contributed to the richness and the diversity of ours country. We want an immigration system that reflects what we often have valued as Canadians, and that is fairness and transparency, equality of access, timely processing, which, sadly, is not the case right now.

A number of groups across Canada have spoken out and raised serious concerns about the legislation, including the bar association. It has said, “The Canadian Bar Association is urging Parliament to remove and not pass amendments”, calling them “a major step backwards in the evolution of Canadian immigration law.

Bill C-50 would return Canada “to a time when visas were given out on a discretionary basis, without sufficient objective criteria” said Stephen Green. He said, “the amendments are not necessary to meet Canada’s immigration goals”. He went on to say that the amendments were not necessary to meet Canada's immigrations goals. The changes would fast-track highly coveted immigrants, such as doctors and other skilled labourers, while others would be forced to wait in a queue. They would allow governments to set annual limits on a number of applications process.

Part of the argument around the legislation as well is that it would help us address critical skills shortages in Canada. Any of us who had been paying attention over the last 15 or 20 years knew quite well there would be some very serious critical skills shortages in a number of areas and called on the federal and provincial governments to jointly develop a human resource strategy that would address some of those critical skills shortages, whether it was in trades apprenticeships, or physicians, nurses, medical technologists, the list goes on and on. We have had 15 to 20 years. The baby boom was no surprise. We knew it was coming. We knew there would be a massive wave of retirements. Anybody could predict that Canada would be in some periods of economic growth, which would require a skilled labour force to meet those needs.

Instead, we have had successive federal governments simply sit on their hands instead of turning their energy into developing a human resource strategy that would address these critical skills shortages.

The Vancouver Olympics is a really good case in point. The Vancouver Olympics, once it was awarded, was an opportunity to train apprentices in Canada. Many first nations and Métis in British Columbia would have made highly qualified tradespeople, with some effort and attention. Instead, we are meeting much of the needs of the Olympics with temporary foreign workers. It was an opportunity to train first nations and Métis in the construction trades that would have left a legacy in their own communities once the Olympics was over. That would have been a true legacy left by the Olympics.

However, again, the federal government failed to move in that direction. Working closely with the provincial governments, it had an opportunity to do that and it failed. We now have workers coming in, building the buildings, the roads, all the structures that go into place to support the Olympics. Then they will leave and we will still have first nations and Métis who could have been quite successful tradespeople. It was a lost opportunity.

Many others have spoken up, including the UFCW, about the fact that the bill is a back door way to give the minister unfettered powers. Regulations will be put into place that we will have no oversight over because they are not part of the legislation.

I would argue that the House should not support Bill C-50 as a total because of the immigration changes inherent in the bill.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know the hon. member has a large number of layoffs in her area, especially in the forestry industry.

In British Columbia, the immigration department, under the minister in both the current government and the government before, has allowed a large number of foreign workers to come into Canada, instead of retraining workers who are unemployed, whether they are from the forestry industry or the manufacturing sector.

What seems to be happening is it is bringing in foreign workers. As a result, the wages are lowered because many of these workers have very few rights. If they complain about their working conditions, or lost wages or the kind of treatment they are receiving, they will be fired. If they cannot find another job, they will be deported.

Is this having the impact of driving down the living wages in her community?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a letter from a constituent, Laura Bohun. She talks about her husband who has worked in the forestry industry all of his life. I will quote a bit of it. She says:

After 26 years of employment at the Ladysmith Western Forest Products Mill (formerly known at Doman) he was given a one week notice (on April 17, 2008) and told the mill was shutting its doors indefinitely, at least one year minimum. Since January of that same year, my husband only worked every other week on an on call basis. Never enough time off to apply for EI benefits until the mill shuts down on May 5.

This is only one person out of hundreds of workers in my riding. They have worked in forestry, their fathers worked in forestry and their grandfathers worked in forestry. It has been the livelihoods of their families for generations, and now these workers are being shown the door.

This was an opportunity to look at diversifying in the forestry sector itself. A reinvestment in forestry is a really important part of what should happen in British Columbia, to retrain these workers to take those new jobs within forestry. Where forestry jobs were not available, look at retraining outside the forestry sector. However, the first priority should be to reinvest in forestry.

Again, we have things like the Olympics, where foreign workers have been brought in. It was an opportunity to take a look at unemployed forestry workers in the province and see if there were some matches and skills training that could happen, which would ensure workers in British Columbia could maintain a liveable wage.

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1:25 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from British Columbia for her insights and for particularly connecting the dots between what is being proposed and what is happening in our communities. As she has mentioned, this is after all the budget implementation bill, strangely including proposed changes to immigration.

She focused on first nations. Last week we had the National Day of Action from first nations and aboriginal peoples. Could she elaborate a bit more on how we might be able to make that transfer of training and support to having people work in areas where there is a need for labour in places, be it for the Olympics or perhaps in other jurisdictions in the resource industry, or for that matter in the mining or oil sectors?

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1:25 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Ottawa Centre for touching on that particular issue.

In Canada, we know that in some provinces, such as Manitoba and Saskatchewan, first nations and Métis are going to be a large part of the workforce in the next 20 years. In Canada, first nations, Métis and Inuit have had significant population growth over the last 15 years.

It could be a very viable part of the future workforce, but what that requires is an investment right from early learning and child care, right from birth, all the way through a person's working career. It is called life long learning.

What we know is that for every dollar that we invest under the age of six, we save $7 in the long-run, whether it is in education, justice, welfare or health care.

Then from K to 12 we know that what we need is culturally appropriate education. We need education that is safe, clean and affordable for families. We need to make sure that there is access to computers, libraries, technical supports, speech therapy and special needs, and in that K to 12 system we know that will set the groundwork for young first nations, Métis and Inuit students to go on and take part in vocational training, apprenticeship training and university with a human resource plan.

I was at a conference last week that talked about a human resource strategy for the future, things such as the AHRDA agreements where first nations do have control over educational dollars and they are investing in human resources strategies that will help meet the labour shortage gaps.

This again is an opportunity for Canada, for the federal government, to take a look at making sure first nations, Métis and Inuit are well positioned to take part in the jobs that are emerging and will continue to emerge over the next 10 or 15 years.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in this debate on the budget implementation bill. We are debating specific amendments to the surprise addition to this legislation pertaining to immigration.

Let me say at the outset for all those watching this debate that this is a matter of fundamental significance for Parliament. We are dealing today with the government's budget and an act to implement the budget. This is an issue of confidence. The government must defend its record and win the support of enough colleagues to see its budget implemented so no election occurs.

By all accounts, if people are watching this debate, they should ask themselves how, if the Liberals are opposed to the budget and if the Bloc and New Democrats are opposed to the budget, is it possible for the government to still stand when there is very little confidence in this chamber and from Canadians across this land for the government's bill?

How can we and Canadians have confidence in the government for its road map for the future at a time when there is no job strategy in place, at a time when there is no industrial strategy in place, and at a time when there is not a shred of mention in the budget pertaining to health care, child care, education, training for the future, aboriginal people, or the environment?

Every issue that is of importance to Canadians today is ignored in the budget. The Conservative government is squandering a golden opportunity to take the surplus it still has and invest it in areas that are important to Canadians.

The government made a very unusual move when it slipped in to the bill a whole new section dealing with immigration. There was nothing in the budget about immigration when it was announced by the Minister of Finance. There was no reference to dealing with this supposed grave situation. Suddenly, in the midst of our debate on the budget, the government decided to throw in the issue of immigration. Why? Either it is indicative of just poor planning and poor collective work around the areas of importance to Canadians, or the government is trying to stick it to the Liberals.

We know this budget is not supported by the Liberals, so the government has thrown one more curve at them. This is a significant issue. It is so significant that it should make the Liberals stand up today and say whatever the consequences they will not support the government. This issue is so important that they should stand up and say they will not support a budget that does not meet the needs of ordinary Canadians. They should stand up and say they will not support a budget that does irreversible damage to Canada's longstanding record and progressive history when it comes to citizenship and immigration.

Bill C-50 must be defeated. The Liberals must have the courage of their convictions, and stand up once and for all and be counted because it matters. It matters that we tell Canadians that we mean what we say, and we do what we say we are going to do. Is it not fundamental to parenting, fundamental to families, and fundamental to communities, that we have integrity, honesty and decency?

How can we send a message to Canadians that this place is worth investing in, that it is important to vote, that it is important to run and get elected, if every time they turn around some politicians from the Liberals or the Conservatives are saying they do not like something but they are not going to do anything about it?

How is it today that Liberals are allowing the Conservatives to rule as if they have a majority? How can the Conservatives get away with these fundamental changes to our immigration system that will have lasting impacts all across this land?

I come from a riding that is one of the most multicultural constituencies in the country--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

We all do.

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1:25 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Yes, Mr. Speaker, someone said we all do. And I am proud of it.

People from the Punjab, the Philippines, Germany, Ukraine, Vietnam, Laos, Africa, South America, from every part of the world, are coming to my constituency like they have come to others across the land. They want their needs, concerns and interests represented just as much as longstanding Canadians want their needs, concerns and interests represented.

It is not conducive to encourage new citizens to participate fully and freely in our democratic system if the first thing they see upon their citizenship is a government that says “too bad, so sad, we cannot stand up for you any more, we cannot stand up for the principles that brought you into this country”. What happened to the fundamentals of our immigration system?

They have been thrown out the window with this legislation, potentially, because they give the minister unilateral, arbitrary discretion to pick and choose immigrants as she so chooses, and as members of her government so choose, not on the basis of objective criteria that fit into a plan and a framework, something that has been wanted for years when it comes to immigration and that the Liberals failed to deliver on.

Now, instead of dealing with the problem and fixing the problem, we have a government that is going to play at the edges and tamper with the principles, and apply subjectivity to something as fundamental as citizenship and immigration in this country.

That is wrong and there is an easy way for the government to deal with it. It is to recognize the principles and then fix the problems in accordance with those fundamental issues. One is that, yes, we want to bring in people to help meet the economic requirements of this land. So rather than throw out the whole system, we are bringing in one that is open to total subjectivity on the part of the minister who can say “well, maybe we do not like people from the Philippines and the Punjab”. That would have a devastating effect on my riding. I am not saying she would, but who is to stop her from saying that? Who is to prevent that from happening?

Instead, we need a minister who says we need people in these particular skills and occupational categories just like the Manitoba government does now with respect to the Manitoba provincial nominee program. The minister does not pick and choose. There is a set of criteria that must be followed and individuals must meet the criteria in order to come to this country.

Then, they are not treated as temporary foreign workers, they are allowed to bring their families. They are allowed to stay. They are allowed to settle. They are allowed to be recognized as full participating members of our society, able to access our citizenship system and become voting members and fully participating members in our democracy. So that is one area.

Instead of fixing the problem, what the government is doing is simply making chaos out of an already confused system, the one that the Liberals brought in with Bill C-11 in 2001. Do not forget that we were supposed to deal with this whole area just seven years ago. Instead of revamping our immigration system so that it could stand on its own for centuries to come, the government decided to bring in an economic classification that was impossible for most ordinary people around this world to meet.

That is why we are now dealing with this huge backlog and confusion in the system because we have a lousy system to begin with. We do not have a strong foundation from which to build and attract people to this country.

The first thing would be for the government to open up the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and change the economic classification to ensure that people who work hard, who have skills, and who have a contribution to make are able to come. Not just those who have degrees, who have long service in a particular area, and have two languages. Not just picking the cream of the crop, not cherry-picking, but actually opening the doors as our country did when our forefathers and foremothers came to this country, as my bubba and zayde did when they came in the early 1900s.

They came as peasants, but they came to open up the land, to farm and to give. And they did. They had 13 children, my father being one of them. They gave and gave to this country, and they made a difference. They may have been illiterate when they came, they may not have had any money, they may not have had any education, but they made a difference. That is what we need in this country.

I know my time is almost up, but the second principle is that of family sponsorship. Family is the bedrock of society. This proposal by the government and by the minister has the possibility of throwing out the whole notion of family reunification, making it more difficult for those already in line. We have people waiting to sponsor their mothers and fathers going on four, five, six, even seven years. What is humane and decent about that? No wonder we have backlogs. It is time we balance our economic requirements as a nation with our fundamental belief in family as a bedrock institution of society.

Finally, we must have a system that is grounded in the issues of compassion and humanitarian concerns. In that way, we can put in place a proper system to ensure refugees have access to this country when they deserve it, a system that allows for emergencies that will not deny people visiting relatives when someone has died or getting married and a system that is a golden light for all the world to see and will stand on the principles of fairness, equality, justice and humanity.