Mr. Speaker, I wish I could say it is a pleasure to join this debate, but unfortunately, the process that we see existing between the two parties in front of us, the two that are nattering back and forth today and on previous days around such an important piece of legislation, does not allow one to have a lot of confidence either in the government's ability to manage prudently the affairs of the nation nor in the ability of the official opposition, in this case the Liberal Party, to oppose the mandate put forward by the government.
In order to have some balance and fairness, some sense of equity in our House of Commons, there must be the exchange of ideas, the to and fro of debate. That is what Canadians expect and it is what Canadians deserve. The government proposes various notions under a budget. The budget, as are all budgets, is the most serious and important piece of legislation a government provides in a fiscal year. It allows government agencies, corporations and individual Canadians to get a sense of the government's priorities and the direction that the government is taking. Has this been done in a thoughtful way or in a considerate way? Has it been done in a democratic way in this Parliament? I would suggest not and I will present some important reasons regarding that.
In a budget, choices are made. The government has only so much in funds available to it. It has only so much time and only so many powers. In those choices, it sends a clear and concise signal to Canadians at all levels, in private enterprise, the public sector and as individuals, as to where the government feels the most work needs to be done.
New Democrats oppose this budget and have consistently done so from the beginning. At its first instance this budget presented an unfair choice for Canadians, an unbalanced approach to our economy and the future direction of our country. Not only has the government chosen an unbalanced approach in terms of fiscal matters, the way that our tax regime is handled, but it has also rammed into a budget bill one of the most sweeping changes to immigration the country has known for some decades.
One would think that in a two and a half year mandate, and it is feeling longer every day, if immigration was a top priority for the Conservatives, they could have presented those changes in an immigration bill. It is logical. It would allow the minister of immigration to promote the changes. It would allow the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to debate those changes and bring the appropriate witnesses forward. It would give a clear and concise view of what the government's intentions are with immigration.
Instead, sensing a certain weakness from the official opposition benches and the current Liberal leader, the government chose a tactic known as confidence and placed the immigration changes into a confidence bill. The government has thereby upped the ante in this high stakes game of poker that it has been playing with the Liberal leader over the last number of months. The Conservatives have received, I believe, 22 consecutive confirmations of confidence from the Liberal Party. This is unprecedented in Canadian history. When a party presents itself, as the Liberals have, in opposition to some of the fundamental beliefs and ideologies of the current regime, the Conservatives, one would expect that that lack of confidence would show up when it came time to vote.
Last night was very instructive. The government was faced with amendments to fundamentally change what it was proposing on immigration, to strip out the powers that the government is attempting to give to the minister of immigration. Certainly members of the New Democratic Party have railed against the government's proposal here in the House of Commons and all across the country. Members of the Bloc have also suggested opposition, as have members of the Liberals, but last night when there came the opportunity in the full light of transparency and democracy, there were 12 Liberals, and I am not sure how many Liberals are left, who decided to vote in a show of tokenism, in weak opposition, which therefore allowed the government bill to pass unamended, unchanged.
That is what occurred, after all of the protestations from my Liberal colleagues, and I am sure some of them are even sincere. They have heard from their constituents who time and time again have said that these proposed changes to our immigration policies, these changes to the fabric of our nation, an immigrant nation, are unhelpful and damaging and should not be supported. That is what my constituents have been telling me. That is what my industry partners have been telling me in my community. I am sure that is what is being told to many members of this House from all corners.
The question comes to that fundamental choice. When we ask Canadians to step into the ballot box, we ask them to make a choice. We ask them to determine who will go forward and represent them and their interests in this place, this most sacred place of democracy in which we all stand forward with various levels of courage and pride and attempt to represent in the best manner possible the interests of our constituents and our ridings.
The best way that is done is when the Speaker calls a vote. That is the determination. There has been a debate. There have been press conferences, public meetings and community gatherings. When the vote is called is the moment when each member individually makes his or her choice and describes his or her allegiance, to whom the member feels most indebted.
I represent Skeena--Bulkley Valley in northwestern British Columbia. The people in northwestern British Columbia have a very solid principle which they reiterate to me time and time again. On various decisions and votes they may have a difference of opinion, but their base expectations are twofold. One is that I listen and apply my thinking and my own prudence and judgment to what I am hearing from my constituency. The other is that I express that opinion here in the House of Commons when that opportunity is given to me. That is the moment of voting.
That is the moment when the Speaker calls for each member to stand in his or her place. At that time any given member of Parliament has a few choices available. One choice is to support the vote, as was done by the Conservatives, as was to be expected because it is their bill. The second choice is to not show up at all, which was done by the Liberals, unfortunately, lamentably. The third choice is to oppose, to push back against the agenda and ideology and present a different view on the future, hope and expression for our country.
The priorities that were represented by members of the Liberal Party last night showed more loyalty to their own party and their own polling numbers than to their constituents. That is a deep and profound shame. It is a shame in the sense that all of us come together collectively and present our own views, but the expectation at the end of the day is that we will have a fair, honest and democratic exchange and then go forward, because Parliament, in particular a minority Parliament, needs to be able to function.
Canadians have constructed for us a minority House. They have said to the Conservatives, “We will not give you the authority and absolute power to mandate what you will, as is the case under a majority Parliament. We are giving you part of the power. We would like you to share the power with the other parties, to work out the ideas”. The NDP has been consistent in trying to present alternatives to the government.
There will be a vote tomorrow night on the most important issue of climate change, on a private member's bill in the name of the leader of the NDP, the member for Toronto—Danforth, to put for the first time ever in Canadian law climate change targets. It is something that Canadians have talked to us about time and time again. We expect members of this House to present themselves either to support the bill or to oppose it. To simply not show up or to simply show up and then sit in their seats is such a tragedy and such a perversion of democracy, it is difficult to attempt to achieve the right pitch and tone of condemnation. To not show up, to not represent their constituents and still pretend that they are members of Parliament, to still pretend that they are representing the interests of anybody outside of their own party interests, is a falsehood.
Choices will be made in the future. I have great faith in the Canadian electorate to watch, to pay attention and to show some judgment. When they make a decision at the ballot box and a choice for the future, part of that decision will include the notion that whomever they choose will represent them. I am appalled that we have to stand on this most fundamental principle and point out first, the idea that we expect members of Parliament to show up here and vote. That that is even a point of contention and debate is incredible to me. We can debate all the other issues, whether they be immigration issues, fiscal measures in the budget or, environmental issues, but the fact that we have to encourage my colleagues and friends in the Liberal Party to show up to work is lamentable. In any other circumstance, not showing up to work has immediate and dire consequences for most Canadians. They are given a warning and then they are fired. That is the typical and natural course of events.
Let us take a look at what is actually in Bill C-50, now that we have established the tragic consequence of a weak official opposition and a government that has realized it and has received more than 20 consecutive supports of confidence from that party. An immigration bill has been rammed into a bill on the finances of the country.
When the Conservative government took office, there were 700,000 people in the backlog which is constantly talked about. They are waiting for some sort of hearing, for fairness, to be listened to and understood on their applications to come into this country.
As with many members in this place, my family was an immigrant family. My family had to go through that process, make and application and indicate what it was they wished to bring to the fabric and strength of Canada, hard work, determination and honesty, which is what the immigrant community has brought. Now we see this being perverted. We see this being taken down a different path for political expediency and for the interests of a very narrow few.
The backlog was 700,000 people. The Conservative Party decried it for many years. In the time between then and now, in two and a half years, the backlog has grown to over 900,000. Applications have actually been at a lower rate of acceptance under the Conservative government. It has jigged the numbers in talking about receiving more people from overseas. It has started to include temporary foreign workers as if they were in the same category as those who receive landed immigrant status.
That a temporary foreign worker is given a small piece of paper which allows the person to work for a short period of time but then must leave Canada is part of the immigration scheme of the government speaks very well to why that was included in a bill on the finances of the country as opposed to a bill on immigration policy. This bill at its essence is about a very narrow interest within the business community, which seeks to have temporary foreign workers come into the country at lower rates and lower rights than the average Canadian worker. They are removed from the country when they are no longer needed, when the projects are over, thereby contributing less to the Canadian economy and hurting the interests and values of workers who are already in the Canadian economy.
In the northwest of British Columbia, the unemployment rates in some of our communities are devastating economically and socially. Communities like Hazelton, Terrace and others in the far northwest have experienced rates of unemployment upward of 80% to 85%. It is devastating. The forestry industry is closing one mill after another.
Of all the wood produced in Canada and exported, British Columbia produced more than 50% of it. With all those trees of such magnificence, stature, strength and desirability on the marketplace, it is an unimaginable notion that British Columbia may no longer produce that wood. It certainly does not produce much in my region where the foundation of many communities was forestry and ecology.
Forestry lived with us and we lived with it and understood the measures, the to and fro of a sector that experiences the upward and downward trends of a resource based economy. Now we see a downward trend like we have never seen before. In the northwest there is a perfect storm. The minister of all things, of industry, foreign affairs and various other things, has been involved in the forestry sector, and understands that a high Canadian dollar, a bad softwood lumber deal and a softening U.S. housing market have contributed to this unimaginable convergence of events that has virtually shut down the northwest's forestry economy, a long and proud tradition that built up many of my communities.
In immigration the government is asking for a very unusual and significant proposal. Under this bill the Conservatives will give the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the absolute power to reject acceptable applications, people who have applied through the process, ticked all the boxes, made sure their applications were strong. Under this bill the minister could reject those applications with no scrutiny or transparency whatsoever, and in the reverse, accept applications that do not meet the measure of our own immigration law, thereby sending further confusing signals to those who are considering coming into our country.
Canada has unfortunately gained the reputation, particularly from the professional sector, as an unwelcome place, a place where an application will take many years longer. The bill, in pretending to speed up that process, has unfortunately made it less transparent, less accountable, and therefore less reliable to that immigrant community. There is no certainty given. There is no ability for parliamentarians to petition on behalf of willing and able applicants who have met all the requirements. All people will get is a rejection from the minister and no indication as to why and no ability to find out why, to change their odds and get their application approved. This is a tragedy.
This speaks to an increasingly serious component, particularly in rural Canada, where we have been losing our brightest and best, our youngest. We have watched the brain drain. This applies not just to northwestern British Columbia but across our country. We are working hard to attract our young people back here. We are working hard to ensure that they have education opportunities, both within the region and without, but also that they have an economy and a community to return to. Immigration bills like this do nothing for us.
One important caveat that I need to throw in here in qualifying my expressions for this and in qualifying the interests of people from the northwest is that when I first arrived we asked the Library of Parliament to do a cursory study of all the money the northwest has sent to Ottawa's coffers over the previous 10 years. We also asked the library to make an estimation of all the money Ottawa has sent us back through all the programs and systems that the government can do.
It took the Library of Parliament some time. I thank the library for its work. It was diligent. That work was boxes high on my desk when it finally arrived. The ratio was 10 to 1. For every $10 sent from the northwest, from Skeena, from our mining, forestry and aluminum operations, from people earning money for their own behalf and paying those taxes to the Canadian economy, the Library of Parliament told us there was $1 coming back in services.
The most remarkable thing is that folks in Skeena and folks in the northwest do not necessarily hold a grudge about this. They do not mind contributing to the wealth and prosperity of this country. They understand that when they are doing well, when forestry is doing well or mining is booming, the boom and bust cycle means they are contributing. They understand that. They are proud Canadians and strong nationalists.
On the other hand, when the economy turns down, when the forestry sector goes through such upheaval, they have paid into an insurance scheme, not specifically just the employment insurance scheme but the insurance of what it is to be a country, to have a fabric, to be connected, so that when one part of the economy or one region slows down, the others that are doing well are okay and contributing their tax dollars.
The irreversible damage done in this bill is to attempt to permanently tilt what it is that the Government of Canada can and cannot do. In this budget, the government is stripping out some $200 billion of the government's fiscal capacity over the foreseeable years, the capacity to answer any question, whether it happens to be an economic downturn, the challenge of climate change, the need for affordable housing, the need for safe and accessible child care or any of those circumstances.
As members of Parliament, we have constituents and people in our offices all the time who are petitioning for certain bills and certain programs and showing the need, the proof and evidence of why this or that is important. I have been turning that back to them time and time again and asking how they can expect the federal government to do anything when the government is stripping away its own capacity to do anything at all.
More and more, the constituencies that work around Parliament Hill and within the Canadian diaspora as they push for various initiatives and efforts, for part of their vision for this country, are realizing that the real and irreversible damage going on, the real game under an ideology that is spoken to in this bill, is to change the very nature of the way federal government works, to devolve itself of its powers and its ability to affect the direction of the country, and to regionalize, to continue to fracture what it is that is Canada.
Someone once said that Canada works well in practice but not in theory, saying that a country so large, with so many unique and different histories all cobbled together, would be unimaginable in other parts of the world. It has been said that this would lead to inherent and conflictive tensions that would erupt into violence on a consistent basis and we would never be able to hold the fabric of the federation together.
However, look at what we have done. For so many years, we have been providing peace, order and good government. Now we see a government intent on something else.
In the northwest, we have noticed the immediate effects of climate change. We have noticed the impacts and direct implications. That is not coming from me but from the chief forester of British Columbia. It is coming from industry and the mining community. All they are looking for is some level of certainty and understanding from government that it will take climate change seriously.
What do we see instead? A report released just last Friday afternoon late in the day, so that no one would read it, shows that the government's own plans on climate change are all being downgraded. The spending is all being downgraded.
The attempts to lower greenhouse gases in this country are all being lowered by the government at a time when people in the northwest are demanding otherwise. They are demanding a government that takes the issue seriously and will come forward in a forthright manner.
Last, in the balance and the choices that every government has in a budget, it is to be noted that revenue coming from corporations will go down by 14% in the foreseeable future and revenues from individual Canadians will go up by 12%. That is what the government has shown as its priority.