Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to engage in the debate on third reading, particularly as it pertains to section 6 of Bill C-50, which deals with the changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The changes that are being proposed are major structural and draconian changes to our Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. To put such important structural changes in conjunction with a budget implementation bill shows the government's contempt for the institution of Parliament, the citizenship and immigration committee, new Canadians and all Canadians.
I need not remind the government that immigration has been the lifeblood of this country, that immigration is the lifeblood of this country and that immigration will continue to be the lifeblood of this country.
Any thoughtful person in Canada knows that we are faced with serious demographic challenges. Within the next four years, 100% of our net growth in labour will be met through immigration. This issue is one of great importance to the future of our country.
When section 6 was put into the budget implementation act, it is amazing that no reference was made by the government to the citizenship and immigration committee. The reason we have standing committees of Parliament is to hold the government, the minister and the bureaucracy accountable. That is the very basis of our parliamentary system. The government tried to bypass that process and, to a large extent, it has bypassed the process.
It so happened that the finance committee of this House of Commons referred a question pertaining to changes to the Immigration Act, section 6, over to the citizenship and immigration committee and asked us to respond to it. In considering the changes, the committee tripled its number of sittings. It held extraordinary sittings to ensure we could hear from Canadians.
I will tell members what happened. When the government announced Bill C-50, the committee was just starting to undertake a cross country consultation in every capital city on the issues of undocumented workers, temporary foreign workers and immigration consultants. The Conservative members on the committee would not allow us to talk about Bill C-50 as it pertained to the changes to the Immigration Act.
Members can just imagine the incredible wasted opportunity we had at that point not to be able to talk to Canadians. Every time we got into the issue of witnesses trying to make representation on Bill C-50, the parliamentary secretary objected very strongly.
We need to revisit the rules because it puts us in disrepute as a parliamentary committee conducting consultations across the country and we are not talking about the most important issue on the parliamentary agenda, which is section 6 of Bill C-50. However, as I mentioned, we did the best we could. We held hearings and extended the hours of those hearings.
I want to share with members of the House what one witness said to the committee. The name of this witness was submitted by the parliamentary secretary as being someone who should be speaking to Bill C-50.
Mr. Warren Creates, head of the Immigration Law Group with Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall, said:
Thanks for asking me to participate in this important piece of your parliamentary business.
When this legislation was introduced on March 14, I was on national television that night--it was a Friday--speaking in support of it. With reflection and in the fullness of time, I have considered it more carefully and want to share my thoughts with you.
The minister announced on that day that this legislation would reduce the backlog; would restrict the size and cost of maintaining a large and outdated inventory; would result in faster processing; would result in improved service--or, as she was quoted saying, just-in-time inventory--aimed at reducing the wait time to an average of one year; would make the system more responsive and nimble to immediate regional economic needs by listing and selecting strategic or priority occupations; and really, we couldn't continue to build a warehouse that would occupy these hundreds of thousands of applications, when every year we were selecting only about 250,000 to get visas.
Those were the political comments made at the time in support of the legislation, and I was one who then supported the initiative. Now I'm a very different person as I appear in front of you today. I've gone 180 degrees, because it's clear to me now what effect this legislation is going to have.
First of all, it's going to move some categories of applicants to the front of the line and delay other categories. As the minister continues to move categories to the front of the line, including the Canada experience class that we'll see at the end of this summer, there is no front of the line any more. There are so many priority silos in the business of this government now. I'll list them for you: interdiction, enforcement, refugees, visitors, students, work permits, spouses, children, provincial nominee programs, and soon the expanded Canada experience class. It's not going to be possible, with this legislation and the existing platform of resources, to deliver the promises of this minister. There is no front of the line.
What I find particularly heinous or egregious is proposed subsection 87.3(2), which talks about the opinion of the minister. The legislation says:
The processing of applications and requests is to be conducted in a manner that, in the opinion of the Minister, will best support the attainment of the immigration goals.
Since when do we live in a country where the minister decides what happens with something as important as the immigration program?
Our immigration officers in Canada and outside Canada should never be accountable to the minister. They should instead be accountable to our Constitution, our charter, the legislation and laws of this country, this House, and this parliamentary process that gets the views of stakeholders. That's what's important.
We're going to see in this legislation the erosion of the sacred rule of law principle that this country is built on. Democracy is shrinking because of Bill C-50. Processing priorities, which we have already decided by a tried, tested, and true established and transparent parliamentary procedure for both legislative and regulatory change, will now be reduced to stakeholder input.
I will not read any more of that but I will say that this person, when he first heard the announcement around section 6 of Bill C-50, stood and applauded it and supported it. As soon as he was able to examine what it really meant we see the results. That is what I quoted and he was very much in opposition.
Another issue which the person talked about, and it should be talked about, is what the government claims it was going to accomplish.
The government has taken the unprecedented step of spending $4 million to spread misinformation to Canadians, by buying ads in the ethnic media. It is making the same kinds of claims that were made to that gentleman, who is a lawyer and who, upon examination, rejected those claims. The minister said, and this is an important issue, “Currently, the immigration backlog sits at 925,000 applications. This means that the wait time for an application can be as long a six years”.
The skilled workers class, which is essentially where the growth happened, had a waiting list of 615,000 at the end of 2007. This is essentially the backlog. Those are the numbers that are important in this debate. It so happens that since the Conservatives have been in office, they have grown this category by over 100,000 in two years. The minister is responsible for 85,000 of that growth. Here we have a minister saying that she is going to reduce the backlog, but the reality is that it was on her watch that the backlog grew.
Regarding the claim made by the Conservatives in terms of dealing with the backlog, let us take a look at another standard of performance. What has happened to the backlog at the Immigration and Refugee Board?
When the Liberals left office, there was a backlog of less than 20,000. The processing time was being reduced. It was less than a year and we had hoped to get it down to six months. For the first time we had turned the corner on the program. It had been put in place initially by the Conservatives under Brian Mulroney and actually was a beehive of patronage appointments, but we changed it to a merit based system and the Liberal government did not interfere in the appointment of IRB members.
The Conservative government came in and it failed to fill the vacant positions. Of a 160 member Immigration and Refugee Board, there were about 100 members. The Conservatives grew the backlog from less than 20,000 to about 45,000 today, which is going to hit 60,000 or 62,000 by the end of the year.
The time to process the claims has increased to 18 months and that is if there is no appeal. If there is an appeal, because of the shortage of IRB members, they cannot even take time to make a booking because they just do not have the people power to process it.
That is one claim the minister made. I think I have shed some light on the fact that the rhetoric does not meet the record of the government.
The government in this ad, upon which the government is in the process of spending $4 million, promises more resources. It states, “More resources: An additional $109 million to speed up the application process”. That is over five years. That works out to something like $22 million a year. The Liberals put in $700 million, which breaks down to $140 million a year to deal with the backlog and make the system more efficient. The Conservative government got rid of the $700 million and put back $109 million. That is a cut of $600 million.
The government is promising faster processing times. We know the reality. The processing times have gone up under the Conservative government's watch. While I talk about the processing times going up, I might also mention that the government missed the number of immigration landings that the Conservatives themselves promised would take place in 2007. This was the first time in the past decade that the targets were not met.
The government talked about complete processing, that all applications currently in the backlog would be processed. There is really no credibility in the claim by the government. It is really an insult to all parliamentarians, to this institution itself, and to Canadians that the government would do advertising on legislation that still has not been passed. I can only say that we expected better from a government that promised transparency, that promised to do things differently, that promised accountability, that promised parliamentary reform. What we have are promises upon which the government has not delivered.
In closing, the open and transparent process of objectively selecting immigrants coming to this country was pioneered by Canada. It is a process that has been copied by Australia, by New Zealand and by many nations in Europe. The United States Senate is studying it because it looks to us as the leaders in this area. What we are doing is walking away from that process.
The reason we have that process is steeped in our history. It is steeped in the reality of the evolution of this country. I remind the House of the Asian exclusion act, the Chinese head tax, the internment of Ukrainians, the Komagata Maru, the SS St. Louis. I remind the House of a time when immigration policy essentially discriminated against people from various countries because of the colour of their skin or because of their religion. That is why, because of our sorry history and the sufferings of many Canadians, we pioneered a process that was open and transparent, where it was done objectively. The Conservative government is walking away from that process, a process that we should be proud of. We pioneered this process.
What do we have? We have a Conservative government which, when it came into office, did it reach out to a member of its party who is competent and knowledgeable on these issues to help with the necessary reforms? The member for Calgary—Nose Hill is a very experienced member. She served on the citizenship and immigration committee. She knows the portfolio. Did the Conservatives appoint her? No, they appointed a rookie minister who has no previous experience in the immigration and citizenship portfolio, none, zero, zilch. That person was in office for less than a year and the Conservatives replaced him. Did they replace him with someone who is knowledgeable on the portfolio, such as the member for Calgary—Nose Hill? No, sir. They replaced that person with another minister who has absolutely no understanding or knowledge of citizenship and immigration, but who gets high ranking in the Conservative hierarchy because her husband happens to be a major organizer for the Prime Minister, the leader of the Conservative Party.
As I said before, immigration has been, is and will continue to be the lifeblood of this country. I call upon the government to come to its senses and make the necessary changes that we can embrace in order to maintain objectivity and transparency. Let us continue to be leaders.