Madam Speaker, I am pleased to discuss the bill. We are dealing with a very important problem and really we need to discuss so we can fix the problem as opposed to tinkering around the edges.
We understand the need to regulate and ensure that immigrants to our country do not have to deal with unscrupulous people. That is why the government put forward CSIC in 2003. It was meant to be reviewed, as it is now, to see whether it would work or not.
It turned out that there were some flaws in that process, and we know what those flaws are. First, while the group had the ability to prosecute, it did not have the ability to audit or subpoena and it did not have any legislative and legal abilities to do a whole lot of things. Second, it did not have enough resources to get the job done.
It is good that the government has recognized there needs to be something done and I think this is a first step. However, it does not address some of the problems. As we know, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration looked at this problem and it came up with some recommendations.
What the bill does not do is address the most fundamental problem identified by the committee and the recommendations made by it. It does not significantly fix the governance issues and problems that the committee identified, and we need to do that. Putting this within IRPA and tinkering with it around the edges does not really solve the problem. We need to look at a regulatory body that is arm's-length and has statutory powers.
If we look at it, this suggestion is not without precedent. In the provinces many professional bodies, for instance, under a separate legislation, were given the autonomous ability as statutory bodies, such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the College of Nurses, the engineering professional group. They would then look at people who would undertake that professional work, in this case immigration consultants, who would therefore be screened to be properly trained, to have the right credentials, first and foremost, and be able to assess whether those credentials were valid or not.
What we see in the provincial legislation for professional bodies, which is a provincial jurisdiction, is that it was able to give them the powers to audit, to examine files and practices, to subpoena and to have the ability to punish and remove people directly from that profession if it was felt they were not working under the ethical guidelines, processes and procedures that the profession was set up to do.
There is a precedent for this and this is what the government should be thinking of looking at doing at a federal level, and that is devising a statutory regulatory body that would have the same autonomous ability. I am not faulting the government for deciding something has to be done, but the problem with what it is doing is that it does not give the body teeth. There needs to be teeth to punish and find out what is going on.
If provinces could do this with professional regulatory bodies, the federal government could do it with immigration consultants. There should be clear standards, ethical guidelines and ways in which they can decide whether the consultants actually have the credentials they need. It is pretty clear the precedent exists with the provinces.
One could argue that the professional regulatory bodies the provinces set up are there to ensure that Canadians are safe and protected, that they are not ripped off, harmed or hurt by professionals who do not have credentials and are not practising under guidelines. At the same time, I do not think we could ask immigrants to accept less than we expect Canadians to have. When immigrants want to come to our country to build a new life, we need to ensure they have the benefit of the law.
It is a complex issue, coming to a new country. Immigrants do not understand the culture. They do not understand the laws of the country. They are coming in blind. They come in and someone tells them that they can help, that they can walk them through it and get rid of the red tape. I know because we deal with a lot of immigration issues in my constituency office. There are people who have little money when they come here. Many of them are coming to make a better life for themselves. They spend thousands of dollars, and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars, getting bad advice, being sent down the wrong channels. These people are frustrated. They are upset. They are lost. They are confused. This is their introduction to Canada.
That cannot be the introduction to Canada for new immigrants. They have to be able to expect better of this country. They have to be able to expect that the rule of law prevails. They have to be able to expect that there are certain ethical practices and guidelines that are going to protect them, not only when they are striving to come here, but also when they are here.
It is very important that we look at this bill. One of the things about this that I think is important for us to look at is the committee report. There are some clear recommendations in the report.
Consider recommendation two: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada introduce stand-alone legislation to re-establish the Canadian Society of Immigrant Consultants as a non-share capital corporation”.
Organizations can now bid to take this over with no set statutory powers at all. We are allowing the same group that had been doing the work before to continue to do it. I do not want to blame them; they had not been given the appropriate powers or resources to do their job properly. But everybody can now go ahead and put their tender forward for this job.
So nothing is going to change. All we are doing is changing the manager. We are not changing the process. We are not ensuring that the process is rigorous and clear enough for everyone to understand.
This is a key thing that I wanted to suggest. Why reinvent the wheel? I do not understand this. Why is the government reinventing the wheel when we had a committee that studied the issue, that listened to a lot of witnesses. It heard what the witnesses said. In the second recommendation, the committee spoke to the issue of governance, the issue of powers, the issue of a need for a statutory body.
The third recommendation is: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada assist in re-establishing the new regulator and remain involved in its affairs until it is fully functioning”.
So the government is not walking away and allowing a body to have regulatory powers without due diligence. The government is going to be asked to ensure that this is happening, that all the bells and whistles are in place, that the structures are there, and that there is due diligence. Once it sees that this party is able to function on its own, then the government can say, “Fine, you go ahead and do it”, in the same way that we see provinces have done with their regulatory bodies.
We have all seen the problems people have had in coming to this country, but I want to say that there are many immigrant consultants who do excellent work, who are well qualified, and who have done a great deal to help new immigrants. However, the problem with having a few bad apples is that they spoil the whole bunch.
I know many immigrant consultants who are doing good work, who have all their licensing, who are following the rules, who have ethical guidelines and practise due diligence, and who yet feel that people do not trust them. For the sake of Canadians and newcomers alike, it is important for the government to ensure that the system it puts in place is one that everyone can believe in and can trust. Trust is important. If we do not trust the people who are there to help, if we do not trust their work because they have all been tarred with one broad brush, then we harm the whole process. It is important for the government to have a process in place that people can trust and that the government itself can trust, so that it knows that immigrants are led in the right direction and that the greed of some bad apples does not leave them floundering.
In one instance, I had a couple who were coming to Canada and had spent $20,000, which is a lot of money, and they were led in all different directions. Finally, they came to my office in tears. They had been turned away at every angle, at every door they opened.
The immigration department was not buying what they were saying, mainly because the consultant had not given them the right advice and had asked them to apply for immigrant status under the wrong criteria. They had spent all that time.
Then, once they had done it, and this is the real problem, they had now set this process in motion. The immigration bureaucrats all have this storyline that they were told they should bring forward. To walk away from that makes them sound like liars.
When they are given bad advice, the poor immigrants sound as if they are lying. They go to a puppet consultant who tells them that they have been doing it wrong, or they come to our office and we tell them they have been doing the wrong things. They now have to go back and change all the things that they were asked to do and all the information that they gave, and after that they are already suspect.
At the end of the day, it harms their ability to come in as immigrants, when they are regarded as dishonest because they were led down the wrong track.
If we are changing the way immigration works, we all agree that the system of immigration and the refugee system need to be fine-tuned, need to be fast-forwarded, so that people do not have to wait so long. We need to be clear on what we are doing.
I think the government has decided that it wants to go there. If the government is going to make the step to go there, it should do it properly. It should take that bold leap and make sure that once and for all we have changed the system so that it is one that people can trust, one that does not frustrate the immigrants or the families in Canada who are sponsoring people to come over.
That is really important, because we are going to be looking at immigrants in a different way now. We have been looking at immigrants according to different criteria that are not working anymore.
We do not need only highly educated immigrants with Ph.Ds and the expanded language requirements we require. We are looking for tool and die makers, electricians, and people who practice the kinds of trades that we do not have anymore. All of these things we have to think about.
Immigration is the key to how this country was built. People who come here bring skills, knowledge, and all sorts of things that help this country to grow.
I do not think there is anyone, except the aboriginal people in this country, who did not come as immigrants at some time, whether it was eight or ten generations ago or just yesterday. All have contributed to building this country through hard work, knowledge, and skills.
As a small country with only 32 million people, we are facing a huge crunch. We are going to have to be competitive in a global economy. We have to do so with only 32 million people. We are not going to have massive numbers of people like China and India. We are going to have to make sure that we are depending on the best, the brightest, and the most skilled people in this country. We need to look at immigration as a key means of achieving this goal.
The statistics coming out of Statistics Canada and the immigration department tell us that by 2011 we are going to be dependent on immigration for 100% of our net labour force. We need those skills. Take my own profession, physician. We have three million Canadians who do not have a family physician. Yet we have many people here who are trained physicians and who have been, in keeping with the old story, driving a cab and have not been working at their job for 10 years.
They need to be able to work and to help us to develop the kind of nurses, doctors, engineers, technicians, and technologists we require in this country. We need the construction workers, the electricians, the master craftsmen. We need more than just one group of people.
When people go to our missions abroad and apply to come here as immigrants, sometimes they are given information that they find not to be true. Sometimes they come here, believing that they had come to a country where they would be able to live, work, bring their families, and build a nation, just as all of us in the past have done, only to find that they were given false information.
An important part of the shift that the government is planning must be to ensure that foreign missions are given the same clear message. There is probably a list of licensed and properly trained consultants that they can be given so that people can know that that they are getting a list of bona fide people. This should be done in different languages, not merely in English and French. Many people who are coming to Canada speak other languages.
We have the ability to translate into every language in the world. We should use this ability when we are talking to people in their own country and giving them the advice that they need.
These are important issues for us to take care of. It is not a simple, one-shot deal. I think the bill falls far short. I would like to see the bill amended, strengthened. We have heard everyone say that. I want to congratulate the government for taking this first step, but it is not a good enough step. Let us do this right, once and for all. Everyone has been talking about changes to the immigration system, and we have all been tinkering at the edges.
Our former Liberal government can say the same thing. We tried, and we did what we thought was good. We now need to review it. If it is not working, let us fix it, but let us not tinker with it. Let us make sure we have this door open for skilled immigrants who will bring their families and stay here, who will start to build a nation, whose children will grow up and become Canadians and help us to be more productive and competitive in the new global economy.