House of Commons Hansard #142 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was immigration.


Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Calgary Southeast


Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to debate this bill. I commend my colleague from Trinity—Spadina for her diligence and hard work on immigrant issues, about which she is very passionate. I would normally say she is quite well-informed about those issues, however I cannot say that after having heard her speech tonight.

First, I register strongly with her comments about Ireland Park and the Irish immigrants of 1847, including my great-great-grandfather, the Irish and other European young people seeking employment opportunities in Canada and elsewhere right now. I agree entirely that our immigration system ought to be flexible and supple enough to respond to emerging developments like that, where we have a large number of skilled young people who could come to Canada, work their whole lives, pay taxes in our country and who could be not just an economic part of our economy, but also fully active citizens.

Let us be clear about this. Canada is maintaining the largest immigration program in the developed world. We welcome the equivalent of 0.8% of our population per year. Just to put that in perspective, the second-largest immigrant receiving country in proportionate terms is Australia at 0.5% of population. The United Kingdom, one of the most open countries in Europe with respect to immigration, is this year capping intake at 100,000 for a population twice our size.

To put it in perspective, by orders of magnitude, we are the most open country to immigration. It was not always this way. For example, under the Liberal government in the 1970s and 1980s, the maximum number of immigrants allowed in 1983, for example, under the Liberal administration at that time, was about 85,000 immigrants. During that Liberal recession, the Liberals slashed immigration rates in half.

This government decided to maintain high immigration levels during this recession. In fact, last year we welcomed 281,000 new permanent residents, the highest number of immigrants landed in Canada in 57 years and the second-highest number of immigrants landed in Canada in over nine decades. Let us put that on the record. There is not a heck of a lot of political debate about this. As a country, we are open. We are generous to economic immigrants, to refugees and to family members.

First, we have to acknowledge that there are practical limits to how many people we can put through the immigration process in a given year, with limited resources and so on. There are practical limits to how many people we can settle. People talk about the problem of homelessness. In my city of Calgary, counterintuitively, it is one of the most vibrant communities in the country economically, but there is a fair degree of homelessness because so many people are coming for jobs and there are not enough homes available.

We need to have an immigration program that is sensitive to our capacity to accept people, to ensure they get jobs. One of the biggest concerns we should all have is that newcomers have a disproportionately high unemployment rate. Do we really want to massively increase the overall rate of immigration only to invite people here to face unemployment? Do we really want to burden our provincial and local governments with newcomers above and beyond the current levels when there are challenges with respect to public schooling and health care?

I would suggest, as the minister responsible for the highest level of immigration in six decades, we need to be mindful of the limits. We should also be mindful of public opinion.

Last September Angus Reid did a poll that confirmed results from the year previous, which indicated nationally and in Ontario the numbers were almost identical. The member comes from Ontario so I will tell her that only 15% of Ontarians said that we should increase immigration levels, 36% said to stay the same, 42% said to decrease immigration. Therefore, 78% of her fellow Ontarians said that we should keep the same levels or to decrease them.

A moment ago, she implied the way we could accommodate both these young economic prospective immigrants from Ireland and all the potentially millions of additional family members she proposes through the bill would be to increase the overall levels from 265,000 in our current plan 1% of population, which would be 340,000.

Our ministry does not have the capacity to process anything close to 340,000 people. I am highly skeptical that our municipalities and provincial governments have the capacity to absorb that many newcomers in terms of social programs, health care, educational services and housing.

I am very concerned. Let me be blunt about this. We are unique in the democratic world in having a robustly pro-immigration political consensus among the political parties. We are one of the only democracies that does not have a xenophobic voice in our democratic debates in our politics. I want to keep it that way. I do not want these poll numbers to turn into a negative reaction to immigration.

I have a special responsibility as the minister, but we all have a responsibility in this place, not to make some of the mistakes that, for example, in western Europe have led to xenophobia and hostility to newcomers. This is why I would suggest that while we can keep robust levels, we need to be mindful of how many people Canadians think we can receive.

One thing I would like to point out as a pre-emptive rebuttal, in case anyone suggests that these 78% of Canadians are somehow closet xenophobes and anti-immigrant, is the public attitudes in immigration among new Canadians who moved here, who immigrated here, are the same as the general population. Immigrants to Canada say that they like immigration, but that we need a manageable program and that we should not increase by orders of magnitude. This is the real problem we have.

We have the largest program in the world, yet there are all sorts of competing demands for the scarce amount of spaces there. Let us call it 265,000 spaces for new permanent residents. That is the maximum in our planning range, as it has been for about seven years, under two separate governments.

How do we select who those 265,000 people are going to be? After all, we have a managed immigration program. We want to choose the right mix of people who will fuel our economic growth, pay taxes and help to manage the enormous unfunded future liabilities for health care, social programs and public pensions. We want people who will integrate successfully. At the same time, we want to recognize our humanitarian obligation to refugees. As the member will acknowledge, our government is increasing the target for resettled refugees by 20%. We also obviously want to facilitate reasonable levels of family-class immigration.

The member's bill would massively expand the family reunification program by allowing, essentially, anyone to come here. Based on the categories she defines in Bill C-566, my department advises me that we would be creating the capacity of “several millions” new prospective family-class immigrant applicants.

If the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is amended in this fashion, that would mean we would receive hundreds of thousands, prospectively millions, of applications that we would be obliged, legally, to process. What happens to those applicants? They submit their applications and their fees. They say “hooray member for Trinity—Spadina” because she is allowing them, as cousins of a Canadians, or nieces or nephews, and I am surprised she did not include godchildren, to enter the country, to make an application.

Do members know what that would mean? They are going to wait. Forget about waiting for five years or ten years. They are going to wait for decades. This bill is a recipe for making false promises.

We already have the most generous family immigration program in the world. Of the 181,000 immigrants we received last year, 180,000 were either the immediate dependants of primary immigrants or subsequently sponsored parents, grandparents, spouses and children.

Consistently, over the past 15 years, on average two-thirds of the immigrants landed in Canada were not primary economic immigrants, which she dismisses as economic units, they were family members. What she is proposing is going from a ratio of one primary economic immigrant to every two family members to completely turning that on its head.

I want those bright, young Irish and other folks who want to come and work here, but we need to attract them through our economic immigration programs. If we crowd out all the space with our federal skilled worker program, our provincial nominee programs, by massively expanding the family class, that means those bright, young Irish and other folks will be unable to come here because they are the classic economic immigrants.

The House might get the impression that I am opposed to the bill.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

7:15 p.m.


Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister of immigration and I have had our political differences this week, but on this matter of policy, we are very much on the same page.

This bill would give citizens and permanent residents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to sponsor a member of their extended family, which includes brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles and cousins. That is a wonderful idea. It would be commendable if our system worked wonderfully and if we did not have waiting lists and wait times that are much too long. Our priority must be to first bring over people who will help build a stronger country and to recognize the importance of immediate family members, such as children, spouses and, of course, parents and grandparents. However, to be honest, I think that our system is not robust or efficient enough, considering the resources we have, to expand this definition to include brothers, sisters, aunts and cousins.

When the member for Trinity—Spadina stood to respond to a question, she went on about the horrific wait times that people are facing. I absolutely agree with her. I have the honour of sitting with her on the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, which is doing a wait time study that deals with the hardship so many new Canadians are going through right now. They are waiting far too long to bring over their loved ones, spouses or children. The wait time is 8, 10 and sometimes even 12 years to bring over one's parents or grandparents.

What concerns me is that the proposal by the member for Trinity—Spadina would actually increase significantly the wait times for all of those people who are still waiting for their close relatives. Far from improving the system, it would be making it worse for everyone.

She talked about young Irish and European immigrants who are interested in coming here and that somehow being able to encourage their cousins, brothers or sisters to come would be a major incentive for those young people to come. Perhaps it would form a small part of an incentive, but the genuine incentive, which she mentioned herself, for those young people to come over would be to find work, to be able to build a family, to be able to create a future.

For most people, building a family and creating a future does not depend on being able to bring over an uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, cousin or extended relatives. It means bringing over a spouse, a parent or grandparent. Sometimes it means bringing over children.

The member mentioned that she would specifically target young people. It would be wonderful for young people to bring other young people, their cousins, brothers or sisters. Nothing in her bill specifically targets young people. It is a one-time permission to sponsor anyone. As the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism mentioned, there potentially could be millions more people applying to come here.

We need to make sure we keep a robust and effective principle of citizenship and immigration that brings over the best and brightest from around the world and sets them to work to build their own relevance. We need to allow them to achieve their hopes and dreams, and give them the tools to do so. Our immigration system is the most generous in the world. Canadians who are defined not by their differences but by the strengths of their differences need to remain firm in understanding that people can come to Canada and build their lives.

Even though the minister is proud of having welcomed record numbers of people last year, at the same time he is cutting $53 million from settlement services for those vulnerable new Canadians. This will make it more difficult for people to integrate, prosper, develop language skills and find jobs in their areas of expertise. It will make it more difficult for them to feel like fully valued, relevant participants in building this great country, as we do every day, all of us, as Canadians.

The challenge we are facing now is how to make our current system work better, a challenge that, to my mind, the Conservative government has not lived up to yet, certainly not when it is insisting on cutting family class immigration for parents and grandparents, certainly not when it is cutting settlement services that would allow new Canadians to succeed. One thing we cannot do, however nice it might seem to be able to do it, is further expand at this time the definition of the family classes we can sponsor.

The reality is that we simply do not have the resources to open the country up like that. The same people who might be happy to be able to sponsor their cousins, aunts and uncles would be even more frustrated to have to wait even longer for their spouse, children or grandparents. That is why the Liberal Party is not inclined to support this motion.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

March 9th, 2011 / 7:20 p.m.


Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today about Bill C-566, which was introduced by the member for Trinity—Spadina. The Bloc Québécois agrees with the principle of this bill but reserves the right to examine its full implications in committee.

The Bloc Québécois believes in the importance of family reunification for immigrants and refugees who come to Canada to rebuild their lives. This is part of the integration process. Being reunited with their families makes it easier for them to integrate into the country and helps to ensure their social and economic success. This is something that we believe in and that we want to encourage. Under the current act, only immediate family members can be sponsored—father, mother and children. This bill broadens the definition of relative to include brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, first cousins and adult children.

In order to limit what this could mean in terms of volume, a person could only sponsor a relative who is not a member of their immediate family once in his or her lifetime. In theory, this appears reasonable and that is why we are going to support this bill. Now, we must determine in committee whether it is also reasonable in practice. Will we be able to meet the demand? Everyone in the House, particularly the members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, knows that there are currently huge processing delays in our immigration system. We will have to determine whether to increase the quota in response to the additional applications or, if we decide to maintain the quota, we will have to determine who will be penalized and who will be processed more quickly.

There are already different priority levels. Family class applications are processed faster than others. Children, for instance, are brought over faster than parents. Thus, this could have repercussions on the categories that already exist. All of this needs to be examined. Wait times in our immigration system have become a real problem. I have been the Bloc Québécois critic for citizenship and immigration and a member of the committee for over three years now. I am following this file very closely and I strongly believe that wait times are used as a tool to manage our immigration system.

In any bureaucratic system, wait times are to be expected. With just about any service, even in the private sector, there are often wait times, which are caused by the fact that not enough resources are available to meet the needs.

For example, in the health care system, we want to treat and heal people as quickly as possible but, given the lack of doctors and funding, we have difficulty keeping up with patients as they come in, hence the wait times. Wait times in health care, for example, are the result of an insufficient allocation of resources, albeit involuntary.

That is not what is happing with immigration. Wait times are used to limit the number of newcomers coming into the country. It is as simple as that. Family reunification is a case in point.

Annual quotas are set, as are the number of files that will be processed and the number of people who will be accepted within the scope of family reunification. According to the law, anyone is fully entitled to family reunification, unlike economic immigration. In that case, a grid is used to determine whether people meet the requirements. They are given a score and if the score is high enough, they are eligible to immigrate. In this kind of situation, the score can always be adjusted and the requirements can be raised or lowered. That means that the number of people accepted can be controlled somewhat.

When it comes to family reunification, with the current law and the way the department currently works, there is no way to restrict the number of people applying to immigrate. Generally speaking, if you apply, you get in. There are some requirements that must be met. If someone sponsors his son and has the economic resources to do so, he is eligible. The only way the government can control the flow is to deliberately choose to allocate insufficient resources in order to stem the tide.

It is important to understand that. All applications for immigration and family reunification—except refugee claims—come with fees that generally cover the costs associated with the system. Unlike the health care system, for instance, which is underfunded, the government would have no problem funding the processing of all applications as soon as they come in. However, if it did that, its objectives and quotas would of course be shattered.

That is the core of the problem. On top of that, there is the regional aspect of immigration. Although Canada does not have an official policy concerning quotas for any given countries, in practice, in terms of management and the allocation of resources to various Canadian missions around the world, there are in fact regional quotas. For example, if the government wants to slow down immigration from a particular region of Africa, for instance, it will simply allocate fewer resources to that mission. Thus, wait times will increase and the number of people arriving from that region will go down.

That is how Canada's immigration system is being controlled. I think it is sad. Human beings are expected to wait for years in uncertainty and in the dark. Everyone here in the House probably knows of someone who wants to bring over their parents, who die of old age before anything ever happens. I am sure that every MP in this House knows of at least one case where that has happened. It is very sad to see.

We will not be able to do so with this bill, obviously, but we will need to look at the whole issue in committee to find a way to control the flow of immigrants, through various programs, without using wait times as the only tool to manage the situation.

I want to come back to the bill before us, after that lengthy aside, which I felt was important. In committee, the Bloc Québécois wants to look at how this bill will affect wait times, the people who are already in line, the people who are already filing applications. We want to see what the government's intentions are. Will it increase quotas accordingly? Will it keep quotas at the same level? What repercussions will this have on individuals?

The wise thing to do in this case is to refer the bill to committee. The Bloc Québécois will support the principle of this bill. I hope we will have the opportunity, in committee, to look at all the implications in greater detail in order to make a fair assessment.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to speak in support of Bill C-566, the once in a lifetime bill that was introduced by my colleague from Trinity—Spadina.

The bill would allow any Canadian citizen or permanent resident to sponsor, on a one time basis only, a family member who was not part of the family class as currently defined to immigrate to Canada. This would allow a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident to sponsor people like their brother or sister, their aunt or uncle, their niece or nephew, their first cousin or a child over the age of 22, all categories that are not permitted under the current family class.

This is an excellent, well-conceived and well-drafted piece of legislation that highlights the superb record of New Democrat initiative, energy and creativity in the House. It also addresses a very real and serious problem. It details a sensible and cost-effective solution. It is a practical step that would deliver fast and concrete benefits for tens of thousands of Canadian families.

I want to note the current situation which is very problematic, and most members of the House who deal with immigration issues in their offices would agree. Right now there is a very narrow definition of family in the family sponsorship class of immigration. It includes only a person's parents, spouse or children. It fails to take into account a far wider and more prevalent concept of family in most of the world. That is an extended concept of family, where sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews are all integral parts of the family unit.

Also, there is no doubt in this country that the current sponsorship times take far too long. I have constituents who are waiting seven to ten years to bring their parents over, and that is not unusual. There is a backlog that began under the previous Liberal government. At the time, in 2006, when the current government took over, I understand there was a backlog of one million applicants, and I do not think it is much better today. We have heard evidence that the New Delhi office alone has 14,000 parents waiting to come here to join their families.

I want to note that the bill would provide no burden on the taxpayers of Canada because the sponsors would have to demonstrate that they can financially support their family members. The main benefit, of course, is family reunification. This is a policy and a bill that treats immigrants as people, not as economic units. Family class immigrants are regarded as the most successful class of immigrants. This is not surprising as they are people who are coming in to establish family units with social, economic and cultural supports.

There is no need for the process contemplated by the bill to impact wait times of other classes, which is a concern raised by my colleague from the Bloc, because the government can maintain existing quotas for family and other classes. The government could and should do what is long overdue, which is to increase the staff in overseas visa processing offices, particularly in those that are overburdened like the ones in Chandigarh, Delhi, Manila, Vietnam and China.

We all know that Canada is a nation of immigrants. Every single member of the House is either an immigrant, a son or daughter of immigrants, a grandchild of immigrants, or otherwise a descendant of an immigrant. Our families are the direct beneficiaries of a generous and compassionate immigration system that gave newcomers to Canada hope for a better life, where the values of tolerance, freedom and human rights would be available not only to the immigrant breadwinners, but indeed to their whole families. This bill recognizes that history. It honours that history. It breeds new and current life into that history.

The bill would help new Canadians across the country. It would strengthen family ties. It would help our local economies by making long overdue changes to give new Canadians an opportunity to sponsor a relative outside the highly restrictive current definition of family class.

In my riding of Vancouver Kingsway there are many new Canadians who would be helped by this bill. I want to talk a bit about that community tonight.

In Vancouver Kingsway there is a growing and vibrant Vietnamese Canadian community which contributes so much to our nation. I recently visited dozens of Vietnamese small businesses on Kingsway and Fraser streets. These are run by energetic men and women who are driving our local economy with their hard work and entrepreneurship.

Small business owners deserve our support and they talk to me about the barriers they face. They have been hurt by the HST, which we should eliminate. They are having a very difficult time with the recession. They also told me about the barriers they face bringing family members to Canada, with unfair visitor visa denials and long delays in family sponsorship. I am committed to supporting their businesses and improving our immigration system.

Recently, the Vietnamese community held its first ever Tet Lunar New Year parade in Vancouver Kingsway. This was an historic day. I was pleased to march in the parade. I proudly wore the national flag and brought welcoming greetings. I was also pleased to help this exciting event get started by assisting the organizers obtain the permits they needed from city hall.

Vietnamese Canadians have recently held rallies in Vancouver to show their support for freedom, democracy and human rights, and they want these for their families. These are important Canadian values as well as values held by the Vietnamese community. I am proud to stand in the House of Commons tonight and pay tribute to the contributions of Vietnamese Canadians to our culture, economy and society.

In Vancouver Kingsway there is also a strong South Asian community, which has made our community more vibrant, diverse and a better place to live for decades. The entrepreneurship of South Asian small business owners is vital to the economy of Vancouver and throughout the lower mainland and, indeed, our country. Through their energy and creativity, South Asian business people are key players in driving the Canadian economy.

Equally strong has been the contribution of South Asian labour leaders. Courageous trade unionists like Mr. Charan Gill have championed the rights of workers and made life better for thousands of Canadian families.

Moreover, the Ross Street Temple and the Akali Singh Sikh Temple in my community are important religious and cultural centres. They give back to the community in so many ways, including running important programs for the needy and the vulnerable.

Culturally, South Asian food, music and dance have become integral parts of Vancouver and indeed Canada. From celebrations of Diwali to Vasaikhi, the vibrancy and vitality of South Asian tradition add so much to our multicultural fabric.

More importantly, the values of tolerance, generosity and grace, for which the South Asian community is so highly esteemed, bestow so much to Canada's reputation as a model for the world.

I know that all members of this House would join with me in expressing our appreciation for the outstanding contributions of the South Asian community.

I also want to take a moment to pay tribute to a highly respected member of the South Asian community in Vancouver who recently passed away.

Satnam Khangura embodied the entrepreneurial spirit and hard work that are the hallmarks of so many immigrants to this country. His rags-to-riches story is an inspiration and worth sharing with all Canadians.

Mr. Khangura came to Canada and found work as a cleaner for a company called Metro Parking. Through his hard work and quiet dedication, he was promoted to supervisor and then became a manager. In 1995, he bought the company and ran it successfully for a decade, before selling it and entering a well deserved retirement.

Mr. Khangura was a much loved man in the South Asian community. He was a loving husband, a devoted father and a friend to all. He was a generous and thoughtful man who contributed his time, energy and talents to anyone who asked. He lived a rich life full of grace and honour. His passing will be felt by his neighbours, his temple and the entire community. He lives on through his remarkable life story and is an example to us all.

Who would not agree on the desirability of bringing families together, like the families and communities I mentioned, uniting and strengthening the bonds of parenthood, sisterhood, brotherhood and the extended family?

Under the Conservative government, family class sponsorships are slated to decrease. The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has recently stated that he wants to shift the balance of immigrants away from the family class and reduce the number of family class sponsorships that Canada will accept.

The Conservative government wants to increase the number of young professionals instead of family members. While young professionals are indeed an important class of immigrant, this increase should not be at the expense of family members.

The Conservative minister stated, and certainly implied, that young professionals are better economic actors for this country than family class members, especially parents. With respect, I believe this could not be more incorrect. Take parents, for example. When immigrants sponsor their parents, their parents often come over and immediately help with child care. This liberates the two parents to enter the workforce or family business on a full-time basis. The parents spend their money and energy in our economy and perform much work, whether supporting the family or otherwise, which is as valuable as it may be unseen or unrecognized.

Let us talk about spouses. The problem is that the government has done nothing to address the growing problem of the CIC rejecting many marriages based on the mere allegation that they are not genuine or are entered into for the purpose of immigration. I have a number of constituents in my office, many from China, many from India, who have wives and husbands separated from each other because of this system.

Moreover, this government has not adequately addressed the number one problem facing immigrants to Canada with professional designations and training, and that is the lack of recognition in Canada of their foreign credentials. Increasing this class of people before that issue is corrected is short-sighted and ill-advised.

This bill would fix, with one fell swoop, a set of existing problems: the painful separation of families, the undue narrow definition of family class, and the unacceptable and long-standing backlog of applications that make families wait for years to get loved ones to Canada.

The New Democratic Party of Canada is proposing legislation that would help unify immigrant families in this country from coast to coast.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

7:40 p.m.


Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour today to add my comments on Bill C-566, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative). This bill would allow the once in a lifetime sponsorship of a relative. As a first generation new Canadian, this gives me the opportunity to analyze a bill that could affect millions of new Canadians such as me.

All members of the House know that the bill before us is not new. This is the fifth private member's bill introduced since 2004 with virtually identical proposals.

Today, one in five Canadians is foreign born and is likely to have extended family overseas. If every newly sponsored relative could bring their own immediate family over, and every one of those newcomers could sponsor one of their extended relatives, the potential number of new applicants would be enormous. I have five siblings and more than seventy five extended family members living outside of Canada. I ask hon. members to imagine what the impact of this bill would be on our system if all of them were eligible as proposed.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

7:45 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I will take this opportunity to stop the member there as the time provided has expired. The member will have eight and a half minutes left to conclude his remarks the next time the bill is before the House.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 7:45 p.m., the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:45 p.m.)