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House of Commons Hansard #86 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was panama.

Topics

7:15 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, I take issue with virtually everything the member said.

First, with respect to the acceptance rate for asylum claims made at the Immigration and Refugee Board, it is actually 38%. This is by far one of the highest rates in the western world. If we looked at the acceptance rates for asylum systems in western liberal democracies like the EU, U.S., Australia and New Zealand, we would see that most of them are half as high as ours. Many of them are in the single digits. Canada is regarded as having one of the highest acceptance rates. Therefore, the notion that the IRB is arbitrarily rejecting claims unfairly I think is manifestly unfair and untrue.

Second, I think the member honestly misunderstands that one of the significant achievements of this government with respect to our immigration and asylum system has been to clean up the appointment process for the IRB. I will explain how we have done this.

We have put in place an appointments screening committee that is made up of representatives of the chairman of the IRB and, yes, people appointed by the minister. However, first people have to go through a written test and a resumé review. Then they are called in for interviews, another level of test. Ultimately only 10% of the applicants for the IRB are recommended to the minister. The minister, my office, has no role in deciding who is recommended. Only one out of every ten is recommended.

Since the government came to office, we have appointed over 300 individuals to the IRB and since I have been minister, over 150 individuals. I was only aware of two who had a connection to the Conservative Party. The member has done research, but he has even included people who gave a one-time donation to a provincial Conservative party. He mentioned candidates who ran for provincial Conservative parties 20 years ago. These are people I have never heard of except that they were recommended to me as being fit for the IRB.

But let us say that the member is right and 18 of these people committed the crime of having at some point been affiliated with the Conservative Party. That is 6% of the more than 300 people that we have appointed. By the member's own numbers, that means over 94% do not have any demonstrable affiliation with the Conservative Party. Of those that I know who had an affiliation, it is closer to less than 1%. Therefore, I reject out of hand this notion. I can say with all honesty that this is not patronage.

Obviously, if someone is recommended to the minister and that person happens to have had some connection to a Conservative party in the past, I am not going exclude him or her from appointment. That would be ridiculous and unfair. However, I can tell the member that I know I have appointed people who had connections to other political parties. I would be happy to show the member the resumés of all the people we have appointed, if the IRB is willing to do this in terms of privacy. He will see the quality of these nominees and their involvement in NGOs, with many on refugee issues. A huge number of them are lawyers. I think over half of them are women. There is a tremendous ethnic diversity.

We worked very hard for these quality appointments. This is light years ahead of where we were a few years ago when, frankly, the standard was defeated candidates, spouses of MPs and campaign managers. That is no longer the case.

I agree with the member that it is important to maintain the quality, quasi-judicial nature of the IRB. I believe we are doing just that.

7:20 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I also want to thank the minister for being here tonight. This minister shows his commitment to his department by standing in this House and giving his perspective on the matter, and that is commendable. However, there are a couple of things I would debate with him.

One, the minister responded to my claim that Canada has the lowest rate in our history of approving refugee claims by comparing us to other countries. However, that is not my point. My point is that compared to previous years of granting refugee status, right now we are at the lowest rate in the history of Canada. I notice that the minister did not respond to that.

It was also mentioned that by my numbers there were 18 appointments to the IRB who had ties to the Conservative Party. The minister said in the House that he was only aware of two people who had ties to the Conservative Party. However, our research uncovered that there were 18. The minister said that he appointed 150 people in the time he has been minister. Therefore, that is 12% of the appointments under this minister's watch who have had ties to the Conservative Party.

Peter Showler, the former chair of the IRB, has warned that the appointment process is, in his words, “secretive and political”. I would like the minister or the parliamentary secretary to respond, not to my accusation, but to the observations of Peter Showler, an independent, objective observer.

7:20 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Madam Speaker, certainly everyone can see the importance of this issue when myself as parliamentary secretary and the minister are here this evening.

At every opportunity, the minister and I, as parliamentary secretary, talk about the process that we have implemented since 2006 and the vigorous changes we made in 2007. The member opposite can argue percentages. The minister has made it very clear, 6% of the appointments that we made since 2006 are alleged to have a connection to the Conservative Party of Canada, or the Conservative Party of one of the provinces.

The fact remains that these are qualified individuals who have gone through a rigorous test. If the member opposite is questioning the testing process, that is fair game, but do not question the individuals who have gone through the testing, have gone through the process and who now represent all of the folks who sit on the IRB and hear claims, doing so in a very professional manner.

7:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:26 p.m.)