Mr. Speaker, I rise with pleasure to support a motion that should receive the support of all members of the House.
I must say I am a little discouraged by comments coming from both the New Democrats and the Conservatives. Hopefully after listening, they might readjust their thinking on the issue.
The parliamentary secretary put forward a question about the bigger picture of Canada and whether we want to see Canada do well. Let there be no doubt that the Liberal Party has demonstrated over years of governance that immigration, as a policy, plays a very important role in Canada's future economic prosperity, not to mention the potential goal of enhancing the social fabric in which we all live.
I want to draw a comparison between a Liberal government and a Conservative government. The numbers are very telling: 338,000. This is a number I have repeated three or four times today. Is it really necessary for Canada to have 338,000 temporary foreign workers? I would argue that the answer is no, that there is no need for Canada to have 338,000 temporary foreign workers.
What we need to do is develop immigration programs that will be effective, that will work. Let me give a specific example. I would argue that one of the most successful immigration programs in the last 15 years was the provincial nominee program. It was an economic program for all provinces that allowed them to identify anyone in the world they would like to come to Canada and fill an economic need.
Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien signed it off, and former Premier Gary Filmon from Manitoba came to the table relatively quickly. Manitoba saw a good thing at the time, back in 1998, and it signed up very quickly. Not only did we sign up, we made a commitment to grow with that program, because Manitoba saw the benefits of economic immigrants coming to our province. Because of that particular program, the nominee program, our immigration numbers skyrocketed. They went from an average of 3,500 or 4,000 to 12,000 to 14,000.
We can take a look at the economic benefits that the province of Manitoba has generated over the years of this hugely successful program and compare it to the temporary worker program. I have.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration says to show him some facts. Let me give him some facts: in 2008 Manitoba had 5,294 individuals on temporary work permits, and today it has 5,572. It has actually gone down or been consistent. Why has it been consistent? It is because we have taken advantage of a great national program called the nominee program.
Now we see other provinces trying to duplicate what Jean Chrétien and Gary Filmon came to an agreement on back in the late nineties and trying to take advantage of that economic program. Today Manitoba's fear is that Ottawa will not give us the certificates we require to continue to have the success we have had in the past.
That is why I say it is time for the government to look at this resolution. We need to go to different communities, listen to what the stakeholders are saying and hear what not only the government but the business communities or the labour unions in Manitoba have to say about it. It has been a huge success.
We did not need to dramatically increase the number of temporary foreign workers; we were able to provide individuals who were prepared to come to work in Manitoba the opportunity to immigrate to Manitoba. That provided economic prosperity to our province. It played a critical role in family reunification and enhanced the multicultural fabric of our communities.
It is the same principle, and it is not just Manitoba. Other provinces are acting on the nominee program. More than ever before, the demand for certificates continues to grow.
The government's response to that growth: no. Sure, the government has increased it over the years, but it has to realize that the drive for the growth of the program has to come from the provinces.
When Jean Chrétien and the minister of immigration created the program, we anticipated that it would grow, and we were right. The government refuses to recognize the valuable contributions that the program could continue to make to all provinces in Canada. If we had acted on that, the need to have 338,000 foreign temporary workers in Canada today would not be there.
Through the decades we have recognized the role of immigration in our country. Pierre Trudeau brought in the live-in caregiver program. We have the temporary program we are talking about today, which was brought in through the Liberal administration. I just made reference to the nominee program. These are all programs that make a difference and allow us to meet the needs of our labour force while at the same time contributing in other ways.
What about the policy of the government? This minister has been a disaster. The minister of immigration has not done a good job, contrary to what he might like to say.
The government says that the Liberals created a huge backlog in the waiting list. Should I remind the minister of immigration that he created the largest bulk in the shortest time period in the skilled worker class when he introduced MI1? I believe it was well over 150,000 in just a few months.
What was the minister's solution with respect to the 500,000 skilled workers who were hoping to immigrate to Canada at some point and had been waiting for years? It was to hit the delete button and to continue to issue more temporary work permits.
We recognize that temporary work permits do have a role to play in Canada. That is why we support the program's coming into being and its expansion, but we do not support the use of the program to the degree that it could hurt the Canadian economy. We have to offer people living in Canada, Canadians and permanent residents, the first opportunity to gain employment. The way to do that is to put into place a process that allows that to take place.
If employers at McDonald's wanted to hire foreign workers, they would typically go to the human resources office and say that they have been trying hard to hire someone in Canada but have been unsuccessful, and they would request an LMO. The answer should be “no”, because before asking for one, they have to demonstrate that they have met certain criteria, such as advertisements, in attempting to fill those jobs at the restaurant. If, among other things, they were able to demonstrate that they have advertised and no one showed up to fill those jobs, then they would be issued an LMO, which would then give them the authority to go abroad and have someone brought into Canada.
Many would argue that in terms of the skill set for McDonald's restaurants, there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of students or individuals aged 55 and over who are looking for that type of part-time job. It would be tough to convince my constituents that McDonald's really requires temporary foreign workers.
Staying with the restaurant industry, what about a specialty cook? I remember years ago the efforts I had to go through to assist a restaurant to acquire a foreign worker. The restaurant is somewhat unique, because the cooks have to know how to make Indo-Canadian sweets. They have to know how to cook cuisine that is quite foreign to 99% of the population. It can be very difficult to acquire a specialty cook in certain situations. How the economy is performing will often have an impact. There could be a restaurant where there is a justified need, and if the restaurant does not get the cook, it ends up closing down.
That is just one industry. We have industries from coast to coast to coast that need to have temporary foreign workers. That is why the Liberal Party supports the program. Take a look at our agriculture industry. You can talk about the Atlantic region and the fishing industry, strawberries and other industries and go west all the way to B.C. There is a huge demand. If we did not have access to temporary foreign workers, those jobs would go unfilled, and many of those jobs would then be lost forever. Those jobs contribute to our GDP. If we do not value those jobs, our lifestyle today will go down, because we are not talking about two, three or four jobs, we are talking about tens of thousands of jobs.
When the Liberal Party was in government, we had 160,000 of those jobs, but we balanced that with other programs that allowed for immigration, such as the provincial nominee program, which allowed provinces to get into the picture. I was shocked yesterday when I heard the leader of the official opposition stand up in his angry way and say that 340,000 of those foreign workers are taking 40% of the 900,000 jobs that were created. That is wrong. The Leader of the Opposition needs to get more research done on this issue. This is too important. I would assume that the critic for immigration will talk to him and explain the valuable role this program plays for all Canadians. Not only is there a benefit for the foreign worker coming to Canada, but there is equal or greater benefit for Canada.
That is why today we are trying to appeal to all sides of the House to recognize that the best thing we can do to improve the program is to not come to the table with too many predetermined ideas. I can have an open mind and come to the table and go to the province of Manitoba and find out why its need for temporary workers has not increased at all. Yet the province has done exceptionally well economically. Compared to other provinces, it has always been in the top three in terms of low levels of unemployment.
Immigration has played a critical role in that, but so has the temporary foreign worker program. That has been constant. Even when the Liberal Party was in government during times of the highest economic prosperity, we never exceeded 160,000, from what I understand. We believed in a balanced approach. We want Canadians who are unemployed to get first crack at filling these jobs.
We also recognize how important it is to our economy and to our social fabric that we do not lose jobs because we cannot get those jobs filled. That is the reason we have the temporary workers. They continue to contribute in a tangible way.
That is why what we are suggesting is not that much to ask for. It is a pretty straightforward motion. I will be very disappointed and quite surprised if the New Democrats do not vote for the opposition day motion. I will wait and see. Hopefully I am misinterpreting what is being said. I will be disappointed, not surprised but disappointed, if the Conservative government does not recognize the importance of this program.
The Conservatives talk about the economic action plan. Every time one of them stands up and says the word, he or she gets a gold star. The economic action plan is not going to resolve this problem. The economic action plan is a dud. At the end of the day, the only thing that plan is doing is generating a lot of jobs in the advertising industry as the government spends millions of dollars to continuously advertise something that is going to have a negative impact. This is only one component of it.
If the government wants to approach immigration and labour in a holistic fashion, why would it oppose having committee meetings where we could talk about some of these programs? Whether it is the Pierre Trudeau live-in caregiver program, which needs to have some modifications, or the Jean Chrétien provincial nominee program, or even some changes we made to the temporary foreign worker program when we were government, we need to recognize that changes have to be made periodically to improve programs.
I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration what he envisions in terms of numbers. Today we have 338,000. Where would he like to see that number in five years? Is he happy with that number? Is there another way to change the formula so that Canada benefits?
I am going to suggest that there are many ways we could improve the system so that all Canadians and permanent residents would benefit, not only today but for generations to come.
We can talk about the expanded skilled worker program. If people are good enough to work in Canada for an extended period of time, why are we not allowing them, under certain criteria, to land in Canada? What about those industries that are in constant need? How do we ensure that those industries are going to be there providing continual economic benefit for our country?
I thank the House for the opportunity to say a few words.