Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to be able to participate in the debate on this Conservative motion for concurrence to take a number of measures related to immigration required to support the people of Ukraine, and, in particular, to implement visa-free travel from Ukraine to Canada.
I will start by saying I recently joined the immigration committee. It has been a pleasure to work with colleagues from all sides on the immigration committee, especially the member for Calgary Forest Lawn, our shadow minister, who has so much passion in this area. As he mentioned in his speech, he was privately sponsoring refugees as a private citizen before he was elected to the House of Commons or anywhere close to that. We need more members who take this area very seriously and are able, independently of the spotlight and outside of their elected lives, to actually be willing to put their money where their mouths are.
Before I get into the immigration measures, I want to speak to the situation unfolding in Ukraine overall. There has been a great deal of debate in the House on this previously. It is important that we do not let up and allow it to drift out of the headlines. We cannot stop really thinking about the ongoing situation and conflict.
When I spoke earlier on the situation in Ukraine, I said that I believe Ukraine will either be Putin's Afghanistan or Putin's Czechoslovakia. Of course, we know the sad history of Czechoslovakia at the beginning of the Second World War when the world kind of just let it happen. It negotiated the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and allowed Hitler to take over Czechoslovakia. That was a step to further aggression and violence.
On the other hand, we also know the history of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, where, as a result of significant support from the west that allowed people within Afghanistan to fight back against the Soviet invasion and to have the equipment they needed, they were able to drive out the Soviet invaders. That ultimately played a critical role in changing the tide of history in the aggressive agenda that had been pursued by the Soviets up to that point.
It is up to us to look at this situation and ask if we are going to support the people of Ukraine, so Putin's experience in Ukraine will be like the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, or are we going to allow the invasion to happen in the way similar to how the world kind of accepted the takeover of Czechoslovakia? That is the choice, and it requires our active engagement, our significant support for Ukrainians and our persistence in that enterprise.
Of course, we know that there is a lot of discussion in the news about possible negotiations and a possible back-and-forth dialogue happening. What is critical for us, as external actors, is to say that, regardless of negotiations taking place, we will not let up in sanctions and in holding Putin accountable unless he withdraws from all sovereign Ukrainian territory, respects the sovereignty of Ukraine's government, and respects the ability of Ukrainians to express themselves through democratic elections and make political choices about their future. Our role is to continue to apply significant sanctions. That is what we on the Conservative side have been saying is required, including significant increased lethal aid and other forms of tactical support to Ukrainians, tougher sanctions and, as our leader has called for, very importantly, air support for humanitarian corridors.
Speaking of those humanitarian corridors is a good transition point to talking about some of the immigration issues. While many Ukrainians are staying and fighting, heroically standing in the way of the Russian invasion, there are many people, such as women, children, the elderly and those who are not able to fight, who are desperate to get to safety. The UNHCR estimates that the number of Ukrainians who have fled the country is approaching four million. It is a very large number.
I want to congratulate Ukraine's neighbours, such as Poland, Latvia and other countries in the region. They have done incredible work. Everyday citizens of those countries are welcoming Ukrainians into their homes and stepping up to support Ukrainians in their hour of need. However, other countries that are farther away could play a greater role as well. Those of us here in Canada, with our large Ukrainian community and our close cultural and other ties, can play a critical role in welcoming those who are coming from Ukraine, many of whom, of course, hope to go back after the conflict is over. There is urgency to act now.
With respect to government action, the frustrating thing is that sometimes it seems like the government is solving problems but with such a delay and such a long time scale that things are ending, or past the point when they could best be solved, when the government is talking about it.
For example, it was announced that the government originally said that people coming from Ukraine could stay for two years; now, it is saying they can stay for three years. Obviously, three years is better than two years, but all of us are hoping this will be long over within two years and that people will have been able to go back within two years. We do not know.
It is hard to predict the future of how these kinds of things will unfold, but the government is making a promise about the far end, a time horizon, when what is really needed is to say how we can get people to be able to come more quickly right now, because right now is when we have the problem. I think we can make comparisons to other issues, such as COVID programs, where the government missed the boat and then, after the fact, would say, for example, that it was going to do ventilation in schools two years after this thing started. This is, I think, a problem with the way the government operates, sadly. It is not on top of issues, but then promises to do the thing we should have already done.
When it comes to immigration support for Ukrainians who are seeking to find a place to live and be in safety during this time, we are calling on the government to focus on the urgent immediate action now to help people get to a situation of safety. From this came a committee motion that was designed to really move this issue forward and emphasize to the government what needed to be done. A key part of that was the call for visa-free travel.
I do want to say that, while working on the immigration committee, the spirit of collaboration that exists has been really strong. It was a Conservative motion, but I think it is fair to say to my friends in the NDP and the Bloc that they were enthusiastic and keen about getting visa-free travel as part of this motion as well, and I am very hopeful we will see the same level of support and enthusiasm from other opposition parties, in terms of getting this motion adopted by the House of Commons. I hope, notwithstanding the fact that the Liberals voted against this motion at committee, that the Prime Minister, the immigration minister and the government will take seriously the will of the House of Commons in this respect. If a majority of the House of Commons votes in favour of saying we need visa-free travel, there is not a formal legal obligation on the government to implement the will of the House in this case, but I think there is a moral obligation in a democracy for the government to take seriously what the House of Commons is saying in this respect.
I do expect, given the positions taken by other opposition parties, this motion to pass, and I think it is a reasonable norm of democracy that, when a government that got a third of the popular vote is told by all of the rest of the parties in the House of Commons that it should take a certain action, the government actually takes that seriously and responds to it.
My colleague who spoke previously mentioned the arguments the government has used against bringing in visa-free travel. We saw them make some of these arguments at committee. They have said there are security issues that require a visa, and I think my colleague has demonstrated well, and the immigration minister sort of acknowledged this, that to whatever extent there may be individuals who are not actually sympathetic to the Ukrainian side who would try to use this program to get in, it could happen anyway with the provisions the government has put in place.
Moreover, I think the minister has said that it takes too long to pull back the visa requirement, which does not make a lot of sense to me. If the government is so slow in its operations that removing a requirement takes weeks and weeks of delay, that seems like a problem we should try to solve at a more fundamental level, because what we are calling for is not to add additional requirements to complicate the process; we are just asking the government to remove existing requirements. That should be a fairly simple, straightforward thing to do, and for the government to say that the imposition of this whole new program it has developed would somehow take less time than simply removing the visa requirement, I do not think that makes a lot of sense.
In any event, and I have sort of come back to this a few times in different contexts here this morning, I think we should ask and expect the Government of Canada to move faster during critical situations like this. I think we see this across the board with immigration. It is useful to think about how in the last year we had the situation in Afghanistan and now we have the situation in Ukraine. In both cases the government did not plan enough in advance and then told us it cannot move fast enough. It will say that it has all these papers it has to move around and things to sign, and that it is just going to take too long. The effect of accepting that somehow it is okay for these processes to take as long as the government is saying they will take is that it has real costs in human life and security.
The cost of government delays and inaction in the context of Afghanistan was that there were many people we should have gotten out that we did not. The cost in the case of the situation in Ukraine is, again, further delays, and more people being in harm's way for longer than necessary and longer than they should be.
I want to point out as well some of the statements being made by representatives of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress on immigration measures. For one, I think their position was actually misstated in committee. There was a member of the Liberal caucus who implied that somehow the Ukrainian Canadian Congress was not pushing for visa-free travel. The same day the Ukrainian Canadian Congress issued a statement clarifying that it does want visa-free travel. It also presented some concerns about the program the government has put in place, and maybe I will get to that in questions and comments.