Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this evening's debate. My French is a bit rusty so I will begin by summarizing what I want to say. After that I will give more details in English.
First, the French language is very important to me. In my family, my wife and I speak a little French, but my children do not speak it at all, so it is very important for us to be able to use French in certain situations. I will not get into the details, but I have the opportunity to practise my French at home from time to time.
There is a strong francophone community in my riding. There are also a lot of francophiles, people who love French, anglophones who put their children in French immersion.
This evening, we are debating Bill C‑13. In my opinion, this bill is a weak legislative response to the urgent problem of the decline in French. We needed a reform, not amendments. It took six years for the Liberals to introduce a bill that is not the reform they promised. The Liberals could have acted sooner to protect and promote French.
The bill will not do anything to stop the decline of French. It lacks teeth and contains no binding obligations. The lack of strong measures is particularly evident when it comes to immigration. I will talk about immigration measures in general and how they affect our place in the world.
I am speaking to Bill C-13, which, in the opinion of the Conservative Party, is a rather weak response to the urgent problem of the decline of the French language, and we want to see more.
We will be supporting this bill through to the second reading, but we will certainly be active at the committee stage and try to propose amendments that respond to the concerns that linguistic minorities in Canada have and that will further strengthen the legislation.
I wanted to speak specifically tonight on the immigration section of the bill. It is a short section. It is an important section, but I think it is also emblematic of some of the broader weaknesses within the legislation.
For context, on the immigration section and its implications, let me say that I think, in terms of our engagement with other countries and our positioning in the world, that Canada's status as a bilingual nation is an incredible strategic opportunity.
The fact that we have anglophones and francophones and they have the opportunity to learn the other official language, and that many Canadians have an opportunity to become bilingual, presents a significant strategic advantage for Canada's engagement in the world. It allows people to travel to more places easily and to converse in the local language. It facilitates people-to-people exchanges. It facilitates opportunities for trade. It also means we can play a greater role in geopolitics. We can be involved in negotiation and mediation, and it is simply easier to have conversations with people when one is able to actually speak directly to them without relying on the services of translation.
Canada's status as a bilingual nation really does give us an opportunity. English and French, if one thinks globally, are very common languages around the world, so the fact that these are the two predominant languages here in Canada provides us with that much more of an opportunity for engagement.
I will say, in particular, that the French language in Canada provides us with a great opportunity for engagement with Africa. I do not think we talk enough in the House about the values and the benefits that come from increased engagement with Africa. I think we need to do better at thinking strategically in Canada about the opportunities that can come from strengthening our ties with African nations.
Africa has recently established a free trade area. Many African nations have very young populations, so we are going to see significant demographic growth continuing in Africa. In the decades ahead, that demographic growth, and the significant economic growth we are seeing in many countries in Africa, will mean that decisions that are made in Africa are going to shape global affairs to a greater and greater extent in the decades to come. We can be ahead of the curve by recognizing how free trade, economic growth and demographic growth, as well as incredible innovation, are happening in Africa and various sectors right now. Canada can be ahead of the curve if we start to think more about the opportunities that come with engaging with Africa.
It has been a problem in the past that, when we talk about Africa, it has often been only in the context of international development. That is a part of the picture. However, there is so much opportunity for trade, for strategic engagement and for other kinds of opportunities to emerge through greater partnership in and with countries in Africa. We need to recognize that, and recognize the opportunities for partnership that Canada has as a result of being a bilingual nation and the opportunities, in particular, for more engagement with francophone nations in Africa. We need to recognize the existence of competition for that at present.
We spoke during the day, prior to getting to the debate on this bill, about some of the issues and challenges in the Canada-China relationship. We know that the Government of China has a very aggressive strategy for strategic engagement in Africa, getting access to natural resources and some of the opportunities that come with that. Much of the democratic world has not done enough to be present in Africa to engage there, and I believe there are problems with aspects of the Government of China's engagement in Africa in terms of it not always involving respect for the people of those countries. We can engage, as an English-French bilingual nation. We can build those ties and connections and we can strengthen our presence in the process. It will provide economic advantages for Canada. It will provide greater cultural richness, in terms of the exchanges and interactions that can take place. That is part of setting the stage of recognizing the opportunities, in terms of foreign affairs and engagement in trade, that come with a relationship with nations in Africa.
I had a real aha moment recently, when I was talking to some ambassadors from African nations about the connection between immigration measures and other aspects of our engagement with other countries. When we have an immigration system that is operating below its capacity, and when there are significant backlogs, high refusal rates and delays, it makes it very difficult to have other forms of engagement.
If people want to come to Canada on a trade mission but they have an impossible time getting access to a visa, they are significantly delayed, they do not feel that they are treated with respect or simply feel that logistically it is too complicated, then there is less opportunity to have the people-to-people interaction that comes through trade. If people are coming diplomatically to discuss potential partnerships in trade or academic partnerships, or they are coming simply for travel or to build relationships that might have economic and other opportunities flow out of that, but their ability to travel is constrained by an immigration system that is not working to grant visitor visas in a timely way, and that is having disproportionate refusal rates associated with certain parts of the world, it holds back our engagement.
We need to engage more with countries in Africa. There are perhaps a variety of reasons why we have not done a good enough job of that in the past, as a country. One reason comes down to the immigration system. There is a much higher refusal rate for many countries in Africa, in terms of people being able to come to Canada. There are challenges for people getting visitor visas. We have recently done a study at the immigration committee about some of the challenges for people being able to access student visas. People are making applications to come as students to Canada, and there are very high refusal rates for African nations, in particular for francophone African nations.
If we are talking about the need to have more francophone immigration and to have policies around that to set targets, yet we are having very high refusal rates for those who apply, we are going to lose out on this competition for talent, and we are going to lose out on the opportunities for engagement that come from it.
The connection I have been able to make recently is to understand how those failures in our immigration system affect so many other areas of engagement. If a young person wants to come here to study in Canada, they might stay afterward or they might go back while preserving those ties and connections they have with Canada. They could go back to their country of origin and start a business there. They see, because they spent time in Canada, the opportunities that can come from expanding those connections. However, if we cut short that possibility of connection between our country and emerging leaders in various francophone African countries, in particular, then we are going to miss out on trade, economic and cultural sharing opportunities that could come further down the line.
In particular, the legislation we have before us, Bill C-13, the section on immigration reads:
“The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration shall adopt a policy on francophone immigration to enhance the vitality of French linguistic minority communities in Canada.” It then continues:
The policy shall include, among other things,
(a) objectives, targets and indicators; and
(b) a statement that the Government of Canada recognizes that immigration is one of the factors that contributes to maintaining or increasing the demographic weight of French linguistic minority communities in Canada.
Substantively, what does that actually do with respect to francophone immigration? It says the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship has to come up with some kind of policy, and that policy needs objectives, targets and indicators, and there needs to be a statement about the importance of this area. That does not have any teeth at all. That simply requires the expression of an aspiration. There is no indication in the act about what that policy should be, what the particular targets should be or how we might ensure the government meets those targets.
From what I understand, we have already had a target for francophone immigration for a very long time. Under the Liberal government, we have consistently failed to meet that target. We already have a target. We are not meeting it, and now we are putting in legislation and a statement saying that yes, we really need to have a policy and need to have targets.
The government needs to actually look at some of the fundamental problems that are holding us back. Yes, it is good to have a target, but we have to take that target seriously and we have to, as part of setting those goals, identify where have we failed up until now and why.
We know that there have been high refusal rates for many countries in Africa, particularly francophone countries in Africa. We actually have people who speak French who want to come here, who want to study, and maybe live and work here in Canada, and they are experiencing a very high level of refusal.
We have also been able to identify, through the work at the immigration committee, and much has been said and written on this elsewhere, problems of racism at IRCC and racism in those determinations. We also have massive immigration backlogs. People make applications wanting to come to Canada and are significantly delayed in doing so. That includes people who are coming as students. That includes people who are coming for work. That includes people who want to come for temporary visits.
We have people getting refused without a clear explanation as to why, or we have reasons that do not really make sense or fit the context. People are being told they do not have enough travel history, but there has to be a first time. If someone is a young person, and they have the skills and the abilities, and they have been accepted to come and study in Canada, but then someone will point out their travel history, that gets in the way.
Some of these reasons do not really seem to make sense and are really frustrating to potential applicants. It is unfair to these people who are making these applications, but it also a big loss for Canada. We are talking tonight about the benefits of our bilingualism and how we can reverse the decline of the use of the French language in Canada.
A big part of that response can be through immigration. If we are saying in legislation that we need to have a policy and a statement, and that we need to recognize how important this is, but then in practice, when people are making applications, they are experiencing a high refusal rate, we are missing a critical piece.
Over time, the implication of this is that people, the best and the brightest from around the world, will choose to apply somewhere else. There is a competition for talent that is part of our immigration system, and part of the way we compete is by making the immigration system effective, smooth and, as much as possible, a positive experience for the user of that system. On so many issues the government really wants to signal its aspirations, but we are not seeing the results.
This is on a different issue, but I was struck in question period today when members of my caucus were asking questions about setting up the three-digit suicide prevention line. It is such a very important issue, and the government is saying it is working as hard as it can to get it done as fast as possible. I am wondering how long it takes to set up a phone number.
The immigration minister said they would not remove the visa requirement for people applying from Ukraine because it would take them 12 weeks to remove the requirement. How does it take 12 weeks to remove a requirement? We are not talking about adding a requirement; we are talking about removing a requirement. The government is so slow to move on things that should not be that complex to get done. Again, with this legislation, Liberals are saying francophone immigration is great, they want francophone immigration and they want to have a policy on francophone immigration, but they are failing to meet the targets that currently exist.
As I emphasized, we have to understand the connections that exist between an immigration system that works and other forms of co-operation. If people are looking to do business and looking to build relationships, where maybe the first trip is purely a vacation, but then they meet other people and things come out of that, and our immigration system is not providing the level of service that people expect, then we are going to miss opportunities to build those connections and relationships.
I believe strongly that we need to strengthen our engagement with the francophone and other countries in Africa. There are immense opportunities for Canada that come out of the strengthening of that connection, but that requires us to have an immigration system that works well, that is fair to people in all regions of the world and does not have bias in it. Of course, applications will have to be refused some of the time, but applications should only be refused when there is good reason to do so.
That was what I wanted to focus on, for the most part, in my remarks. I do want to say that the failures in providing a clear road map on francophone immigration that we see in Bill C-13 are actually emblematic of larger issues in the bill. There is a lot of vagueness in the bill and a lot of desire to signal a commitment, broadly speaking, to good ideas and aspirations, but there is a failure to understand the mechanics of how those things could be delivered on. Some of the structural issues around the giving of many powers under this bill to the Department of Canadian Heritage as opposed to Treasury Board will lead to certain administrative problems and challenges. This is part of a larger issue around the effectiveness of some of these provisions in the bill.
Conservatives are very supportive of official languages. We are very supportive of having a strong linguistic duality in this country that benefits our country domestically, but, as I have also argued, presents us with significant strategic advantages and opportunities in our engagement with the world. However, it has to be real. It has to be substantive. It cannot just be about vaguely signalling commitments to things. We have to see the results.
I would like to move an amendment to the amendment. I move:
That the amendment be amended by adding the following: “and that the committee report back no later than 10 sitting days following the adoption of this motion.”