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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as Liberal MP for Gatineau (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2000, with 51% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Right Of Landing Fee March 2nd, 2001

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I object to the hon. member taking my words out of context. That is not what I said.

Right Of Landing Fee March 2nd, 2001

Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak on Motion No. 231 from the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre on the right of landing fee.

This past week the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration introduced Bill C-11 in the House. The bill does not change the right of landing fee provisions and the reasons are rather simple. It is meeting the legitimate policy goal that the government has set for it and other fees for a range of federal services. There is no meaningful evidence that it has harmed Canada's ability to attract immigrants. Moreover when it comes to questions of how best to use money for our immigration program, dropping this fee is far less important than putting funds into better and faster processing.

First, let us be clear on what we are talking about and where this fee comes from. Back in 1995 the government made a series of important decisions that were necessary to get Canada's public finances back into shape. One of the most fundamental was that we decided that we needed to do more so that people who clearly and directly benefit from programs and services pay a portion of the costs associated with those services.

That is how the right of landing fee was introduced and set at the reasonable rate of $975. It was decided that fee would be paid by newcomers to Canada aged 19 and over.

It is charged to people coming to this country as qualified workers, entrepreneurs, business people, investors or members of the family class, regardless of the country of origin and the province of destination. If for some reason someone who paid the required fee does not get permanent residency in Canada, that amount is reimbursed.

The government decided to introduce the fee because the direct beneficiaries of immigration are those who come to Canada themselves. These people benefit from efficient immigration programs and services. They certainly benefit from the opportunity to prosper in Canada.

In the early 1990s, the immigration program was subjected to the same budget cuts as the whole of government. Then, in the consultations the government undertook in 1994 about what improvements should be made to immigration, it asked Canadians what they thought about the idea of introducing a fee that would help support immigration programs and services. According to a poll conducted on the subject in 1996, at least 72% of the respondents were of the opinion that this was a good idea and that the amount was reasonable.

The government examined the costs of providing these services and came to the conclusion that an amount of $975 was fair and reasonable. Therefore, in the 1995 budget the Minister of Finance announced the creation of the right of landing fees. Under this initiative, a loan program was introduced to help those who were unable to pay the fees immediately but could repay it later.

I believe that was a very important element. It was not considered as a burden for the newcomers. They could take their time to pay back this amount, as they were now living in a much more prosperous country than the one they had left.

For example, not everyone gets admitted, while others decide not to continue their application for different reasons. Citizenship and Immigration Canada had to manage a substantial refund process. It had to work with fluctuating currency rates and similar difficulties. From April 1997 we allowed clients to pay the fee at any time up until they received their visa. That has made financial arrangements simpler for everyone concerned.

The second major change came in the 2000 budget. That was when the government lifted the right of landing fee requirement from refugees. Effective February 28, 2000, the government recognized that these people have faced enormous difficulties and hardships. It knew that lifting the fee would help their resettlement and yet mean just a reduction of about $15 million a year in revenue from the fee.

The member for Winnipeg Centre thinks we should go further. He wants Canadian taxpayers to pick up the whole tab for services to immigrants. He would be happier to take away the $131 million a year from settlement programming to implement his proposal. He is quite happy to see the people who directly benefit from these services, most of whom are skilled workers, entrepreneurs or business immigrants, not paying any kind of fee.

Obviously we cannot agree. The facts tell us there is no compelling argument to change a system that works. Has the right of landing fee reduced Canada's attractiveness to potential immigrants? Far from it. There is no evidence that the fee has had any impact on application levels at all. If anything, the application levels are rising. There is no evidence that potential applicants are ignoring Canada as a possible destination in favour of places that might have lower fees.

Let us recognize that there are many fees being charged by other major immigrant receiving countries, much higher than those in Canada.

The Canadian public still strongly supports these fees, which ensure that those who benefit from a very important service help to pay part of the costs involved.

If we decide to eliminate an entire source of revenue in one area, there are in fact only two options left if we do not want to modify the general financial balance. We can compensate by digging a little further in somebody else's pockets, or we can reduce the services that this revenue is supposed to support.

During the consultations on immigration carried out recently by the government, the following question was asked: “If we had more money for immigration, what would you like to be done?”

Three suggestions came out: to reduce or eliminate the landing fee; to direct spending on faster processing of the immigration applications submitted by the men, women and children who want to settle in Canada; or to sustain higher levels of immigration.

The top priority by far was to accelerate the processing of the immigration applications, which speaks for itself.

As members of parliament, most of us hear complaints from constituents and can see just how long it can take sometimes to process an application.

We know that the people on the front line of our immigration system work real hard but there are often delays due to the background checks, health information and security assessments that are required. It is not surprising that reducing processing delays is a top priority. In fact, the delays are mainly due to the great number of applications. Those who travel around the world know that Canada is the best country in which to live.

The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has said that the new bill and some associated changes will lead to the system working better. Of that we are convinced.

Several client service improvements are already being tested. This will lead to faster processing and is entirely consistent with what the minister has learned from Canadians, including people who deal with immigration issues on a daily basis, like most of the members in the House.

Quite simply, there is no reason to accept this motion. Let me summarize some of the reasons. The right of landing fee applies to people who receive the direct benefit of immigration to Canada. That in itself is a tremendous benefit.

It does not apply to refugees who come from badly stricken areas of the world. It has no impact on immigration levels, far from it, and where necessary people can take out loans to cover the immediate cost of the fees, loans that are repaid. Canadians agree strongly with the principle of ensuring that immigrants pay at least some of the direct costs of their programs and services.

Finally, people have recognized that we would gain far more important impacts and benefits from any new money for immigration by putting it into a faster processing system.

I know this has been a concern for many people, but I would like to point out that in the last few years we have seen people coming to Canada under incredible conditions, in the bilge of boats. We know that real criminals brought these people here by boat. These people paid $8,000, $10,000 or $15,000 to come here under extremely terrible conditions. This shows that $975 is very little compared to these amounts.

Immigration March 2nd, 2001

Mr. Speaker, I have to repeat for the hon. member that we cannot discuss individual cases. It is very simple. The process for revocation is quite clear and it is following its course.

Immigration March 2nd, 2001

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member knows, it is not the policy to discuss details of individual cases in public.

If a person misrepresents himself or herself in citizenship or immigration proceedings, he or she may be subject to revocation proceedings under the Citizenship Act. There is a process for revocation and this process must follow its course.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act February 27th, 2001

Madam Speaker, the member has presented the very negative down side. Undoubtedly there were difficulties in the past. I am not denying it, but these are extreme cases.

Last year, more than 8,600 people who entered the country illegally were deported. The system is not perfect, but it is working. Since 1995, not that long ago, 45,000 people have been deported.

What our colleague has brought before us, unfortunately, does happen. They are extreme cases. Nobody in the House wants to see people abuse the system like that. We know it can happen, and I am sure it has happened in other countries, but we are coming in with new legislation. We will be much more efficient and we will try to eliminate the extreme cases, but we cannot think that it will be done overnight and that we will have a completely flawless system. No one in the world has a flawless system.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act February 27th, 2001

Madam Speaker, the hon. member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière said that a part of the bill was tough. He is right. There is a part that is very tough.

It is the part that seeks to prevent people from illegally entering Canada, including those who use forged documents and criminals who want to come here. We must obviously be very vigilant and these provisions of the act are tough, but this is necessary, because if we truly want to ensure an immigration process that will serve our country well, we must ensure that those who arrive here go through the legal channels and are properly checked and identified. The act is tough in this regard.

There is something else which we must not forget. The hon. member was right when he said that there are over 400,000 unprocessed claims. This is why we introduced a new bill. It is precisely so that we can have a system that is much more effective and efficient, a system that will reduce delays. Indeed, the main objective is to have a system that will adequately meet our needs and also reduce these delays.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act February 27th, 2001

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to my colleague and I agree fully with his comments concerning a legal base. That is very important and I believe this bill will accomplish that. The bill will never be perfect but it will certainly be a great advancement compared to what we have had.

The other point he brought out is true because I have experienced the same thing. The department is overwhelmed with work and does have staffing problems. I hope that in the near future the kinds of resources needed will be brought to the department. We all agree that our immigration policy will probably be one of the most important achievements of this parliament. It will ensure that we have the legal base to get things completed as fast and as soon as possible.

It is true that no matter what organization, be it government or private enterprise, there is always an element of bureaucracy. I am sure that as clear as we can make this bill and improve upon it maybe we can eradicate some of these irritants.

I basically agree with what you have brought forward. I hope in our parliamentary committee we will be able to iron out the irritants as we go along.

Big Sisters' Month February 26th, 2001

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make special mention of Big Sisters' Month and the organization for which it is named, which provides many services to our community.

The mission of Big Sisters is to offer girls quality relationships with responsible adult volunteers in order to assist them with their psychosocial development.

I wish to pay special tribute to the commitment of thousands of these volunteers, who give of their time, their talent and their resources, for a Big Sister is above all a friend who wants to share a few hours of her time each week with a girl from a single parent home.

A big thank you to all these individuals, who are helping to improve the quality of life of so many young people in Quebec and in Canada.

Immigration February 23rd, 2001

Mr. Speaker, as we mentioned, departmental officials are looking into this. All the people involved in this kind of situation are detained as soon as possible.

The department did its job and now we will wait and see.

Immigration February 23rd, 2001

Mr. Speaker, when the department learned about the case the officials proceeded to detain the person. We will do everything possible to remove these persons from the country as soon as possible. That is what is being done now.