Mr. Speaker, I rise to debate Bill C-50, the budget implementation bill, which also includes the amendment to the immigration act. I will focus my debate on the immigration act.
I represent the riding of Richmond, an island city just next to the city of Vancouver where the Vancouver International Airport is situated. The riding is composed mostly of immigrants. It has a very booming economy. We have the privilege of having a farming community. We have a dike that is very close to the city. At the same time, we have the convenience of the metropolitan facilities.
Richmond has a very low crime rate and a booming economy. The lifespan of our citizens is one of the longest in Canada. Therefore, we can demonstrate from our experience in Richmond that immigrants contribute a great deal to the lives of Canadians.
The Conservatives have said that the new immigration policy is aimed at reducing the backlog of immigration applicants. They have said they want to expedite selected classes of immigrants and focus their resources on desirable immigrants, but their methods will not work and they are wrong.
The amendment tabled would destroy a democratically based immigration system, which has been hailed as a model for other countries to follow, and replace it with dictatorial system, allowing the minister to cherry-pick who is allowed to come into our country.
The amendment to section 87.3(4) states:
If an application or request is not processed, it may be retained, returned or otherwise disposed of in accordance with the instructions of the Minister.
Giving the minister the discretionary power to dispose of applications is an illogical way to reduce the backlog of applicants. The government is implying that if we have a huge backlog, we should give the power to the minister to hand-pick a few and then outright reject everyone else. To me, this is not only unfair, but illogical.
The amendment allows the minister to unilaterally and arbitrarily dispose of applications without any recourse, so applicants would be unable to appeal their cases. This is very unfair. The proposed amendment to section 81.3(c) states, “The Minister may set the number of applications or requests by category or otherwise to be processed in any year”.
Along with the fact that unprocessed applications can be disposed of, this amendment would allow the minister to set a cap on applications.
Capping the number of applicants only superficially reduces the backlog by temporarily not allowing potential immigrants to make their application. How will forcing applicants to pay for re-applications year after year help reduce the backlog? These are situations which senior officials from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration agree would happen.
Reducing the backlog is not about prioritizing some and ignoring others. The Conservatives' rhetoric seems illogical. They have said that they can set priorities, but does that not mean there will be lower priorities? Even so, how does this reduce the backlog? Just because we focus on cleaning up the kitchen first, it does not mean the rest of the house gets any cleaner any sooner.
However, the worst and the most worrisome change that the Conservatives are pushing for is the change of a single word, from “shall” to “may”. As it stands right now, if an immigrant passes the bar, then it is clearly stated in section 11(1) that he or she “shall” be granted a visa. The amendment would change this so that someone who has already fulfilled the requirements only “may” be granted a visa.
Why is the Conservative government trying to subvert the immigration process? If a reason is found as to why a visa should not be granted, then make it a part of the evaluation. If immigration applicants cannot be certain, even after they have passed all requirements, why should the apply and how will this help reduce backlogs?
Time and effort would need to be spent in the processing of their applications. I see this as yet another opportunity for the minister to cherry-pick again, even after the applicants have escaped the first round of cherry-picking by the minister.
None of the proposed amendments are aimed at clearing up the backlog or reducing wait times for applicants. It is about letting the minister choose who is and who is not a desirable immigrant. Again, this is an unfair method.
The Conservatives' cherry-picking in the darkroom, dictatorial approach will destroy our well hailed rules based democratic and transparent immigration system. This will lead us down a very dangerous path.
A senior immigration official was quoted on Wednesday in the London Free Press saying, “There is no right in the law—and there never has been a right in the law—to come into Canada”.
This is wrong. It is because of this kind of attitude that led our forefathers to create a racist immigration act, better known as the Chinese Exclusion Act. After the Pacific Railway was built with Chinese labourers, they were no longer desirable. A head tax was exclusively applied to Chinese immigrants. When that did not stop Chinese immigrants from coming to Canada, they were totally excluded.
Yes, being allowed to immigrant to Canada is a privilege. However, we must apply that privilege fairly, respecting the core values of democracy, rule of law and equality. The bill eliminates the rights to equal opportunity for every application to be given fair review and consideration, regardless of background, country of origin or skill set.
Even after Paul Martin Sr. amended the Canadian Citizenship Act in 1947 to allow ethnic Chinese to become Canadian citizens, in general, we Chinese still cannot have the privilege to come to Canada. It was not until the Right Hon. Lester B. Pearson changed the Canadian immigration system into a race free, transparent, point based system in 1967 that most Chinese could come to Canada.
This continuing and worrisome trend by the Conservative government must be stopped. Canada's race free and transparent immigration point system is hailed as a model for other countries to follow. It should not be tossed aside so lightly.
The Liberal government committed $700 million in 2005 to cleaning up the backlog, which the Conservatives cancelled after becoming the government in 2006. After ignoring the problem for more than two years, they now claim to have allocated $100 million to fix the problem. It is far from enough.
We must not allow the Conservatives, under the excuse of solving the backlog problem in our immigration system, to lead us away from fundamental Canadian core values of democracy, the rule of law and equality. I will vote against it.