Mr. Speaker, I want to add by voice on Bill C-35, the cracking down on crooked consultants act.
The only thing I would add is the word “immigration” consultants. I think that clarifies it.
It has been stated by my party that we will be supporting the bill at second reading to send it to committee. That is where we are going to be able to do a lot of fine tuning. From what I have read in some of the notes, this bill needs a lot of fine tuning. I will cover some of the areas where I think we need to address some of these concerns.
Immigration, as mentioned by many other members, is really the foundation of our country. I remember speaking at Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate in my riding many years ago. We talked about immigration. As I said to the audience, young men and women, when we look at every one of our family trees, at some point in time one of our ancestors, whether it be our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents, arrived on these friendly shores from somewhere, aside from our first nations people.
It has been a great mix. It has been the formula for making this country one of the best countries in the world to live. If anything, some years ago, for seven consecutive years, Canada was recognized as the number one country in the world. I believe that we are number two now.
Nevertheless, there have been problems. Policies, such as our immigration policy, are evolving. The member from Winnipeg Centre talked earlier about today's immigration problems. The immigration of today is different from the immigration of 20,30,50, and 60 years ago. Fifty years ago we did not have a temporary workers program, for example. We did not have such an extensive refugee program. We did not have a board, per se.
If we look at the trends of yesterday, we would look at vast numbers of family reunification, such as war brides, for example. Things have changed.
I am glad that this is coming forward. Many years ago, as I mentioned earlier, when I was elected, in 1993, I had a private member's initiative that addressed some of these issues that came from an industry that I was in, which was the executive search consulting business. I related the rules and regulations that governed that industry to the immigration consultant industry.
Let me provide some examples. In order to operate our business, we had to be licensed by the provincial government, and we had to be bonded. There were guidelines, and there were specific rules and regulations that we had to abide by. If we violated those regulations, that licence came right off the wall, preventing us from earning a living and preventing us from running our companies.
What I think needs to be done here is a clear definition, clear guidelines, and clear rules but also clear, stiff penalties. In addition to that, we need to have a mechanism to enforce those penalties. Otherwise, it all goes for naught.
I am concerned, though. This piece of legislation talks about the creation of a body that will be reporting to the minister. I do not agree with that. I think that is wrong.
The minister has nothing to say about running this body. It should be a totally independent, arm's-length body, with rules and guidelines as set out by legislation. It is not for the minister to interfere in any way, shape, or form. That is not how it works.
In the case of these immigration consultants, let me also point out that it is not just a federal piece of legislation that is going to help us resolve some of these issues. We have to work with the provinces. It affects them too. It is a two-way street.
On that issue, let me just go off track for a moment and point out that in our province of Ontario, we have a minister of citizenship and immigration. We can understand a minister of immigration, because provinces, too, have their own immigration procedures and policies.
The Liberal government allowed provinces to provide immigration facilities according to their needs. They were able to identify their specific needs and recruit as required. But what is puzzling is the fact that provinces do not give citizenship. It is my understanding that the federal government provides citizenship. I would ask the provinces to maybe look at that.
The intent of the legislation is positive, and if properly amended may still produce some good public policy. That is why we are supporting it. We see a lot of good work and a lot of goodwill around the committee table.
I remember former immigration minister Elinor Caplan; I can mention her by name because she is no longer a member. She was a good immigration minister. The member for Winnipeg Centre talked about the abuse that goes on abroad. He is right. Minister Caplan spent her time visiting our embassies and our high commissions in different parts of the world because we in Canada had observed that abuse was going on. Did we address it? We did. Did we improve the situation? We did. Did the problem go back offline again? Unfortunately it did.
Former minister Lucienne Robillard was also a good minister of immigration.
Some of these areas that we are talking about today, like enforcement and regulations and the body that was formed, all came from committee work, all came from consultation.
I remember having the minister in my office in Scarborough Centre many years ago. The local communities expressed a lot of concerns. As a result, the independent consultant body was created. It remains in existence today.
The member for York West did a great job in her time as a minister of immigration. But the numbers were growing each year, the 1% that the member for Winnipeg Centre talked about. It is great to achieve. The member was also right that there is a lot of competition going on out there today in a lot of these countries.
I remember being at the European Parliament many years ago when it was talking about its difficulty in attracting skilled labour. We had a problem here in Canada just a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, Canada, maybe not as much as other countries, had experienced some difficult times. We could not get enough people, so we had to bring them in from Mexico, the Philippines, and other countries.
I have a policy in my office. I refrain from dealing with an immigration file that is in the hands of a lawyer or a consultant, because I too, along with many of my colleagues on the Liberal side, have heard of the abuse that goes on. We have heard about this over the past couple of days in debate. Let me give the House an example.
A person wants to bring in his wife and children and all of a sudden he is approached by some so-called immigration consultant, who comes to our offices and seeks information. Unfortunately, the applicant is ignorant, and I use that word in a good sense, meaning that he does not know that he can approach a member of Parliament and seek help.
We also heard earlier today about how our offices have become inundated with a lot of these files because these individuals reach out to us. We have an obligation as their representatives to address their concerns as best we can.
My colleague from Don Valley West told us about staff being tied up on these issues. All of a sudden they have to squeeze time here and there, maybe to address a pension issue, a disability issue, a passport issue, or whatever. If we are going to take on all of these responsibilities, and we have no objection to doing so, maybe we should be looking at the budgets of members of Parliament so that we can dedicate staff to address these concerns.
Our birth rate in Canada is not that high, and it is down in many other countries as well. If we are going to grow and sustain the social safety net that Canada is so recognized for, then we need immigration. We need input.
Let me get back for a moment to this board. That is my greatest concern in this piece of legislation.
When I read in the documents that this board would be reporting to the ministry and the minister, that caused a lot of concern for me, and I am sure many of my constituents and others felt the same way. The minister has every responsibility to try to bring forth legislation, send it to committee, have the members of the committee bring in witnesses, seek input and guidance, and work to fine-tune this legislation. Surely to God, the minister has no business having this board report to him. It should be totally independent and at arm's length. Should people have to compete to be selected to run this board? No.
Let me simplify it. Anybody who wants to work as an immigration consultant, which I do not think is the exclusive business of lawyers, should have the proper training, a proper course to go by. They should make themselves aware of the legislation, seek a proper licence from the ministry and the province, because it is a business. They would charge a fee for service according to specific guidelines, and then there would be a board to make sure that these guidelines are followed, to ensure that immigration consultants do not violate the rules that the ministry and the board set down.
The moment those rules are violated, these individuals should be penalized with stiff, enforceable sentences. The worst-case scenario is to yank their licences off the wall and shut them down, period. It would be a totally independent mechanism. That is how I suggest this system should operate.
When the member for Bourassa was the minister of immigration, he moved into that area and made a quantum leap forward. Almost every minister under a Liberal government, let me point out very proudly, moved this file forward in a positive manner. Never have I seen a perfect piece of legislation. We do the best we can today, and if something unfolds three or five years down the road, then we have to make adjustments. That is exactly what was happening under a Liberal administration.
When the cuts were made, I agreed with the member for Winnipeg Centre that trimming needed to be done, but I pointed out then, and I will point out again today, that the system was working better. Somehow it was working better.
What I found unacceptable, and I am sure my colleagues on the Liberal side would agree, is this: when a constituent said that he or she was having a family wedding, or that a family member had passed away, or that he or she had not seen a brother, a sister, or parents for a long time, and the constituent wanted to sponsor these people to come over for a holiday, the way these applications were being put in abroad and assessed was problematic.
Let me provide a scenario. Somebody from country A goes into one of our offices. The person is as nervous as can be, forgets maybe to add one word, and all of a sudden that person is denied. I believe the Immigration Act has to change to address the way our offices work abroad. Do the offices want to give members of Parliament a little more? Fine, they can set guidelines. Maybe they should take it totally away from us, but that is taking a service away that MPs get voted in to perform, namely, to serve their constituents.
I encourage the minister to look at how we can work with our offices abroad. I am sure the minister's intent in addressing this horrible situation is to address the abuse that has gone on throughout the years. I personally have heard horror stories and I will provide an example.
An Albanian mother and daughter some years ago approached me from St. Irene's, the church that my dad built, and my dad told me I had to help this family. They were not even in my riding, but they came to see me. The story I heard raised what little hair I had left.
This mother and daughter were working three jobs, day and night, cleaning, doing anything they could. They were using a lot of their earnings to pay a person who was like a paralegal, nothing wrong with the profession, but she portrayed herself as an immigration consultant. Meanwhile for four or five years it dragged on until, by God's will and some good fortune, they came to my office and we addressed their concern. It really was a simple issue. It was a matter of communication, getting paper documentation for them. Today, several years down the road, they are a happy family. They are working for themselves. They are contributing to our system and glad to say they are Canadian citizens. There are many other examples that I could talk about.
The Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants is a good idea. It is a body that could be empowered with more tools to oversee the enforcement of the legislation. That is as a result of input from a Liberal government. Was it the right thing? Maybe it was the right thing at the time. Maybe today, four or five years down the road, it needs to be changed. Circumstances have changed.
However, I do not believe a competition has to be put out, that a board has to be established that reports to the minister. Members and the audience will say I have said this twice, but I am saying it again because I see great danger in reporting to the minister. In essence, the minister would have absolute say, period. The minister could do anything he wanted. We know he can do anything he wants as a minister, but surely this is not transparent. The board should be able to work totally independently.
There was a comment made that lawyers should be looking after these immigration files, as they know better and there is technical data, and so on. With the greatest respect to the profession, I do not think that is the only way to go. An individual could approach a lawyer if he wished to, but if an immigration consultant is properly trained, then he or she should be able to do the work properly. If proper guidelines are set, then we as members of Parliament might feel much more comfortable in dealing with these people.
I know I speak on behalf of my colleagues on the Liberal side. We hesitate to deal with these so-called immigration consultants, primarily because of the horror stories that we have not only heard but also, in essence, experienced. It is not a matter of $100 or $500. It is thousands of dollars. It is shameful. It is unacceptable when these people come here wanting to start a new life and get taken for a ride. It is unacceptable when an individual in another country who wishes to immigrate to Canada walks into one of our offices and is not even given an interview. That is another area the minister has to look at. Sometimes a person cannot even get in the door of one of our offices or embassies and the application is turned down.
There are offices in our embassy in one specific country where the moment the applicant comes out the door the so-called consultant says the person will be given one-stop shopping, guaranteed. The person is promised a ticket and a visa for a fee. That is unacceptable. Those are some of the areas the minister also has to address.
In closing, on behalf of the Liberal Party and our critic, we will support sending the bill to committee. That is where a lot of good work will be done, where good input will be provided. We will bring in witnesses and seek their guidance, and at the end of the day we will come up with a piece of legislation that will help our country continue to grow and grow properly.