- His favourite word was programs.
Last in Parliament September 2010, as Liberal MP for Vaughan (Ontario)
Won his last election, in 2008, with 49% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Immigration and Refugee Protection Act November 19th, 2009
Madam Speaker, I listened very carefully to the mover as well as the parliamentary secretary, and want to express my gratitude to the member for presenting Bill C-291, but I do want to give it some context.
There is no question in Canadians' minds that they deserve a refugee system that works, one that respects due process, creates avenues of equal opportunity, and provides safety for individuals who are in need of protection.
Unfortunately, today we have a broken refugee system with the following problems: a staggering 61,000 backlog of refugee claims; an increase of 17.7 months for the processing of claims, in other words, a wait of almost two years; a drastic decrease of 50% for the number of finalized claims; an almost 50% increase in the cost to finalize a claim, an estimated cost to Canadian taxpayers of approximately $29,000 for the processing of each claimant; and a 50% increase in the number of deportations from Canada over the last decade.
One of the first questions I asked when I was appointed opposition critic for citizenship and immigration was precisely on this issue and I want to cite the response given by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. In response to the question he said:
Mr. Speaker, I am really delighted to hear the interest of the member in hopefully working together to create a more efficient refugee determination system...However, the member is quite right, it is not efficient and the reality is that last year we received 38,000 inland refugee claimants, about 60% of whose applications were rejected by the IRB.
I would like to work with the member to find ways that we can dissuade people from making false refugee claims, seeking to jump the queue and to come to this country illegally under the cover of being refugees.
There is no question that the minister understands that the system is broken and that question was asked on March 11, 2009. This is a question that still of course requires an answer.
The Auditor General has stated some major concerns as well and so has the minister's departmental plan. To cite from what the minister said in committee on October 6: “As I indicated, that growing backlog reached 61,000 this summer”. He also said: “Mr. Chairman, under the current system, it's taking over 18 months for a claimant to get a hearing at the IRB”. He also said: “This is a broken system, and it needs to be streamlined”.
Where the minister stands is obvious. I have a suspicion that the minister is not getting the support he requires in cabinet to make the necessary investments to fix the system that we on both sides of the House all agree is indeed broken. So here comes this bill, Bill C-291. Of course, it is a bill that compels the government to bring certain provisions of IRPA into force for the purpose of creating the refugee appeal division of the Immigration and Refugee Board. Section 110 deals with the appeal, section 111 with the refugee appeal division decision, and section 171, the proceedings of the refugee appeal division.
On both sides are those who oppose and talk obviously about duplication. The CIC officials argue that the RAD is unnecessary given other avenues of appeal and recourse prior to deportation. They also say that we have a need for wider reform. I agree with that. We have to look at the entire system. It is arguable that the implementation of RAD must be accompanied by reform of the refugee determination system in order to enhance efficiency overall. There are concerns about costs. There are concerns that the RAD would only provide a review on the record. It would burden the system even further. We have heard all that.
We have heard all the points. I am very happy about the fact that I pushed for the bill to go to committee because both sides have raised important issues that required careful analysis and thought.
Those in support speak to fundamental issues of justice. For example, the administration of justice itself, that the RAD provides a way to balance the rights of refugees with the integrity of the immigration system.
On the issue of efficiency, the RAD would be a specialized appeal division as opposed to the federal court. It would increase the efficiency of the system, while still ensuring the humane treatment of those in need of protection. The implementation of an appeal division would improve public perception of the Immigration and Refugee Board.
Consistency in decision-making was also mentioned as one of the rationale for the original proposal. The creation of the RAD would allow for greater consistencies when reviewing the facts of a decision.
The other issue that was raised was procedural safeguard. The RAD would serve as a procedural safeguard and would enhance the IRB credibility to ensure justice is done so that no decision to deny refugee status would lead to serious consequences, such as detention, torture or death.
On the final point under judicial review, the judicial review of an IRB decision is more limited in scope than the appeal contemplated in the RAD. The court cannot replace a decision by the IRB with its own judgment. The federal court does not specialize in refugee matters, whereas advocates for the RAD would have an expertise in refugee determinations.
That is what we heard. This is an important bill to analyze because this is an important issue. I want members in the House to remember the context I presented today, that we are dealing with a broken system.
As a member of Parliament who likes to hear both sides of the debate, I want to put the government on notice. I am waiting for a reform package. I am 100% behind the concept of co-operating with the government and parties on all sides of the House to ensure we address the key concerns I cited earlier in my speech in reference to the broken refugee system. It has to be a system that is fair, a system that is just, a system that respects and meets Canada's international obligations to protect refugees and maintain confidence in the system. We have heard that inland refugee systems can take up to eight years to finalize a claim. That leaves thousands of people living in limbo, and that is not fair. A decision needs to be made within a responsible and acceptable timeframe. We need an appeal decision process that is fair and accessible.
The reality is when claimants fail, they unfortunately need to leave. The entire process should take closer to 12 to 18 months rather than 8 years. It has to be efficient, it has to be fair and it has to also maintain the integrity of the system itself.
It is for this reason that I put the government on notice. I support the bill. I will give the government time to present a reform package that also includes an appeals division.
Committees of the House November 19th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, my recollection is that the years when we had a Liberal government, in relation to immigration were very good years. Many progressive measures were introduced back then which spoke to the issue of immigration in an enlightened way.
We always viewed immigrants and the immigration system as being a vital pillar of Canada's economic wealth and of creating a more tolerant and culturally advanced society, which is something that unfortunately the present government does not share.
Committees of the House November 19th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, I hear some echoes. Perhaps people on the other side are not feeling comfortable with the truth, but the reality is well recorded in the records of this House and committee. This is reality.
I know those members are feeling uncomfortable. I know that the immigration file is not working out as well as it could or should. The hon. members hear, as I do, across the country that there are many problems with this issue. The Auditor General has stated that there are serious issues related to the immigration file that need to be addressed.
To give one small example on the issue of refugee reform, we have been waiting for months and months, and unfortunately, the minister lacks the financial support in his cabinet to move on this.
Committees of the House November 19th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the question by the parliamentary secretary.
For the record, yes, we did in fact ask for this study to take place. That is reality.
Recommendation No. 7 is part of the report. We will see if the government wants to respond to all of our recommendations.
Since I am on my feet, I want to address some of the recommendations that in fact--
Committees of the House November 19th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed unfortunate that we suspended debate on this very important issue, an issue that speaks to the difference in values and beliefs of members of the Liberal Party and the present sitting Conservative government.
I found also interesting that we suspended and had this vote under the guise that somehow we were holding back the government from doing its job, and that we really did not care what was going on in the Canadian economy. As a person who was around back in 1993 and had to clean up the deficit mess, high taxation, skyrocketing unemployment and skyrocketing debt and deficit, we do care very much about the Canadian economy, an economy that unfortunately is facing some tough times. In this economy we are faced again with ballooning debt and high deficits that speak to, in part, the global reality. However, the present government needs to take some responsibility for what is going on.
What is going on is actually quite troubling to many people, including the residents of the city of Vaughan, whom I have represented in this House for a number of years, and as well as the member of Parliament for Brossard—La Prairie, with whom I will be sharing my time in this debate.
We have the economy, the debt, the deficit and delays in infrastructure. We have problems related to a lapse in funding at a time when the economy needs job creation. It is ironic that we also have a lapse in funding in the immigration department for immigrant aid settlement as well as language training. There is a series of problems that I will not get into and also challenges that my constituents continue to talk about, which is H1N1 and child care, and the list is a lengthy one.
I want to get on the record that the comments made by the government whip were inappropriate. The opposition actually cares about these issues very much.
It also raises an interesting point that he would move this motion because we are talking about immigration. That says a lot about the present government, that perhaps immigration is not as important an issue as it is to the opposition, and why? Because there is a lot of confusion and chaos in this area, an area to which, unfortunately, cabinet has not given the right priority and attention.
That is the reason why we see no long-term plan on this issue. We see problems with processing times. We see challenges with temporary workers. We see challenges that speak to a country that has seen a reduction in permanent residency. I really find puzzling that for a government that says it cares about the global economy, it is failing to understand the importance that immigration plays in building the type of economy and type of society that we want to build, and what is that?
We want to build a society where there exists social cohesion. We want to build a society where we have the type of skilled labour and productivity gains that can allow us to have the type of growth, so that we have a country that can be generous in its social programs, can be modern in its outlook on the global economy, and that can compete. This requires people.
The Conservative government feels that somehow it can do all this without giving immigration a very important role. What is the problem? Why is this thinking flawed? I will tell the House why this thinking is flawed.
In just a couple of years 100% of Canada's net labour growth will come from immigration. The government needs to be mindful of this statistic unless it has a different plan, a plan that speaks to a different reality. Perhaps the Conservatives want to attach themselves to a ballooning temporary worker program. While that would be a great stopgap measure, it certainly would not develop the type of flexible domestic labour market that is required for the economy to work well.
That is a major problem. That is a point that the government fails to understand in its outlook. It is a problem that clearly indicates that this particular Conservative government has failed to see the medium and short-term view of what it takes to build sustainable economies.
My time unfortunately is running out. I have a lot to say about the challenges that the government faces on this file, including the Auditor General's report that was hard hitting. It was a wake-up call on issues related to refugees and temporary workers. The government's own departmental planning report states the same thing. The department has many challenges. It is unfortunate that the minister is not getting the support that he deserves in funding from cabinet.
The whip's comments indicate to me the type of priority that the Conservatives give to immigration. They can speak eloquently to all the various groups about all sorts of things, but the bottom line is that we lack resources, immigration is not a priority for the government, and it lacks the vision on this particular subject-matter to build the type of Canada that Canadians expect.
We were the party that, in fact, called for this study. We obviously were concerned about the treatment of caregivers. We wanted to give them the rights they deserve. We also wanted to clearly define the roles and responsibility related to the employer and the employee.
We on this side of the House pushed for this study because we recognized the fundamental role that caregivers play in our society. On behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada, I want to express to them in a very personal way the great contribution they have made, and continue to make, to the social, cultural and economic fibre of our country.
I want to also bring to the attention of those viewing this debate today a minority report that basically wants the government to act on these recommendations. I can list some of the recommendations:
Recommendation 1: The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada grant live-in caregivers permanent resident status on certain conditions.
Recommendation 2: The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada extend coverage under the Interim Federal Health Program--
Recommendation 3: The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada waive the requirement to obtain a study permit for live-in caregivers.
This report is full of excellent suggestions by opposition members on the committee to move on issues that are relevant to this issue. I can tell the House with 100% certainty that a Liberal government would give much more weight to the issue of immigration with a forward-looking, progressive program that would embrace the reality and the spirit of immigration, which should be fair, accountable and should expand opportunities for individuals coming to Canada.
I want to end on this final note. The issue of immigration is not just for immigrants. It is in the national interest to get it right.
Health November 5th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, how can spending $100 million on Conservative propaganda be justified, when less than 10% of that amount is being spent on the H1N1 pandemic?
Will they use what is left of the $100 million to better inform the public? Will they reach those who have difficulty with French or English?
Health November 5th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, when it comes to H1N1, there is confusion and chaos. Canadians across the country who are not proficient in English or French are having difficulty accessing H1N1 information. They are confused about what to do. They have been left to piece together information from family and friends, many of whom are also uncertain.
The government has left Canadians with language barriers to fend for themselves in the face of this pandemic. Why?
Citizenship and Immigration November 4th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General, in reference to the Conservative government, has stated that there is no well-defined strategy to best meet the needs of our labour market.
She stated that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has made a number of key decisions without properly assessing the costs, the benefits and the potential risks.
We need action and leadership to better integrate new Canadians into our workforce. Canada is falling behind the rest of the world in an area where we once led.
How and why has the minister allowed this to happen?
Mr. Speaker, as we know, this issue is a non-partisan issue. When we are dealing with human lives, we should stick with issues that matter to Canadians. Therefore, it is for this reason that I react poorly to the government blaming the provinces and the vaccine manufacturers for the issue Canadians are facing.
The hon. member ought to address some facts, which I will state right now.
The health authorities around the world saw this pandemic coming when it first hit in April. While many countries ordered their vaccine in May, the Conservatives waited until early August. The World Health Organization recommended production of H1N1 vaccine on July 7, but the Conservative government waited until after August 6 to place its vaccine order with GlaxoSmithKline, delaying vaccinations for Canadians.
When we look at other countries, other countries placed their vaccine orders much earlier than Canada. China began mass vaccination by administering the first H1N1 flu shots on September, Australia on September 30, the United States on October 3, Sweden on October 12, Japan on October 19 and Britain on October 21. Canada did not start administering the H1N1 vaccine until October 26.
Canadians deserve an answer.
Vaughan Tornado September 18th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, as Vaughan residents, we will always remember the evening of August 20, 2009, when a severe tornado hit our city, causing a great deal of physical damage and emotional pain.
Today, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to the citizens of Vaughan for their great demonstration of courage and dignity. It was heartwarming to see people providing assistance to one another and to see relatives, friends and neighbours opening their homes and their hearts to those in need.
That night, after having spent hours with the outstanding professionals from the Vaughan Fire & Rescue Service, York Regional Police and members of the emergency operations centre, including elected officials from all levels of government and the very dedicated and committed city staff, I witnessed my community coming together in a very special way.
We, the residents of Vaughan, will surely never forget the humbling power of nature, but as a community rooted in courage, compassion and generosity, together we pulled through. Friends and neighbours lost their homes, but no one lost hope. It is Vaughan's resilient spirit at work.