Mr. Speaker, I look forward to participating in this debate. It is a debate that is extremely important for many reasons.
I would like to give the debate a bit of context as it relates to the immigration component of Bill C-50.
As Canadians know quite well, Canada today has an aging population and a declining birth rate. We are also faced with a skills shortage, of which people on both sides of the House, I am sure, are quite aware. We also live in a world that is extremely competitive when it comes to globalization and competing for economic well-being and raising the standard of living and quality of life of the people we represent.
Given that context, we have to wonder why the Conservative government, during an era when Canada needs people from all over the world, would reduce the number of landed immigrants allowed to come to Canada. In the first two years the Conservatives have reduced the number by 36,000. From an economic, social and cultural perspective, that type of measure simply does not make any sense.
When I heard the government would introduce a section on immigration through Bill C-50, which is a budget implementation bill, I thought perhaps it would come up with something that would speak to great financial commitments to immigration.
I was really surprised to find out that the budget bill only has a 1% increase in overall departmental funding. What is really odd about this is the fact that we are faced with a backlog of 900,000 cases, yet there is such a meagre increase in departmental investment when it comes to immigration. That is of concern to me as an individual who appreciates the great contribution newcomers have made to Canada.
It is quite puzzling to see the government trying to sneak this through a budget implementation bill. It is also puzzling that it will be reducing the number of landed immigrants in Canada by 36,000 and is not seeing immigration as an important pillar to Canada's future success.
There is a history here. We can go back to Diefenbaker, who attempted something very similar to what the present Minister of Immigration has attempted to do to deal with the present backlog. This attempt by Diefenbaker's government was pushed back by communities and members of the House of Commons, who felt that it simply was not fair.
The government's response to the global challenges we face and all the issues we have to deal with is found basically in three things that I will highlight, and I draw this from the budget bill.
The first change to consider is that of clause 11. Currently, the act requires that an immigration officer shall issue a visa to any person who meets the requirements set out in the act. If passed, these amendments would grant the minister the power to arbitrarily decide that a person no longer meets the requirements they once did. That person's application may no longer be processed and a visa may no longer be granted.
Individuals who fulfill all the requirements and who have been waiting patiently for years to have their applications reviewed may all of a sudden be advised that their applications category is now being denied. That can be done in a very arbitrary way, just because. That is unfair.
It is simply not justice that, at any point in time, one individual's whose application category may have in fact been accepted is now not accepted any longer because the minister decides that is what she wants to do today. Tomorrow she can change her mind and change categories and requirements and do as she pleases without really debating the issue. Everything becomes effective immediately when she wants it to become effective. That is unfair. It is not following due process.
The claim is that all this is to deal with a backlog. When we do a bit of research, what happens? We discover that does not make sense either. When we go to the departmental website, we find this quote:
Once passed, the new measures will apply to applications received on or after February 27, 2008. Those who applied prior to February 27, 2008, will not be subject to the new measures and will be dealt with fairly under the existing rules.
If these rules are not applied to the backlog, then how will they help the backlog? Exactly what does “will be dealt with fairly under the existing rules” mean? Am I being told that the new rules are unfair? Is that what the minister is telling Canadians? Is she saying that anybody prior to February 27, 2008 will be dealt with fairly, but after that they will not be dealt with fairly?
These are quotes that concern me a great deal. I am sure these quotes concern the hon. member for Beaches—East York, with whom I am sharing my time, and she will also elaborate on all of these points.
This is unfair legislation. It speaks to a total disregard by the Conservative government to the immigration community, to immigrants who have helped build our country. It is time the Conservatives come clean with their agenda. They need to explain to Canadians why, in their first two years in government, they have reduced landed immigrant landings by 36,000. There have been 36,000 fewer immigrants allowed into Canada. Why is this happening? Why is the Conservative government shutting its doors on immigrants?
The Conservatives can fudge the numbers. The government can talk about over 400,000 people who have been allowed into Canada. They are not talking about landed immigrants. They are talking about student visas and other permits that are given.
Then we look at clause 87. There is a new concept called “Instructions” that does not exist in current legislation. This allows the minister to cap immigration applications, set categories of applications to be considered, deny the processing of certain application categories. The danger is that these instructions can be issued at any time and take effect immediately. They will not be required to be pre-published or debated. This process, if passed, would lack fundamental transparency and ensure accountability.
In this day and age, when Canada requires the help of immigrants from across the globe, the people who have helped build this country, we cannot stand still in the House of Commons and accept from the Conservative government an agenda that shuts the door on immigrants in a very arbitrary way simply because the government feels like it.
The government also tries to fool Canadians by saying that it is serious about reducing the backlog of 900,000 applicants. What did the government do? It increased the departmental budget by a mere 1%. The parliamentary secretary knows the job will not be done with $22 million.
When the minister says she is going to eliminate the backlog, she knows she is misleading Canadians. She knows she will be unable to deliver. She knows she will not get her job done.