Madam Speaker, I am going to address this whole issue of “illegal” versus “irregular” up front. I think both are acceptable, but even the CBC uses the term “illegal” in its news articles. The CBC, I trust, is a trustworthy news source, so other people have used it. At the end of the day, in order to focus on the issue at hand, I am going to avoid focusing the argument around the term itself, and rather focus on the issue at hand.
Let me start by saying that I think everyone in the House understands and supports the need for immigration to Canada. We have a below-replacement birth rate as a country, so we need immigration in order to maintain a constant population. We have labour market shortages, so we need immigration to fill jobs. Also, we are a country of immigrants. Since the early 17th century, immigrants have come here and have built our country.
I am proud to be the son of immigrants. My father was Chinese and my mother was Dutch. They moved to Canada in the 1950s and 1960s to start a new life. I am proud of my history and my family's history with respect to this issue.
I am sure members in all parties of the House have similar stories about immigration to this country. Also, because Canadians are fair and generous, we also believe in and support our policies on refugees and asylum seekers, people who have been dispossessed. That is why subsequent and successive Conservative and Liberal governments have taken in refugees from Hungary, from Vietnam, today from Syria, and other people who are dispossessed, such as Yazidis.
Therefore, the debate in front of us today is not about whether we support immigration, because we all do, and as I pointed out earlier, some of the highest levels of immigration intake during the post-World War II period came during the Harper years. We admitted some 260,000 immigrants a year for almost 10 years of the Harper government. That is 2.6 million immigrants. In addition to that, we admitted roughly 26,000 UN refugees each and every year. That is 260,000 UN refugees over that 10-year period. I think we can all say that successive Liberal and Conservative governments have supported immigration and the need to take in those dispossessed and those who are refugees.
That does not mean we agree on every aspect of our immigration and refugee system. For example, during the last election, the Conservatives said we would take in approximately 25,000 Syrian refugees. The Liberals promised to take in approximately double that number, at 50,000. The Canadian people spoke, and they elected a Liberal majority, and I respect that. The Liberals had a mandate to take in some 50,000 refugees.
In 2006, we disagreed with the previous Liberal government's position on charging prospective immigrants a $975 fee to process their application. We promised to cut that fee in half, which we did. We may disagree on the details of our system, but we agree on the fundamentals, so let us focus on the details of what is going on here and why this motion is in front of the House.
Madam Speaker, I am supporting the motion, as indicated. I am also splitting my time with the member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner.
The motion in front of us today is not about whether or not we support immigrants or refugees; it is about one particular issue that has gone unresolved, the irregular border crossings that are taking place, especially in places like Lacolle, Quebec, and Emerson, Manitoba.
The Liberal government has mismanaged this issue. A country ultimately has sovereignty over two things: its people and its geography. By mismanaging our borders, the government is weakening the sovereignty of the Canadian state, and by failing to address this problem over the last two years, it has created a host of other problems.
First, we have seen a significant increase in spending to process people crossing the border irregularly, and the government has had to significantly increase spending to provide for social services for people in Quebec. That is $173 million more for processing and $180 million more for social services, and this is just the start. The cost could spiral into the billions of dollars.
All the while, the government is not delivering on the spending it committed to Canadians on repairing our nation's ailing roads, bridges, and transit infrastructure, all the while running much higher deficits than the Liberals promised.
The Liberals have also created another problem. Because they have had to divert money and resources away from regular immigration and refugee processing in order to process the people crossing the border in Quebec and Manitoba, there is now a backlog of some 45,000 applications for privately sponsored refugees. I am told the wait times for processing are now seven years. There is now an 11-year wait time for the processing of asylum claims. The problem is only going to get worse unless the government supports the motion and takes action to address this problem.
Last year, we admitted some 20,000 people who crossed the border in Emerson and in Lacolle. This year, it could well be north of 60,000 people. To date, about 60,000 people have crossed at those two locations, and officials are predicting that this summer some 400 people a day will be crossing. We could be looking at 60,000 people this year who are crossing through non-normal channels, a fifth of our overall immigration intake.
For decades, Canada has had an orderly, planned, controlled, and safe immigration system. Our immigration system has for decades been controlled through the vetting and screening of immigrants. As a result, we enjoy very high levels of public support for immigration and for refugees. As a result, Canada has one of the highest intakes of immigrants and refugees in the world. The two are linked: orderly, planned, and controlled immigration and refugee resettlement and high levels of public support for those systems. This is not true of Europe and the United States.
For example, in the United States, the Americans for decades have had no control or planning of their immigration system. U.S. administrations and U.S. Congresses dating back to the 1980s have failed to deal with their challenges of irregular border crossings and people entering the country illegally. As a result, today the United States finds itself with some 10 million people who have entered irregularly and who are without documentation and without papers. It is causing huge problems, and the problem is in some ways insoluble. We do not want to go down that path here in Canada.
The same is true of Europe as it is in the United States. That is why I am supporting this motion. We need to maintain high levels of public support for our system, and that begins by maintaining an orderly, controlled, and safe immigration and refugee system so that Canada can continue to benefit from the world's brightest and best and so that we can continue to receive and welcome the downtrodden and dispossessed in this world.
There is a final reason that I am supporting this motion. What if the shoe is on the other foot? Let us not forget that the 2002 third country safe party agreement between the government of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and the administration of Bill Clinton came about because of the horrific events of September 11, 2001. We were under an inordinate amount of pressure from the Americans, who wanted that agreement in place and who had the cards to play in those negotiations. We managed to keep the borders open to trade so that we could continue to grow our economy. However, what if we go into a severe recession? What if the housing bubble pops and we see a reverse flow of migrants in irregular crossings from Canada to the United States? We would have no leverage to deal with an American administration that wants the problem fixed. That is why the government needs to sit down with U.S. administration, talk about this problem, and find a solution to these issues in Emerson and in Lacolle, Quebec.