Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House to inform you of my resignation as the member for Calgary Centre.
Serving in this House on two different occasions in two different centuries has been the greatest honour of my life.
From 1988 to 1993, I was privileged to serve as the member of Parliament for Calgary Southeast in the government of prime minister Brian Mulroney, whose achievements included the free trade agreement and the acid rain accord, two landmark agreements between Canada and the United States.
Since 2004, I have been equally privileged to serve as the member for Calgary Centre and since 2006, in the government of Canada's 22nd Prime Minister, the right hon. member for Calgary Southwest.
To both prime ministers, I thank them for the honour of serving in their caucus. Each has remarkable listening skills when it comes to leading a united caucus, the most important leadership attribute in our parliamentary system.
This Prime Minister has reunited our party and brought it from political wilderness to government, where he leads our country with great distinction. As a Calgarian, I think all Calgarians take great pride that our country is led by one of our own. I am proud to have served in his government and am grateful for his friendship and support. I am equally proud of Laureen Harper, a wonderful chatelaine of 24 Sussex and ambassador for Canada.
I first sat in the members' gallery, and some members will recall me saying not long ago, 40 years ago, as executive assistant to the Right Hon. John Diefenbaker, Canada's 13th prime minister. He was no longer leader of the Progressive Conservative Party at that time, but he was still master of this House, the greatest parliamentarian of his time. It was a privilege to have known him and to have worked with him on his memoirs, One Canada. There was never a more partisan figure in this House than Mr. Diefenbaker, but he was, above all, a man of this House.
If I could share one thought with colleagues, it would be this. While we advocate for different ideas of Canada, we are all Canadians and we all love our country. I think we would all do well to remember that and leave the partisan furies at the water's edge.
There are many people I would like to thank, many people to be thanked, beginning with the voters of my two ridings who sent me here in five elections.
I would like to thank the volunteers and supporters in my Calgary association, and my dedicated staff who have served me so well over the years.
In particular, I want to thank Lynda MacKay, my executive assistant, who is now the longest serving staffer on Parliament Hill. Just last week she received the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for her decades of unbroken service.
I am leaving to take up a new opportunity as principal secretary to the Premier of Alberta, Alison Redford. This is an exciting challenge at a moment when Alberta's new premier is claiming Alberta's leadership role in the Canadian federation in a way that only Peter Lougheed, among her predecessors, has done.
To my friends here, I say goodbye for now. I hope to see all of you at the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede this July. It has been an honour to be in your company.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to this legislation. It is something that my constituents ask me about on a regular basis. I have communicated with them several times on some of the great initiatives which the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has put forward in the past. Those measures were always warmly received. Our minister is doing a great job. Not only is he a great minister, but he is a great representative of Calgary Southeast and our home province of Alberta.
Canadians are rightfully proud of Canada's long-standing humanitarian tradition and the fact that we are one of the top countries in the world to offer protection to those who sincerely and genuinely need asylum. At the same time, reasonable Canadians would not disagree that our refugee system is in some need of reform.
As we see time and time again, genuine refugee claimants wait far too long for a decision on their claim. That is because those who seek to use our asylum system as a back door to get into Canada do so at the expense of genuine refugees.
Illegitimate claimants clog our refugee system and create unnecessarily long wait times for those truly in need of Canada's protection. This leaves in limbo those who are genuinely in need. Long delays also encourage individuals who are not in need of our protection to use the refugee system as a way to remain in Canada. Essentially, delays allow those who do not really need our protection to abuse our system and our generosity.
Last year processing times for a decision on a claim before the independent Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, affectionately known as the IRB, could take more than 20 months. Because of the resources available, it could take an average of four and one-half years from the time a claim is made until a failed refugee claimant has exhausted all legal avenues and is removed from Canada. This is completely unacceptable.
This makes Canada an attractive target for illegitimate claimants since they know that they can remain in Canada for several years while their claim is processed, during which time claimants can access our generous taxpayer-funded social benefits and perhaps obtain a work permit. In other words, these individuals basically establish themselves here in Canada without knowing if they are going to be approved as a refugee or not. Illegitimate claimants come here at a huge cost to Canadian taxpayers. The average unfounded claim costs about $55,000. Last year alone bogus refugee claimants cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million.
We need to send a clear and unmistakable message to those who seek to abuse Canada's generous asylum system that if they are not in need of protection, they will be sent home quickly.
The protecting Canada's immigration system act seeks to address these problems with our refugee system by providing faster protection to those in genuine need while quickly removing those who are not.
To help reduce the attraction of coming to Canada, these new measures would further accelerate the processing of all refugee claims, particularly for nationals from designated countries that generally do not produce refugees. This policy would provide the government with an important tool to respond to spikes in claims from countries that one would not normally expect a refugee to seek or claim asylum from.
This legislation would also reduce the options for resources available to failed claimants. Currently, these options permit failed claimants to further delay their removal from Canada. Even though many failed applicants know they will be unsuccessful, they also know these avenues of appeal will help them prolong their stay here where they can continue to have access to our generous system.
Let me be very clear about one thing. Under these new measures, all eligible refugee claimants would continue to be entitled to a fair hearing before an independent decision-maker. However, there would be no automatic stay of removal for claimants from designated countries of origin once a negative decision had been rendered by the IRB and the claimant had applied for judicial review to the Federal Court. This means that failed claimants could no longer use the Federal Court process to further delay their removal.
As I said, it currently takes an average of four and one-half years before a failed claimant has exhausted all avenues of appeal and is removed from Canada. In some instances it has taken over a decade. All the while, failed claimants have access to our generous tax-supported services such as health care and other social benefits.
Canadians work hard to support these services. They do not appreciate it when their hard-earned tax dollars go toward supporting foreign nationals who should not even be here in the first place, who come here under false pretenses knowing full well what they are doing.
The success of the new system hinges on our ability to speed up the current processing times for refugee claims. This is essential because the less time claimants spend in Canada awaiting a decision, the less incentive there is for people to abuse our generous asylum system and queue-jump the regular immigration process. Also, if we can speed up the current processing times for refugee claims, genuine refugees would get our protection more quickly.
Hearings at the IRB for claimants from designated countries of origin would occur within 30 to 45 days. Claimants who are not from designated countries of origin would also have their hearing timelines accelerated. It is proposed that these hearings would be scheduled within 60 days of being referred to the IRB, compared to the current system which takes over 1,000 days. It is no wonder that Chris Selley from the National Post said that the immigration minister is:
--certainly showing more guts than we came to expect from his Liberal predecessors....
Blame whomever you want, these timelines are completely preposterous. And they are one of the two biggest reasons that so many asylum-seekers make for Canada....But if a refugee claim was processed in, say, two months, instead of a year or two or five, the incentive for people with weak claims to give it a whirl would be massively reduced, as would the overall burden on the system.
John Ibbitson from the Globe and Mail also spoke positively about the bill:
I think we need a system first of all that doesn’t cost too much. I mean if you spend four years processing a bogus refugee claim, that’s the taxpayer who pays for it and that person may also be on welfare and other forms of social assistance during that time. So I agree. And I think there is broad public support for the idea that we need to process refugee claimants fairly and swiftly.
Finally, John Ivison from the National Post stated:
I was talking to somebody today who was saying within four days of a claimant landing in Toronto, they can be claiming welfare. Now that’s an obvious magnet for refugees all over the world. We have the most generous refugee system in the world. We have an acceptance rate of something like 50 per cent. Nowhere else in the world comes close to that.
Well, how many people do you need to consult to figure out that Hungary should not be our leading source of refugees? What had happened was that the ten, the top ten countries that we receive refugees from did not figure in the UN’s top ten list of refugees.
These new measures would be accomplished without affecting the fairness of our generous refugee system and without compromising any of Canada's international and domestic obligations with respect to refugees. By improving the refugee system in these ways, this legislation would also ensure that the refugee claimants who really do need our protection would get it even faster.
These proposed measures would continue to meet our domestic and international obligations. They would also maintain the balance and fairness that are the foundation of our refugee system. I am confident that they would honour the spirit and support for refugees that Canadians value.
In supporting this legislation, my hon. colleagues in the House can help to provide a quicker, more secure beginning for victims of violence and persecution around the world and help deter abuse of our refugee system. I urge all hon. members in the House to join me in supporting Bill C-31.
The electoral district of Calgary Southeast (Alberta) has a population of 125,738 with 98,343 registered voters and 261 polling divisions.
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