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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
National Finance

Issue 14 - Evidence - June 3, 2008 (Morning meeting)

OTTAWA, Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance met this day at 9:38 a.m. to study the subject-matter of Bill C- 50, an Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 26, 2008 and to enact provisions to preserve the fiscal plan set out in that budget.

Senator Joseph Day (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance. My name is Joseph Day, I represent the province of New Brunswick in the Senate, and I am the chair of this committee.


The committee's field of interest is government spending and operations. We do our work through estimates of expenditures and funds made available to officers of Parliament to perform their functions, through budget implementation legislation and other matters referred to this committee by the Senate.

On May 15, 2008, our committee received authority and direction from the Senate Chamber to study the subject matter of Bill C-50, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 26, 2008 and to enact provisions to preserve the fiscal plan set out in that budget, otherwise known as the Budget Implementation Act 2008, Bill C-50.

Today, we are pleased to have with us two witnesses who were with us on Thursday, but we were unable to get to them. We thank you for your indulgence in coming again to meet with us and speak about one aspect of Bill C-50. This bill has 10 parts to it. The part dealing with citizenship and immigration is what we will be discussing this morning.

We are pleased to welcome Andrea Lyon, Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy; and Mr. Les Linklater, Director General, Immigration Branch.

Andrea Lyon, Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Citizenship and Immigration Canada: Thank you very much and good morning. It is a pleasure to be here.

We appreciate this opportunity to speak to the committee regarding the Budget Implementation Act, Bill C-50, which contains the government's proposed amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. As the minister has stated, the government recognizes that our country was built on immigration and our future prosperity and success as a country largely depends on it.

However, with over 900,000 people in the queue wanting to immigrate to Canada, many have to wait up to six years before their applications are reviewed. If we do nothing to address the backlog, by 2012, the backlog could balloon to 1.5 million and applicants could face a 10-year wait time to have their applications processed.

This is because, while we set limits on the number of new immigrants we accept each year, the number of people who can apply is unlimited. This leaves us little flexibility in terms of what we can do with those applications that exceed our capacity to process. By law, we must process every single completed immigration application to a decision. Furthermore, we are generally limited to processing applications in the order in which we receive them.

At the same time, Canada faces competition in attracting people with the talents suitable to contribute to our country's continued growth and prosperity. In Australia and New Zealand, where we have the kind of flexibility we seek, applicants get final decisions in as little as six months. When compared to the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, Canada is the only country that does not use some kind of occupational filter to screen, code or prioritize skilled worker applications.

To address this matter, the government has proposed a number of actions. We would invest new resources in our immigration process which is why Budget 2008 announced approximately $109 million over five years to accomplish our goals. With these resources, we would make a number of administrative changes, including: centralizing our initial data entry to free up resources in our overseas missions for more processing of immigration applications; coding applications in the backlog by occupation so that we could refer applications of interest to the provinces and territories for processing under the Provincial Nominee Program; sending dedicated teams to our overseas missions to speed up processing in parts of the world where wait times are the longest; and transferring resources from busy to less busy missions.

While these administrative improvements are important and necessary, they are not enough. That is why the government has proposed legislative changes to give us the flexibility and authority to both manage the backlog and set priorities that would match Canada's needs, while also ensuring predictability, fairness and accountability of the immigration system.

This proposed legislation would allow the minister to instruct immigration officers to process on a priority basis, certain categories of applications. Under the proposed legislative changes, the department would no longer have to process every application. Those applications not processed in a given year could be held for future consideration or returned to the applicant with a refund of their application fee. Those applicants would be able to reapply.

There have been allegations that these key changes would give the minister undue discretion. However, there are a number of important checks and balances regarding the minister's instructions.

The ministerial instructions must comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects against discrimination on such bases as race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age and mental and physical disability. The instructions must also support the objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, that is, to support Canada's economy and competitiveness, reunite families, protect refugees and uphold Canada's humanitarian commitments. Prior to issuing the instructions, the department would consult with the provinces and territories, the Bank of Canada, Human Resources and Social Development Canada and other stakeholders such as employers and organized labour. The ministerial instructions would also be subject to cabinet approval.

As well, to be transparent and accountable, the instructions would be published in the Canada Gazette, on the departmental website and reported in the Citizenship and Immigration Canada's annual report, which is tabled in Parliament.

I would like to address some concerns that have been raised about Bill C-50. These proposed changes would not place limits on the number of applications that we would accept. The number we accept is identified every fall in the department's report to Parliament. That would not change, nor would the bill allow the minister to arbitrarily pick individual applications in the queue and override immigration officers' decisions on individual cases. The minister would be limited to designating priority categories, not applicants, and would not have the authority either to select an application for processing or to reject an application that has been processed and accepted. The decision on individual applications would continue to be made by CIC immigration officers.

The instructions also would not apply to refugees or protected persons, nor would they apply to humanitarian and compassionate applications made from within Canada, which account for almost 90 per cent of all such applications in this category. The instructions would also respect the Government of Canada's commitments to provinces and territories regarding the provincial nominee program and the Canada-Quebec Accord.

Finally, concerns have also been raised that the proposed changes would only apply to applications and requests made on or after February 27, 2008. In fact, our objective is to create a system more attuned and responsive to economic opportunities in Canada while also being fair to those applicants already in the backlog. This is why we will draw from those who applied after February 27 and those in the backlog who applied before this date.

It will, however take several years to draw down the backlog. This will depend on a number of factors: The number of applications that are withdrawn, the number that are processed through referrals to the provinces and territories and the number of immigrants we admit every year according to the annual immigration levels plan.

Mr. Chair, I hope this helps to answer some of the questions that the committee might have on this matter. We would be pleased to respond to your questions at this point.

The Chair: Ms. Lyon, you mentioned the application fee would be returned. Where do I find that in this legislation?

Ms. Lyon: It is the existing practice at the moment. That continues to apply. I believe it is set out in the regulations.

Les Linklater, Director General, Immigration Branch, Citizenship and Immigration Canada: When an individual applies and is not given a decision — they decide to withdraw — the administrative practice is to return the application with the full fee.

The Chair: That is nothing to do with this legislation.

Mr. Linklater: No.

The Chair: Are you saying that practice would continue?

Ms. Lyon: That is correct.

The Chair: I expect quite a few practices will continue, as you indicated during your statement.

Senator Stratton: Thank you, witnesses, for having the patience to bear with us while we move through this.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business outlined a substantial list of labour shortages in each province. I had heard that in Manitoba around 11,000 jobs were not filled. However, the CFIB's number was more like 17,000. In Ontario, the number is around 44,000. These are considerable numbers.

If you could, I would like you to take us through how this new legislation can be seen to be helping in the provinces. Take us through, for example, a relatively specific example so we are not fighting "bogeymen" who may think they might do something nefarious or not right.

Taking us through an example would immensely help folks to understand. If you would not mind doing that, I would appreciate it.

Ms. Lyon: Thanks for the question. It is important to set the context for those sorts of scenarios. Certainly, in some of the provinces, Manitoba in particular, is benefiting from a fairly strong economy at the moment with very low unemployment rates of something like 3 per cent, and very high participation rates. That means there are a lot of needs in terms of the labour force that cannot necessarily be addressed within the confines of the province.

We have increasingly heard from provinces and from employers, particularly in some of those regions where they are benefiting from this economic boom, to see what can be done on the immigration side to try to respond to these very urgent needs in specific regions and sectors.

We do have a temporary foreign workers program that allows people to come in for prescribed periods of time. However, we find that, because of this prolonged economic expansion, people really need the certainty of a permanent labour force that can be achieved through or supplemented by the immigration process.

As I indicated in my opening remarks, at the moment, people in the skilled worker category can languish in the queue for up to six years, which is not helpful for employers, for the Canadian economy, and it is certainly not helpful for the person who is in the queue for that period of time.

With these proposed changes in the legislation, we will be able to do a number of things. One thing is the administrative measures that I spoke of that will allow us to code the particulars of the applicant — their skills and occupation — so we know precisely who is in the backlog. We do not have all of that information at the moment.

Additionally, through the ministerial instructions that will be developed over the coming weeks and months following consultations with employers, with labour, with provinces and various other stakeholders, we will identify or have the capacity to identify priority occupations that will allow us to process those applications on a far more expedited basis than is currently the case. It will enable these people to come into Canada and start contributing as quickly as possible to the Canadian economy.

In our opening remarks, I spoke about what some of our competitor countries are able to achieve in this respect. Their processing times are extremely rapid — anywhere from six to twelve months, which puts us at a significant competitive disadvantage.

Our objective is to seek to process these priority applications within the same sort of time frame; that is under 12 months. That will help them come here faster and start contributing to our economy.

Senator Stratton: You have the existing list of over 900,000, and you will be able to identify in those 900,000 the various skills of various individuals. That is one set. Then you will have the new list that will be developed of new applicants with those skills identified.

How do you marry the two? How will you process and fairly allow those with skills already on the list to move along, in addition to the new list? How do we bring that together?

Ms. Lyon: That is an excellent question, and one that we are currently grappling with at the moment. We are essentially setting up, by virtue of the transition provisions, the pre- and post-February 27 applicants.

Our intention is to process both groups, if I can characterize it that way. I would suspect that in the first instance, in a transition period, we would probably put a fair bit of resources — some of this $109 million that I talked about — into buttressing some of our processing capacity abroad. That will enable us to draw down the backlog that is the pre- February 27 group of people. At the same time, of course, people are making applications and this is all coming in because Canada is a very attractive country. Once our instructions are in place, we will also need to process simultaneously this second group of people.

It will become a question of a proportionate split between our resources in terms of the pre-February 27 and the post-February 27 groups. Our objective is to draw down that large group of people in the backlog, while ensuring that we are quickly moving on the coded post-February 27 applications to respond so some of these urgent labour market needs.

The Chair: As a clarification, Senator Stratton mentioned the 900,000 to 1 million in the backlog. You cannot use this legislation to start categorizing that group, as I understand it, because this act and the provisions come into force as of February 27. Is that correct?

Ms. Lyon: I am glad you raised that point. There has been a fair bit of confusion around the pre- and the post- February 27. Let me try to explain that.

Those applications in the pre-February 27 pool are not coded at the moment. With the budget investments that we were accorded in Budget 2008, we will do a number of things: First, we will code all those applications in the old backlog so we have a sense as to who is out there and the skill sets. We will then be able to refer some of those applicants to provinces to the extent that they marry up with certain needs. We will do that under the legislation.

Second, we will be able to draw down the backlog by undertaking in the first instance a fairly limited letter-writing campaign to those in the backlog to confirm or re-confirm their interest; do they still wish to be considered? Six years is a long time, so other people may have made different plans. That may also reduce the number somewhat.

We will also increase some of our processing capacity by increasing resources in some of the high-volume missions abroad. That will, likewise, give us an ability to draw down the backlog. We are looking at centralized processing units to achieve greater efficiencies in our processing capacity, which will similarly have the effect of making the system run more smoothly and reduce some of those processing times. It is a combination of budgetary investments accorded in Budget 2008 plus the capacity to ensure that the backlog does not increase once the instructions are operational.

The Chair: Do you anticipate establishing categories and determining orders with respect to the backlog by having applicants reapply so you can process them in a way that you could not do in the past?

Ms. Lyon: Our objective and responsibility is to ensure that we put out a clear set of instructions as quickly and as reasonably as can be done. We will have to consult with the provinces and the territories, as well as employers and labour. They are closest to the labour market and will have the best sense of labour market needs. Once we have assembled that information and have gone through the necessary processes that I outlined, including cabinet consideration, they will be published. Following that, potential immigrants will have a clear and transparent set of rules. It will be up to them to determine when it is in their best interests to either apply or reapply. Certainly, that will depend on the occupations and their skill sets.


Senator Biron: The instructions will be published in the Canada Gazette. If one of the instructions is considered contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and does not meet humanitarian commitments, or if a person considers that it does not allow his family to be reunified, how could that person, or an association, raise objections to that instruction? Is there an appeal mechanism?


Ms. Lyon: There has been confusion about what legal recourse might be available in those circumstances. In effect, the legal recourses will be unchanged from what is currently available. People who believe that there was some defect in the instructions or they are not covered or they are outside the scope of the instructions, have the ability to seek leave to the Federal Court for judicial review; that will remain unchanged. The scope of judicial review can be on transparency, fairness, Charter applications, natural justice, and whether they exceed jurisdictions. Those six categories of review under the Federal Court will continue to apply to those who believe that there might be something wrong either with the instructions or with the process.

Senator Tardif: In your presentation, you stated that $109 million over five years will be included to achieve the goals of the immigration implementation strategy. I have two questions related to that. Certainly $109 million is a considerable sum of money but, given the urgency that you have expressed with a backlog of 900,000 potential immigrants, the amount seems insufficient. Is the amount sufficient to attain the goals and objectives as set out in the bill? Why have you not chosen to hire more immigration officers, which could speed up the backlog?

Ms. Lyon: We would always like more money for additional resources. It is important to point out that even if we were to double the current budget of CIC, it would still take us a considerable amount of time to reduce the backlog. As well, absent these proposed legislative changes, we would not be able to correct what we think is a defect in the current system of having to process to completion each and every application. That is the critical issue that we need to address in the context of this proposed legislative change.

It is not surprising that every year we receive far more applicants for residence in Canada than we can accommodate. We welcome between 240,000 and 265,000 people but we receive applications far in excess of that number. The question is how to manage the system in as efficient a manner as possible while responding to urgent labour market needs.

Our view is that the proposed legislative change, in particular the provision that eliminates the obligation to process every application to completion is critical to such efficiency. The budgetary investments will be helpful to the coding, centralized processing, limited letter-writing campaign and additional resources to some of the higher volume missions. We view it as a combination of budgetary investments and this series of proposed legislative changes that will help to introduce efficiencies and modernization into the system.

Senator Tardif: When processing by category and an individual does not fall into the right category, does it mean their application is not considered?

Ms. Lyon: The minister will elaborate in the instructions on the disposition of applicants that do not fall within the priority occupations. We have the option of retaining them for a period of time or returning them with the fee. That feature will allow us to prevent further growth in the backlog.

The Chair: For clarification of the record, the feature to which you refer is in Part VI of the bill dealing with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Proposed section 11 deals with a foreign national making an application for entry into Canada. The IRPA states that a visa or document "shall be issued" but proposed section 11(1) in Bill C-50 states "may be issued." Even though the foreign national has filled out all the forms and has done everything correctly, the department and the minister may say, yes, or may say, no, irrespective of the form.

Ms. Lyon: The form will need to be reviewed against the specifics outlined in the instructions, which will set out what we believe to be the priority occupations.

The Chair: You are talking about "may" versus "shall."

Ms. Lyon: That is correct.

The Chair: The bill proposes to make the issuing of a visa or document discretionary.

Ms. Lyon: That is right.

Senator Nancy Ruth: This has been one of the most helpful presentations to date on Bill C-50. I am grateful to you both.

I refer you to page 3, paragraph 4, which pertains to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I was pleased to hear you say, ". . . which protects against discrimination on such bases as . . . ." That led me to believe that all of you understand that the categories in section 15 of the Charter are open-ended according to decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. However, the one that is missing, although quite well established in Canada, is sexual orientation. Why did you not put that in your speech?

Ms. Lyon: Certainly, all of the protections under the Charter are applicable. Officials and the government as a whole, by virtue of section 32 of the Charter, are obliged to uphold the Charter in the execution of all government activities, whether they are carried out in Canada or abroad. I could have listed all of the Charter provisions in my opening statement and, certainly, sexual orientation would fall within that.

Senator Nancy Ruth: It would be helpful to Canadians like me if you were to include the entire list.

Senator Ringuette: On a supplementary, you did not mention gender in your presentation.

The Chair: Is "sex" broad enough to include gender and orientation?

Senator Nancy Ruth: It does not say "gender."

The Chair: Each of us has a different understanding of the term "sex." Would it be broad enough to include gender and sexual orientation? Maybe each of your points is included in the broad term "sex."

Senator Nancy Ruth: Perhaps hers, not mine. It is offensive to me as a queer not to have this stated in government documents. Please put it in, and the other categories that are missing, too.

In your paper, you say that Canada is in competition for those who want to come to English- or French-speaking countries, particularly New Zealand and Australia. I assume that if we have these categories, as they do, perhaps in time we will have as quick a turnaround as six months — as those countries do. I suspect there is more to it than that. Can you tell me how you think this system will help fix that problem?

I have some friends in Toronto who run ESL schools and the process time of getting their students in for visas, compared to the quickness of Australia and New Zealand, takes a great deal of business away from them. Is this some kind of parallel that will work, both in letting people in as immigrants and processing student visas for those who want them?

Ms. Lyon: The competitive angle concerns us greatly. Australia, New Zealand and a number of those other countries have managed to introduce the sorts of efficiencies into their system that allow them to process applications in those quick time frames of between six and twelve months. Our objective is to match those processing times through this combination of budgetary investments and the kind of flexibilities that the legislation will introduce and allow us to achieve.

Senator Nancy Ruth: As quickly as six months? That is pretty quick.

Ms. Lyon: It is very quick. The task ahead of us is a large one, given the backlog. We have the dubious distinction of being one of the only major immigrant-receiving countries that has a backlog of this size — 925,000 people as of the end of 2007.

The ability to achieve processing times of six to twelve months will not be done instantaneously. It will take us time to tackle the backlog, get those numbers down, hire new people, train them, get them out into the field and get them operational so that we can gradually bring down those processing times. We are under no illusion that it is a competitive market out there. That is what is driving these changes and that is the recognition in terms of the budgetary investment.

Senator Nancy Ruth: In your business plan, do you have something that says within two years we will train the staff and process applications within X number of months or years, and in five years we can do it? Is there a plan that you can share with us?

Ms. Lyon: We are starting to develop that in terms of getting ready. Of course, the bill is not passed so we cannot start to introduce changes or spend money until we have the new legislation. For reason of prudency, we are starting to set out those kinds of business plans.

Senator Nancy Ruth: Do you know anything about the other side of it — for instance, students wanting to come here to train that are taking off to other countries because we are so slow?

Ms. Lyon: That is a consequence of having a large backlog and a lengthy processing time is that you lose good people.

Mr. Linklater: We try to work closely with the educational institutions to ensure that they give us the information we need to process students as quickly as possible. We know that most students try to come in August to get here for September or they come in December for January classes. However, if we do not get a letter of acceptance from an institution until August and the student requires a medical, that puts pressure on our system.

We are engaging the AUCC, the ACCC and other institutions. We have a regular forum with public and private institutions and the provinces, given their jurisdiction over education, to help sort through some of these processing issues. We are looking at standardized letters of acceptance, for example, and trying to move that back in the process so that students can approach us as early as possible to get their documents well in advance of their studies here in Canada.

At the same time, given the relatively small market share that we have vis-à-vis other countries like Australia, whose market share of international students is double Canada's, we are moving forward with the Canadian Experience Class to try to attract and retain international students who will obtain a Canadian credential. These students will likely be fluent in one or both of our official languages and then decide to remain permanently as immigrants to help contribute and to use their Canadian credentials to support the economy.

Senator Eggleton: What are the other countries doing that we are not doing? They must experience the kind of problems that you outline, in terms of getting the required letters from the educational institutions.

You say that Australia has double the market share of international students. Why should Australia have double? Why can we not catch up to that level as well?

Mr. Linklater: In Australia, there is national legislation around education whereas in Canada, with respect to the constitutional division of powers, it is a provincial responsibility. Australia has been able to take a consumer protection approach to marketing international education for students. There is a state and federal monitoring regime in place and also a national marketing strategy that allows Australian institutions to cooperate abroad for promotion and recruitment activities.

In the Canadian context, provinces and institutions tend to recruit largely on their own. There is more competition among and between Canadian institutions than collaboration at this point. Working with Foreign Affairs, that is something that we would like to see changed; we would like to develop a single Canada brand for marketing education overseas.

Senator Eggleton: It sounds like you know what needs to be done. Can you help put this together and advance it to the government so that they can consider it? Are you working on this?

Mr. Linklater: We are at the table with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Industry Canada and the provinces to look at marketing and branding, which is a Foreign Affairs lead. They received some budget funds last year to help bring together that type of strategy and I expect that with the provincial participation, there will be a more coherent approach in the coming months.

Senator Eggleton: Keep pushing.

Mr. Linklater: I will try.

Ms. Lyon: Regarding Budget 2008, there is a reference to additional monies for international students, including the introduction of electronic e-applications, which we think will introduce further efficiencies into the system. There has been acknowledgement of that in Budget 2008, but we will heed your advice and keep working on that.

Senator Eggleton: The proof is in the pudding.

The Chair: Is that additional money part of the $109 million that you talked about?

Ms. Lyon: Yes, it is.

The Chair: That is $109 million over five years, roughly $21 million or $22 million per year, to do the electronic applications for students to deal with a 1 million-person backlog.

How many more people do you anticipate you will be able to hire with that money? As Senator Tardif pointed out, you have quite a task ahead of you. Do you have sufficient funding?

Ms. Lyon: We will have to set out, in the context of Treasury Board submissions, precisely how the $109 million will be divided up among those various activities that I described. Sending people abroad is a very expensive undertaking once you take into account infrastructure costs —foreign service directives, FSDs, and various other costs. We will certainly be mindful of that as we allocate between the letter-writing process, the coding exercise, the centralized processing and then the major component.

The Chair: You indicated you would be sending teams to areas where you have the largest backlog. Have you done an analysis on how many more employees you will be able to hire with these funds?

Ms. Lyon: It is early stages, but as I indicated to the senator, we are starting that process of mapping those higher- volume missions. We are establishing what sort of SWAT teams can be used on temporary duty or temporary assignment, for example, to try to reduce the backlog in some of the missions that receive the greatest number of applicants.

Senator Ringuette: First, I should like to address the funding situation. You have said that the department does not have a centralized data bank. That is amazing, because over the last 15 years and more, the Canadian government has invested billions of dollars with regard to technical capabilities. You say that you have a very archaic system that is based on the location where the application is made. You say that there is no centralized data to see who is applying and from where they are applying. There is no way that you can do that type of analysis. That is what you said.

Ms. Lyon: I will let my colleague speak a bit more about some of the operational realities in terms of what the current system says and does.

With 90 points of admission and some 1,400 people abroad, our work is essentially spread out across the world. I would not say that the system is archaic. I would say that it would benefit from some of these investments to help with its modernization.

We do a fair bit of work with our colleagues in Australia and New Zealand to share best practices. There is a lot of work done internationally. Generally speaking, we have a good system and a sound system. There are some defects or reform elements in the system that we think would benefit from a review, and some of these surgical amendments to the legislation will assist us in that.

Mr. Linklater: With the technology that we have, there is a possibility of having a better understanding of who has already applied. Given the volumes of applications that we have received in the past, in the process of creating files, we have not been putting in all of the data that we receive with an application. We put in the tombstone data — name, date of birth, country of origin, and so on — but we have not systematically been putting in the occupational code for skilled workers.

As my colleague said in her introductory remarks when she referred to coding the backlog, what we are now doing with some of these additional funds is going back and finding all those files and putting that occupational information into the system so that we have a global sense of who is waiting now.

As of February 27, all new applications have had that data entered into the system, so I would say in the next year to 18 months we will have a completely coded backlog. Even before then, as we improve the quality of the data in the system, we will be able to pull all of that together and make those referrals to provinces, as my colleague stated.

Senator Ringuette: That is exactly my point. Currently, you are not able to pull all that together. Therefore, you are not able to do any kind of analysis of the applicants in the system, only the numbers.

Mr. Linklater: We can extrapolate.

Senator Ringuette: The basis of my question is that you do not have any centralized means of analyzing what you have in the system right now because it is spread throughout 90 different operations.

Mr. Linklater: All of that information feeds into systems here in Ottawa and we can extrapolate information based on what is in the system. The challenge for us now with some of this additional funding is to complete that coding exercise so that we have a more comprehensive picture of what is in the system.

Senator Ringuette: Does the current code also include language skills?

Mr. Linklater: Language skills would be assessed during the selection process, which is done in three phases. There is a first application, where we look at occupation, the tombstone data and that sort of thing. Once we decide that the person has sufficient points to qualify as an immigrant, we take a more in-depth review of the application, where we assess and award points for language ability, vocational training, age, and so on. At that point, the person is given a decision as to whether or not he or she qualifies, according to the point grid. If so, then we issue the medicals and do the background checks and so on, as the third stage.

Senator Ringuette: How much of the $21 million a year will be required to upgrade the present technical system?

Mr. Linklater: I would distinguish upgrades of the system from coding the database. We are now looking at the pressure points in the system, how many people would be sent to New Delhi or London, for example, or to other high- volume missions. The work involves mainly clerical data-entry work, and is also, why in the future we would look at centralizing that work in Canada to free up those resources in missions overseas to do more actual processing.

Fundamental change and improvements in our system will come with the global case management system, which is under development now. It is a major Crown project, one of the largest IT projects the government has undertaken, which will provide us with a client continuum. Whereas now we have different systems in different parts of the immigration system, this will provide us with the continuum from point of application through to citizenship, which is a management tool that we do not have now.

Senator Ringuette: Exactly. How much will that cost?

Mr. Linklater: GCMS? I am not an expert in that area. I would not be able to comment on the cost.

Senator Ringuette: Is it not part of your funds?

Mr. Linklater: No. It is managed separately.

Senator Ringuette: The department of labour used to have — and I say "used to have" — a policy called Canadian first. I am looking at the reality in Canada right now, where people have been shouting, "We need more skills." First, we do not have an inventory of skilled people in the different provinces. Manitoba does not know how many mineworkers are available from New Brunswick or from Nova Scotia. That is a reality.

The Chair: The answer is yes?

Mr. Linklater: Yes.

Senator Ringuette: Yes, absolutely. In your discussion with regard to the screaming of provinces that they need skilled labour, have you talked with the people at the Labour Program to assess Canadian first.

Ms. Lyon: We worked extremely closely with HRSDC in all of our work on the temporary foreign worker program, where they have the responsibility for undertaking labour market assessments and needs. That is a critical component in terms of a determination as to whether or not we can bring someone in temporarily to undertake a certain activity, and that is to determine the availability of the labour pool within that geographic region.

The context of the work we will be undertaking will be in terms of this instruction process, which is to identify from a national perspective the skill sets and the occupational groups that are most in demand in the Canadian economy, taking into account some of these regional disparities.

Senator Ringuette: Who will do that for you?

Ms. Lyon: I suspect many people will have opinions on this matter. There are many people who are closer to the labour market and those economic realities than we are. Some of them are in HRSDC. The employers have a good sense as to the labour pool and the availability and suitability thereof. Labour groups themselves will have views, business communities will have views, NGOs will have views, and the provinces and territories will be critical players in this process. That is why we need to talk to them.

Senator Ringuette: I am sorry, but that has been the set process from the Government of Canada for the last decade. It has not worked. The only thing it has achieved is that those sectoral councils have pushed their opinion that the shortage of skills in Canada is humongous. There is a shortage of skills, but it is not at that level; I am sorry.

Therefore, you are saying you will keep the current consultative process, and we will not resolve the issue that right now the Government of Canada and your department, the department of labour, do not know the skilled labour availability from one province to another. It is limited by geography, it is limited to the provinces, and that is unhealthy as a nation.

Senator Stratton: If I may, Mr. Chair, I raised earlier before the meeting started that the provinces are meeting to try to resolve the labour or manpower shortages issue. They met last week, and I think they are meeting on an ongoing basis because they recognize that problem. I do not think it is just the federal government that is responsible.

Senator Ringuette: I agree.

Senator Stratton: The provinces are trying to identify that as well.

The Chair: Can you confirm that the provinces are helping with this issue that Senator Ringuette has raised?

Ms. Lyon: Within the last week or so, there was a federal-provincial meeting of immigration deputies, which allowed us a first opportunity to discuss in a bit more detail some of the provisions around Bill C-50, and, particularly, the instructions process.

We told the provinces and we have been telling business communities and labour that their opinions and insights will be critical to the success of this endeavour. We need to put it in a context as well.

Senator, I take your point, in terms of the knowledge pool; however, what we are up against is the reality of 2012 closing in on us and the notion that all of the growth in the labour force will have to come from immigration. That is very much going to be mind-focusing in terms of making this process work.

That will give us the tools to bring in people in a much faster timeframe, and the trick will be to identify those categories of workers that match more precisely those labour market needs.

We approach this a little more optimistically than you do because the alternative is to have these people languish on a list for six years and have no capacity to bring people in as quickly as we can to respond to some of these labour market demands and to ensure that the economy keeps humming as it needs to.

Senator Ringuette: First, there is no knowledge base of the current skill sets for Canadians. Let us start from reality. Let us look at our own base first, and then, whatever is in shortage, you can put in your process.

Senator Stratton: Mr. Chair, I have a bit of a problem with that. In Manitoba, for example, the nickel mine in Thompson has been searching the country for miners and cannot find them. They are searching the country. It is not as though companies do not do this. They do.

Trucking companies in Southern Manitoba cannot find truckers. They are going overseas to find them because they cannot find them here. They have tried in New Brunswick, B.C. and Alberta and the other regions of the country. They cannot find them. That is why they go elsewhere. That is not an issue here.

Senator Ringuette: The problem is that over a decade ago the federal government retired itself from being an active participant in the Canadian labour market to help Canadians find work or identify workers within the country. We have left that and are focusing all of our energy into immigration. To me, it is a sad state of affairs in regards to looking at the future.

Another major issue in regard to immigrants that we have not yet settled is the recognition of qualifications. We currently have immigrants in Canada with qualifications that are not recognized, so they cannot use them.

I understand that there is a backlog and you want to deal with it, but I find in the scheme of priorities that some priorities are not in the right place. The $109 million over the next five years is not a lot of money, granted, in regards to the mandate that you want from this bill. There are misplaced priorities here concerning looking at the labour market.

In your comments, you said that you want to target priority occupations. How will you manage that without them being recognized in Canada? Many gaps need to be addressed before you venture into bringing people with skills that will not be recognized.

I understand that the requirement for money is in the budget. What I do not understand is that the legislative process of redoing the process concerning immigration is in this budget bill. It should not have been here so we could have dealt with it properly.

Ms. Lyon: First, with respect to the labour pool in Canada, the senator gave a depiction in terms of trying to determine precisely what is out there, what the labour pool is, and whether we have sufficiently depleted the Canadian market before looking on the immigrant side. I would like to make a couple of points with respect to what our employers are doing and what they are telling us.

Employers are undertaking the sorts of investments to pursue international recruiting. They are going abroad to try to seek people with the skill sets to come in temporarily to work because they have been unable to find the sorts of people in the domestic labour market to do that, be that within the region or beyond. Certainly, it would be far cheaper from a business perspective to look domestically. One can only assume they have done that and made the calculation and determined that they cannot find those sorts of labour sources domestically. They have made the decision to go abroad. I cannot comment on whether or not that is good or bad business, but that is what they are doing. They are also undertaking investments to ensure these people are properly trained. That is also a business cost they incur. I can only assume there are good reasons for doing that as well. They are taking steps to ensure that they are appropriately integrated within the workforce. They are, of course, subject to provincial regulations and standards in terms of labour, safety and wages, et cetera.

They are certainly coming to us and saying there is a need and can you please get these people in here faster? They are pointing to what Australia, New Zealand and other countries are able to do, and asking whether we can do this in the same sort of speed. This is what the business community is telling us and this is how we are seeking to respond.

Your comment with respect to foreign credential accreditation, it is a very important issue and it is one certainly not within the responsibility of the federal government. The provincial government maintains the authority for accreditation and in some cases they have devolved that to professional associations. What we have done in the context of previous budgets is to allocate money for a foreign credential referral office that provides path finding information services to potential immigrants and lets them know in advance what the procedures are domestically in Canada. It puts them in touch with those provincial associations or professional associations and makes sure they know what the situation is in advance of arrival in Canada they are able to get started on that process.

We have set up as a pilot project some work at three of our posts abroad so that work is all being done before they actually arrive in Canada. We have 320 points of service in Canada to give people information about where to go and what sort of processes need to be followed. In addition to that, a number of provinces are starting to pass legislation to try to encourage further progress in this area because you are right that there is not a lot of point in us identifying a priority occupation, bringing them here and finding that they cannot work.

That must be a component of our strategy, to ensure that we actually are responding to those labour force needs. That will be under consideration when we talk to the provinces and when we deal with the employers and when we engage with the professional associations who have been quite helpful in that respect.

Senator Eggleton: In Toronto — just to pick up on this last line of questioning and your comments — we have a lot of people who have come into the city. Much of the immigration into the country does come into Toronto and the big cities. Many of these people are not able to get jobs in the occupations they were trained for overseas, either because of their credentials — the professional association problem again — or because employers want people with Canadian experience. As a result, we have an income level that is far lower than it was at one time in terms of many of the immigrants coming into my city. That must therefore be a vital part of this program or it will not work.

I want to go back to some of the information you gave us, particularly starting with the characteristics of the present system. You have noted that the department must process every single completed immigration application to a decision and that the processing of applications comes in the order in which they are received.

How long have those characteristics, the basics of the system, been in effect?

Mr. Linklater: They have been in effect since the current legislation was enacted in 2002, but even before that with the previous Immigration Act. In the point system, cases have been processed in the order in which we receive them.

Senator Eggleton: Then why are we at the stage we are at now, why are you asking for this additional authority or power? What has changed? Are there many more applicants or do you have fewer resources with which to process these applicants, or some combination or something else? What is the reason? After having been on this system for a number of years, you say you are now at a crisis stage and must do something.

Ms. Lyon: Primarily what is driving this is the exponential growth in the backlog. There are a number of reasons why the backlog has ballooned since 2002. As my colleague pointed out, when we introduced the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the bill was under consideration, there was a spike in applicants, which caused a bit of growth. In 2003, there was a change in the pass mark, and that had the effect of increasing the backlog as well. Also there is the success that some of our competitor countries have enjoyed in terms of the occupational filters that they have been able to introduce into their systems, akin to what we are seeking to do, and the processing times they are able to achieve of between six and twelve months.

Why has it taken this long?

Senator Eggleton: Why is it suddenly a crisis?

Ms. Lyon: In reality, it has been a growing crisis. I cannot speak to past efforts to try to address this issue.

We do have this period of unprecedented economic growth and it really is starting to bite in terms of the speed with which we are able to get people in. The multiplier effect of backlog growth is such that the effect that your processing times grow and grow to the point that by 2012 — it could be 10 years — we could be up to 1.5 million people. That would certainly paralyze the system, which is why we are seeking these changes.

Senator Eggleton: Do you know what the backlog was about five years ago?

Mr. Linklater: We have that figure available; I do not have it with me but we can certainly table that with the clerk.

Senator Eggleton: I do not know if we have any diagrams that show the pattern of the backlog, but I would not mind seeing it if we do.

Let me ask you about operational filters, this need to put certain categories of people to the top of the list because of the labour requirements within the country. I recall previous discussions about these issues, about the need for different kinds of workers and about different agreements that could be entered into to try to facilitate those people coming into the country.

I suppose the provincial nomination program is also built upon what they see as their labour requirements.

What is the difference between what is in effect now? Does the minister not already have some authority with respect to occupations? Why is this additional authority needed? What is the difference?

Ms. Lyon: You are quite right in terms of the minister's ability in certain situations to identify priorities of which the Provincial Nominee Program, the PNP, is one example. Family class is another, where we have established priority processing for family class in terms of spouses and dependent children. However, there has been some litigation surrounding the minister's ability to establish these sorts of priorities. We have been litigated 24 or 25 times on this question.

Senator Eggleton: What is an example of this litigation?

Ms. Lyon: An example is the 2006 Vaziri case, which went to the Federal Court, where we were successful. I think that particular case related to family class processing and establishing priorities thereof. While we were successful in the Vaziri case, because of this existence of litigation for reasons of clarity, we thought it would be useful to give the minister that specific authority in the act so that there can be no question.

Senator Eggleton: Could the pass mark be raised as a means of dealing with this question of backlog and preferences in terms of occupational categories?

Ms. Lyon: There have been a number of changes to the pass mark. As I mentioned, there was an adjustment to it in 2003.

At this point, because of some of the issues that we talked about in terms of coding, we want to ensure we are attracting the full range of skill sets that seem to be in need at the moment in the Canadian economy. Over the longer term and in applying a human capital model, you want to ensure you have the highly educated people in as well. There is certainly a crying need for some of the lower skilled or semi-skilled workers within the economy. Raising the pass mark would have the effect of excluding them from consideration.

Senator Eggleton: Yes, unless you change the criteria for what receives points. I appreciate that in terms of categories such as construction workers where the pass mark will not be easy to obtain.

In terms of operations overseas, I read a report recently that said there is enormous backlog in certain countries, whether they are in Hong Kong or other Asian countries, which is where I guess most of the applicants are, so one could explain it that way. However, if you are in the United States or Europe, you are whistled on right through because there are people there to process you.

Why is there not a reallocation of these resources to where the needs and most of the applicants are?

Ms. Lyon: We do that sort of thing from time to time in order to try to relieve pressures. We engage SWAT teams to go and assist in a particular mission.

Processing times will vary from post to post based on demand, based on the sort of applicants you receive and based on the time it takes to complete things like security checks, medical checks, et cetera. It can be a time-consuming process, but certainly, the bulk of our processing resources are in those higher-volume areas. We do seek to supplement from time to time.

Senator Eggleton: I have been hearing for years about these task teams, et cetera. What are you doing differently? Why should I believe you now?

Mr. Linklater: Over the past few years, we have been transferring resources permanently from certain offices, particularly to the new office in Chandigarh, India, as well as to New Delhi. With the visa exemptions in Eastern Europe that were recently announced, we will be moving some work to those missions as we move to close them. The resources there will be moved to areas most in need.

In March, I believe, the minister announced the addition of about five new decision makers for our office in Manila in recognition of the backlog growing there and the need to turn our attention to those key spots.

Senator Eggleton: I hope that will happen. With respect to this date of February 27, you have clarified in your remarks that this new processing system, the $109 million of resources you need in order to process, will not only apply to after but also to before February 27.

Can I get an indication of how much of those resources might be used before February 27? Will most of that backlog sit there while the vast majority of the resources go toward after February 27? Give me some idea of how that will happen.

Ms. Lyon: Clearly, there will be a transition period as we seek to deal with that backlog. For the initial period of time, our projections are that the vast majority of the resources will be dedicated to the period before February 27.

In terms of precise percentage splits, I cannot give you a specific number at this point, but we recognize that there have been people languishing there for some period of time, and we want to draw that down as quickly as possible.

Senator Eggleton: I think we all want to have increased administrative efficiency, and I hope you can bring that about in the department. However, I think for many people there is concern over additional powers going to the minister, whether they are really needed or not. In that connection, if they are given, what will be the oversight? The officials have certainly tried to clarify some of that, and I think that is what we must continue to keep our eye on, to ensure we are giving only the legislative authority necessary and that there is Parliamentary oversight.

The Chair: You are quite right; it would be nice if we could look at the entire piece of legislation, but we are charged with focusing on just this one short amendment at this stage.

Ms. Lyon, you mentioned something significant happening in the year 2012. Could you refresh our memories in that regard?

Ms. Lyon: Our projection is that by 2012, given the demographics in Canada — an aging workforce, people retiring, low birthrate, et cetera — we suspect that all growth in the labour market at that point will derive from immigration.

Senator Di Nino: I thank the witnesses for appearing. I think both of you have been good in your eloquent responses.

With respect to the process of reviewing each applicant, I understand that that includes those who may have decided not to continue their applications. In fact, it may even include those who may be deceased. Is that correct?

Ms. Lyon: If someone is deceased, you do not have to go as far in the process, but you need to confirm that person is indeed deceased. That is one of the deficiencies in the system as it stands, in that you must go through that process from start to finish.

We will be using part of the monies to write to people in order to reconfirm their interest and determine whether they still wish to come to Canada. You are quite right in that is labour-intensive.

Senator Di Nino: Please run us through this ministerial instruction. What does it really mean?

Ms. Lyon: The ministerial instructions will lay out occupational priorities for those occupations that are in significant demand in the Canadian economy. They may outline the order in which they need to be accorded priority. They may set out the number in terms of absolute numbers among different categories. They will also set out the disposition of applications, how applications will be treated; for example, how long the government may maintain a file or whether it will be returned, when it is returned with its original fees. The instructions will establish, for transparency purposes, the rules of the game so that prospective immigrants will know.

Senator Di Nino: Is there a provision that prior to issuing the instructions, the minister will need to consult widely with provinces and with industry and other stakeholders, whatever they may be? I would like some clarification on that.

Ms. Lyon: Indeed, we will be engaging with the minister over the coming weeks, assuming this legislation passes, to try to solicit views from these people in terms of what those priority categories ought to be. As we have talked about previously, these are people much closer to the labour market, and they are in a better position to advise us with respect to those priorities. We will undertake that consultation process, presuming the legislation passes, and start to gather views from a range of stakeholders. You mentioned the provinces, the territories, labour and the business community.

Senator Di Nino: At least it begins to address the issues that Senator Ringuette was speaking concerning the labour force, more particularly the issue of recognition of professional qualifications. I understand that is part of that process. So that we can better understand Senator Ringuette's concerns, do you want to tell us about that?

Ms. Lyon: Part of our consideration will be to respond to the labour force demands. In order to do that, we need to ensure that when we identify priority occupations, that those people in those categories are actually able to work in their area once they arrive in Canada. Jurisdictionally, we do not have authority over accreditation. That is at the provincial level or has been devolved. That will form part of our discussions with the provinces and with employers to ensure that the system does work and that we are not creating another inefficiency in the system.

Senator Di Nino: It is the beginning of a process to try to solve some of those problems.

Ms. Lyon: Indeed. With respect to the Foreign Credentials Referral Office, because we have had this problem for some time, monies have been identified and activities set up. Minister Finley spoke not that long ago to a conference in Calgary designed to pursue this issue. There is growing recognition that it is in our collective interest as a nation to resolve this issue regardless of where the jurisdictional responsibility resides. There has been a fair bit of work, money and collaboration to try to come up with the best approach to make this work.

Senator Di Nino: I understand that ministerial instructions will not affect refugees. Humanitarian and compassionate applications are made within Canada. That is correct as well?

Ms. Lyon: That is correct. Refugees are specifically excluded from the provisions. Humanitarian and compassionate applications from within Canada are likewise excluded. Those applications on the humanitarian and compassionate side constitute about 90 per of the applications we receive. We have international obligations on the refugee side and on the humanitarian and compassionate applications. People within Canada tend to have settled in Canada and have kids who are going to school, so reasonable cases can be made that those applications are justified.

Senator Di Nino: I have another area that I would like to delve into, and it is an area that has disturbed me while listening to testimony. Comments made by witnesses have indicated that part of the reason for these amendments to the legislation have racial motivations and racial biases. At least three people indicated that at our May 28 meeting. There was even an insinuation that we are looking for cheap labour for industry. I would like your comments on that.

Ms. Lyon: I very much welcome the opportunity to put on the record the fact that we are guided by and must respect fully the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as we exercise our responsibilities under this legislation. That is the case now. It is a requirement under the Charter, and it is specifically spelled out in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act under section 3 that we must respect the Charter as we carry out our responsibilities, regardless of whether that is within Canada or abroad. That is an obligation that we take extremely seriously.

Senator Di Nino: Having said that, with or without the Charter, this country has an incredibly great reputation around the world. We heard from the officials from the UN about the respect that people have for Canada.

Those comments disturbed me, and I placed my objections on the record. As a matter of fact, even if the laws were not there, our practice has been to respect fully all of those issues that deal with discrimination, racism and so on.

As another area in this general discussion, one of our witnesses gave us a copy of a posting on their website of what he says purports to be a Canadian immigration officer. It is an awfully racist comment, certainly tainting all immigration officers in the whole system. I have a copy of the presentation. I think it is an awful thing, and I think it was irresponsible to make this kind of accusation. Basically, it is a ranting of a Canadian immigration officer that paints a picture of a bunch of lunatics running our system. He did not say that. He said this is one example, but he insinuated this is not a singular example. Is there a system to ensure that if we have bad apples that we get rid of them? What is the system, and how do we do that?

Ms. Lyon: Yes, there certainly is a system in terms of accountability and ensuring that we are responding and acting consistently with our mandate and with the Charter and our obligations as public servants.

I am not familiar with the particular case you cite, but certainly there are sanctions and recourse available to test these allegations and to apply penalties ultimately, including up to suspension or having the person be let go.

Senator Di Nino: Should this kind of accusation be investigated? If you do not know about it, we will make you aware of it. Would you not want to investigate that?

Ms. Lyon: Yes, absolutely. I must apologize; I am not familiar with it.

Senator Di Nino: This is public testimony, by the way. He read this as testimony. I think we should make it available, and perhaps you can look into it and report to this committee.

Ms. Lyon: Yes, I would be happy to do that.

The Chair: Yes, we could get a report on it.

Ms. Lyon: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you for bringing that to our attention. I remember hearing that last week.

I have a couple of points for clarification. One of them arises from a comment made earlier by Senator Ringuette. You must have been thinking for some time about the need for changes in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, having seen the growth in the backlog and the demand for occupational selection criteria. How long have you been developing this change in policy?

Ms. Lyon: Certainly it is an area that we have been looking at as the backlog has started to spike up, consistent with the fact that we are in this period of economic growth where there are these labour force demands that make the problems all the more obvious and acute.

The department has been working on this. It has been identified as an issue in our annual reports that are tabled in Parliament. The last annual report referred to the significant problem that this imposes, insofar as there is one system that must treat applicants from a variety of streams. While the backlog is in one particular category, the foreign skilled worker category, it impinges upon our overall ability to have a smooth and efficient system. It has been an issue of concern for some time, just as the growth has continued.

The Chair: You indicated earlier that in 2003, there was a major spike in the applications and therefore a backlog at that time, and it has been building since then.

Ms. Lyon: That is correct.

The Chair: Our concern as parliamentarians is that we find these significant policy changes that deserve a full understanding tucked away as Part 6 of ten parts of a budget implementation bill. We cannot understand why it would be tucked in there and not be dealt with as a separate piece of legislation. Is that a policy decision upon which it is beyond your realm to comment?

Ms. Lyon: Certainly the decision as to when to introduce legislation and in what form is one that our political masters make. However, I would like to make a couple points.

As we have discussed this morning, much of what is driving this is a need to ensure responsiveness to the Canadian market to ensure that the Canadian economy is as efficient and competitive as possible. That aligns very closely with Advantage Canada, which is the overall platform for Canada's economy; therefore, it feeds into a budget process.

I talked earlier about what happened in 2002 when we first introduced the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. While that bill was being considered, there was a significant spike in applicants prior to the bill coming into force. The way the government has proceeded will prevent that from happening again.

The Chair: There are two fundamental changes being proposed by this legislation in relation to immigration and refugee protection. The first change is in the discretion of the minister and the department from "shall" to "may" to give the person landed immigrant status after he or she has filled out the forms. That has been dealt with and it will be discretionary once the legislation is passed.

The second change is a process issue. We are very familiar with regulations. We have established checks and balances to ensure that regulations fit within the act. We have the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations of which the Senate and the House of Commons have representatives to review the regulations. The rules under the Statutory Instruments Act require regulations to be pre-published in the Canada Gazette where they are available for consideration by the provinces, business or anyone that is impacted. That is followed by changes and then the final regulations. We understand that process.

However, the process here is not that normal regulation process. The minister "may give instructions" and everyone in the department must follow those instructions; that can be found in one of the sections of this bill. It seems a little strange to me. It then says that the instructions "shall be published in the Canada Gazette." However, that could be after the fact. There is it nothing about consultation with the provinces before these instructions are given.

Is there a precedent for this type of process and why was this process chosen over the regulatory process with which everyone is familiar?

Ms. Lyon: That is a good question.

The instruction process is a common administrative tool used from time-to-time to implement policy decisions. It is provided for in the legislation directly in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, IRPA, and it has been used with some frequency. For example, it is used on temporary residence permits. There are numerous precedents for its use.

The Chair: Are these all within immigration?

Ms. Lyon: That is correct; I am speaking only within the confines of immigration.

The Chair: Are you aware of this instruction process in other types of legislative items?

Ms. Lyon: I am not aware of its use in other departments.

I can tell you a little about what some other countries do. They have a similar process where the identification of priority occupations is done not at the ministerial level, but at my equivalent level, the assistant deputy minister. We have actually bumped it up to the minister.

The Chair: However, you understand it is not other countries as much as the process we have in place to protect the public?

Ms. Lyon: I understand.

The Chair: To protect the process, we have the Scrutiny of Regulations Committee and that does not apply now. These instructions are outside of all of the protective umbrellas we have developed.

Ms. Lyon: The instructions process has the benefit of being fast and flexible and that is what we want from the immigration system.

In terms of specifically outlining a process of consultation, the minister released on April 8 some principles that will guide us in how we develop these instructions. In that, she reiterated the commitment to be in full compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Chair: That is her obligation anyway. This is a letter saying "trust me." We get a lot of that "trust me" these days. It skirts around all of the objective checks and balances that we have built up in the parliamentary system that has been around a long time.

Ms. Lyon: I can only say that the instruction process is not unique; it is not new. It has been used in the past to effect policy changes and to give instructions to immigration officers so they can respond quickly.

We have added these additional features to provide a standard instruction process. We have supplemented that by indicating the minister will go to cabinet prior to issuing instructions.

The Chair: That is not in the legislation.

Ms. Lyon: No, but it is an undertaking she has made.

The Chair: Again, this is a "trust me."

Ms. Lyon: She has also committed to consult and to publish the instructions in the Canada Gazette.

It is in the legislation that she has committed to ensure that we continue to abide by objectives of the IRPA, which is threefold: to ensure Canadian economic competitiveness; to support family reunification; and, to continue to provide protection to those in need of it. A framework provides a series of checks and balances to the minister's powers with respect to ministerial instructions.

The Chair: What I am trying to do, Ms. Lyon, is reflect the public concern. You are saying do not be concerned because there is this framework set up. I am saying that framework is not here in the legislation. The framework provided is this is what will be done.

Do you not believe the public would feel a lot better if the framework you are talking about that will be published in the Canada Gazette beforehand and include consultation, et cetera, was in the legislation rather than a letter or an undertaking from the minister saying, "Not do worry; I will look after things"?

Ms. Lyon: The process we are setting in place now has a fulsome consultative process with the provinces. We meet with the province regularly. We met with them about a week ago where we had a good discussion about our objectives on Bill C-50 and on the instructions. We have had a series of explanatory sessions with some of the stakeholders, some employers and some NGOs, to go through much of what we are doing here with you here today.

The Chair: I understand. It is good that you are doing that.

Ms. Lyon: We want to let them know what the process is. They have experience with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and are familiar with the instruction process. Therefore, we have set in place that series of exercises so they will be prepared.

The Chair: I am glad I asked the question so that you have had the opportunity to explain the process to the public. Maybe that will given those concerned some comfort that it does not need to be in the legislation. They should trust the department in what it is doing.

What you are doing is right. As a step before that, it would be nice if it were explained what must be done and that the discretion is not needed. That may dispense the unease that exists in the public right now.

Senator Ringuette: Is it possible for you to provide us with data for the last 10 years regarding immigrants under the different programs, the numbers of temporary residence or work permits and the number of seasonal workers? With that information, we can see a picture of where it was.

It seems that you want to move the permanent immigration system to the same basic requirements as the temporary worker situation. For example, you said, "The instructions process has the benefit of being fast and flexible. That is precisely what we want the immigration system to be."

Is that the trend that you are moving toward; namely, to try to move the immigration process in the same way as the seasonal workers' program?

Ms. Lyon: Our view is that the immigration system, regardless of whether it is for permanent residents or temporary foreign workers, needs to be fast and effective. There is a more urgent demand on the temporary workers side and, by virtue of its name, it is temporary; it anticipates a shorter need over a shorter period of time. Consequently, the requirements are different than on the permanent residency side where the requirements are more stringent. That remains unaffected by these legislative changes.

Senator Ringuette: How much consultation will you do with provincial and national labour organizations?

Ms. Lyon: We have good experience in terms of proceeding through an annual exercise to consult with stakeholders when we establish the annual immigration levels. They are published every November. We expect we will probably use a similar sort of model when we deal with the provinces, territories, the employers and labour groups. We have not specifically nailed down the "where" and the "when" in terms of the plan but we expect it will follow the same sort of process as we do in the levels exercise.

Senator Ringuette: I have two more concerns. I am concerned about how the legislation will affect the agreements we have with the individual provinces; for instance, with provinces such as New Brunswick giving more attention, and justifiably, to the economic investor potential of the immigration program. That has not figured into your discussion or in the priorities you have set out today. The interests of the provinces will be changed for provinces looking for labour skills.

I have another major concern. Over the last few years, I have been looking at what is happening not only in the public service labour situation but also in the private labour situation. I have seen many employers posting on their website job postings for workers for a period of one week. They then go to Human Resources and Social Development Canada, saying, "I cannot identify Canadians with those skills. You must sign a certificate for me stating that I cannot find these people." They then turn to you and say, "I want a temporary workers' visa for these people because I cannot find any Canadians to fill the job." That is what I am most concerned about. There is a bogus game being played right now in many markets, in many sectors and in many trades to bring in foreign, cheap labour.

Ms. Lyon: With regard to the Provincial Nominee Programs, PNP, and the agreements we have with many provinces, I should have pointed out that the principles were laid out in the minister's April 8 press release. At that time, the minister made it clear how the principles surrounding the instructions would be governed. We will ensure that any instructions are fully consistent with any of the Provincial Nominee Program agreements we have. That is a clear obligation. We do accord priority processing to the PNPs right now and that will be unaffected by these legislative changes.

Regarding labour market opinions, I will ask my colleague to respond to that.

Mr. Linklater: HRSDC, under the regulations of IRPA, has a very stringent labour market test that it must conduct before it issues a labour market opinion. There are six factors which include the availability of Canadians or permanent residents to do the job, prevailing wage, whether the entry of a temporary foreign worker would disrupt or have an impact on a labour dispute so that employers cannot use that avenue to overcome a dispute or negotiations with their unionized labour force, et cetera.

HRSDC has strict advertising requirements for employers. In some cases, in particular in Alberta and in British Columbia, with an expedited process, employers are required not only to post jobs on their own website but on the National Job Bank, which HRSDC administers. In those provinces, given the low structural levels of unemployment, there is a general acceptance that labour availability is low. However, in other provinces where it has been deemed that employers should undergo further efforts for recruitment, they must advertise for three weeks before they can approach HRSDC for the application for a labour market opinion.

As we see the trends and the growth of the temporary foreign worker program, it has been concentrated over the last couple of years primarily in Alberta and British Columbia where we have low structural levels of unemployment.

Senator Ringuette: With the current priority being skilled workers in this legislation with regard to this department, there is another department that is intimately related to the issue at hand and that is HRSDC. I would like to see if it would be possible for the officials of the department to come before us and explain to us what they are doing with regard to the Canadian first policy that was in place for a long time. Is it gone?

I would like to know how many additional funds we will provide to train people. They are responsible to coordinate all of this. I want to know about credentials.

We have been talking about it but there have been no tangible improvements. There are some questions on these issues that we and the public need to be informed of in order to have an opinion.

I certainly thank you for the professional responses you have provided to my questions. These concerns that I have are not aimed at you; they date back a couple of years. I do not see any progress and that is my concern.

While we have not made the effort to progress, we are moving full speed ahead to a fast and flexible increase in skilled immigrants while we have skilled Canadians losing their jobs. Yesterday, 1,000 auto workers found out they will be losing their jobs. What will we do for them? They are Canadians. What kind of training will we provide for them? Will they come first with regard to training and being able to access those jobs?

Senator Di Nino: Perhaps you can do an inquiry in the Senate and I will respond to that.

The Chair: I will have to call an end to this meeting.

You can see how having changes in a budget implementation act dealing with many different pieces of legislation, and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act amendments in particular, raises a lot of other questions. It also raises the issue of how we would like to study the whole picture. We may decide to do that later in our session.

However, today, with respect to Bill C-50 and the amendments to this act, we thank you very much, Ms. Lyon and Mr. Linklater, for taking the time to explain the impact of this legislation and giving us a lot of background. It has been very helpful.

The committee adjourned.

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