Committee calls on Tories to kill immigration bill

Posted by admin on May 20th, 2008

Andrew Mayeda, Canwest News Service. Published: Tuesday, May 20, 2008

OTTAWA — The House of Commons immigration committee has recommended killing a controversial government bill that would give the immigration minister more power to decide who can become a permanent resident. Meanwhile, the NDP says it will filibuster the bill to prevent it from being passed before Parliament breaks for the summer. “We’re going to throw everything we can at it,” said New Democrat MP Olivia Chow. “We will speak, we will move motions, we will have amendments, we will try to make sure it doesn’t pass this summer.”

The proposed bill, which would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, removes the Immigration Department’s obligation to process all permanent-residence applications, and allows the minister to instruct officers to fast track certain kinds of applications.

The government says the changes will help it reduce a backlog of 925,000 permanent-residence applications and make Canada’s immigration system more responsive to labour-market needs.

But the committee argues the bill would fail to address the backlog, because applications filed before Feb. 27, 2008, would be exempt.

“Accordingly, the proposed amendments would not speed up the processing of applications made before this date, and could potentially result in even longer waiting times for these people as new applications are prioritized,” the committee states in a report submitted to the Commons finance committee.

Witnesses heard by the committee suggested the changes would “jeopardize the predictability and fairness of the current system” by giving the minister more discretionary power over applications.

Witnesses also expressed concern the bill was being rushed without enough public consultation and they worried about the potential impact on the family and humanitarian classes of applications. The government has yet to clarify which categories of applications it will prioritize, but it is expected to fast track applications in the so-called economic class of immigrants, which includes skilled workers.

The committee proposes launching a study to come up with an alternative approach “that would accomplish [its] goals while protecting the integrity of the system.”

Conservative members of the committee, however, submitted a dissenting report recommending the bill be passed as it stands. “The government believes that without this legislative intervention, the system is destined to collapse under its own weight,” say the Conservatives, who are in the minority on the committee.

The government has rolled the immigration bill into its broader budget-implementation bill, which is traditionally considered a confidence matter and would thus trigger an election if defeated. Immigration Minister Diane Finley has said the government will not accept amendments.

The finance committee is expected to begin clause-by-clause study of the bill next week, before sending it back to the Commons for a third and final vote.

But Chow says her party will use every trick in the book to block the bill. For example, the NDP member on the committee could use the party’s speaking time to recite the history of Canadian immigration, she suggested.

“Ordinary Canadians have not had the chance to speak out about this,” said Chow. “The New Democrats believe the public would be served by [having] at least a few months to discuss and debate this issue.”

Parliament returns Monday from a week-long break. The Commons will sit for at least another two weeks until June 6, but the government could extend the sitting time to June 20.

Ottawa Citizen

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