New Legislation 2

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Subject: New Legislation 2
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Immigration bill must die: opposition
Committee Argument
Andrew Mayeda, Canwest News Service Published: Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Brent Foster, National Post File PhotoPlans to give the immigration minister more power to decide who becomes a permanent resident may be shelved after complaints the change would "jeopardize the predictability and fairness of the current ...
OTTAWA - An opposition-dominated Commons committee has recommended killing a government bill that would give the immigration minister more power to decide who can become a permanent resident.
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.
Yesterday, opposition members of the immigration committee argued 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 said in a report submitted to the Commons finance committee.
Witnesses told the committee 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 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," said the Conservatives, who are in the minority on the committee.
Ed Komarnicki, parliamentary secretary to Immigration Minister Diane Finley, said the proposed bill will prevent the backlog from growing. The government will then work to reduce the backlog through additional funding of $109-million over five years, he said.
"What this is doing is ensuring that we´re not adding more applications to a system that´s already clogged," said Mr. Komarnicki. "First of all, you prevent it from growing. Then you deal with the backlog itself."
The government will consult with the provinces and other stakeholders before finalizing which categories of applications will be fast tracked, he added.
The government complains that current regulations tie the hands of immigration officials, forcing them to continue accepting new applications even as the backlog expands. In hopes of forcing the bill through the House, 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. Ms. 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. Liberals have not indicated how they will vote on the measure, but New Democrat MP Olivia Chow said the NDP will filibuster to prevent it from being passed before Parliament breaks for the summer.
"We´re going to throw everything we can at it," she said. "We will speak, we will move motions, we will have amendments, we will try to make sure it doesn´t pass this summer."
"Ordinary Canadians have not had the chance to speak out about this," said Ms. Chow. "The New Democrats believe the public would be served by [having] at least a few months to discuss and debate this issue."
The Commons will sit until at least June 6, but the government could extend the sitting time to June 20.


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