NUMBER 003 | 1st SESSION | 39th PARLIAMENT
[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
The Chair (Mr. Norman Doyle (St. John's East, CPC)): Maybe we can get moving, we're getting up on twenty-five to four.
On behalf of our committee, I want to welcome the minister and his deputy to our meeting today, Minister Solberg and Janice Charette.
I want to thank you, Minister, for the expediency in responding to our invitation to be here today. I understand you have an opening statement, so I will go to you, if you want to begin, please.
Hon. Monte Solberg (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Good afternoon to you, and honourable members.
I'm pleased to be appearing here before you today. With me is Janice Charette, deputy minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. I appreciate very much your invitation to address the standing committee.
Hon. Andrew Telegdi (Kitchener—Waterloo, Lib.): Okay. Just very quickly, when I looked through your work plan, you don't have anything mentioning revision of the Citizenship Act. This committee issued three reports in the last couple of years specifically detailing citizenship, and not just the one with adoptions.
Can you tell us what your plans are with producing citizenship legislation in line with what the committee has recommended?
Hon. Monte Solberg: I appreciate all the work you've done on this. I know it's an important issue for you and other members of the committee.
The way I look at it is this. We do want to move forward with some initiatives on citizenship, and I mentioned on the adoption issue, but there are other initiatives that are important, as well, and so we're proposing to do something on the adoption issue. We're proposing to try and deal with some of the other issues I have raised, but I would be telling you a great lie if I said that we felt that we could move forward and make a bunch of amendments to the Citizenship Act at this time.
I think that there are issues that we think are even more pressing than that, quite frankly.
Hon. Andrew Telegdi: Minister, it was part of your platform promise in the last election, particularly as it dealt with citizenship revocation. You had a report that was concurred in by the House, and that went through this committee, giving very specific instructions as to what the department is to do.
Minister, I've been on this committee since 1998. I have seen six ministers -- you're the sixth minister here -- and I have come to appreciate that roadblocks in the bureaucracy can certainly stop political will. So Minister, I hope you will keep to the campaign promise you made during the campaign, and that your party made during the campaign, and you will bring in a Citizenship Act. This committee has spent a great deal of time on it.
Hon. Monte Solberg: Well, I would just point out to you that we have made a few commitments in the election campaign, and we want to address them in the order that we choose. We are mindful that there are some things where there's more of a consensus and there are others where the issues are more difficult. And whether or not this committee, itself, dealt with the issue or whether you feel there is a consensus on this committee, I can tell you that the Citizenship Act proposals are very divisive. There is no consensus across the country on them. We know that.
I'm interested in hearing from you on these issues, but I'm telling you, quite frankly, we are going to put a greater emphasis on some of the other changes that I've talked about, as opposed to citizenship.
Hon. Andrew Telegdi: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Minister, I'm going to try this again. You said that there was no consensus. Would you define to me what to you, as a Minister, represents consensus?
Hon. Monte Solberg: You're talking about the issue of citizenship. On the issue of citizenship, there's a pretty big debate in this country about some of the issues that you've shown a keen interest in, in the past. But there's no doubt, I don't think, in terms of having the public fully behind getting rid of, for instance, the backlog or cutting the right of permanent residence fee, or some of the other things we're talking about --
Hon. Andrew Telegdi: Mr. Chairman, I asked a question about citizenship and consensus. You said there was no consensus on citizenship revocations. Let's talk about that. I don't want to go off on another tangent. I only have five minutes.
Hon. Monte Solberg: Well, you asked a question about what our priorities are and I'm saying --
Hon. Andrew Telegdi: No, no, consensus. What represents consensus in terms of citizenship?
Hon. Monte Solberg: Well, I already answered it.
Hon. Andrew Telegdi: Mr. Chairman, I can only say that if I ever thought there was a consensus on anything, in the time that I have been in Parliament, it has been on this issue on revocation. The previous government was going to introduce legislation when the House was prematurely defeated, and it was the expectation of an overwhelming number of ethnic groups and Canadians across this country that the Conservative government, having made a promise, would follow through on it.
Let me say to you that the Alliance Party supported it back in May 2000. The Alliance Party has supported this issue continually since then. Your members went on cross-Canada tours. They heard the presentations made by groups all across the country, and in all my years in Parliament, I have never come to anything closer to a virtually unanimous consensus. It wasn't unanimous, but it was virtually unanimous.
It was in your platform in the last election. You come in here, in your first appearance before the committee, and you tell us that the votes of the Conservative members, the Alliance members in the past, didn't represent a consensus. We took the report from this committee into the House of Commons. That received concurrence, which means it was adopted by the House of Commons unanimously. How can you say there's no consensus? By any standard, if that's not consensus for you, I don't think you're going to accomplish anything as a minister that the bureaucrats don't approve for you, because right now you're here representing the bureaucracy. You said “I'm quite a fan of the people in the department”. Well, Mr. Solberg, I am not. I don't think it's the job of the minister to be a fan of the bureaucrats in the department. It is the job of the minister to stand up for what they promise in elections, what they tell Canadians, and not to break faith when you get into office.
Hon. Monte Solberg: Well, I appreciate your frank views on that. One thing that was in our platform was a commitment to bring in legislation on foreign adoptions --
Hon. Andrew Telegdi: That was a Liberal pack from the past, so give me something new that you were going to do.
Hon. Monte Solberg: -- so that's what we're going to do.
Hon. Andrew Telegdi: It's a no-brainer.
Hon. Monte Solberg: We made a number of commitments that we've already started to move on.
I know you have a singular interest in this. I understand you feel strongly about it, but there are many issues that affect this portfolio and we can't be held hostage to one issue. So we will deal with the issues where I feel there is a consensus.
We've talked about a number of issues here today, and you're the only one who has really focused in on this. I think the fact that others have raised other issues suggests to me that maybe this isn't the only issue that people are interested in with respect to this department.
Hon. Andrew Telegdi: Okay, well I'll take the last 30 seconds. I can only say that this is an issue that's important to six million Canadians who were not born in this country and are treated as second class citizens because they do not have the benefits of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
You've got all sorts of members in your caucus who are not born in this country.
We had a situation where the minister in the last Parliament toyed with the idea of possibly removing citizenship from one of the members of the opposition.Minister, you have broken faith with those six million Canadians and everybody who believes in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I can tell you, you have gotten off to a really miserable start as a minister in your portfolio, and I certainly hope you're going to get some independent advice outside of the department, because it's very clear to me that you don't have the knowledge and you don't have the appreciation for the issues.
The Chair: Ed, you still have three minutes and 20 seconds. Go ahead.
Mr. Ed Komarnicki: I'd like to speak to the matter that was raised by the member opposite. Of course, the parliamentary secretary of the then-minister was the one who objected to the process. And it is a complex process, because it deals with civil burdens of proof. It's something that is done, in large measure, with any matter that deals with administrative law. Certainly, from that perspective it wasn't unanimous, and it's a matter of quite extensive intrusion and perhaps requires further debate. Certainly, from that perspective it wasn't unanimous, and it's a matter of quite extensive intrusion and perhaps requires further debate.
Mr. Bill Siksay: Minister, I want to say that I understand Mr. Telegdi's concerns about the Citizenship Act. I think the committee did some excellent work last time, and there was unanimity, except for the former parliamentary secretary's particular exception. I'm not quite as intent at expressing my frustration to you in this situation, because I think the previous government needs to take the blame for not getting that on the agenda. They promised it a number of times, and it never showed up. So I think more of the responsibility and the opportunity lay with them. But in any case, I think excellent work was done, and I recommend it to the government for consideration.
The Chair: You do have a minute left, Bill. Do you have a follow up? No. Okay.
Borys, do you have a question? You have five minutes. Go ahead.
Mr. Borys Wrzesnewskyj (Etobicoke Centre): Thank you.
I'd like to congratulate you on your appointment. And I'd like to clarify something, because you made a comment earlier. You said, on the issue of citizenship revocation, that given the fact that only Mr. Telegdi was raising this, obviously it's not of great importance to this committee. In fact, that's a misunderstanding. And Bill has raised it since.
But what has been happening on this committee is that there's an acknowledgement that Mr. Telegdi is actually the parliamentary authority on this particular issue. And Mr. Komarnicki pointed out that there wasn't unanimous consent; the parliamentary secretary, Hedy Fry, was opposed to this particular issue. However, the four Conservatives...and I wouldn't want to assume that he's giving greater weight to the former parliamentary secretary than he would to the four Conservatives who actually concurred in this particular case. If that's the case, I'm sure that would bring a broad smile to Hedy Fry's face.
But I'd like to move on. Minister, since being appointed, have you issued any ministerial permits?
Hon. Monte Solberg: Yes.
Mr. Borys Wrzesnewskyj: Approximate number?
Hon. Monte Solberg: Nineteen was the last number that I saw. It would be a little higher than that -- probably 23 or 24.
The Chair: Okay, thank you.
The next meeting will be Monday, May 15. The purpose will be to set the agenda for the committee. On May 17 there will be an overview of departmental officials.
This is Mr. Dolin's last meeting with us. He's going to be moving on.
Thank you very much, on behalf of the committee, for your great service to it.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
We sincerely hope you enjoy your new responsibilities. I think you're off to the Department of Justice.
Mr. Benjamin Dolin: That is correct.
The Chair: Good. Thank you.
Thank you for your attention. We will meet again on Monday, May 15, 2006.