House of Commons Hansard #32 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was customs.

Topics

Customs Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise this afternoon to speak on this legislation.

I think it is important at the outset to look at some of the figures involving the background of this legislation. In the last two and a half years Revenue Canada customs officers have encountered the following criminal situations at ports of entry into Canada: over 8,500 suspected impaired drivers, almost 200 incidents of child abduction, approximately 68 Criminal Code offences in my riding of Fort Erie at the Peace Bridge in 1996, over 2,000 individuals subject to arrest warrants and more than 500 individuals in possession of suspected stolen property. These are usually vehicles.

These statistics are very disturbing. Although customs officers reported these incidents to local authorities, the police were only able to apprehend a few suspects. This fact is most disturbing.

These incidents occur at most land, air and marine ports of entry, with about 80% located on highways, 10% at airports that handle international traffic and 10% at seaports.

I am very pleased to rise this afternoon to speak on Bill C-18, an act to amend the Customs Act and the Criminal Code, a bill that will make these statistics a thing of the past. This is a piece of legislation that is truly very near and dear to my heart and to the many customs officials that work the front line at the Peace Bridge border crossing in Fort Erie in my riding of Erie—Lincoln.

After my election in 1993, I was approached by the local customs union representatives about the difficulty in apprehending impaired drivers at the Fort Erie-Buffalo crossing. In fact, I attended at the border and observed their observations and even stood out at the primary inspection line and observed the cars coming across.

There have been several incidents in my riding and the customs officers were rightfully frustrated that they did not have the power to detain suspected drunk drivers until the local police could intervene. The standard operating procedure at that time was to let the driver through and notify the local police, hoping and sometimes praying that they would catch up with any impaired individuals. This was unsatisfactory.

In fact, it was shocking. Most people in my riding just could not comprehend this. Some said “Well, an individual has powers of arrest, citizen's arrest”, but the customs officers were very reluctant to take these powers because of concerns if they were injured in doing so, the question of false arrest, liability implications, et cetera. It was not recommended by either management or the union. This was unsatisfactory.

The course of action that was followed was far too dangerous for our border communities and too many times resulted in an accident before the driver could be apprehended. My customs officers told me that this had to change and I agreed with them.

In 1995, an in-depth study of officers' powers confirmed this and concluded that the existing situation was unacceptable. The study proposed an extension of customs officers' powers to include Criminal Code offences. Support for this idea came from groups such as Canadians Against Violence Everywhere Advocating its Termination, which we have come to know as CAVEAT, police forces, Revenue Canada, employees, the customs excise union and the general public in my riding of Erie—Lincoln.

In 1995, I began to prepare a private members' bill on this issue. I met with some of the stakeholders, including the customs excise union president at that time, discussed how this issue should be addressed and what the best course of action would be. Around this time I was informed by my colleague, the former minister of revenue, that the department was also looking to resolve this problem by amending the Customs Act and the Criminal Code. This government listened.

The result was Bill C-89 that was tabled this past March. This legislation, as many of you know, unfortunately died in the Order Paper in April. Over the course of the summer I was pleased to learn from our new minister of revenue that reintroducing this legislation was a priority. On October 30 he fulfilled that commitment. I congratulate him for the expeditious manner in which this important bill was reintroduced.

Under the proposed legislation, customs officers will be provided a first response capability at the border with the power to detain or arrest individuals suspected of having committed offences which fall under the Criminal Code, such as impaired driving or child abduction.

The intent of the legislation is to bridge the gap between the time customs officers detect a Criminal Code offence and the time when the police can arrive to intervene. Provincial authorities will continue to be responsible for prosecuting individuals for Criminal Code offences at the border.

Customs officers encounter criminal behaviour at the border that is outside the parameters of the Customs Act and the fact that they cannot take appropriate action places all Canadians at risk. This legislation will correct an enforcement gap which is not acceptable to the public, local police agencies, victims' rights groups or customs officers.

I believe that these changes will result in safer communities, but above all they will help to contribute to long term public protection.

I understand that once the bill receives royal assent it could take six to nine months to implement this initiative and that customs officers will be trained to ensure that they act fairly, responsibly and within the confines of the law in carrying out their new duties.

Current training programs will require changes and no customs officer will be permitted to carry out the first response function until he or she has received and passed the appropriate training.

This is not an entirely new function because customs officers are already designated as peace officers for the purposes of the Customs Act. They already undergo extensive training on search, seizure and arrest. Customs officer training also includes instruction on the charter and its implications in exercising the powers of search and arrest. I understand that plans are under way to introduce training on the use of force for personal protection and to compel compliance with the law.

No customs officer should be put in the position of having to carry out this or any other function without appropriate training. I urge the government to carefully plan this training as it is crucial for the customs officers to have adequate education and training. They want nothing less and our border communities demand nothing less.

It is said that the additional responsibilities will only be given to officers who deal directly with individuals seeking entry into Canada. This will involve about 2,500 members of the current customs officer workforce of 3,200. I am pleased to note that it will not include any student customs officers.

Many young people in my riding have part time or summer jobs at customs and, realistically, do not have the experience or the time to be properly trained for this function. We certainly do not want to put them at risk. I was very happy to see that this concern was taken into consideration.

I wish to discuss the functions that extend beyond the drinking and driving issue that were brought to my attention two years ago. Customs officers currently have the power to detain and arrest individuals for Customs Act offences such as smuggling. They also have the authority to search for and seize goods, such as illegal drugs, firearms, contraband tobacco and liquor, and prohibited materials such as child pornography.

The scope of the customs officers' existing powers of arrest and detention will be broadened to bridge the gap between the time customers officers detect a Criminal Code offence and the time it takes for the police to arrive and intervene. The changes will also authorize customers officers to arrest individuals who are subject to arrest warrants issued under the Criminal Code. In the case of impaired driving, designated customs officers will administer the preliminary roadside screening test. Individuals who do not pass the screening test will be turned over to the police for a breathalyser test.

Provincial authorities will be responsible for any further investigations and prosecutions of individuals for Criminal Code offences at the border.

Those of us who received a package from the customs excise union last month will have undoubtedly read the letter written by Mr. Stan Johnson, a customs inspector at the Windygates, Manitoba border crossing. As recently as October 3, 1997, Mr. Johnson was unable to detain an impaired motorcycle driver returning to Canada from an evening of drinking in the United States. Minutes after crossing the border one of the two motorcycle drivers lay dead from a deadly combination of speed and alcohol.

It is evident from Mr. Johnson's letter that he is struggling with the frustration that his role as a customs officer did not allow him to stop this tragedy. It is wrong to subject our customs officials to this frustration when these tragedies are clearly preventable.

I urge this House to deal expeditiously with this legislation. It has been demanded by customs officers, border communities, elected representatives and the families and friends of those who became victims of impaired drivers.

The customs and excise union has been calling for this type of corrective measure for more than a decade. The customs and excise union and those on the front line at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie support this measure. In a recent letter the union said there was a tremendous need to bridge a very obvious gap in legislation that had existed far too long.

I will comment on a couple of questions asked in the House today. Why has it taken so long to get to this position? The situation is not a simple one. We have to do it right. It was necessary to assess thoroughly the nature and severity of the situation across Canada. It was also necessary to properly evaluate the various options and to discuss them with both federal and provincial officials. I am confident the proposed legislation is both reasonable and workable.

The question of arming customs officers has often been raised. Again it was raised in debate today. The health and safety of customs officers have been and will continue to be priorities. Customs officers do not carry firearms. The proposal to extend the scope of their arrest powers would not change that. Some customs officers believe they should carry a weapon for their personal protection. However it is the government's position that introducing firearms at the border is unnecessary and could be a serious mistake.

We have to bear in mind that this is not entirely new ground for customs officers. As I said, they are already designated as peace officers for purposes of the Customs Act. To date they have not needed a firearm to fulfil their responsibilities safely and efficiently. Arming them could invite more violent behaviour on the part of travellers.

If not handled properly, an officer's firearm could provide an otherwise unarmed traveller with a weapon that could actually be used to injure or kill the officer or other people in the vicinity.

We also have to bear in mind that the role of customs officers will be very limited. They will provide a first response only. They will not be expected to participate in Criminal Code investigations or to transport prisoners, as the police will intervene at a very early stage. For these reasons the government has chosen not to arm our officers.

Some concern was expressed about the impact on police and the judicial case load. It would probably be very minimal. Furthermore we expect that implementing this initiative will have a deterrent effect. We expect the number of incidents will drop significantly when the travelling public realizes and becomes aware that the customs officers are empowered to deal with criminal offences.

As I have indicated, this is good legislation. It should hopefully be passed unanimously by the House. The concerns being expressed today are very minimal. The country would be well suited to defend its borders and citizens from criminal activities, from individuals crossing its borders with criminal intent and undertaking criminal activities.

Customs Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Reform

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, my constituency has about three border crossings. It is basically in the middle of the Rocky Mountains or the range immediately to the west of the Rocky Mountains. Some of these border crossings have Canada customs persons present and only one person overnight.

I visualize a situation where customs officers, because of the lack of manpower, will have the opportunity under the legislation to take certain remedial action in situations. The question in my mind is, that being the case, whether they will actually have the resources.

There are situations right now from about 11 o'clock in the evening to 6 or 7 o'clock in the morning. The one border guard could be tied up in a potential smuggling situation involving a car coming across the border. Over the ensuing half hour period—and this is a very common occurrence—five or six or seven cars could be lined up, waiting.

We could end up giving these border guards extra resources legally. Will the government be prepared to give extra financial resources and people to actually get the job done?

Along the same lines I am also concerned about the fact that many people involved in Canada Customs at the border in all likelihood would be easily overpowered in the event of a physical altercation.

Has the government given thought to changing the profile of the people it will be hiring for Canada Customs? If more physical action is expected by Canada Customs inspectors, will courses be available? Will training be available for them so that they come up to speed and handle themselves?

It is one thing for this legislature to enact law that will empower the officials, but is the government actually prepared to devote the fiscal resources to Canada Customs to ensure it will be able to carry out that law without there being the potential of danger to itself and its fellow workers?

Customs Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. It is a very good one.

If we give these powers there have to be resources available to allow them to utilize them. The hon. member lives in an area where border crossings are very light. I live in an area where there are four border crossings, all of which are very high volume border crossings. The situation of one person being on the border would never happen. There are many people on all shifts.

We have to address those concerns too. Obviously it is a light border crossing and criminal incidents would probably not be as significant as what I have elaborated in my speech about my area. They definitely need the resources to do the job. I have some concerns with one person being on a border in the evening.

The hon. member asked if they would have the proper training or the proper education. I have indicated that is a necessity. As far as anticipation of more physical altercations at the border is concerned, I do not anticipate it will happen any more than it happens right now. They should be properly trained for that. Notwithstanding, certainly more training is required and more training will be given. Resources will be committed.

Customs Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

London West
Ontario

Liberal

Sue Barnes Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his excellent speech. It is my knowledge that he has been consistent and has persevered in bringing the attention to these matters that they deserve not only in this Parliament but in the last parliament.

Many members have worked and lived in constituencies across the land with border points. The member has written to the department. He has been involved in continuing dialogue and supporting the legislation as it came forward. Many members with border points in their constituencies have been there, which we as a department appreciate.

It is my firm belief that concern for Canadians is not a partisan issue. Members on the benches opposite have the same concerns the hon. member and I have about the safety of Canadians. We have different size border points and different needs. I hope we will start on this exercise shortly.

To train staff appropriately, we will probably start with the very large centres. We will do the appropriate training. We will manage this change as well as other changes we have made over the past number of years to make our border a smart border, a border that customs officers and Canadians can be proud of.

We do not want to hassle people as they cross the border. We want proper risk management. We want to target goods and people who present a security or a criminal risk to the country.

We want to stop smuggling. Our goal is to help the tourism industry. Our goal is to help returning Canadian residents when they travel abroad to access all the facilities they need in a professional and competent manner.

We at Revenue Canada are providing customs officers with tools to help them better do their job. In the last parliament we brought forth initiatives on some new projects that we are working toward implementing throughout the land.

We will have a very sophisticated, modern customs administration. As the minister said earlier, Canada can be very proud of its customs administration. We can be very proud of the people in customs. I know union officials in the hon. member's riding have talked to him.

I congratulate him in his work and all other people in the House, no matter what party, who helped us move the legislation forward.

Customs Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Erie—Lincoln, ON

I thank the hon. member for her comments.

Customs officials in my riding approached me on the issue since day one when I was first elected. They have worked very well with me, with their national executive and with departmental officials.

We have come up with legislation that is certainly to be desired. It is a concern we have had to date but we are there now and we are happy to have it.

Customs Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Odina Desrochers Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, as presented by the revenue minister, Bill C-18 meets an urgent need to exercise greater control at Canadian customs offices.

Each of the provinces, including Quebec, that share a border with the United States experience situations where individuals from that country cross our border while intoxicated, or after committing serious offences across the border.

The proposed changes will affect nearly two thirds of the total strength of 3,200 customs officers, a number we believe to be insufficient to strengthen border crossings.

Recent statistics published by Revenue Canada show that, over the past two and a half years, Canada customs officers have been faced with the following situations, provided for by the Criminal Code, at ports of entry across the country: more than 8,500 cases where drivers were suspected of driving while impaired; 200 alleged cases of child abduction; nearly 2,000 cases of persons against whom an arrest warrant had been issued; and finally, more than 500 cases of individuals who were in possession of allegedly stolen goods, mainly vehicles.

While customs officers reported these incidents to local authorities, the police was only able to apprehend a few suspects. Such incidents happen at most ports of entry by land, air or sea, 80% of which are located on our highway system.

It goes without saying that, based on these troubling statistics, there is no need for the revenue minister to justify Bill C-18 any further. The minister also indicated that this bill would confer broader powers on Canada Customs.

Under this proposal, customs officers would help police officers by taking immediate action at the border. The customs officers' current powers to arrest and detain would be broadened in an effort to fill the gap between the time when they observe a Criminal Code offence and the time when the police arrives on the scene and can take over.

The proposed changes would also give customs officers the power to arrest any person against whom an arrest warrant has been issued under the Criminal Code. Designated officers could demand samples of breath from suspected impaired drivers. People who show high levels following this screening test would be turned over to the police for a breathalyser test. So it is the responsibility of provincial authorities to continue the investigation and to prosecute those who are alleged to have committed an offence under the Criminal Code at the border.

Let us now talk a bit about Quebec. These stricter measures at the Quebec-U.S. border would help Quebec's campaigns against drunk driving. Impaired driving is still the primary cause of highway deaths in Quebec. Alcohol is involved in about 45% of deaths and 25% of serious injuries on the highways.

Over the last decade, in Quebec, the number night-time cases of drivers with a blood alcohol content above the limit has decreased by 40%. Greater control at border crossings would therefore help support the efforts of Quebec's provincial police officers.

Let us go back now to the bill. The preamble states that a number of customs officers will be designated by the Minister of Revenue to carry out the new duties. I think the Minister of Revenue should specify in his bill the provinces, cities and towns that will be affected by the changes proposed in Bill C-18.

We agree that the minister should have discretion to designate the customs officers mentioned in the bill, but we would like more information on this subject. Also, I would like to ask another important question to the Minister of Revenue concerning the mechanism for selecting customs officers. Will this procedure be carried out in co-operation with union representatives?

The proposed changes as outlined in this bill will most certainly be creating a new class of customs officers. Will their pay be higher? How will these changes be reflected in the existing collective agreement? Will the seniority clauses be respected? All these questions need clarification before our party can take a final position on Bill C-18.

What will be the limits of the powers given to customs officers in their new duties? I hope we are not creating a new police force that could end up with the same powers as the RCMP. I need hardly point out that our party and the Liberal government have locked horns several times since 1993 on the sharing of jurisdiction between Quebec and Ottawa.

The Minister of Revenue must therefore make a commitment to respect the responsibilities and jurisdictions of Quebec. The mandate of the Sûreté du Québec, our provincial police, and of the courts imposing the fines and penalties for these criminal acts must be respected. Too often, under the pretext of national security, of national health, the federal government has used such political opportunities to try to convince us that national standards are required.

Furthermore, in these difficult years, we do not often see a government invest without providing for additional revenues. The Minister of Revenue tells us that provincial authorities will retain their responsibility to prosecute under the Criminal Code, but he gives no information on a very important detail. Who will be collecting the fines, Revenue Canada or Revenue Quebec?

The Bloc Quebecois is in Ottawa to protect Quebec's interests, including the areas that come under provincial jurisdiction. Therefore, our party will make sure the federal government fully respects Quebec's jurisdiction in the context of Bill C-18.

The principles underlying Bill C-18 are acceptable, but the way these changes in the customs officers' duties will be implemented still raises numerous concerns.

For example, given the budget cuts imposed by the finance minister, where will the revenue minister find the money to renovate customs offices? Where will he get the money to train customs officers? Did the minister estimate the total cost involved in delegating these new responsibilities to customs officers?

Earlier in my speech, I said that these changes will have to be made in co-operation with the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

The revenue minister claims he decided to table this bill after conducting the following consultations. In 1995, an in-depth study of the powers conferred on customs officers revealed that the existing situation was unacceptable. There is no need to go back over this, since the figures I mentioned just a few moments ago confirm it beyond a shadow of a doubt. It was therefore proposed that the powers given these officers be increased to include offences under the Criminal Code. Groups such as CAVEAT, Canadians Against Violence Everywhere Advocating Its Termination, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, police forces, Revenue Canada employees, and CEUDA have offered their support.

But, here again, did the federal government consult the right people before tabling this bill? Did it take the time to go and see the people in the provinces who will have to live with the amendments resulting from this bill? Did the Solicitor General, who is taking part in the implementation of this bill, consult provincial authorities in this connection? Or is the federal government once again getting ready to meddle in provincial areas of jurisdiction?

In addition, the minister is indicating that implementation of this bill could take from six to nine months after royal assent is given. First of all, he intends to train designated customs officers, and then to renovate certain Customs Canada facilities in order to create secure areas in which suspects can be held.

Once again, a grey area remains, making it difficult for us to see where the minister is really headed with this bill. Does he intend to take a global approach, or has he already identified regions where there is a more pressing need for these customs posts?

There are many questions, but we believe in the rationale behind Bill C-18 and this is why we are supporting it in principle.

Customs Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

London West
Ontario

Liberal

Sue Barnes Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, in response to the many questions posed by the hon. member in his speech, many of the answers were delivered earlier today in this debate. For the edification of the hon. member I have no problem restating some of the answers. I hope it will assist him because this is a very good bill for tous les Canadiens et toutes les Canadiennes.

This is not a partisan bill, no matter what the questions or how they are posed. The RCMP will continue to do all of its work between the border points across this country. That will not change.

The work of our customs officers throughout this country, including Quebec, will also not change. They are still dealing with all these issues under the customs and excise acts and the numerous other acts that our customs officers administer for us at our border points.

This is a first response not only after discussion with the people and the unions involved but is also being supported by these same employees inside. They are very supportive. This honourable member may very well find that the head of the union of customs will have sent a letter to all members asking for support for this bill, and I draw that to his attention.

This is not replacing or creating some new police force. This is a situation where we are filling a gap, a narrow gap that existed, that will help the safety at first response, the point where we can first intercept at our border point, and security for Canadians.

There are situations where children are being abducted. This is the place where we can detain until the appropriate and responsible police force comes to the assistance and follows out with the rest of the process. This is the place where a drunk driver, driving up to our borders, can be intercepted. Before, we could not detain an individual for a lengthy period of time in case the appropriate local police force was not, through other responsibilities, able to assist in a timely manner. This is a better situation. We will have the legal authority to charge and to detain.

Also, very clearly this gives us that authority to make an arrest where there is an outstanding warrant and then turn over to the appropriate authority.

These are very positive measures. We are giving the human resources, as we have given many other tools over a time period in all of our experiences as professionals. We have to work with upcoming technology, new technology. Unfortunately, I do not think all of us get pay raises every time a new machine comes in. I wish that were true, but it does not necessarily happen that way.

This is, though, a tool, a legislative tool that will assist our people, the people who protect Canadians, to do their jobs better. To give the assurance to this honourable member which he deserves, yes there has been ongoing consultation and there will continue to be ongoing consultation not only with the provincial and other policing authorities but with our unions, the people who work for us. This is very much a welcome piece of legislation and I respect that this honourable member did, in his concluding remarks, actually indicate that the Bloc is being supportive overall.

If I can help with any of his further questions, as a parliamentary secretary I am at his disposal to give him further briefings whenever he requests that. As the parliamentary secretary, I wrote to the representative of their caucus as well as the other caucuses, offering briefings in this matter.

I would like to give a little time before question period for the member opposite to acknowledge it.

Customs Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I think the member will have to wait until after Oral Question Period to reply to the comments by the hon. parliamentary secretary.

We will now proceed to Statements by Members.

Alzheimer's Disease
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Reform

Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, some weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting some of the members of the Royal Canadian Legion, North Calgary Branch No. 264, along with the Alzheimer Society of Alberta. The occasion was their annual Coffee Break fund-raiser. I was delighted to have been asked to attend.

The Alzheimer's Coffee Break is a grassroots initiative to promote awareness of Alzheimer's disease. To date, there is no known cause or cure for this terrible disease that can strike adults of any age. Currently over a quarter of a million people suffer from the illness and the dementia caused by this condition.

By the year 2030 it is estimated that over three quarters of a million Canadians will have Alzheimer's disease. The devastation of this disease is terribly hard on the family members of its victims. Inevitably it robs them of their loved ones.

I urge all members of this House to become involved in a coffee break program in their ridings. Members should please contact their Alzheimer's society or their legion to offer their support.

Grey Cup
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, on November 16 the 85th Grey Cup was held in Edmonton. Canadians were witness to real football, three down football, football with the wider field and the deeper end zones. In the cold of a crisp late fall day a truly unique Canadian sport was played out before more than 60,000 fans and millions of television viewers.

Football in Canada is truly our game with our unique Canadian rules including the extra point for missed field goals. The importance of this game to Canadians should not be underestimated. Images of Calgarians who brought their horses into the lobby of the Royal York hotel in Toronto and Saskatchewan residents dressed in rider green, some representing the smallest communities in their province like Tantallon, Saskatchewan; this is what the Grey Cup is all about.

The Grey Cup and Canadian football help to define us as a nation. It is part of our cultural identity. Congratulations to the Toronto Argonauts on back to back impressive Grey Cup victories. Canada needs a Grey Cup and we need to appreciate the tremendous value it has. It has helped define us as a nation.

Living Arts Centre
Statements By Members

November 18th, 1997 / 2 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to bring to the attention of the House the official opening of the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga on November 14. The Living Arts Centre will be the heart of downtown Mississauga. This modern state of the art facility will provide citizens of all ages with multiple performance venues, studios and exhibition space.

We look forward to attending shows by high calibre international artists like Julio Eglizes, Penn and Teller, Raffi, Broadway productions and of course the many local artists and performing companies that will grace the Living Arts Centre stage.

Construction of the state of the art facility was funded under the federally initiated national infrastructure program. All three levels of government including the region of Peel provided $31 million in financing. The Living Arts Centre has itself launched a major community fund-raising effort which has already raised almost half of the $30 million goal.

We look forward to being royally entertained for years to come as the world comes to our new stage.

Railway Transportation
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Maurice Dumas Argenteuil—Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to draw attention to the sale of the section of rail between Saint-Augustin and Thurso by Canadian Pacific to Genesee Rail-One and the operation of that corridor by its subsidiary Les chemins de fer Québec-Gatineau.

Canadian Pacific decided in 1994 to dismantle this section of track. Bloc Quebecois MPs and stakeholders in the Outaouais and Laurentian regions were opposed to this. The hon. member for Blainville—Deux-Montagnes and myself co-authored a brief which convinced the national transportation committee to hold public hearings on the matter.

The train between Saint-Augustin and Thurso, which serves Lachute and Montebello along the way, is back in operation. This is a great victory for the people of Argenteuil—Papineau and an excellent example of how useful the Bloc Quebecois is in Ottawa.

Francophonie Summit
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Claudette Bradshaw Moncton, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the Francophonie Summit which was held at Hanoi from November 14 to 16. The Prime Minister headed a Canadian delegation of some 30 francophones.

This proved to be a great success for Canada, confirming its lead role within the Francophonie. Canada expressed strong opinions on the political, economic and co-operative aspects of the summit, proposing concrete actions. The summit marked a significant step toward making the Francophonie more political, with the election of its first secretary general, Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

In addition, the selection of Moncton, New Brunswick as the site of the 1999 Summit was confirmed by the heads of state and heads of government. I know what a great honour it is for the people of the greater Moncton area to host the Summit.

The Acadians of New Brunswick have long awaited the opportunity to welcome such a delegation and to show them their region.

Railways
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Stan Keyes Hamilton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, 57,000 knowledgeable, skilled Canadians work for the railway industry. Today their representatives from coast to coast are here in the House of Commons to remind parliamentarians of the importance of this industry for Canada.

Canada's freight railways do not exist just to run trains but to move customer freight traffic in a timely manner. Exports such as grain, coal, fertilizers, forest products and motor vehicles are dependent on rail transportation.

Rail is not only a safe means of transportation, it is also an environmentally friendly one. With its millions of carloads of freight and more than one million containers and trailers a year, the rail industry helps reduce highway congestion.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, I am proud to welcome rail industry representatives to Ottawa and to invite all members of Parliament to take the opportunity to meet with them and learn more about this essential industry.

Robert Norman Thompson
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Reform

Deborah Grey Edmonton North, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of Canadians to pay tribute to Robert Norman Thompson.

Bob was a man who spent an impressive part of his life serving Canadians. He became national leader of the Socred Party in 1961. He was elected in 1962 for Red Deer and then re-elected in 1963, 1965 and 1968. He left politics in 1972 and taught political science at Trinity Western in Langley, B.C.

I was a student at Trinity during the mid-1970s and one of the first people I met was Bob Thompson. He had a way about him that one just could not ignore. Bob was fast, feisty and a fierce competitor when it came to political debate.

When I was elected in 1989 he became and has been one of my closest political advisers for all these years. My husband Lew and I had a wonderful visit this summer with Bob and Evelyn at their home in Langley. He was in rare form and we had a great talk. He told me he was being promoted. Promoted he has been.

We love you, Bob, and we thank you, Evelyn. God bless you.