House of Commons Hansard #140 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was security.

Topics

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Pickering—Scarborough East
Ontario

Liberal

Dan McTeague Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, this evening we have agreed to debate an issue of growing interest and concern to Canadians, the western hemisphere travel initiative, or WHTI. The government looks forward to hearing the views of the House on this matter. Constructive ideas can help the government move forward in our shared interest in terms of how we respond to this new U.S. requirement.

The WHTI is not an easy or straightforward issue as it involves changing the requirements governing the immense legitimate flow of people across the shared border between Canada and the United States, and all of the impacts this might have for this historic and vital relationship.

This is neither a domestic nor a partisan issue. It involves a sovereign U.S. border requirement based in law and aimed primarily at U.S. citizens who are entering or re-entering the U.S. from Canada and elsewhere in the hemisphere.

The WHTI is of particular concern to Canadians. We know this by the direct representations we are receiving from our constituents, particularly in border cities and communities.

Canada has noted with great interest statements of concern within the United States itself, at the political level, among business and community stakeholders, and by individual citizens as to whether this initiative will truly result in greater security for Americans as well as whether there will be serious economic and border impacts in their communities.

A number of questions have been asked about whether the initiative can be implemented on time, both in the U.S. and in Canada. What fundamental security concerns are being addressed? Will there be enough capacity to process millions of new passports or new alternative documents which have yet to be decided on, or yet to be developed? How will border officials implement the new requirements? Will this cause delays and congestion at the border? What planning is underway? What resources are being dedicated to equip our already congested border crossings to deal with such new requirements? I say that looking at the member from Windsor whom I am sure will speak on this in a moment.

Before addressing these questions, we need to have a clear, shared understanding of what the WHTI is attempting to address and what important questions remain to be answered.

We need to recognize that WHTI did not appear out of nowhere. It is intended to implement section 7209 of the U.S. intelligence reform and terrorism provision act, IRTPA, passed in December 2004. It enacts recommendations put forward by the U.S. 9/11 commission. The act passed with near unanimous support in the U.S. senate. Most attention was focused on other well known provisions of the bill; perhaps however, not enough attention was paid to this particular provision.

If I mention this, it is because, following the announcement of the WHTI on April 5, we have all had the opportunity to hear on several occasions statements expressing concern, including statements by the President of the United States and members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who, for the most part, had supported the legislation.

Canada is constantly re-evaluating its own entry requirements, and we are firmly committed to making our own foundation documents, such as passports, permanent resident cards, citizenship cards and so on, more secure. I believe that it is also important to recognize and acknowledge the fact that the United States has put in place a transparent, official procedure to gather input on the subject.

Indeed, on September 1, 2005, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department officially published in the U.S. federal registry an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking with respect to the WHTI, thereby initiating a 60 day period for receiving comments, which will end on October 31.

Comments are sought concerning the six sources of concern regarding the WHTI.

First, there is the types of documents denoting identity and citizenship that should be acceptable as alternatives to a passport.

Second, there is the economic impact of implementing this initiative.

Third, there is the monetary and other costs anticipated to be incurred by citizens as a result of the new document requirements.

Fourth, there are the possible benefits of this potential rulemaking.

Fifth, there are any alternative methods of complying with the legislation.

Sixth, there are the proposed stages for implementing the initiative.

Once the period for comments has expired and the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State have had an opportunity to examine the comments and possibly revise the bill, new official rules will be issued some time before the end of this year.

I can say that the Government of Canada, acting through the Department of Foreign Affairs, will submit official comments by October 31 under this proposed rulemaking procedure. These comments are currently being drawn up by nine departments and organizations affected by these issues, in concert and in consultation with one another, including the departments of Foreign Affairs, Citizenship and Immigration, Industry, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, International Trade, and Indian Affairs and Northern Development, as well as the Canada Border Services Agency and the Privy Council Office.

We have informed the main stakeholders all across Canada about this procedure, as well as the provincial and territorial authorities, and we have encouraged them to make their views and recommendations known, in concert with their American partners when appropriate.

It is now or never, therefore, for us to study these questions and mobilize to make our points of view known in Washington and elsewhere. The Government of Canada has already begun implementing an ambitious awareness-raising strategy though the Department of Foreign Affairs.

As part of our strategy so far, we have contacted provincial and territorial officials as well as the main stakeholders across the country to ensure that they are well aware of this consultation period, inform them about our position on this question, and encourage them to make their own views known.

We are doing the same in the United States with various stakeholders as well as political authorities in various states and municipalities by calling upon our diplomatic missions in Anchorage, Seattle, Detroit, Buffalo, Minneapolis, Boston, and so forth for this mission.

Our embassy in Washington is also having numerous discussions with all members of Congress who have any influence in this issue.

What should we be saying to our U.S. partners in addition to raising questions and concerns? First, we need to clearly communicate that we support and share the security concerns which the United States is trying to address through WHTI.

Second, we believe that we should offer to work with the U.S. as we are doing in a wide variety of areas under the smart borders action plan and more recently under the security and prosperity partnership announced last March. This is designed to strengthen the foundations for establishing identity and citizenship in our respective documents and passport issuance processes.

We believe that foundation documents such as birth certificates and citizenship cards need to be enhanced and better secured. Until foundation documents are enhanced and secured, the kinds of documents we use in both countries to apply for passports or currently to cross the border, a passport requirement or passport-based document at the land border will not alone improve our security.

Third, we need to underline that requiring passports or passport-like documents, as the only way for legal travel of all persons across shared land border for business people, service workers, friends, families and tourists, would negatively impact historic and vital relationships and that other options must be considered.

Fourth, we propose to work with the U.S. in assessing which document options would work for the best in our shared land border context including thorough testing at some of the busiest crossings.

However, in Canada's current estimation we do not believe that these efforts can be completed or implemented by January 1, 2008. We need to take the necessary steps to get this right. In conclusion, I look forward to hearing the views and recommendations of other members as this is, in my view, an important issue for all Canadians and all parliamentarians regardless of political stripe.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Chair, this is an issue of huge importance. With all respect to the parliamentary secretary, I did not feel the urgency in his speech that I think this issue commands. This is a big, big issue, and not just because some of my colleagues and I are from border communities. This has huge implications for this country and the economy of this country.

And this is not just on our side of the border. I have tried to make the point with my American colleagues that this has huge implications for the American economy as well. This is a shared border. This is the largest trading relationship in the world. A proposal like this is going to have devastating effects. I can tell members that it is having devastating effects right now. It is hurting our trade between these two countries. It is hurting the flow of goods and services.

The parliamentary secretary said that when this matter went through Congress, almost unanimously, “not enough attention was paid” to this provision. I have to ask him, why does he think that is? A number of us were quite alarmed earlier this year when this matter was first raised. The President of the United States appeared to squelch the issue at one point. He cast doubts on it so I took some encouragement from that, but nonetheless, it did go through.

If I understood the comments of the parliamentary secretary, he said that even at this point we have not made a formal response to this. He said it is being passed around through I think nine different departments. Would it not be more expeditious if the minister responsible for public security got on the phone to her counterparts in the United States and said this is a bad idea, it is something that is going to hurt everybody, so let us do something about it and kill this initiative? I hope the member will comment on that and I hope I hear from him that there is a little more urgency within the government because of this problem. That is number one.

Number two, would he and the government please consider one of the things that I have suggested to my American counterparts, which is that they exempt us altogether from this? I appreciate that the Americans have problems on their southern border. I appreciate that there are worldwide security concerns that the Americans share quite frankly with Canadians, but the Canada-U.S. border is not the problem. How about asking the Americans to completely exempt us from it and go with the way it is now? They can deal with the other parts of the world as they have to, but the problem is not the Canada-U.S. border.

Could I hear from the parliamentary secretary that this is going to have a little more urgency, that the government is a little more concerned about this than I have heard up to this point? Will it get on the phone and make the point to our American colleagues that we should be exempted from this altogether, because the pain is going to be felt not only on our side but the American side as well?

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6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Chair, it is a very clear issue of concern to all Canadians, and the hon. member, who not only represents a border community but is also the esteemed whip of his party, speaks for all of us.

There is no doubt that this issue has come fast and furious, as the hon. member has quite rightly pointed out. I am glad to see that he has taken the opportunity to mention this in his own paper on the weekend. As the member for Niagara Falls has said before, Canada is not the problem. Referring to the Americans, he said that they have a problem along their southern border, not here, so they are trying to solve a problem that does not exist.

Perhaps that comment is instructional, because what the hon. member has said is in fact the position of the Canadian government and that has been to recognize that we thought, as the hon. member has concluded, this initiative may have had something to do with other parts of the U.S. border. We have seen in recent times where there is concern existing now on the border, not just because of security but also as a result of restrictions and the ability to get over there.

Other restrictions that are creating problems for us, of course, are not limited to problems such as the flow and the difference in exchange that we have between the two nations, but specifically to this very initiative. It is an initiative which threatens the viability not just of Canada but of the 38 states in the U.S. right now whose number one trading partner is indeed Canada.

The message is clear. This weekend, for instance, I can tell the hon. member, our ambassador referred to this as a sleeper issue. He is making every effort he can to create sensibility and sensitivity to the issue, but we have to do it unanimously and we have to do it with one voice.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
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6:45 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Chair, let me say to my friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs that this is almost surreal. We have the President of the United States, after this legislation has gone through, making comments to the effect that it appeared he did not know about it. I forget what the term was that he used; perhaps it was “amounting to stupid”.

We have Senator Clinton, one of the leading Democrats in the Senate, in a border state to Canada, admitting in public that she did not know this provision had become the law.

My colleague from Windsor and I have on several occasions now met with the northern border caucus from the House of Representatives in the U.S. To an individual, that northern caucus is opposed to these provisions.

We see a huge number of elected officials in the United States who are opposed to doing this. They recognize, as the parliamentary secretary just mentioned, that this negative impact will not be on Canada alone, but that it is going to have a major negative impact on those 38 states that see us—and we are—as their major trading partner. It is going to mean huge calamities for cultural exchanges.

We know all that and so do they, but the issue is, and this is where the surreal part comes in, who is running the government over there? Is there any possibility that we are going to get through to the real decision maker, which appears to be someone in Homeland Security as opposed to the elected officials?

I would ask the parliamentary secretary if we are doing anything to identify where the decision making is to see if we can get this decision reversed.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
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6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Chair, those are excellent questions, but ultimately that decision rests with the U.S. people, the people in that country who know full well that their greatest trading partner is not somewhere else in the world but in fact between the two borders.

There has been a lot of discussion about security trumping economics, but we see them as being just as important. Of course, there has been from this side not only the initiative by the House leader today to have this debate at a very important time when the American Secretary of State is here, but there is no doubt in my mind we are going to hear shortly from my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

In terms of understanding the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Congress and the structure of power in the United States today, it is important that we work at all levels to ensure the understanding that this is not an initiative that is going to hurt just us, but ultimately an initiative that is going to hurt the United States. And what is bad for people in the United States, bad for trade, bad for economics, bad for our historical relationship between the two countries, for which there is no precedent in the world, I think is an easy sell for people who want to listen. The American people and their representatives will listen to that, once, of course, a decision is made and the comment period is over at the end of this month, which is just a week away.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
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6:50 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Chair, it is a pleasure to ask my colleague a question. Following up along that line, what has the Prime Minister specifically said to his American counterpart at this time? I would like to know that, because we have heard American officials, as my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh has noted, who have come out swinging against this initiative. They have been outspoken.

It is absolutely correct to say this is a reciprocal problem. It is not just on the Canadian side. It is a simple matter of fact that 39 states do depend upon Canada as their number one trading partner.

I would like to know of a specific instance where the Prime Minister has come out against this to say this initiative is wrong and, more important, what he is doing today in terms of raising this with his counterpart to ensure that our voice is there. If it is a reciprocal problem, as we have identified, at least on the level of members of Parliament who are representing us in the United States, why has the government been absent from that partnership to fight this initiative?

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
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6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Chair, I want to assure the hon. member, who too has been very open and outspoken on this issue, as I referred to a little earlier in my presentation, and we know where he comes from in terms of employment opportunities and of course the trade between the two areas.

The hon. member knows that the minister responsible for public safety and emergency preparedness, the Deputy Prime Minister, has been in touch on this issue, as it relates to this particular initiative, with Michael Chertoff, as early as back in March. Long before this evening happened, the government was aware of this. My colleague will be able to expatiate at greater length on this.

As it relates to working with organizations and groups and the American public, I think we are coming to a point where the two countries are going to have to recognize that, despite the disputes that exist between us and despite the difficulties in seeing the world through very different kaleidoscopes, the greatest partner and the greatest friend that nation can have is one that is immediately north of its border.

We will be there for the Americans, but rather than punishing them by asking them for passports, I think it is important for us to try to remind them that they are the first ones who are going to be affected by this.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
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6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Chair, let us review just momentarily what we are looking at here. This is something entitled the “Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative”. It is an initiative that comes out of Congress in the United States. I appreciate the fact that there has been some comment here that it came within the context of a larger legislative framework and that perhaps the people in Congress did not fully comprehend what they were passing.

I do not know if I want to accept that or not; it means accepting the fact that legislators do not read all the material that comes in front of them. Certainly I would dare to say that would not be the case, because it suggests that problems like this could arise.

This Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, this travel document initiative, is going to affect all United States citizens travelling within the western hemisphere and means that they will now be required to carry a passport. That is not where it ends. It also is going to affect foreign nationals who currently are not required to present a passport to travel to the United States. That refers, obviously, to Canadian citizens, and also to citizens of the British overseas territory of Bermuda. It also will affect Mexican citizens.

In terms of when it will be initiated and implemented, according to the legislation laid out in the United States, by December 31, 2006, the requirement will be applied to all air and sea travel to or from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda. By December 31, 2007, the requirement is going to be extended to all land border crossings as well as all air and sea travel. That is huge in terms of the effect this is going to have. Specifically, we are obviously concerned about Canada-U.S. cross-border commerce, trade and tourism.

We are asking that a number of things move into place and that they happen immediately. First of all, the government has to get very aggressive on this. I appreciate the fact that it was members of this House who requested a take note debate on this matter to raise the level of urgency.

As for my hon. friend across the way, I believe he is concerned about it. Frankly, we would have liked to see the government take the initiative on this the first day it became evident, because, as we all know, in areas of government and politics when there is a delay it could suggest that there is a lack of interest. Or it could send a message that the people being affected really do not think it is that important. Delays can be critical. In this case, they have been. Those delays could hurt this cause.

Therefore, first of all we are asking that the government aggressively move this onto its agenda in every meeting, and including in that the initiating of meetings with our American counterparts. Certainly we hope that the various ministers who are meeting right now with Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. Secretary of State, are impressing upon her the urgency of this case.

There are a number of things we would like to suggest. We do not just want to criticize. We want to bring forward alternatives and options. We are asking that options be considered. First of all, in regard to the photo ID that is available now and which people have been using for decades in the United States, we are asking that the U.S. government agree to that ID as acceptable.

We understand that the U.S. administration has some concerns regarding the standards of some of the processes of individual states and the efficacy of their driver's licence photo ID, for instance. If that is a problem, the U.S. administration can simply set the appropriate standards and require each individual state where it is a problem to rise and meet those standards.

Bringing in this blanket application of passports for all is an overburdening way of addressing this problem. We understand the legal concerns and the legitimate concerns of the administration related to some of the these states, but that could be dealt with by implementing proper standards.

The U.S. administration has worked with Canada, and Canada with it, in terms of adopting a number of other ways of identifying individuals crossing the border, which have resulted in rapid access to and from the border. The so-called century program, the NEXUS program and the FAST program all have been shown to be effective in terms of moving people and commerce rapidly back and forth across the border with a high level of security. This can be done.

The order of magnitude of the problem is huge. There are 300,000 crossings per day. Of those 300,000 crossings, if we accept the stats which I believe are close to being correct, barely a third of Americans even have passports. At 300,000 crossings a day we are looking at probably 200,000 people a day who would not be able to cross the border as they do now. That is gigantic. The effect of that would be huge.

The Canadian Tourism Commission conducted a study in July 2005. That is how many months this issue has been out there. We wonder why the Liberal government has been so slow in moving on this. The Canada Tourism Commission estimated that by 2008 when the program is fully implemented the economic losses would amount to nearly $1 billion a year. We cannot afford that. We would go head to head with the Americans on trade any day of the week, but we cannot afford to have their citizens, and to a degree ours, affected by this passport regulation.

There are other costs that are not even being considered. These are the tourism costs and the business costs which would be huge. Think of the costs to families alone. Most of the kids of Canadian families who cross the border do not have passports. They cross with their parents who use a driver's licence as identification.

If the cost of a standard Canadian passport stayed at $87 for the next few years, we would be looking at a cost of $350 for a family of four, a cost that the family did not have to bear before. We could flip that to the U.S. side, where American passports cost $97, although theirs are good for 10 years and not just 5, and calculate those costs. Everywhere we look, somebody is getting hit in a negative way. It is simply unacceptable.

I wonder if Congress even considered the unintended security risk that is going to result on families, especially those living close to the border in some of the larger cities and smaller towns on either side of the border. Think about it. If families that now cross routinely every day want to go to the effort of getting passports, every car that goes across the border will probably have four, five or six passports in the glove compartment because they have to be there every day. That is an unintended security that Congress probably never even contemplated. How many of those passports are going to be lost, stolen or misplaced?

The whole situation has evolved somewhat rapidly. We decried the lack of initial attention to this by the Liberal government. We are glad that the parliamentary secretary appears to be on the case now, but we implore our government and speak directly to those in Congress in the United States and to the U.S. administration to please abandon this plan. It is a sledgehammer that is going to result in unnecessary costs, costs that are going to cripple the economies of many provinces and regions. It will certainly hurt the economy of our nation, many businesses and certainly tourism and there is no evidence that it is going to bring any increased sense of security, either explicitly or implicitly.

We are asking for that reconsideration and for the Liberal government to pull out all the stops and get on this right away. We have provided some positive suggestions and constructive approaches for other ways of maintaining security. We want to work with our American counterparts to make sure that the border is secure, but this is not the way to do it. Security will not be enhanced. Freedom will definitely be restricted and the economy will be hurt.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
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7 p.m.

Etobicoke North
Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Chair, we need to make sure that Canadians understand this is not an issue that has suddenly emerged as something that the government is dealing with at the last minute. This was raised by the Deputy Prime Minister and her counterpart, Mr. Chertoff, in Texas back in March. I cannot speak for the Prime Minister, but I very much expect that at those same meetings the Prime Minister raised it with President Bush. There have been ongoing discussions over many months with the U.S. authorities looking at options that would be different from the requirement for passports.

I should point out that the U.S. government is asking for the same treatment of its own U.S. citizens. Up until now U.S. citizens travelling, let us say, to the Caribbean, Bermuda or Mexico could leave and come back without passports. The U.S. government has said that will not be acceptable in the future and that everybody coming back into the United States, whether they be a U.S. citizen or some other citizen, would be required under this scenario to carry a passport.

This government has worked very closely with the U.S. government on a whole range of border issues. We have reached many agreements with it. I think the government is still hopeful that there is another option that would be possible. We really want a bit more time to look at different options that are quite technical in nature and require some testing, et cetera.

Would the member for Okanagan--Coquihalla argue for the status quo? I know from our perspective the status quo would be fine, although we have a shared objective with the United States in terms of security. I wonder what alternatives the member sees to the proposal that is currently laid out by the U.S. government.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
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7 p.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Chair, I proposed a number of options that would address the security concerns. I have asked that the administration look to some of the systems in place, the Sentry system, NEXUS, FAST, and the system that is in place at the Mexican border for those who actually produce documents there. We realize that is another issue. We should also require that the federal administration in the United States require its various states to upgrade their own standards in terms of producing photo ID. That could be government produced photo ID or drivers' licences. We are making an assumption here that passports cannot be forged. Certainly they can be and they are forged all the time. Requiring that it be a passport is not necessarily in and of itself going to solve the problem. Increased technology biometrics and other things that can be applied certainly would be helpful.

The member opposite also took some umbrage with my remarks related to the speed at which the government, in my view, has not acted on this issue. He made a reference that in March of this year the Deputy Prime Minister raised the issue. The act in the United States is the intelligence reform and terrorism prevention act, which was passed in 2004. That was a year before the Deputy Prime Minister even raised the issue. Just as here, a year before any act of government passes, it is debated and put on the various tables for consideration and input. That act was two years in the making. That act will substantially affect the economy of Canada and it took almost two years for the Deputy Prime Minister to respond. I do not call that performance.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
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7:05 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Chair, in 2004 there were also public hearings about that bill that created the situation we are in right now. Would the member be surprised to learn that the Canadian government actually made no submissions to those hearings nor in subsequent opportunities that had been available to submit questions?

I would point out that the U.S. Congress, the House of Representatives and the northern border caucus came together to create a joint letter in questioning the practices and also the supports that they believed would affect their communities. As it was appropriately mentioned, this will have a significant impact on United States citizens in terms of tourism. A recent study had that cost at around $800 million within three years.

Would my colleague be surprised to learn that the government is not on record? I do not know if he has any information, but I certainly have not been able to find anything in terms of official submissions from the Canadian government.

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7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Chair, that is a key question. I do not want to definitively say that there never was in any way, shape or form a government presentation, but I will agree with my friend that I have not been able to find any. If the government could produce some, that would be good. It just underlines the concern that something of this order of magnitude could go unaddressed when the administration south of the border invited requests and participation.

I was at the initial meeting when Tom Ridge, the then head of the homeland security department, a brand new department at that time, was appointed. In fact, he made a trip to Ottawa in 2002. At the residence of the ambassador, where a number of us, including members of the government, were gathered, he made a very specific plea, and it was a plea, to his Canadian counterparts in government. He said, “Please talk to us about concerns. Please bring ideas to us”. Again, it was two years before that piece of legislation ever hit the tables under the dome of the Capitol in Washington. I share the concern that my friend has raised.

In direct answer to his question as to whether I would be surprised, I would have to say I would be disappointed, but seeing how the government has responded poorly on a number of these initiatives, I am sad to say I would not be surprised if it had not made a presentation.

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October 24th, 2005 / 7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gurmant Grewal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Chair, it came up that the U.S. legislation had been in the making for a very long time, over two years.

I was a member of the foreign affairs committee when it went to Washington, D.C. in 1999. I came across a brochure that the American government or the Senate was proposing that section 110 of the INS be changed so that at the border, American citizens and Canadian citizens be exempt. Permanent residents of the U.S. would be exempt, but landed immigrants in Canada were not exempt from showing their documents when they crossed the border, particularly their passports.

I brought that issue to the attention of the Ambassador, Mr. Chrétien, at his residence in the evening. Mr. Chrétien said that he could not believe that it was written in the brochure. He said it was a mistake, because permanent residents should be equal in status to landed immigrants in Canada. He said he would verify it in the morning. The next day when we were at his office, he asked his secretary to make some phone calls. She verified that it was true. Then I asked Mr. Chrétien, the Canadian ambassador to the U.S. in Washington, D.C. why he did not know about it. He was surprised.

I would say that the Canadian government was asleep at the wheel at that time. It did not know that such a significant change had taken place while it was sitting at the table. Now we are bearing the consequences because the Liberals did not take the appropriate action at that time.

The Canadian government did not take appropriate action and its ambassador was not aware of the situation. On that issue I would like to hear the comments of the hon. member for Okanagan—Coquihalla.

The other point is that it will hurt our economy if this remains in place. It will affect our economy, jobs and other things.

One particular industry that will be hit hard is the transportation industry. The drivers, who are usually immigrants, have had difficulty in the past. However, does the member believe that if this continues it will hurt the trucking industry in a major way, particularly with the long lines and long waiting times at the border?

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
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7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Chair, at the risk of being partisan, which I am, again my hon. friend is bringing out some disturbing examples, whether of incapability, delinquency or negligence. I have had a number of meetings with our former ambassador to the United States, Mr. Raymond Chrétien who is the nephew of the former prime minister.

Those whom we place in Washington are not only to be the neighbour, the friend and the conduit of information but also the watchdog on issues that affect us. It is astounding that it would take the diligent work of my hon. friend to bring to the ambassador's attention the brochure that caused such alarm. It also is astounding to hear from the embassy that is was not aware of the situation. The question is how could it happen? How could a government here not be aware of what was coming down the pike?

I do not want to get people unnecessarily upset, but we hear the same question. How could the government not have known that hundreds of millions of dollars were flying out of the treasury toward the sponsorship scandal? How could it not have known that the head of the Mint was charging between three-quarters and $1 million in expenses? The Canadian Mint is a large institution. It manufactures all the money in the country.

I do not want to impugn motives. Nor do I want to suggest motives. Very clearly the record shows that the government has not been competent in protecting the interests of Canadians. That is something for voters to consider at the next election.

I am wanting to get beyond that. We will make the statement that it is not competent, but how do we fix it? We have put some things on the table in terms of how it could be fixed. We hope the government listens and together we can fix the problem and improve relations on both sides of the border.

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7:10 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to rise to address an American initiative that could cause irreparable harm on both sides of the border.

I will give an example. About ten years ago, I undertook to create, with the towns of Burlington, in Vermont, and Plattsburgh, in New York state, what we call a triangle of excellence with my riding of Saint-Jean. At the time, we decided to take a look at the bilateral relations closest to us. These towns are located about 50 or 60 kilometres from my riding. We decided to promote relations in the area of culture. We realized that, on the American side, particularly in New England, there were many people of French descent. So, we told them that if they were interested in going back to their French roots, they should come to the riding of Saint-Jean, which has everything that is needed, including immersion programs and schools. This is how these exchanges began.

Now, people regularly cross the border for reasons related to culture, but also to business, because of the links that exist between some companies. We discovered that some companies in Plattsburgh were getting their supplies from subcontractors in California, not knowing that, 50 kilometres north of their communities, they could find suppliers at a cheaper cost, given the value of the Canadian dollar and the proximity of these sources.

As regards business, education and tourism, we send a delegation every year to the Burlington jazz festival and to the Mayor's Cup, which is a boat competition held on Lake Champlain. As for our neighbours, they come to our hot air balloon festival.

According to statistics, only 40% of these visitors currently have a U.S. passport, while 50% of the Canadians who cross the border have a Canadian passport. From now on, if a passport is required, it will cost Americans $97 and Canadians $87 to get that document and be allowed to cross the border.

For example, take a small family with two children that decides to come to Canada. It must make an investment of close to $400 US. Not only will this not be an incentive to get a passport, people who will have to renew it before coming to Canada may well decide not to bother. So, this would have a significant impact on our bilateral exchanges with the Americans.

A year ago, we created what we call the border caucus, with four deputy chairs: myself for the Bloc Québécois, my colleague from Windsor West for the NDP, another colleague for the Liberal Party, and a final one for the Conservatives. This problem was brought to our attention about two months ago. We held a meeting in Sault Ste. Marie with our U.S. counterparts, including Michigan congressman Bart Stupak, at their invitation. The first item on the agenda was the western hemisphere travel initiative. They do not want it either.

In the riding of Saint-Jean we created a highly specific action plan. I even raised the problem in the Bloc Québécois caucus. I suggested that all my colleagues write to our respective mayors. I went even further and sent the same letter to the U.S. state governors with whom we have regular contact, to get them to object categorically to this initiative, which will create chaos on both sides of the border.

The plan of action was not a complicated one. We contacted the Chambers of Commerce in Burlington and Plattsburgh, whom we already knew because of the triangle of excellence, as well as the state governors. More recently, the Quebec-New York summit was held in Albany. I could not attend because I was here in the House but I sent some people from my riding with letters informing the governor of the problem. Moreover, the Quebec premier attended and did likewise.

There is so much opposition surrounding this that I cannot understand why the plan is still in existence. Probably the Department of Homeland Security has determined that security needed to be the primary concern and that security would be achieved by imposing passports. We know that they are not the solution.

So we in the Bloc Québécois initiated this movement. I see that my colleague in the Conservative Party has done the same thing, sending a letter to a number of members asking that they intervene. He asked them to do so personally but also to create an environment that is evidence of our objection in order to convince the Americans to put a stop to this.

All the day or two excursions and the return trips to Montreal will come to an end. People will not think it is worth paying $100 U.S. to get a passport. Before, they travelled to Montreal. Now, if they are from Albany, they might go to New York City instead. It will be the same thing on the Canadian side. People who used to go to Lake Champlain in Plattsburgh, for a day trip, will go swimming elsewhere. They will not pay for passports for the entire family just for that. This will have a major impact.

However, I do think this government should adopt stricter security measures. I am flabbergasted when I hear comments from Canadian customs officers. When someone arrives from the United States and goes through customs to enter into the Canada, if the customs officers see on their screen that he is a wanted criminal the guideline from their department is to let him through and call the police. Maybe we should do our part for security. Those kinds of situations are unacceptable.

RCMP officers need to be permanently posted at the border or, if need be, these responsibilities should be transferred to the Sûreté du Québec. As a last resort, we could arm the customs officers so that they can arrest these people.

It is because of these types of situations that Americans are becoming tougher. We do not have enough discipline to control our borders much more effectively, but we should.

I just have this to say. If such a resolution is submitted to Parliament tomorrow, I hope all parties will object.

The border caucus is meeting with the U.S. ambassador tomorrow evening. I think it would be great if during the meeting, the 53 members whose riding borders on the U.S. said that, this morning, a resolution was unanimously passed by Parliament that opposes this. We have to stop this nonsense. We must ensure that the bilateral transportation, the transportation of individuals, the free passage of goods and people is done without obstacles or pitfalls. We must not prevent people from traveling freely, as that would affect our economies.