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 border.

Topics

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
Government Orders

9:45 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Chair, it is appropriate to thank all those who have participated and are participating today in this debate. I want to acknowledge the attitude with which my colleague from Niagara Falls stepped in.

I would like to preface my question. More than three years ago, following the events of September 11, when I was immigration minister, we were already confronted with what I call standards standardization. We had to make sure not to impede the flow of tourists and other people. We had to find solutions together to ensure that no economic problems would arise because of the security issue.

It is essential that we clearly demonstrate that we are not at the mercy of our neighbours and allies and we must control our own information. More importantly, we must stay the course regarding the importance of facilitating passenger traffic. At the time, I had instigated a meaningful debate on the establishment of a national identity card. In fact, it was an application of the biometric card.

In this regard, I have noticed a certain shift in attitude in the Conservative Party. Back then, the immigration critic and member for Calgary—Nose Hill was dead set against such an idea. I note that, now, several people think that using the same biometric technology could be an important factor.

First, we need to ensure that passenger traffic flows well. Second, we must also ensure that we maintain a certain rhythm in the flow while adapting to the new global reality.

This entire debate calls into question the very use of biometrics, while maintaining our own security policy, but in a context of openness. We must strike a balance between openness and vigilance. We must give ourselves the tools that will allow people approaching the border from either the United States or Canada not to see a wall that would prevent economic development. This is the message we must get across.

My colleague talked about the CANPASS program. We have the NEXUS program. There already were tools and extremely important elements we could use and be at the forefront.

I have a brief anecdote. When I was touring the neighbouring states, namely the State of New York—we talk about Windsor or Niagara Falls, but we must also mention Lacolle and most of the other ports of entry—at the time, we were at the forefront and we were able to use this type of tool that enabled us to continue to monitor this information.

While having a security component that facilitates trade, the issue of control may allow us to adequately implement this alternative, among other solutions. Indeed, I do not think we should be at the mercy of our American allies and neighbours. However, we should have some options and alternatives that will allow us to meet the new standardization process that is taking place at the international level.

Let us take a look at ICAO. The best example is the use of passports. At ICAO, they even decided how a passport picture should be taken.

So, what would the hon. member like to see? Perhaps it would be a change of position for his own political party. We could re-evaluate it and adopt a strategy. Parliament could look at an information policy, a policy on standards and come up with alternatives, with a working instrument, which could be biometrics.

The best example is what is called “off-line” biometrics. “On-line” biometrics means—the question is coming—that we have access to a databank. That is not the point. The idea is to have an “off-line” instrument. For example, with a scanner, there could be a sort of green light, red light. In Hong Kong, every day, 144,000 people cross the Shenzhen border and it takes 10 seconds to process each one of them.

Would the hon. member for Niagara Falls be in favour of using off-line biometrics, which would reduce waiting times for truckers and facilitate the flow of travellers, while also promoting economic development? Does he think we should revive the debate on a national identification card and on the proper use of biometrics to protect our own interests?

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Chair, this is the problem. The member does not get what the problem is. He asked why we did not study information policy, or develop new solutions, or look into adopting biometrics. Why does he not put together a course and have everyone go to the University of Ottawa or Carleton if that is what he wants to do? We have a problem right now. We have to respond to the Americans by October 31 on this very specific issue.

By clouding the issue and saying that he wants to study issues for the next 10 years is not solving the problem. We are hurting right now in Niagara and along the borders of our country. This proposal is hurting everyone and I want members of the government to get on top of this. It is not good enough to come here and ask why do we not look at other ideas, and study things.

For heaven's sake, go back to school if that is what he wants to do, but come up with solutions here. We need one solution and we need this thing scrapped. We have to make that point to the Americans.

I hope the member will encourage his colleagues to talk to Condoleezza Rice. I hope he will encourage his colleagues to tell the Prime Minister to speak up a little more loudly on this. We are looking for some leadership and initiative on this. We heard that this was talked about at one point when Vicente Fox and the Prime Minister were together with the President of the United States. That was very little for what is a very difficult and challenging problem.

I ask the Prime Minister to turn up the volume just a touch on this, if he does not mind, because this is important to all of us. I hope the member keeps that in mind. He can study solutions and come up with ideas for the rest of his life if he likes, but get on this problem right now because it needs to be addressed by the government.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
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9:55 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Thompson St. Croix—Belleisle, NB

Mr. Chair, the member for Niagara Falls has been to Washington on this issue. He met with Ambassador McKenna, myself and others in the ambassador's office on this very issue. From the meetings, I get the sense that the Government of Canada is missing this issue, that it has not spoken very loud about this and that it has done a very poor job of educating Canadians.

One of the reasons we wanted the debate tonight is so Canadians in our ridings will understand the issue. The government has failed to deliver that message to Canadians in terms of understanding the importance of this issue.

Why would it take the Government of Canada a year to be heard on this? In fact, we forced this debate. The government would be content to coast to the deadline without ever having this issue on the floor of the House of Commons. Why the silence on behalf of the Government of Canada?

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
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9:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Chair, I salute the member for New Brunswick Southwest. I very much appreciate his leadership on Canadian-U.S. relations. His interest in this goes back quite some time and I think that is appreciated by all of us in the House of Commons.

He is quite correct. We met with Ambassador McKenna a couple of months ago, and made many of the points we have made this evening. The message we left with him and we leave with the government is to the extent that they if they can push these issues, it will be appreciated.

We heard tonight from the parliamentary secretary that a comment is underway, that nine departments are looking at that. I suppose that should inspire all of us that the government has a handle on this. I certainly hope it does. The comment was made that now is the time to examine this issue. The government will get no disagreement with us on that. This is definitely the time to have a look at this issue. I agree with the member. I wish more had been done on this earlier. However, we have a deadline to meet and we have to pull together for the benefit of our country.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
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9:55 p.m.

St. Catharines
Ontario

Liberal

Walt Lastewka Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to join with my colleagues in speaking on an issue that could have a very serious and negative impact, not only in my riding but on the whole Niagara region, the province of Ontario and indeed, the entire country.

At first I was going to congratulate my colleague from New Brunswick Southwest and chair of the Canada-U.S. parliamentary committee leading in this debate tonight. Unfortunately, it has become more partisan than a good debate.

It is very important that all members of the House make our statements very clear, that we recognize a real threat to the economic state of our particular regions and to our country.

The proposed western hemisphere travel initiative is naturally a concern to Canadian and American citizens and the respective representatives who live near the Canada-U.S. border. We live on the border, we do business on the border and we have friends on either side of the border. Our communities are straddling the border.

In many cases local issues and concerns do not stop and start at an imaginary line called the international border. These issues and concerns are shared. In many cases common solutions are found. However, I feel this issue goes beyond being just a local concern and that every member of Parliament, whether they are close to the border or not, should be concerned about this proposal. The consequences could be damaging and could have a long, lasting consequence.

I recognize that this initiative did not originate from the Government of Canada. This is an initiative of the United States government. One may ask, what do we think we can do about it? Is it not a waste of time and effort to Canadian parliamentarians to debate the pros and cons of an American law? It probably would be if the implications for Canada and for all Canadians were not so serious.

The western hemisphere trade initiative could have and, in my opinion, would have a damaging economic impact on Canada as a whole.

The Government of Canada has raised objections with this in mind. The Canadian ambassador to the United States has raised objections. I believe that parliamentarians in Canada have an obligation to object and to work toward an alternate solution.

Our criticism of the western hemisphere trade initiative must be based on fact. I can understand the demand for further security within the United States, particularly in this post-9/11 world. The Americans want a secure country. I want the same for my country. I believe initiatives such as this do not further the cause of internal security. It could in fact have the opposite effect and create a sense of false security on both sides of the border.

Unfortunately, the motives of a passport holder cannot be obtained by either U.S. or Canadian authorities. Past experience shows us that those who have committed acts of terrorism have been in our respective countries while holding valid passports and valid visas. Therefore, is it possible to determine an individual's motive if they have a passport or if they possess all other types of personal and national identification? I think not.

On another point, I can see no other results from this initiative than disruption and damage to the large trading relationship on earth. Over $1 billion a day are traded over the Canada-U.S. border. The livelihood of tens of millions of people on both sides of the border depend on the free flow of goods and services across the border.

There is more than a possibility of this economic relationship being disrupted. If this initiative goes through, we can count on disruption at the very least, and probably worse.

The situation, even for the casual visitor, becomes strained. Eighty per cent of American citizens do not have a passport and 60% of Canadian citizens do not have passports. If the western hemisphere trade initiative becomes law, I would imagine that the casual, cross-border visit would almost become a thing of the past. What would this cost us?

Ambassador McKenna has been quoted as saying that we could expect a $2 billion hit to our tourism industry. As a member of Parliament for the Niagara region, I see every day just what the tourism industry means to the region.

Nationally the tourism industry tops $58 billion and Niagara is a major contributor and a major beneficiary of that industry.

More than 16 million people from around the world, many from the United States, visit the Niagara region each year. According to the Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce, and I congratulate it for its work in this regard, the number of tourists has fallen recently due to the very mention of the passport requirement and many people thought the proposal was in fact law already. We can see the effect of this initiative before the requirement even comes into place.

In economic terms the effect of the western hemisphere travel initiative could be devastating. Tourism would be affected, cross-border commerce would be disrupted and cultural links that have developed over hundreds of years could be broken.

I need not remind members of Parliament that the United States is our largest trading partner by far. We all know that, but it is our job to remind our fellow legislators across the border in the United States that their largest trading partner, by far, is Canada. This is a fact that is all too often overlooked.

Former U.S. ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci agrees that the recent congressional legislation could be disastrous. He said:

The problem is that so relatively few Americans have passports, so it's really on the U.S. side. Enforcing that could be a real problem, for tourism, trade, you name it. The White House gets it, the president has already voiced misgivings. On the other hand, there has to be some mechanism to track people's movements. I think technology will be our friend here again, that we'll figure out another way. My prediction is that (legislation) will be delayed.

I hope he is correct.

My conclusion is that the western hemisphere travel initiative would simply create a mess and further strain our cultural, social and economic links. This is something that none of us on either side of the border can afford. I urge the Minister of Foreign Affairs to continue pressing the United States government in the strongest possible terms on the consequences of this action. Security is and should remain a top priority for all North Americans, but I am afraid this initiative would do little if anything to create a more secure continent.

If a passport guaranteed security for our American friends and for those of us at home, I would be the first one for it, but the fact is that there is no guarantee. The only result from the western hemisphere travel initiative would the chaos and disruption at our borders, leading to chaos and disruption in the very fabric of the economy and society in both Canada and the United States.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
Government Orders

10:05 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to ask my colleague a question, the former chair of the industry committee, on which I sat with him for a number of years. One of the reasons we are even having this debate is because the member for New Brunswick Southwest brought forward in a motion, which is very appropriate with Ms. Rice in town. It is an opportunity for the government to clear the record.

The member mentioned that the President has talked about this. We know Governor Pataki, a Republican, has talked about this as has Senator Clinton. Where has the Prime Minister been in terms of a specific comment to the public to set direction and to give confidence to the tourism industry that will be impacted by this?

The member would know that the industry committee has responsibility for the tourism file. When I asked the tourism commission back on April 11 about this being one of the biggest challenges, Ms. Michele McKenzie responded:

The research we're pursuing right now, just on the passport issue, is going to cost us in the vicinity of $50,000 as a specific piece of research.

We are not budgeting for the passport issue per se, we're a marketing organization and we will use that information to help us market more effectively, given the concerns we have around this issue.

Thankfully, that later on turned into a $200,000 study, which has been completed. We know economic repercussions from this would be a loss of around $2 billion over three years in Canada and a loss of around $800 million loss in the United States in the same timeframe.

Where has the Prime Minister been on this? Where is that leadership, given the fact that Mr. Bush has intervened on this? Why has our Prime Minister not made a public statement about this? The economic ramifications are there as are they socially. Why is the Prime Minister not leading the charge at this point in time? Will we see him make a statement today with Ms. Rice? Has he expressed that to any members of the government? Is it only because we have had to shame him into this situation? Will he make a comment tomorrow and will it be stronger than what has been presented tonight by the parliamentary secretary, or should we just ask for them not to do it at all? Will it be specific in terms of cancellation? We have not had that commitment, and I want to know where the Prime Minister is on this at this point in time.

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

Liberal

Walt Lastewka St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand what the member is trying to get at but he is trying to put a lot of rhetoric around it.

It has been made very clear. This is an American proposal. The Americans want to put this law forward. A lot of American congressmen and senators are against it and the President is against it.

The member should know better. He should be contacting each and every one of the congressmen across the border in Michigan and making sure they are speaking against it.

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

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

We have done that.

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

Liberal

Walt Lastewka St. Catharines, ON

Is the member finished?

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

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Don't make accusations.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
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October 24th, 2005 / 10:10 p.m.

Liberal

Walt Lastewka St. Catharines, ON

The member needs to talk with his members. That is the key. I agree with the member for Niagara Falls who said that Canada was not the problem. This is bad legislation.

We should be getting out of the rhetoric business. All four parties in the House need to tell the American legislators that they do not agree with their proposal for this passport requirement. It is causing damage today because it has been misunderstood. No one knows when it will start in the U.S. People today think it is the law. The member should be talking about that. He should be speaking against the U.S. legislators who are speaking for this legislation. I have spoken about this issue many times. I met with congressmen and senators over the summer.

I agree with the member for Niagara Falls and the member for Welland who talked about the meeting held this morning. It is very important that we continue to work with the members. This was a topic at the Canada-U.S. committee held this fall. This is how things get done in the U.S. They work at every level to make things happen and the member knows that.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
Government Orders

10:10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, surely the hon. member knows that how to get things done is to actually take action. What has been missing on this file is the Prime Minister himself, as he is missing tonight, missing in action, not taking action. It is all about photo ops as opposed to follow ups.

I visited the Windsor crossing this summer with my colleague from Essex. One of the most apparent things there is the issue of the Ambassador Bridge. People can drive onto the bridge from either side without being stopped until they are encountered on the other side. Reverse clearance would simply address this issue but yet again on such a critical issue, where $1 billion in trade a day takes place, the government is doing nothing.

My colleague talks about rhetoric. The air has been thick with rhetoric tonight from the government side and yet it was not until my colleague from New Brunswick Southwest, as was pointed out, the chair of the Canada-U.S. Parliamentary Association, took the initiative to bring this matter before Parliament. It was not the government that initiated this important debate.

Some of the other important groups, like Canadian-American Border Trade Alliance, have been talking about this issue. Members of the opposition have been talking about this issue, certainly those affected on both sides of the border. Businesses, individuals, Canadians and Americans both are concerned and yet where is the big, gaping, vacuous hole in the debate? It is the Prime Minister, as he is on so many important issues, until a poll might be done to tell him what to do.

This is not the time to dilly-dally any further or to dither away on such an important matter that is going to cause catastrophic results should this legislation proceed. As my colleague has pointed out, the BSE crisis and the softwood crisis do not even compare to the impact economically that this will have, as well as the security concerns.

I ask my colleague again, as my friend from Windsor did, why has the Prime Minister waited and dithered on such an important issue knowing full well the catastrophic impact it will have on the Canadian economy? Even tonight we have nobody from the government side prepared to come forward to state unequivocally that this will be addressed with Condoleezza Rice. He is right to say that members of the Congress and members of the Senate in the United States are pulling back on this. The President himself unequivocally stated reservations about this legislation.

Where is the Prime Minister? Where is a single, solitary, on the record public statement suggesting, as my colleague from Niagara said, that we are opposed to this and that we, in no uncertain terms, recognize that this will have a terrible impact on our economy? What we have heard time and time again is the provocative, objectionable language from the government directed toward the United States, including from the ambassador recently, I am quick to add.

The Canadian ambassador suggested--wait for it--that the American government is dysfunctional. I know the American system of government is not perfect but imagine those words coming from a government in a country where we have an unelected Senate, where we do not review judicial appointments and where we have all kinds of difficulties in the government with respect to corruption. It is like the Prime Minister going to the United Nations and lecturing on corruption and keeping one's word. Can anyone imagine? Talk about taking hypocrisy to catastrophic new heights.

The government has no lessons to give the Americans when it comes to dysfunctional government. Forceful, straightforward, diplomatic language is what is needed on this file, not provocative, insulting language about the President, not the type of language that we have heard coming from members of the government benches toward the American people. That kind of objectionable language does not get us anywhere. It does not move this file or any other file forward. What it does is suggest that somehow we are preaching from the pulpit. What it truly suggests and what we know is coming in the coming days in this election is, of course, domestic politics, which is bashing the Americans for the purposes of gaining electoral support.

I ask the hon. member opposite to tell us when the Prime Minister will show up on this file.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
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10:15 p.m.

Liberal

Walt Lastewka St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I heard earlier from the parliamentary secretary that this discussion would be held with Ms. Condoleezza Rice and the Prime Minister. I know the member wanted to harp on it and did not want to listen to the parliamentary secretary but while he was doing all his tactics I noticed that he conveniently missed the fact that this government has had no deficit for eight years, that it has been paying down the debt and that his Conservative government left this country in 1993 with a $44 billion deficit, the highest debt ever in this country.

I noticed that he conveniently missed that. He needs to be reminded that his government was a total disgrace and left this country almost bankrupt in 1993 which is why the Conservatives got thrown out of government.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
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10:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, perhaps at this point we can insert a little more civility into the exchange in the House.

I rise this evening to speak to the western hemisphere travel initiative which, as I heard one of my colleagues say, is really a misnomer because this is not at all about travel initiatives. It is just the opposite. It is about inhibiting the free flow of both passengers and cargo across the Canada and U.S. borders.

The point I want to make very succinctly is that this will be a catastrophe.

My colleague from Windsor West has already pointed out that a study has been undertaken and produced as to the impact. I have to say that study almost certainly does not fully encompass the damage it will do to the Canadian economy and equally to the American economy.

We can speak to this from the Windsor area with a great deal of expertise because of our experience ever since 9/11 struck us.

Since 9/11 we have had the chambers of commerce on both sides of the border say that the economies of the three states immediately bordering us and the province of Ontario have lost billions of dollars. The last figures I saw for the end of 2004 were approximately $12 billion to the economy of Ontario and roughly $7.5 billion U.S. to $8 billion U.S. to the economy in the U.S. What we are expecting to see as a result of this passport initiative on the part of the U.S. government is an increase in those losses in the billions of dollars.

To make this simple and clear, I always point to the gaming industry in Windsor and in Niagara Falls. They are probably both going to take a hit of at least a couple of hundred million dollars just in that one industry. That does not include the rest of the hospitality industry that feeds off the gaming industry in those two cities. This will be multiplied right across this country and on both sides of the border.

A number of times this evening I heard members from the government side say that maybe we should be investigating alternatives. I want to say very clearly to them, from all the experience I have had as a representative on the public security subcommittee of the justice committee, that there is no alternative. We have heard about drivers' licences. It is not an alternative. It does not work because we do not have the technology to make it work.

It was interesting to hear the former minister of immigration talk about his high-falutin idea of an ID card. It does not work. The technology is not there. We are nowhere close enough to a foolproof system in biometrics to make an ID card work.

Suggestions have been made about using our SIN number and SIN card, similar to the one they have on the U.S. side but , again, we do not have the technology to make that work.

There is no alternative. The only approach we can take as a government is to convince the U.S. that there is no alternative, that this recommendation, which has now turned into legislation, has to be reversed. At the very least, we need legislation moving through both the Congress, that is the House of Representatives, and the Senate in the U.S. to back this up to see if somewhere further down the road we might be able to develop technology that would make this possible. However it is clearly premature at this time because we cannot do it.

We, the border caucus on the Canadian side, have been meeting quite regularly, both in person, by telephone and through written communication, with the northern border caucus from the U.S. side. These are members of Congress from the House of Representatives. We have had a great deal of exchange. The points that I have just made have all been canvassed and been accepted by both sides, that we cannot do it and that these phases that are coming have to be delayed at the very minimum.

The concern that we have primarily is that we all know as parliamentarians, as legislators, how difficult it is to get a piece of legislation through our respective parliaments and on the U.S. side, the house of representatives and the senate, and on to the President for signature. That is what is required in this case because this law has already been passed. It is quite clear that for a number of representatives on the U.S. side, they just missed the boat.

Senator Clinton has been very clear in her admissions that it came as a shock to her that this provision had been in the legislation that she had in fact approved as it went through the senate. We have heard the same thing from a number of other members of the house of representatives and the senate. However, in order to correct that, there is only one way to do it.

This is not something where politicians can stand up and say they are going to postpone it. There has to be a piece of legislation and I am not hearing from the government any sense of the crisis that we are faced with and the urgency of getting the federal government on the U.S. side to accept that it is going to have to pass a piece of legislation doing one of two things. It must either repeal the provisions of the three phase-in periods for the demand for passports if one wants to go back into the United States, whether one is an American or a Canadian, or from some other country. Or, if it is not prepared to go that far, then it must pass a piece of legislation that would authorize either the President or some other person of the administration to delay the implementation of this until we in fact can do it effectively, from a technological standpoint and from a manageable cost efficient standpoint as well.

In that regard, the provisions that we have at the present time for providing passports are overtaxed, both on the Canadian side and on the U.S. side. Americans have many fewer passports on a per capita basis than we do, but neither one of the countries, neither Canada nor the United States, could in fact meet the demand that will be forthcoming for these passports.

We cannot do it in Canada in that short period of time nor can the United States. It is just not feasible for this to be implemented from a practical standpoint. We do not have the resources on either side of the border to make that many passports available to our citizenry in that period of time. It is not possible to do that.

I want to finish with the point that has been made repeatedly this evening but has to be emphasized. We know that a good number of the legislators on the U.S. side realize now that this bill when it went through should not have gone through. In fact, it was a mistake. President Bush himself has made comments using terminology around the sanity of the people who passed this and the intelligence levels of the people who passed this law. He made those remarks off the cuff, but they were an accurate reflection of what happened. This does not meet the test of reality and it has to be changed. There is strong support for that.

I have heard a number of comments from columnists in our newspapers that the debate this evening was going to be anti-American. It shows the ignorance of those commentators because we know that a majority of the senate and the house of representatives realize now that this piece of legislation was a mistake. It is not anti-American; it is not necessarily even pro-Canadian. It is simply facing the reality that this is not a feasible process and that the U.S. Congress, senate and house of representatives, and ultimately the President, have to move a piece of legislation to repeal this law.

Let me make one final point going back to the impact that this is going to have if we do not change it. I went through and analyzed just the economy in my home riding. We have a sizeable gaming industry now. It is the fourth largest employer in the city of Windsor. We have a reasonably sizeable convention industry.

We have a large number of cultural exchanges between ourselves and the United States. We have sports teams, mostly youth teams that move back and forth on a regular basis. We have a great number of people who go over to the United States and vice versa. People come to Canada for recreational purposes. We have a large number of people who work on the U.S. side but live on the Canadian side. Finally, we have a good number of students who move back and forth on both sides of the border. Every single one of those categories are going to be negatively impacted by this law. Hardly any part of the economy is not going to be touched.

Therefore, there is a crisis. It is one that the government has not been meeting face on. It is time for it to do that.

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10:25 p.m.

Pickering—Scarborough East
Ontario

Liberal

Dan McTeague Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the hon. member for Windsor--Tecumseh. He speaks with a calmness and a reasonable approach in terms of his argument that allows us to understand not only his perspective but more plentifully the size and magnitude of this very serious problem.

It is not the first time, certainly in contemporary times, where a decision taken in the United States will have far-reaching impacts well beyond its border. I am thinking of course of matters that will also affect us in the not too distant future: the issue of solid waste as well as the issue of daylight savings time.

It seems to me that the member is certainly on to something as far as how we handle this issue. He has pointed out that an initiative to deal with Americans returning to their own country with passports, from almost a purely domestic perspective, seems to be at variance and odds with what the American government and two other nations signed not more than seven months ago with the security and prosperity partnership of North America.

I spoke very briefly with the hon. member beforehand. If I am to read the agreement that was concluded between Canada, Mexico and the United States when they gathered in Waco, Texas in March of this year, it talks among other things about the establishment of a common approach to security to protect North America from external threats. The agreement was concluded to respond to threats within North America; further streamline the secure and efficient movement of legitimate low risk traffic across borders; implement a common border security via protection strategies; and implement border facilitation strategy to build a capacity to improve the legitimate flow of people and cargo.

It sounds to me as if this particular agreement which took place well after the legislation had passed is not just a sleeper issue but it shows perhaps a dichotomy in the United States of what the executive branch is saying and doing, and what legislators are doing at the same time.

It may also help express the very short period of time in which we have been provided comment. As the hon. member knows, we have only had since September 1. Armed with this as a treaty, I would quickly conclude that it is the will of the American people to work cooperatively, on all matters dealing with their security and their border, with the two nations with which they have so much in common, particularly Canada.

We are seeing in rapid succession a number of initiatives which seem to be domestic in nature. I know his colleague, the member for Windsor West, took exception to my comments about the domestic purpose or intent. However, it seems very clear that, given the size and the stature of the American economy and its influence which we are dealing with in other areas, as has been a question of generations of this Parliament in the past, we are now dealing with the necessity of understanding legislation as it is passed and its potential implications and indeed its potential contradictions. How would the hon. member rectify and get around this law, not just for the sake of government but for the sake of finding unanimity?

We can tell the Americans that this is the wrong thing to do. However, with so many other things, it is being done for what they perceive to be their own interest and it is a pretty hard argument to make.