House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was relationship.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States Border
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the importance of Canada-U.S. border relations, although I am a little disappointed by the motion in front of us. I cannot help but get the sense that the member for Ajax—Pickering is seeking to inflame some of those misconceptions on both sides of our border rather than generating a better understanding of our collective interests.

We, on the other hand, want to work closely with the new Obama administration. We believe that Canada has an opportunity right now to make positive progress on issues that are important to Canada, issues at the border and issues with American relations.

What is the way to achieve that progress? We believe the way to achieve that progress is through co-operation and working closely together, not through conflict and trying to get quick headlines by calling people names. People will not be hearing that from us. What they will be hearing from us is a tone of ongoing co-operation to advance Canada's interests.

We want to be working together to ensure that our border remains secure while facilitating rather than hindering legitimate trade.

What makes our government unique is the fact that it takes action and does more than just spout rhetoric. Our government is making things happen. It believes in a constructive relationship with its largest trading partner to ensure security as well as mutual prosperity. That is what distinguishes our government from the party opposite.

Our government walks the talk and obtains tangible results. Just one week ago, we all witnessed President Obama's announcement that NAFTA would remain in place and would not be subject to new negotiations. That is an important gain for all Canadians. That is one of many examples of the results obtained by our government.

The motion before us today deals with the importance of taking steps to ensure that the U.S. administration and the U.S. Congress fully understand the critical importance of our shared border to trade and to the economic security of both our countries. I, therefore, will address some of the many ways that our government has done exactly that, while also ensuring that we remain a trusted security partner.

Hon. members will well remember the recent visit of President Barack Obama. What happened during that visit? The Prime Minister spoke with the new U.S. President about the importance of trade between our two countries and how interconnected our two economies are. He emphasized that threats to the U.S. were also threats to Canada.

The Prime Minister spoke with President Obama about some of the steps that our two governments can take to secure our joint economic future and about how Canada is a trusted security partner to the U.S., a partnership that is critically important to ensuring that security measures do not impede trade unnecessarily.

Just a few weeks after this visit, I went to Washington to meet with members of the U.S. Senate and Congress as well as the Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, the Attorney General, Eric Holder, and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, John Brennan. I spoke to them about the importance of working together on tightening our security and improving our trade ties and ensuring that our border remains open to business people and legitimate travellers.

I spoke to them about the importance of ensuring that Canadian and U.S. citizens have valid travel documents given the imminent entry into force, in June 2009, of the western hemisphere travel initiative, or WHTI. I insisted on the need to find the means to facilitate the legitimate movement of people and goods, while protecting Canada's and our neighbours' legitimate and crucial security interests.

Our government has already managed to obtain important exemptions and delays for phasing in WHTI.

The delays in the implementation and adaptation, delays in the effective date of the western hemisphere travel initiative, are something that the previous Liberal government was unable to achieve. In fact, that government was asleep at the switch when that initiative was launched. Believe it or not, at that time there was not a single effort by that Liberal government to influence the decisions being made by the House of Representatives and by the Senate of the United States. That is why we have had to dig out of the problem that the previous government allowed to arise.

When I met with the Obama administration officials, we also spoke about how it is in everyone's best interest to keep business flowing and to keep our borders open to the movement of goods and people. Our shared border benefits both our economies, supporting an integrated supply chain and millions of Canadian and American jobs. This is a point I stressed in many of our meetings.

What was the end result of these meetings? One end result, among many, is that Secretary Napolitano and I have agreed that the Minister of Public Safety of Canada and the homeland security secretary of the United States should meet at least twice a year exclusively, outside all the other meetings that occur such as G8 and the like, to resolve Canada-U.S. border issues.

That is a mechanism that never existed before, a mechanism for us to resolve our issues and advance our interests to ensure that we are on the radar screen, front and centre. That is a positive gain for Canada. That means we are going to have better results in the years to come, something again that the previous government was unable to deliver.

We will continue to meet and to develop measures together to give us greater security and facilitate trade. We will also work to finalize details on initiatives that allow Canada and the U.S. to work more co-operatively on border issues.

One such initiative is the integrated cross-border maritime law enforcement initiative, commonly referred to as the shiprider initiative, which will enhance law enforcement and border integrity on our shared waterways. On that front, we spoke about the need to finalize the negotiations we launched last year on a framework agreement that will formalize the shiprider operations.

What our government has repeatedly emphasized, both in formal meetings and in other ways, is that Canada wants our border with the United States to be a true gateway to our mutual prosperity, not a cumbersome checkpoint that stifles our competitiveness. The government has stressed that Canada is America's closest friend, most trusted ally, and most important trading partner.

Most recently, I spoke to Secretary Napolitano, and we do speak on a fairly regular basis. She assured me that the U.S. shares our views on the border and continues to be committed to getting Canada-U.S. border issues right.

Ms. Napolitano confirmed to me that Canada will remain a trading partner with the full confidence of the United States and that our common goal is to strengthen our mutual security by ensuring that these security measures do not impede the significant trade relations of our two countries. I look forward to working with her again at our next meeting and presenting a border program that will protect the interests of Canada.

In sum, what we agreed upon were two principles: one of looking for opportunities to co-operate for mutual benefit, where we can eliminate redundancies and inefficiencies so that our border works well while we are achieving our security objectives; and secondly, we agreed to look at new approaches and new initiatives, ones that have been off the table under the previous administration. Those are, in my view, two major successful steps forward.

I believe we have with the new Obama administration a real opportunity to make progress for Canada. I continue to work with the Obama administration in seeking to do that.

In view of that, I simply cannot support the motion before us today. It is critically important that we maintain an open border. It is critically important that we have good relations with the Americans and that we make them aware of how important that border is.

One of the realities of the situation we are in is that because we are such good partners, because we are such trusted allies, we are not always on the radar screen. It is easy for North Korea and Iran to be the subject of a lot of talk in Washington. Canada is not.

In some ways, that is a good thing, but it also means that on those issues that are important to us we have to be there. We have to be there front and centre, making our views known, working on our concerns and getting those problems solved. The new Obama administration has shown a willingness to work with us to do that, a new opportunity for Canada, a new opportunity to work towards greater security and prosperity.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to continue working on that, and I would encourage all members of the House to support that kind of effort and reject this unnecessarily divisive motion really designed to embarrass the Obama administration.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States Border
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Michelle Simson Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not believe the motion from the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering was in any way intended to insult the American government. The fact is that the comments that Janet Napolitano made were extremely offensive to many people on a lot of different fronts. There is also a pile-on, with Senator John McCain, who has now backed up these allegations. It is not just with respect to border security, but the comments were on our immigration policies as well.

In speaking with small business owners in my riding, the concern of several of the manufacturers that export heavily to the United States is that these comments are a backdrop for the protectionist feeling they are getting from the U.S.

I would like the minister's comments about how I allay their fears in getting their goods across the border.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States Border
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to speak to the comments that Ms. Napolitano made. I found them curious myself, because when we met a month in advance of those comments being made in a CBC interview, we actually talked about the issue of the 9/11 terrorists and about how it was funny that Canadians always had to combat that myth. That is why I was very puzzled by her reaction.

I watched the interview and I felt that she was a little bit trapped by an interviewer. Certainly when I spoke with her and her staff immediately following the interview, she made it quite clear that she did not realize she had said what she was quoted as saying and actually did say. She was well aware that none of the 9/11 terrorists ever came through Canada and she issued a statement immediately to correct that record.

I think we as good partners should accept that and give her the benefit of the doubt. I know I certainly do.

As for John McCain, I cannot say the same for him. He had an opportunity when presented with the facts to accept that. That is why it is important that we have been vigilant, and the ambassador has, of course, communicated immediately with his office the need to address those kinds of myths. But we are not going to let that get in the way of continuing to work constructively with all Americans on improving our border situation.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States Border
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was in Washington, leading a delegation of members and meeting with members of Congress while the Canadian ambassador and the minister went to meet with the highest levels of the administration. There is one thing I have a hard time understanding, despite the explanations the minister just gave us. The Minister of Public Safety met with the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. One week after that meeting, that same individual said the 9/11 terrorists had gone through Canadian customs to carry out those attacks against the United States.

I trust the secretary of state, but I do not trust the Minister of Public Safety. During his meeting with the American Secretary of Homeland Security, he must have raised the question with her. How does he explain that, a week later—since the minister went to the U.S. two weeks ago—she made such a statement? The minister would do well to explain himself. At this time, he is the one who does not have our trust.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States Border
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me be absolutely clear if there is any illusion. I do not believe any of the 9/11 terrorists ever came from Canada across the American border. I happen to know, as the 9/11 commission report examined and set out in great detail, that they did enter the United States from elsewhere. So I really have nothing to explain and I continue to hold that view. Even if the member may think there is something to explain there, I will not depart from that view, which I have held for quite some time.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States Border
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about the resolution that is before us today. Naturally, it is impossible to be against motherhood and apple pie, and the Bloc Québécois will obviously support the motion as written.

The motion is essentially about security, and I think that is important. Like our American colleagues, the Bloc Québécois and I have long understood the importance of security. Moreover, nearly 12 years ago, I began what is called a triangle of excellence involving Vermont, New York state and the riding of Saint-Jean. These states are my riding's closest neighbours, and I knew we had common interests. One of those important interests is border security.

In fact, I remember that it was often the main topic of discussion 12 years ago. My American colleagues, like us, said that it was important because the largest gateway between Quebec and the United States is at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle. The Americans are so convinced of its importance that they invested $100 million in what is called a port of excellence in Champlain. They demolished the buildings and infrastructure at their land entry point and built new ones at a cost of $100 million. Security is extremely important to them.

We also work regularly with the Americans on various issues. For example, we are currently working on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Champlain, who gave his name to Lake Champlain on the American side. Border security is therefore important to us.

I also have a lot to do with the Border Security Agency, the part of the Department of Homeland Security that is in charge of border security. We meet with them on a regular basis. In addition, I recently instructed my office to proceed with an update, because I have not been there for a year or two and I want to go back.

We are also talking to our contacts at U.S. customs about how to ensure the uninterrupted flow of traffic so as not to create delays at the border. We also want to prevent illegal travellers from crossing the border, and I think that the Americans want that too.

That being said, we have to send the right signals and talk to the right people. The Conservative government says that it is concerned about security, but its actions do not support that. It is cutting out things that the Americans consider important.

What are we supposed to say to a U.S. member of Congress who asks us whether we have closed certain RCMP detachments over the years? Well, seven or eight RCMP detachments near the border have indeed been closed, and promises to reopen them have not been kept.

How are we supposed to explain to the Americans that the government supports restricting Canada Border Services Agency activities along the border? How do we justify eliminating procedures and operating practices that enabled the organization to move agents from one border crossing to another during busy times or heavy arrivals, and pay them overtime? That is not happening anymore.

As a result, trucks are going to get stuck in long line-ups even if border access points are separated. Trucks getting stuck five or six kilometres away does not help the industry. Trucking companies often complain about this.

We also have to make the Americans aware that we have secure lanes. I gather that the minister is having trouble getting that message across to the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. I can understand that because I just gave two examples of how the agency is causing traffic jams at the border and security problems by refusing to move border services agents from one crossing to another during really busy times.

We are sending a contradictory message. The Conservatives have failed to raise awareness among Americans. I point to the fact that, during the debate on WHTI, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which will soon require the use of passports at borders, it was the Bloc Québécois and I who led a delegation to Washington to convince our American friends to not go ahead with it. The only thing that happened was that implementation was delayed by one year. This initiative will go into effect on June 1.

There are other issues such as the enhanced driver's licence that contains a chip. It will be less expensive. This enhanced driver's licence will make border crossings by land easier. However, it cannot be used for air travel. Effective June 1, new rules will come into effect for land, water or air travel. Everyone is required to have a passport or, for land travel, the enhanced driver's licence I spoke about.

The signals sent by the Conservative government do not square with their philosophy, which is centred on security. There is not just the issue of the WHTI, but also that of protectionism.

At present, the winds of protectionism seem to be blowing very strongly in the United States. Two weeks ago, when the minister was in the U.S., I led a delegation of members to Washington to defend Quebec's and Canada's interests by asking them to not be overly protectionist. That is what we did.

How did the Conservative Party react? The member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles objected to what we had done. He told us that we had no business being there. He asked us what we had done and who we had seen. Everything is on the Bloc Québécois website: the names of the nine congressmen and two senators we met with and the topics we discussed, including security at customs. We will not be lectured by the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles and the Conservative Party, who are wondering what we did in Washington. It seems to me that all the members of this House have four points in the year to go to Washington. We have to go to Washington. The Americans are our number one economic partners. We have to try to resolve our differences together. That is what we did. We do not agree that we had no business being there. We need to go there. The Conservatives may be asleep at the switch and not doing their job, but they cannot prevent others from doing their job. We are glad we went to Washington. I think it is our duty to go.

We cannot understand why the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would say such a thing when the minister had just met with her. The next time we go to Washington, we should perhaps ask to meet with her. Maybe things would go better if ordinary members met with her and explained how things really are.

When I say that the government is sending mixed messages, I am talking about the cuts to the agency and to overtime. That is going to cause delays at the border crossings. There is also the whole issue of the special team at Lacolle, where there is a giant scanner that was used to scan trucks one by one. The Conservative government decided to dismantle the team.

What message will that send? On the American side, that is what I was talking about earlier; the $100 million port of excellence they have created has all that equipment. I know, because I saw it. Now, as I said earlier, I want to bring them up to date. What shall I say when the border agency security representative asks me why we are disbanding our team that works with the giant scanner? How are we going to respond? Those are different messages.

There are patrols on the Richelieu River, in my own riding. That area is a virtual sieve for drug traffickers and potentially illegal immigrants. We have just put an end to that. There was a border crossing right on the river, and we are told that it is finished. What other message does that send? What messages are we sending to our American colleagues? This government is trying to convince us that security is extremely important.

As a final point, our party is doing its best to make up for this government's shortcomings.

We are extremely disappointed in what is happening. We were right there less than two weeks ago. We met with nine members of Congress and two senators. We talked about that, and we even talked about American protectionism. We have some important allies in the American Congress and we must meet with them. A woman like Louise Slaughter from New York is very important to us. She joined us in our fight regarding the passport requirement at customs. She fully understood that it is important for the states that border Canada to remain as flexible and as open as possible.

Naturally, the Americans will say that they cannot take one approach with Canada and a different one with Mexico. It must be a joint policy. However, this should not stop us from trying to convince them that their northern border is quite different from their southern border. It is natural for them to have a lot more problems with their southern border than their northern border, since Canada has always been their ally. Canada has always made an effort to harmonize and be in tune with American policies.

Now we are hearing the opposite from the Conservative government. They seem to want nothing to do with security. When the time comes to do important things, such as ensure that we have competent border agents and border patrols and that traffic jams do not interfere with the Canada-U.S. economy, the Conservatives are nowhere to be found. That is inexplicable. We have to take charge of this issue.

If the Conservatives do not agree, I invite my opposition colleagues to go there and say so. I think that, at this time, we cannot count on the Conservatives, who say one thing but do another. That is basic. We cannot convince our American friends that we can do the job when we are doing the opposite of that. We are closing RCMP detachments. The border patrol is very slow off the mark. Overtime has been abolished, which will lead to serious bottlenecks at the Canada-U.S. border and the closure of the scanner and its team.

The Americans are going to think that the border is indeed porous, not to mention the fact that there are a lot of roads we do not monitor. The Americans now feel that they have to put cement blocks on their side of 107 roads going from Canada to the Unites States because we do not control those points. The U.S. does monitor its side of those entry points, sparing no expense. They have helicopters, patrols, vehicles and cameras. They are even talking about using UAVs—drones—to patrol their side of the border. We do not do any of that. We are still amateurs.

The government makes all kinds of lovely promises, but then it does not keep them or do anything about them, which does not do us any favours in Washington. We know that because we meet with them regularly and we talk about these things. The opposition's role is to put pressure on the government to do something to ensure that the Americans feel safe when it comes to our border. We want them to believe that their ally to the north is in control of its borders. We do not want any more situations like the Secretary of Homeland Security saying that terrorists came through Canada to perpetrate the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The first time I heard that, it was my friend, New York state senator Hilary Clinton, who said it. At a dinner in Plattsburgh in the context of the triangle of excellence, I was very keen to meet with her to tell her that she could not say that, that that is not what happened, and that the border in question was theirs. To make a long story short, I never heard Ms. Clinton say that again.

How is that a few years later, we are still hearing such things? Not only do we hear them, but we learned that the Canadian Minister of Public Safety met with her a week before she made that outrageous remark. This has proven very costly, financially speaking, since the entire diplomatic corps has had to mobilize to try to dispel this myth, as well as in terms of their perspective, that is, how the Americans see Canadians and Quebeckers. They see us as people who do not look after our border. If we do not look after it, they will look after it for us, and they are talking tougher, which is not good for our economy.

What we want—and this is what I was saying when I began speaking—is for goods and traffic to flow freely at border crossings. We want people to be able to cross all borders, whether in Lacolle or elsewhere. However, we want the Americans to know that if people try to cross the border illegally, we are capable of stopping them. That is what they want to hear, and that is not what is really happening.

Of course, that is the thrust of our colleague's proposal. It is important and that is why the Bloc Québécois will support this motion in the House.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States Border
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, in just over a month, Canadians will be required to produce a passport or an enhanced driver's licence when they cross the border. The government has seriously dropped the ball on this whole file.

A year ago, when the Manitoba government was exploring enhanced driver's licences, it approached the passport department here in Ottawa to get it to issue a, more or less, passport light solution so the government would not need to duplicate services that should be provided by the passport office. Manitoba received no positive response out of the passport office or out of the federal government at the time.

The result is that Manitoba and British Columbia are developing their own enhanced driver's licence solution that will cost people $30 for a card that will only get them across the border. A passport is the most sensible thing to have because it gives five years of protection and an individual can go anywhere in the world for a little over double the price of $85.

We suggest that the passport office should be issuing passports at a much lower cost. As a matter of fact, passports for certain people, say those under 18 years of age, should be free. The government should be subsidizing the process by maybe cutting the price of a passport in half.

We will have a huge mess at the border in only a couple of months. I hold the government responsible for what should have been done a year ago.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States Border
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleagues on his remarks. He is absolutely right.

I do not know if my colleague is aware of it, but Quebec has already issued enhanced driver's licences because the federal government dropped the ball. We are inevitably approaching the date, June 1, when passports will be mandatory, although enhanced driver's licences may be used in some cases.

The member is quite right: social and economic activities abound along the border. It is impossible to know how many people cross the border because they have family on the other side or because their children go across to play hockey, and vice versa.

The June 1 deadline will have consequences. A small family with three or four children may not be able to pay up to $400 or $500 for passports. It could use the enhanced driver's licence, but it can only be used to cross the border by land, and not by water or air.

Thus, there will be negative consequences on June 1 because the Conservative government has been negligent and did not monitor this issue. It could consider the proposed solution of variable fees for passports, simply not requiring everyone to pay the same $87 amount.

Problems will arise on June 1. On both sides of the border, people may decide to stay home, which will obviously have a negative impact on the economy.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States Border
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his comments.

In New Brunswick, 90% of our exports are headed for the United States. These exports include wood products and seafood. Because we neighbour the beautiful province of Quebec, I know that some industries need help now, during the economic crisis. Will this problem with the borders, which the Conservative government caused because it does not know what is going on, create economic problems for Quebec, our neighbour?

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States Border
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is essentially what we are saying today. We are talking about impacts on families, impacts on sport. Those are economic impacts. When people cross the border unto the United States or Americans come to Canada, inevitably they spend money. When there are delays at the border, companies pay a huge price. Carriers waste no time in passing on their costs to the companies that hired them. Some industries such as forestry and manufacturing are in the midst of an economic crisis.

In my opinion, the situation will get worse starting on June 1, because exporting companies may have to pay a bit more if there are long delays at border crossings. That has negative consequences across the board, and it is too bad the Conservative government has been negligent in this area.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States Border
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his excellent speech.

In terms of the economy, the Université de Montréal has studied the Conservatives' investments in border security. While we should be investing more in border security, they have cut funds, as my colleague mentioned. Some $70 million has been lost in connection with border security. About $42 million in salaries has been lost, along with $32 million in added value.

Given these undeniable numbers, not to mention the impact on tourism, it is clear that the federal government must invest more in border security. We know that a lot of tourists come to Quebec, and that has a major impact on tourism development, particularly given the economic crisis. I think that the Conservative government should act more quickly to save and create jobs. Would my colleague care to comment on that?

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States Border
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his comments.

He mentioned a Université de Montréal study, but I would like to tell him that I have before me a Transport Canada study dated May 24, 2005. It is estimated that it will be between $231 million and $433 million, just for the delays that will caused by the government's new policies. There have been many like that. This will not be without administrative costs. In terms of compliance with certain C-TPAT rules, C-TPAT being an American federal program, if the Canadian industry does not comply, the result is quite simple; it can no longer do business with the United States. The Americans apply security measures and Canada has no response. This will lead to tremendous losses for our economy as a whole. My colleague referred to a Université de Montréal study. I am talking about a Transport Canada study from 2005, and the situation is probably worse today.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States Border
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, those of us who come from border municipalities fully understand the importance of issues at our border crossings. We know the government is committed to ongoing co-operation, open dialogue and concrete actions to advance our position and our interests at border crossings.

To date we have worked very strongly and successfully on delaying the WHTI implementation date. That has given both governments, as well as the general public, an opportunity to prepare for it. It will happen in June this year.

We also have the Canada-U.S. cross-border law enforcement and justice co-operation and integrated border enforcement teams. Does the member opposite agree with these IBE teams and what is his take on them?

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States Border
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I may have forgotten to mention one more feather in my cap. I am also the co-chair of the border caucus with the United States.

I am not saying that the news is all bad. I am just saying that the Conservative government seems to be working on delaying the deadlines, but it is a little late for that. The government should have worked on that earlier, when the western hemisphere travail initiative was introduced.

The government should have gone to Washington immediately, as we did. But we were the only ones who made the trip at the time. Obviously, a backbencher does not carry the same weight as a prime minister or minister. I find it strange that now, just a few months before the initiative takes effect, the government is saying it is going to take steps to try to lessen the impact. It is already a bit late in the game, and the provinces are having to create their own entry documents, because they know they cannot count on the federal government. That is the sad truth.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States Border
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak to this important subject in the Liberal opposition day motion.

It is important that we look at the context as well when we talk about what is happening not only with regard to Napolitano's comments from the Department of Homeland Security, but also the WHTI, the western hemisphere travel initiative, the passport issue in particular, and how it is going to change the relationship of our countries. It already has had what I would say a cancerous effect on our relationship, one that has caused considerable economic grief for border communities.

I also argue that a social cultural change will happen. When our citizens engage with the United States, we have to remember they often could be cousins or marriage relatives. Businesses and personal contacts are now going to be extinguished. If we talk to different people, we will discover they have given up trying to cross the border on a regular basis.

My uncle and aunt live in the United States and they come to Canada on a regular basis. That is a good part of my family's life because they have been able to visit with my grandmother every week. It has put more strain and pressure on them, but we are lucky they continue to put up with it. At the same time, I know other Canadians have simply given up. The loss is very significant. It undermines the social fabric which has made Canada and the United States such great friends.

I think our citizens really get it. We recently heard commentary in the media, for example, by a Fox News journalist. In the past we saw footage of a Liberal member stomping on a doll of the president, yet citizens do not really engage in that. They say politicians are silly or the comments in the media are stupid. When they meet their friends, family and business partners, they recognize the real breadth and depth of their relationships and support it. However, that will change with the implementation of WHTI.

It is important to note that this goes back farther in time than the last number of months. For those who are not aware, I am from Windsor, Ontario. I walk down the steps of my house, look to the left down the street and see the Detroit River and the city of Detroit. I grew up and lived near the border and crossed on a regular basis as a child, an adult and now as a father. It is part of our relationship in terms of things we do for business and the way we construct our social relations. I worry about losing that aspect, a real benefit for our relations at the end of the day.

The first time I was really upset was during the former Chrétien government. I was in Washington, D.C. lobbying for softwood lumber. We had a meeting with the ambassador at that time. We had just learned the U.S. was going to implement what was called the NSER program. Originally 35 countries were on the list. It was the first time in history that people who were not American citizens had to be fingerprinted and photographed as they entered the United States.

The Canadian position at that time was non-existent. There was no discussion by the ambassador, no discussion whatsoever. Canadians on the list, who happened to be born somewhere else, would be registered as if they were not Canadian citizens, and that has happened.

An example of that are people from Pakistan. People from Pakistan have lived in my community for over 100 years. Ironically, they are doctors and lawyers who go to the United States every day to save lives. They have been in Canada for 30 or 40 years, most of the entire lives, and they were to be treated differently by the Americans because of their place of birth.

The Canadian government of the day refused to challenge that. It let the United States unilaterally say that certain aspects of our citizens would be a threat. It did not care if the were doctors, or nurses, or workers or engineers in the automotive industry. These individuals would be treated differently than the rest of our citizens. I am not saying the U.S. does not have the right to do that because it does. The United States is a foreign and sovereign nation, but our government should have defended our citizens because a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.

If we go through our vetting process through immigration, which originated 20, 30 years ago or whatever it might be, people are valued as a Canadian citizen with the same rights as someone else. That program has turned into the U.S. visit program, a much more comprehensive program. The U.S. is moving this even further, to have an entry and exit system to access the country in a general way, not just in terms of those who register any more. This will create more border issues.

It is important to recognize that. This was one of first times the government decided to not even challenge it, the Chrétien government. I have not heard a prime minister to date, not Prime Minister Paul Martin nor the current Prime Minister, say that once Canadian citizens have been vetted through our process, they should be treated the same way.

It is important to get that message out. It complicates our border situation, making it difficult not only for those individuals going through these different processes, but also the processing itself, which is causing significant delays.

I want to touch on another subject that is very important. We are watching this changing relationship, and again the government is doing nothing. This is related to a treaty dating back to 1817. Following the war of 1812, there was a treaty between Canada and the United States that there would be no gun boats or armed vessels on the Great Lakes system. However, in 2003, out of hysteria, the United States wanted to bring in gunboats, which are now on the Great Lakes.

Let me describe these gunboats. They have auto cannons on them. The auto cannons can fire up to 600 bullets a minute. I cannot imagine a threat coming from Canada that requires something like that. If someone is hit by 600 bullets in a minute, there is nothing left. Once again, the Liberals at that time allowed this and adjusted this treaty. Now we have this situation.

It is interesting to delve into the agreement. There has been a history where the government says it will not engage in this, that it has an agreement it can pursue someone across the boundary, for whatever reason. The RCMP can do it, or the coast Guard can do it. Apparently what is supposed to happen is if there is a pursuit, the auto cannons will be torn down and put it away and the ships will go back into Canadian waters. I have a hard time believing that.

What was phenomenal about this was the issue that followed, and it shows the complications as we allow this militarization. The U.S. wanted to set up 40 different gun ranges on the Great Lakes system, where it would have target practices. The issue of national security and the concerns of the Americans are important. However, this can really change the nature of a beautiful a relationship, sharing one of the most important treasures of the world, the Great Lakes fresh water tributary system. It is so important for our ecological habitat, our human population and our planet. This is one of the busiest waterways in the world. There are tankers, sport fishing, all kinds of other things.

We fought that. I raised questions in the House of Commons, but the government of the day just fluffed them off. In November 2006 I made a submission on behalf of the New Democratic Party. There was a process in place to make applications of interest to the American system. All our caucus colleagues signed it. I believe we were the only political party to do this.

The government's response to that came after the deadline of submissions. The Great Lakes system was being turned into live firing ranges and the government submitted its submission two days after the hearing process was to be completed. This showed the disinterest the Canadian government had with regard to those relations. We see how these things start to ramp up.

In that time period, as well, there was the agreement of the Canadian government to move toward operational centres, the first in Great Falls, which was an air wing branch. Now it has allowed for the introduction on our border of not only surveillance drone planes, but black hawk helicopters and chinooks as well. One flew by my house the other day. I cannot image what the threat was. We also have the gun boat ranges. We also now have watchtowers with security surveillance, which Boeing is putting up.

We have allowed all this to happen without any real analysis or without engaging the Americans. We have not asked questions such as what is so important. We all agree on security. We want to ensure there will be a decrease in smuggling and illegal immigration, a whole series of things.

We have allowed the hype to happen. That is why we have someone like Ms. Napolitano saying these things. It is quite political and clear. This is shifting the debate about the southern border of Mexico and the United States to the northern border here. Both the previous government and the government of the day have been very much asleep at the switch, not protecting the interests of Canadians. We have allowed this myth to continue and now the physical entities are there at this point in time.

We could have engaged in a study. We could have engaged in a practical approach to this, or at least had that out there for them during this process. When one talks to the spokespeople for the Department of Homeland Security, their response to the Black Hawk helicopters, gun boats, surveillance and drone planes is that they do not know what is out there and it is a threat until they determine what it is out there. That is not a logical way to try to find and reduce the things we really want to get at the border. It allows the idea that we have an unsecured northern border and that just is not true.

The problem with 9/11 was that the terrorists got hold of American passports and other documentation legally and illegally, and they were able to carry out a terrorist attack that has changed the globe. There is no doubt that we need to be conscious of that, but at the same time, are the objectives we are adding today making us safer? I would argue they are not. The western hemisphere travel initiative in particular is not going to have the net effect we want in respect of counterterrorism. It is going to create greater economic harm than we could even imagine. That is going to hurt our ability to compete in the world and provide the funds for the security we want. That is a critical thing to note.

The Ambassador Bridge and other border crossings are two miles from my house. Along a two mile stretch of the area that I represent are the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, the CP Rail tunnel, the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor ferry, which has its material wastes. This carries about 40% of Canada's trade with the United States every single day. There is a lot of scrutiny there. The trucks are checked. There is gamma X-ray inspection.

Interestingly enough, I remember a campaign with a previous administration where we had a gamma ray facility. For those who are not aware of it, gamma ray technology is used on rail cars to find illegal substances, bombs or something else. Ironically, when this was debated in our community, the CBSA had agreed to put this facility next to a high school. We campaigned successfully to stop that and to move it away from there. We were told it was going to be moved. Later on, construction started right by the high school because the Department of Homeland Security told CP Rail to do it there. The platform is still there to this day. We finally got it moved again. That just shows the influence the Americans have here.

That screening is done. The rail cars go to the United States. That is important. We agree with a lot of it, but it has significant economic consequences. When we look at what is going to happen next with the WHTI, we need to go back to the beginning. When it comes into effect in just over a month it is going to be a new world for us. Back in April 2005 is when the Department of Homeland Security announced that passport legislation was going to be brought in. We have to wonder whether Canada did a good enough job with regard to this. I would say that we failed the test and continue to do so because we do not have any programs or support systems that are significant enough to deal with the challenges.

The previous government cannot be blamed for that situation in terms of being late off the mark. I asked David Emerson, the minister of industry at the time, about the issue of tourism two days after that. The government understood it was a concern. That was his response to me and we took that at faith, but we followed up with testimony to the department of tourism in Canada a couple of days after that.

The response by Canada to one of the biggest challenges we are facing now was that we were going to put together a $50,000 study to find out the effect of having passports to enter the United States. We spent $17 million that year instead to move the head offices from Ottawa to Vancouver. That was the government's priority at that point in time. That was clearly political. It is something that gives me concern. Later on, we did get the government to increase the amount for the study. There has been some response to it, but it is very frustrating.

The New Democrats raised the issue a number of times in the House of Commons. It culminated in a House of Commons debate on October 24 about the fact that Canada did not have a position at that time. Canada finally submitted a position to the United States on October 31, which was the last day we could make submissions on the WHTI. The very last day was when we actually got our submission in, and it was only after we had a vote here in the House that we got it done.

I had previously made a submission on behalf of the New Democratic Party. It was signed by all our caucus members. It is important to recognize, as we enter this next chapter, that the government did not take this seriously and it still does not have its head around it. There is a lot of evidence to show there should have been a better response.

I have put together a Canadian tourism strategy. I am going to mention parts of it later, but I want to mention some of the great work that has been done that really validates the problem we are facing right now.

The Canadian Tourism Commission tabled a report which showed that there would be significant short-term and long-term effects. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Detroit Regional Chamber commissioned a report in October 2005. Once again they were calling for a balance to be struck between national security and WHTI, but the fact is we could not find that balance.

A study by the Ontario ministry of tourism estimated that the number of U.S. visits to Ontario would decrease by 13.6%, or 3.2 million visits, in 2008. It is interesting because we have already seen the visitation from the United States drop to record lows. Not since 1972 have we seen the erosion of this type of exchange.

It is important to emphasize that this exchange is not just about economics. There is a social element that is incredibly important. It binds us as neighbours and partners in a very important relationship for our democracy and for our social cultures.

In my region a whole bunch of people come in from the United States to see the markers of their relatives. Our area is at the end of the underground railroad. When the United States had slavery and Canada was free, people would swim or boat across the Detroit River. This was before it was channeled, so it was much easier to do that than it would be today. They would come to Canada to establish their lives. People have relatives and friends here. People from all over the deep south and other areas trace their heritage by following the underground railroad into Olde Sandwich Towne.

We are going to lose out on some of those visits. People can get into Canada without a passport, but getting back into the United States is going to be a big challenge. They will need other documentation or they could be held. They could be turned away, which would be interesting. If someone with an American passport comes to Canada, and then it is declared that the person cannot re-enter the United States because the person is a security risk, do we allow the person to come into our country again if the person is a security risk? Do we lock the person up or send the person back to the United States because we do not want to take a security risk?

An interesting quandary could develop out of this. Border agents will be making independent decisions all along the line. The main point is that we are going to miss out on the social-cultural exchange.

A study by the Conference Board of Canada showed that the implementation is going to have a negative impact. There is a very good survey by Zogby International of U.S. border-state voters and Canadians about new border regulations. Its findings are interesting: 51% of Americans feel that these rules will not keep terrorists out; 60% of Americans and 70% of Canadians do not think there is a need for an alternative border crossing card; and 86% of Americans and 75% of Canadians drive when they cross the border annually.

I want to conclude by emphasizing that we need a very aggressive strategy. The Prime Minister in particular has to show leadership. Over the last 20 minutes I have laid out the history of what has been happening. There has been an evolution of our border to become militarized and also to become thickened.

I have not even touched upon other elements of trade, such as the Bioterrorism Act, where because of a Chilean peach in 1986 there is now a big fee for service 10 or 15 years later. There are all kinds of other fees, such as the APHIS fee, in terms of transported goods coming in.

The Prime Minister needs to stand up and say that the Canadian border is different from the Mexican border, that it has different challenges, that we want to deal with those challenges, but at the same time, there is a responsibility in our trade agreements. There has to be a better way to provide safety and security for all of us.