House of Commons Hansard #51 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was organizations.

Topics

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order please. The hon. member will have four and a half minutes left to conclude her remarks the next time the bill is before the House.

The House resumed from May 4 consideration of the motion that Bill C-11, An Act to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins, be read the third time and passed.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at the third reading stage of Bill C-11.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #59

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. It being 6:00 o'clock, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from March 2 consideration of the motion, of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.

Service Canada
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion introduced by the member for Brossard—La Prairie. Since I was elected, passports and how they are processed have been a huge part of what my constituency office does. One of the main issues raised by my constituents is the need for more passport-issuing centres in northern Ontario.

First, let us look at the current state of affairs with regard to passport services at my constituency office in Sudbury. Right now, my constituency office in Sudbury processes hundreds of passports each month. In fact, my office alone has processed approximately 1,600 applications since December 2008. This is about 70 passports a week on average. Finally, it holds the record for number of passports processed in one week, nearly 200 immediately after the Christmas holidays.

In addition to this massive volume of passport applications, my office in Sudbury also receives about a dozen inquiries a week from people who have had problems or need updates on passports not sent through our office. Often, there are major problems with these applications. With the limited resources our office has, this can be detrimental to the other important work that my office undertakes.

I will now discuss some of the major concerns that I have with the current situation regarding the issuing of passport services. With the massive number of applications processed each day and the often problematic nature of some of them, the resources of our offices are diverted from the important task of helping constituents with other federal issues.

My riding office, in particular, is experiencing a massive increase in the amount of constituents coming through the door, looking for more information on their EI claims, for example: the nearly 700 Xstrata workers who were laid off earlier this year and the 168 Vale Inco workers who were laid off less than a month afterwards, because of the government's caving in to corporate interests and their refusal to uphold an agreement under the Investment Canada Act; the CBC employees laid off in Sudbury, Thunder Bay and other parts of northern Ontario, because the Conservative government did not approve any bridge funding to save northern Ontario's voice; and hundreds of other people from northern Ontario and Sudburians who do not qualifying for EI under the flawed system the Liberal government set up and the Conservative government refuses to amend.

My constituents are entitled to get the help they need with their EI claims at my office. They should not be prevented from receiving these services because my office is busy making up for the lack of passport resources in northern Ontario. My constituents are also entitled to get the information and assistance they need in understanding and receiving their Canada pension plan.

The unfortunate cost of processing the enormous volume of passport applications is that a large share of the constituency staff time and resources are diverted away from assisting constituents and other urgent difficulties.

I want to be quite clear. I am in no way opposed to helping my constituents with their passport applications. However, this is not the only role of a member of Parliament. As I previously stated, there are several other areas that require the attention and assistance of an MP's constituency office. My fear is that these different areas of assistance, such as EI claims, pension enquiries and retraining options, are not as looked after as they could be due to the volume of passport applications.

First, let me address what has already been accomplished on the issue of passport services. At this point, I must give credit to my colleague for Sault Ste. Marie, who has been on this issue from the start of his tenure as a member of Parliament. The member has persistently asked the government to open up more passport offices and to open up passport offices in regions of the country where there were none, such as northeastern Ontario. The member for Sault Ste. Marie has often suggested that a new passport office should be opened in Sault Ste. Marie, as the city is an international border community.

The member continues to press for a full passport office. He has raised the question in question period, in the House of Commons statements, through several ministry and community meetings and in the petition campaign. In fact, the member is responsible for an amendment that was accepted by the author of the motion, regarding the inclusion of Service Canada offices in communities that are at international borders, like the city of Sault Ste. Marie.

The northern Ontario team of New Democrats is united in improving passport services, not only in my riding of Sudbury, but in ridings all across northern Ontario that are suffering from a lack of passport-issuing offices.

It is clear more staff have to be hired and more resources given to employees who are currently run off their feet with all the government business now done by Service Canada.

I will address the potential future challenges that will exist should the House not adopt this motion.

The most unfortunate reality of this situation is that for the next short while the volume of passport applications processed by the constituency offices all across northern Ontario and Canada will only become worse. Why, may one ask? The amount of passport applications will multiply due to the implementation of the western hemisphere travel initiative on June 1.

As of June 1, all Canadian citizens entering the United States by land or water will be required to present documents to obtain entry, mainly a passport. What is the western hemisphere travel initiative? This western hemisphere travel initiative is a U.S. law that requires all travellers, including U.S. and Canadian citizens, to present a valid passport or other approved secure document when entering the United States from within the western hemisphere.

The new document requirements were implemented for air travel in January 2007. Final document requirements for those seeking to enter the United States at land or water ports of entry will take effect on June 1, 2009.

Due to the nature of the WHTI, it will not be enough to have passport services at all Service Canada outlets. Staff at Service Canada are already delivering numerous services: employment insurance, CPP, CPP disability, old age security, guaranteed income security, social insurance numbers, Canada summer jobs, boat licences, common experience or residential school payments, employment programs, job banks and more.

This is a bad situation. In essence, Service Canada outlets with limited resources will only get worse if we do not help them. What is needed, as my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie rightfully raised in his amendment, is passport services at all regional Service Canada outlets in addition to service at international border crossing sites, like the city of Sault Ste. Marie.

With passport services not only at regional Service Canada outlets, but also international border crossing sites, the sizeable amount of passport requests would be shared among a large number of offices, improving the overall effectiveness of the service. This would mean less overworked employees, more time with each application and, down the road, less problems and complications with passport applications.

When many individuals point out that northern Ontarians can go with one or two passport offices, one in Thunder Bay and another in Toronto, I find that insulting. Toronto is nowhere near practical for constituents in my riding who would need to drive four hours to get their passport services. Thunder Bay is even more ridiculous at close to 12 hours away.

I will now explore the bigger issue that has been raised by my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie, which is the already thin nature of the resources at Service Canada centres.

The New Democrats are supportive of this bill in principle as it would address a very large issue for many residents in my riding. It would provide an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the government about both the inadequacy of the services that are now being delivered through Service Canada and about how difficult it is, particularly given the economic climate that we are in.

The spirit of this motion is supportable as an interim measure in that it would be a step toward full passport operations in the northern Ontario region. It would make the current overburdening situation in my northern constituency office significantly less than it is currently. We support the notion of passport offices in regional Service Canada centres.

We also support the amendment by the Bloc that those Service Canada offices that have already been dedicated to deliver passport services be included in the motion, meaning that passport offices would not only be open in regional passport offices, of which a northern Ontario office would be in my riding of Sudbury, but that Service Canada offices now delivering these services would have a full-fledged passport service in place in those offices.

In conclusion, the New Democrats are in favour of any motion that would seek to improve passport services administered by Service Canada. However, if no commitment is seen from the government to deal with the problems raised regarding the limited resources Service Canada currently has, many of which have been addressed throughout this debate, it will do little to solve the problem at the heart of this motion.

Service Canada
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Brossard—La Prairie for bringing forward this matter and also my colleague from Sudbury in referring to this question.

I can well understand some of the reasons and concerns that have been expressed by the government about this motion, but it is also important for us to stress the very real difference that it can make to Canadians in terms of getting access to government services more broadly, but also specifically getting access to passports.

All members of Parliament can very much identify with the comments that were made by my friend from Sudbury when he discussed the very practical issues that his constituents face. As someone who had the good fortune of serving the people of Ontario for a number years, I am very familiar with the challenges, particularly in the north, with respect to travel and the difficulty of getting access to documentation and government services in a quick fashion. It is a long way from Sudbury to Toronto. It is four or five hours by car. It is an even longer way from Sudbury to Thunder Bay.

One of the realities that we have to face up to is that a passport is no longer a luxury which applies to a minority of Canadians. A passport is increasingly going to be a required piece of documentation for most Canadians and therefore getting access to passports in a relatively prompt fashion and in a way that allows people to respond to urgent situations facing their families is something that we believe is very important.

There was a time when a passport was not absolutely essential or necessary. That has changed a great deal, especially since the decision by our friends in the United States to require a passport from Canadians. When one considers the fact that people everywhere in the country need passports for many reasons, this motion becomes more and more important in order to provide them with access to the services of Service Canada.

The practical and important motion introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie, is a proposal that can be studied in committee. There we will be able to get answers from the government in order to see whether changes or amendments are necessary. Today we are discussing the principle of the measure the hon. member has proposed.

As my party's foreign affairs critic, I can say that I support this measure. It is very important for people to have access to the document we call a Canadian passport, for Service Canada to be able to meet people's needs more promptly, and for a service to be provided that fully meets the needs of the public.

I believe that the measure that has been proposed by the member is an eminently practical one and one that responds very much to needs which every member of Parliament I am sure can have a sense of how important it is to their constituents.

I can certainly speak, even in Toronto Centre, to the number of times where constituents need to have access to something on an urgent or emergency basis. I can only imagine the situation facing many of my colleagues when getting hold of a passport in a relatively simple, direct fashion upon the presentation of the necessary documentation becomes something that can readily be done.

Those of us who have known the member for Brossard—La Prairie as well as I have over the years will know that it is out of a strong desire on her part to serve her constituents, to respond directly to the needs of her constituents that she has brought forward this measure, and I know it will have the support of a great many other members regardless of party.

I want to congratulate the member for bringing it forward and for making it clear why this measure is a good idea and why it responds to the needs of our constituents. As I said, we can all imagine a time when a minority of Canadians would have had a passport. We are now at a time when close to 70% to 75% of Canadians have passports. That number will grow to 80%, 85%, 90%, and soon it will be a situation where virtually every Canadian will have a passport or have a need to have a passport. Therefore making sure that they can get it in a speedy and efficient fashion is a commendable idea and one that I would urge all members of the House to support.

Service Canada
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the motion tabled by my colleague, the member for Brossard—La Prairie, as well as the amendment by the member for Saint-Lambert, and the subamendment by the member for Sault Ste. Marie.

I believe it is important to stress the seriousness of the negative financial consequences the passage of this motion, including its amendments, would have on the organization and financial structure of Passport Canada.

As we know, over the past two years an enormous number of Canadians have obtained passports. They numbered 3.6 million for the 2006-07 fiscal year, and over 4.8 million for the following fiscal year. Clearly, over 53% of Canadians have a valid passport. This is a direct result of the American government's implementation of the western hemisphere travel initiative, or WHTI.

When our government was elected in January 2006, our Prime Minister made a commitment to improve the passport issuance process and to make it easier for Canadians to access passport services, regardless of where they live. That is what we have been doing for the past three years.

For example, we adopted two new initiatives, simplified renewal and a new guarantor policy. The adoption of these policies has simplified the application process and sped up processing times. Next, we sought to make it easier to access passport services, substantially increasing the number of service points for Canadians.

Through the receiving agents program, we now have 231 service points compared with only 30 in 2003. I would like to point out to my colleagues in the House that our government has been very proactive with respect to the receiving agent file.

I am amused that my colleague from Brossard—La Prairie is demanding the expansion of the receiving agents, although we know very well that while her party was in power, it did nothing substantial to improve service to citizens.

Our government has been very proactive on this file. Today, over 95% of applicants live within a 50 kilometre radius of a service point. I would also like to inform the House that the receiving agents process about 7% of the total volume of passport applications. Of the 198 receiving agents in the country, 141 are Service Canada offices and 57 are Canada Post outlets.

However, close analysis of the motion tabled by the member for Brossard—La Prairie reveals a problem. The motion stipulates that all of Service Canada's regional offices should provide full passport services.

My colleagues are no doubt aware that Passport Canada is a self-financing agency, and as such must exercise great care in managing its finances. Passport Canada receives only $62 for each adult passport application for an adult living in Canada and $22 for children under the age of three. These fees are some of the lowest in the world and our processing times are among the shortest.

I would like to share a few facts in this regard with my hon. colleagues. Passport Canada's financial analysts have estimated that if receiving agent and citizenship validation services were to be offered at all Service Canada offices, it would cost at least $13.5 million for the 2009-10 fiscal year and $10 million for the subsequent four years. That means that for the first five years of this program, it would cost at least $56.2 million for a volume of some 500,000 applications.

The cost of implementing this motion by the member for Brossard—La Prairie, which would increase the number of passport offices from 33 to 320, would be exorbitant. If it currently costs $56.2 million over five years for improved receiving agent services, I do not even dare calculate the cost for these 320 offices that would provide the full range of passport services, from receipt of the application to the printing of the passport.

In 2010, Passport Canada will open a new office in Kelowna, which, according to preliminary estimates, will cost about $1.5 million. If we were to multiply this figure by 320, I think we would see the problem.

Not only would passing this motion, including as amended, be problematic in terms of Passport Canada's finances, I would like to add a few points regarding the cost of providing additional security.

All travel documents issued by Passport Canada must satisfy very strict international rules. These rules are dictated by international organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization which reports to the United Nations. They involve factors such as format, security and issuance. In order for Service Canada to be able to provide full passport service from receipt of the application to issuance, the infrastructure for Service Canada offices would have to be adapted.

Passport Canada's financial analysts have estimated that providing this increased security for a small office, just for one small office, would require an investment of between $1.4 million and $4 million. If we were to go ahead with this proposal, Passport Canada would have to invest several hundreds of millions of dollars just to ensure the security of Service Canada offices. Such a situation would threaten Passport Canada's very survival. Members can imagine the effect this would have on the cost of a passport.

Passport Canada is a serious organization that attaches great importance to client services. Processing times are very fast. This is a well-oiled machine. Passport Canada's regular service time of two weeks is also one of the fastest in the world. Furthermore, Passport Canada is currently able to address the demand for passports and has been operating within its service standards since December 2007.

The Canadian passport has an excellent reputation internationally and Passport Canada's policies are analyzed by numerous countries worldwide. The introduction of an electronic passport with a 10-year validity period is a major project for Passport Canada. It is important that the organization be able to direct its financial resources toward implementing these priorities.

With the coming into force of phase two of the WHTI on June 1, 2009, all Canadians travelling to the United States by land or by sea will be required to present a valid passport. It is important, and even crucial, that Passport Canada and its employees adequately prepare for the new measures that will be introduced shortly by the American government.

Passage of this motion, including as amended, would impose an unreasonable and unnecessary financial burden on the agency in addition to seriously affecting the measures put in place by the agency in preparation for the challenge that lies ahead.

Although this agency experienced a major crisis in 2007, it rose to the occasion. Its employees even won a prestigious public service award in 2008.

In closing, I would like to stress once again that our government supports Passport Canada's efforts and is determined to ensure that funds managed by the Government of Canada are managed responsibly and effectively.

Service Canada
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Jean Dorion Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my voice to those of my colleagues who have today supported the motion by the hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie, with amendments, particularly the one by my colleague from Saint-Lambert . This motion calls upon the government to improve its passport services.

In my riding on the Montreal south shore, the Bloc Québécois members have been calling for this for years.

Close to 700,000 residents could be served by a passport office on the south shore, yet the Canadian government is still refusing to open one there. While the people of Laval have their own passport office, the residents of Longueuil, Saint-Lambert, Boucherville and Brossard , and indeed of the whole greater Montérégie region, have to travel to Montreal to obtain the same services that are available on the north shore.

Last September, the Canadian government announced the opening of about one hundred new sites where people could hand in passport applications to Service Canada centres. That, however, was three days before the last election call, of course, so the three sites announced for Montérégie, including the one in Longueuil, are still not set up.

During a meeting last Sunday with the people of my riding in Boucherville, I had another chance to hear how dreadful the situation is: a citizen stood to tell me the last time he and his wife applied for passports, it cost them $250. There is apparently no parking after 9 a.m. in all the streets around the passport office in downtown Montreal. The couple went there at about 8 o’clock but with the long lineup, they did not get out until a little after 9, when they found a big parking ticket on their car.

The Bloc Québécois has been protesting since 2004 about the fact that people from the south shore are not treated the same as people from Laval or Montreal's West Island. When the Liberals were in power, they too turned a deaf ear to the repeated requests of my Bloc predecessor, Caroline St-Hilaire, for a passport office on the south shore. It is ironic, therefore, that today’s motion was introduced by a Liberal.

In the last election campaign, moreover, even the Conservative candidates joined in the demands that the Bloc candidates had been making for years and promised that a passport office would be opened on the south shore.

Today, both the Liberals and Conservatives have a chance to take a step in the right direction.

As a member of the Bloc Québécois, I would rather, of course, that Quebeckers could get a passport from their own country of Quebec. Until that time, though, I think we should make passport services more accessible to all citizens.

Time is running short now because as of June 1, travellers will have to have a passport to cross the American border by land.

This deadline of June 1, 2009, should prompt the government to act quickly and ensure that the Service Canada centres in the area can handle the passport applications from the residents of the south shore. This would ensure that people have fast, complete, accessible services.

Keeping just to my riding, there are several reasons why a passport office should be opened there, including the large population of the Montérégie and Centre-du-Québec regions, estimated at more than 1.5 million, and the traffic congestion and atmospheric pollution caused by the need to travel to Montreal Island for fast, complete services. How can a Passport Canada office be justified in Pointe-Claire with its small population when the unmet needs are on the south shore of Montreal?

The only option that the Government of Canada currently provides to the citizens in my region is to send their applications through Canada Post receiving agents.

Those agents charge an additional convenience fee of $20 simply for checking the applications whereas citizens who deal directly with Passport Canada are given full service without any verification charges and with delivery times that are much more acceptable.

This way of doing things creates disparity among taxpayers because they are not entitled to the same services as those living on the other side of the St. Lawrence. Given that the cost of a passport is already very high, it is appalling that they are required to pay additional fees simply because of the negligence of the Canadian government, which refuses to open a passport office on the south shore.

I find it truly inconceivable that we have had to battle so long to obtain such a small concession as a Passport Canada office on Montreal's south shore. It is the same thing every time we ask for equitable service for the regions of Quebec. In my opinion, the Canadian government is too big and too detached from our Quebec nation to concern itself with our needs.

Since being elected, I have seen, day in and day out, the deliberate, stubborn refusal of the Canadian government to abolish the waiting period for employment insurance—a measure that would benefit workers affected by the economic crisis—and its refusal to give the same treatment to Quebec's manufacturing industries as it does to those of Ontario. The current government, like its Liberal predecessor, ignores the legitimate claims of Quebeckers and even the unanimous consensus of their National Assembly, and offers up minute concessions in order to get re-elected.

As it promised to do, three days before calling an election, the Government of Canada must immediately open the three necessary receiving sites in Montérégie, including the Longueuil office. That would prevent the citizens of Longueuil, Boucherville and surrounding areas from having to cross bridges or endure long delays before obtaining their passports.

Therefore, I invite all MPs in this House to vote in favour of motion M-276.

Service Canada
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleagues from Toronto Centre, Sudbury and Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher for having supported and improved my motion to offer full passport services at all Service Canada offices.

We know that this issue affects every riding in every corner of our great country. It is becoming more and more important to have more accessible regional passport offices.

This motion and this debate have demonstrated a clear and present reality: Canadians are not getting equitable service when it comes to obtaining a travel document that has become a basic necessity.

Notwithstanding the lack of political will as displayed by the Conservative government, what this motion suggests is that we use to its fullest potential a department that was meant to provide citizens with a one-stop shop for all federally regulated services.

To create confusion, the members opposite have used misleading information and have tried to cast doubt on the reliability of Service Canada's regional offices. Allow me to illustrate what I mean by “mislead the House”.

During the first hour of debate, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs said that:

—at $87, a Canadian passport is one of the cheapest in all the developed countries. In current Canadian dollars, the American passport costs $127, an Irish passport costs $128, a British passport costs $130, and a French passport costs $143.

The parliamentary secretary's math was correct, but he forgot one important fact that alters the value of these numbers.

Yes, as the parliamentary secretary was trying to prove or highlight, these foreign passports seem more expensive. However, all these passports are valid for 10 years, unlike our Canadian passport which is only good for 5 years.

The hon. member across the way seems to have neglected to mention this very important fact when he sought to prove that a Canadian passport cannot go up in price under any circumstances. Once again, the arbitrary facts coming from that side of the floor just serve to distort our debate.

The main concern the Conservative members keep raising is the cost of opening these regional offices. The government keeps saying that Passport Canada does not have the funds to set up these additional regional offices and to train staff, because Passport Canada operates on a cost recovery basis. It gets none of its money from the federal government.

Once again, this shows us that the present government has no political will. Those are mere excuses.

In 2007-08, the government offered $55 million in one-time funding to help the Passport Office modernize its technology, meet demand, and comply with the new international security standards. Why could it not provide similar access to funding to help offset the costs incurred by Service Canada to integrate the issuing of passports with its present mission?

I remind the House that much of the infrastructure needed for this complementary service is already in place. The buildings and office space already exist. It only requires minimal training of the staff. Once up and running, these offices would be no different from any of the other current passport offices and they would work on a cost recovery basis. Like any good business model, if the demand is not great enough in a particular region, then and only then should Passport Canada look at different delivery services.

But the government has again tried to hide behind disinformation. The parliamentary secretary went on to say:

—there is a tremendous difference between receiving agent services and passport office services.

Passport Canada staff receive specialized training in handling and examining a wide range of documents. This includes birth certificates, evidence of citizenship and court orders.

Has that member ever gone to a Service Canada counter? Does the member know that, every day, Service Canada staff verify and authorize birth certificates, evidence of citizenship, court orders, and many other official documents?

In addition to this disinformation and the lack of government support, the parliamentary secretary went on to ask, “Where would we get the trained staff for the myriad of locations?”

I realize that they would require additional training, but these front-line workers are already well positioned and experienced in dealing with confidential and time-sensitive documents. I urge the House to support this motion and bring Canada the regional equilibrium currently lacking in passport issuing facilities.

Service Canada
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Is the House ready for the question?

Service Canada
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Service Canada
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The question is on the subamendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the subamendment?