An Act to amend the Customs Act

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

Sponsor

Stockwell Day  Conservative

Status

Not active, as of Feb. 15, 2008
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Customs Act to clarify certain provisions and to make technical amendments to others. It also imposes additional requirements in customs controlled areas, amends provisions respecting the determination of value for duty, and modifies the advance commercial reporting requirements. Finally, it provides that regulations may incorporate material by reference.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

May 28th, 2009 / 10:55 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Customs Act, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. The summary of the bill reads as follows:

This enactment amends the Customs Act to clarify certain provisions and to make technical amendments to others. It also imposes additional requirements in customs controlled areas, amends provisions respecting the determination of value for duty, and modifies the advance commercial reporting requirements. Finally, it provides that regulations may incorporate material by reference.

This bill is not very long. It has seven pages excluding the summary. I would like to start by saying that the Bloc will be supporting Bill S-2. This bill is designed to provide Canada Border Services Agency officers with the information, tools and flexibility they need to identify threats and prevent criminal activity, while ensuring that legitimate goods and travellers can cross the border efficiently.

Under the amendments that have been announced, all businesses that are part of the import chain are required to provide the Canada Border Services Agency with electronic data on their shipments before the goods reach Canada. With this advance electronic information, the CBSA will be able to make better decisions about admitting goods and analyzing the risks they pose to Canadians.

Other changes will allow the CBSA to fully establish customs controlled areas. Officers will enjoy greater freedom to examine goods and question and search people, regardless of where they are in these areas, not just at exit points, as the current law states.

Although Bill S-2 seems all right at first glance, it will be necessary to have ongoing follow-up and close questioning of representatives of the Canada Border Services Agency and the government.

The Customs Act makes the connection between the customs provisions that impose duty and tariffs on importers and the security measures in various other laws.

The bills' proposed amendments to the method of calculating the value of imported goods could reduce the number of disputed duty calculations. Moreover, revenue from duties could increase if the value of goods imported were more likely to be adjusted upward as a result of the proposed changes to the methods for determining customs value.

The purpose of the provisions of the bill that require information to be provided in advance is to improve the risk assessment of goods at the border. Combined with the broadened search power for officers in customs controlled areas, this measure could reduce the number of dangerous counterfeit products entering Canada through customs controlled areas.

At the present time, border services officers may search persons only when they leave controlled areas. If the bill is passed, in future, it will be possible to do that inside the controlled area itself.

When the bill was being examined, the vice president of the CBSA said the following:

Currently, an officer would question the person at an exit point, where the person must speak to a CBSA officer. The officer can ask questions and can search if it is deemed necessary. In this new scenario, the customs officers could ask similar questions within the customs controlled area, and if there are reasonable grounds to conduct a search, the officer would indeed proceed with a search. The officers would be trained appropriately, and individuals within the customs controlled areas would be advised of the possibility that a search could occur. There would be notification.

It will therefore be necessary to ensure that this follow-up takes place. We are told that officers will be trained and that notice will be given. Therefore, care must be taken to respect individual rights and freedoms by ensuring that the officers will indeed be properly trained and will give the necessary notification.

The Minister of Public Safety has given assurance that officers conducting a search will be subject to the requirements of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with respect to protection of the constitutional rights of the people being searched. The minister has said so, but care must be taken, once again, to ensure that the government will not take advantage of this to go beyond the limits of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for instance.

It is all well and good to say that, but this bill also gives the government regulatory authority to establish and expand customs controlled areas. The controlled area could be expanded to cover the entire airport or port and even parking and drop-off areas. The authority granted to border services officers would be disproportionate. Consequently, it will be necessary to constantly monitor how the Canadian Border Services Agency and the government are implementing these provisions.

The Conservative government is constantly introducing security-related bills and bills to amend the Criminal Code and including a little poison pill to try to push their right-wing agenda even further. We will have to watch this preoccupation with security. Under the bill as drafted, these controlled areas, in which border services officers could take action, could be expanded to cover an entire port or airport, including parking areas. Imagine the anarchy that could result if we do not exercise appropriate control and we let right-wing philosophies dominate security. It would be quite a worry for the people using these spaces.

I would like to point out that the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Transport Canada support the changes to customs controlled areas. Airport authorities also consider the use of customs controlled areas to be a reasonable security measure, and port authorities acknowledge the need for customs controlled areas in proximity to commercial and cruise ships. Both the airport and port authorities want greater flexibility and new areas. But the port authorities were clear that the areas should be close to the ships. We are not talking about the entire port. It is therefore important to be careful.

The men and women who are watching this debate need to understand that the Bloc Québécois will always defend security, of course, but will also protect the interests of individuals. People's rights should not be violated because they happen to be at an airport or port and someone has decided to conduct full searches because those in charge, specifically the government, have been allowed to go overboard on security. Obviously, once again, the Bloc Québécois will make sure people's rights are respected.

I would like to summarize the bill's timeline. It was introduced by the Leader of the Government in the Senate on January 29, 2009, passed at third reading on April 23, 2009, and sent to the House. We have just received it. It is exactly the same as a bill with the same number and title introduced on December 2, 2008. Bill S-2 was introduced on December 2, 2008. It is also identical to Bill C-43, which was introduced on February 15, 2008, during the second session of the 39th Parliament. These last two bills died on the order paper when the government called an election.

Once again, they say the matter is an important one, yet it was more important for the Prime Minister to break his promise about fixed election dates last time. He got himself a second minority government. Once again, it is clear that the Conservatives always think that they are the best. Now this is where they have ended up, and they are getting worse and worse day by day. That is a fact. We all knew it, and now everyone knows it, everyone in Quebec, at least.

It is becoming clearer day by day that the government is no longer able to govern. It is out of touch with what people want. Of course, when one has a right-wing philosophy, one always thinks that one is right and that everyone else is wrong. If the Conservatives carry on doing what they have been doing, they will be wiped off of the Quebec electoral map, and I, for one, will not mourn their fate. It is so disappointing every time government members from Quebec get brainwashed by the party's right-wing philosophy. They will get what is coming to them: a straightforward invitation to go back to where they came from.

This bill imposes additional requirements with respect to customs controlled areas, grants the minister the power to authorize entry, and amends provisions respecting the determination of value for duty and advance commercial reporting. It gives customs officers the power to search people and their goods while those people are in or are leaving a customs controlled area.

What I just said is important because customs officers in these specified areas will have more power. We are concerned that the government plans to expand that area to include entire airports and even parking lots.

First of all, more customs officers will be required to ensure proper control. Will they be properly trained? Will they respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? We can see the Conservatives' right-wing philosophy lurking behind this. It must be curbed, and once again, the Bloc Québécois can be counted on to do so.

The bill also states that regulations may be made stipulating when and how persons covered by the regulations may provide information on travellers.

The current Customs Act is the result of the total revamping of the 1867 act, which was undertaken in 1986 to maintain the original act's three purposes and to allow for greater flexibility in light of developments in transportation, communication, trade and business practices. Since 1986, the Customs Act has been amended regularly in response to free trade and related international agreements and to fine-tune international trade measures.

This is why the Bloc Québécois wants to cooperate. Yes, there are new international standards, yes we trade with other countries, such as the U.S. Yes, from time to time our customs legislation needs updating. On the other hand, we must not go too far. Once again, the Bloc Québécois can be counted on to do so.

I will take a few of the clauses in Bill S-2 as introduced, and give some comments on each if I may.

Clause 2 eliminates the requirement for the minister to make a regulation to grant access to a customs controlled area to any person.

Once again, care will have to be taken to ensure a degree of transparency with respect to the minister's powers.

Clause 3 eliminates the exemption that applies to persons leaving a customs controlled area to board a flight with a destination outside Canada. Now, these persons will be required to present themselves to an officer, identify themselves, report any goods acquired while in the customs controlled area, and answer questions.

Obviously, greater monitoring is a good thing. That is the reason, among others, that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill.

Clause 4 amends the power of the governor in council to make regulations respecting the persons or classes of persons who may be granted access to a customs controlled area, and regarding the manner in which a person in a customs controlled area, or a person leaving such area, must present himself or herself.

Understandably, the size of this area is important. That is why we have said from the beginning that we will have to be extremely vigilant concerning how this government will enforce this clause and how the minister will decide to increase the size of this area. Clearly, port authorities want this area to be expanded to all locations near vessels, but they did not ask that this apply to the entire port area, included its parking areas. Thus, we must be vigilant about how clause 4 is applied.

Clause 5 amends the requirement to report goods imported into Canada, so that a prescribed person, and not the person in charge of the conveyance, must report the goods at the nearest customs office. Accordingly, a regulation defining those prescribed persons will determine who must report the imported goods at the nearest customs office.

That is good. The purpose of this standard is to harmonize international trade practices and ensure that the individual who is transporting the goods is obliged to declare them, and not the person in charge of the conveyance, as was the case under the former legislation. This will shed an important new light on the matter.

Clause 12 of the bill amends the act to allow the minister to set the prescribed time and manner in which he can require a prescribed person to provide information about any person on board a conveyance, under prescribed circumstances and conditions.

Every time we talk about providing information on passengers, the Bloc Québécois is very concerned about privacy issues. We can never do enough to ensure that this information does not fall in the hands of people who will use it for nefarious purposes. It is therefore important to track it and ensure that the information on passengers provided to the agency will be properly protected.

Clause 7 amends the methods available to adjust the transaction value of the goods being imported when the vendor receives a benefit from a subsequent sale. This may lead to higher valuations and therefore higher duties being paid by importers.

We have seen that, in international trade, duties must be paid on the value of goods. So this clause proposes somewhat of an adjustment. Manufacturers in Quebec and Canada are sometimes under intense pressure from competitors in emerging countries and foreign competitors, which use pricing that is not in line with the actual value of the goods. This provision will make it possible to establish balanced tariffs, which can only promote international trade and, as a result, our businesses.

Clause 10 amends the act to authorize a customs officer to search any person who is in or is leaving a customs controlled area if the officer suspects on reasonable grounds that the person has secreted on or about their person anything in respect of which this Act or the regulations have been or might be contravened.

Therefore, the bill expands the officer's powers and rights to search a person who is in or is leaving a customs controlled area. Previously, the person did not have to deal with officers unless that individual had registered or gone through the service. In future, officers will be able to stop and search a person no matter where that person is in a designated area.

Clause 11 amends the act so that a customs officer may, in accordance with the regulations, conduct a non-intrusive examination of goods in the custody or possession of a person who is in or is leaving a customs controlled area.

The officer can not only search the person, but also conduct a non-intrusive examination of goods in the person's possession.

The goal of the Bloc Québécois has always been to ensure the highest level of safety in areas under Canadian control or jurisdiction. That is the reason we wanted to make sure we discussed this bill. We understand that it is in our best interests to protect personal rights, and that is why we need to be extremely vigilant when it comes to expanding controlled areas, and ensure that the Canada Border Services Agency and the government do not make excessive demands.

In conclusion, take the example of the port authorities. They told us what they needed, specifically, for the controlled area to be expanded to include areas near the vessel. But they never said that it would apply to the entire port, the connecting parking lot, and so on. When the controlled area is too large, we cannot ensure that the employees have the appropriate training or that individuals are informed of their rights.

Again, we are interested in protecting the rights of individuals, passengers and those who administer the service.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

May 5th, 2009 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on this bill which addresses the administration of customs.

In recent years, as the aftermath of 9/11, there has been a very marked tightening of customs security. There is at the same time an awareness that a balance must be struck between security and the need for proper service and for avoiding problems because of the way things are being done. If all the priority is given to security alone, the end result may be hindrance of the border-crossing mechanisms.

The border between Canada and the U.S. is a very long one. Obviously it can be crossed by road, or even just on foot, but it can also be crossed in a plane. This bill before us is an attempt to remedy the situation. The Bloc Québécois will be voting in favour of this bill because we feel that the measures it contains are appropriate. Time will tell whether they actually succeed in improving the situation on any ongoing basis, but the bill is evidence of good will and we hope it will be passed.

Primarily, though, this bill is designed to provide Canada Border Services Agency officers with the information, tools and flexibility they need to identify threats and prevent criminal activity, while ensuring that legitimate goods and travellers can cross the border efficiently. Under the amendments that have been announced, all businesses that are part of the import chain are required to provide the Canada Border Services Agency with electronic data on their shipments before the goods reach Canada.

In the last few years, particularly with the cooperation of the U.S., a system was put in place to ensure security within the companies themselves. Care is taken to ensure that the products are protected and isolated, and also that shipping does not reopen to question their seal or their security when handled, when additions are made to them, or when they are processed. This is what these amendments reflect.

With this advance electronic information on transportation, the Canada Border Services Agency will be able to make better decisions about admitting goods and analyzing the risks they pose to Canadians and Quebeckers. We see this as a positive measure. Of course, we have to ensure that implementing this electronic system will not interfere with existing laws and regulations, such as those governing privacy. However, in the transportation sector, this kind of situation occurs infrequently, and we have not seen any such complications in the existing act.

Other changes will allow the Canada Border Services Agency to fully establish customs controlled areas. These areas will be specific territories, legal entities. When an individual arrives at an airport, customs officers will have the authority to exercise the rights set out in the act. This will clarify notions that are set out in the existing act but that do not enable customs officers to take appropriate action. That is what this bill seeks to fix. Officers will enjoy greater freedom to examine goods and question and search people, regardless of where they are in these areas, not just at exit points, as the current law states. The current law does not allow officers to search individuals until they have left the customs controlled area. People exhibit all kinds of behaviours within the areas themselves, and in the past, situations have arisen that may have required officers to intervene, but they could not. This bill would resolve that problem.

At first sight, the bill seems adequate, but an in-depth review and close questioning of Canada Border Services Agency inspectors and government officials will be necessary. As I said at the start, we must not nitpick to the point where we would be creating a situation more complicated than the one we already have. What we need is a fluid border for land and marine crossings but also for the movement of people and goods by air.

That will be the primary concern of the Bloc Quebecois when the bill goes through detailed analysis in committee. That is why we will want to hear witnesses from the government agency and from companies that do transborder trade and want decent services. We can also expect that organizations advocating privacy protection and individual rights will want to make sure that the legislation does not complicate the situation on the Canadian side and does not undermine citizens' rights.

The bill was introduced on January 29, 2009 by the Conservative leader in the Senate and later sent to this House. We do not think that the introduction of bills first in the Senate which then sends them to this place is the best way to do things. It is always better to introduce bills first in the elected House of Parliament instead of the other chamber, where members are not elected. This way of proceeding should be changed to ensure the government does not use it to get around the urgency of certain issues or to introduce through the back door measures it does not want to introduce directly.

This bill is identical to the one introduced on December 2, 2008 and to Bill C-43, which was introduced on February 15, 2008 during the second session of the 39th Parliament. Both these bills died on the order paper. We can therefore understand how anxious the Canada Border Services Agency is to have the act finally amended. The Bloc will cooperate on passing the bill and will support it at second reading by not prolonging the debate. However, it will also make sure that the committee hears witnesses and considers the bill in a timely manner.

Bill S-2 amends the Customs Act to clarify certain provisions of the French version of the act and to make technical amendments to others. We felt it was important to correct these provisions. Often, bills are initially drafted in English, and there are regularly problems with the translation, which can lead to misinterpretation of the act once it comes into effect. These things must be corrected. The current bill makes much-needed improvements and should be passed as soon as possible.

The bill also imposes additional requirements in customs controlled areas, grants the minister the power to authorize entry, amends provisions concerning the determination of value for duty and modifies advance commercial reporting requirements. The search powers of customs officers are expanded to include individuals and their goods that are in or are leaving a customs controlled area. The current Customs Act does not allow officers to go and get someone who refuses to be searched and stays in the buffer zone. This legal vacuum causes unacceptable situations and needs to be addressed.

The bill also provides that regulations may be enacted that describe the time frame and manner in which information about passengers may be provided by prescribed persons. This is the whole issue of personal information that I was talking about earlier. With regard to searches, we must ensure that customs officers do not have undue authority and that the rights of Canadian citizens and foreign travellers are properly protected.

The current Customs Act was passed in 1986 and is the result of the total revamping of the 1867 act. This shows that the customs sector has been around for a very long time. When Canada was created, a customs service was established and has evolved over the years. The pace of change seems to be accelerating, driven by the arrival of new electronic technologies that can be used both to improve the system, but also by people who want to bring illegal goods into Canada. In that regard, it is very important to ensure that our technologies are up to date in order to detect potential inadvertent errors or malicious acts.

As we have heard, since 1986, the act has been amended continuously in response to free trade and related international agreements, and to fine-tune international trade measures.

Again recently, we have seen how certain countries can also use customs legislation to practice a form of protectionism. We hope that is not the case at this time and that Canada does not anticipate that kind of situation. In the past, the fluidity of the border between Canada and the U.S. has benefited Canada and particularly Quebec. We also know, however, that since the establishment of free trade agreements that are casting the net wider in light of globalization, we are seeing increased competition. We must ensure that Canadian products are imported and exported properly. The same is true when it comes to people crossing our borders, and that is how we must look at this bill.

I will elaborate on this.

Clause 2 of the bill removes the authorization-by-regulation requirement by which the minister currently approves access to a customs controlled area by a person.

There will be no need for a regulation to allow that. It will be possible to do so directly under the act. The minister will be able to grant that access directly.

Clause 3 of the Bill removes an exemption that applied to persons boarding a flight to a destination outside of Canada who were leaving a customs controlled area. By the removal of this exemption, such persons are obligated to present and identify themselves to an officer and to report any goods obtained in the area and answer questions asked by an officer.

We will examine closely what this means in order to avoid administrative duplication, for example. It will be important to verify such concerns.

Clause 4 amends the regulation-making powers of the Governor in Council to include regulations prescribing the persons or classes of persons who may be granted access to customs controlled areas and the manner in which a person must present himself or herself upon leaving, or while in, a customs controlled area.

Therefore, these are fairly technical points that are being amended in order to give customs officers more latitude as well as the ability to act more quickly and efficiently within customs controlled areas.

Clause 7 amends the methods available to adjust the transaction value of the goods being imported when the vendor receives a benefit from a subsequent sale... This may lead to higher valuations and therefore higher duties being paid by importers.

They must try to state the real value of the goods to ensure that we do not open ourselves to the black market or to a market that does not reflect the true value of the good.

Clause 11 [amends the bill] so that a customs officer is authorized to conduct a non-intrusive examination of goods in the custody or possession of a person in or leaving a customs controlled area, in accordance with the regulations.

After seeing how people often behave in customs, it is important that, on occasion, action be taken to allow the non-intrusive examination of goods that is not detrimental to the individual and that does not create an undesirable situation for the person concerned.

We could say that this bill makes the connection between the customs provisions that impose duty and tariffs on importers and the security measures in various other laws.

The proposed amendments to the method of calculating the value of imported goods could reduce the number of disputed duty calculations. We hope that the number of disputes will decrease and that border traffic will flow more freely but with adequate control.

It is also thought that revenue from duties could increase if the value of goods imported is more likely to be adjusted upward as a result of the proposed changes to the methods for determining customs value. There is no point in pretending that the changes will probably result in additional revenue for the government because they will be taxed on the real value of the goods much more than is done at present.

The purpose of the provisions of the bill that require information to be provided in advance is to improve the risk assessment of goods at the border. In the past, particularly with the implementation of what is called C-TPAT, an American law to ensure oversight of what is happens in factories, we have seen that there is no rechecking done at each stage during transport. We hope that there could be this new type of facility for the new powers granted. Combined with the creation of the broader search power for officers in customs controlled areas, this measure could reduce the number of dangerous counterfeit products entering Canada through customs controlled areas.

We have seen in the past that goods entering Canada were in fact illegal copies that infringed rights and patents that had been paid for, for example, but most importantly they were goods that could have negative impacts on health and that could even affect children’s health. As well, there are people who travel and may bring back samples of products. We also want to ensure that there is less and less counterfeiting occurring, to eliminate the problem at the source rather than having this unacceptable situation.

We are also told that border services officers may now search persons only when they leave controlled areas. In future, it will be possible to do that inside the controlled area itself, and this will be easier because we know that, at present, the officer questions people as they leave and can even conduct a search if the officer thinks it necessary.

In the new scenario, officers will be able to ask the same kinds of questions inside the controlled area, and if there are reasonable grounds, they will be able to conduct a search. They will be given adequate training and people who enter a controlled area will be informed of the possibility of a search. They would have notice. So we see the bill as a whole and the perspective the minister wishes to take.

I hope that this bill will reflect a different philosophy from the one we see at present in the government’s approach, for example in connection with Mr. Abdelrazik's return to Canada. He is a Canadian citizen who is currently at the embassy in Khartoum and wants to return here. There is an international convention that allows him to return to his country, even if he is on a UN no-fly list.

The Canadian government is currently refusing to apply the agreement that it signed. The government behaves this way in regard to a symbolic matter, but we certainly hope it does not when it comes to the implementation of an actual piece of legislation, such as the one we will be voting on with Bill S-2. If this kind of behaviour turns up in other similar cases, if it occurs in the enforcement of a law, if the bill we are voting on allows this sort of thing, I think these kinds of excesses would be totally unacceptable. That is why the committee must ensure that the bill respects with all individual rights.

I invite all groups that want to make presentations to do so in committee. When the bill comes back to us at report stage and at third reading, all the necessary changes will have been made to ensure that customs officers can do their jobs more effectively and satisfactorily and speed up border crossings for airlines, while at the same time showing respect for the citizens who are being processed, both Canadians and people from abroad who are visiting us.

Over the last few years, there has been a major drop in tourism to Canada. Every time we make a decision about customs, we should ensure that we are not adding another obstacle, as we did to some extent by increasing the cost of passports.

The Americans now require passports of people even when they are using a land crossing and we have seen the additional costs involved. This will probably cause some American families interested in vacationing in Canada to go instead to another American state. For a family of four or five, that is an additional cost that could equal the cost of two, three or even four vacation days. As a result, some will prefer to stay in the United States and spend their money there, even though we were trying to create a free trade area in which everyone would benefit from more exchanges.

When we pass bills like S-2, we will have to adopt a perspective and take an approach that avoids this kind of complications. We will also have to look into whether the situation will be different at small airports and large airports. We should ensure as well that the customs controlled areas that are created—I am thinking of small airports like those in Gatineau or Rivière-du-Loup where there are no customs services as such—do not require additional security services to be established that are not necessary and currently not required.

We will have to pay particular attention to this if we want to have a bill that facilitates the flow of people rather than impeding it.

I will conclude on that note and encourage the House to pass this bill as soon as possible.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

May 4th, 2009 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in debate on Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Customs Act, formerly Bill C-43, which was tabled in the last session of Parliament but did not make its way through the system.

Customs changes are worthy of engagement, especially at the committee level. There are elements of the bill that are very important for the men and women who are on the front line of defence for Canada with regard to our border situation. They face an extraordinary job, and the tasks at hand of balancing the issue of trade and security. They generally do a commendable job on a regular basis.

In my area, our customs officers not only protect but actually serve at times, even without the proper equipment and training. A number of years ago they had to borrow bullet-proof vests because there were not enough available. Now there are some better supports there and I am glad for that advancement.

The bill is important because it lays out the framework for our border crossings. There are 119 border crossings between Canada and the United States. Of those, 24 are international bridges and tunnels. Of those 24 international bridges and tunnels, two are privately held: one in Fort Francis and the other in Windsor, Ontario.

I will not go down that road just yet, but it is unfortunate because of that private ownership model, we pay incredible taxes. We have seen the owner-operator of that facility basically board up homes by buying them up in the adjacent area, which has led to social grief and also diminished property values at the expense of the community. That is surely a tragedy because there are other consequences.

Of the 119 crossings, approximately 29 of them have 80% of the traffic on a regular basis between our nations. When we look at the amount of volume of trade, over $1 billion a day, it is interesting to note that 40% of that happens along the Windsor-Detroit corridor. For those who are not familiar, there are four crossings that have that concentration in a two mile length of river front.

There is the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, owned by the city of Windsor on the Canadian side and the city of Detroit on the American side. They have a long-term lease agreement with Macquarie International. The CP Rail tunnel was built at approximately the same time, about 76 years ago. There are two single sleeve tunnels that are small. One has been expanded modestly but cannot accommodate the triple stackers. It can accommodate some train traffic, but a smaller amount.

Ironically, CP Rail inspection workers were basically fired from that location and moved up the rail line, which is a real travesty, because recently in a Transport Canada document I was able to obtain, it showed that during the inspection period process, 36% of the trains needed to be shopped out or failed the inspection, and there are pictures of derailments and so forth. This will be detrimental when we talk about the issues of border delays and issues around security, of which the bill has some elements.

When the United States learns of this change of policy, it will be very much concerned. We are concerned on the Canadian side because during that inspection process, we could not even get real numbers. There was also a leak of hazardous material from one of the tankers during that process. Now none of those trains will be inspected from Windsor pretty well all the way to Toronto and Montreal.

It is important to note that the trains involved in the derailment in Mississauga affected 200,000 people who had to be evacuated. Interestingly enough, that was before Katrina. That was the largest evacuation in North America up to that time. Those trains came out of Windsor, so we are really concerned about rail safety operations.

Past the CP Rail facility there is the Ambassador Bridge, which is owned by a private American citizen. Once again, this facility has the vast majority of truck and vehicle border crossings in this country. It has the highest fares too over most areas. It is double what the Blue Water Bridge charges in Sarnia. Then past that, there is the Detroit-Windsor truck ferry service, which is owned by a private American operator. It transports hazardous materials between our countries. Ironically, that operator has been recognized by the department of homeland security and has actually received grants because of its safe operation.

Interestingly enough, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge is grandfathered, so we pay for his customs officers. This is about the customs issues in the bill. Canadian taxpayers pay for that customs facility. Ironically, the hazardous material ferry operator actually had to go to court and finally settled with the federal government and has to pay for some of the services, inconsistent services in many respects, as the bridge has taken priority.

One of the good things we are dealing with in this bill is the ability to transfer information in advance for some vehicles, drivers and the trade merchandise so that it can be expedited through the system. It is an important improvement to diminish lineups and improve productivity.

There has been some good debate on these issues and whether this makes a difference. However, sadly enough, when there is a lack of staffing at the actual border facilities then we have a significant problem. We could have all the best products and policies in place and we could provide those powers but if we do not have the operators in place to do the work, then we defeat the whole purpose and we further frustrate those elements of commerce. This bill has to get to committee so we can study it more.

More economic development is looking at the border. Many operations have to decide whether they want to reinvest, especially in the manufacturing belt in Ontario and Quebec, which has been extremely vulnerable. The policy of artificially inflating the Canadian dollar because of an addiction to oil and gas as a revenue stream has really eaten away that base.

On top of that, as we have the thickening of the Canada-U.S. border, elements of business are questioning whether they should open up a plant in Ontario, in Indiana or somewhere else. The comments made by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano are really disturbing. They further heighten the issue of the border and are part of, I believe, a politically motivated movement to turn the Canada-U.S. border into one which is similar to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Public policy affects some of these things and how we respond to them. The imagery is being created. I would point out that in my region of Windsor-Detroit, there are gunboats on the Detroit River and the Great Lakes, because of a treaty that the Liberals allowed to move forward, and which the Conservatives have supported. U.S. Coast Guard vessels have autocannons on them that fire 600 bullets a minute. I am not sure what type of threat would come from Canada that would require 600 bullets a minute, but those are the coast guard vessels that are actually operating along the border.

We are very fortunate to have defeated a proposal to allow 40 different testing zones for firing ranges on the Great Lakes. Interestingly enough, I made a submission against that and the government made a submission. However, it made its submission against that two days after the deadline, so it was not even given actual consideration. The government basically allowed this process to go forward without any type of input. However, we were able to defeat that with some progressive forces, including hunters and fishers who are concerned about the firing ranges, and also environmental groups because the bullets have lead casings.

Blackhawk helicopters have been added to the area, drone planes, security cameras, and spy towers that oversee the area. We are seeing the militarization of the border and it is becoming more like the Mexican-U.S. border versus what it really is, a trade facilitator, which is the model we need to deal with. As the thickening of the border happens and businesses decide to avoid the border altogether, it will erode our economic base if we do not take measures like this.

One of the things that this bill does is it provides regulations to have timeframes and so forth for information coming forth on the border. It can increase productivity by having those practices in place. That is the advance commercial information component of this bill. That will actually allow CBSA to see the information not only from the point of the original supplier but it will also allow it to see the information about the contents and the driver. It is going to facilitate things right across the border.

It is very important that we get that change. It is one of the most important things we can do because, as I have mentioned, all these other barriers are being put in place. It might seem like a small thing in some respects, but at least it is a counterbalance to what is happening.

For example, with the implementation of the western hemisphere travel initiative, anyone who wants to get into the United States, including Americans who have left the United States, will need a passport. Luckily, some states have moved forward on the advanced driver's licence. There is going to be confusion.

All these things are taking place at a time when there is a lot of confusion. We need to put in some policies that are going to help to counterbalance for trade purposes. The WHTI will come into effect and there will be other elements. It is going to thicken the border. We just do not have the needed infrastructure at some of our crossings.

I want to talk about what is happening at the Windsor-Detroit crossing because the bill would allow customs agents in customs controlled areas to do further interventions. There will be greater accountability of the activity of those interventions at the plaza locations. Hopefully there will be better procedures so that when those problems do occur, there will be ways to deal with them that are a little more proper in terms of the way the areas are laid out. That is important. The older facilities do not have the space to pull over certain trucks, to question people, and so forth. If they cannot clear that out, it creates further congestion, back-ups and delays. It defeats the whole purpose of some of the measures we are putting in place here.

What is happening in the Windsor-Detroit corridor is very important, two miles west of the current Ambassador Bridge, and it would extend from four to five crossings within four kilometres. A new publicly owned bridge is going to span the Detroit River and create some redundancy in the system. If there were a problem with one of the current infrastructures, there would be an additional site located there.

The plaza development is very important, because it creates the ability to manoeuvre around new issues such as this. When we are looking at new policies and ways to enforce border security, that can be designed into the actual plaza. I am hoping to see from the designs and the government development of this some flexibility for those plazas for the future, so that there can be some reaction if there is implementation of other measures from the United States.

The United States has added a whole series of new procedures which we would not have dreamt of a number of years ago. Recently with the Bioterrorism Act, a Chilean peach from the 1980s suddenly became a security risk and threat in the year 2000. It led to additional paperwork for commercial trucks carrying fruits and vegetables into the United States. It just creates productivity loss and complications in crossing the border.

A series of these things has been implemented across the table unilaterally, often not even by the political heads but by the departments, such as the Department of Homeland Security and others that are emboldened to do these things. It creates a real problem for us.

I mentioned before about the advance pass information. It is important in many respects, not only in terms of the economic commerce that I am talking about, but also the safety and security of the general public and the men and women who work at the border plazas. Whether we like it or not, the reality is that there are illegal goods, services and materials on a routine basis not just going from Canada to the United States, but also coming from the United States to Canada. Just as our auto industry is integrated with that in the United States, ironically, sometimes there is an integrated criminal activity base for drugs and weapons that go back and forth at the border.

CEUDA, the customs and excise union, drew up what is called the Northgate report. This is a really good report that lays out some of the challenges being faced by the officers at the border. It offers some suggestions.

CEUDA did a survey. I want to go through some of the questions asked. Some individuals believe that when people come to Canada there is no problem, but that is not true. We have to vet these things. That is why the officers need these extra powers. One of the questions on the survey was:

Have Officers at your LAND BORDER CROSSING ever found themselves dealing with someone at Secondary they discovered was considered Armed and Dangerous after searching CPIC [their computer system] but was not cautioned as such either by PALS [their operating system] or when the traveller was otherwise referred?

Thirty of the respondents indicated yes. That is high considering that individuals had been pushed into secondary inspection to begin with and there had already been some contact.

Another question was:

Have Officers at your LAND BORDER CROSSING released a known Armed & Dangerous person up the road in keeping with CBSA's Release and Notify Policy?

Eighteen respondents said yes, ninety-three said no, and eight had no answer.

We know that we have to change some of these policies so people are not set free. That is critical for public safety.

In the Windsor-Detroit area, a couple of peculiar cases came up that really prompted my interest in this legislation.

A Detroit police officer came over to Canada and was pulled over for secondary inspection. He had hid his gun and accidentally shot himself in the knee. He lost his job in the U.S. but was given no penalty here.

These are important things that we need to look at.

A more extreme case occurred on January 7 at an Alberta crossing, where 10 semi-automatic handguns, including one semi-automatic machine pistol, 11 high-capacity magazines and 300 rounds of ammunition were seized. An Edmonton resident was smuggling these items back and forth across the border.

These types of situations are dealt with on a regular basis. The infrastructure needs to be set up properly so we can deal with these kinds of things. We also need to have the powers in the legislation to deal with them.

I want to touch on something that is incredibly important and that is the issue of United States' confidence in Canada with respect to security issues. As we go through the bill we will see some recurring elements. We heard some debate about this earlier.

Some wonder whether the bill will really make a difference because the U.S. is just going to ignore stuff anyway. I think the bill would make a difference because we are dealing with some of the operations on the Canadian side that we can control.

We need to do better with respect to the things that we can control. We need to provide more resources. If our border communities do not get the infrastructure money they need as well as the policies to go with it, then we are doomed for failure.

This summer, we will be moving to armed officers as part of the regular procedure, and therefore, students will not be used to fill those positions as they have in the past. The government will not be filling these positions. This summer we will not have the staffing component that we had before. This will create greater lineups and greater problems. This will defeat the purpose. This has to come hand in glove, resources and procedure.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

May 4th, 2009 / 5:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, let me say at the outset that I will be supporting the bill, and I believe the remaining members of our caucus will also.

The provisions are good. They are positive. They are a step in the right direction. However, there are a lot of overriding and overarching issues dealing with the border between Canada and the United States that certainly are not, in my view, receiving the attention they ought to be.

I cannot overstate that this is a tremendously important issue for our economy and our society. Some 87% of our exports cross into the United States, and something like $1.5 billion of trade goes back and forth every day. Many people work and travel back and forth between Canada and the United States and between the United States and Canada. It has to be done in a very efficient manner.

There are basically two overriding interests at stake here. First of all, there is the free and efficient flow of people, services and goods, both ways. Second, there are the security interests of both countries. Neither country wants to be invaded by criminals, illegal drugs, illegal guns. These are situations that have to be stopped at the border. We know full well that given the size and extent of our border there are going to be situations that happen each and every day. Again, I want to state how important this issue is.

For the last five or six years, I have been a member of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group. I believe it is a group that functions very well. We have an annual meeting, which alternates between Canada and the United States. It will actually happen in a week and a half, in Canada.

There are a number of issues, but invariably the first one that always comes up before anything else is the border issue. Whether it is the western hemisphere travel initiative, again it is the thickening of our border that has to a certain extent impeded the natural flow of trade and the natural flow of people on both sides of the border. They have the same concerns as we have, especially the northern states: Michigan, Illinois and New York State.

Of course the vast majority of the Canadian population lives within 100 miles of the U.S. border, so this is a tremendously important issue. Anything we can do to improve the situation, as the bill does, or that helps to facilitate the movement of goods and services and people, is a positive development.

This was before Parliament as Bill C-43. I believe it passed first reading at that time. It died on the order paper, and now it has been introduced in the Senate as Bill S-2. It received debate and deliberation in the Senate.

I have been impressed by some of the amendments that have been made. I am encouraged by the work that was done in the other place, and hopefully the bill will go through the House to committee. There are a few issues that will have to be explored further, especially dealing with the minister making regulations.

I assume that the committee will also want to hear from some of the stakeholders who deal with this issue each and every day. The union that represents the customs officers, the Canadian Airports Council, the Toronto airport, many of the stakeholders have expressed general consent for the bill. I am not aware of anyone who is opposed to the bill yet. So hopefully the bill will go through the House to committee. It probably should not be that long at committee, and hopefully it will be law in the not too distant future.

The bill could be broken down basically into two general components. The first component is the expansion of the activities within a customs controlled area, which allows customs officers to search, to seize and to stop people. This is an expansion of the powers that presently exist, and again that is a positive development.

The second component of the legislation is in passage of information, that is information in all forms, whether we are talking about ships, aircraft or general conveyance. Again, it is the goal of everyone to see that goods move efficiently and quickly across the border, both ways, and that people move also, that they are not stopped at the border for unnecessary reasons. At the same time it is equally important to facilitate the border people in stopping anything like illicit drugs, guns, or people who should not be allowed to cross the border.

When we read the resolutions and the policy papers coming from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and other major business groups across Canada, this is a major issue. This is an issue that they identify regularly, and it is an issue that they want both governments to work at.

As I stated previously, this will certainly be an issue at the next meeting of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group, which meets in Quebec a week from this weekend.

We have had a lot of situations that have arisen over the last number of years. One of course was the western hemisphere travel initiative. That has been before this House in debates, and this is an issue that was spoken about by this group. It is something we were able to delay. It is effective now for air transport, and it will be effective for vehicle transport on June 1 of this year, which is not too far away. That has been a major concern. We are hoping that when it does come into effect that sufficient people on both sides of the border will be aware of the provisions of this new regime and that we are not going to see adverse effects to our tourism and other industries because of lack of knowledge.

I hope that I am wrong, but I can see problems, especially in some of the border towns where people are used to going back and forth each day, whether to work, or for recreation or to purchase goods and services. Let us all hope that everything will work efficiently and effectively come June 1.

When the previous round for air transport came through a couple of years ago, Passport Canada was woefully unprepared to deal with the avalanche of new passport applications. But so far, everything in my experience as a member of Parliament has been positive. I think there is a bit of a delay now, but we have seen absolutely nothing like we saw in the horrendous situation of a couple of years ago. Passport Canada was telling Canadians on its website that their passports would be back in 20 days. The people would book their flights, send their passport in 40 working days before their departure date and find out the day before that they did not have their passports.

Mr. Speaker, you probably experienced the problems of many members of Parliament, especially members of Parliament who came from areas that did not have a passport office in their area.

There are a couple of matters I am going to bring forward that are not in the bill but they relate to this debate. They are issues that concern me as a member of Parliament and that I deal with each day. It is a nagging issue that deals with the stopping of people who have what I call “old criminal records”. In most instances we are dealing with records that are 20, 25 or 30 years old. Two major instances are possession of cannabis, marijuana. At that time, 30 years ago, it was a criminal offence.Right now they probably would not be given a conviction; they would probably be given a conditional discharge or an absolute discharge. The other more common case would be an impaired driving conviction.

Depending on the agent who greets them at the border, this stops them from going to the United States, and vice versa. One thing I would suggest to the House is that there has to be some way of resolving these issues. There has to be a protocol developed between Canada and the United States, and a quick way of adjudicating the matter.

If someone had an impaired driving charge 30 years ago, yes, it is on his or her record. It is probably something the person is not proud of but does that really affect the security of the United States or Canada? Is there not some efficient, quick way that we could expedite that process so these people can go into the United States or, if they are in the United States, can come into Canada? That is one issue I would like to see explored and resolved.

I do not want to get into the whole gun registry debate now, but another issue is the very clear and cogent evidence of the large number of illegal handguns that come from the United States each and every year that end up in Canada, certainly some of our major cities. There has to be some way for our customs officers, the people at our borders, whether it is through technology or whatever, to identify the illegal guns that are coming north each and every year.

Of course, the Americans would certainly have other issues concerning Canadians, such as drugs. Again, one of the major issues that I hear in my role as a member of Parliament is the number of illegal handguns that come into our country from the United States each and every year.

Another issue I will bring up is the whole area of the free flow of goods, services and people each way. It requires a massive expenditure of infrastructure by our government. Two years ago I had the pleasure of taking a tour of all the customs facilities within the city of Windsor, in the tunnel. As everyone who lives there and has experienced that particular border crossing, it is woefully inadequate.

The expansion of that facility has been talked about ever since I came here eight and a half year ago. I know it is complicated and an international issue. I know there are all kinds of different versions as to the correct manner of doing it, but I would like to point out that it is something that ought to be done and done soon so that things will flow that much more freely.

As I said, I do not consider this a major bill. It provides a more efficient operation within our customs operation. It allows for a more effective pre-clearance or information flow for people. Therefore, it is a positive step in the right direction, but there are a lot of other steps that we have to take on this particular border issue.

In conclusion, I will be supporting the bill. I hope it is not in committee too long and becomes law within a very short time.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

May 4th, 2009 / 5:05 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are indeed debating the border services act. I would like to begin by reading the summary of Bill S-2.

This enactment amends the Customs Act to clarify certain provisions and to make technical amendments to others. It also imposes additional requirements in customs controlled areas, amends provisions respecting the determination of value for duty, and modifies the advance commercial reporting requirements. Finally, it provides that regulations may incorporate material by reference.

Basically, as the title of the paragraph indicates, important factors must be put into context. If we take a moment to look at this bill's progress, we all know that Bill S-2 was introduced by Senator Marjory LeBreton, the Conservative leader in the Senate, on January 29, 2009. It passed third reading on April 23, 2009, and was sent to the House of Commons. It should be pointed out that it is identical to a bill bearing the same number and title introduced on December 2, 2008, as well as to Bill C-43 introduced on February 15, 2008, during the second session of the 39th Parliament. Both of those bills, of course, died on the order paper.

Bill S-2 amends the Customs Act to clarify certain provisions of the French version of the act and make technical amendments to others. It also imposes additional requirements in customs controlled areas, grants the minister the power to authorize entry, amends provisions respecting the determination of value for duty, and modifies the advance commercial reporting requirements. The search powers of customs officers are expanded to include individuals and their goods that are in or are leaving a customs controlled area. The bill also provides that regulations may be enacted that describe the time frame and manner in which information about passengers may be provided by prescribed persons.

The current Customs Act is the result of the total revamping of the 1867 act, which was undertaken in 1986 to maintain the original act’s three purposes and to allow for greater flexibility in light of developments in transportation, communication, trade and business practices.

Since 1986, the Customs Act has been amended continuously in response to free trade and related international agreements and to fine-tune international trade measures.

Primarily, though, this bill is designed to provide Canada Border Services Agency officers with information, tools and the flexibility they need to identify threats and prevent criminal activity, while ensuring that legitimate goods and travellers can cross the border efficiently.

Under the amendments that have been announced, all businesses that are part of the import chain are required to provide the Canada Border Services Agency with electronic data on their shipments before the goods reach Canada. With this advance information, the Canada Border Services Agency will be able to make better decisions about admitting goods and analyzing the risks they pose to Canadians.

Other changes will allow the agency to fully establish customs controlled areas that will provide greater flexibility to officers for examining goods or questioning and searching persons, regardless of their location within these zones, and not only at exit points as currently provided under the existing legislation. Even though Bill S-2 seems adequate at first glance, an in-depth review of this legislation and close questioning of government and Canada Border Services Agency officials will be necessary.

The bill also includes other amendments. Here are some of the main changes to the Customs Act that are proposed in Bill S-2. Clause 2 eliminates the requirement for the minister to make a regulation to grant access to a customs controlled area to any person. From now on, the minister will be able to authorize such access directly. Clause 3 eliminates the exemption that applies to persons leaving a customs controlled area to board a flight with a destination outside Canada. Now, these persons will be required to present themselves to an officer, identify themselves, report any goods acquired while in the customs controlled area, and answer questions.

Clause 4 amends the power of the governor in council to make regulations respecting the persons or classes of persons who may be granted access to a customs controlled area, and regarding the manner in which a person in a customs controlled area, or a person leaving such area, must present himself or herself. Clause 5 amends the requirement to report goods imported into Canada, so that a prescribed person, and not the person in charge of the conveyance, must report the goods at the nearest customs office. So, a regulation defining those prescribed persons will determine who must report the goods at the nearest customs office.

Clause 12 of the bill amends the act to allow the minister to set the prescribed time and manner in which he can require a prescribed person to provide information about any person on board a conveyance, under prescribed circumstances and conditions. Clause 7 amends the methods used to adjust the transaction value of imported goods when proceeds accrue to a vendor following a subsequent sale. This change can lead to the setting of a higher value and, consequently, to an increase in the duties paid by importers.

Clause 10 amends the act to authorize an officer to search any person who is in or is leaving a customs controlled area if the officer suspects on reasonable grounds that the person has secreted on or about their person anything in respect of which this Act or the regulations have been or might be contravened. Clause 11 amends the act to enable an officer, in accordance with the regulations, to conduct a non-intrusive examination of goods in the custody or possession of a person who is in or is leaving a customs controlled area.

Our main point of disagreement with Bill S-2 is that the Customs Act is a linking legislation between duties and tariffs paid by importers under the customs tariff, and security and safety legislation under various other Acts. The changes made to the methods of valuation of imported goods may also decrease disputes regarding the calculation of duties. This may also increase revenues obtained from duties if the value of imported goods is more likely to be adjusted upward as a result of the proposed changes in the valuation provisions.

The advance information requirements proposed by the bill are intended to improve risk assessment of imported goods at the border.

Combined with the expanded search powers of officers in customs controlled areas, this may lead to decreased amounts of dangerous counterfeit goods entering Canada through customs controlled areas.

Currently, border services agents are authorized to search individuals only at exit points from controlled areas. If this bill is passed, border services agents will be authorized to conduct searches in controlled areas, as Ms. Kerr-Perrott explained during the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence's examination of Bill S-2. She said:

—an officer would question the person at an exit point, where the person must speak to a CBSA officer. The officer can ask questions and can search if it is deemed necessary. In this new scenario, the customs officers could ask similar questions within the customs controlled area, and if there are reasonable grounds to conduct a search, the officer would indeed proceed with a search. The officers would be trained appropriately, and individuals within the customs controlled areas would be advised of the possibility that a search could occur. There would be notification.

The Minister of Public Safety has provided assurances that officers conducting these searches will be subject to the requirements of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with respect to protecting the constitutional rights of the individuals searched. However, the bill also grants discretionary authority to the government to establish and even expand these areas. The controlled area could be expanded to cover the entire airport or port and even parking and drop-off areas.

The authority granted to border services agents would be disproportionate. Consequently, an in-depth study of these provisions must be carried out in committee. I would like to point out that the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Transport Canada support the changes to customs controlled areas. Airport authorities also consider the use of customs controlled areas to be a reasonable security measure and port authorities acknowledge the need for customs controlled areas in proximity to commercial and cruise ships.

To summarize, it is important to understand that there is a great need for flexibility at borders and in customs. We have also known for a number of years that there is also a great need for security.

Thus, both elements must be considered to ensure that border crossings and security are efficient. That is why I reiterate that flexibility is required in order to detect threats and to prevent criminal activities while ensuring that legitimate goods and travellers can freely cross the border.

I will close by saying that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill S-2.

As I said earlier—and it bears repeating—the bill will be sent back to committee, where certain aspects will be examined closely in order to improve the bill and increase its effectiveness. As I have already said, even if, at first glance, the bill seems acceptable, it must scrutinized. We must also further question Canada Border Services officials to ensure that the proposed changes will be effective. The government must be open to the changes or recommendations proposed by the committee, which will surely be positive.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

May 4th, 2009 / 4:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this bill. The Senate has done a lot of good work to bring the bill to this place.

I will go through the bill and some of the concerns that I have, but it behooves us to talk in a general context about the importance of balancing, on the one hand, very important security concerns, particularly in the wake of both threats to the country and threats of counterfeit and illegally manufactured goods coming into the country, against the need to keep our border open. This bill comes out of the Auditor General's 2007 report in which she detailed many concerns that she had with the Canada Border Services Agency in chapter 5, under a section entitled “Keeping the Border Open and Secure”.

We have a climate where 96 million passengers enter Canada every year. These are tourists, immigrants, refugees, business people and returning Canadians. We also have over $400 billion in imported goods annually. The volume of trade that crosses into our country is vital to our nation. While we know there are concerns, we need to ensure we see that free flow of trade continue. It is a delicate balancing act but a very important one for our economy and security.

I had the opportunity, as many in our caucus did, to be in Vancouver on the weekend and to visit the Vancouver Port. I do not think a lot of Canadians are aware of just how remarkable the Vancouver Port is. It is an example to the world. The port has people arriving from every corner of the earth to see exactly how it is operating and how it has developed a very advanced system to deal with its goods and services and keep competitive.

The Vancouver Port has been able to take, what was only about half of Canadian goods and services crossing in through Vancouver, because a lot of it was going through Seattle, to almost 97% of all goods because it moves things so efficiently and its security is so effective. It has cameras around the entire bay. When one goes into its main operation room, it can instantly give a viewpoint of anything that is happening everywhere. That has become important in law enforcement, but it is also extremely important in tracking goods and services.

A lot of great things are happening on our border. However, while there are improvements and there are things that need to be done, such as those discussed in Bill S-2, one of the first things we need to acknowledge is that we have a very effective border that our international trading partners should know is secure. This is particularly important in conversations that we have been having with the United States where we have seen a lot of legislators talk about concerns they have with the Canadian border. These concerns are clearly unfounded if one takes a look at our border relative to others.

I mentioned counterfeit goods, which is of particular concern. This bill would give the Canada Border Services Agency greater ability to go after counterfeit goods. We know this is a massive problem for the recording industry, which is seeing an enormous amount of illegally produced music. Movies also come in through shipments. We also have problems with drugs, which we want to be able to stop at the border.

In the 2007 report by the Auditor General, she identified a number of shortfalls in terms of the assessment of high-risk passengers and dangerous goods that were coming over the border. It was important to address those deficiencies. The Senate has been working carefully on those and, for the most part, it has found a good balance in this bill at addressing a number of items of concern. We are just moving toward second reading and it will be important that we examine these items in detail in committee.

I will now go through both a background of the bill and a little bit of analysis of some of the areas that we will want to pursue when the matter comes before committee. I should mention that this bill is actually a reintroduction of Bill C-43 from the second session of the 39th Parliament. That bill did not progress beyond first reading. Bill S-2 has now passed through the Senate and the Liberal senators who were there were instrumental in providing much of the content of this bill. I had many conversations with them about it and I am generally comfortable with the direction of it. They offered several amendments, one, in particular, was to eliminate a clause that would have allowed for material incorporated by reference through the regulation to not be considered a statutory instrument for the purposes of the Statutory Instruments Act.

The changes in the bill can be grouped in two principal parts. The first part is the expansion of activity within a customs controlled area that officers can search, seize and stop people within a customs controlled area. The second part is advance passenger information and privacy issues that might be involved and the expansion of that information to all forms of transporting of goods into Canada, whether by ships, ports, airports or land crossings.

I would like to address the main changes in the bill and some of the areas where we will want to get a bit more information as we move through committee.

The first is clause 2 of the bill. This would now give the minister the power to directly authorize access to a customs controlled area by a person. Prior to this, the minister had the power to authorize by regulation only.

Clause 3 would do two things. It would remove an exemption that would allow persons boarding a flight to a destination outside of Canada leaving a customs controlled area from presenting and identifying themselves to an officer, reporting any goods obtained in the area and answering questions asked by an officer. Further, it would expand the presentation and identification requirements for individuals who would be in any part of the customs controlled areas. As may be known, prior to this, individuals only had to present upon leaving. It also now would include the examination of goods.

Clause 4 would be a change in regulation-making powers to include prescribing the person or classes of person who may be granted access to the customs controlled areas. We have some questions with respect to what these specific classifications mean but, again, we are happy to take up those questions in committee.

Clause 6 would grant regulation-making authority regarding the advance information that would be required for the importation of goods.

Clause 7 would amend the methods available to adjust the transactional value of goods being imported when the vendor received a benefit from subsequent sale. It would allow adjustments to the transaction price. This may lead to higher valuations, meaning higher duties being paid by importers, which is an issue that has raised some concern.

Clauses 8 and 9 would make technical changes intended to harmonize the act's French and English versions, although the deletions of certain terminology would make the French version different in some places. In that regard, we will want to take a look at the translation more carefully in committee to ensure that the intent of the act is not in any way compromised.

Clauses 10 and 11 would amend the bill to allow customs officers to search persons who would be in or who would be leaving a customs controlled area if the officer suspected, on reasonable grounds, that the person had concealed something that would be in contravention of the Customs Act, or regulations, or any other federal law prohibiting regulation or controlling importation and exportation and to search and examine goods in the possession of a person who may have been abandoned in a customs controlled area.

Clause 12 would amend the prescribed time and manner in which a person or class of persons must provide prescribed information about a person on-board a conveyance. It would not, however, change the prescribed information that is currently required by the act.

The Customs Act, which was first enacted in 1867 to ensure the collection of duties, control the movement of people and goods and to protect the Canadian industry from real or potential injury caused by the import of dumped or subsidized goods or any other form of unfair competition, needs to be updated. The act provides a legislative authority to administer and enforce the collection of duties and taxes. It is not a taxing statute.

The current Customs Act was revamped in 1986 to take into account the developments in transportation, communications, trade and business practices. Since 1986, the act has been continuously amended in response to free trade and related international trade agreements into fine-tuned international trade measures.

It is important to state that many of the stakeholders that have commented on this bill, whether it is the Greater Toronto Airports Authority or the Canadian Airports Council, have been very supportive. We know that those involved, whether it is the Canadian Chamber of Commerce or various trade unions, have been supportive. I think some of the concerns they have stated can be addressed at committee.

Again, with that qualification in place, we want to ensure we strike the appropriate balance between providing appropriate security at our border and ensuring that our border is open. We look forward to continuing work on the bill, seeing it move past second reading and dealing with it in committee.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

June 9th, 2008 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

I heard the member for Lévis—Bellechasse say “agreed”. It would be fine to sit, but what has happened over the months that have gone by? What has happened in Parliament under the Conservative minority government? What will happen in the coming months?

If the bills are so important, as the Conservatives are saying, the government can guarantee that, if the motion is not passed, the House of Commons will not be prorogued. That means that in September we will come back to the House and continue to work. The Conservatives would not prorogue until October or November, as they have done before: a young government that came to power prorogued the House of Commons when we could have been debating bills.

This session, after the May break, our calendar shows four more weeks of work. Of these four weeks, two are reserved for the possibility of extended sitting hours here in the House of Commons. I cannot accept that the Conservatives are saying that we are a bunch of lazy people, and that we do not want to work, when this government has done everything possible since last August to ensure that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs could not operate.

It has been at least two or three months now since the committee last sat because the Conservatives have refused to appoint someone to chair it. The Conservatives decided that the matter submitted to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was partisan, and that is why they are not replacing the chair.

I remember that we appointed a new chair, we voted for a new chair, but the chair never did call a meeting of the committee. The chair is being paid to carry that title, but he met with the members once, and then, it was only to adjourn. Is that not partisanship? When a party refuses to hold a public debate on things going on in Parliament or with political parties, that is partisanship.

As I recall, during the sponsorship scandal, it was fine for the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which was chaired at the time by an opposition Conservative member, to hold hearings and discuss the sponsorship scandal.

But now that the Conservatives are the ones who spent $18 million during the last election and shuffled money around to spend another $1.5 million on top of that, well, they do not want to talk about it. They will not talk about it. When the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights was about to discuss another case, it was shut down again.

To this day, there are bills that have not been debated in committee. The Conservatives think that democracy should happen nowhere but in the House, and certainly not in committee. Parliamentary committees are an important part of our political system, our parliamentary system, our democracy. We were elected by the people in our ridings to come here and pass bills.

We cannot invite a member of the public to testify in the House of Commons, for example. We do not hear witnesses in the House of Commons. We have parliamentary committees where we can invite constituents or people from any part of the country to explain how a bill will affect them and to suggest ways to improve the bill.

For the Conservatives, the most important committee is the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. All they want to do is create justice bills. They would rather build prisons and put everyone in jail than adopt sound social programs to help people work and give them a fair chance in life. For the Conservatives, you either follow the straight and narrow path or you go to jail. These are the sorts of bills they are most interested in.

These are the sorts of bills they are most interested in, yet they brought the work of this committee to a standstill. The chair left the committee and said there would be no more meetings. Experts and members of the public are being prevented from talking to us about important justice bills. This evening, the Conservatives are asking to extend the sitting hours of the House of Commons until June 20 in order to discuss and pass these bills, because they are important. If we do not vote for these bills, then we are not good Canadians. That is in essence what they are saying. They do not want any debate.

They would have us believe that if we extend the sitting hours of the House of Commons every evening until June 20, there will be a terrific debate. We will debate these bills. We will have the opportunity to see democracy in action. At the same time, they have brought the work of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to a standstill. I have never seen such a thing in the 11 years I have been in the House of Commons. I have never seen such a thing.

I would go so far as to say that it has become a dictatorship. Everything originates from the Prime Minister's Office. So much so that, last week, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons complained that he was tired of rising in the House of Commons. He is the only one to stand up; the ministers do not even have the right to rise to answer questions. It is always the government House leader who answers questions. He was so tired one day last week that he knocked over his glass and spilled water on the Prime Minister. They should have thrown water on him to wake him up because he was tired. He himself told the House that he was tired.

That shows the extent to which the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons as well as the Prime Minister's Office, and not the elected Conservative MPs, control the government's agenda. The MPs have nothing to say. There are also the little tricks of the Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip who told members how to behave in parliamentary committee meetings, which witnesses to invite and how to control them. If they are unable to control them they interrupt the meeting. I have never seen anything like it in the 11 years that I have been an MP.

I have been a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages since 1998. We invited the minister to appear in order to help us with our work and she refused. She refused. She was asked in the House why she refused and she replied that she did not refuse. The committee was studying the Conservatives' action plan. If they wish to make an important contribution to communities throughout the country, there is an action plan to help Canada's official language minority communities—anglophones in Quebec and francophones in the rest of the country.

The action plan was being studied. We asked the minister to speak to us about the action plan so we could work with her. She refused and said she would appear after the plan was tabled. We will invite her again. I have never seen a minister refuse to help a committee.

We invited her again to the Standing Committee on Official Languages concerning the 2010 Olympic Games. The francophone community will not be able to watch the Olympic Games in French anywhere in the country because the contract, which was bid on by CTV, TQS and RDS, was awarded to CTV. We asked the minister to come to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Instead she said that it was not important for this country's francophones, and she declined. The communities have questions. This all happened in the fall.

This spring, at budget time, the Conservatives declared that money for the action plan or for official languages would come later. We are used to that. We receive an article in English and are told that the French will come later. That is what the budget reminded us of. The money will come later.

But people are waiting. They are wondering what will happen to their communities. People from Newfoundland and Labrador even came to speak to the committee. They told us that currently, minority language communities are having to use lines of credit or even credit cards to help the community. It would be interesting to hear the minister explain why the Conservatives are not giving that money to communities, as they should. They promised to help minority language communities.

I would like to come back to the environment. When we were supposed to be working on environmental issues, the Conservatives systematically obstructed this work for days. They said they had the right to do so. Indeed, they did have the right; that is no problem. We have done the same thing, we will admit. That is part of debate.

Someone came and asked me how we could stop this obstruction. I told that person that it was their right to obstruct and that, if they wanted to talk until the next day, they could. However, when that happens, the chair must not take sides.

Yet that is what happened at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. We had to ask for the chair of the committee to step down. In fact, when we arrived at the committee meeting at 11 a.m., the Conservatives took the floor in order to filibuster and if one of them had to go to the bathroom, the chair adjourned the meeting for 10 minutes. That is no longer obstruction. When we asked the chair if it was going to continue after 1 p.m., he told us to wait until 1 p.m. to find out. Then, at 1 p.m., he decided to adjourn the meeting.

We have been trying since August to discuss the problem of the Conservatives, who had exceeded the $1.5 million spending limit allowed during the last election campaign. The problem with the Conservatives is that they want to hide everything from Canadians. They spoke of transparency, but they wanted to hide from Canadians all their misdeeds. When they were on the opposition benches, they counted on this, especially during the Liberal sponsorship scandal. I remember that and the questions they asked in the House of Commons and in parliamentary committee. They did not hold back.

But they do not want that to happen to them. And if it does, they try to hide it. That is why they did not allow a parliamentary committee to discuss the problems they had created, such as the story with Cadman, our former colleague. His wife said today that her husband told her that he was promised $1 million if he voted with the Conservatives. She never said that was not true; she said that was what in fact was said. Her own daughter said the same thing, that promises had been made. The Conservatives are saying that no one has the right to speak about that. Only they had that right when they were in the opposition, but not us. They are acting like gods and we have to listen to everything they say.

Today, they are moving a motion asking us to listen to them. And yet, when the House leaders and the whips met in committee there was nothing on the agenda. I have never seen the like. The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons was even asked if there was anything else on the agenda. He just smirked. He was mocking us and today he wants us to cooperate with him. The Conservatives are saying that they are here to work, but they have blocked all the work of the House of Commons for the past six months.

And they are lecturing us?

When the House leader of the Conservative Party tries to give us a lesson and says that we do not want to work, but they are here to work, I cannot believe it.

We have a committee that does not even sit right now. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has not sat for the last two or three months. The Conservatives do not want to hear what they perhaps have done wrong. If they have nothing to hide, they should have let it go ahead.

The Conservatives said that if they were to be investigated by Elections Canada, they wanted all parties to be investigated. Elections Canada did not say that all the parties were wrong. It said that the Conservative Party had broken the rules of Elections Canada by spending over the limit of $18 million. It was the Conservative Party that did that. Right away the Conservatives filed a lawsuit against Elections Canada. Now they say we should not talk about that in the House of Commons.

Every time we went to the House leader meeting and the whip meeting, they had nothing on the agenda. The Conservatives say that they are very democratic. They want a big debate in the House of Commons on bills. BillC-54, Bill C-56, Bill C-19, Bill C-43, Bill C-14, Bill C-32, Bill C-45, Bill C-46, Bill C-39, Bill C-57 and Bill C-22 are all at second reading.

I will not go into detail about what each and every bill is, but even if we say yes to the government, we will be unable to get through those bills. If we want to get through those bills, it will be the PMO and the Prime Minister's way. The Conservatives bring bills to the House and say that members opposite should vote with them. If we do not vote, they say that we are against them. That is the way they do it, no debate.

The debate, as I said in French, should not only take place in the House of Commons; it should to take place in parliamentary committees. That is the only place where Canadians have the right to come before the committees to express themselves. That is the only place people who are experts can come before us to talk about bills, so we can make the bills better.

When a bill is put in place, it may not be such a good bill, but maybe it is a bill that could go in the right direction if all parties work on it. If we put our hands to it, perhaps it can become a good bill. We could talk to experts, who could change our minds, and maybe we could put some new stuff in the bill.

However, no, the Conservatives got rid of the most important committee that would deal with the bills in which they were interested, and that was the justice committee.

I may as well use the words I have heard from the Conservatives. They say that we are lazy. How many times did we say at committee that we would look after the agenda, that there were certain things we wanted to talk about, for example, Election Canada and the in and out scheme? At the same time, we said we were ready to meet on Wednesdays and we could meet on other days as well to discuss bills.

We proposed all kinds of agenda, and I dare any colleague from the Conservative Party to say we did not do that. We have proposed an agenda where we could meet on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and the Conservatives refused.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

June 9th, 2008 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I would like at this time to move the standard motion that can be made only today. I move:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 27(1), commencing on Monday, June 9, 2008, and concluding on Thursday, June 19, 2008, the House shall continue to sit until 11:00 p.m.

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated last week in answer to the Thursday statement, this is we have work to do week. To kick off the week, we are introducing the customary motion to extend the daily sitting hours of the House for the final two weeks of the spring session. This is a motion which is so significant there is actually a specific Standing Order contemplating it, because it is the normal practice of this House, come this point in the parliamentary cycle, that we work additional hours and sit late to conduct business.

In fact, since 1982, when the House adopted a fixed calendar, such a motion has never been defeated. I underline that since a fixed calendar was adopted, such a motion has never been defeated. As a consequence, we know that today when we deal with this motion, we will discover whether the opposition parties are interested in doing the work that they have been sent here to do, or whether they are simply here to collect paycheques, take it easy and head off on a three month vacation.

On 11 of those occasions, sitting hours were extended using this motion. On six other occasions, the House used a different motion to extend the sitting hours in June. This includes the last three years of minority government.

This is not surprising. Canadians expect their members of Parliament to work hard to advance their priorities. They would not look kindly on any party that was too lazy to work a few extra hours to get as much done as possible before the three month summer break. There is a lot to get done.

In the October 2007 Speech from the Throne, we laid out our legislative agenda. It set out an agenda of clear goals focusing on five priorities to: rigorously defend Canada's sovereignty and place in the world; strengthen the federation and modernize our democratic institutions; provide effective, competitive economic leadership to maintain a competitive economy; tackle crime and strengthen the security of Canadians; and improve the environment and the health of Canadians. In the subsequent months, we made substantial progress on these priorities.

We passed the Speech from the Throne which laid out our legislative agenda including our environmental policy. Parliament passed Bill C-2, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, to make our streets and communities safer by tackling violent crime. Parliament passed Bill C-28, which implemented the 2007 economic statement. That bill reduced taxes for all Canadians, including reductions in personal income and business taxes, and the reduction of the GST to 5%.

I would like to point out that since coming into office, this government has reduced the overall tax burden for Canadians and businesses by about $190 billion, bringing taxes to their lowest level in 50 years.

We have moved forward on our food and consumer safety action plan by introducing a new Canada consumer product safety act and amendments to the Food and Drugs Act.

We have taken important steps to improve the living conditions of first nations. For example, first nations will hopefully soon have long overdue protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and Bill C-30 has been passed by the House to accelerate the resolution of specific land claims.

Parliament also passed the 2008 budget. This was a balanced, focused and prudent budget to strengthen Canada amid global economic uncertainty. Budget 2008 continues to reduce debt, focuses government spending and provides additional support for sectors of the economy that are struggling in this period of uncertainty.

As well, the House adopted a motion to endorse the extension of Canada's mission in Afghanistan, with a renewed focus on reconstruction and development to help the people of Afghanistan rebuild their country.

These are significant achievements and they illustrate a record of real results. All parliamentarians should be proud of the work we have accomplished so far in this session. However, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done.

As I have stated in previous weekly statements, our top priority is to secure passage of Bill C-50, the 2008 budget implementation bill.

This bill proposes a balanced budget, controlled spending, investments in priority areas and lower taxes, all without forcing Canadian families to pay a tax on carbon, gas and heating. Furthermore, the budget implementation bill proposes much-needed changes to the immigration system.

These measures will help keep our economy competitive.

Through the budget implementation bill, we are investing in the priorities of Canadians.

These priorities include: $500 million to help improve public transit, $400 million to help recruit front line police officers, nearly $250 million for carbon capture and storage projects in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, and $100 million for the Mental Health Commission of Canada to help Canadians facing mental health and homelessness challenges.

These investments, however, could be threatened if the bill does not pass before the summer. That is why I am hopeful that the bill will be passed by the House later today.

The budget bill is not our only priority. Today the House completed debate at report stage on Bill C-29, which would create a modern, transparent, accountable process for the reporting of political loans. We will vote on this bill tomorrow and debate at third reading will begin shortly thereafter.

We also wish to pass Bill C-55, which implements our free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association.

This free trade agreement, the first in six years, reflects our desire to find new markets for Canadian products and services.

Given that the international trade committee endorsed the agreement earlier this year, I am optimistic that the House will be able to pass this bill before we adjourn.

On Friday we introduced Bill C-60, which responds to recent decisions relating to courts martial. That is an important bill that must be passed on a time line. Quick passage is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of our military justice system.

Last week the aboriginal affairs committee reported Bill C-34, which implements the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement. This bill has all-party support in the House. Passage of the bill this week would complement our other achievements for first nations, including the apology on Wednesday to the survivors of residential schools.

These are important bills that we think should be given an opportunity to pass. That is why we need to continue to work hard, as our rules contemplate.

The government would also like to take advantage of extended hours to advance important crime and security measures. Important justice measures are still before the House, such as: Bill S-3, the anti-terrorism act; Bill C-53, the auto theft bill; Bill C-45 to modernize the military justice system; and Bill C-60, which responds to recent court martial decisions.

There are a number of other bills that we would like to see advanced in order to improve the management of the economy. There are other economic bills we would like to advance.

These include Bill C-7, to modernize our aeronautics sector, Bill C-5, dealing with nuclear liability, Bill C-43, to modernize our customs rules, Bill C-39, to modernize the Canada Grain Act for farmers, Bill C-46, to give farmers more choice in marketing grain, Bill C-57, to modernize the election process for the Canadian Wheat Board, Bill C-14, to allow enterprises choice for communicating with customers, and Bill C-32, to modernize our fisheries sector.

If time permits, there are numerous other bills that we would like to advance.

These include Bill C-51, to ensure that food and products available in Canada are safe for consumers, Bill C-54, to ensure safety and security with respect to pathogens and toxins, Bill C-56, to ensure public protection with respect to the transportation of dangerous goods, Bill C-19, to limit the terms of senators to 8 years from a current maximum of 45, and Bill C-22, to provide fairness in representation in the House of Commons.

It is clear a lot of work remains before the House. Unfortunately, a number of bills have been delayed by the opposition through hoist amendments. Given these delays, it is only fair that the House extend its sitting hours to complete the bills on the order paper. As I have indicated, we still have to deal with a lot of bills.

We have seen a pattern in this Parliament where the opposition parties have decided to tie up committees to prevent the work of the people being done. They have done delay and obstruction as they did most dramatically on our crime agenda. They do not bother to come and vote one-third of time in the House of Commons. Their voting records has shown that. All of this is part of a pattern of people who are reluctant to work hard.

The government is prepared to work hard and the rules contemplate that it work hard. In fact, on every occasion, when permission has been sought at this point in the parliamentary calendar to sit extended hours, the House has granted permission, including in minority Parliaments.

If that does not happen, it will be clear to Canadians that the opposition parties do not want to work hard and are not interested in debating the important policy issues facing our country. Is it any wonder that we have had a question period dominated not by public policy questions, but dominated entirely by trivia and issues that do not matter to ordinary Canadians.

The government has been working hard to advance its agenda, to advance the agenda that we talked about with Canadians in the last election, to work on the priorities that matter to ordinary Canadians, and we are seeking the consent of the House to do this.

Before concluding, I point out, once again, that extending the daily sitting hours for the last two weeks of June is a common practice. Marleau and Montpetit, at page 346, state this is:

—a long-standing practice whereby, prior to the prorogation of the Parliament or the start of the summer recess, the House would arrange for longer hours of sitting in order to complete or advance its business.

As I stated earlier, it was first formalized in the Standing Orders in 1982 when the House adopted a fixed calendar. Before then, the House often met on the weekend or continued its sittings into July to complete its work. Since 1982, the House has agreed on 11 occasions to extend the hours of sitting in the last two weeks of June.

Therefore, the motion is a routine motion designed to facilitate the business of the House and I expect it will be supported by all members. We are sent here to engage in very important business for the people of Canada. Frankly, the members in the House are paid very generously to do that work. Canadians expect them to do that work and expect them to put in the time that the rules contemplate.

All member of the House, if they seek that privilege from Canadian voters, should be prepared to do the work the rules contemplate. They should be prepared to come here to vote, to come here to debate the issues, to come here for the hours that the rules contemplate. If they are not prepared to do that work, they should step aside and turnover their obligations to people who are willing to do that work.

There is important work to be done on the commitments we made in the Speech from the Throne. I am therefore seeking the support of all members to extend our sitting hours, so we can complete work on our priorities before we adjourn for the summer. This will allow members to demonstrate results to Canadians when we return to our constituencies in two weeks.

Not very many Canadians have the privilege of the time that we have at home in our ridings, away from our work. People do not begrudge us those privileges. They think it is important for us to connect with them. However, what they expect in return is for us to work hard. They expect us to put in the hours. They expect us to carry on business in a professional fashion. The motion is all about that. It is about doing what the rules have contemplated, what has always been authorized by the House any time it has been asked, since the rule was instituted in 1982. That is why I would ask the House to support the motion to extend the hours.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

June 5th, 2008 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, this week we have focused on the economy by debating and passing at report stage the budget implementation bill as part of our focused on the economy week.

The bill guarantees a balanced budget, controls spending and keeps taxes low without imposing a carbon and heating tax on Canadian families.

It also sets out much-needed changes to the immigration system in order to maintain our competitive economy.

It will also include the new tax-free savings account, TFSA, an innovative device for individuals and families to save money. That bill is now at third reading and we hope to wrap up debate tomorrow on the important budget implementation bill to maintain the health and competitiveness of our economy.

Next week will be we have work to do week. Since the Speech from the Throne we have introduced 59 bills in Parliament.

These bills focus on fighting crime, sustaining our prosperous and dynamic economy, improving Canadians' environment and their health, strengthening the federation, and securing Canada's place in the world.

To date, 20 of these bills have received royal assent, which leaves a lot of work to do on the 39 that have yet to receive royal assent. I know the Liberal House leader suggests perhaps we should work on only three, but we believe in working a bit harder than that.

To ensure that we have the time necessary to move forward on our remaining legislative priorities, I will seek the consent of the House on Monday to extend the sitting hours for the remaining two weeks of the spring sitting, as the rules contemplate. I am sure all members will welcome the opportunity to get to work to advance the priorities of Canadians and get things done.

I will seek in the future the consent of the opposition to have next Wednesday be a special sitting of the House of Commons. This is to accommodate the special event about which the Liberal House leader was speaking. The day would start at 3 p.m. with an apology from the Prime Minister regarding the residential schools experience. I will also be asking the House and its committees to adjourn that day until 5:30 p.m. to allow for solemn observance of the events surrounding the residential schools apology. Residential school survivors and the chief of the Assembly of First Nations will be offered a place of prominence in our gallery to observe these very important formal ceremonies in the House of Commons.

Tomorrow and continuing next week, we will get started on the other important work remaining by debating the budget implementation bill. After we finish the budget bill, we will debate Bill C-29, to modernize the Canada Elections Act with respect to loans made to political parties, associations and candidates to ensure that wealthy individuals are not able to exert undue influence in the political process, as we have seen even in the recent past.

We will also discuss Bill C-51, to ensure that food and products available in Canada are safe for consumers; Bill C-53, to get tough on criminals who steal cars and traffic in stolen property; Bill S-3, to combat terrorism; Bill C-7, to modernize our aeronautics sector; Bill C-5, dealing with nuclear liability; Bill C-54, to ensure safety and security with respect to pathogens and toxins; Bill C-56, to ensure public protection with respect to the transportation of dangerous goods; Bill C-19, to limit the terms of senators to eight years from the current maximum of 45; Bill C-43, to modernize our customs rules; Bill C-14, to allow enterprises choice for communicating with customers; Bill C-32, to modernize our fisheries sector; Bill C-45, regarding our military justice system; Bill C-46, to give farmers more choice in marketing grain; Bill C-39, to modernize the grain act for farmers; Bill C-57, to modernize the election process of the Canadian Wheat Board; and Bill C-22, to provide fairness in representation in the House of Commons.

I know all Canadians think these are important bills. We in the government think they are important and we hope and expect that all members of the House of Commons will roll up their sleeves to work hard in the next two weeks to see that these bills pass.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

May 29th, 2008 / 3 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, Parliament has been having a very successful week. We started with a successful address to Parliament by the President of Ukraine, Victor Yushchenko. The president gave an eloquent speech that was well received by all parliamentarians and Canadians.

This week the House of Commons has been proceeding on the theme of sound economic management without a carbon tax. We passed Bill C-21 to give aboriginals living on reserves the protection of the Canadian Human Rights Act. We passed our biofuels bill, BillC-33, at third reading and it is now in the Senate. This bill requires that by 2010, 5% of gasoline and by 2012, 2% of diesel and home heating oil be comprised of renewable fuels.

Our bill to implement the Free Trade Agreement with the countries of the European Free Trade Association—the first free trade agreement signed in six years—passed at second reading and was sent to committee.

Bill C-5, which deals with nuclear liability issues, also appears poised to pass at third reading and be sent to the Senate today.

Last night, the Minister of Finance appeared for over four hours to answer questions by parliamentarians on the main estimates of his department.

Yesterday, the finance committee reported the budget bill back to the House. This bill would ensure a balanced budget, control spending and keep taxes down while avoiding a carbon tax and a heating tax on Canadian families. As well, it would make much needed changes to the immigration system, which will help keep our economy competitive. We will begin debate on that important bill, the budget implementation bill, at report stage tomorrow.

Next week we will be on the same theme, focused on the economy week. Through the budget implementation bill, we are investing in the priorities of Canadians. which include $500 million to help improve public transit, $400 million to help recruit front line police officers, nearly $250 million for carbon capture and storage projects in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, and $110 million to help Canadians facing mental health and homelessness challenges.

Those investments, however, could be threatened if the bill does not pass this session due to opposition obstruction and delay. Today we again saw evidence of such procedural delay tactics from the opposition in the form of a concurrence motion. All opposition parties joined together again to ensure that important legislation to strengthen key Canadian economic sectors could not be debated in the House earlier today.

I want to state clearly that this government is absolutely committed to ensuring the passage of the budget implementation bill this session.

In addition to debating it tomorrow at report stage, we will debate the bill next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, if necessary.

We will also debate: Bill C-7 to modernize our aeronautics sector, Bill C-43 to modernize our customs rules, Bill C-39 to modernize the Canada Grain Act for farmers, Bill C-46 to give farmers more choice in marketing grain, Bill C-14 which allows enterprises choice for communicating with customers, and Bill C-32 to modernize our fisheries sector.

With regard to the question of the remaining opposition day, as the House knows, we have had all but one of those opposition days already during this portion of the supply cycle. The last opposition day will be scheduled sometime between now and the end of this supply cycle. We do know that we are scheduled to rise on June 20.

With regard to the very helpful suggestions of my friend with regard to the apology to our first nations communities for the residential schools issue, plans are underway for that. I am happy to ask the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to take the very helpful suggestions into account and, if necessary, we would be happy to take up the matter at our usual House leader's meeting.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

May 15th, 2008 / 3 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, in keeping with our theme for this week, which is strengthening democracy and human rights, today we will continue to debate Bill C-47, which is a bill to provide basic rights to on reserve individuals to protect them and their children in the event of a relationship breakdown, which are rights that Canadians off reserve enjoy every day.

We will debate our bill to give effect to the Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement, Bill C-34, and Bill C-21, which would extend the protection of the Canadian Human Rights Act to aboriginals living on reserve.

We will also debate Bill C-29, which is our bill to close the loophole that was used most recently by Liberal leadership candidates to bypass the personal contribution limit provisions of the election financing laws with large personal loans from wealthy, powerful individuals, and Bill C-19, which is our bill to limit the terms of senators to eight years from the current maximum of 45.

Next week will be honouring our monarch week. Members of Parliament will return to their ridings to join constituents in celebrating Queen Victoria, our sovereign with whom Sir John A. Macdonald worked in establishing Confederation, and honouring our contemporary head of state, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The week the House returns will be sound economic management without a carbon tax week. The highlight of the week will be the return of the budget bill to this House on May 28.

This bill proposes a balanced budget, controlled spending, investments in priority areas and lower taxes, all without forcing Canadian families to pay a tax on carbon, gas and heating. Furthermore, the budget implementation bill proposes much needed changes to the immigration system. These measures will help us ensure the competitiveness of our economy. I would like to assure this House that we are determined to see this bill pass before the House rises for the summer.

We will start the week by debating, at third reading, Bill C-33, our biofuels bill to require that by 2010 5% of gasoline and by 2012 2% of diesel and home heating oil will be comprised of renewable fuels, with our hope that there will be no carbon tax on them.

We will debate Bill C-55, our bill to implement the free trade agreement with the states of the European Free Trade Association.

This free trade agreement, the first in six years, reflects our desire to find new markets for Canadian products and services.

We will also debate Bill C-5 dealing with nuclear liability issues for our energy sector; Bill C-7 to modernize our aeronautics sector; Bill C-43 to modernize our customs rules; Bill C-39 to modernize the Canada Grain Act for farmers; Bill C-46 to give farmers more choice in marketing grain; Bill C-14, which allows enterprises choice for communicating with their customers through the mail; and Bill C-32 to modernize our fisheries sector.

The opposition House leader raises the question of two evenings being set aside for committee of the whole. He is quite right. Those two evenings will have to be set aside sometime between now and May 31.

With regard to the notes that were quoted from by the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, they were their notes and referred of course to announcements that clearly have been made about the need and the imperative of restoring our military's equipment and needs in the way in which the Canadian government is doing so.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

May 8th, 2008 / 3:05 p.m.
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York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, the government took a major step forward this week to maintain a competitive economy, our theme for this week, and I am happy to advise the House that yesterday the Standing Committee on Finance agreed to report the budget implementation bill back to the House by May 28.

This is excellent news. The budget bill ensures a balanced budget, controls spending, and invests in priority areas.

This week also saw the passage of Bill C-23, which amends the Canada Marine Act, and Bill C-5 on nuclear liability at report stage.

Today, we are debating a confidence motion on the government’s handling of the economy. We fully expect, notwithstanding the minority status of our government, that this House of Commons will, once again, express its support for the government’s sound management of Canada’s finances and the economy.

Tomorrow, will we continue with maintaining a competitive economy week by debating our bill to implement our free trade agreement with the countries of the European Free Trade Association. It is the first free trade agreement signed in six years and represents our commitment to finding new markets for the goods and services Canadians produce.

If there is time, we will also debate Bill C-14, which would allow enterprises choice for communicating with customers; Bill C-7, to modernize our aeronautics sector; Bill C-32, to modernize our fisheries sector; Bill C-43, to modernize our custom rules; Bill C-39, to modernize the Grain Act for farmers; and Bill C-46, to give farmers more choice in marketing grain.

The government believes strongly in the principle of democracy and the fundamental importance of human rights. Next week we will show our support for that with strengthening democracy and human rights week. The week will start with debate on Bill C-30, our specific land claims bill. The bill would create an independent tribunal made up of superior court judges to help resolve the specific claims of first nations and will, hopefully, speed up the resolution about standing claims.

We will debate Bill C-34, which is our bill to give effect to the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement. We will debate our bill to provide basic rights to on reserve individuals, Bill C-47, to protect them and their children in the event of a relationship breakdown, rights that off reserve Canadians enjoy every day.

As I said, we are committed to strengthening democracy in Canada. Yesterday, I had an excellent discussion on Senate reform with members of the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee. That discussion will continue in this House next week when we debate our bill to limit the terms of senators to eight years from the current maximum of 45, as foreseen in Bill C-19.

We will also debate our bill to close the loophole used by leadership candidates to bypass the personal contribution limit provisions of the election financing laws with large, personal loans from wealthy powerful individuals and ensure we eliminate the influence of big money in the political process.

With regard to the question about estimates, there are, as the opposition House leader knows, two evenings that must be scheduled for committee of the whole in the House to deal with those estimates. Those days will be scheduled over the next two weeks that we sit so they may be completed before May 31, as contemplated in the Standing Orders.

There have been consultations, Mr. Speaker, and I believe you would find the unanimous consent of the House for the following:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of the House, on Friday, May 9, starting at noon and ending at the normal hour of daily adjournment, no quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent shall be received by the Chair.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2008 / 12:35 p.m.
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NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster and to support the NDP motion on the economy and jobs in the middle class. It is worth fighting for across the country, not just in Windsor, Ontario which I represent, but in London, Kitchener, all the way along the 401 to Toronto, as well as St. Catharines, all those areas where we have seen economic devastation. It is important to fight for these jobs for the rest of the country as well. People in British Columbia all the way to Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador understand that when Canadians do well, we all do well together.

These policies of the Conservative government supported by the Liberals are shrinking the middle class and it will be very difficult to get it back. There is that element of Canada's history where we have had prosperity and a lot of different elements that created our great social fabric which has made us a leader in the world. That will disappear. We do not want that to happen.

I do not necessarily want to go to another election. I fought in elections in 1997, in 2000 when I was elected to city council, in 2002 in a byelection, in 2004 and in 2006. I do not need another election, but we have to go to one right now because it is necessary to save these jobs.

There are calls to my office every single day. We are witnessing people's dreams going up in smoke because there has not been the proper strategy and economic planning that should have been there during times of prosperity. The policies right now are stripping us of our capability to compete in the world. These are not nameless people. They are people in my constituency.

I have heard Conservative members say in this chamber that they believe in the mobility of work, that a person should just find a job somewhere else. That is no way to build a community. That is no way to raise a family. That is no way to develop a country that competes in the world, that people should have to move all over the place just because the proper policies are not in place.

Let us talk about specific people in my constituency. Jennifer is a 39-year-old single female who has two college degrees and skilled training in the tool and die and mould making industry. She has done everything right. She has invested in and paid for her education. She is a law-abiding citizen. She has been laid off from four different companies, two of which have actually gone bankrupt. Why would that happen when we are the best in the world at tool and die and mould making? Because our economic and trade policies subvert the efforts of workers. They allow other types of merchandise to get into this country, but we have no access to the other market. We have no supports in place.

An example is the rise in the dollar. Because the government wants to have a petrol industry as the sole provider for Canada, it escalates the Canadian dollar. No company or worker can benefit from that. The rise in the dollar cost them their jobs because it happened so quickly. That is not fair for someone like Jennifer. She has done everything right. What did she do? She went on employment insurance. She is one of the few women who can actually apply for employment insurance. That is a scandal in itself, something brought on by the previous administration and supported by the current one, where most women cannot even qualify for employment insurance.

Jennifer has tried. She has gone back to work for a number of different people. Her employment insurance is running out. What will happen now? She is on her last legs, and is selling her car and other assets. Her house is the last thing that she has. That is not fair. She is a skilled tradesperson. What has happened is not acceptable. We have led the world in that industry for many years and can continue to do so but the right policies need to be in place. This is happening at a time of indifference.

Look at the automotive industry. There have been 250,000 manufacturing jobs lost in the last number of years, and the automotive industry has taken a big hit in that: people in St. Catharines, Brampton, Oakville, London and Windsor, in southern Ontario we have seen some of the biggest losses. People are worried. They are sitting around the kitchen table looking for solutions, but they cannot do it alone. The government has to do its part.

The government wants to enter into another unfair trade agreement with South Korea and further sell out the automotive sector. Why? Because it is easy for the government to do. It is a feather in its cap. It is interesting because the government will let state owned companies that produce vehicles and subsidize them flood into our markets and cost our workers their jobs. The Conservatives are the people who brought in an eco-auto rebate program that actually sent money to Japan and Seoul, Korea and to those automotive manufacturers that got subsidies. That is wrong. We should be producing those vehicles here. We have the people with the skills and ability in the trades. They are willing to do it.

We have recently seen a number of unions put out good business plans on how to work together. They have led the charge. The CAW has always led the charge to try to bring more automotive jobs. It had to bring the previous administration and the current administration kicking and screaming to the table.

Why do we not have a national auto policy? Why do we not have proper trade policies? The United States does. It protected its shipbuilding and bus industries. It has tariffs on certain vehicles that go in to the United States. It does it because it recognizes those jobs are important, and it is hemorrhaging some of those jobs now too.

There is an opportunity right now for us to work collectively to improve human rights, labour and environmental standards that will protect Canadian citizens, provide jobs and be a better economic trading bloc, but the government wants to shut that down. It does not want to talk about that.

What are people to do in their communities? Are they supposed to all work at Wal-Mart? Is that the way it is supposed to be? It is wrong. Service jobs are fine. They are good for the economy, there is no doubt about it, but manufacturing counts. If people are interested in the real facts, they should go to www.caw.ca, the CAW website, and look at the economic studies that Jim Stanford has done. He is renowned and recognized.

Look at the TD Bank. It is no socialist think tank, but even it has recognized the fact that we are losing good jobs and lower wage jobs are now falling into their place. That is bad for everyone. It is bad when the coffers of Ontario, for example, go down.

I take pride in the fact that Ontario has been able to provide for this nation, not only for my community and province, but for the rest of the country, and build it from coast to coast to coast. We are gutting the manufacturing sector by rapidly accelerating the Canadian dollar and not having manufacturing or auto strategies when other countries have these elements. It is wrong and we lose capacity.

There is one very interesting element that has not been talked about enough in this debate and it should be. When we gut our manufacturing base, we gut our ability as a nation to have full independence. We have to rely on others to do the hard work, when our own people can do that. They can build the tools and moulds and assemble. We have the natural resources. We know that the secondary work, after natural resources, is where the real money is. Why does everything have to be about shipping it out somewhere else for the secondary work to be done? Why can we not do that here like we have in the past?

We have unfair trading practices, for example, in the textile industry, where there has been dumping. The WTO has provided a remedy for that. It had a tariff element that we could have put in place to save some of the jobs here, especially in Quebec. The United States took the WTO up on that, but we did not. We sat around and let it go by, and that is unacceptable.

Other policies are important. I just came from the transport committee. We know the government has tabled Bill C-43. In my riding, as everyone knows, is the busiest international border crossing, with 40,000 vehicles and 10,000 international trucks going through it every day. The public safety minister has tabled a bill that changes the Customs Act.

The transport department has not work with him. What happens if they do not work together? The two separate chambers create laws that add to more backlog and other issues. That is unacceptable. The lack of infrastructure spending is incredible, whether it be the railway, the airline industry or our roads.

I would not get up and say nothing has been done by any of the previous administrations or the current one. Stuff has been done, but we are choosing the wrong priorities right now. Instead of investing in Canada, we have general corporate tax cuts. To stay competitive and prosper, we have to invest. The decision for large corporate tax cuts as opposed to investing in our railway system, our roads and in air is costing us competitive advantage.

It is important to note that. As we make that choice, we lose opportunities. Other nations are making the choice to invest in those things. That is why the NDP supports motion. At the end of the day, the middle class income earners need sustainable jobs in order to raise their families with dignity and send their children for university and college educations so we can compete with the world. If we do not, we will be left behind.

May 8th, 2008 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

What I would suggest is that, apart from this, you actually engage on Bill C-43. We know very well it doesn't matter how many booths you open; if you can't process, it actually costs jobs. So this is important, not only in terms of trucks that are entering Canada from the United States but also our own vehicles, and just-in-time. I would suggest that the department has to be very active on this. It doesn't matter how many bridges we build; if we don't actually have the processing down right, nothing will get through.

Minister, with regard to the office of P3, the last time you were here you said that this office would be developed and set in the first quarter. I'm concerned about that. It could delay the process more. In your speech here you actually note the Blue Water Bridge, where they actually didn't require any funds. That is a system right there where they do public bonding, where we own and operate the bridge in a public entity.

Why not drop the P3 concept for this border crossing and go with a successful model like Sarnia and Blue Water?

May 8th, 2008 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

For the record, Mr. Minister, I recently held a meeting in Sandwich Towne on the border site crossing location. Consistent with what I've been saying for a number of years, nearly 200 people showed up and not a single person supported the plaza location and the actual bridge location that's in Sandwich Towne, by Sterling Fuels.

For those not aware of it, one of the locations has been narrowed down to a spot next to a fuelling depot for the Great Lakes, which is actually going to be potentially expanded. It also crosses over to another fuelling depot in the United States. I think that's a significant security risk. Second to that, it's in Sandwich Towne, so it would cost more, and it would actually disrupt the community. There is a consensus to support a crossing downstream, toward Brighton Beach. We're hopeful that this will be taken into consideration. It's important for the history of the fabric of that community and also national security.

I'd like to move toward a question. We do know that you have ministers out there right now; Minister Prentice is actually in the United States drumming up...or he's over there talking about the border. But the Auditor General's report yesterday actually brought up the concern over immigration and refugee safety issues. That story made the Washington Post and a number of Associated Press news wires in the United States. It raised the issue of security of Canada.

Now, Bill C-43 has been tabled by the Minister of Public Safety right now. That's also going to affect the customs process. How much money or how much consultation is involved with your department to ensure the free flow of traffic, goods, and services if we're going to be changing our inspection process as well?