Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill S-23. My comments are based on the discussions that our caucus had following the proposals made by the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, who followed this bill on behalf of our party.
For the benefit of those who may not know it, Bill S-23 will change Canada Customs' controls and rules of operation within the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency.
First I want to mention two points. This is a bill that came from the other place. We are always somewhat uncomfortable with this way of doing things. We do not question the fact that the Parliament of Canada is bicameral, which means that it has two chambers. The same legislative process must be followed in each of the two chambers. We know these rules of operation and we do not question them.
However, the legitimacy of each chamber is not the same, since we feel that any legislation should first be dealt with by the true holders of democratic legitimacy, who are of course the elected representatives sitting in the House of Commons.
Let me do a bit of history. The reason our benches and the floor here in the House of Commons are green is because the Commons represent the grassroots, it is the people's chamber and it reflects the diversity found in the public.
It is no coincidence that, in the other place, the furniture and the floor are red. Why are they red? Because it is the chamber of the monarchy. When the Queen, who is theoretically the head of Canada, comes to our country, she never goes to the House of Commons. She goes to the Senate. There is even a chair reserved for her in the Senate. That is the big difference.
We examined this bill very seriously. The hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles did so, but I also want to mention the rather exceptional work done by Sylvain Boyer, who helped us make the appropriate distinctions. Sylvain Boyer is a kind of behind the scenes thinker who very discreetly sets the tone for all our interventions.
Since we are discussing the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, we should remember that this agency is special in that it is not, in theory, part of the public service.
In the House, we debated a bill in which there were problems regarding unionization and labour relations. I think we will have the opportunity to come back to these issues.
We are generally in favour of Bill S-23. However marginally, it is a reminder of the events of September 11. It is obvious that Canada, a large continental country, which shares several thousands of kilometres of border with the United States, must have border controls. But these controls must not prevent freedom of circulation between Canada and the United States.
Why is it important to ensure that the flow of goods and people between Canada and the United States is as streamlined as possible? Because economic imperatives demand it, of course. Every day, thousands of people cross the Canada-U.S. border, as do thousands of dollars in goods.
We want there to be the necessary controls when circumstances require, but we also want fluidity between the two countries.
This brings me to another point. In our plan for a sovereign Quebec, it is clear that there will be no customs post between Quebec and English Canada. We will welcome any measure that encourages freedom of circulation.
This was in Mr. Lévesque's 1967 white paper. It was part of the 1980 referendum plan and the 1995 agreement: there will be no customs offices between a sovereign Quebec and the rest of Canada.
The bill before us contains a number of measures. The first has to do with providing for the expedited movement of persons who are precleared and authorized to travel freely between Canada and the U.S.
There will also be streamlined clearance procedures for low risk passengers by pre-arrival risk assessment of passenger information. This is the crux of the bill.
There are people who travel on a regular basis, such as MPs going from one place to another, business people, people in positions of authority which require them to make representations at various times. Obviously, because they travel frequently, are honest citizens and are known to customs officials, these people do not represent a threat to the integrity and security of either country. Provision must be made for very streamlined procedures for these individuals.
This bill addresses such a measure as it relates to requests for information provided by individuals and how it will be handled. We welcome this measure, and have no problem with it.
Another provision of this bill addresses the requirements for provision of information under the existing act. We have no problem with that either.
Obviously, we understand that people do travel and that information must always be available on who is on a plane, who is preparing to go through customs. This is a matter of security, and there may be a need to contact people quickly. We are, of course, in agreement with such a provision.
There is also going to be a harmonization of the provisions relating to the recovery of monies owing under this act, the Income Tax Act and the Excise Tax Act. This is self-evident.
Where the problem lies, and the reason, I believe, for the amendments presented by the hon member for Verchères--Les Patriotes, is the coming into effect of this law and the extremely important role played by the regulatory context.
The categories of individuals to be processed more rapidly are determined by regulation. Implementation of the law is determined by its regulations.
As for the various administrative penalties, the fact that there is provision for 250 different ones to be set out in the regulations concerning the various offences relating to the transit of goods and individuals poses a problem for us.
Moreover, this government's predilection for such vague provisions in a piece of legislation is most unacceptable.