Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill S-23.
I say to the member who spoke previously that we certainly would have supported the tabling of that document. We think that access to information is an important aspect of parliament.
This bill is an act to amend the Customs Act and to make related amendments to other acts. We actually supported the bill throughout and thought that it had a lot of good practical ideas, until September 11, which made the whole thing obsolete in our opinion. It did propose a lot of good changes and enhancements to the systems that would expedite the process at border crossings and so on and so forth.
The events of September 11 in our opinion make Bill S-23 obsolete. The total focus is on our borders now. There is a great debate about whether we will have perimeter security, which I think we will have eventually. There is a great debate about increasing staff at border crossings, enhancing the procedures of control and assessment, increasing the focus on examining goods, services and people and identification at borders. It makes all of these things that were created to fast track and expedite border crossing obsolete until we finish the great debate on the philosophy of how we will treat our borders as a whole. Right now there is a proposal to increase funding by a lot for our borders.
I understand a second omnibus bill is being drafted to deal with terrorism. That one will focus on transportation issues and border issues. Bill S-23 will be superseded by that omnibus bill in many ways. We should shelve Bill S-23 for the time being until we see what the government puts on the table in the proposed omnibus bill. We have not seen it yet. We have just heard talk and conjecture about it.
The government is debating whether or not to consider a perimeter security system. The Americans will surely have a perimeter security system and we will be either inside or outside the system. Whatever decision is made will have a big impact on how we deal with our borders.
Many politicians in the U.S., such as the president, the vice-president, many senators and governors of states, have indicated that they want changes to the border crossing system. They have suggested that Canada is a safe haven for terrorists. We do not agree. However, they have certainly indicated that they have concerns about our border crossing systems. They will demand that we make changes, not the changes that are in Bill S-23 but other changes. If the bill goes through, we will go through a major series of changes to our border crossings and then we will have to do it all over again.
The U.S. has already tripled its staff at border control points which is an indication of the changes that are about to take place. Now Mexico is into the discussion about the perimeter security system. If the United States and Mexico are to have a perimeter security system, then Canada must be a part of that. I believe we eventually will be a part of it, which again will make many aspects of Bill S-23 obsolete.
In the last few days the official opposition has proposed motions that change job descriptions and functions at the border crossings. The official opposition has proposed that we change all the things in Bill S-23, completely reverse many positions, turn customs officers into law enforcement officers, remove the tax collection function from customs officers and give it to a whole new enforcement agency and so on and so forth. That is an indication of the changes we are facing.
Business groups, chambers of commerce, boards of trade and provincial premiers are also calling for changes at the borders which do not necessarily coincide with Bill S-23. We should put the whole bill on hold until we assess what we will do as a country and how we will treat the overall security system, the overall border system and our relationship with the United States.
Essentially there will be a revolution on how we deal with border crossing issues and because of September 11, everything will be different. Everything is different now. Much of our trade is halted at the border because of delays caused by examinations. I do not expect the United States government to agree that the aspects of Bill S-23 will expedite the smooth crossing of traffic and trade at the border and allow things to go back and forth freely. That is not going to happen. Bill S-23 in that way is a little obsolete.
Perimeter security is inevitable and Canada has to be part of it. Eighty-five percent of our business travels back and forth between the United States and Canada. The amount was as high as $250 billion in 1999. The bill was drafted prior to September 11, in a whole different world and under a whole different set of circumstances. In many ways we think it would be a waste of time to proceed with all of these changes, some of which were really good prior to September 11 and some of which may still be good. However, if the U.S. does not agree with them and they are not part of its overall vision it is going to be very difficult to proceed with them and we will have to bring in another bill to reverse or change them.
The bill should be shelved until these matters are dealt with and an agreement is made, even a fundamental decision as to whether or not we are going to be part of a perimeter security system and whether or not Mexico is going to be part of that system. There is no point in going ahead with these major changes if we are going to be faced with another series of changes, which we will be for sure. This is not a matter of if we are going to change our systems and procedures at the border crossings, it is a matter of when and how. We are going to change them.
Bill S-23 should be held off until we know exactly what the government's philosophy and position is. Until that happens, we would like to see the bill shelved.