Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on behalf of the NDP caucus today.
I begin by saying, with respect to the controversy earlier today about whether or not this motion by the Conservative Party should be votable, that one wonders whether or not, as someone who contests whether or not the motion should be votable, we will in fact actually vote.
However the matter before us is the motion and, I would say, without prejudice to whether or not we should be voting on it, that the motion is far too general to elicit the kind of support that I think perhaps the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough might have been looking for from all opposition parties.
While there are certainly things for which we would want to be critical of the government and criticisms that we might well share with the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough, there might be other criticisms that we do not share. The member cannot simply ask us to sign on to a general condemnation of the government for its failure to implement a national security policy to address the broad range of security issues when we do not know the list of issues that the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough wants the government to address. I realize that he outlined some of those things in his speech but the motion, as it reads and if it were to be passed or, for that matter, approved by any party or individual, would be open to interpretations.
For instance, the NDP was critical of the government, not for its failure to implement a particular security policy when it came to anti-terrorism legislation but for, in our judgment, going too far when it came to anti-terrorism legislation. Therefore it would be difficult for us to support the motion because it seems to imply that, with respect to a broad range of issues having to do with security, the government has not gone far enough.
When Bill C-36, the anti-terrorism legislation, was before the House, one of our criticisms was that we felt the government had gone too far. We also felt that way with respect to Bill C-35 and we feel that way with respect to Bill C-42, which now seems to be on the back burner but which is nevertheless still on the order paper. Is it the position of the Progressive Conservative Party that Bill C-42 is part of the government's failure, that it does not go far enough?
These are all the kinds of interpretations that could be attached to support this particular motion because it is in fact so general. It is one of the reasons why I do not see how we could support this particular motion as it stands.
Because it has come up in debate, is the motion intended to refer in some codified way to the Senate report on security? If that is the case, perhaps a motion saying that we adopt the recommendations of the recent Senate committee on security would have been in order. At least we then could have debated what was in that particular report.
Having listened to the debate a bit today, it seemed to me from time to time that we were vicariously debating the report that was brought forward in the Senate with respect to security. The allusion in the motion to ports of entry and borders, for instance, is clearly a reference to a subject matter of concern that the Senate committee report addressed itself to.
Having said that, with respect to ports and security matters having to do with ports, I would like to put on the record once again that the NDP felt at the time and feels still that the privatization of ports and the elimination of the national harbour police were serious mistakes.
Addressing whatever security concerns there may be with respect to our ports would be to reinstitute a police force dedicated to port security, instead of having the municipal police and the RCMP trying to do a job that in our judgment should be done by a police force dedicated to that particular purpose.
To me, it always makes sense to have people who are vocationally attached to a particular task. I think that is the way the members of the national harbour police worked when they were in existence. They were not municipal police who might be looking after port security this year, looking after the vice squad next year and looking after something else the next year. Their job was port security and they were there for the long haul.
However it has become a fad in the last 10 to 20 years to do away with dedicated services of any kind and to turn everything over to--I am not sure what to call it, but nobody ever does anything for the long haul any more. They are just in there for the duration of a contract when things are privatized, or in the case of what we are talking about here in terms of ports police, we do not have a police force dedicated to port security but we have a number of police officers in various police forces who are assigned from time to time to port security. This is not a criticism of them. They are put in a very difficult position and, as the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough and others have said and quite rightly, are often asked to do the job without adequate resources.
We cannot have security on the cheap. Yet in some ways we are reaping now what was sown over the last 10, 15, 20 years whereby governments, through various public policy initiatives, generally in the way of deregulation, privatization, contracting out and doing away with things that were directly funded by government, tried to do things on the cheap that they used to do in a dedicated way and they used to do by way of paying whatever it cost to get the job done and to have the job done well.
Now the chickens are coming home to roost. It was fine as long as, to put the obvious, everything was fine, but now that things are not fine we find that there are all kinds of holes in the system.
It will not do, while we are alluding to the Senate report, to impugn the integrity of a lot of people who work at the ports.
There seems to be an underlying theme in the Senate report that is of concern to us and I think of concern to many others that somehow its the workers in the ports who are the problem.
A very good article in the Province by Christina Montgomery talks about some of the things wrong with the Senate report. She highlights, for instance, the disbandonment of the ports police which I have already mentioned. She also takes issue with the way in which the report implies that somehow its the unions that are at fault for whatever security problems there may be at our ports. I would like to put that on the record.
Returning to the matter of resources, the fact is that a lot of our ports are underpoliced. Whether we return to a national harbour police, a national ports police or however we do it, we will need a lot more resources at our ports, along the borders. Others have spoken of the longest undefended border. It is undefended and that is part of the problem. It is undefended from a lot of things.
I do not, and I do not think anybody does, want to see the border become a difficult place for ordinary Canadians and Americans to go back and forth and for commerce to transpire. The fact is that we have been under-resourcing our security personnel wherever we find them, whether we find them at customs, in the ports, in the RCMP or wherever Canadians are called upon to engage in security tasks for the public there has been a pattern of underfunding and under-resourcing these tasks for a long time and it is coming home to roost.
If the government is serious about security, I would urge it to get serious about funding security. Its only major initiative so far, which I think was wrong, has been to bring in the anti-terrorism legislation which I think, in some respects, goes beyond targeting terrorists to making it possible to make life miserable for legitimate, democratic dissent in this country.
A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to meet at a forum with the United Steelworkers of America which has many thousands of members in the security industry. The United Steelworkers were saying to the Deputy Prime Minister, who is in charge of security, that they wanted to sit down and talk about the security industry and talk about national standards for training, certification and pay.
One of the problems in the security industry, particularly as it pertains to the private security industry which guards much of our infrastructure, which we are now told we should be worried about in terms of possible terrorist attacks, is that a lot of that infrastructure is provided on a private for profit basis. It is also not necessarily the best kind of security that we could ask for. People in the security industry know that. They would like to see higher standards, better training and the kind of pay that would create in that industry people who would be dedicated to that particular task. If they were paid well enough they would stay at it and do the job properly. They would not feel that they had to move on because of an offer of a better paying job somewhere else.
All these things are on our mind as we reflect upon the Tory motion that we have here today. We cannot support the motion as it is. We reiterate our contention that part of the solution for addressing the security problems at our ports is the reintroduction of a dedicated national harbours or ports police.
We agree with others who say that the resources are a great part of the problem and that there is a need for the government to make sure that our police and security forces, in the broadest possible sense of the word, have the resources to do the job that they are being asked to do.
The NDP cannot support the motion because we find it to be too general. We do not want to condemn the government holus-bolus or support the government holus-bolus on this. It has done some things right and some things wrong. Simply to have a motion which condemns the government without saying what it is it is being condemned for does not provide the opportunity for the kind of detailed debate that we would like to have in the House.
I remind hon. members that even though they might not have supported the NDP motion during the week before we broke, there were 12 things that we thought the government should be doing. Members could get up and disagree with those 12 things but they knew what we were talking about. We do not have a similar kind of motion before us here today.
With respect to the final phrase in the motion calling “on the government to reassert Parliament's relevance in these and other public policy issues”, I am not entirely sure what the member means here. If this is a general call for parliamentary reform, which would restore parliament's relevance in these and other public issues, of course we support that. I would say that as an individual member of parliament I have supported this kind of effort all the time I have been here.
However I am not sure whether this final phrase was supposed to entice people to vote for the rest of the motion, in spite of the fact that it had so little content, out of our love for parliamentary reform, or what effect it was supposed to have on us. In any event, we certainly would like to see parliament's relevance reasserted in these and other public policy issues.
With all due respect to the members of the PC/DRC coalition who are in the House now, and I know none of them were here when what I am about to speak of happened. One of the reasons why parliament suffers from a lack of relevance in these and other public policy issues is because of what was done to parliament between 1984 and 1993 when the Conservatives were in power.
Much of what we now experience in opposition, the frustration and powerlessness, the feeling of being left out of decisions taken in the Prime Minister's Office and elsewhere, a lot of these trends, if not begun, were solidified and consolidated under the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party between 1984 and 1993.
What is of course tragic, ironic and, in the final analysis, despicable is that the party that in its days as official opposition that opposed these measures has now been in power for nine years and has done absolutely nothing to undo the damage that it so loudly protested at that time.
I certainly join with members of the PC/DRC in calling once again on another government, in another time, in the same place, to reassert parliament's relevance in these and other public policy issues.