Debates of Sept. 23rd, 2003
House of Commons Hansard #125 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.
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Rose-Marie Ur Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON
Madam Speaker, I do not think a stone should be left unturned to ensure that we positively resolve this serious situation. I certainly agree that a delegation should visit the United States and any other countries that need to be visited on this issue, along with agency officials who could certainly back up this team.
The member asked if I supported the motion. This very motion basically came up in the agriculture committee and was unanimously accepted. I think that speaks to what I have addressed here today
Furthermore, the committee has a motion that will be dealt with in the next few days concerning an all party delegation which would visit, as an agriculture committee, on this very matter. I believe it is important that we move very quickly on that and assist the minister. We never know what that small element will trigger to benefit our beef industry.
Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK
Madam Speaker, I appreciate this motion being brought forward today. It is timely and it is absolutely necessary. I appreciate the remarks that have been made.
I just want to relay a little about the situation in my area and underscore the urgency of this, and I will ask the member opposite who just spoke if she would concur that this is an extremely urgent matter and that sometimes that is not grasped here in Ottawa.
In my area grains farming is the backbone of the agricultural economy. As most people realize, in the last decade or so grains have not done well, so many farmers have supplemented their income with cow-calf operations. Those feeders, those calves that will come off those operations, will come off these farms about October or November. That is when the crunch will really hit. If there is no market for them somewhere, such as south of the border where they traditionally have gone, that will become an extreme emergency situation.
Does the member opposite feel that the people here in Ottawa, including the Prime Minister, realize the extreme urgency of this?
I cannot underscore this enough. I get phone calls every day from people saying, “Garry, will you please do something”. They have said that they absolutely need that cash flow, that they need a place to take these feeders and that because of the drought, they do not have feed to feed them and they will starve.
I do not know what we can do but we have to impress on our Prime Minister and all concerned the urgency of this. Would the member concur?
Rose-Marie Ur Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON
Madam Speaker, as my hon. colleague sits with me on the agriculture committee, it is very important to note that, yes, I honestly believe they recognize the urgency. I sometimes have been accused of being more of a critic of my own agriculture minister than my colleagues on the opposite in agriculture, and I have been told that more than once.
Never in 10 years that I have been a member of Parliament have I been called back to Ottawa on a particular issue to debate. We were called back three times this year, and I was more than happy to be one of the participants.
Anne McLellan Minister of Health
Madam Speaker, I thank the House for allowing me to add my voice to this debate about a matter of critical importance to Canadian farmers and the Canadian beef industry. As a parliamentarian from Alberta, this is an issue that hits very close to home.
Let me start my remarks by commending the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food as well as his provincial counterparts for their continuing efforts to explain our animal health and food safety controls, especially those for BSE to our American neighbours and the world community so that they can have full confidence in Canada's food supply. Thanks to these efforts, we have made considerable progress in reopening the border to trade. I support my hon. colleague's determination to reopen all foreign markets to Canada's beef industry as quickly as possible.
My heartfelt thanks as well to the dedicated farmers and ranchers across Canada who have consistently and conscientiously made food quality and safety their first priority.
As an Albertan, I know how difficult the last few months have been for the people in our province who have been hit hard by the one case of BSE. I know how diligently they and other Canadians have worked to uphold Canada's stringent food safety standards which are among the highest in the world.
As Canada's Minister of Health, I also know that Canadians can be confident in the strength of our food safety system. Health Canada's number one priority is the health and safety of Canadians. That is not just a promise, that is our business.
Canada has one of the safest food supplies in the world. I remind my hon. colleagues that this case of BSE came to light because of Canada's surveillance program. A comprehensive investigation was immediately undertaken. The animal was condemned and did not enter the human food supply. Therefore the system clearly worked.
As strong as our food safety system is, however, we are not resting on our laurels. We are co-operating closely with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the CFIA, as well as our other partners, including the provinces and territories, industry and consumers to address this issue.
Let me highlight some of the significant steps we have taken since the discovery of that one animal last May as well as some of the safety measures that were already in place. Together, these measures have been critical in maintaining the confidence of Canadian consumers and the world in the security of Canada's food supply.
First, an intensive scientific investigation, coordinated by the CFIA, was conducted. We asked an international team to evaluate our investigation and the effectiveness of existing measures in Canada to protect the public. I am proud to report that expert panel praised us for the thoroughness and quality of our investigation as well as the effectiveness of public protection measures already in place. The panel also recommended actions in a number of areas to further enhance safeguards to human and animal health.
I can assure my hon. colleagues that we immediately heeded this expert advice. On July 24, regulatory amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations and the Health of Animal Regulations were introduced which prevent specified risk materials from entering the food supply.
These specified risk materials, or SRMs, are tissues known to have the potential to carry the highest concentration of BSE infectivity. In diseased animals the infective agent is concentrated in certain tissues such as the brain and the spinal cord. The new regulations establish a definition for SRMs and prohibit the sale or import for sale of food products containing these tissues from countries that are not BSE free. The amendments to the Health of Animal Regulations require the removal of SRM from carcasses and prohibit the export and use of any of these risk materials for human consumption.
These strengthened safety measures build on previous safeguards that were introduced by our government to prevent the introduction and spread of BSE in Canada after the problem first surfaced in Europe. We have been steadfast in our efforts to protect public health and safety.
The safeguards start with strict import controls. Canada prohibits the importation of beef and beef products from countries not designated as BSE free.
Since 1992 there has been a surveillance system for BSE. As well, since 1997 we have banned the feeding of rendered protein products from ruminant animals, such as cattle, sheep, goats, bison, deer and elk, to livestock. Exposure to BSE contaminated feed is considered to be the largest risk factor for the spread of BSE in cattle.
In addition, we have taken precautionary measures to protect the integrity of Canada's blood system. Blood donations have been prohibited for a number of years from anyone who has spent significant periods of time in countries with substantial occurrences of BSE.
Beyond these BSE specific controls, Health Canada continues to work closely with the CFIA and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to protect human and animal health through improvements to animal feeding policy and animal disease surveillance programs.
We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation here in Canada and abroad, both from a human and animal health perspective. We are also continually assessing new scientific information that may relate to the safety of food or the health products regulated by my department.
As proud as I am of these progressive measures, I want to reiterate that Canada's food safety system is among the most effective and most respected in the world.
The initiatives I have just outlined are being introduced as a precautionary measure to further strengthen our already safe food system.
I also want to remind the House that the success of Canada's food system depends on close working relationships among federal, provincial and territorial authorities, as well as food producers, processors, distributors, retailers and consumers. Ultimately, it is our collective efforts and activities that maintain Canada's excellent national and international reputation for producing safe, high quality food.
I truly hope that we can count on the co-operation and support of the opposition in addressing this challenge which has taken such a terrible toll on the Canadian beef industry and so many of my neighbours and friends in Alberta. The stakes are high for everybody involved. This is no time to play politics with people's lives and livelihoods.
For the good of our farmers, ranchers, the beef industry and Canadian consumers from coast to coast to coast, I trust I can rely on my hon. colleagues to work with us to continue to keep Canada's food supply the safest in the world.
Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB
Madam Speaker, I am glad the health minister is in the House today to address this issue because one of the issues I would like her to address is a health issue.
Not many people in this country know that Canada does not accept feeder cattle from the U.S. on a year round basis. We are expecting the Americans to take cattle from a BSE class country but we do not take cattle from them on a year round basis.
Two things stop that; anaplasmosis and bluetongue. Both of these diseases are manageable. All the industry, the Canada Cattlemen's Association and everyone, is saying that we need to get this done. That would send a clear message to the United States that Canada is serious about fair and open trade.
Will the minister do all she can to make sure the border is opened to year round access to our producers to American feeder cattle?
Anne McLellan Edmonton West, AB
Madam Speaker, I am very aware of the very important issue the member has raised. I recently spent some time talking to the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and others and he is quite right, this is an issue that is on their agenda.
I have addressed this with my colleague, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. I have talked to my officials about it. We are working with the CFIA. I will be frank here. I think it is fair to say that there are some issues around health and safety in terms of Canada's cattle industry. We obviously have to ensure that we are doing everything we can to protect both human and animal health in this country.
I do not think it would be appropriate for us to open the door even the tiniest crack to the introduction of any kind of disease or situation that might call into question our standards, which are viewed as the best around the world.
However I am fully aware of the hon. member's issue. We have taken it up. We will continue to work with my colleague, the Minister of Agriculture, and CFIA. I am in regular contact with representatives from the CCA and others in relation to this issue.
Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the minister being in the House and for realizing that this is a very important issue.
I raised the issue previously as to how this is critical and needs extreme urgency in dealing with it. Many cow-calf operators in Saskatchewan will be taking their feeders to market in October. I think the minister has rightly analyzed the fact that there are politics behind a lot of this.
I do not think it is a secret that our relations with the U.S. are probably not what they should be and that we need to establish a very good working relationship with it so that when an incident like this comes up it will not become the full blown crisis that it has.
I would like to know what the minister is doing to ensure that the Prime Minister and the future prime minister will do all they can to get back to a good working relationship with the U.S.
I know the senators in the U.S. right now are getting a lot of votes because they can use this poor relationship that has kind of developed over the Iraq situation, poking our nearest neighbour in the eye when it was not necessary, as a way of continuing to get votes from their cow-calf producers by keeping the border shut because they are making huge profits there and we of course are on the opposite end of this.
However we also have the Japanese. Is it not true that we did not let them come in and review what we were doing with regard to safeguarding health here in Canada and that we do not allow them to export products here? Could this situation not be resolved, a situation that has been ongoing for seven years. They can use that as an excuse not to let the U.S. export to Japan and that is a way to leverage the U.S. into keeping the Canadian border shut. To me, that is another part of the dynamics that are at play here and part of the politics.
I come back to my original premise, that this is urgent. This has to be dealt with immediately. All these situations are intertwined to create the dilemma we are in right now. Would the minister concur with this and what is she going to do to rectify it?
Anne McLellan Edmonton West, AB
Madam Speaker, I do not concur with a number of things that the hon. member has said. However I do concur that the most important trading relationship we have is with our neighbours and friends in the United States of America.
The government believes and I believe profoundly that the relationship is a singular one and we need to ensure the highest level of understanding, working together and integration. I think the entire challenge around BSE speaks to how important it is for us to develop a higher level of integration, develop protocols so that we both know how to respond to these kinds of situations when they arise.
I would say as well that I know my colleague, the Minister of Agriculture, and others are working globally through the international agency based in Paris to perhaps have protocols with other countries, such as Japan, so that we all understand how to respond when a single case of BSE arises in another country and that we do not have these devastating effects on local markets, such as we have seen flowing from this one cow.
Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB
Madam Speaker, it is great to rise today and speak to the motion brought forward by the Conservatives.
In the north part of my riding we have over 600,000 head of feeder cattle. When the BSE outbreak occurred back on May 20 the entire number of cattle on feed in Canada at that time was 950,000, and 600,000 of those cattle were in my riding. Therefore, to say that I have been somewhat associated with this issue since it started, I suppose would not be giving it enough credit.
I want to mention a couple of things before I get into the debate on the motion. The first is the confidence that Canadian consumers have in the beef industry in this country. Beef consumption in Canada for July was up 62% over last July. That is incredible. That has never happened before in the world when a country has been faced with a BSE issue. Consumers should be congratulated on staying with the industry.
However the industry also did a pretty good job. I wish to mention two people from my riding who did an incredible job of keeping Canadians on side on this issue. One of them is Rick Paskal. Members might have seen him this past summer in Ontario selling truckloads of 10 pound tubes of ground beef for $1 a pound. I do not know how many tonnes of beef he moved all across the country but it was on his own initiative.
What he was trying to do was to make consumers realize that some of the prices they were paying at the retail level were a little too high. The fact is that the producer was getting so little for his animal that should have been reflected on the price at the retail sector.
Ever since Rick has been in the cattle industry he has been an activist. I have known Rick all my life. He has done a tremendous job. He has been in the United States lobbying for the industry. When the United States challenged the beef industry a few years ago he spent a lot of time down there educating those folks on how our business works. I congratulate him on that.
The other person I want to mention is Ed Fetting. Ed was recently appointed the economic development officer for the city of Lethbridge. He and others got together and came up with an idea for the great Canadian cattle drive. This was not the cattle liner that showed up here last week. This cattle drive brought employers together to allow their staff to buy beef on the payroll deduction plan. They moved hundreds of thousands of pounds of beef through this program. It spread out across the country. I have to hand it to him for doing it. The issue at that time was that we had a glut of beef in Canada that needed to be moved and all these initiatives helped.
The motion we are dealing with today on taking a delegation to the U.S. to lobby should already have been done. The Prime Minister should have been down there and stayed there until the issue was solved. It is unfortunate that he has not done that.
This summer the member for Medicine Hat, the member for Fraser Valley, our leader and I went to Capitol Hill in Washington to attend a great group of meetings. We met with congressmen and senators from all parties, and with bureaucrats, and we were able to talk to the person at the White House who had this file on his desk.
These people were very knowledgeable. They wanted to talk to us and they assured us that they were doing all they could. However the one thing they pointed out to us time after time was that the lack of communication between Capitol Hill and Parliament Hill was hurting the issue. We heard, not so much from the politicians but from the bureaucrats, that some of the comments that came from the government that went unreproached by the Prime Minister were hurting the issue.
When people tell us that everything is fine and that we are talking back and forth, maybe they are but it is not at the level that it needs to be nor the quality, because those lines of communication are not there.
As I have said, we had some incredibly good meetings and people were very sympathetic. I was very impressed with the people we met. It did not matter from what state or what party, whether they were a senator or a congressman, they were very knowledgeable on the issue. Everyone seemed to be aware of what was happening.
I think the thing that made them want to resolve this issue so quickly was the fact that they knew that with the 49th parallel beginning where it does this could be their problem and not ours.
That brings me to the issue I just raised with the health minister. As a country, we expect the United States to take our beef. We want that border open to live cattle, initially under 30 months because BSE does not exist in animals under that age. It is open an absolute fraction right now. There is a 3,500 mile fence between us and them as far as our cattle are concerned and there is a very small crack. We are trying to run a multibillion dollar business through that small gate and it is not working.
One of the issues that I mentioned was what Rick Paskal has fought for, which is to have access to the U.S. feeder cattle on a year-round basis. Right now they come in on what is called a vector season, from October to April. It is a non-fly season. The two diseases are anaplasmosis and blue tongue. Study after study has been done. When I asked the Minister of Agriculture about this yesterday, he indicated he wants the CFIA to look at it once again. The science is in on this. They do not have to look at it again. There are vets in the CFIA who will back this up and say that whatever health risks there are in these two diseases, they are manageable.
Harmonizing the health standards on both sides of the border is very critical. We have a continental market in beef right now, but if we did that, then the border would almost disappear and the situation we find ourselves in today because of one lousy, stumbling, sick cow that has cost our country and the industry $11 million a day every day since May 20, would not be happening.
The issue of Canada and the U.S. working with the OIE to come up with a different process to use when one of these diseases is found would be great. However, I think the reason the U.S. is so interested in that is the Americans know that this could very well happen to them and they do not want to have the ramifications that we had when it happened to us.
Year-round access is a critical issue. I believe that would send a clear message. I have been asking in the House since 1997 that we recognize the health of the U.S. herd and it has not happened yet. If we sent that one message, the Americans would understand that we are serious about having a level playing field and that we are serious about working with them on harmonizing the health standards. That would go a long way in helping us get the border open.
We heard the parliamentary secretary last week answer a question on this. He said that the problem is solved and the border is open. Until live cattle are going back and forth across that border, I do not want anybody to say that the border is open, because it is not. It is open like a crack in a long, long wall.
Madam Speaker, I would like to indicate that I will be splitting my time with the member for Peace River and he is on his way.
The other issue besides year-round access that I would like to mention is NAFTA. I have read in sections of NAFTA that if there is no scientific reason for trade to be discontinued, then it must be re-established. Ann Veneman, the U.S. secretary of agriculture, has said time after time that our beef is safe. They are taking boxed beef. They are taking that because they need it. Hopefully soon they will need our feeder cattle and they will open the border to them and at the same time to our cattle under 30 months.
Why has the trade minister not looked at this issue and said that under NAFTA rules, if there is no scientific reason for this trade to be stopped, then get it going? We have not heard that. It is right in the rules and regulations. People across the country who have looked at that and trade lawyers are saying the same thing. We have a legitimate case here to have a look at that. I think that discussions need to take place between us and the Americans. We need to say, “Look, it's right here”. We need to take the next step and enforce the challenge.
We have to do all of these things. It all lumps into working harder and being more aggressive. I firmly believe that as a nation we have not been aggressive enough at the negotiating table on trade issues. This is one clear example.
The beef industry is in trouble. We are going to lose it. We have lost a good portion of it already. I think people have lost confidence in it. Investors and others will say that they just will not take that chance again. We have to be very cautious. We have to work very hard to make sure that this issue is solved. I do not know how much good a delegation led by the Prime Minister would do with the way the relationships are right now, but a delegation of some kind certainly should be taken to the U.S.
Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON
Madam Speaker, I was interested in the opening comments of my colleague from Lethbridge about the importance of confidence in our system, our health system, our supervisory system for food in this country. He obviously is expressing support for sending a delegation to Washington to try to open up the markets fully.
Is the member aware of the comments of the premier of Alberta which he made to some American political people and authorities? He said that he would have been just as happy if the farmer who found the cow suffering from mad cow disease had used the methodology of shoot, shovel and shut up. Does the member support the premier in that regard and those comments?
Also, does the member think that would hurt our approach if in fact a delegation went to Washington? What type of reception does he think we would get with that comment from the premier?
Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB
Madam Speaker, I am not here to reinforce the comments of the premier of Alberta or to go against them. I believe that we are in this mess because of one sick cow. I think that when the industry stands back and looks at what has happened because of this one sick cow, maybe some of that thought will come in, but that is not the way to deal with it.
It is unfortunate that those comments were made and that they were taken in the context that they were. When we deal with this issue, the people I have talked to who have been cow calf producers all their lives, for generations, understand the industry and they certainly do not practise that type of thing in this industry. They realize how precarious it is, how important the health standards are to all of us. Nobody in the world produces safer food than those people. It is just hurtful to see what has happened to them and what has happened to the industry because of this. There are 90,000 families in this country that are involved in the industry. It is just hurtful to see what has happened because of that one sick cow.
The fact that Canada, Mexico and the U.S. are working with the OIE to come up with different standards, practices and methods of controlling this disease once one case is found, as has happened in this instance, is the key to the next time. We have to come up with those issues so that the ranchers and the cow calf producers in this country can feel confident that the next time this does happen, they will not be put into this pressure cooker.
The premier of Alberta is entitled to his comments, as we all are, but I certainly do not endorse the philosophy of shoot, shovel and shut up.
Paul Steckle Huron—Bruce, ON
Madam Speaker, I understand and I quite appreciate my hon. colleague's involvement in the cattle industry. As a member of the standing committee, I know of the hard work that he has done on behalf of his farmer friends.
Of course the member understands the western situation much better than those of us from Ontario. The Americans have been buying a good number of cattle in the west, leaving them there to be fed until such time as they can be moved across the border as fattened cattle. Would he agree that means we will see a great deal of pressure coming to bear on the powers that be in the United States, the packing houses, on their governments and legislators to open the border, and perhaps that is where the resolve will come from eventually?
Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB
Madam Speaker, yes, there is some pressure. I believe that if the beef industry in the United States had not been willing to take boxed beef, that border would not be open for boxed beef. I agree that the pressure that comes from the states is going to have a lot to do with this.
The northern tier packing plants in Pasco, Washington, Greeley, Colorado and Hyrum, Utah need Canadian cattle. Those organizations are putting on a lot of pressure to get the border open. However, we should not be counting on pressure from other countries to get the border open. We should be counting on pressure from within this country to get our border open.
Charlie Penson Peace River, AB
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate. This issue affects a lot of producers, basic products in Canada that make a big contribution to our financial well-being, particularly in the rural areas but it certainly does not stop there.
The motion today is to send a delegation to Washington to try to get the border opened up. I take it in the spirit in which it was developed. I think it is a good idea. I see some difficulties with it in terms of how that might play out but I will deal with that in a moment.
As the trade critic for our party, I realize that overall we have an excellent relationship with the United States. It is a big customer for a lot of our products. In fact, there is trade of about $2 billion a day that crosses the Canada-U.S. border both ways. Most of that trade happens without any incident or difficulties at all but there have been some longstanding disputes. Steel is one of them. Softwood lumber is another that has been going on for 25 to 30 years. Of course now there is the BSE incident that occurred. My colleague from Lethbridge talked of the matter of one cow being found to have BSE, or mad cow disease, which interrupted trade between Canada and the United States. That is a very big market.
The cattle industry is one of those integrated industries that has allowed product to flow freely between Canada and the United States for some time.
My riding of Peace River is in northwestern Alberta. Animals from the United States have come up to be on grass or pasture there. We know that animals from the United States have come up into our feedlots, into southern Alberta and vice versa. Cattle from Canada have gone down to feedlots in the United States. This has been an integrated industry, as it should be. Both countries have benefited a great deal from having that industry integrated as it was.
It shows how vulnerable we are when an incident of one animal upsets a tremendous market. It represents exports to the United States alone in the beef industry of $4.5 billion per year. We export about 80% of what we produce. There are 15 million cattle in Canada. It is a big industry. Exports amount to 80% and 60% of that goes to the United States so it is a big market for our product. However, we only make up about 5% of what the United States needs so it is not as big a matter for the Americans, but it represents a livelihood for hundreds of thousands of Canadians. I know many people personally in my riding who have diversified and gone into the cattle business. It has been a good industry for them.
The goal is to get the border open to live animals as it has been in the past. We have to keep this matter in perspective. Yes, we had one incident in the past about 10 years ago with an animal that developed BSE. That animal was imported from Britain. Now another one has been found, one animal out of 15 million animals. There may be more but that is all that has been found at the moment and there is extensive screening going on.
Let us please keep this matter in perspective. There are 15 million animals with one animal affected by it. It has turned our border into a fortress with the United States, a market that we need very badly.
What is the answer? Today's opposition motion suggests that a high level delegation go to Washington to try to reopen the border. I think it is a good proposal but one which we have tried before. In fact, in the summer the leader of our party went to Washington with a number of our trade people to try to do just that. We need to continue to work on it. We need to ask the Americans what criteria need to be satisfied for the border to be opened.
We asked the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food on a number of occasions in the House that very question. He either cannot or will not answer the question. I am not sure why.
Surely countries that have that kind of close relationship in trade, as there is with Canada and Mexico, and we have NAFTA, should be able to get to the point very quickly. What exactly is keeping that border closed to our product? To date he has not done that.
Let me just take a moment to deal with the prospect of the Prime Minister leading a high level delegation because that is a problem right at the start. It is part of the reason the border has not been open before now. It goes beyond the Prime Minister.
Many members of the Liberal Party sitting opposite have spent the last year or so insulting our American neighbours, not just the administration. There have been references to the administration and to the President. It seems to me the Liberals have gone beyond that. They are insulting the American people. It is a finger in the eye of the American public.
Then we wonder why it is so difficult for us to get the border open when insults have been hurled from the Liberal Party across the way at our very best customers. It does not make any sense at all. Until this current administration is out of here, we will not see any success in getting the border open, so the sooner it moves on the better.
It is 2 o'clock and my duty therefore is to interrupt the proceedings. However, the hon. member will get his time after the debate is resumed following question period. We will ensure he gets the full time allotted of course.