Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in this House to participate in this debate on Bill C-6.
I want to thank the parliamentary secretary for his remarks and his forthright response to my question.
The bill, as he has alluded to and outlined in his remarks, is really enabling legislation for the creation of the new Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. It therefore amends certain acts and brings together certain other elements of departments that were previously in existence.
The House should be aware that this particular move by the government and the creation of this department was first announced when the Prime Minister's cabinet was first announced, which was some 10 months ago. The government is somewhat delayed in bringing about this enabling legislation.
Be that as it may, the bill takes the core responsibilities of the Department of Solicitor General, the Office of Critical Infrastructure and Emergency Preparedness, and the National Crime Prevention Centre, as well as establishing that the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is the person to whom “entities for which the minister is responsible”, such as the RCMP, CSIS, Correctional Service Canada, National Parole Board, the Canadian Firearms Centre and the Canada Border Services Agency, report through to Parliament.
Clearly the Conservative Party supports the efforts to coordinate these departments and bring about a greater synergy and cooperation within the ranks. This of course is with one notable exception and that is the continuation and extension of the Canadian Firearms Centre which remains one of the biggest frauds ever perpetrated by a government on an unsuspecting public. We know that the billion dollars that continues to rise has no connection to public safety. It has not been borne at all in any statistical format nor in any way been connected to public safety. That money, from the Conservative Party's perspective, would be better spent by putting it into front line policing, helping with victims' agencies and the creation of a victims' ombudsman office with a budget directly tied to that of the correctional investigator. We would suggest that would be a far cry better in terms of money spent.
The bill, in reference again to the timeliness, could have been introduced last winter. The Prime Minister had an opportunity. While the minister carried on using the title of Minister for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Parliament itself, as we know, was pre-empted by an election call last spring and the legislation was therefore delayed until today.
This problem is not one of style or substance. It is simply a matter I guess of the Prime Minister rushing to shut down the inquiry that was going on into the sponsorship scandal.
The Conservative Party believes that there has to be better coordination in the area of safety, security and intelligence agencies. We have members of the party, including my colleague from Crowfoot and our senator in the other place who participated in an ad hoc committee over the summer to set up a new oversight committee for the security agencies. That has no bearing on this legislation.
To that end, we support the general thrust of the legislation to establish under one department these agencies dealing with national security. This mirrors the direction that was taken, and my friend opposite would agree, by the office of homeland security. It is very encouraging to see Mr. Ridge visiting with our own minister and discussing these important issues of trade and national security.
This better working relationship, as the member opposite agreed, is something that Canadians should take heed. We cannot further exacerbate any tensions that might exist by having this anti-American rhetoric that seems to fall from the lips of some members in the Liberal government.
This is a time in which we have to focus our efforts in this country and around North America. We have seen the terrible results of what happens when there are security breaches, when information is not passed between various agencies, both here and it certainly has been experienced in other countries, including Great Britain.
Just last month the Canadian police chiefs called upon the federal government to convene a summit with the provinces, municipalities and all levels of police to determine a national strategy to improve the country's response to disasters and terrorism.
The signal coming from front line police and those who are empowered to enforce the law is that there is a need to coordinate efforts between all levels of government. That certainly goes right down to the municipal levels where in many cases they are still experiencing the pain of having had their budgets cut.
Chief Edgar MacLeod, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said that the federal government needs to take the lead in defining policing since local police budgets are becoming increasingly stretched to the limit. Chief MacLeod also noted that local police budgets not only deal with community matters but with threats of a global nature, including terrorism and organized crime.
That again leads to a comment with respect to the cuts that we have seen to the RCMP in the province of Quebec. This has serious implications, particularly when it comes to the area of drug enforcement.
I was dismayed to see the RCMP move forward with the dismantling of nine detachments across Quebec, when the government publicly stated that fighting organized crime was a priority.
Last April, the minister's national security policy stated that, organized crime is increasingly becoming part of a globalized network and that “a number of terrorist movements have advanced their activities by developing links with organized crime”.
One can assume, therefore, that the closure of these detachments by the government will signal to organized crime that it should move to the places the RCMP has left.
It is a bit of a contradiction in terms to see the government touting its approach to public security and tub-thumping about its efforts while at the same time closing nine detachments in the province of Quebec. It sends a very contradictory and poor signal, I would suggest, in the area of public security.
Another area where the Conservative Party has serious reservations and concerns is that of marine security. We believe that the disbanding of the ports police under the Liberal government should never have happened. This has left our ports and coastal communities particularly vulnerable.
And while it is essential that our large ports, particularly Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver, continue to receive adequate security funding--and the parliamentary secretary alluded to efforts made to examine containers--I would suggest that the government has very much neglected smaller ports throughout the country, leaving coastal communities and therefore our very country vulnerable.
In fact, I have heard it stated by some members of the Coast Guard and others who work at ports that if someone wants to bring anything from child pornography to a nuclear bomb into the country, it will happen on the water. That is not to sound alarmist; it is simply to point out the reality that we have a large coastal area in this country that is largely undefended. It is largely undefended in large part because of cuts to the Coast Guard and to our navy. However, I digress. I will not go into that area given the subject matter today.
At present, we know that in the city of Halifax, for example, there was a container stolen from the port. It again signals the seriousness of the problem when an entire container that would fill part of this chamber can go missing.
The Port of Yarmouth manager, Dave Whiting, recently stated that Yarmouth has spent approximately $80,000 on security systems and equipment. This is the municipality of Yarmouth. It is an international port. It has two ferries that operate to the United States, yet this port is making great efforts on its own to expand its business. Mr. Whiting said that Ottawa does not seem to be concerned where the money will come from when it comes to payment for security.
The Port of Mulgrave, in the Strait of Canso, is another thriving port in the country. It has the largest and deepest ice-free port in North America, yet it does not enjoy the support of the federal government.
In another bill introduced in the House we see that the Coast Guard will be going back to the Transport Canada department from Fisheries and Oceans. This was an ill-conceived idea in the first instance. This will enable the Coast Guard to focus on its operational responsibilities relating to pleasure craft, safety, marine navigation services, pollution prevention and navigable water protection. Again, it is encouraging to see this happening. As a Coast Guard official said to me quite recently, their job is to protect people, not fish.
I do not say that with any degree of sarcasm other than to point out the obvious. The Coast Guard, as we have seen with other departments, has been asked to do more and to patrol larger areas, and yet its budget, when it was transferred to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, did not follow it. So the one caution I have for the government is that if the Coast Guard is going to be transported back now to its original department, I am hopeful it will receive the adequate funding it deserves. What is not clear, as I said, is whether this budget will follow. Members in the House from previous Parliaments will recall that when the Coast Guard was transferred, the government did it in a very surreptitious way.
We had the Department of Fisheries and Oceans stretched to the limit trying to cover the new responsibilities. I want to reference what a Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans said at that time in its study of this move to bring the Coast Guard back to the Department of Transport. I quote from the report of last spring:
The merger of the Coast Guard with DFO was difficult and painful. Funding for both departments was significantly reduced in 1994 as a result of Program Review and the integration of two organizations with different structures and corporate cultures added significantly to the challenges faced. In the view of the Committee, the transfer of the Coast Guard to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been disastrous for the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has virtually disappeared within DFO. The combined fleet has been reduced almost to half its pre-merger strength.
There it is. That comes from an all party committee.
Let me be quick to add that the average age of a Coast Guard vessel is over 20 years. Almost half the existing vessels now have less than five years of useful service left.
Again, not to go too far afield, we have seen what happens when equipment is stretched beyond its limit. We have seen it with Sea Kings. We are seeing it presently in the submarine program.
For practical purposes, the government is going to have to do more due diligence when it comes to equipping both our Coast Guard and our military if we are expected to patrol adequately the coastal communities and the waters of this country.
The idea that great cost savings would be realized by merging these two fleets was, in the view of the parliamentary committee, “largely an illusion. Lack of funding has hampered our security forces and our military for years”. That is a sad comment, but consistent with some of the themes and information that we have seen emerging just in the few weeks that we have been in Parliament.
Lack of funding was also a point raised by the Auditor General last spring. She noted that machines were being purchased to take fingerprints and electronically process those digital fingerprints, but no funding had been allocated to the electronic processing of this material. It is a process that is now in place, yet there does not seem to be the adequate follow-through to utilize this type of information.
It is poor planning, clearly, with more emphasis on the publicity for the implementation of this type of process than the practical application of it. Again, this is what the British would call “all swank and no knickers”. This government is very good at promoting itself rather than the practical application and the protection of Canadians through this new technology.
The Auditor General also found that the government lacked the framework to focus and prioritize these important threats. Departments and agencies are still unable to share information and their systems are not able to communicate with each other. Having this sophisticated equipment and yet not having the ability to share this information again defeats the purpose somewhat when one looks at the practicalities.
Most frightening, the Auditor General found that the watch lists used to screen entrants to Canada were not consistently accurate and that the current information about 25,000 Canadian passports lost or stolen is not yet available to front line officers. There are gaps in the system that cause serious concern not only to parliamentarians but to the Auditor General and Canadians generally.
The Auditor General's report coming this fall is expected to focus on the government's ability to handle civil disasters and threats from terrorists and organized crime. According to a news report, officials in the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness say the audit will show that the office is not adequately prepared to deal with a large scale national disaster or terrorist attack.
This should not come as a surprise, sadly. The Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence has also released several documents and reports on Canada's ability to defend itself against terrorism. Last spring the committee released a report dealing with Canada's ability to respond in an emergency and these are a few of the findings of the report.
Many municipal representatives did not know of the role of the federal Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness (OCIPEP), or felt that the agency was simply not doing its job.
Health Canada has placed emergency supply caches across the country to be used in crises--but the vast majority of first responders don't know where the caches are located or what they contain. Nor have they been consulted about what they should contain.
It goes on to state that the department:
leaves emergency preparedness up to individual federal departments and agencies. So nobody is in charge of ensuring that whatever disaster occurs, the central government continues to function.
Many in the province of Ontario and my colleagues in the Conservative caucus of course will recall the Prime Minister's Office virtually operating in the dark when the great electrical failure of the summer of 2003 occurred. I remember being with my colleague in his riding of what was then Perth—Middlesex, now Perth—Wellington, when that massive blackout occurred.
States the report at page 26:
Inadequate federal funding is at least partially responsible for shortages of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear protection equipment.
The report also states at pages 30 to 33:
Canadians have been hit by several national disasters in recent years. Each time lessons are learned about which types of resources work best and what went wrong. Yet there is no centralized system for collecting and sharing “lessons learned.”
The report goes on to say:
While the RCMP, which handles police duties in most provinces, can be seconded to help in emergencies, there is no formal arrangement to provide provincial police assistance in Canada's two biggest provinces--Ontario and Quebec.
Many municipal administrators of first response units told us that the federal and provincial governments seem confused about which level of government is responsible for helping authorities prepare for major emergencies. Either that or they are passing the buck to avoid financing improvements.
When major emergencies occur, it is imperative that Canadian broadcasters help spread the word about what is happening and what citizens should do to be protecting themselves. Yet there are no regulations requiring broadcasters to interrupt regular programing to assist during emergencies.
This is fairly damning information when one examines it in a fulsome way, and both the Auditor General and the Senate committee, who are impartial bodies, I would suggest, are commenting on the state of national defence and national security. It was reported quite recently. This information is current.
My colleagues in the Conservative Party do support in principle the enactment of this legislation. The department for all intents and purposes has now been operating for 10 months and is still, I am sure, coordinating some of its own internal efforts, but if this new department will help ensure that the security demands of Canadians are met, one is hopeful that their communication effort is not all that is going on. One is hopeful that these issues raised by the Senate committee will be addressed.
We will not let this new department become the panacea for Canada's terrorist threats and security needs, as alluded to by the security minister. Canada's threats need to be addressed. This department is a step in the right direction, but there remains much to be done.
Chief Julian Fantino of the metropolitan Toronto Police Service has highlighted the need for greater attention to and greater coordination with municipal levels of policing. We certainly embrace that. It is obviously now an issue of going beyond the rhetoric, the press releases and the public announcements and getting on with ensuring that information is shared and action is taken on these important files. We in the Conservative Party will certainly work with the department and the minister and provide our assistance at the committee level and here in the House in any way we can.