Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the report stage debate on Bill C-6. It is an important bill, given the current climate around security. It is an enabling bill, legislation that in essence puts in the place the legislative framework for the new Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. It is worth noting that the department has been operating for six months or more. The legislation is somewhat late in coming.
It is also worth noting that the bill itself will, for all intents and purposes, do away with the very traditional name of the Solicitor General. I hasten to add that I am somewhat saddened to see that label disappear, given that my father served in that office in the years 1984-85. I know the member for Calgary Centre sat with my father in the House of Commons, and I am pleased to be speaking in his presence today.
The bill brings together a number of departments under one umbrella. It is intended clearly to create a more coordinated effort, and one would hope that information sharing would be improved as a result of the bill.
As I noted earlier, I am encouraged by the efforts made by the minister and the parliamentary secretary to consult more broadly within the House, within Parliament, to ensure that on legislative initiatives, even a bill as technical, and one that could be described as a housekeeping bill, as this, to include the opposition. Given the dynamic and the numbers in the House, in the committee and in the chamber, the opposition already has played a more effective role in amending the bill.
The legislation will bring together, under a single department, departments such as the RCMP. CSIS will have efforts made to include a more coordinated effort around response to provincial disasters, as we have seen in the Saguenay region and even in my own province of Nova Scotia as recently as last week with a devastating snowstorm. Similarly, just under a year ago we suffered the effects of hurricane Juan. The ability of the federal government to intervene in a more meaningful and expeditious way will hopefully be aided and abetted by a more coordinated department such as this.
I would also add that the Conservative Party, under then Prime Minister Kim Campbell, had proposed a similar bringing together of departments such as this and it was vigorously opposed by the Liberal Party of the day. Therefore, we are pleased once again to note that an idea that was proposed some years ago, much like free trade and some of the other initiatives that were taken by a previous government, has now been endorsed and very much embraced by the government.
The legislation brings into being the new department. The legislation also touches upon areas of Canada's border security, which is an extremely important entity at this time. We hope to have a more fulsome debate in the future around the issues of the border security officers themselves in terms of their own personal safety; the ability to carry firearms, for example sidearms, to issue vests and a more coordinated effort with their counterparts on the other side of the border.
The smart border initiative is something that will be the subject of further debate. More important, we hope to see implementation of some of the initiatives that have been discussed around the important issue of our border security, such as putting in place the necessary critical infrastructure and fast lanes, funding and resource allocation for the technology that will accompany the efforts to improve greater ease of traffic flow at the border and at the same time ensure the very critical level of security needed. In the future I would suspect we will also be engaging on the subject matter of a larger North American security perimeter.
Then we would get into the context of discussions around improving, in particular, our ports. This is perhaps the most vulnerable point of entry in the country today. I know there is reported activity of organized crime at ports like Halifax, Vancouver and even the port of Montreal . There is the ability currently, with the resources and technology, only to examine I believe it is in the range of 1% of the amount of container traffic that comes through the ports.
We had an incident in Halifax quite recently where an entire container went missing. That is alarming in the sense that those containers are large. We hear repeatedly of efforts made to bring contraband material and illegal immigrants into the country through the ports of entry.
While the airport security has been incredibly improved in the wake of 9/11, it is our ports now that need greater emphasis. The disbanding of the ports police by the Liberal government in 1994 has contributed to the vulnerability. That specialized police force was tasked solely with protecting and enhancing security in ports throughout Canada. I state simply for the record that this is an interest and a pursuit of the Conservative Party. We will continue to advocate for a greater degree of funding and protection of ports in Canada.
The Conservative Party and my colleague from Palliser as well as my colleague from Elgin—Middlesex—London have spoken out repeatedly against the proliferation of the long gun registry and the incredible waste that has flowed, now approaching $2 billion. Under the questionable guidance of the previous finance minister, this legislation was brought forward back in the early nineties in the wake of a terrible disaster in Montreal. It was done at that time, I would suggest, for political posturing rather than actual public safety.
It was stated at that point that the cost of such a registry would be somewhere in the range of $2 million. As it approaches $2 billion that has been identified by none other than the very impartial and very able Auditor General, this is probably the largest fraud ever perpetrated on the Canadian public in the history of this country.
The bill puts in place or brings along with the new department the Canadian Firearms Centre. The reason we moved an amendment was to ensure that there was actual clarity and actual enunciation of the various departments as opposed to the way in which it was referred to originally, simply as entities. We want to be able to track the activities and in particular the monetary shenanigans that we have seen in the past when it comes to the firearms registry, the long gun registry, which we continue to oppose on principle, not because in any way, shape or form should it ever be misconstrued as the Conservative Party not being for effective gun control.
That is a completely different issue. Hon. members know very well that the Conservative Party of the day brought in some of the most effective public safety gun control measures ever seen in this country: issues related to safe storage, to the storage of ammunition and keeping that separate from firearms.
We have had handgun registration in this country since the 1940s. The biggest problem today on the streets of large cities, even in small towns and communities, is not long guns; it is not rifles or shotguns. It is handguns; it is nine millimetres that are coming into this country illegally.
We know that the resources that have been put into this useless fiasco of a gun registry, this bureaucratic quagmire, if that money had been placed into front line policing, training or even a registry of sex offenders as opposed to inanimate objects, the public safety, the crime control, and the ability of police to enforce crime control would have increased exponentially.
The bill itself, as I indicated, is one that the Conservative Party supports in principle. It is enabling legislation that will bring together these various entities, referred to already as the firearms centre. I hope it will also lead to a greater degree of sharing of information, in particular between the RCMP and CSIS.
There is as well an effort to set up an oversight body in Parliament that will allow for a greater review by parliamentarians of the activities of CSIS, the activities of CSE, and security information gathering within the country.
I note as well that Bill C-36, the antiterrorism legislation, will be back before a committee for a mandatory review. That was put in place and will require a review of the provisions and in fact the use of those new enabling powers that were put in place under Bill C-36. I look forward to taking part in the discussions in committee on behalf of the Conservative Party along with my colleagues and members from all sides of the House. There is certainly a need for a vigorous and vigilant review of security measures in the country.
It is our hope that this new department will continue in the same vein of cooperation that we have seen thus far. We hope that continues. We hope that the minister will continue to come before the committee, as she has already done in this Parliament.
We call upon all parliamentarians to be very vigilant and serious in their examination of issues such as this that pertain to the critical area of security, given the heightened degree of threat that exists in the world today. Canada has been specifically named by none other than Osama bin Laden as a potential target. We know that there continue to be active threats in this country. The raising of funds to support terrorism continues, sadly, in Canada today.
There is much to do. There is much that we and the government can do with respect to our security forces in Canada today. Providing them with the proper resources, tools and support, first and foremost, should factor very highly on the parliamentary agenda. This legislation is now giving this department the mandate to do just that.
I see in this legislation wherein subclause 6(2) a commission or advisory committee will be set up. Given past practices, we have reason for skepticism, but it is certainly our hope that this will not become another area of patronage or an area in which the government will simply put people into positions without any form of consultation, at least not the token consultation that we saw in the appointment of Supreme Court judges. That is one other area that I highlight that appears in the bill itself.
We look forward, on behalf of the Conservative Party, to participating fully in the further discussion around this legislation.