House of Commons Hansard #140 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was security.


U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

9:30 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Chair, I would like my friend from Welland to sit back and pretend to be Condoleezza Rice watching this debate on television and listening to the chair of the justice committee and similar wording from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness who is responsible for security in this country and she hears words like “maybe we should ask them to reconsider”. They have both used those terms this evening and I think we heard it from one other member. If I were Condoleezza Rice listening to this debate, as I am sure some people from the U.S. state department probably are, I would be thinking, “They don't really care. They're not really serious”.

We have to start speaking in terms of we are demanding that this change. The member has indicated that he is fully aware, as are any number of parliamentarians on the U.S. side both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate and in fact the President himself, that this does not make sense.

Why are we not using those kinds of terms? Why is the government not being strong and forceful on this point? We have to communicate strongly the type of impact this is going to have on us and on the economy in the United States.

I would like some comments from the member in that regard.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

9:35 p.m.


John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Chair, I do not know where the hon. member is coming from by saying that we are not objecting to this and we are not saying that it does not make sense. In fact, that is what we are saying. That is what most of us have been saying here tonight.

When they say they do not really care, I met with five American politicians this morning. They care an awful lot, as do their constituents. That is why they are opposed to it and that is why they will carry that message. That is why collectively we gave that message to the assistant secretary of homeland security, Elaine Dezenski. This message is getting through loud and clear, as I am sure the Prime Minister will be telling Condoleezza Rice tonight.

I do not know where the member is coming from. This whole debate is to focus on that. The member has made a statement and so many of our members have made a statement.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

9:35 p.m.


Greg Thompson Conservative St. Croix—Belleisle, NB

Mr. Chair, one of the points that we have made and in defence of the question asked by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh is the point which I made earlier tonight. During routine proceedings we have what we call statements by ministers. Why would the Prime Minister, for over a year now, not come into the House and make it perfectly clear where the Government of Canada stands on one of the most important issues, and I do not think this is exaggeration, that could be more catastrophic than mad cow disease and softwood lumber combined? This affects every industry and every person in the country.

Why in the last year would the Prime Minister of Canada not use that opportunity to state the position of Canada very clearly, logically and forcefully on the floor of the House of Commons?

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

9:35 p.m.


John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Chair, let me indicate to the hon. member that the Government of Canada is clearly against this passport proposal. The Canadian ambassador to the United States has made this patently clear. The Prime Minister has as well. What more can we say? We are opposed to it and we do not want it implemented, but we have to deal with a sovereign country and its ability to regulate its own borders.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

9:35 p.m.


Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Chair, I am very pleased to make a few comments concerning something known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

For those just tuning into this or who are unaware of what the problem is or what that name refers to, this is an initiative that will require all travellers returning to the United States to have a passport or other accepted document that establishes the bearer's identity and nationality to enter or re-enter the United States.

This is a big change from what we have now. We have heard the comments tonight, and we get the comments, particularly those of us who live in border communities, about how devastating the impact of this will be and what a bad idea this is.

I should let the House know that a meeting took place this morning in Buffalo, New York, that was organized on the American side by Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. This was referred to by my colleague, the member for Welland.

Congresswoman Slaughter brought together several of her congressional colleagues. Senator Schumer was there. Senator Hillary Clinton was there via a conference call. The member for Welland and I were there. All the border mayors were there. There was a huge crowd because of the importance that is placed on this particular initiative and because of the impact that it can have.

Each of us were given an opportunity to say a few words. The first words that I indicated on my behalf, on behalf of those of us on the Canadian side, were that we are all in this together. This is not something that will hurt just the Canadian side of the border. That came through loud and clear from our colleagues along the American side. This is an initiative that has far-reaching consequences and that will hurt.

I should put that in the present tense. This is hurting right now. I talk to tourism operators in the Niagara area. They tell me that travel to Niagara is off. It is off at the borders because there is a misapprehension in the United States that this initiative has already been implemented. When I was in Washington a couple of months ago, I raised this with some American officials. They asked what the problem was, saying that this initiative was not coming in for two years yet. I said, “Two years? This is a problem right now”.

This is a problem right now on both sides of the border. That is one of the things that came through loud and clear. It is not because any of us there are any less worried about security than anybody else, but the point that I have made, and others have made it and have agreed with it, is that Canada is not the problem. The Canada-U.S. border is not the problem.

I can appreciate that there are international and world security issues of concern to the United States and Canada. I accept that. I recognize that. When I was in Washington, I heard considerable information about problems on the southern United States border. The Americans have a problem there, but I urge them not to bring in an initiative that will hurt us along this long, undefended border. I think it is incumbent upon all Canadian parliamentarians and everyone in this country and those in the United States who realize what is happening to urge them not to do that.

At the same time, I appreciate that we have to continue to do more for security. Indeed, in the first speech that I made in returning to this Parliament, I raised the whole question of border security. I indicated that I believe the federal government has to do more to provide security along our borders. In fact, I pointed out to the government that because the federal government was not doing enough the Niagara Regional Police has to fill in and look after some of the security concerns. I said that was wrong. It is not that the NRP is complaining about it, but it is a responsibility of the federal government.

It seems to me that if we want to head off initiatives like the one we are dealing with today, that is a pretty good place to start: start putting more money into security. It is not just me saying it. It is not just members of the Conservative Party saying it.

One of the members of the government's own caucus is saying it. One of the members' senatorial colleagues has chaired a committee report called “Borderline Insecure”, which has raised some of the issues that we have talked about in this Parliament. These are some of the legitimate security concerns at the border. I think that is one of the reasons why we have seen labour disruptions at the border. I have raised the matter a couple of times in question period and again tonight. These incidents have happened across the country, not only in Niagara.

Why do they happen? The customs officers tell me they get an alert that some dangerous criminal may or may not be heading for the Canadian border. The customs officers are completely unarmed. There are no armed police officers backing them up on a continuous basis. That is why they have had labour problems.

I have asked the question. We have had four of these work stoppages in my area. Do we have to have 40 of them before something gets done to settle some of these issues? I asked it in what I think was a very constructive way. I am asking it again because I have been informed today that the very bridge that we returned across after our meeting in Buffalo was the scene of another work stoppage.

It is not enough, in my opinion, for the parliamentary secretary to suggest to me that they have been investigated and that there are security concerns. We can debate all night about whether there are security concerns, but I know we have labour concerns. As well, I have concerns as the representative of that area that if these bridges are shut down because of labour problems this too has a huge impact on the Niagara area. It is my understanding that the traffic coming into Canada on the Peace Bridge into Fort Erie is backed up for miles.

I guess this will be like other resolutions of these things. It will take another 24 to 36 hours, but how much damage does that do? Also, does that give confidence to our American colleagues that we have a good handle on what is happening at the bridge?

These issues have to be addressed. I think they can be addressed by the government. I think it takes a great deal of determination and leadership to do that. I think it is something that should be a priority for this government, because when this border does not operate properly, everybody in this country gets hurt.

There was a reception with representatives of the Canadian auto parts industry. I was chatting with them. Some of them made the point that they are making decisions for the next five or ten years on whether that border is going to be operating properly. If they start making decisions by not locating business or not expanding their business in Canada, that too hurts all Canadians.

These are some of the issues. I have made the point, I think others have made the point, and I think the point must be made very forcefully by the government to the United States that we are not the problem. The point must be made that in finding the solutions to a problem, a problem that I believe does not exist along the Canadian-U.S. border--although we have the right to have security concerns and we want good security--to bring in an elephant gun to kill a flea is not what should be done. That is what is going to happen if we start requiring passports for everybody on either side of this border.

I am suggesting that it is not necessary. That came out unanimously this morning. We had this meeting with all these people. We were directing our comments to Acting Secretary Jasinski of Homeland Security. It was unanimous among the people there that the whole idea of passports for Canadians and Americans along the border is a bad idea.

As for the idea of what other alternatives are available, one or two individuals said something like NEXUS. I would have a little more confidence in some sort of an alternative if the NEXUS program were working better. There has been very little uptake of the NEXUS program. It is not anywhere near what CANPASS was. We can speculate on a number of reasons. I have had people tell me that it costs too much. It is basically $80 Canadian per person. For a family of four paying $300 or $400, it is costly.

More important, we have to ask ourselves if it is available to people who live along the border. How about the individual who lives in Akron and says he might want to go to Canada, up to Niagara, Toronto or Ottawa for a week? Are people going to come here if they think there is a problem or if they need some additional security other than their driver's licences?

I have urged American officials to look to upgrading driver's licences. Most people crossing the borders have licences or something similar to that. That would be a solution to whatever problem they think we are facing at the border.

However, I hope that in meetings with Condoleezza Rice and through correspondence and communications between the Prime Minister and the President they get on this thing, because if it drifts along for the next couple of years it will mean that more harm will come to trade, travel and the movement of goods and services between these two countries.

That would be a shame, because it should not happen between these two great countries, these two great friends. This matter should be addressed now before it does any more harm.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

9:45 p.m.


Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Chair, it is appropriate to thank all those who have participated and are participating today in this debate. I want to acknowledge the attitude with which my colleague from Niagara Falls stepped in.

I would like to preface my question. More than three years ago, following the events of September 11, when I was immigration minister, we were already confronted with what I call standards standardization. We had to make sure not to impede the flow of tourists and other people. We had to find solutions together to ensure that no economic problems would arise because of the security issue.

It is essential that we clearly demonstrate that we are not at the mercy of our neighbours and allies and we must control our own information. More importantly, we must stay the course regarding the importance of facilitating passenger traffic. At the time, I had instigated a meaningful debate on the establishment of a national identity card. In fact, it was an application of the biometric card.

In this regard, I have noticed a certain shift in attitude in the Conservative Party. Back then, the immigration critic and member for Calgary—Nose Hill was dead set against such an idea. I note that, now, several people think that using the same biometric technology could be an important factor.

First, we need to ensure that passenger traffic flows well. Second, we must also ensure that we maintain a certain rhythm in the flow while adapting to the new global reality.

This entire debate calls into question the very use of biometrics, while maintaining our own security policy, but in a context of openness. We must strike a balance between openness and vigilance. We must give ourselves the tools that will allow people approaching the border from either the United States or Canada not to see a wall that would prevent economic development. This is the message we must get across.

My colleague talked about the CANPASS program. We have the NEXUS program. There already were tools and extremely important elements we could use and be at the forefront.

I have a brief anecdote. When I was touring the neighbouring states, namely the State of New York—we talk about Windsor or Niagara Falls, but we must also mention Lacolle and most of the other ports of entry—at the time, we were at the forefront and we were able to use this type of tool that enabled us to continue to monitor this information.

While having a security component that facilitates trade, the issue of control may allow us to adequately implement this alternative, among other solutions. Indeed, I do not think we should be at the mercy of our American allies and neighbours. However, we should have some options and alternatives that will allow us to meet the new standardization process that is taking place at the international level.

Let us take a look at ICAO. The best example is the use of passports. At ICAO, they even decided how a passport picture should be taken.

So, what would the hon. member like to see? Perhaps it would be a change of position for his own political party. We could re-evaluate it and adopt a strategy. Parliament could look at an information policy, a policy on standards and come up with alternatives, with a working instrument, which could be biometrics.

The best example is what is called “off-line” biometrics. “On-line” biometrics means—the question is coming—that we have access to a databank. That is not the point. The idea is to have an “off-line” instrument. For example, with a scanner, there could be a sort of green light, red light. In Hong Kong, every day, 144,000 people cross the Shenzhen border and it takes 10 seconds to process each one of them.

Would the hon. member for Niagara Falls be in favour of using off-line biometrics, which would reduce waiting times for truckers and facilitate the flow of travellers, while also promoting economic development? Does he think we should revive the debate on a national identification card and on the proper use of biometrics to protect our own interests?

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

9:55 p.m.


Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Chair, this is the problem. The member does not get what the problem is. He asked why we did not study information policy, or develop new solutions, or look into adopting biometrics. Why does he not put together a course and have everyone go to the University of Ottawa or Carleton if that is what he wants to do? We have a problem right now. We have to respond to the Americans by October 31 on this very specific issue.

By clouding the issue and saying that he wants to study issues for the next 10 years is not solving the problem. We are hurting right now in Niagara and along the borders of our country. This proposal is hurting everyone and I want members of the government to get on top of this. It is not good enough to come here and ask why do we not look at other ideas, and study things.

For heaven's sake, go back to school if that is what he wants to do, but come up with solutions here. We need one solution and we need this thing scrapped. We have to make that point to the Americans.

I hope the member will encourage his colleagues to talk to Condoleezza Rice. I hope he will encourage his colleagues to tell the Prime Minister to speak up a little more loudly on this. We are looking for some leadership and initiative on this. We heard that this was talked about at one point when Vicente Fox and the Prime Minister were together with the President of the United States. That was very little for what is a very difficult and challenging problem.

I ask the Prime Minister to turn up the volume just a touch on this, if he does not mind, because this is important to all of us. I hope the member keeps that in mind. He can study solutions and come up with ideas for the rest of his life if he likes, but get on this problem right now because it needs to be addressed by the government.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

9:55 p.m.


Greg Thompson Conservative St. Croix—Belleisle, NB

Mr. Chair, the member for Niagara Falls has been to Washington on this issue. He met with Ambassador McKenna, myself and others in the ambassador's office on this very issue. From the meetings, I get the sense that the Government of Canada is missing this issue, that it has not spoken very loud about this and that it has done a very poor job of educating Canadians.

One of the reasons we wanted the debate tonight is so Canadians in our ridings will understand the issue. The government has failed to deliver that message to Canadians in terms of understanding the importance of this issue.

Why would it take the Government of Canada a year to be heard on this? In fact, we forced this debate. The government would be content to coast to the deadline without ever having this issue on the floor of the House of Commons. Why the silence on behalf of the Government of Canada?

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

9:55 p.m.


Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Chair, I salute the member for New Brunswick Southwest. I very much appreciate his leadership on Canadian-U.S. relations. His interest in this goes back quite some time and I think that is appreciated by all of us in the House of Commons.

He is quite correct. We met with Ambassador McKenna a couple of months ago, and made many of the points we have made this evening. The message we left with him and we leave with the government is to the extent that they if they can push these issues, it will be appreciated.

We heard tonight from the parliamentary secretary that a comment is underway, that nine departments are looking at that. I suppose that should inspire all of us that the government has a handle on this. I certainly hope it does. The comment was made that now is the time to examine this issue. The government will get no disagreement with us on that. This is definitely the time to have a look at this issue. I agree with the member. I wish more had been done on this earlier. However, we have a deadline to meet and we have to pull together for the benefit of our country.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

9:55 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario


Walt Lastewka LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to join with my colleagues in speaking on an issue that could have a very serious and negative impact, not only in my riding but on the whole Niagara region, the province of Ontario and indeed, the entire country.

At first I was going to congratulate my colleague from New Brunswick Southwest and chair of the Canada-U.S. parliamentary committee leading in this debate tonight. Unfortunately, it has become more partisan than a good debate.

It is very important that all members of the House make our statements very clear, that we recognize a real threat to the economic state of our particular regions and to our country.

The proposed western hemisphere travel initiative is naturally a concern to Canadian and American citizens and the respective representatives who live near the Canada-U.S. border. We live on the border, we do business on the border and we have friends on either side of the border. Our communities are straddling the border.

In many cases local issues and concerns do not stop and start at an imaginary line called the international border. These issues and concerns are shared. In many cases common solutions are found. However, I feel this issue goes beyond being just a local concern and that every member of Parliament, whether they are close to the border or not, should be concerned about this proposal. The consequences could be damaging and could have a long, lasting consequence.

I recognize that this initiative did not originate from the Government of Canada. This is an initiative of the United States government. One may ask, what do we think we can do about it? Is it not a waste of time and effort to Canadian parliamentarians to debate the pros and cons of an American law? It probably would be if the implications for Canada and for all Canadians were not so serious.

The western hemisphere trade initiative could have and, in my opinion, would have a damaging economic impact on Canada as a whole.

The Government of Canada has raised objections with this in mind. The Canadian ambassador to the United States has raised objections. I believe that parliamentarians in Canada have an obligation to object and to work toward an alternate solution.

Our criticism of the western hemisphere trade initiative must be based on fact. I can understand the demand for further security within the United States, particularly in this post-9/11 world. The Americans want a secure country. I want the same for my country. I believe initiatives such as this do not further the cause of internal security. It could in fact have the opposite effect and create a sense of false security on both sides of the border.

Unfortunately, the motives of a passport holder cannot be obtained by either U.S. or Canadian authorities. Past experience shows us that those who have committed acts of terrorism have been in our respective countries while holding valid passports and valid visas. Therefore, is it possible to determine an individual's motive if they have a passport or if they possess all other types of personal and national identification? I think not.

On another point, I can see no other results from this initiative than disruption and damage to the large trading relationship on earth. Over $1 billion a day are traded over the Canada-U.S. border. The livelihood of tens of millions of people on both sides of the border depend on the free flow of goods and services across the border.

There is more than a possibility of this economic relationship being disrupted. If this initiative goes through, we can count on disruption at the very least, and probably worse.

The situation, even for the casual visitor, becomes strained. Eighty per cent of American citizens do not have a passport and 60% of Canadian citizens do not have passports. If the western hemisphere trade initiative becomes law, I would imagine that the casual, cross-border visit would almost become a thing of the past. What would this cost us?

Ambassador McKenna has been quoted as saying that we could expect a $2 billion hit to our tourism industry. As a member of Parliament for the Niagara region, I see every day just what the tourism industry means to the region.

Nationally the tourism industry tops $58 billion and Niagara is a major contributor and a major beneficiary of that industry.

More than 16 million people from around the world, many from the United States, visit the Niagara region each year. According to the Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce, and I congratulate it for its work in this regard, the number of tourists has fallen recently due to the very mention of the passport requirement and many people thought the proposal was in fact law already. We can see the effect of this initiative before the requirement even comes into place.

In economic terms the effect of the western hemisphere travel initiative could be devastating. Tourism would be affected, cross-border commerce would be disrupted and cultural links that have developed over hundreds of years could be broken.

I need not remind members of Parliament that the United States is our largest trading partner by far. We all know that, but it is our job to remind our fellow legislators across the border in the United States that their largest trading partner, by far, is Canada. This is a fact that is all too often overlooked.

Former U.S. ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci agrees that the recent congressional legislation could be disastrous. He said:

The problem is that so relatively few Americans have passports, so it's really on the U.S. side. Enforcing that could be a real problem, for tourism, trade, you name it. The White House gets it, the president has already voiced misgivings. On the other hand, there has to be some mechanism to track people's movements. I think technology will be our friend here again, that we'll figure out another way. My prediction is that (legislation) will be delayed.

I hope he is correct.

My conclusion is that the western hemisphere travel initiative would simply create a mess and further strain our cultural, social and economic links. This is something that none of us on either side of the border can afford. I urge the Minister of Foreign Affairs to continue pressing the United States government in the strongest possible terms on the consequences of this action. Security is and should remain a top priority for all North Americans, but I am afraid this initiative would do little if anything to create a more secure continent.

If a passport guaranteed security for our American friends and for those of us at home, I would be the first one for it, but the fact is that there is no guarantee. The only result from the western hemisphere travel initiative would the chaos and disruption at our borders, leading to chaos and disruption in the very fabric of the economy and society in both Canada and the United States.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

10:05 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to ask my colleague a question, the former chair of the industry committee, on which I sat with him for a number of years. One of the reasons we are even having this debate is because the member for New Brunswick Southwest brought forward in a motion, which is very appropriate with Ms. Rice in town. It is an opportunity for the government to clear the record.

The member mentioned that the President has talked about this. We know Governor Pataki, a Republican, has talked about this as has Senator Clinton. Where has the Prime Minister been in terms of a specific comment to the public to set direction and to give confidence to the tourism industry that will be impacted by this?

The member would know that the industry committee has responsibility for the tourism file. When I asked the tourism commission back on April 11 about this being one of the biggest challenges, Ms. Michele McKenzie responded:

The research we're pursuing right now, just on the passport issue, is going to cost us in the vicinity of $50,000 as a specific piece of research.

We are not budgeting for the passport issue per se, we're a marketing organization and we will use that information to help us market more effectively, given the concerns we have around this issue.

Thankfully, that later on turned into a $200,000 study, which has been completed. We know economic repercussions from this would be a loss of around $2 billion over three years in Canada and a loss of around $800 million loss in the United States in the same timeframe.

Where has the Prime Minister been on this? Where is that leadership, given the fact that Mr. Bush has intervened on this? Why has our Prime Minister not made a public statement about this? The economic ramifications are there as are they socially. Why is the Prime Minister not leading the charge at this point in time? Will we see him make a statement today with Ms. Rice? Has he expressed that to any members of the government? Is it only because we have had to shame him into this situation? Will he make a comment tomorrow and will it be stronger than what has been presented tonight by the parliamentary secretary, or should we just ask for them not to do it at all? Will it be specific in terms of cancellation? We have not had that commitment, and I want to know where the Prime Minister is on this at this point in time.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

10:10 p.m.


Walt Lastewka Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand what the member is trying to get at but he is trying to put a lot of rhetoric around it.

It has been made very clear. This is an American proposal. The Americans want to put this law forward. A lot of American congressmen and senators are against it and the President is against it.

The member should know better. He should be contacting each and every one of the congressmen across the border in Michigan and making sure they are speaking against it.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

10:10 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

We have done that.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

10:10 p.m.


Walt Lastewka Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Is the member finished?

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

10:10 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Don't make accusations.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

10:10 p.m.


Walt Lastewka Liberal St. Catharines, ON

The member needs to talk with his members. That is the key. I agree with the member for Niagara Falls who said that Canada was not the problem. This is bad legislation.

We should be getting out of the rhetoric business. All four parties in the House need to tell the American legislators that they do not agree with their proposal for this passport requirement. It is causing damage today because it has been misunderstood. No one knows when it will start in the U.S. People today think it is the law. The member should be talking about that. He should be speaking against the U.S. legislators who are speaking for this legislation. I have spoken about this issue many times. I met with congressmen and senators over the summer.

I agree with the member for Niagara Falls and the member for Welland who talked about the meeting held this morning. It is very important that we continue to work with the members. This was a topic at the Canada-U.S. committee held this fall. This is how things get done in the U.S. They work at every level to make things happen and the member knows that.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

10:10 p.m.


Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, surely the hon. member knows that how to get things done is to actually take action. What has been missing on this file is the Prime Minister himself, as he is missing tonight, missing in action, not taking action. It is all about photo ops as opposed to follow ups.

I visited the Windsor crossing this summer with my colleague from Essex. One of the most apparent things there is the issue of the Ambassador Bridge. People can drive onto the bridge from either side without being stopped until they are encountered on the other side. Reverse clearance would simply address this issue but yet again on such a critical issue, where $1 billion in trade a day takes place, the government is doing nothing.

My colleague talks about rhetoric. The air has been thick with rhetoric tonight from the government side and yet it was not until my colleague from New Brunswick Southwest, as was pointed out, the chair of the Canada-U.S. Parliamentary Association, took the initiative to bring this matter before Parliament. It was not the government that initiated this important debate.

Some of the other important groups, like Canadian-American Border Trade Alliance, have been talking about this issue. Members of the opposition have been talking about this issue, certainly those affected on both sides of the border. Businesses, individuals, Canadians and Americans both are concerned and yet where is the big, gaping, vacuous hole in the debate? It is the Prime Minister, as he is on so many important issues, until a poll might be done to tell him what to do.

This is not the time to dilly-dally any further or to dither away on such an important matter that is going to cause catastrophic results should this legislation proceed. As my colleague has pointed out, the BSE crisis and the softwood crisis do not even compare to the impact economically that this will have, as well as the security concerns.

I ask my colleague again, as my friend from Windsor did, why has the Prime Minister waited and dithered on such an important issue knowing full well the catastrophic impact it will have on the Canadian economy? Even tonight we have nobody from the government side prepared to come forward to state unequivocally that this will be addressed with Condoleezza Rice. He is right to say that members of the Congress and members of the Senate in the United States are pulling back on this. The President himself unequivocally stated reservations about this legislation.

Where is the Prime Minister? Where is a single, solitary, on the record public statement suggesting, as my colleague from Niagara said, that we are opposed to this and that we, in no uncertain terms, recognize that this will have a terrible impact on our economy? What we have heard time and time again is the provocative, objectionable language from the government directed toward the United States, including from the ambassador recently, I am quick to add.

The Canadian ambassador suggested--wait for it--that the American government is dysfunctional. I know the American system of government is not perfect but imagine those words coming from a government in a country where we have an unelected Senate, where we do not review judicial appointments and where we have all kinds of difficulties in the government with respect to corruption. It is like the Prime Minister going to the United Nations and lecturing on corruption and keeping one's word. Can anyone imagine? Talk about taking hypocrisy to catastrophic new heights.

The government has no lessons to give the Americans when it comes to dysfunctional government. Forceful, straightforward, diplomatic language is what is needed on this file, not provocative, insulting language about the President, not the type of language that we have heard coming from members of the government benches toward the American people. That kind of objectionable language does not get us anywhere. It does not move this file or any other file forward. What it does is suggest that somehow we are preaching from the pulpit. What it truly suggests and what we know is coming in the coming days in this election is, of course, domestic politics, which is bashing the Americans for the purposes of gaining electoral support.

I ask the hon. member opposite to tell us when the Prime Minister will show up on this file.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

10:15 p.m.


Walt Lastewka Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I heard earlier from the parliamentary secretary that this discussion would be held with Ms. Condoleezza Rice and the Prime Minister. I know the member wanted to harp on it and did not want to listen to the parliamentary secretary but while he was doing all his tactics I noticed that he conveniently missed the fact that this government has had no deficit for eight years, that it has been paying down the debt and that his Conservative government left this country in 1993 with a $44 billion deficit, the highest debt ever in this country.

I noticed that he conveniently missed that. He needs to be reminded that his government was a total disgrace and left this country almost bankrupt in 1993 which is why the Conservatives got thrown out of government.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

10:15 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, perhaps at this point we can insert a little more civility into the exchange in the House.

I rise this evening to speak to the western hemisphere travel initiative which, as I heard one of my colleagues say, is really a misnomer because this is not at all about travel initiatives. It is just the opposite. It is about inhibiting the free flow of both passengers and cargo across the Canada and U.S. borders.

The point I want to make very succinctly is that this will be a catastrophe.

My colleague from Windsor West has already pointed out that a study has been undertaken and produced as to the impact. I have to say that study almost certainly does not fully encompass the damage it will do to the Canadian economy and equally to the American economy.

We can speak to this from the Windsor area with a great deal of expertise because of our experience ever since 9/11 struck us.

Since 9/11 we have had the chambers of commerce on both sides of the border say that the economies of the three states immediately bordering us and the province of Ontario have lost billions of dollars. The last figures I saw for the end of 2004 were approximately $12 billion to the economy of Ontario and roughly $7.5 billion U.S. to $8 billion U.S. to the economy in the U.S. What we are expecting to see as a result of this passport initiative on the part of the U.S. government is an increase in those losses in the billions of dollars.

To make this simple and clear, I always point to the gaming industry in Windsor and in Niagara Falls. They are probably both going to take a hit of at least a couple of hundred million dollars just in that one industry. That does not include the rest of the hospitality industry that feeds off the gaming industry in those two cities. This will be multiplied right across this country and on both sides of the border.

A number of times this evening I heard members from the government side say that maybe we should be investigating alternatives. I want to say very clearly to them, from all the experience I have had as a representative on the public security subcommittee of the justice committee, that there is no alternative. We have heard about drivers' licences. It is not an alternative. It does not work because we do not have the technology to make it work.

It was interesting to hear the former minister of immigration talk about his high-falutin idea of an ID card. It does not work. The technology is not there. We are nowhere close enough to a foolproof system in biometrics to make an ID card work.

Suggestions have been made about using our SIN number and SIN card, similar to the one they have on the U.S. side but , again, we do not have the technology to make that work.

There is no alternative. The only approach we can take as a government is to convince the U.S. that there is no alternative, that this recommendation, which has now turned into legislation, has to be reversed. At the very least, we need legislation moving through both the Congress, that is the House of Representatives, and the Senate in the U.S. to back this up to see if somewhere further down the road we might be able to develop technology that would make this possible. However it is clearly premature at this time because we cannot do it.

We, the border caucus on the Canadian side, have been meeting quite regularly, both in person, by telephone and through written communication, with the northern border caucus from the U.S. side. These are members of Congress from the House of Representatives. We have had a great deal of exchange. The points that I have just made have all been canvassed and been accepted by both sides, that we cannot do it and that these phases that are coming have to be delayed at the very minimum.

The concern that we have primarily is that we all know as parliamentarians, as legislators, how difficult it is to get a piece of legislation through our respective parliaments and on the U.S. side, the house of representatives and the senate, and on to the President for signature. That is what is required in this case because this law has already been passed. It is quite clear that for a number of representatives on the U.S. side, they just missed the boat.

Senator Clinton has been very clear in her admissions that it came as a shock to her that this provision had been in the legislation that she had in fact approved as it went through the senate. We have heard the same thing from a number of other members of the house of representatives and the senate. However, in order to correct that, there is only one way to do it.

This is not something where politicians can stand up and say they are going to postpone it. There has to be a piece of legislation and I am not hearing from the government any sense of the crisis that we are faced with and the urgency of getting the federal government on the U.S. side to accept that it is going to have to pass a piece of legislation doing one of two things. It must either repeal the provisions of the three phase-in periods for the demand for passports if one wants to go back into the United States, whether one is an American or a Canadian, or from some other country. Or, if it is not prepared to go that far, then it must pass a piece of legislation that would authorize either the President or some other person of the administration to delay the implementation of this until we in fact can do it effectively, from a technological standpoint and from a manageable cost efficient standpoint as well.

In that regard, the provisions that we have at the present time for providing passports are overtaxed, both on the Canadian side and on the U.S. side. Americans have many fewer passports on a per capita basis than we do, but neither one of the countries, neither Canada nor the United States, could in fact meet the demand that will be forthcoming for these passports.

We cannot do it in Canada in that short period of time nor can the United States. It is just not feasible for this to be implemented from a practical standpoint. We do not have the resources on either side of the border to make that many passports available to our citizenry in that period of time. It is not possible to do that.

I want to finish with the point that has been made repeatedly this evening but has to be emphasized. We know that a good number of the legislators on the U.S. side realize now that this bill when it went through should not have gone through. In fact, it was a mistake. President Bush himself has made comments using terminology around the sanity of the people who passed this and the intelligence levels of the people who passed this law. He made those remarks off the cuff, but they were an accurate reflection of what happened. This does not meet the test of reality and it has to be changed. There is strong support for that.

I have heard a number of comments from columnists in our newspapers that the debate this evening was going to be anti-American. It shows the ignorance of those commentators because we know that a majority of the senate and the house of representatives realize now that this piece of legislation was a mistake. It is not anti-American; it is not necessarily even pro-Canadian. It is simply facing the reality that this is not a feasible process and that the U.S. Congress, senate and house of representatives, and ultimately the President, have to move a piece of legislation to repeal this law.

Let me make one final point going back to the impact that this is going to have if we do not change it. I went through and analyzed just the economy in my home riding. We have a sizeable gaming industry now. It is the fourth largest employer in the city of Windsor. We have a reasonably sizeable convention industry.

We have a large number of cultural exchanges between ourselves and the United States. We have sports teams, mostly youth teams that move back and forth on a regular basis. We have a great number of people who go over to the United States and vice versa. People come to Canada for recreational purposes. We have a large number of people who work on the U.S. side but live on the Canadian side. Finally, we have a good number of students who move back and forth on both sides of the border. Every single one of those categories are going to be negatively impacted by this law. Hardly any part of the economy is not going to be touched.

Therefore, there is a crisis. It is one that the government has not been meeting face on. It is time for it to do that.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

10:25 p.m.

Pickering—Scarborough East Ontario


Dan McTeague LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the hon. member for Windsor--Tecumseh. He speaks with a calmness and a reasonable approach in terms of his argument that allows us to understand not only his perspective but more plentifully the size and magnitude of this very serious problem.

It is not the first time, certainly in contemporary times, where a decision taken in the United States will have far-reaching impacts well beyond its border. I am thinking of course of matters that will also affect us in the not too distant future: the issue of solid waste as well as the issue of daylight savings time.

It seems to me that the member is certainly on to something as far as how we handle this issue. He has pointed out that an initiative to deal with Americans returning to their own country with passports, from almost a purely domestic perspective, seems to be at variance and odds with what the American government and two other nations signed not more than seven months ago with the security and prosperity partnership of North America.

I spoke very briefly with the hon. member beforehand. If I am to read the agreement that was concluded between Canada, Mexico and the United States when they gathered in Waco, Texas in March of this year, it talks among other things about the establishment of a common approach to security to protect North America from external threats. The agreement was concluded to respond to threats within North America; further streamline the secure and efficient movement of legitimate low risk traffic across borders; implement a common border security via protection strategies; and implement border facilitation strategy to build a capacity to improve the legitimate flow of people and cargo.

It sounds to me as if this particular agreement which took place well after the legislation had passed is not just a sleeper issue but it shows perhaps a dichotomy in the United States of what the executive branch is saying and doing, and what legislators are doing at the same time.

It may also help express the very short period of time in which we have been provided comment. As the hon. member knows, we have only had since September 1. Armed with this as a treaty, I would quickly conclude that it is the will of the American people to work cooperatively, on all matters dealing with their security and their border, with the two nations with which they have so much in common, particularly Canada.

We are seeing in rapid succession a number of initiatives which seem to be domestic in nature. I know his colleague, the member for Windsor West, took exception to my comments about the domestic purpose or intent. However, it seems very clear that, given the size and the stature of the American economy and its influence which we are dealing with in other areas, as has been a question of generations of this Parliament in the past, we are now dealing with the necessity of understanding legislation as it is passed and its potential implications and indeed its potential contradictions. How would the hon. member rectify and get around this law, not just for the sake of government but for the sake of finding unanimity?

We can tell the Americans that this is the wrong thing to do. However, with so many other things, it is being done for what they perceive to be their own interest and it is a pretty hard argument to make.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

10:30 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I always have the sense that when the parliamentary secretary asks those questions, he is asking me to do the job of the government. We are used to carrying a heavy burden for the government since it seems to have difficulty in getting things done, but I will respond.

The Waco agreement is an agreement in fairly general terms. It does make reference to all three governments, Canada, Mexico and the United States, and how they should deal with problems of documentation and facilitating border crossing by their respective citizens. Unfortunately, that agreement does not have the status of a treaty. It would be up against very specific legislation in the United States.

It is another bit in our arsenal to convince the U.S. senate and house of representatives that they should repeal or at the very least, delay the legislation, but it is nothing more than that. The agreement is not binding on the United States. It is not binding on us or on Mexico to the degree that we would have to follow through with legislation. At best, it has moral suasion on the United States. I suppose we can use it for that purpose.

My sense is that the practical arguments that I raised in my opening address are much stronger, both in terms of the negative impact on the economy and just the practicality that we cannot produce the passports. We cannot produce an alternative document because the technology is not there, nor do we have the efficiencies within our system to produce that many passports in the period of time we would have to.

The final point I would make in terms of relying on the agreement is that we have seen so many times, and this was one of the points the parliamentary secretary was making, especially with this administration that when it appears to have made commitments at the international level and when those commitments clash with what it sees as its self-interest, it unilaterally rejects and repudiates agreements. We cannot rely very heavily on this administration following through. The practical arguments make much more sense in convincing it.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

10:35 p.m.


Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have had an incredible loss of tourism in the Essex-Windsor region since 9/11. In fact, we have never recovered from it. I think of times when people used to pull up their boats from Jefferson Beach Marina across the way, at Duffy's in Amherstburg, or they used to pull into Belle River and enjoy the town life there. They have not come back and our restaurants are closing or they are near to closing down. Many of them had 80% U.S. clientele. Our hotel vacancy rates are hovering at 50% or lower.

We have just not been able to recover since 9/11 and now we have this western hemisphere travel initiative. It is a nice sort of euphemism, but it threatens to put the nail in the coffin on tourism in our region. The border communities in Essex-Windsor also face something interesting that the member for Windsor—Tecumseh talked about, the economic devastation that would come with this law.

We have integrated families in the region. We face the absurd reality that families would now have to get passports just to visit relatives or vice versa or maybe to see a Tigers ball game across the river because that is where the professional sports are. It is going to present enormous challenges.

Maybe up here in Ottawa, where the border reality is with the province of Quebec, it is not understood what is going on in border communities. That is shameful. The Prime Minister has been absent on this issue. I will give credit to members of the border caucus, the members for Windsor—Tecumseh and Windsor West, who have been out in front on this. It has not been the government.

Does the member believe the Prime Minister will finally end his silence and stand up for Canadians and our families in border regions? What is it going to take for the Prime Minister to end his silence and defend Canadians against this initiative?

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

10:35 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting, but I do not think I have an answer for what it is going to take. I would have thought that the three opposition parties, the Bloc, the Conservatives and ourselves, have done everything we could to draw this to the attention of the Prime Minister, who quite frankly should know better. The Prime Minister is from the Windsor area. I represent the riding that his father used to represent. The Prime Minister's former home is only four blocks from the Detroit River. Any parliamentarian, other than perhaps the three of us from the Windsor area, should understand intimately the impact this initiative has.

Why the Prime Minister has not been out front on this issue is a very negative comment about him. Quite frankly, I do not have a lot of hope. In this case I think it is going to be the opposition parties that eventually are going to carry the day and convince the U.S. government that it has to make the changes to this legislation.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

10:35 p.m.

Yukon Yukon


Larry Bagnell LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak in this debate tonight because it is important for the people in my area. We share a border with the United States.

For the people who have tuned in late tonight, or early tonight if they are from my riding of Yukon, I would like to let them know what we are discussing. The United States is proposing to put in laws requiring that anyone going to the United States will need a passport or some secure document like that. This would also include American citizens returning to the U.S.

Of course every country determines its own security requirements, but this would have a devastating impact on the tourism industry in both Canada and the United States. In particular, it will have a devastating impact on the tourism industry in my part of Canada, which is perhaps one of only two provinces and territories where tourism is the biggest private sector employer.

As members know, my very large riding shares a very large border with the U.S. My riding is made up of 482,443 square kilometres. We are bordered on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the east by the Northwest Territories, on the south by British Columbia, and on the west by our neighbours in the state of Alaska.

I find it interesting to be discussing legislation that originates in the United States and is intended to help address its security concerns but which fails to recognize the scope of the economic impact it will have on Americans as well as us.

I want to take a closer look at the facts and the impact the legislation will have on the Yukon territory and on our just over 30,000 residents. We have four border crossings in my riding at which we welcome our American friends and other travellers into Yukon. Often there is just a daily interaction between Alaskans and Yukoners going back and forth across the border in a very informal manner and helping each other's economies. Our four border crossings are Beaver Creek, Fraser, Little Gold and Pleasant Camp, all very welcoming ports of entry.

So much so that the most recent figures I have on entries into the Yukon show a 2.4% increase in travellers, up from the same period last year. Figures indicate that by the middle of this summer, 82,159 travellers had entered the Yukon, an increase of nearly 2,000 travellers from the same time last year. Over the course of a full year the Yukon welcomes over 316,000 visitors. As indicated earlier, with the size of my riding and its population, that is a very respectable number of tourists who visit us and they are very important for our economy.

Whether they come by charter boat or bus operations or are business or day trippers from nearby Alaskan communities, these travellers represent tourism, a $165 million a year business in Yukon. In fact, 890 businesses service or are involved in the tourism trade.

There are some given concerns on this proposed legislation. For example, from our perspective, the cost of a passport for either Yukon or Alaska residents may be prohibitive, which means they would not be travelling to either the state or the territory, which in turn would result in a decrease in border traffic. This is particularly cogent in regard to those who have lower incomes and just want a short holiday across the border to a place that they can just drive to for the day. It will also have an impact on people with large families when the cost adds up for the number of passports required, in either country.

Too, residents of both sides may have concerns about the process and the timing in obtaining passports when they decide to just go across the border for the day. I am happy in this respect, though. Our office was dealing with huge numbers, with over 7,000 passports. After encouragement from us, the Canadian government has opened a passport office in Whitehorse, Yukon. I want to highly commend foreign affairs and the government for doing this. It has been very helpful. We have heard great reports from citizens of Yukon about how efficient the office is and how well it is doing in providing passports.

I do not believe that this U.S. legislation clearly addresses the requirements that might also be placed on the first nation communities. There are large first nation communities in Alaska and Yukon. They have unique status and it must be respected. It is not clear how these new rules might respect that.

As I mentioned, our tourism industry is very closely tied in with that of our counterparts in Alaska. I remember from the years when I was directing the Tourism Canada office in Yukon how important it was, how many relationships and conventions there were, and how we worked together to bring tourists from around the world to Yukon and Alaska.

The ties are so close that in a number of cases we actually have joint marketing strategies. We have initiatives where we work together. It is a win-win situation. If we have the implementation of this new initiative, these joint marketing initiatives could become ineffective and they may not exist at all. Of course we would both lose economically from not having tourists from other parts of the world come to our areas.

Of course these types of effects are not related only to Yukon. I am spending most of my time talking about the effects on Yukon, but of course they would be pervasive right across Canada and the United States. This will have harmful effects on the tourism industry and tourism businesses in both the United States and Canada.

I want to compliment the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada and the Canadian Tourism Commission for the work they have done in developing the statistics and studying this issue. This has been helping us continue to make the arguments about the problems this initiative would cause for two countries that have friendly interaction, very successful business tourism interaction and the world's friendliest border.

The study proposes that over the period from 2005 to 2008 Canada would lose 7.7 million inbound trips. That is 7.7 incursions into Canada from the United States of people who would be coming here to enjoy Canada, invest in our tourism businesses and help build the economy in Canada.

That would add up to about $1.7 billion in international tourism receipts. By anybody's standards, a loss of $1.7 billion if this initiative is put in place, give or take a little depending on the estimates, would have a major crippling effect on our tourism industry.

We would not lose all of that, but we would lose most of it. A small amount would be made up by domestic substitutions. Canadians who did not have a passport to get into the United States would stay in Canada for their trips, but that would be a very small number. It is still estimated that there would be a loss to the Canadian tourism industry--including, as I said, the biggest private sector employer in my jurisdiction--of a total for Canada of $1.6 billion.

The important thing for people in the United States to remember is that the same negative effect on the economy of the United States would occur. It would not be identical, but very similar. The Americans would lose their projected 3.5 million trips from Canadians going into the United States to invest money, especially into the border states, which recognize this. That would be an estimated loss of $85 million in tourism receipts. The businesses in the United States would lose.

I think this is partly because of the great relationship we have between our two countries. It is the longest undefended border. We just go back and forth as if we are making trips between friends. That is why only about 34% of U.S. citizens over 18 have passports and only 41% of Canadians do, less than half. We can see how vast numbers of trips could not be completed.

I want to say that this means $165 million in business to my community, which is very, very important. We could lose up to half of that, our local tourism industry suggests. Therefore, I urge the government to continue to keep this as a high priority.

I was in Washington and I believe that the ambassador has this as the second highest priority and is working hard on this issue. I would urge all the Canadian departments that are working on this to have a strong input into the public input period now and to keep on working on this. It is very important to the tourism industry in both countries.

U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel InitiativeGovernment Orders

10:45 p.m.


Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to take part in this take note debate on the U.S. government's western hemisphere travel initiative, or WHTI.

The WHTI is a major concern for all MPs who have border ridings with towns that depend on the tourism that crosses the 49th parallel, or for the Canadian economy generally. The WHTI may include a passport-only policy that would slow and even reduce the movement of Canadians and Americans across the border.

I represent South Surrey--White Rock--Cloverdale which has the busiest north-south corridor in western Canada. Seven million vehicles cross this corridor every year and a passport-only policy will have a major impact. Tourist dependent businesses such as hotels, gas stations, restaurants and duty free shops are all projected to suffer significant losses should the WHTI go ahead with the passport-only provision written in the regulations.

I also serve here in Parliament as one of the four co-chairs of the parliamentary border caucus, a non-partisan caucus that draws on members from all four parties who have an interest in trade and security issues affecting the border. I know many members of the border caucus have already written to the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security to encourage him to seriously reconsider the impact of a passport-only policy. Such a policy would likely have a negative effect on tourism, on individual and family finances, and possibly even on some aspects of long term security. Before I examine these issues in further detail, I want to reflect on the importance of the Canada-U.S. relationship.

We share the world's longest undefended border and the world's largest trading partnership. More than a quarter million Canadians were born in the U.S. and a whopping 650,000 Americans were born in Canada. More than 2.5 billion telephone calls were made between Canada and the U.S. last year and more than 14 million air travellers made their way north or south. More than $190 billion in American exports made their way to Canada last year, the top export destination for goods from 37 of the 50 United States. Almost all of that trade happened duty free because of NAFTA. In fact the U.S. exports more to Canada than to Britain, France, Germany, Japan and China combined. U.S. exports to Canada kept 5.2 million Americans employed last year.

I want to make it clear from the outset that I strongly support the broad goals of the WHTI and the added peace and security it will bring to the United States and North America. However, I do have serious concerns about how the regulations will be written and implemented by the Department of Homeland Security.

The legislation, as we know, includes a plan to require all Canadian citizens and U.S. citizens to have passports or comparable secure ID in order to enter or re-enter the U.S. This is an eminently sensible requirement. Our concern arises over what the Department of Homeland Security's requirements for secure ID will entail.

Let me be clear. I believe that the current system of admittance to the U.S. from Canada involving either a passport or government issued photo ID, usually a driver's licence of health card, combined with proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or citizenship card, should continue to constitute acceptable identification. As I will explain shortly, there are good public policy reasons for doing so. Of course, legitimate concerns have been raised by various U.S lawmakers that some state issued ID documents in particular do not contain enough security features to constitute secure ID.

We accept that some and perhaps all jurisdictions may need to increase the level of security features in their issued ID documents. However, the lack of adequate security features in some documentation should not be cause for rejecting the current system of photo ID and proof of citizenship out of hand. In other words, we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, I would encourage the Department of Homeland Security to set appropriate minimum security standards for state issued ID which individual jurisdictions could then choose to meet in the best interests of their constituents. Such minimum standards for ID might include tamper resistance or better quality paper stock or the inclusion of new biometric features or technology.

Of course, as I think we can all quickly understand, raising the standards for the security of ID would be of benefit in more areas than simply border security.

Let us remember that both Canadian and American governments have risen to meet this sort of challenge before. We have not stopped using paper money just because some criminals chose to counterfeit it. Rather, we produced new bills with enhanced design and quality to defeat attempts at counterfeiting. I believe we can and must meet the same challenge with respect to government issued identification.

Failure to meet this challenge will be very costly. Approximately 300,000 people travel between Canada and the U.S. every day. The introduction of a rigid passport-only requirement can be expected to have an extremely detrimental effect on this cross-border travel, causing huge economic losses in tourism for both Canada and the United States.

According to a research study put out by the Canadian Tourism Commission in July of this year, tourism losses on the Canadian side alone would amount to nearly $1 billion annually by 2008 as the total U.S. trips to Canada fall by 12.3%. The cost is not only to the economy. There are significant concerns with the cost and feasibility of obtaining passports for both Canadian and American families.

Under the WHTI, even children would be required to have an individual passport. Currently, only 41% of Canadians hold passports. The cost of obtaining a standard passport in Canada, good for five years only, is $87 Canadian. For the average family of four, the $348 cost of obtaining passports for travel south becomes a hefty financial burden discouraging irregular travel. If a family vacation will cost an additional $350 before leaving home, many families may choose to vacation elsewhere.

In the same way, Americans would also suffer from these new passport requirements. Even fewer Americans hold passports, currently just 34%, and standard U.S. passports cost $97 U.S., although they are good for 10 years.

Not only are the financial burdens of this legislation significant, but they may actually present a new and unintended security risk. The new requirement to have easy and regular access to passports, especially in many of our border communities, would likely result in many Canadians and Americans changing their behaviour and storing their passports in their glove compartments or purses rather than securely in their homes. The risk of theft of these items would become increasingly serious if such changes in behaviour took place.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the number of international travellers to the U.S. was 40.4 million in 2003. This is a sharp decline from 2000 when a record 50.9 million international travellers visited the United States. Obviously September 11 had and continues to have a major impact on the U.S. travel and tourism sectors. We can well appreciate the U.S. demand to prevent another terrorist attack. At the same time, if barriers to entry are made too high, the U.S. travel and tourism sectors could suffer as well. Even a 1% decline in travel to the U.S. eliminates 172,000 jobs, according to the commerce department.

Some members of the border caucus joined me on the Hill recently for a meeting with representatives of the cruise ship industry. We heard how the passport-only requirement would cause severe headaches for cruise ship patrons travelling up the west coast of North America to Alaska.

According to the industry, the majority of passengers do not currently own passports. Other concerns have arisen as well. How will students taking part in cross-border sporting events or school outings be treated? Will only well off families be able to afford a passport so their children can take part? Or will schools and teams just say they can no longer participate in these activities? I think that would be a tragedy and would not serve the long term interest that both Canada and the U.S. share of developing a relationship with our neighbours.

Finally, what about emergency personnel? There are many small border towns that have traditionally relied upon one another in times of trouble. Would appropriate emergency vehicles be prevented from racing to the scene of an accident just over the border simply because of the passport issue? I hate to think of what kind of unintended consequences may arise if this policy is allowed to pass without due consideration.

In conclusion, the problems created by a passport-only requirement would be significant. Among these would be increased costs for families, heightened security concerns with theft of documents and substantial economic losses in tourism, especially to border states and towns.

We do not believe such a requirement would be the best answer to meeting the security concerns of North America. Instead, let us work toward improving the security features in a range of government issued ID for the benefit of all Canadians and Americans.