Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a few minutes to join in on this very important debate today.
Our relationship with many countries of the world is important, but I suggest that there is none more important in terms of our trade relationship, as two countries side by side, than our relationship with the United States. Many of us have put a lot of time and effort into building that relationship, as governments have in the past as well, in establishing that very issue of communication.
Unfortunately, we have not been as successful as we should have been and as I believe we could have been. The comments that I will refer to shortly clearly point out that no matter how hard we seem to keep trying as parliamentarians, we are not getting our message out there, and calling on the government to do more is a logical thing to do, given the comments that were made.
Therefore, I am pleased to be commenting in the debate on the motion put forward by my colleague from Ajax—Pickering as the official opposition critic for public safety.
So that everyone knows exactly what we are debating, I will read out the motion:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government has failed to take all necessary steps to ensure that the US Administration and the US Congress fully understand the critical importance of our shared border to trade and economic security in both Canada and the United States; and must ensure that the Canada-U.S. border remains an efficient gateway through which our national security, personal, and commercial interests are properly promoted and defended.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the great member of Parliament from Davenport, who has a lot of comments on this and has put a lot of time and effort into it as well.
We have a very special relationship, as I mentioned, with the United States, a unique partnership with a long and sometimes colourful history, where we always try to be respectful of distinct jurisdictions, principles and values, but it never ceases to amaze me how little the Americans know about Canada, no matter how much we try.
However, lately, ill-informed U.S. officials have been making wild accusations about the security of our shared border.
It is one thing for residents in the U.S., or U.S. citizens, not to have enough knowledge about Canada and somehow still think that Eskimos are running around our great country, but when we have representatives of the U.S. government completely ill-informed, it really is a cause for concern.
By now, I think many people have heard the outrageous comments by Janet Napolitano, the new Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security. She said:
Nonetheless, to the extent that terrorists have come into our country or suspected or known terrorists have entered our country across a border, it's been across the Canadian border. There are real issues there.
Clearly I think we need to invite this Napolitano to come to Canada more often so that she can really see that we have a very good security system and we continue to make it better, and the terrorists did not come from Canada.
When a reporter asked her if she was referring to the 9/11 terrorists, she answered:
Not just those but others as well.
I am uncomfortable even repeating the words she said, but we must fight back on things like that, because people have a way of only hearing a negative and that sits in their minds and they start to believe these things. Those comments have been made and have been shown many times to be completely false. To have someone in the position of Ms. Napolitano making those comments is something that I think we have to try very strongly to correct.
As if that was not bad enough, Republican presidential candidate John McCain defended her uninformed comments, someone who clearly should know better. McCain told FOX News, after Ms. Napolitano had said that she was incorrect in her comments:
Well, some of the 9/11 hijackers did come through Canada, as you know.
So we have one member of the government correcting her comments, and then we have Mr. McCain coming out and saying that she was correct in what she said, and they know that was not true.
Through this motion the opposition seeks to hold the government accountable for its failure to maintain a dialogue with our neighbour to the south and to correct misconceptions about our shared border.
In all these things, it depends on what approach is taken. How strongly does one react to those kinds of comments? I think one should act very strongly and not take it casually as if it were just somebody somewhere making those comments. The government should have reacted immediately and very aggressively to try to squelch those comments as soon as possible.
A secure border where goods and people can move efficiently and securely is critical to our relationship with our most important trading partner, the United States. More than 300,000 people cross the shared border every day. Over $1.6 billion in trade occurs every day. Approximately 70% of that trade occurs by truck transport. Once that slows down, it has a huge impact on all the businesses in Canada, as well as in the U.S. It is not just a Canadian problem, it is a problem on both sides.
Time and time again, the government has failed to make the case that a thickening of the border will not enhance U.S. security and is in fact, as I said earlier, bad for business on both sides. Just as the Conservative government dropped the ball when it came to engaging and addressing the state of our economy, it has not played an active role in shaping decisions with our trading partners.
The Conservative government has let the Canada-U.S. trade relationship deteriorate. The government's mishandling of the financial crisis and the delay in bringing forward a stimulus package has meant that Canada has missed out on the opportunity to coordinate our response to the economic crisis with our largest trading partner. This failure had all of us scrambling just a few months ago to reach U.S. legislators and overturn existing legislation when we should have been promoting Canada's interests and leading the development of Canada-U.S. trade policy.
Relationships are behind every international trade statistic, all around the world. The lack of influence that Canada appears to now hold in the United States is the result of the government's failure to foster good relationships. The total absence of a considered, strategic approach to Canada-U.S. relations brought us to the brink on the trade issue earlier, and now the border issue, and will continue to hinder the government's ability to hold sway on other matters of critical importance such as border security, climate change, and of course, the all-important auto sector that we are all very concerned about.
Canadians can rest assured that the opposition will monitor the situation very carefully and will work to make sure that the Conservatives and the government will work with the Obama administration, as they have indicated they want to.
When the Liberals were in government, we had a point person for Canada-U.S. relations. The member for Kings—Hants spent almost 100% of his time on that. He was in cabinet and his role was specifically on Canada-U.S. relations. That is the reason we were making such strides in many fields on trade.
I would think the government would be far better off if it appointed somebody specifically. It is difficult to do that along with 10 other things. To have someone who sits at the cabinet table deal specifically with Canada-U.S. relations would be very helpful, especially now.
Strained relations with the United States have surely led to many of these misconceptions about Canada, and we on this side of the House will continue to work to ensure that those communications continue through at least the Canada-U.S. interparliamentary group that many of us are part of. It is a non-partisan group, and we will continue to work through that committee and elsewhere to try to dispel some of the comments.