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House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was relationship.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the interesting rant from the Liberal member opposite. He must remember his own sordid Liberal past when it comes to the relationship with the United States. This madness, as he calls it, originated because his government, when in power, was asleep at the switch when the legislation slipped through on real ID. It called for this type of requirement for our passport and ID to get into the United States. Where were the Liberals? Not only that, but when they had the chance, they had a very weak response to the issue.

Our government, led by the Prime Minister and the current Minister of Trade when he was the public safety minister, in conjunction with his U.S. colleagues on the other side, won the delay in the implementation of the western hemisphere travel initiative and the requirement as well that enhanced drivers' licences could be a viable option for Canadians, or for Americans, jurisdictions that wanted to take this up with respect to complying with the western hemisphere travel initiative. The Liberals were asleep at the switch on that.

I could go further. There are a number of areas. The Liberals were calling Americans idiots, stomping on the George Bush doll. That was his colleague. I could go on and on about how they damaged the relationship with the United States. We are the ones who are acting in the interests of Canadians.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am so delighted that the hon. member opposite wants to be singular in North America in associating himself with the previous American administration.

This debate was not generated by my colleague from Ajax—Pickering because we wanted to engage in invective. We wanted to put this entire relationship on an important debating principle associated with facts and the consequences of the way those facts were dealt with for the public. Politics really should be about that.

I think many would probably agree with me that when my colleague suggests the previous government might not have done what was required, he probably ignores the fact we went from 14 to 21 consular offices and embassies. We put in place those issues to address the security concerns of the United States.

In fact, we made a commitment to spend the kind of moneys, which the Conservatives are now spending, to secure the northern border so we could move away from these misguided, suspicious initiatives by some members of the American administration.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives seem to believe the right approach is to thicken the border. We can thicken the border all we want, but the bad guys do not come up to the border and ask for an iris scan. They cross the border on snow machines, or bicycles or they walk across the border through areas of the west.

In fact, I was at the Midwestern legislative conference last year and local politicians in North Dakota and South Dakota universally recognized this. When they start hearing about these border issues, they knew illegal activities were going on between the border points. If we are going to bring illegal substances into the United States, we are not going to bring it through the border. We are going to bring it across the border at another point.

The member is focusing on different areas, but I think we should be spending more time, as federal MPs, being involved with organizations like the Midwestern legislative conference. We see there is a lot of common ground there because they, like us, agree this is not the way to go.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his observation because we are all trying to be very positive and I do not think it helps the relationship by pointing to the negative. The fact is a border has two aspects to it. There is our side and there is their side. These kind of debates focus on the potential for criminal or suspicious behaviour to be one dimensional and one direction, from us.

We are trying to ensure that whatever comes between us has at least the appropriate infrastructure to give people in governments a sense of comfort that all issues are being addressed. If there are things that fall by the wayside, they need to be addressed immediately.

What is falling by the wayside today is the political and diplomatic relationship—

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. We will have to move on to resuming debate. Some members might also like to participate in the debate.

The hon. member for Don Valley West.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to follow my hon. colleague from Eglinton—Lawrence. It is also a little daunting to follow someone whose words flow out so quickly and so easily.

It is a great pleasure today to speak to the motion from the member for Ajax—Pickering. The motion is not a negative motion, as it is being perceived. It is actually a motion of encouragement.

While it points out that the government has failed in its relationship-building process with the Americans to the south, it is also meant to encourage and to promote the kind of relationship that Liberal governments of previous years tried to build. We would like to see this continued in the future. It is meant to foster both trade and people moving across the border. It is also meant to promote a safe and secure border for both countries.

I have listened to the various speakers today and I wonder why I approach this question somewhat differently from others. I think it is because of my background, growing up in Sault Ste. Marie. It is a border city, but a border city with a bit of a difference from other border cities. It is a border city where the Canadian side, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, is five times the size of the Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan. That makes quite a difference in our understanding, our confidence, our self-respect and the way we look at the border. Growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, the border was always seen as something both special and ordinary. It was something extraordinary and normal.

We lived metres away from the border and on weekends or on special days, it would be fun to go across to the small town on the other side. However, we were really encouraging Americans to come over to our side to spend those American dollars. We wanted to get to know them. We wanted them to come to our businesses and our shops. We wanted them to come to our neighbourhoods. We wanted to invite them into our world. Especially when the American dollar was high, they loved to come over and spend those dollars in Canada. When the Canadian dollar was high, we learned that we could go over there and shop, and gradually over time, as a teenager, I began to understand that trade relationship.

I also understood that one did not always exploit comparative advantage. Even when gasoline prices were extremely low in the states, my father would remind me that my uncle owned a gas station. If we bought all our gasoline in the states, eventually there would be no gasoline stations in this country. He reminded me that the border did serve a certain purpose, to protect Canadians and businesses and to keep our livelihoods here.

The International Bridge opened up in Sault Ste. Marie when I was six years old, and that made crossing the border terribly easy. I do not want to romanticize those days too much, but we have to remember we all have a sense that the border is open. We have a sense of friendship when it comes to the Americans. We could cross easily. They could cross easily.

We do not live in that world today. We live in a much more dangerous and scary world. We want to both continue to protect the safe movement of people and goods across the border, but we also want to ensure that those who would do us harm, either people or goods, are stopped at our borders for our mutual protection.

The border then is that two-way mirror. On one side, it is a vehicle to promote the movement of people and goods. We also recognize it is absolutely critical and important that we stop certain things at our border and that the thickening of the border, about which people have talked, is meant to protect us as well.

In today's world, this is presenting a challenge to the government. The first step in that challenge is to build a relationship at the highest levels. We are expressing that the first failing of the government is to actually promote a relationship of easy, ongoing conversation where we talk about important things. We talk about them as friends, but we stand up for Canadian interests first.

The recent comments by the Secretary of Homeland Security regarding the border, and her misunderstanding and misinformation, just weeks after a visit from the Minister of Public Safety of Canada, tells us that our message is not getting through, that the vehicle by which we have our ministers travelling to Washington, and they seem to be going there daily these days, does not seem to be working.

Either they are not expressing our concern well or we are failing to make ourselves heard. Ms. Napolitano, the secretary, is misunderstanding something when she states that our border is porous, that somehow we are the source of terrorism in that country. It is simply not true.

It is not good enough that the minister said that he chuckled with her just weeks before about this issue. It is not good enough that they are buddy-buddy, sharing a joke. The point is to do business. The point is to present Canadian concerns, ideas, thoughts, technology and interests to Washington. It is not simply to chuckle about what may or may not be current urban myths.

We all know that people and goods are slowing down at the border. I was in Thorold earlier this week meeting with a group of citizens who were talking about the dependence of the Niagara peninsula on trade and people moving quickly and easily across the border. It is just not happening any more and Canadian jobs, whether it is the auto sector, agriculture sector or any part of the supply chain, all those parts of our economy are being slowed down because the border is slow. It is slow but we are not safer because of it. If we were safer because of it, we could perhaps put up with some inconvenience, but we are not safer.

People in my riding express concerns daily about the flow of handguns across the border. They are constantly concerned that we are not doing enough to stop at our border the kinds of things that we do not want in Canada. If anything, I think we in Canada have more to fear about what is coming across from the south than anything we are going to send from the north to the south.

Ten times the population, 20 times the crime and 30 times the malevolent behaviour in the south is what we need to protect Canadians from. We need to protect our citizens by ensuring our border is secure but I do not believe the government is anywhere near doing that.

I want to raise a couple of issues that have not been raised. One is with respect to the U.S. department of agriculture. In 1991, it established a user fee called the animal and plant health inspection service user fee and Canada was exempt from that fee. For 16 years, Canada did not pay an inspection user fee for agricultural goods going into the country.

In 2007, with no notice given, a new fee was imposed upon our rail and trucking carriers. For the rail industry, it is $7.75 a car. I know that does not sound like very much but that is $8 million a year for an industry that is already somewhat precarious and marginal. That is $8 million a year for a user fee going into the United States with no benefit for Canadians or Americans. It is a simple bureaucratic stroke.

The government was asleep at the switch and did not ensure that Canadian companies, farmers and consumers would be protected from those costs. It simply failed to look at it. I have asked the minister for a response and I am waiting for it. We need to ensure that non-tariff barriers to trade are stopped. The government needs to stand up for Canadians, Canadian businesses and Canadian citizens to ensure that we find a way to do business and trade well.

My constituents are also concerned about the number of times that people are profiled at the border based on their race, ethnicity and religion. My office receives calls daily from people who have been stopped at the border simply because their name ends in a vowel. They are held back, taken in for secondary inspections and interrogated differently than I would be interrogated. The colour of their skin, their religion and their place of origin may be different from mine but they are Canadian citizens. This is not only when Canadians go into the United States. They are also being stopped inappropriately when they return home. Our Canada Border Services Agency is turning a blind eye to this. We need to recognize that these are Canadian citizens who need to be welcomed back into their country, need to be given the respect they are due and that citizenship in Canada is indivisible.

These are border issues. These are why we stand, why we talk and why we want the government to address these issues.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to go to the member's last point because I, too, have dealt with a lot of constituents who have faced the issue of profiling. One of the things I think people are concerned about is that there is no oversight mechanism. Despite a variety of inquiries and despite the government having stated, in inquiry after inquiry, that it is necessary to have proper oversight, it is still completely lacking, which is part of the problem. The government's failure to put the oversight mechanism in place means people do not have a place to raise their concerns or complaints and ensure they are addressed. I wonder if the member wants to comment on that.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for that question because it is absolutely at the core. Each of the individual agencies are doing their work. We recognize that there are a variety of security and law enforcement agencies at play at the borders. Various agencies, such as the CBSA, the RCMP, CSIS and Transport Canada are watching and addressing these issues.

The problem is that despite repeated calls and the government saying that it would act, there is still no overall network or understanding of how we are to do this oversight. People and things are falling through the cracks. People do not know who to complain to or who to hold accountable and, therefore, people get hurt. The government has not taken the steps to ensure that we have an adequate umbrella oversight agency, as has been recommended by Iacobucci and O'Connor.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, back in 2001, a lot of activity on this file was emanating out of both Washington and the government in power here at the time. One of the previous speakers mentioned where the programs actually started. When my good friend, Reg Alcock, was here, he was pushing and developing government online programs, even up against his own party at times. However, it seemed that once Reg Alcock was gone from the scene, the whole area kind of died. There does not seem to be much interest in the programs anymore. It is either a lack of interest on the part of the government or that it is just not promoting the programs.

How many NEXUS cards are actually out there? A government speaker made a speech just a few minutes ago talking about the NEXUS program. He had a wide opportunity to give us some figures but he never did. I would like to know how many people are actually using the NEXUS program.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am quite pleased to say that I have no idea. That is a question that should be addressed to that side of the House. However, it is a great opportunity to remember that the previous member, Mr. Alcock, should be returning here soon and we will be delighted when he is back in the House.

In the meantime, I am a new member and I am taking this issue very seriously. I think we need to let every member of the House know that this side of the House equally values both the friendship with the American government and the border as a means of protection and safe movement. We will stand up for the rights of Canadians. That is why we are here and that is why we were elected.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, the motion reads:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government has failed to take all necessary steps to ensure that the U.S. administration and the U.S. Congress fully understand the critical importance of our shared border....

I have heard the speeches from the government side. In fact, I heard the intervention from the member for Essex. I think the government is living in la-la land.

It claims to have had a good relationship. The Prime Minister was called Bush lite. The government has increased paper screenings, surveillance and protectionism. It failed on softwood lumber and in seeking an extension on the western hemisphere travel initiative. How can Canadians be confident that the government will do anything to help in trade or in the Olympics?

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are beginning to understand that la-la land is a new border city that hey seem to be crossing over into quite regularly.

The hon. member for Don Valley East points out very quickly, clearly and succinctly that the government is failing in multiple ways of looking at this issue. Whether it is about passports, preparation for the Olympics, trade, tariff barriers or non-tariff barriers, people and goods are not moving quickly or efficiently.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, the motion moved by the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering that we are debating here today reads as follows:

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.

It is a fact that we live next to a country with a much larger population and much more economic clout. Indeed, it has been the richest and most powerful country on the planet for some time. It is practically a universal law that more powerful are generally oblivious to what is happening to the less powerful. As a result, it is up to us to maintain our relationship with the United States, if we do not want it to develop certain prejudices, which, once again, are generally part of human nature. One such prejudice is that when one does not know the source of something bad, one assumes it is coming from somewhere else.

This opinion has been confirmed by certain things I have noticed in other areas of life. For instance, when people complain about crime, they always think it is coming from somewhere else. Much the same is true for other misfortunes. I was not really surprised by this, but the universal nature of this notion was confirmed for me when I saw someone as educated, intelligent and reasoned as Ms. Clinton reacting that way. At the time, she was already a New York state senator. When the great blackout occurred on this continent, Ms. Clinton thought it came from Canada. I have also noticed other situations. For example, in August 2003, she said:

Our best understanding right now is that whatever did happen to start these cascading outages began in Canada.

I noticed that she made comments along those lines about another matter. And yet, Ms. Clinton is certainly one of the most educated and competent individuals in the United States. She was a very serious contender for the position of first female president of her country. If even she is unable to steer clear of the unfortunate tendency of the more powerful lording it over those who are weaker, there are many others who give in to temptation more often than not. Those who have parliamentary relations with American legislators have noticed that, as you move further away from the Canadian border, U.S. senators and representatives are increasingly ignorant of what is happening in Canada. That is also the case for security measures.

Although they are based on prejudice that is deeply rooted in too great a portion of the American population, comparisons are made between security measures along the U.S. border with Canada and with Mexico, and demands are made that they be the same.

We should be cognizant of this state of affairs. Anyone who has had dealings with our neighbours realizes this. Therefore, the motion rightly states that the government has failed to take all necessary steps to ensure that the American administration is aware of our domestic security measures. In any case, one thing is certain: this government certainly has its weaknesses and the way it conducts its foreign policy is definitely one of them.

In this regard, it was quite striking to hear the member for Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière blame the members—

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Excuse me for the interruption, but I think there is a problem with the simultaneous interpretation. It is working now. The hon. member has the floor.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, the attitude of the hon. member for Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière is typical of his party. When he heard that certain members of Parliament had gone to the United States to meet with some American legislators, he made fun of the trips and called them tourist jaunts. In my view, this only shows that if he had gone, that is probably all he would have found to do in the United States. The members who went and were tremendously well received and well informed by the Canadian embassy in Washington tell us that we do not go there often enough and that we need to cultivate sustained, ongoing relations with the Americans. The American press is generally not very interested in Canada and is poorly informed about how good our security is. The Americans should not be afraid that harm will come to them from Canada.

We also need to remind them—because many have forgotten—that when the going gets tough, they can count on their friend to the north. When the American embassy in Iran was invaded and occupied, for quite a long time the Canadian embassy sheltered the American diplomats who had not been taken hostage but would have been if the Iranian authorities had found them. That reminds me of the fable by La Fontaine in which a lion is caught in a net and is finally only freed thanks to a mouse that gnaws through the mesh of the netting. La Fontaine concludes that we often need someone smaller than we are.

We should all be familiar with this situation. The Conservative government has not made the necessary effort to defend our commercial interests, which have increased tremendously since free trade was instituted. In Quebec in particular, 27% of our production was exported. Now 51% of our production is exported and 80% of that goes to the United States. There are tremendous economic advantages, therefore, to keeping the borders fluid. We did a lot before and after September 11, 2001, to ensure they remained so.

One example of regular shipments of goods is the newsprint that Quebec delivers to New York. We export a lot of other products as well. We export paper but many other things too. Our biggest export to the United States is actually aluminum. Our second largest exports are in the aircraft sector, which is a real change in comparison with the last century and the last millennium. Then comes newsprint, turbojet engines, writing paper and paperboard, advanced copper wire and casings, integrated circuits and even petroleum oils, even though heaven knows that Quebec is not the largest petroleum producer in Canada.

So we are exporting more and more sophisticated products. Before the economic crisis, we were shipping products that were a lot more advanced and required intelligent work, such as aircraft and turbojet engines, and things will have to stay that way if we want to get over this crisis. We are talking about quite sophisticated goods here.

These things have become essential to our economy.

Protectionism is a natural reaction in times of crisis. We know, though—and this is the great lesson economists derived from the crisis in the 1920s—that protectionism makes the problem worse. The borders must be kept open because we export a lot, although we also import a lot from the people we export to. There is a mutual advantage, therefore, to keeping the borders open.

The government does not seem to realize all this. At a time when we should be trying to counter protectionist tendencies in order to overcome the crisis, the government is cutting the working hours of our customs officers, rather than trying to make the border more fluid. It is also reducing the modern equipment we have for monitoring the contents of trucks. I believe it is gamma ray equipment that makes it possible to check loads quickly and therefore speeds up traffic at our borders. They are also cutting border surveillance.

When the Conservatives were in opposition in 2006, they complained mightily—like us—that nine RCMP stations had been closed and they said they would re-open them. That promise went the way of most of their promises: they are in power now but have never re-opened the stations. They are giving guns to customs officers but taking away their overtime. They are giving guns to customs officers but removing some of the high tech equipment that keeps our borders fluid. That is typical of a government that calls itself conservative and is proud that it always looks to the past and gets inspiration there for what it wants to do in the future.

Once again, I think we should be aware of the dimensions of our trade with the Americans. I have it here in absolute numbers. I said it represented 51% or $150 billion in 2007. I already listed the main products that go into this total. They are transported primarily by truck. In 2004—the last year for which these statistics are available—13.45 million tractor trailers crossed the border.

There are also 90 million people who cross the U.S. border, of whom 70 million cross by land. This government seems totally unaware of how important the border is, first of all to the Canadian and Quebec economies, but also to such other things as tourism. The most recent statistics I have come from 2006 and, on average, 27.5 million tourists were visiting Quebec each year. The tourism industry generated revenues of $10.2 billion in 2005.

I spoke about the RCMP detachments and there is no point in revisiting that. It really shows the extent to which the Conservatives fail to take steps to reassure our neighbours to the south, and make promises they never keep. We are so used to them doing this that we do not need to spend much time talking about it. It is nothing out of the ordinary.

We absolutely agree with the member for Ajax—Pickering when he criticizes this administration both for its failure to grasp how important it is for us that our neighbours to the south feel safe and for constantly acting too late.

It nonetheless significant that in the first few days she was in office, a person with responsibility for overseeing land borders would say, and believe, that the terrorists who committed the attacks on September 11, 2001, came from Canada. She did have the honesty and intelligence to correct what she had said, but what she said was in fact significant. It was certainly what she thought when she said it, and it was what the people around her thought as well. There are people around her who thought these things.

I gave the example of Mrs. Clinton, whose first reaction to the electrical failures that caused a huge blackout in North America was to say that it had come from somewhere else, that it had come from Canada. It is therefore in our interests for the Americans to be better informed about Canada.

In addition, I would remind everyone that we are allowed four trips a year to Washington, which is fairly significant. When we visit the embassy in the United States, they tell us that this information is important and there should be more of it, because American legislators, legislators in the richest country in the world, in the most powerful country in the world, do not know much about countries that do not cause trouble for them. They probably know a lot more about countries that cause trouble for them, like Iran and Afghanistan and countries in the Soviet bloc, in that era.

And so we have to take action to combat that natural tendency. The Conservatives have a tendency to do exactly the opposite. They are cutting the overtime and equipment that help keep the border fluid, among other things.

I congratulate the member for Ajax—Pickering for presenting this motion and explaining it so clearly. I share his opinion entirely.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin for his excellent presentation on the importance of Canada-United States relations.

The member quite rightfully talked about the importance of the relationship between Canada and the U.S., that we cannot take it for granted and that we have to nurture it. He pointed out that has not been happening, that we have seen it going the other way.

In that same period of time, since February 2008 to February 2009, we have seen a decline in Canadian exports of some 20%. Of course, some of that is attributable to the state of the economy, but some of it is attributable to a thickening of that border.

One of the areas of particular concern to me is the western hemisphere travel initiative. Many years ago we knew that this passport requirement would be put in place, that it would be a huge barrier to this casual trading relationship that we have enjoyed and the free movement of people and goods across the border, and yet no solution was provided. It was left to the provinces to devise solutions and to do things. No federal response whatsoever was provided.

I wonder if the member could comment on that.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Ajax—Pickering is correct. This is in fact something we were forewarned about. We were warned a long time in advance and the present government has done absolutely nothing to prepare for it. These are the last things in its initiative, when it could certainly have facilitated passport issuance or negotiated a less costly formula with the United States. It is quite unfortunate that it did not.

I am not the oldest member of this House, but I am still older than the average. I can still remember the day when relations between the two countries were so close that we could easily drive over the border in our parents’ car to go on holiday down south. Our parents did not have to have any documents.

Cities were built on the border. I recently travelled to Stanstead. One family, whose name I forget but who had become very wealthy, lived in the area near Stanstead at that time, in Rouses Point, in the United States. It was a community. They decided to build a municipal library on the border. It is still there, so that education can be encouraged equally on both sides.

In any event, I understand that we now have to have a passport to go there, but the government could have facilitated things well before it did take action.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

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.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the comments of many of the members opposite today and I reflect on all the times during the last campaign and in the House that I have heard the phrase “American-style” used as a way of putting down other people.

I wonder if the member could also comment on what damage the previous government's response to 9/11 did to our relationship with the Americans. I would suggest that, in times of crisis, one of the things our most important trading partner and biggest friend will remember is how people responded.

I recall that presidents and prime ministers from around the world visited the United States soon after 9/11 occurred, yet it took the previous Liberal government some three weeks to get to the United States. It took the previous prime minister three weeks, and then when he got there, to add insult to injury, he decided not to visit ground zero because he had to make it back to Canada for a Liberal Party fundraiser.

I wonder if the member might comment on how that really started the demise of the relationship between Canada and the United States, especially coming after some extraordinary progress made by previous Conservative governments that led to a free trade agreement that has--

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for York West.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, following the 9/11 tragedy, clearly, as politicians we had to be extremely sensitive. Those are not issues that we wanted to be seen and accused of politicizing.

All kinds of communication was going on following 9/11 immediately. Was our government at the time doing photo ops? Most certainly not. The U.S. had our full assistance. Our police were there immediately. All of our fire and emergency people were immediately sent to the U.S. They helped immensely. That is part of our relationship. To suggest now that we were lax is going in the exact opposite way. We did a lot of work at that time. We have being doing a lot of work on Canada-U.S. relations for many, many years. What we are trying to focus on today is the need to do far more. The government should be reacting far more than it is.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, my comments are directed not only to the member, but also to the member for Ajax—Pickering.

We could look at the European model and learn a lot from how those nations have made their borders easier to cross, encouraging the flow of people and trade.

Have the Liberals looked into this issue and what did they discover when and if they did?

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, when we were in government, an immense amount of work was being done to ensure that our borders, especially since 9/11, would stay fluid so that people could go back and forth.

We are currently talking about bringing in the passport requirement in June. That will have a huge impact on both countries. I have heard very little from the government side as to what it is doing to prevent that from happening.

The Vancouver Olympics are coming up. Everyone will require passports. There is still a huge backlog in the U.S. Many people will be denied the ability to come here because they will not be able to get passports in time.

We continue to do everything we can to facilitate the relationship and the free trade. I would ask that the government do the same.

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, after President Obama's visit, the Prime Minister did a fairly intense blitz of media outlets in the United States.

Would the member not think that perhaps he should do the circuit again, this time to explain to Americans the reality about the Canada-U.S. border?

Opposition Motion--Canada-United States BorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, that would be a great idea. He seems to be on the news all the time talking about so many issues. I would certainly like to think that the government would ask for an immediate meeting. I can only hope it has done that already, following the kinds of comments last week.

It should have an immediate meeting with the president and make sure that he understands the issue. He is a well-travelled man. He knows Canada is a very safe country, that it is his biggest trading partner. They could be working together to solve some of these problems. I expect he has given a directive to some of his people to make sure their language is appropriate and that they are not putting out false statements.