Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak to this important subject in the Liberal opposition day motion.
It is important that we look at the context as well when we talk about what is happening not only with regard to Napolitano's comments from the Department of Homeland Security, but also the WHTI, the western hemisphere travel initiative, the passport issue in particular, and how it is going to change the relationship of our countries. It already has had what I would say a cancerous effect on our relationship, one that has caused considerable economic grief for border communities.
I also argue that a social cultural change will happen. When our citizens engage with the United States, we have to remember they often could be cousins or marriage relatives. Businesses and personal contacts are now going to be extinguished. If we talk to different people, we will discover they have given up trying to cross the border on a regular basis.
My uncle and aunt live in the United States and they come to Canada on a regular basis. That is a good part of my family's life because they have been able to visit with my grandmother every week. It has put more strain and pressure on them, but we are lucky they continue to put up with it. At the same time, I know other Canadians have simply given up. The loss is very significant. It undermines the social fabric which has made Canada and the United States such great friends.
I think our citizens really get it. We recently heard commentary in the media, for example, by a Fox News journalist. In the past we saw footage of a Liberal member stomping on a doll of the president, yet citizens do not really engage in that. They say politicians are silly or the comments in the media are stupid. When they meet their friends, family and business partners, they recognize the real breadth and depth of their relationships and support it. However, that will change with the implementation of WHTI.
It is important to note that this goes back farther in time than the last number of months. For those who are not aware, I am from Windsor, Ontario. I walk down the steps of my house, look to the left down the street and see the Detroit River and the city of Detroit. I grew up and lived near the border and crossed on a regular basis as a child, an adult and now as a father. It is part of our relationship in terms of things we do for business and the way we construct our social relations. I worry about losing that aspect, a real benefit for our relations at the end of the day.
The first time I was really upset was during the former Chrétien government. I was in Washington, D.C. lobbying for softwood lumber. We had a meeting with the ambassador at that time. We had just learned the U.S. was going to implement what was called the NSER program. Originally 35 countries were on the list. It was the first time in history that people who were not American citizens had to be fingerprinted and photographed as they entered the United States.
The Canadian position at that time was non-existent. There was no discussion by the ambassador, no discussion whatsoever. Canadians on the list, who happened to be born somewhere else, would be registered as if they were not Canadian citizens, and that has happened.
An example of that are people from Pakistan. People from Pakistan have lived in my community for over 100 years. Ironically, they are doctors and lawyers who go to the United States every day to save lives. They have been in Canada for 30 or 40 years, most of the entire lives, and they were to be treated differently by the Americans because of their place of birth.
The Canadian government of the day refused to challenge that. It let the United States unilaterally say that certain aspects of our citizens would be a threat. It did not care if the were doctors, or nurses, or workers or engineers in the automotive industry. These individuals would be treated differently than the rest of our citizens. I am not saying the U.S. does not have the right to do that because it does. The United States is a foreign and sovereign nation, but our government should have defended our citizens because a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.
If we go through our vetting process through immigration, which originated 20, 30 years ago or whatever it might be, people are valued as a Canadian citizen with the same rights as someone else. That program has turned into the U.S. visit program, a much more comprehensive program. The U.S. is moving this even further, to have an entry and exit system to access the country in a general way, not just in terms of those who register any more. This will create more border issues.
It is important to recognize that. This was one of first times the government decided to not even challenge it, the Chrétien government. I have not heard a prime minister to date, not Prime Minister Paul Martin nor the current Prime Minister, say that once Canadian citizens have been vetted through our process, they should be treated the same way.
It is important to get that message out. It complicates our border situation, making it difficult not only for those individuals going through these different processes, but also the processing itself, which is causing significant delays.
I want to touch on another subject that is very important. We are watching this changing relationship, and again the government is doing nothing. This is related to a treaty dating back to 1817. Following the war of 1812, there was a treaty between Canada and the United States that there would be no gun boats or armed vessels on the Great Lakes system. However, in 2003, out of hysteria, the United States wanted to bring in gunboats, which are now on the Great Lakes.
Let me describe these gunboats. They have auto cannons on them. The auto cannons can fire up to 600 bullets a minute. I cannot imagine a threat coming from Canada that requires something like that. If someone is hit by 600 bullets in a minute, there is nothing left. Once again, the Liberals at that time allowed this and adjusted this treaty. Now we have this situation.
It is interesting to delve into the agreement. There has been a history where the government says it will not engage in this, that it has an agreement it can pursue someone across the boundary, for whatever reason. The RCMP can do it, or the coast Guard can do it. Apparently what is supposed to happen is if there is a pursuit, the auto cannons will be torn down and put it away and the ships will go back into Canadian waters. I have a hard time believing that.
What was phenomenal about this was the issue that followed, and it shows the complications as we allow this militarization. The U.S. wanted to set up 40 different gun ranges on the Great Lakes system, where it would have target practices. The issue of national security and the concerns of the Americans are important. However, this can really change the nature of a beautiful a relationship, sharing one of the most important treasures of the world, the Great Lakes fresh water tributary system. It is so important for our ecological habitat, our human population and our planet. This is one of the busiest waterways in the world. There are tankers, sport fishing, all kinds of other things.
We fought that. I raised questions in the House of Commons, but the government of the day just fluffed them off. In November 2006 I made a submission on behalf of the New Democratic Party. There was a process in place to make applications of interest to the American system. All our caucus colleagues signed it. I believe we were the only political party to do this.
The government's response to that came after the deadline of submissions. The Great Lakes system was being turned into live firing ranges and the government submitted its submission two days after the hearing process was to be completed. This showed the disinterest the Canadian government had with regard to those relations. We see how these things start to ramp up.
In that time period, as well, there was the agreement of the Canadian government to move toward operational centres, the first in Great Falls, which was an air wing branch. Now it has allowed for the introduction on our border of not only surveillance drone planes, but black hawk helicopters and chinooks as well. One flew by my house the other day. I cannot image what the threat was. We also have the gun boat ranges. We also now have watchtowers with security surveillance, which Boeing is putting up.
We have allowed all this to happen without any real analysis or without engaging the Americans. We have not asked questions such as what is so important. We all agree on security. We want to ensure there will be a decrease in smuggling and illegal immigration, a whole series of things.
We have allowed the hype to happen. That is why we have someone like Ms. Napolitano saying these things. It is quite political and clear. This is shifting the debate about the southern border of Mexico and the United States to the northern border here. Both the previous government and the government of the day have been very much asleep at the switch, not protecting the interests of Canadians. We have allowed this myth to continue and now the physical entities are there at this point in time.
We could have engaged in a study. We could have engaged in a practical approach to this, or at least had that out there for them during this process. When one talks to the spokespeople for the Department of Homeland Security, their response to the Black Hawk helicopters, gun boats, surveillance and drone planes is that they do not know what is out there and it is a threat until they determine what it is out there. That is not a logical way to try to find and reduce the things we really want to get at the border. It allows the idea that we have an unsecured northern border and that just is not true.
The problem with 9/11 was that the terrorists got hold of American passports and other documentation legally and illegally, and they were able to carry out a terrorist attack that has changed the globe. There is no doubt that we need to be conscious of that, but at the same time, are the objectives we are adding today making us safer? I would argue they are not. The western hemisphere travel initiative in particular is not going to have the net effect we want in respect of counterterrorism. It is going to create greater economic harm than we could even imagine. That is going to hurt our ability to compete in the world and provide the funds for the security we want. That is a critical thing to note.
The Ambassador Bridge and other border crossings are two miles from my house. Along a two mile stretch of the area that I represent are the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, the CP Rail tunnel, the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor ferry, which has its material wastes. This carries about 40% of Canada's trade with the United States every single day. There is a lot of scrutiny there. The trucks are checked. There is gamma X-ray inspection.
Interestingly enough, I remember a campaign with a previous administration where we had a gamma ray facility. For those who are not aware of it, gamma ray technology is used on rail cars to find illegal substances, bombs or something else. Ironically, when this was debated in our community, the CBSA had agreed to put this facility next to a high school. We campaigned successfully to stop that and to move it away from there. We were told it was going to be moved. Later on, construction started right by the high school because the Department of Homeland Security told CP Rail to do it there. The platform is still there to this day. We finally got it moved again. That just shows the influence the Americans have here.
That screening is done. The rail cars go to the United States. That is important. We agree with a lot of it, but it has significant economic consequences. When we look at what is going to happen next with the WHTI, we need to go back to the beginning. When it comes into effect in just over a month it is going to be a new world for us. Back in April 2005 is when the Department of Homeland Security announced that passport legislation was going to be brought in. We have to wonder whether Canada did a good enough job with regard to this. I would say that we failed the test and continue to do so because we do not have any programs or support systems that are significant enough to deal with the challenges.
The previous government cannot be blamed for that situation in terms of being late off the mark. I asked David Emerson, the minister of industry at the time, about the issue of tourism two days after that. The government understood it was a concern. That was his response to me and we took that at faith, but we followed up with testimony to the department of tourism in Canada a couple of days after that.
The response by Canada to one of the biggest challenges we are facing now was that we were going to put together a $50,000 study to find out the effect of having passports to enter the United States. We spent $17 million that year instead to move the head offices from Ottawa to Vancouver. That was the government's priority at that point in time. That was clearly political. It is something that gives me concern. Later on, we did get the government to increase the amount for the study. There has been some response to it, but it is very frustrating.
The New Democrats raised the issue a number of times in the House of Commons. It culminated in a House of Commons debate on October 24 about the fact that Canada did not have a position at that time. Canada finally submitted a position to the United States on October 31, which was the last day we could make submissions on the WHTI. The very last day was when we actually got our submission in, and it was only after we had a vote here in the House that we got it done.
I had previously made a submission on behalf of the New Democratic Party. It was signed by all our caucus members. It is important to recognize, as we enter this next chapter, that the government did not take this seriously and it still does not have its head around it. There is a lot of evidence to show there should have been a better response.
I have put together a Canadian tourism strategy. I am going to mention parts of it later, but I want to mention some of the great work that has been done that really validates the problem we are facing right now.
The Canadian Tourism Commission tabled a report which showed that there would be significant short-term and long-term effects. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Detroit Regional Chamber commissioned a report in October 2005. Once again they were calling for a balance to be struck between national security and WHTI, but the fact is we could not find that balance.
A study by the Ontario ministry of tourism estimated that the number of U.S. visits to Ontario would decrease by 13.6%, or 3.2 million visits, in 2008. It is interesting because we have already seen the visitation from the United States drop to record lows. Not since 1972 have we seen the erosion of this type of exchange.
It is important to emphasize that this exchange is not just about economics. There is a social element that is incredibly important. It binds us as neighbours and partners in a very important relationship for our democracy and for our social cultures.
In my region a whole bunch of people come in from the United States to see the markers of their relatives. Our area is at the end of the underground railroad. When the United States had slavery and Canada was free, people would swim or boat across the Detroit River. This was before it was channeled, so it was much easier to do that than it would be today. They would come to Canada to establish their lives. People have relatives and friends here. People from all over the deep south and other areas trace their heritage by following the underground railroad into Olde Sandwich Towne.
We are going to lose out on some of those visits. People can get into Canada without a passport, but getting back into the United States is going to be a big challenge. They will need other documentation or they could be held. They could be turned away, which would be interesting. If someone with an American passport comes to Canada, and then it is declared that the person cannot re-enter the United States because the person is a security risk, do we allow the person to come into our country again if the person is a security risk? Do we lock the person up or send the person back to the United States because we do not want to take a security risk?
An interesting quandary could develop out of this. Border agents will be making independent decisions all along the line. The main point is that we are going to miss out on the social-cultural exchange.
A study by the Conference Board of Canada showed that the implementation is going to have a negative impact. There is a very good survey by Zogby International of U.S. border-state voters and Canadians about new border regulations. Its findings are interesting: 51% of Americans feel that these rules will not keep terrorists out; 60% of Americans and 70% of Canadians do not think there is a need for an alternative border crossing card; and 86% of Americans and 75% of Canadians drive when they cross the border annually.
I want to conclude by emphasizing that we need a very aggressive strategy. The Prime Minister in particular has to show leadership. Over the last 20 minutes I have laid out the history of what has been happening. There has been an evolution of our border to become militarized and also to become thickened.
I have not even touched upon other elements of trade, such as the Bioterrorism Act, where because of a Chilean peach in 1986 there is now a big fee for service 10 or 15 years later. There are all kinds of other fees, such as the APHIS fee, in terms of transported goods coming in.
The Prime Minister needs to stand up and say that the Canadian border is different from the Mexican border, that it has different challenges, that we want to deal with those challenges, but at the same time, there is a responsibility in our trade agreements. There has to be a better way to provide safety and security for all of us.