Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleagues from Toronto Centre, Sudbury and Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher for having supported and improved my motion to offer full passport services at all Service Canada offices.
We know that this issue affects every riding in every corner of our great country. It is becoming more and more important to have more accessible regional passport offices.
This motion and this debate have demonstrated a clear and present reality: Canadians are not getting equitable service when it comes to obtaining a travel document that has become a basic necessity.
Notwithstanding the lack of political will as displayed by the Conservative government, what this motion suggests is that we use to its fullest potential a department that was meant to provide citizens with a one-stop shop for all federally regulated services.
To create confusion, the members opposite have used misleading information and have tried to cast doubt on the reliability of Service Canada's regional offices. Allow me to illustrate what I mean by “mislead the House”.
During the first hour of debate, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs said that:
—at $87, a Canadian passport is one of the cheapest in all the developed countries. In current Canadian dollars, the American passport costs $127, an Irish passport costs $128, a British passport costs $130, and a French passport costs $143.
The parliamentary secretary's math was correct, but he forgot one important fact that alters the value of these numbers.
Yes, as the parliamentary secretary was trying to prove or highlight, these foreign passports seem more expensive. However, all these passports are valid for 10 years, unlike our Canadian passport which is only good for 5 years.
The hon. member across the way seems to have neglected to mention this very important fact when he sought to prove that a Canadian passport cannot go up in price under any circumstances. Once again, the arbitrary facts coming from that side of the floor just serve to distort our debate.
The main concern the Conservative members keep raising is the cost of opening these regional offices. The government keeps saying that Passport Canada does not have the funds to set up these additional regional offices and to train staff, because Passport Canada operates on a cost recovery basis. It gets none of its money from the federal government.
Once again, this shows us that the present government has no political will. Those are mere excuses.
In 2007-08, the government offered $55 million in one-time funding to help the Passport Office modernize its technology, meet demand, and comply with the new international security standards. Why could it not provide similar access to funding to help offset the costs incurred by Service Canada to integrate the issuing of passports with its present mission?
I remind the House that much of the infrastructure needed for this complementary service is already in place. The buildings and office space already exist. It only requires minimal training of the staff. Once up and running, these offices would be no different from any of the other current passport offices and they would work on a cost recovery basis. Like any good business model, if the demand is not great enough in a particular region, then and only then should Passport Canada look at different delivery services.
But the government has again tried to hide behind disinformation. The parliamentary secretary went on to say:
—there is a tremendous difference between receiving agent services and passport office services.
Passport Canada staff receive specialized training in handling and examining a wide range of documents. This includes birth certificates, evidence of citizenship and court orders.
Has that member ever gone to a Service Canada counter? Does the member know that, every day, Service Canada staff verify and authorize birth certificates, evidence of citizenship, court orders, and many other official documents?
In addition to this disinformation and the lack of government support, the parliamentary secretary went on to ask, “Where would we get the trained staff for the myriad of locations?”
I realize that they would require additional training, but these front-line workers are already well positioned and experienced in dealing with confidential and time-sensitive documents. I urge the House to support this motion and bring Canada the regional equilibrium currently lacking in passport issuing facilities.