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House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was public.

Topics

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before I call on the parliamentary secretary, I would just remind members that during adjournment proceedings they are welcome to take any seat in the chamber. I know that it is force of habit to take the seat they usually have, but members are welcome to do that.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

6:45 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, this issue is quite important for this government, a government that stands up for human rights.

We are very much aware of the tremendous sacrifices made by the people of Sri Lanka during the civil conflict and the relief felt as a result of the successful end to this civil war.

The Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and myself, on my visit to Sri Lanka immediately after the war, stated Canada's position quite clearly.

Canada is very concerned that the underlying sources of conflict are not being addressed and we are of the view that a political solution, including the devolution of power, is a critical component of sustainable peace in Sri Lanka.

Canada urges the government of Sri Lanka to establish an independent investigation into the credible allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights committed by both sides of the conflict. We expect Sri Lanka's lessons learned on the reconciliation commission will address these issues, including the recommendations of the UN Secretary-General's panel of experts.

Canada is of the view that the government of Sri Lanka must show tangible progress in the handling of political reconciliation and seriously address the credible allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law as reported by the UN Secretary-General's panel of experts.

To add to what the hon. member said about the Commonwealth conference that is taking place now in Perth, Canada is of the view that this issue must be addressed. We have made it very clear to the Sri Lankan government that we expect to see some tangible progress in Sri Lanka in terms of human rights, political reconciliation and accountability. The Prime Minister has made it clear that if he does not see any tangible evidence moving toward that direction, then he will not attend the next Commonwealth conference to be held in Sri Lanka.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, we all know the saying, “actions speak louder than words”. We can talk all we want, but nothing will change until we actually take action. We need action now, not just words.

We need to call upon the United Nations to launch an independent inquiry into the allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. We know that the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Committee as created by Sri Lanka was deemed to be biased and not independent by the United Nations panel of experts.

We need to take concrete action to ensure that Sri Lanka demonstrates respect for human rights and human dignity and complies with these values held by progressive democracies.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, as my hon. colleague is a new member of Parliament, I would like to let her know that diplomacy works behind the scenes. We have been sending a message to the government in power that these are our concerns. That is how people can achieve results. That is what we have been doing since the civil war ended. I have visited there. If the government does not address the issues of what transpired during the reconciliation process, then we would be in a situation where possibly down the road the same conflict would start up again. In order for the country to move ahead, it is in the best interests of Sri Lanka to do that. We, as a Commonwealth nation, are willing to help Sri Lanka move down the reconciliation path.

Sri Lanka must also address the credible concerns of the UN Secretary-General on the violation of human rights in that country.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to follow up on a couple of questions I had in the House of Commons that relate to cuts the government is making to a number of different services. The first is the Canada Border Services Agency and the second is employment insurance.

My riding in Windsor has the largest volume of international traffic travelling between Canada and the United States. In fact, it ranks in the world's top class. We are seeing the CBSA headquarters office move to Niagara Falls. Despite the fact that a report said that it should be consolidated in Windsor, the government has decided to move it to a minister's riding at the expense of drugs and smugglers getting into this country and at the expense of a series of different problems that we will see emerge.

The reason I know that is that I have met with the men and women who serve so ably in the Windsor region and they will now have to communicate with supervisors 400 kilometres away from the most important border crossing that this country has. It has the highest volume and it has the highest issues that have to be dealt with. It is a border crossing that consists of four independent ways to get vehicles, trains, trucks and cars across to the Detroit region and then into the United States. It is a very sensitive region.

To relocate the headquarters to Niagara Falls 400 kilometres away, when executive decisions need to be made about whether to investigate, take down or take action on smugglers, drug runners and other types of things we do not want to have in our country, is wrong.

The second issue is the cuts to employment insurance in an area of high unemployment. We are seeing 73 people who are facing layoff. The government has backed off on some of them because of the pressure. It is wrong because right now people rely upon those cheques and services. In the division that is being cut and reduced, it recently won an award in Canada for service. The employees won an award and now they get a pink slip. It is unacceptable. We want to see the restoration of those services.

The parliamentary secretary said, “we are doing that by investing” when she was referring to public safety, and the other minister said that “no impact on persons servicing is going to take place”. That is absolutely not true. We know the government is cutting the Windsor service because of austerity measures. It has publicly admitted that. It has said that the reduction is taking place because it needs to reduce the CBSA file and the money in it to make way for changes with regard to the budgetary process.

We know the changes to employment insurance will affect the front-line people because we have lost the decision-makers who look at arbitrary cases for employment insurance. These are people who have been trained for a number of years to do that job. They have gone through several layers of training to become a processing person who actually looks at the cases, makes decisions and makes recommendations about someone getting employment insurance. That is critical because other boards and agencies have often tried to cherry-pick some of these workers because they are so good. However, we are showing them the pink slip right now despite the fact that they have the best qualifications and credentials.

There is the very important position of a youth service operator worker who does outreach for young people. In my region, we have 20% unemployment for youth. It is unacceptable and we should not be losing services right now because they are critical for serving people and keeping streets in our community safe.

6:50 p.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, as hon. members are aware, our government departments are required to conduct strategic reviews every five years.

Last April, as part of its strategic review, the CBSA consolidated its southern Ontario regional operations. As a result of merging two regions, only one regional headquarters was required in order to optimize administrative operations and create better efficiencies.

When the two regional offices amalgamated, the CBSA was able to focus its resourcing priorities to continue to ensure an efficient, safe and secure border. It is important to understand that there were no closures or port of entry changes as a result of merging these two regions.

The only significant change was that the administration for the regional headquarters was centralized in one location. This was not a decision that was taken lightly, and all of the factors were considered. These factors included: impacts to staff, stakeholder consultations, cost effectiveness, infrastructure commitments and trade and traveller volumes. In the end, the top deciding factors were impacts to staff and the cost effectiveness for Canadian taxpayers.

It has been almost six months since the CBSA consolidated its regional headquarters into one location. I can say that the CBSA continues to serve Canadians by protecting the border with professionalism and integrity. No services have been affected and there have been no interruptions at the border.

While regional reporting structures have changed, the day-to-day work conducted by border service officers has not changed. The CBSA is committed to ensuring that these front-line operations continue to run smoothly.

The hon. members in this House should be aware that there have been many inaccurate reports about this administrative change and I would like to set the record straight.

First, and most important, no front-line positions were affected by this office relocation. Second, only a small number of positions were actually affected and, in the end, no jobs were lost as a result. Third, the CBSA will save $1.5 million per year by merging these administrative, human resources and information technology capacities.

CBSA will continue to ensure the security of the Canadian border in an efficient, cost-effective manner, as is expected by the Canadian taxpayer.

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is quite amazing. I loved the preamble with regard to the parliamentary secretary saying that there were no closures between these two crossings when the amalgamation took place.

When we think about that logically, that is 60% of the trade that goes between Canada and the United States, so of course there would be no closures to crossing. To suggest that Fort Erie or the Windsor-Detroit corridor would lose crossings is completely ludicrous and it does not even make any sense. It certainly shows the efforts the government is making to change the channel.

The reality is that we did lose staff and personnel in the field, because we have managers and other support systems that are now gone. Those support systems are very important. The decision-makers who would actually make the call at the end of the day are now gone. Now we have to communicate with people 400 kilometres away.

We do not know what type of drugs are getting into the country. We do not know what kind of guns are getting into the country. We do not know what type of smugglers are getting into the country. It is all because we have devolved the entire system in Windsor just for $1.5 million.

The busiest border crossing in this country, in this North American system, is now a headless horseman.

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, last April, the CBSA created one regional headquarters to maximize its resources. Once again, this decision was not taken lightly and, in the end, the deciding factors were impacts to staff and cost effectiveness.

After almost six months, border operations continue to run effectively and efficiently. The hon. member needs to put a little more confidence in the CBSA people who are running the borders. He is crying foul when they are doing an excellent job of guarding our borders. It is also important to note that no front-line positions were affected.

By merging the administrative components of this office, the CBSA will save $1.5 million per year. Canadians watching right now will agree that $1.5 million is a very substantial saving to the taxpayers in Canada.

The CBSA continues to maintain border security in an efficient, cost-effective manner, as is expected by Canadian taxpayers.

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:58 p.m.)