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House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, clearly our government is taking action on addressing the concerns of first nations on human rights issues.

The Government of Canada is committed to a fair and lasting resolution to the legacy of Indian residential schools and we are committed to supporting reconciliation among aboriginal people who attended these schools, their families and communities, and all Canadians.

As the Prime Minister noted in the 2008 apology, the knowledge of our shared history is an important basis for a new relationship with aboriginal people.

Our government is committed to supporting former residential school students and their families throughout the implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, including providing access to important mental health and emotional support services.

Bringing closure to the legacy of Indian residential schools lies at the heart of reconciliation and the renewal of the relationship between aboriginal people and all Canadians.

March 8th, 2012 / 6:25 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was very surprised to hear the reply by the Minister of Public Safety to the question I asked in this House on November 18. My question was simple:

...under the pretext of cutting costs, the government is penalizing our region. While the economy remains fragile, the government's measures are harmful to farmers, tourists, emergency services that have cross-border reciprocal agreements, and all of the families that feel torn apart by these service reductions.

Will the government commit to reopening the border crossings that have been closed and returning the others to their former hours of operation?

Unfortunately, the minister's reply had nothing to do with my question. Instead, he used this exchange to criticize the political party to which I belong. Therefore, I will again ask my question in the House today.

Let me point out to the minister, who accuses the NDP of shutting down the Canadian economy, that the Canada Border Service Agency's decision to reduce the hours of operation of the three border crossings in my riding has directly paralyzed the economy of my riding and, indirectly, that of Canada. In my riding, the border crossings of Morse's Line in St. Armand, East Pinnacle in Frelighsburg, and Glen Sutton in Sutton are affected.

The impact of these cuts to a public service is major. They affect the economy of border communities because they interfere with the flow of goods, services and people. Since these measures were implemented on April 1, 2011, they have had a negative effect on my riding's economic vitality.

People can no longer move about freely. Many American tourists like coming to discover and visit communities in my riding. When border crossings are open only from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., people cannot spend the whole day in our region. Families are also suffering because of this change. Many people in my riding have family members in the United States, and shorter business hours at border crossings mean that they see their loved ones less frequently.

Service cuts have also reduced the flow of goods and services. This is a problem for farmers and firefighters on both sides of the border, who have agreements to respond to emergencies on both Canadian and American soil. These measures also hinder socio-economic development and are crippling my riding.

In conclusion, I hope that tonight, I will get an answer to the question I asked on November 18.

6:30 p.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, as my hon. colleague is well aware, there are approximately 7,300 uniformed officers who clear over 90 million travellers and process over 13 million commercial releases each year in Canada. I can assure the member that our government is focused on ensuring our border is secure while easing the flow of legitimate travel and trade.

We are doing this through initiatives such as the action plan on perimeter security and economic competitiveness and the action plan on regulatory co-operation. These were both announced by our Prime Minister and President Obama in December of last year. As the Prime Minister said:

We are pursuing an ambitious global trade agenda while at the same time ensuring enhanced access to the United States, our largest and most important trading partner. Together, these agreements represent the most significant step forward in Canada–U.S. cooperation since the North American Free Trade Agreement.

These action plans are a step in the right direction.

Let me assure the member opposite that we have not stopped there. We are also investing in border infrastructure including new lanes at the busiest crossings. We cannot forget that the CBSA must ensure that people and goods are cleared as quickly as possible, without compromising the safety and security of Canadians. I also would like to remind the House that we are accountable to taxpayers. We must ensure that operations are carried out in a cost-effective and responsible manner. That is why it is important for my hon. colleague to understand the actions taken by the CBSA.

With that in mind, I would like to set the record straight about the statement made by the hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi about the reduction of hours at three border crossings in his riding. At East Pinnacle, for example, border operations were reduced by eight hours. This port of entry now closes at 4 p.m. instead of midnight. There is a 24/7 port of entry only 10 kilometres away. With only 58 travellers per day, reducing the hours made good sense. The second port of entry in question is Glen Sutton. This port of entry processed 37 people a day. I am sure even my hon. colleague would have a hard time justifying a 24/7 port of entry for only 37 people per day. Since the port of entry down the road, 11.5 kilometres away, also has 24/7 service, it was clear that reducing the hours to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. was more realistic and operationally sound. The last port of entry that reduced its hours is Morses Line. This port of entry is now open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the 84 travellers who use it daily. After 4 p.m., travellers proceed to Saint Armand–Phillipsburg 13 kilometres away where service is provided 24/7.

The rationale for the decisions to reduce hours at ports of entry is to ensure that operations are not only cost effective but also as efficient as possible. These are difficult decisions, but they make sense. The CBSA was able to do this while keeping its mandate intact and still providing excellent service by dedicated professionals. This is good border management which the government expects and Canadians deserve.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, while the government claims to be helping Canada prosper, it is in fact stifling development in my region. It is killing jobs in ridings targeted by these cuts to border services. Border communities have been developing relationships and agreements for decades now. These measures really jeopardize all that work. Whether we are talking about 58 people, 37 people or 84 people, that is not a significant amount in a budget, but for a small community, that is a huge number of people who will have lower levels of service. These measures will jeopardize what we have spent the last few decades trying to develop. People's quality of life and their safety will be seriously affected, yet the savings will be minimal.

When will the government restore normal hours of operation? I am asking the question again. When will the government give the communities in question the means to continue to grow normally, so that no one is left behind?

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, the facts really do speak for themselves. When travel volumes do not support long hours at border crossings, they need to be examined. If appropriate, changes need to be made. This is reasonable.

I can assure members these were sound decisions that were made through tight fiscal management and the pursuit of a sound strategic agenda. They were made in a way that enables the CBSA to still meet the needs of the surrounding community without compromising security. Security was not compromised, jobs were not lost and taxpayer dollars are being better spent. I know the CBSA will continue to provide the kind of service at the border that Canadians have grown to expect and deserve, keeping travel and trade flowing while ensuring safety and security.

6:35 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 6:38 p.m.)