Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-23. I will be splitting my time with the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.
The previous speaker, the Minister of Small Business and Tourism, made a comment to my good friend and colleague from Peace River—Westlock. She did not just imply, she said that every community in his riding would receive something that would allow them to have a great Canada 150 celebration. I am just waiting breathlessly for all the small municipalities and large ones in my riding, hoping they will get the same kind of treatment.
Bill C-23 is an act respecting the pre-clearance of persons and goods in Canada and the United States. Before I speak on the specifics of the bill, I would like to provide a bit of history and context about how Bill C-23 came to be.
In 2011, then president Barack Obama and then prime minister Stephen Harper announced the United States-Canada joint declaration, “Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness”. This declaration spoke of a shared approach to security in which both countries would work together to address threats within, at, and away from our borders.
Later that year, both governments released the beyond the border action plan, which built upon the initial declaration and implemented many of the items included in the agreement.
It almost goes without saying in this House and across Canada that the United States is Canada's strongest ally and economic partner. We share the longest and most prosperous demilitarized border in the world. In fact, the only thing standing between my riding of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound and the east coast of Michigan is Lake Huron itself. While agriculture is the biggest industry in my riding, tourism is very close. It is huge. The bill would certainly help every aspect of tourism in my riding and many others.
About 300,000 people and $1.6 billion in goods and services cross our countries' shared border every single day. Over 100 million people live in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region alone, and account for about $6 trillion in economic activity.
The beyond the border agreement was negotiated and agreed upon in order to strengthen that special relationship between our two countries. Basically, the beyond the border agreement established a commitment between Canada and the United States to work together to enhance the security of Canadian and American citizens and support the flow of travellers, goods, and services across each other's borders.
As part of the beyond the border agreement, the previous Conservative government signed the agreement on land, rail, marine, and air transport pre-clearance, the LRMA. The LRMA updated the authorities for pre-clearance officers at border crossings to better reflect the current security environment as the previous pre-clearance laws had not been revisited in decades.
Put simply, pre-clearance allows border officers to carry out customs and immigration processes in the other country's territory. This allows border officers to use their time much more efficiently, and keep citizens of both countries safer.
This brings us to the bill. Bill C-23 is the Liberal government's attempt to implement the measures agreed upon in the LRMA. As I have said, the beyond the border agreement between the U.S. and Canada, including the LRMA, is an agreement that I support.
It is very nice to see the Liberals taking advantage of the good work done by the previous Conservative government. On that note, I think we need to really point out that there is a lot of bickering and back and forth goes on in this House, and it is actually nice sometimes to see work continue, even when there is a change of government. I want to thank the government for that.
I want to ensure that this agreement is implemented in a responsible way, though, that respects the rights and liberties of Canadian citizens, travellers, police officers, and CBSA officials. It is for that reason that I look forward to studying Bill C-23 with my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
I believe that our committee will provide a strong analysis of the bill and recommend amendments where or if necessary to ensure that it adequately reflects the spirit of the 2015 LMRA.
I would like to briefly outline the kinds of questions that need to be answered during the committee's study of Bill C-23.
Currently, there are eight Canadian airports and three terminals designated as pre-clearance and pre-inspection sites. Every year, these Canadian pre-clearance facilities process about 12 million passengers. One of these pre-clearance facilities is the Toronto Pearson International Airport, the fourth largest point of entry into the United States in the world.
This is an airport that I have used many times. Just last fall, I was part of a delegation to Washington, and many of my counterparts from government and opposition went through there. For anybody who went through this pre-clearance, there is no doubt about it, this is a huge advantage that speeds things up at both ends of the trip.
Bill C-23 would authorize the Minister of Public Safety to designate pre-clearance areas and pre-clearance perimeters in Canada in which pre-clearance may take place. However, before the bill advances, I would like to know whether the minister has already decided whether to designate new airports, terminals, land and rail services as pre-clearance areas. This is something we do not know yet. If he has, where will these new pre-clearance sites be introduced? If the minister has already made these decisions, he should inform the House. I also hope that he has consulted with those communities to ensure a smooth transition.
On that note, we all know that the unsafe injection sites were put into communities without any consultation or input. We just hope that the same kind of thing does not happen here.
Bill C-23 would provide the United States pre-clearance officers with powers to facilitate pre-clearance in Canada. I absolutely believe that this is a function that would contribute positively to our safety and security if implemented properly.
The bill gets into the specifics of what those American pre-clearance officers can and cannot do, and I believe our committee would have a great opportunity to ensure that those specifics are outlined clearly and directly. We have to make sure that we know exactly what these pre-clearance officials would have the power to do. I look forward to hearing from relevant expert witnesses on the matter.
Furthermore, Bill C-23 would authorize Canadian police officers and officers of the CBSA to assist United States pre-clearance officers in the exercise of their powers and performance of their duties and functions. Again, I believe that this new function is a critical component of the 2015 LMRA and Bill C-23. However, the government needs to grant these new powers responsibly. We must ensure that CBSA officials and police officers are confident that they not be asked to assist in exercises that they would not otherwise perform. Since 2015, law enforcement at the border has evolved considerably, and it is the government's responsibility to make sure that CBSA officials are comfortable complying with new duties.
It is also important to remember that the LMRA is an agreement between the United States and Canada. Provisions of Bill C-23 are applicable only if the United States passes the same legislation in both its Senate and House of Representatives.
According to the beyond the border agreement, the American equivalent of Bill C-23 has been promised to be passed in conjunction with Bill C-23. I know that the bill has been introduced in the American legislature, but given the new American administration, where does it stand? I am not sure. If the government is going to proceed with Bill C-23, we must have assurances that its American equivalent is safe and will pass the American legislature, and not be the target of any effort to rescind or weaken it.
As I said earlier, these are just some of the questions that I hope to ask during the public safety and national security committee's study. Given that the initial agreement that led to this bill was a product of the previous government, it should be a surprise to nobody that the bill has potential.
I strongly believe that a thorough study of the bill by the public safety committee would ensure that it contributes positively to the safety and security of all Canadians, as well as to the economic partnership and allegiance between our great countries.
I will be glad to take questions.