Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address this topic.
Going back to an earlier comment by my colleague across the way, I regularly take the train to New York, but I do not take it from Canada because there is up to two hours of delay at the border with the Toronto to New York service. I drew this comment from the TripAdvisor website that says, “expect a 2 hour delay each way.... You cannot get off the train and you can't use any electronic devices while the customs inspection is taking place. On the way back, we went through it twice: once on the American side and again on the Canadian side.”
This is in an era when people are travelling from London to Paris in two hours. High-speed rail is certainly something that is being considered. Can members imagine a Toronto to New York high-speed train, which one could expect to be about four hours with that kind of equipment, but with a delay of two hours while the customs inspection goes on at the border? This is not a 21st-century attitude.
This year, we marked the 170th anniversary of the Oregon Treaty, which is the agreement between the United States and Great Britain that established the 49th parallel as the boundary between the United States and what would soon be known as Canada. Somewhat later, in 1903, an international tribunal resolved a long-standing dispute in the north on where to draw the border between Canada and Alaska. These two agreements have not only helped to define our physical borders, but they have also helped to write the story of our historic friendship and alliance between our two nations.
In a world where national borders have at times led to conflict and political strife, Canada and the United States have built a relationship that is co-operative, economically prosperous, and one of the most safe and secure in the world. This relationship has been built and strengthened by ordinary Canadians and ordinary Americans, as well as by political leaders in both countries of all political stripes.
I would put into contrast an old black-and-white movie from the 1940s called Night Train To Trieste. It went all through Europe on the Orient Express, and the train did not stop. Here we are with two-hour delays at the border between, I would argue, the two friendliest neighbouring countries perhaps in the world; whereas in a place where people were at war in living memory, they were flying across the borders nonstop.
Our shared goals of providing peace, security, and opportunity for our citizens have helped shape who we are and given us a robust foundation on which to build a strong and prosperous future. Among the key issues regularly discussed between our two countries are border travel and security measures, as we continually look for safe ways to make travel and trade easier and more efficient.
Finding ways to reduce delays at our border with the United States and encourage trade and travel are critical. It is because of the integration of the North American economy and the volume of trade that the border handles daily, which is more than $2 billion a day, as has been mentioned, that effective management is essential to the health of both of our country's economies. It is in everyone's best interest to safely keep business flowing and our borders open to the legitimate movement of goods and people. This is the goal of initiatives like pre-clearance and why it is essential that we move ahead with this legislation. Once the bill is passed, it will provide the legal framework to govern potential expanded pre-clearance in both Canada and the United States in all modes of transportation: land, rail, marine, and air.
It is worth noting again that pre-clearance operations already process 11 million U.S.-bound passengers every year, with some 400 U.S. customs and border protection officers working at eight Canadian airports. These existing operations reduce wait times and airport congestion, and allow for greater predictability in departure and arrival times. They facilitate the interception of threats at the point of departure, and as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce put it, “greatly improve the competitiveness of North American trade”.
In a world of closely interconnected economies and rapidly changing threats, nations are recognizing that pre-clearance is an effective way to encourage trade and travel while managing threats before they cross borders. The economic spin-offs have been well detailed and well proven through these many decades of pre-clearance operations at Canadian airports. In fact, pre-clearance is a way of both thinning the border for legitimate trade and travel while enhancing security by facilitating the interception of potential threats before they arrive at the border itself.
Expanded pre-clearance is part of a long and successful tradition of Canada and the United States not only doing business together but doing border security together as well.
Canada and America already co-operate on measures like the Canada-U.S. integrated border enforcement teams, IBETs, multi-agency law enforcement teams that target cross-border criminal activity; the shiprider program in which specially trained and designated RCMP and U.S. Coast Guard officers jointly crew marine vessels and operate on both sides of the international boundary line; and, of course, trusted traveller programs like NEXUS, the free and secure trade program, or FAST, and others that help to keep the border secure while encouraging legitimate border traffic.
All of these measures become more critical in an ever-changing, ever-connected global community. These are the benefits that we can realize with pre-clearance.
At the state visit last March in Washington, D.C., Canada and the United States announced an agreement in principle to begin expanding pre-clearance to four new sites: two airports, Jean Lesage in Quebec City, and Billy Bishop in Toronto; and two rail sites, Montréal Central station, and Rocky Mountaineer in Vancouver. Legislation to implement that agreement in the U.S. was adopted by Congress and signed into law in December with bipartisan support, and the bill before us today will implement the agreement in Canada.
Importantly, Bill C-23 establishes a framework that could one day govern pre-clearance at ports of entry beyond those that were the subject of last spring's agreement in principle. It could also cover other modes of transport as well as pre-clearance of cargo, and it could see Canadian border officers conducting pre-clearance operations in the U.S. for the first time.
All of this is good for travellers, good for businesses, and good for security on both sides of the border. I urge all members to support Bill C-23 and ensure its swift passage. That will enable me to take the train from Toronto to New York without stopping at the Niagara frontier.