Mr. Speaker, how many members have come home from a long business trip, arrived at the airport, and seen a tremendous lineup at customs? In my old job, I did this all the time. I used to work for a multinational. I would be travelling home from Europe or the United States, arrive at Trudeau airport, exhausted after being away for days and just wanting to get home to my family, and be faced with a lineup that went on from here to the end of the room. There would be hours of waiting at the airport. Of course, this was in my pre-NEXUS days. Now, with NEXUS, I can walk through the kiosk and get of the airport in no time. However, without NEXUS, in the old days that was problematic. It was hard. There was a long wait. There is nothing that makes me happier than avoiding that very long wait when I enter the United States.
There are over 12 million people who travel back and forth between the United States and Canada every year. More than 500,000 Canadians spend more than one month in Florida. In fact, from my riding, the Côte Saint-Luc Men's Club actually shifts a number of its activities to Deerfield Beach, in Florida, during the entire winter season. I can go to Florida on a constant basis and get local programming from our senior men's club if I want. That shows how many Canadians of all ages are affected by pre-clearance.
Pre-clearance is a wonderful thing. I am happy that an agreement was reached with the United States in March 2015 to provide for better pre-clearance for travellers and goods. Our government has worked hard to expand pre-clearance to now include the Billy Bishop airport in Toronto and the Jean Lesage airport in Quebec City, and, importantly, the VIA Rail terminal in Montreal, if I ever choose to take the train to New York City. Of course, it is slower today to take the train than it was when my grandfather was doing it in the 1930s and 1940s, but still the idea is there.
I am happy that pre-clearance is being expanded. We are now able to have Canadians and Americans who are in Canada, or foreigners in Canada, pre-cleared. They can fly to all of the different U.S. destinations that we can fly to today in Canada, from Pearson or from Trudeau or from Vancouver, or from other pre-clearance-approved airports that do not have facilities in the United States for customs. That means that we can go to many smaller destinations, over 50, from Pearson airport, instead of 27. This is a very big thing, and very important.
The whole idea of opposing the bill is something that I have trouble understanding. Why is that? I can understand that there are concerns over some of the expanded powers that are given to U.S. border officers. I think they are minimal, fully understandable, and yet I can understand their concerns. However, what on earth is the alternative?
Canada and the U.S. have worked together to identify irritants on both sides to allow for better pre-clearance. In the event that we are not constantly working together and identifying U.S. concerns with respect to Canadian pre-clearance, then we are eventually going to put ourselves in a situation where it is not going to stay the same as today; it could be restricted. To me, there is absolutely no reason why we would not sit down with our U.S. partners, as I understand the previous government did, and come up with what they see or what we see as improvement enhancements in pre-clearance. That is what is happening.
I personally look at it and see very little in terms of the irritants that are being talked about. Number one, in terms of the frisk search, we already do the frisk search, and we can still do it. With respect to the strip search, they can still ask a Canadian to do it. The only difference is that if no Canadian is available in a reasonable period of time, then the American officer can do it.
How often is that ever going to happen? I believe I heard the minister say that in the more than six decades of pre-clearance, we have never had one incident where Canada and the U.S. have had an argument about pre-clearance at a Canadian airport. To me, this is a minor issue, and something that certainly can be resolved at committee, if nothing else. It does not require further debate at second reading.
The idea that we should not allow someone to be questioned if they withdraw at the border is another added feature to the bill that I have heard complaints about. There is an issue. If we are sending people to the border and they see that if they are viewed with suspicion they can just withdraw, it certainly seems to me to encourage the idea that we could have people trying to probe the border to do nefarious things. I have no issue with the idea that somebody cannot simply withdraw and walk away without being photographed and asked why they are walking away. I do not see what this terrible issue is.
I have heard a lot of concerns that have been conveyed because of who the President of the United States is today, and concerns related to the identity of the current president. Our history with the United States has gone on for centuries. The United States is a western democratic country, our closest ally. We cannot close our eyes to the fact that the procedures in the United States are western, democratic, and civilized. Whether one likes or does not like the incumbent in the White House should not be how we judge our trade relationship with the United States, our pre-clearance agreements, or any of our other agreements with our closest trading partner and best ally. That, to me, is surprising.
One of the things I think is worthy of note is that we export $400 billion a year to the United States and more than $50 billion in services. There is more than $2.5 billion in trade that crosses the border every day.
Exports to the U.S. account for 20% of our GDP. More than 2.5 million jobs in Canada and nine million jobs in the United States are tied to trade between Canada and the United States. We have 6,100 Canadians who have tourism-related jobs, and American visitors account for two thirds of the visitors who spend the night in Canada.
We have to facilitate trade through agreements like CETA, through agreements like the one we are working on with Ukraine, like the expansion we just did with Israel. We have to do trade missions, and we have to do other things to allow people and goods to cross the border more easily.
Border delays are one of the biggest impediments that we have to growth. We need to encourage the enhancement of easier trade. It is frustrating to see a Canadian business say that it does not want to expand and do business in the United States because it is worried it will not be able to get its goods there easily and quickly. The same is true in reverse. We want American companies to come to Canada, to create jobs in Canada, to send their goods to Canada, so we have cheaper markets and lower prices for Canadian consumers. We do not want people to be deterred because they do not think they can get here, because it will take them four hours at the border to travel to their Canadian office, or they do not know if their goods will get here on time.
A pre-clearance arrangement like this one goes towards a larger philosophical principle that I agree with, that we need to enhance trade, enhance the ability to cross the border with our closest allies. It also goes to an idea that the faster we get people across the border, the better.
I have heard a lot about the concerns that members opposite have with pre-clearance. What is the alternative? What if we do not have pre-clearance like we have in other countries in the world outside the United States? When we go to those countries, our citizens are speaking to border officials based on the laws of that country, according to the rules of that country, and under the terms of that country. It is only with pre-clearance that Canadian law, Canadian human rights, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act, all apply to travel to the United States. Given that the alternative is worse, given that it is an excellent concept, I strongly support this law, and I urge members to get it to committee.