Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be back in this place this fall. As the first day back, I feel like we should have the Welcome Back, Kotter song playing in the background.
Like many others, I would like to express my sincere sympathies to Arnold Chan's family and to the members of the Liberal caucus for their loss of a colleague. I think all members of Parliament feel the loss, but they will certainly feel it much more over there. Our best wishes to all those who are feeling that today.
I am also pleased to participate in this debate today on the second reading of Bill C-21, an act to amend the Customs Act. I have enjoyed the debate today. We will be supporting the bill. However, as stated by the questioner from Toronto, there are unintended consequences of which we need to be aware. The devil is in the details. How would some of these regulations be met?
The bill would amend the Customs Act to authorize the Canada Border Services Agency to collect biographical information on all travellers, including snowbirds, and Canadian citizens as they leave for Florida or Arizona. In that regard, the CBSA has a discretionary authority. The agency may collect this information if it wishes, but it is not required to do so. The act authorizes officers to require goods exported from Canada to be reported. The duty to report exports will also empower Canada's border security agency to examine the goods that are exported.
Bill C-21 would also give two exemptions concerning the exportation of goods. Goods on board a conveyance, such as a ship, a truck, or some transportation vehicle, that enter and then leave Canadian waters do not have to be reported. Goods on board a conveyance that proceeds from one place to another inside Canada do not need to be declared.
The bill would amend section 159 of the Customs Act to make it an offence to smuggle or attempt to smuggle goods out of Canada. It includes whether the attempt to remove goods from Canada has been done clandestinely or not. It includes any goods that are subject to duties. It also includes goods that are prohibited from being exported or goods that are controlled or regulated.
The Conservative Party wants to support Bill C-21. The legislation addresses a long-standing priority for our party in maintaining stronger border security for Canada. It also acknowledges that abuse occurs in the export industry and it works toward ensuring that entitlement programs designed for exporters are not abused. The former Conservative government treated Canada's border security very seriously. With Bill C-21, Canadians can see that the current government is building on and following through on work that was done in the former parliament. I commend the government for that.
Bill C-21 will have benefits for many diverse communities across Canada's economy and our labour force. This initiative is good news for hard-working taxpayers as it will cut down on employment insurance and benefit cheats. The provisions of Bill C-21 that spell out the exchange of traveller information will support Canada's law enforcement and national security operations. The benefits of this program may include the strengthening of Canada's immigration and border management, national security, law enforcement, and program integrity in Canada.
The ability to inspect goods exiting Canada will also deter criminals from smuggling illegal and controlled goods out of our country. This legislation has the potential to save an estimated $20 million a year from those who are unduly receiving entitlement programs while they are not even in Canada.
Bill C-21 is part of the beyond the border action plan, which was jointly declared in 2011 by then prime minister Stephen Harper and then president Barack Obama.
The beyond the borders action plan establishes a long-term partnership respecting perimeter security for both our countries. The joint declaration set out the following key areas of co-operation between the United States and Canada: addressing threats early; trade facilitation, economic growth, and jobs; integrated cross-border law enforcement; and critical infrastructure and cyber security.
According to the action plan, the information-sharing initiative, also known as the entry-exit initiative, was to be implemented by June 30, 2014, under the original timeline. The current Prime Minister announced the agreement with the United States to fully implement the system to exchange basic biographical information in March 2016, following his first official visit to the United States.
According to the Liberal government, the entry-exit initiative will respond to the outbound movement of known high-risk travellers and their goods prior to their actual departure from Canada by air. This will be an effective measure in Bill C-21. It will help our nation deal with fugitives from justice, registered sex offenders, human smuggling and drug smugglers, exporters of illicit goods, and more.
It has already been talked about today, but parents and other family members will be pleased that we will now be better equipped to respond more effectively in times of very sensitive situations. This includes what we have talked about here in the House today, Amber Alerts and helping find abducted children and runaways. My colleague from Prince Albert told us the story of his friend to which that had happened.
The changes proposed in Bill C-21 will prevent the illegal export of controlled, regulated, or prohibited goods from Canada and would bolster Canada's trade reputation. We are taking measures to help our customers overseas and in the United States and we are saying that we are working hard to control goods leaving our country.
I chair the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. In the fall of 2016, our Auditor General report included a chapter auditing the beyond the borders action plan. The Auditor General reported on the performance of this initiative by the Canadian and the American governments. We know that this has been a very successful initiative.
We also learned at committee from witnesses appearing on behalf of the various federal government departments that are tasked with implementing the beyond the borders action plan that it was a very massive undertaking. We need to be aware that in an undertaking that is already massive, we are adding more information and certain expectations around that information.
The cross-border action plan has many moving parts. It has been a very difficult action plan to develop and deploy, yet we heard about successes. We heard public servants' strong commitment to ensuring that the goals are met. We heard that everyone is confident in success, and as I have said, we already know of this success.
The recommendations by the Auditor General were, as always, accepted by all departments. Every one of the Auditor General's recommendations was agreed to. Our committee found that the public servants who work every day to protect our borders are serious about their work and willing to improve their reporting, cost forecasting, performance indicators, and communication among responsible departments and agencies. It was encouraging to hear the testimony of these public servants.
There are problems, however, and some of them are larger and more difficult than others. Throughout the questioning by members of Parliament from all sides, we heard acknowledgements of the difficulties and real plans to overcome them. All parties agreed to our request to have progress reports. There were pledges by specific witnesses to complete certain tasks in specific time frames and report the progress to our committee, but again, with every little bit of data that was collected, there were difficulties around passing that data on to the proper channels.
Bill C-21 will help Canada identify individuals who do not leave Canada at the end of their authorized period of stay, i.e., visa overstays. The bill includes measures that will provide decision-makers with an accurate picture of an individual's travel history. Decision-makers include border security agents, stakeholders in any industry, and more. This will bring integrity back to our standards, but again, the devil is in the details when we are dealing with our own privacy information.
In conclusion, I think that Bill C-21 is a step in the right direction, but there are many questions that remain unanswered, the question of unintended consequences, and the question of cybersecurity and what other countries do with the information that we have. I look forward to the remainder of this debate. I want to learn more about this bill and the government's answers to some of those questions. For now, our party supports Bill C-21 generally and in theory.