Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join the debate on Bill C-21, and I have listened carefully to the debate so far.
Before I begin to speak to the substance of the matter, I want to express my condolences on the passing of Arnold Chan, the former member for Scarborough—Agincourt. I did not know him as well as as some of the members on the other side of the House, but I did appreciate the great work he did on the procedure and house affairs committee. I was there for a long time during the filibuster, which is where I met him and talked to him on the side. I appreciated his innate respect for Parliament. The three things I most remember are that he would remind us all about dedication, duty, and devotion. I will also miss the breakfasts which I would share with him sometimes when I was at the Marriott, where he stayed and many members of Parliament stay. He was a great parliamentarian who will be sorely missed by many of us.
This legislation is in part related to the beyond the border action plan signed by the former prime minister, Mr. Harper, and the former president of the United States, Mr. Obama, back in 2012. It is nice to see more good work being implemented by the Liberal government, which was started by the Conservatives previously. I am sure there is much chagrin with respect to the implementation of a lot of the Conservative measures of the previous Conservative agenda when it comes to freeing up trade along the border. I hear many members around me sharing in that expression of joy, that the previous agenda is still being followed through.
It is good news that the government will cut down on some of the things that went on in the previous system that did not maximize trade opportunities, or the opportunity to reduce benefits and fraud especially in the bill. Perhaps with Bill C-21, we will be able to ensure those Canadians, whether corporations or individuals, can maximize opportunities when looking to find new suppliers or buyers. It is also an opportunity for immigration services and those men and women who work there to know who is actually leaving the country and have that information handy. They can use it to further the interests of Canada and track people much more effectively. Many members have spoken to this already about the opportunity that exists to tighten up the immigration system to know who has left the country, rather than expend time and resources tracking people who are no longer here simply because we did not have an exit control system.
Section 92 of the bill would collect information on people leaving Canada. There are many good measures in section 92 that will help track people when they are in Canada. It is not primarily for Canadians. I think of it as a way to track tourists and people who visit our country, to ensure they leave at the end of the day, that they do not stay and try to work here illegally whenever they come from other countries.
Section 94 creates an obligation for every person leaving Canada to truthfully answer the questions being asked of them, which is a reasonable measure to include. It is sad that we have to put it into legislation to compel people to tell the truth. If it were to happen and one appeared before a judge, one would have to squabble over whether the person did answer truthfully or lied when speaking to an officer at border control.
I know there has been a lot of concern expressed in the House about privacy measures with respect to the exchange of information and what type of information may be shared from the second page of the passport. Some members who participated in the debate explained the kind of information that would be there, such as surname, first name, middle name, date of birth, potentially the citizenship or nationality, the sex of the person, the type of travel document he or she would be using, the issuing country or organization, the travel document, the date, and the time of departure. Much of this same information may be found when printing an airline ticket to present to officers, similar to much of the information found on a person's travel documents. I know many people who share much more personal information over social media and Facebook. There are a lot of pictures there. One can get to know a person better that way than by sharing this type of information.
I say this as someone who came here from another country. My family came to Canada in 1985, after being kicked out of communist Poland. Canadian authorities already had a lot of this information as part of the spousal sponsorship that my father had made at the time in his application.
We reveal a lot of information today too through social media, Instagram, and a whole bunch of other applications that proliferate on our smart phones. People really have accepted that. The point of contention becomes how that information is used by governments.
I do not often hear people worrying about how Walmart or Amazon are using their information when they buy books from them and have them mail it to them. I do not hear that same type of concern. I do hear concern with large firms like Equifax, and we see the privacy breach that is affecting Canadians, Americans, and many others. It will be a problem for many years of people trying to unwind any type of fraud committed against them.
In a situation where it is the government exchanging this type of information, the airlines already have a lot of it. It is not just border services in different countries, the United States, or Canada, but the airlines carry a lot of this information too. I still do not hear people mentioning how Air Canada or United airlines are using or sharing their information is a concern for them. People are already sharing it on Facebook or Snapchat, and are already putting up videos of themselves on YouTube. People can see where they are working, what they are doing, or the name of their family members.
It is a concern I have heard before when it comes to counterterrorism measures. I have had people come to me expressing concern about broad based metadata gathering techniques by CSIS and other security agencies. I share some of those concerns. With metadata, it does not take a lot of effort to track down an individual to figure out who the person is. There is a balance that has to be reached at some point between zero privacy and zero data sharing at all in no place at no time.
Many people who say these things then go online to Indigo, order books, provide a whole bunch of information, use rewards cards that have additional information connected to them, and then mail them to their home addresses. All the information presumably needed to commit identity fraud is available there. They will use credit cards, will have accounts and plum rewards cards, and the information will all be there already. These are the same types of transactions we would make at a gas station, where we swipe our cards in order to purchase gasoline. A lot of people's private information is already located in their credit cards and is being exchanged through the point of sale device being used.
A lot of the information used on a day-to-day basis is exchanged with private companies. Those private companies exchange that information with their affinity partners. Many people accept those things. They read the terms and agreements, and accept those.
However, when it comes to the government, some people share some type of angst when it is being shared across the border. Oftentimes, the servers where this data is being collected happen not to be in Canada but might be in another country. In the the terms of the agreements, people are saying it is okay to share it across the border.
We have to temper some of these concerns. I heard them too. Most of these people are worried about their privacy, but again they go onto social media and share far more information there.
I would also like to speak to some of the bill's benefits, like the exchange of information on travellers, which would help our border officers enforce the law and protect national security. Such a program could have many benefits, such as strengthening immigration, as I have said before, Canadian border controls, national security, law enforcement and the very integrity of our immigration program.
The potential for outgoing cargo being inspected will deter illegal smuggling, which will be more closely monitored outside of Canada. I think it bears repeating here, in the House, that at this very moment we have no effective means of curbing the exportation of contraband. I also think that this bill would bring potential savings of roughly $20 million a year by targeting service recipients living outside Canada.
Something I have mentioned before is benefit fraud, people who collect benefits they are not entitled to since they are no longer residents of Canada or because they made an application in bad faith, left Canada, and receive benefits through some means involving a bank account here. However, they no longer reside here and are no longer eligible to receive them.
Saving $20 million in the grand scheme of things when one is running a $20-plus billion deficit is still important. Every little bit helps and gets one closer to the goal, which should be balancing the budget. Unfortunately, we know that in the last federal budget tabled in the House by the Minister of Finance, as well as in the previous budget, there was no table in the budget demonstrating a willingness or an intent of some day balancing the federal budget and ensuring we would not be accumulating future debts that we would be passing on to the next generation.
Much of the debt we are accumulating is also squeezing out the private sector lending that could happen. If we borrow a lot on the public side, we inevitably squeeze the private sector side as interest rates go up. We have been seeing interest rates go up this year, and they may even go up again one more time if the central bank decides to do that. Twenty million dollars is a small amount of money, but it gets us toward that goal. I asked the question before of the member for Oxford.
I have some concerns with parts of the bill when it comes to the financing for some of these new tasks that will be assigned to CBSA. I support the bill. It is good that we are implementing the agreement, but I am concerned that perhaps there was not enough money set aside for training and potential new facilities in the previous budget. Some kind of explanation and extra attention should be paid to this. I hope to see that at the committee level. I hope it will really dig down into the costs associated with ensuring we have a proper exit control system on the visa tourist side, but also for the products and parcels that may be leaving our country that are going to be stopped. Do we have the facilities and manpower to ensure we can do all these extra tasks? If it requires 100 or 200 more hours at a certain control point, is that going to be overtime or extra officers being hired to shore up the resources in human capital now in CBSA?
Those questions about infrastructure spending and facilities for exit inspection points are open questions on the costing of these initiatives. I hope the committee takes a good, hard look at the costs associated with this and provides some feedback and recommendations to the government on what that would look like in the near future.
The bill also comes at the right time, when we have kicked off the really serious negotiations on NAFTA. We cannot ignore what is happening outside the House, across the border. We are negotiating with our biggest trading partner and attempting to ensure we maintain all the benefits Canadians receive from NAFTA. It is at a time when we are trying to indicate to Americans that it is our full intention to follow through with this agreement, which was signed by President Obama and our previous prime minister, Harper, and actually implement it, follow through with it, and maximize the benefits Canadians are receiving from our freer border trade. It is a good sign that we are proceeding with it. It is a good indicator to negotiators on both sides that it is our intention to provide Americans the certainty they require for their national security needs and trade needs, as well as our own. We are indicating to them that these are our expectations going forward, that we are going to maintain this free border trade. It is a sign of good faith that we are approaching negotiations with open eyes, but also with firm objectives and demands.
I want to spend one moment on this. I really wish Parliament had stronger rules around knowing the types of negotiating objectives the Government of Canada has. I know the international trade committee met during the summer and much of that information was provided. However, I really wish it was a statutory requirement, more so than from the good graces of the government, that it was willing to share with members of Parliament and the Senate. It should be more like Congress works in the United States, where there is a statutory requirement to not only present objectives on NAFTA, but also have them confirmed by Parliament so we can then play an active role in ensuring the concerns of our communities and residents in our ridings are heard.
Even during the summer, many businesses and small business owners came to me with different concerns around the threshold, about their products being able to clear customs, and having some certainty. Sometimes some companies were having customs stop products instead of clearing them for different reasons because they were not meeting the requirements. At other times, the products were simply making it through. There was no rhyme or reason for when a product would clear or not. It had nothing to do with time of year, or the port of clearance it was going through.
That point of having stronger rules would apply to everything in the House. Parliament should have much greater control over the Government of Canada's objectives when it comes to international agreements, as well as free trade agreements, so we know not only what the negotiating objectives are but approve the negotiating objectives and amend them. I do not mean giving it an entirely new direction or wiping out the government's intent. After all the government should be judged according to its goals at the next election, and in-between, and whether we really should be playing a greater role.
The border insecurity issue caused by the Liberals with the increase in crossings at the borders between Quebec, Manitoba, and the United States is a cause for concern. I have heard from a lot of Canadians who doubt that the Liberals have mastered the situation or grasped the enormity of it. When we have people crossing the border illegally, seeking to take advantage of our very generous refugee system here, fleeing from the United States, the second-freest country in the world—we are definitely the first—that is a cause for concern to many Canadians. They want certainty that we have a handle on the border and that the Government of Canada is taking the issue seriously and not causing a situation in which even more people will try to cross illegally, especially now when we are moving into the winter.
Bill C-21 is a good bill. I would like to see more study at committee on the cost implications of some of this. If there is a connection to pieces in the budget or in the future, those should be indicated to the committee as well.
The timing is one thing that I judge. This is the first day that Parliament has returned. I would have thought that the first thing we would perhaps debate would be something to do with the small business tax proposal the Liberals have pushed forward. It is interesting that we are debating this bill, although it is important. The small business tax proposal by far is the number one issue I am hearing from residents in my riding. I held a town hall on Saturday from 5 to 7. I was basically asking my constituents to miss dinner with their family and the Stamps game, which in Calgary is almost like a religious experience, and most people go to it. I had over 100 small business owners show up. They were farmers and physicians, and they were all passionately interested in the details. I had Kim Moody there from Moodys Gartner providing a technical explanation on the changes being proposed. That is the type of debate we should be having here in the House, having fulsome details provided to us by the Minister of Finance and the Minister of National Revenue on the implications of the small business tax changes they are proposing at this time.
We could have had a debate on border control issues specific to illegal crossings of our borders in Manitoba and Quebec. There could have been a great first day of debate on that, to really test the government to see whether it has mastery of the situation and understands what is going on.
We could also have had a debate on public debt management. With the interest rate increasing and future potential interest rate increases in store, the public debt management policy of the government and whether it has a handle on that are open questions. As interest rates go up, the costs of public debt financing in Canada will go up. How much more debt are we taking on? Is there a plan to reduce the deficit and start paying down the debt? Are they managing their outstanding bonds appropriately?
As I have done many times before and as we are back on the first day, I have a Yiddish proverb that I want to share with the House: things cannot be bad all the time, nor good all the time. Although this bill is good, there are lots of bad things that the Government of Canada is doing, and I think this Yiddish proverb definitely applies to the current situation. Although the Conservatives and the Liberals are having a tender, happy debate today on a bill that we agree with and are only just mentioning our concerns about, there will be days to come when we disagree. I am sure that during question period there will be fulsome disagreement about the direction the Government of Canada has chosen to go on the small business tax, border controls, and on other matters affecting the public finances of Canada.
With that, I will end my intervention and look forward to questions and comments by my colleagues.