Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to Bill C-26. I will be splitting my time with my friend and colleague from South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale.
Bill C-26 is an act to establish the Canadian Border Services Agency. It would create this agency and would bring under its umbrella the border security and intelligence functions previously carried out by three other government operations: the customs program from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency; the intelligence and interdiction and enforcement program of the immigration program at ports of entry from the Citizenship and Immigration Canada Branch; and imports inspections reports of entry by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
With putting these three agencies under one umbrella, have we changed the size of the workforce of any of these agencies? Have we grown the bureaucracy of Canada or have we made it more organized? Have any of these others departments become smaller by the personnel they have lost to form the new Canada Border Services Agency? Has this put more resources where they are needed or has it created a new agency to oversee a group already overtaxed and spread very thin just to review our imports?
This view discusses the FAST program and the Nexus program, and they are very usable tools to provide pre-approved low-risk travellers and shippers.
As we see it at the moment, the problem with both FAST and Nexus is the infrastructure is not there to support them. Although we have created a system with which we can better serve low-risk importers and travellers, a infrastructure bottleneck is still created, specifically near my riding of Elgin--Middlesex--London. The Windsor-Detroit crossing the Port Huron-Sarnia crossing are backed up most each and every day out to the 400 series highways.
The use of a FAST system or a Nexus system starts to become impossible because of the trucks that are already in front. The government continues to look for a solution for the infrastructure piece to our borders, sometimes by creating new departments, sometimes by creating new systems and sometimes by creating new legislation like Nexus and FAST.
The true answer to our border services in southern Ontario is infrastructure. We simply do not have the capacity since 9/11, and truly since before it, to move the number of cars and trucks across bridges and tunnels between Ontario and the United States, and generally from Canada to the United States.
The years of inaction by the government has left this as a problem. The government continues to say that it is studying it. Locally, we call that “paralysis by analysis”. It continues to analyze the problem and therefore never gets to it. This may be an effective way of studying by ostriches, but humans find if we bury our heads in the sand, the problems do not go away. Canadians expect action from their government.
The next item in the bill would put in place is the Canadian Border Security Agency, although it has been acting in this capacity since December 12, 2003. Again, we have a case of the government following with legislation well after the fact of action. It has been a year and a half. We find the government a little behind itself with the legislative authority. We hope it still believes in what it wanted 18 months ago because the legislation is now before us to create the agency.
Front line border agents also are in question in the bill. It would establish a new agency for them, but we continue to hear of cases of front line border agents being overworked, working alone, working unarmed and not having the resources with which to fully function and to do their job.
Dedication is not the problem. Our border agencies are second to none. The officers on the front line are second to none. The problem is they do not have the backup or the resources to do their job. Equipping is essential.
Recent stories of border guards working alone certainly raise concerns. We consider this a fairly high-level security job in that we are trying to prevent items and people that should not be here from moving into Canada. I expect that the opposite is true of our neighbours to the south, who expect our border agency to prevent people from moving their way who should not be moving their way. If we find cases of border guards working alone and unarmed, I am not certain that we are really putting the necessary resources behind the problem.
One of the other things I found in reading this legislation was that it has the term “arrangements” built into it. This has to do with foreign states and international organizations or any person or organization. I am always afraid when I see legislation predicting future arrangements rather than stating what the arrangements might be.
Some of my colleagues this morning, in discussing this same piece of legislation, talked about the need for Canadians to soon carry passports when they enter into the United States. At the same time, legislation is coming forward that will also make it necessary for Americans to have passports when they leave and come back into their own country.
This cries out to something I mentioned earlier about border agents and the jobs they do. We are asking for an increased level of documentation in order to provide better security at our borders and the U.S. is asking that we enforce this to provide a higher level of security with respect to people entering it.
Knowing that everybody travelling into the United States will need a passport and knowing the timelines and the difficulty for people to get passports on an as needed basis, I ask that Passport Canada continue to look at this problem and make it a high priority so that passports will be available to Canadian citizens as they need them if this law passes. We are talking about being prepared for the future, when all people travelling into the United States will need passports.
In conclusion, let me note that we have new legislation before us but again well after the fact of it being put in place by order in council, legislation that contains terms like “arrangements”, and it is difficult to determine how it will be used in the future. Those questions are yet to be answered, but Bill C-26 was firmly entrenched by order in council long before the legislation came to the House to be discussed.
A new agency is being created but we have no real assurances that the three legacy agencies that these people came from will be in any way reduced by the same numbers or dollars. Have we just created a new agency that will spend money, admittedly on what is a very good point? Have the other agencies been reduced by that amount or are we simply growing the bureaucracy here in Canada?
We have a new agency working on our border, but have we addressed the real issue? As I stated earlier, the real issue is infrastructure, that is, the ability to get cars and trucks and people across the border. We have created a new agency to ensure that people, cars and trucks cross the border safely, but the government needs to quit dragging its feet on new border infrastructure, specifically in the southwestern Ontario area.
In my own riding of Elgin--Middlesex--London, we have a lot of dealings with the automotive business. We have many parts plants that supply manufacturing facilities on either side of the border. We have been stressed lately by the fact that just in time delivery needs to take place but the parts are not getting there. New decisions are being made and parts plants are locating in Michigan, Ohio or upstate New York instead of southern Ontario, where they could be providing good jobs for Canadians, because they cannot be sure that the border is open enough for them to get their parts across.
The bottleneck must be fixed. It will not be fixed by an agency. It will be fixed by this government or perhaps a good future Conservative government getting at the infrastructure problems.
We have a new agency but does this new agency have the resources to protect the border guards who are currently working? We continually hear of people working alone at unarmed border crossings. This needs to change.
I will be supporting this legislation, but as can be heard from my comments, it is perhaps not to the standards Canadians are looking for, and perhaps it needs a little more work before it comes back.