Customs Act


Madam Speaker, the government introduced this bill in June of last year and then let it sit. There has been no substantive discussion of these changes to the Customs Act. It is certainly clear that the government now wants to maybe prorogue the House or rush a few bills through to try to somewhat enhance its legislative record. It is particularly shocking given that we are going into the third round of the NAFTA renegotiations that this important bill that the government said was critical to enhancing trade between Canada and the U.S. and that was introduced well over a year ago is only being substantively debated now.

In my remarks, I am going to touch on elements of Bill C-21. Also, in my role as an MP from southern Ontario concerned about the auto industry and our exports, and as the shadow critic for Foreign Affairs, I am going to talk about my concern with how the Liberal government handles the U.S. relationship. It is an important one. As I often say, the U.S. is our closest friend, our neighbour, biggest trading partner, and our strongest ally. I fear how the relationship with the United States has been steadily eroded under the government, regardless of what political stripe is in power in Washington. I will attempt to demonstrate that today, not just through rhetoric but through examples.

Bill C-21 is probably the most comprehensive change to the Customs Act in Canada for individuals. That is because the broadest interventions by Canadian officials at our border would be permitted by the changes to section 94 of the act, under which a border official could ask Canadians to answer “any questions” related to the Customs Act or any other act of Parliament. If Canadians were paying attention to this debate, they would be startled by that. Any questioning on any benefit, tax issue, or anything else could be part of the enhanced questioning at the border as a result of this bill. There has virtually been no debate or discussion of that for well over a year. That is what Parliament is for: it is to have the discussion.

What this bill would then do is allow Canadian authorities to share all of that information with our friends in the U.S. Having been part of the last government and a big supporter of the beyond the border initiative, as we can see from speakers today, the Conservatives are inclined to support this. However, so far we have had little debate. The Liberals are not being open with Canadians or the provinces on how that information will be safeguarded, how personal and private information will be safeguarded when needed. We already have serious problems removing children from no-fly lists, where double names and issues not related to public safety and security make it impossible for young children or, in some cases, veterans to remove themselves from lists. People should be concerned about how information is collected, shared, and stored. That is what Parliament is for: to debate these things so that Canadians will very much know what their government is doing.

The result of Bill C-21 would be an entry-exit data tracking system with sharing with the United States, basically amounting to a common entry-exit system between Canada and the U.S. This has been talked about within the confines of the beyond the border initiative. It has been talked about both in the previous government and the Liberal government.

Let me tell everyone what the current Minister of Public Safety, who is responsible for our border, said about this in the House of Commons in February 2011. He said the following when asking the Conservative minister of the time a question:

If we have a common entry and common exit system, does it not follow that Canada no longer has sovereign Canadian control over immigration and refugees? Canadians need to know what is at risk.

Certainly, the most experienced member of the Liberal government had concerns in 2011 on this exact system, that there was basically no debate on it, but now is being rushed through the House of Commons. I would like him to come to the House and describe how the provisions in the government’s arrangements with the U.S. has satisfied the concerns he had at that time. That is his duty as a parliamentarian, particularly now that he is charged with this file. So far, I have not heard the concerns he expressed in 2011 addressed in this place.

It is interesting that this is happening in the context of a government that has actually relinquished its sovereign control over our border, to use the his language, “sovereign control”. The Liberals had relinquished it when the Prime Minister said that anyone can come into our country without respecting our sovereign control over our border, and without respecting our well-established, world-recognized fair systems for refugees, asylum claims, and immigration. Perhaps the largest failure of the government has been on the sovereign control of our border. Therefore, I hope the Minister of Public Safety will come to the House and let us know how the concerns he had years ago about a common exit system has been addressed within the confines of thousands of people coming from the United States into Canada illegally.

As I have said constantly, it is okay for a country to enforce its laws. This is a basic element of sovereignty. It is okay for a country to say that it will have a rules-based system with respect to claiming asylum, refugees, and immigration issues. It is fair. In fact, it was a previous Liberal government that put into place the safe third country agreement with the United States to ensure we had a rules-based system on both sides of the border. However, so far in this debate, I have not heard from any government member how that is addressed in Bill C-21, at a time when it is fair to say our border is in crisis. Therefore, since the Minister of Public Safety, as an MP in 2011, expressed concern then about sovereign control over our border, perhaps he should be in the House and perhaps the bill should have been debated a few months after it was introduced and not well over a year later.

However, I am not done with the hon. member, my friend, the Minister of Public Safety. In his supplemental on that same day in February 2011, here is what he said the government of the day should be achieving in return for a common exit system. He said:

Could the Prime Minister at least guarantee minimum gains for Canada? For example, will he get rid of U.S. country of origin labelling? Will there be no more buy American policies? Will we get hassle free access for durum, beef, pork and softwood? Will passport requirements be removed? Will Canada be exempt from the patriot act? What are the guarantees?

I am probably not delivering it with the gusto he did that day. He is experienced in gusto. However, what he was saying was that the beyond the border initiative should be a partnership with our friends in the United States. It should be two countries working together on areas of mutual interest and for Canada to make these changes, we should see that our national interests were being addressed in the United States concurrently.

If we look at the member for Regina—Wascana, as he was at that time, with his list of demands, those were the issues, minor irritants between Canada and the U.S. Fortunately, my friend who has retired from Battlefords—Lloydminster worked very hard on the rules of origin and issues related to beef, which are some of these issues we have with our closest friend.

However, it was clear the Minister of Public Safety wanted something in return for a common exit system. He wanted to see Canada’s interest being advanced with our friends in the United States.

Is that happening now? I would say it is not. I sadly have to remind my friends in the House that when our Prime Minister introduced President Obama right in that spot, he introduced his bromance, his dudeplomacy friend. I have said countless times how embarrassed I was that day for our leader to introduce the leader of the free world, as the U.S. president is often called, in such terms. Quite frankly, it was immature.

How did that bromance benefit Canada beyond the state dinner, the media coverage, and magazine spreads from that state dinner? President Obama cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline within months of the new Liberal government.

We have Bill C-21 and Bill C-23 on border and pre-clearance changes. We are changing and legalizing marijuana, which will affect thousands of Canadians going to the U.S. The pre-clearance bill impacts that. The Liberals could not even get the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to remove one question from its pre-clearance. We could not even get a question removed from the ICE screening in the United States, yet the U.S. is getting Bill C-21 and common entry exit. The Minister of Public Safety demanded that Canada’s interest be advanced concurrently with such a radical move.

While the Conservatives support the beyond the border initiative, we support getting wins for Canada. Regardless of who is in the White House, our friends in the United States will respect us if we come there for a win, not just for a state dinner. In fact, the day he was in Washington, and I have mentioned this before because my friend from Yukon was part of the debate as the last session wrapped up, our Prime Minister committed to freezing between 10% and 20% of the land mass and the ocean mass in the Arctic from any development or any work on that land without even consulting first nation leaders or territorial leaders.

He basically, with one stroke of a pen, or a tweet, blocked off northerners from developing their own economy. In the age of reconciliation, he gave a courtesy phone call to territorial leaders one hour before the event with President Obama.

I think people can understand why I am concerned. In the last two years we have been on the losing end of our most important relationship. As we are days away from the third round of NAFTA renegotiation, people can understand why I am concerned. The very fact that we are debating this in September 2017, when the bill was introduced in June 2016, just before the House rose, and there is virtually no debate, shows that the government is not putting the priorities of Canadians, with respect to trade and our friends in the U.S. as a priority.

I would remind the House that it was only 2011 when the Minister of Public Safety basically had an itemized list of wins he was expecting the Conservatives to have before ever supporting a common entry and exit system in beyond the border. We should hold him to the same list.

Let us switch to this Parliament, because that is too much from 2011. Really, the only substantive contribution I have seen before the debate this week to debate over Bill C-21 has been from the MP for Orléans who is charged with the American relationship. He is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and is tasked in that role. He is a friend of mine. He is a retired general. I think the logic was to have him leverage some of those relationships to build on the American relationship.

What did that member list as the five priorities he saw as the lead with the United States? He mentioned Bill C-21 and border security as one of his issues. He predicted a thinning of the border, as he described it.

With the events in Quebec and Manitoba in the last eight months, a disappearance of the border might be a better description. What the member described as a thinning of the border he put as a priority and Bill C-21 was brought forward.

What were his other issues? Regulatory co-operation was one. We support a regulatory co-operation council. I spoke in Washington on that as parliamentary secretary. We will support the government on streamlining regulations to allow the same approach to pesticides and a whole range of issues, from our farmers right through to producers and distributors.

The member’s second priority was energy security and environment. That is interesting, because under the member’s government, the U.S. cancelled Keystone XL. The new administration appears to be bringing it back, following the science and the fact that there are going to be jobs on both sides of the border and access for our goods.

The government has been weak in that area, as I mentioned, border security in Bill C-21 and NORAD. In the last few days we have heard testimony at defence committee about North Korea’s capabilities in the last few months. My friend from Scarborough—Guildwood shares some of my concerns with respect to that regime, yet the Prime Minister has closed the door to modernizing NORAD with respect to ballistic missile defence. This at a time when we know that the capability of the North Koreans could cause intense and incredible harm to North America. We heard our own generals say in that construct that the way things stood now there was nothing that said the U.S. would need to respond if Canada was threatened because we had opted out of that option, and the Prime Minister has already closed the door. The member for Orléans, who has listed this as a priority, should remind the Prime Minister of that.

The government’s fifth priority was empowering women entrepreneurs as the member listed it.

All five issues are important but I have not seen them advanced by the government in any meaningful way since its election. That causes me great concern.

On September 23, we will be hosting our friends from Mexico and the United States for the third round of NAFTA renegotiations. I had a good talk with the Minister of Foreign Affairs today. She knows how much respect I have for her. I am glad she is in that role in the Liberal cabinet.

However, I am concerned that the government’s list of priorities going into these negotiations does not mention rules of origin for the automotive industry. U.S. free trade in many ways grew out of Brian Mulroney’s work on NAFTA and U.S. free trade before that, but I would remind my friends that it grew out of the Auto Pact from the 1960s.

My dad worked in the auto industry, including at Ste-Thérèse, which is why I was born in Montreal. The auto industry has been integrated on a North American basis, a Canada-U.S. basis in particular since the 1960s. That is how free trade started on this continent, yet the auto industry was not listed as a priority.

Softwood lumber, our perpetual irritant with the U.S., was not mentioned as a priority in that speech. Our Conservative government was able to secure a deal on softwood lumber but so far the Liberals have had trouble with this issue.

Our resource industry writ large, the largest employer of indigenous Canadians, was not listed as a priority. Mexico has put its resource industry as a priority. We have listed a range of other important issues, but we have placed them as priorities when in the past they have been side agreements negotiated after rules of access, export, and everything else was negotiated.

With a government that has seen the erosion of Keystone XL, has seen the NAFTA agreement put forward for full renegotiation, has seen a U.S. government increasingly getting what it sees as a priority with Canada, including intellectual property changes, a whole range of things, we do not see Canadian interests being advanced with our friends and most important ally. That is concerning and it should concern the millions of Canadians, who rely on trade with the United States, about their future. It should concern Canadians that when the threat is evolving and NORAD is being modernized we are not part of those discussions.

In 2011, it concerned the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness that a common exit system would be negotiated without clear wins for Canada. I do not see those wins. I do not see the debate. I would like to see the government put Canadian priorities forward for a change.



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