Thursday, June 01, 2006

Hansard excerpts- Question Period- May 31 ,20060


Passports

Hon. Robert Thibault (West Nova, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, on the issue of the border with the United States, this government has abandoned Canadians. The Maritimes depend on American and Acadian tourism. American families have to spend more than $500—the price of passports—to enter Canada. Americans will avoid the Maritimes, and our tourism industry will suffer further. Canadian exporters who must travel to the United States have the same problem.

Why is this government abandoning Canadian communities on the passport issue?

Hon. Stockwell Day (Minister of Public Safety, CPC): Mr. Speaker, our Prime Minister made this issue a priority in Cancun, and he continues to make it a priority. Just since the initial visit, we have reached an agreement with the Americans to determine the documents that will work for Canadians. As well, in the U.S. Senate, we have seen an amendment to the American bill, thanks to the efforts of our Prime Minister, our officials and our MPs who made this issue a priority.

[English]

Hon. Robert Thibault (West Nova, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, this answer will not pay the bills for businesses in border communities.

The tourism industry in my province has been hit very hard by 9/11 and the rise in the Canadian dollar. It is the same for U.S. states. American governors are reacting but not our Prime Minister.

Will our government not represent us on this vital question or do we have to depend on U.S. governors to defend our interests? This is bush league leadership. Once again, the Prime Minister shows himself to be a shrub, a little bush.

¸ (1440)

[Translation]

Hon. Stockwell Day (Minister of Public Safety, CPC): Mr. Speaker, insults like that created a lot of problems for the Liberal regime.

We have worked with the Americans, with the chambers of commerce, with the governors and now with the premiers of other provinces. We have solutions, and we have already received confirmation from the United States that we have a program that will work and that will produce solutions.

[English]

Mr. Blair Wilson (West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the government is clearly abandoning Canadians. First, it abandons the voters of Vancouver Kingsway. Then it abandons our forestry workers. Now it is abandoning our tourism industry and threatening the very economic viability of our Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

Western premiers are demanding that the U.S. passport law be delayed. The only thing the Prime Minister is telling Canadians is to “just get used to it”.

My question is for the Minister of Foreign Affairs. When will the government come to the aid of premiers? When will it stop working for George Bush and start working for Canadians?

Hon. Stockwell Day (Minister of Public Safety, CPC): Mr. Speaker, instead of hysterics I would think they would come forward with some positive ideas, as we have proposed.

Here is a quick chronology. Since the Prime Minister went to Cancun and made this the priority, we have an agreement with American officials in terms of alternative documents being acceptable from Canadians. We never had that before. We have seen an amendment now passed in the Senate that asks for this whole issue to be deferred.

We have made some great advancements. We have worked with governors and with chambers of commerce.

This issue is in the process of being resolved, but not because of any help from former Liberals or present Liberals. They have given no help on this.

Mr. Blair Wilson (West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, excuses like that might fly in Washington, but they sure will not work in British Columbia.

My question is for the Minister of Foreign Affairs. In a recent November 2005 news article in the New Glasgow Evening News, the Minister of Foreign Affairs wrote, “Moving to a rigid 'passport-only' requirement will almost certainly harm cross-border travel, hurting tourism” and resulting in tourism losses on the Canadian side that “would amount to nearly $1 billion” a year.

Will the minister now eat his words or will he continue to con Canadians?

Hon. Stockwell Day (Minister of Public Safety, CPC): Mr. Speaker, we appreciate these questions because it gives us one opportunity after another to show how effective the Prime Minister has been and how effective we have been in meeting with chambers of commerce, governors and premiers.

He can choose to insult the President of the United States if he wants. There was better action a week ago when the President of the United States raised concerns about this issue and how it needed to be deferred. We can thank our Prime Minister for putting that kind of pressure on the situation........



Hon. Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, every year the largest minor hockey tournament in the world takes place in Quebec City.

Teams from across the United States take part in this peewee tournament. Now it is up to young Quebeckers to fight the passport issue on their own. The Minister for la Francophonie, who is a member for Quebec City, could not care less about them.

Why should our young hockey players and Canadian minor hockey fans have to count on the American Senate rather than the Conservative government and the member for Quebec City?

[English]

Hon. Stockwell Day (Minister of Public Safety, CPC): Mr. Speaker, it does not seem to matter how we say it or to whom we say it on the Liberal side, they just do not understand. They do not understand how many people we have engaged to work on this issue. They do not understand.

I am pleased to tell Canadians that they can cross the border right now without a passport if they have their driver's licence and some other document. Alternative documents are also going to be acceptable. We are already seeing at the senate and now in the White House that it looks like there could even be a deferral from the date of 2008 on this issue. I wish the Liberals would pay attention and help us get the message out too.

[Translation]

Hon. Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, no matter how hard I pay attention and listen, I cannot hear any answers.

This tournament, the largest in the world, attracts over 200,000 fans every year. With the Quebec Winter Carnival, this tournament makes Quebec City a winter tourist destination par excellence. The economic benefits from these two events are huge, but the Conservatives and the Conservative members from Quebec City do not care.

Why should Quebeckers have to rely on the Americans instead of the Conservatives to protect the tourism industry in Quebec City?

Hon. Stockwell Day (Minister of Public Safety, CPC): Mr. Speaker, this tournament will continue, and I hope the Canadian teams will win.

It is important to realize that we are not just concerned about passports. We have done other things. For example, we have made large grants to the Quebec City airport.

This is but one example among many others, showing that the government is prepared to support tourism in Quebec and across Canada.

¸ (1450)

[English]

Mr. John Maloney (Welland, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the government has abandoned Canadians to fend for themselves on passport requirements by the U.S. The government does not appreciate the integration of Canada and U.S. border communities. We never consider the border to be an obstacle when deciding where to work, go for lunch, visit friends, or enjoy culture and recreation. Not only is this a way of life for Niagara region and western New York residents, it is the cornerstone of our local economies.

The real work of finding solutions and lobbying is coming from everyone but the government. Why is it being left up to governors, provinces and our mayors to stand up for Canadian border communities?

Hon. Stockwell Day (Minister of Public Safety, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I am delighted again to explain that our Prime Minister made this issue a priority at Cancun. For two years the Liberal regime had absolutely ignored it. Now we have an agreement with the Americans that alternative documents will be acceptable for Canadians. We are working on those standards right now.

I have some good news for the Liberals and all Canadians. One of the very successful programs called NEXUS, which facilitates travel and business and tourism back and forth across the border, has already been accepted as an acceptable alternative and there is more to come. I cannot wait for the questions.

Mr. John Maloney (Welland, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, let us not forget the Prime Minister's position in Cancun when he said it was a done deal and we should live with it.

The busiest land crossings between Canada and the U.S. are in southern Ontario: the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia, and the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge at Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Why is the government leaving it to the chambers of commerce in the United States and the Canadian Tourism Commission to fight for Canadian interests on cross-border travel? Why does it not stand up for Canada?

Hon. Stockwell Day (Minister of Public Safety, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak about some other programs that have already been negotiated and are working well in terms of cross-border travel.

I wonder if the member realizes that there are 65,000 truckers in this country who have the ability to cross the border rapidly because of the adoption of a program which has been accepted by the United States.

I wonder if the member is aware that not only in the senate in the United States and not only in the department of homeland security but now we are hearing from the White House itself that this program is problematic in the United States, as our Prime Minister has indicated. The Americans are working with us and we with them to solve the problem and we are making headway.

* * *



(Perhaps if the Liberals had been more serious about security instead of just talking about it, we would have been in better shape today on this matter.)

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