Masse in the House on Tourism and WHTI

From Hansard

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise to speak about an issue that is very important for this country. It is in regard to economics and also in regard to my constituency and many others that are dependent upon the tourism trade.

It is also important to Americans and concerns the western hemisphere travel initiative. The introduction of passports for entry to and exit from the United States, not only for Americans and Canadians, will have significant economic impacts on our economy and trade.

Currently, the government has failed to put forth a plan on how it is going to deal with tourism. When I rose in the House of Commons, I agreed with the government that the previous Liberal administration had done nothing on that file. We heard a number of comments from the government side from a series of ministers, blaming the previous administration. However, it is not enough to criticize the previous Liberal government. We must have a plan. That has not happened yet.

Interestingly enough, the first question that was answered by the Minister of Public Safety said this of the Liberals: “They broke faith with Canadians in not taking action on this file”.

Subsequent to that, in a supplementary question, I talked about the NDP being asked for ideas by the Prime Minister. We actually did table a tourism strategy, one that deals with requesting expectations from the United States in terms of amelioration and the effects of the implementation of the WHTI.

For example, the American ambassador continues to talk about the documents the Americans want to have at the end of the day as being a work in progress. With a looming deadline, not knowing what the documents are and having no money to fund that process is a serious problem.

Second, we called for the extension of Canadian passports from 5 to 10 years, reducing the fee for seniors, and having them free for veterans. We also spoke about a national tourism strategy with the provinces and the municipalities to clear the air about what is going on right now. We see from Statistics Canada a continued decline of American tourism in Canada.

Interestingly enough, the Minister of Industry responded. He is responsible for this file in terms of tourism. He had previously declined many opportunities to discuss this in this chamber. He responded by actually blaming the previous administration and said, “This is a lot more than what was allocated in the previous Liberal Party budget”.

The problem with this issue is that the member for Vancouver Kingsway was the previous industry minister responsible for this file. He sat with the Liberals at the time. He crossed the floor and now he sits with the Conservatives. Quite frankly, the Minister of Industry probably has breakfast with the Minister of International Trade, who now sits with him in caucus and blamed him for not doing enough.

We just cannot have the blame game any more. We must have a plan. Why can the Minister of Industry not extract what the Minister of International Trade was going to do on this file? Why did he do nothing? Why will he not table a plan in the House of Commons because people will lose their jobs this summer?

Mr. Dave MacKenzie (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I rise in response to the question put to the House by my colleague, the member for Windsor West, regarding the United States western hemisphere travel initiative. The member has in the past raised the issue of the need for a strategy to address the potential impact that this initiative may have on Canadians should it be implemented as it was set out in the law passed by Congress. The government has been clear in its strategy of advocacy with our American counterparts and also on implementing new measures such as the more than $400 million recently allocated to border security issues in budget 2006.

These are solid planks in a strategy that is making progress on this issue, but more is being done. Shortly the government will launch a new website dedicated to dealing with the western hemisphere travel initiative. This website will communicate important and timely information directly to Canadians to ensure that they are fully aware of the situation and the requirements for travel. The government is making every effort to ensure that Canadians have the information they need to make informed decisions, such as what documents they can use now to travel to the United States and what is being done to facilitate and enhance cross-border travel and trade.

Today for example, Canadians need to know that they can continue to cross the border with documents that convey identity and nationality data such as driver's licences and birth certificates. They can also enter each country using their NEXUX, FAST and Air NEXUS program membership. Canadians can also use their passport, one of the most secure documents of its kind in the world and one that will be accepted even after any new documentary requirements are implemented.

The Government of Canada recognizes and shares the U.S. commitment to a secure border. Both countries are working collaboratively to develop a plan to implement the WHTI in a manner that addresses the threat of terrorism while facilitating the flow of legitimate travellers and goods across our shared border. It is one of the most important bilateral border issues facing Canada and the United States at this time.

The potential impact of the WHTI is now well established our country, but more work has to be done in the U.S. We continue to call for more economic impact studies south of the border as we believe the effects upon the U.S., particularly the northern border states, will be even more pronounced in terms of real costs.

The message is being heard. Recently at a one day conference on international issues in Gimli, Manitoba, a number of high ranking officials from both Canada and the U.S. voiced their concerns. The Prime Minister attended this event and assured Canadians that this continued to be a priority for this government. He also made the case for Canada's position in Cancun at the Security and Prosperity Partnership leaders summit. He will continue this frank and open discussion with President Bush in Washington in July.

The Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have held productive consultations with their American counterparts. The U.S. government recognizes our commitment to resolve this issue on behalf of Canadians while respecting the security concerns of Congress. In fact, the U.S. Secretary of State recently remarked that the U.S. is very comfortable with border security cooperation from Canada.

The government is making good progress on this issue and this is being recognized. We are not complacent now and we will continue to work to preserve our historic, unique cross-border relationship with the U.S.

Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, it is incredible that we are still at this point in time. The Minister of International Trade, who the current government blamed for not doing anything, previously sat with the Liberal administration. I asked him back in April 7, 2005, to take some active steps. What do we have right now? We have a website that will be put in place as a solution. I do not know when that will happen, however.

We can have meetings, recommendations and all those things. That even is happening outside the government. The premiers recently expressed their concern about our current situation and the fact that the federal government had to get involved. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities expressed how important it was. Everyone has been expressing it, but the federal minister responsible for tourism has to come up with a plan and a website is not a plan.

It is not sufficient. We know people are going to lose their jobs this summer. First, there is going to be a decrease in trade because the dollar is escalating right now. Second, there is absolute, utter confusion out there about the requirement of a passport because of misinformation. The Minister of Industry has been missing in action on this file. When will they table a plan in the House of Commons so we can get some real action? A website is not enough.

Mr. Dave MacKenzie: Mr. Speaker, this government has been extremely active in working with the Americans to come up with mutually acceptable solutions to enhance border security without harming tourism and trade.

Over the past 100 days, the government has worked hard to stand up for the interests of Canadians on this matter. The Prime Minister has established a constructive dialogue with President Bush on border issues and the President has acknowledged that his government is looking at solutions that address Canada's concerns.

The Minister of Public Safety has held discussions with his counterpart, as has the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Our ambassador has made this his top priority, after helping to solve the softwood lumber issue. Numerous meetings have been held with senior White House, administration and state officials.

These efforts are paying off. Already a number of positive developments suggest that there may be greater flexibility on this issue, including the possibility of a delay. There are no guarantees that recent efforts to alter the course of this law will be successful. That is why the government will continue to press its case with the U.S. government and why it will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of all Canadians.