MASSE IN THE HOUSE: Speaking on Border Concerns and the proposed Name Change for Huntington Border Crossing

Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Private Members Business
Huntingdon Port of Entry

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Madam Speaker, what is unfortunate is it has to come to the House through a bill.

What has been CBSA's opposition to preventing this from happening without the House of Commons having to actually intervene? That is the level of we are at and I would like to hear the reasons why. I have seen some of the documents and they do not seem to make a lot of sense in why this cannot happen.

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am happy to join in the debate on the motion from the member for Abbotsford requesting a name change of the Huntingdon Port of Entry to the Abbotsford-Huntingdon Port of Entry.

There is probably not as much interest as there should be from those with the most vested interests in this, and there could be reasons for that, but I am a little bit surprised because it is a very important issue for the community. I have done some research on it. The people of Abbotsford should know that I live on the busiest border crossing between Canada and the United States and that I am the critic for the New Democrats on Canada-U.S. border relations.

I agree with the name change. I saw the CBSA letter to the member and he was very generous in his comments about the suggestion that it would cost a lot of money. Quite frankly, that is an irrelevant and irresponsible response from the department. The people there should be very upset because they have changed their name and the reality of the geography has changed.

It would affect their economy. It does affect other border crossings, with confusion over where people are crossing and making that choice. We know it is very difficult these days, especially with tourism. With the WHTI and a whole series of other initiatives that the United States has put in place, we are losing our border traffic and our connection to the United States.

I need to do some more research because I do not know the exact answer to this. However, I do know that motions in the House of Commons have no standing. The Prime Minister went to great lengths talking about the moral responsibility of enacting motions in the House of Commons when he was in opposition but when we pass motions in the House of Commons that deal with issues ranging from child poverty to unemployment insurance improvements, the government has failed to move.

Motions reflect the spirit of the House but they do not mandate things. I am surprised this motion would not be a bill because if it were a bill then it would be a law. I also do not think the ministers can change the name themselves. This could be a whole ruse on the people of Abbotsford in terms of how to get their name changed. That will require some investigation, because if these are the types of things that are happening, then why do we not just move ahead and change the name?

I think the minister has the capability to do that. However, to do it through this means is rather suspicious because, as we in the chamber all know, a motion is not binding legislation. I have private member's legislation, for example, on the automotive aftermarket and that is done through amending Canadian law. It is the same thing with this issue. We need to do a little more research to find out but I do not know how a motion here will get the end result because once again it is not binding.

I do want to talk about the importance of the crossing. The community has grown, has chosen a new name and has adopted to move away from the past. At the same time, the suggestion of having the combination is a balanced one that respects the history while also showing the importance of the crossing to the community.

I can say that from living on the border and crossing at many locations across Canada, we have seen a dramatic shift away from the past policies with the United States. In fact, since 9/11, there has been an excuse to tighten the border. The previous government and the current government have not done enough to address those issues.

A number of different things have been added, including the militarization of the Canada-U.S. border. Where I live on the Great Lakes, the previous and current administrations changed the law going back to the War of 1812 that banned gun boats and vessels with heavy armaments on the Great Lakes. That has been changed and the U.S. coast guard now has the zodiacs with Browning M-120 machine guns that fire up to 1,400 bullets a minute.

Those machine guns have been used in the Cambodian, Afghan and Iraq wars. These are the types of armaments that are now operating on the Great Lakes. In fact, we were part of a team from across Canada and the United States who opposed the creation of firing ranges that they were going to create in the Great Lakes to practice with this equipment. There was a proposal for 40 different types of firing ranges. These bullets have lead casings that go under the radar of bass fishermen.

Ironically, the government missed the deadline for submission. As New Democrats, we filed a petition against that and worked with groups and organizations in the United States to stop that from happening. We are talking about the most treasured freshwater source in the world and it could not even get its paperwork in on time. The submission that it made was weak-kneed as well.

We have had a series of new measures put on the border that have not only hurt the economy but have also hurt the civil relationship we as individuals, business partners and family members have had with American citizens.

The introduction of the western hemisphere travel initiative requires all Canadians to have a passport to enter into the United States and for Americans who need to get back home after visiting Canada. This has been a significant problem for our communities and our cultures. We have seen tourism and visitations drop off significantly. In fact, just this last year alone, even though we had already retreated, we lost another 10%. Our tourism industries are reeling across the board because of this and the lack of attention to this policy.

We also have the militarization of the border, as I mentioned, which does not just involve what is on the water, but what is in the air, as well as the watchtowers and spy towers that have actually been erected. I was recently in Sarnia where the Port Huron Hindenburg was launched. It is a spy camera that is actually spying on Canadians and the border crossing. It is part of a government contract that was awarded where the company is trying to secure the border through this type of an operation.

The operation of drone planes, Black Hawk helicopters and a number of different operations are unnecessary on the Canada-U.S. border. We should be looking to surveillance and other types of measures that are not intrusive but can be done more cheaply and effectively than the actual hard military equipment.
This has been an irresponsible response from our government because it has not objected to this. In fact, it has signed programs and other types of initiatives that I can tell the House the boating community and others do not like. Canadians and Americans are disengaging from the border on both sides. They are saying that they do not want to go through that type of a process, that type of intimidation. They do not mind having accountability and having the checks and so forth, but it is at a point where people do not even bother to go over the border to visit friends, families or neighbours anymore. That is what hurts and that is why the Canadian economy has been slipping.

One of the issues we have been facing is the extra costs at the border crossing. Many studies from chambers of commerce provincially as well as federally show the billions of dollars lost in trade because of many of these measures that are unnecessary, such as the APHIS fees that the U.S. has imposed on Canadian goods and agriculture, another tax on top of the shipping process that has been increased to such a level that the trucks need to stop more often and pay more.

I can tell the House that the Mexican government retaliated when new fees and procedures were imposed upon it and it actually charged the Americans back for that. Our government, interestingly enough, actually gives the Americans money for some of the fees that happen to go back and we rebate that to their crossings. It does not make any sense.

I want to make sure this is clear. The people of Abbotsford should know that the border crossing improvements that are happening need to be done with accountability. We also need to ensure that when we lose these types of relationships we should be measuring results on what we can do to improve them.

I have approached the Canadian Tourism Commission about how we can create a pilot project or put a system in place to measure whether the Americans are getting passports and how we can encourage them to get passports because the acquisition of passports by U.S. citizens is down to around 30%. Canadians are around 50%. We need to get over a lot of obstacles to get them to purchase passports. Some will not do it because they do not want their private information in the hands of government. Others do not want to do it because of the cost. Others do not want to do it because they simply do not want to go through the process that is imposed upon them.

When we start to look at what we do next, we need an organized tourism strategy, and that is something we as New Democrats want to see happen because the challenges we face are unique and they are also increasing. That needs to stop because the quality of so many people's lives is being lessened because of it.