I wish the minister would say a word as to the operation of that power which his official has, just as if he were an officer of a police force. I do not want to dwell on it particularly, but I want to know whether it operates smoothly or whether it runs us into difficulties?
We have no trouble in that particular regard. I am told that it is usually done on the basis of a writ, so that gives the authority. Under the definition in the Customs Act an officer means a person employed in the administration or enforcement of the act, and this includes a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They act as our officers in a great many instances.
Has the department given consideration to some other approach to the collection of duties on very small purchases? For instance, I have before me one where the purchase was only a matter of several dollars and the collection of duty yielded only a dollar or two. Obviously in those cases, if one attempted to isolate the cost of collection, it does not pay. On the other hand, I quite appreciate that there must be one rule applicable to all. Has any consideration been given, apart from the existing exemptions in relation to purchases by persons who have been in the United States for 48 hours and are bringing goods back in their baggage, to exemption in those cases of small purchases where it obviously is not worth while for the department to attempt to collect the very small amount of duty involved?
We are an administrative department entirely. We have not that authority. If the law said that there would be exemptions up to $5 or so, we would do that. We have an arrangement working in some places whereby we make it easier for the ordinary citizen who has an invoice for a book or something of that sort, and which goes to the customs postal branch. In the city of Montreal, for instance, instead of having that person go down to the customs office and pay his tax, we have made arrangement with the postal authorities whereby the tax is collected at his home. This is experimental within the last two or three years, and we hope that in due time it may be extended to many more places.
Would there be any serious administrative difficulty involved? I can appreciate that perhaps this problem might fall on the shoulders of the Minister of Finance rather than those of the Minister of National Revenue. But is there any serious administrative problem involved if some exemption in the case of small purchases were introduced?
No, it would make it that much easier for us in the handling of a lot of small parcels. It would be a convenience and I am sure it would have an effect upon the revenue because, as you know, many muckles make a mickle.
Would the minister explain the difference in responsibility between a port and an outport? My reason for asking is that I have received complaints from what I believe is now an outport from the port of Victoria, namely Sidney, on Vancouver island. At one time I believe it was classified as a port, but it is now classified as an outport. The result is, I am told, that articles arriving by airmail at the airport of Patricia bay, which is exactly one mile from Sidney, have to be taken to Victoria, a distance of about 20 miles, and then brought back to Sidney, if the recipient of that parcel happens to be a resident of Sidney. There seems to be no facility for the delivery of parcels from the airport to the village of Sidney, although I believe Sidney is now an outport and, in the past, was a port, as far as customs duties are concerned.
A considerable number of tourists arrive by boat and are dealt with through the customs port at Sidney. But this does not seem to apply to those who arrive by air, who must have their parcels sent in to Victoria.
Whether a place is a port or an outport is a matter of departmental designation. There should be no difficulty in the matter the hon. member has referred to. We will have it looked into and will try to clear it up to his satisfaction.
The minister has explained that where it is a case of the rental of buildings, the Department of Public Works pays. On the other hand apparently the department is acquiring land for its own purposes, to construct its own buildings. Is that correct?
We do a certain amount of temporary building at smaller ports. For instance, along the international boundary line between Canada and the United States there are lots of places where a highway intersects and we must have either a fulltime or a part-time officer in charge. The matter of construction might involve a small
Supply-National Revenue building of perhaps $10,000. We would construct such a building, ask for the appropriation, and have the right to do so.
But when it comes to the construction of a large building in a large port such as Vancouver or Toronto we would make a requisition to the Department of Public Works to supply the facilities for us. In a great many places we may occupy a building occupied by another department of government. Hon. members will have noticed, travelling across the country, that very often the post office building in a location may have facilities upstairs for customs and excise. We try to be as economical as we can in that regard. But in the smaller places we do the actual construction, under provisions set out in our own department.