June 17, 2008


The House resumed consideration of the motion.


CPC

Dave MacKenzie

Conservative

Mr. Dave MacKenzie (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, the economic prosperity of all regions of Canada is important to our government. The Canada Border Services Agency has a mandate to always balance the need to facilitate the movement of legitimate trade and travellers with the need to support national security and public safety priorities.

This dual role of facilitation and security creates significant demands and pressures on both resources and overall servicing capacity and requires a constant balancing act. Efficient borders support trade and tourism; safe and secure borders keep criminals and other dangerous elements out.

I would like to remind the House at this point that the Mont Tremblant airport authority signed a cost recovery agreement with the CBSA. Prior to signing the agreement, CBSA informed the Mont Tremblant airport of all the costs associated with the services. Although the contract with Mont Tremblant airport expired at the end of March, CBSA continued to provide services until April 6, 2008, to ensure continued service during the airport's important tourist season.

The Office of the Minister of Public Safety has met a number of times with representatives of the Mont Tremblant airport. The government is hopeful that a resolution can be found. There are different options the government is currently looking at to help the airport.

As I have mentioned already, the economic prosperity of all regions of Canada is important to our government. In fact, we have delivered $47.5 million in infrastructure investment to the Mont Tremblant region.

We have proven our support. The Liberals did not deliver. The Bloc will never be able to deliver.

Our government also recognizes that the development of these small airports contributes to economic prosperity. We are committed to address the 13 years of Liberal neglect.

This is why the Minister of Public Safety has launched an initial internal core review of the services that CBSA is providing at airports across the country. The first phase of this initial review was completed in the fall of 2007.

As a result, our government granted expanded customs service, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to Macdonald-Cartier International Airport in Ottawa and the Halifax Robert L. Stanfield International Airport. An overall final review is ongoing and further options are being considered.

The Minister of Public Safety has also directed CBSA to meet with the Canadian Airports Council to examine the level of services provided at airports across the country and to discuss options to cost recovery. He is looking forward to receiving potential options stemming from these discussions.

Our government wants to see all regions of Canada prosper, including that of Mont Tremblant, and will continue to work to develop options to address core service delivery.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Public Safety and National Security
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LIB

Roy Cullen

Liberal

Hon. Roy Cullen (Etobicoke North, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the parliamentary secretary's comments.

In fact, the review of cost recovery within the Canada Border Services Agency started under our government and was getting close to being finalized when the election was called and the new government came to power. It has been in power for over two years now, but on this side of the House we are still waiting for a new cost recovery policy.

If I may, just by way of background, I will highlight what my understanding is of the circumstances. In the mid-1990s, our government decided to grandfather the services provided by the customs portion of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, which ultimately became part of the Canada Border Services Agency. All existing services provided by customs operations would be grandfathered and any new operations would have to be on a cost recovery basis.

That applied to any new airports and any new ports. The port in Prince Rupert is a good example. It came on stream later and was presented with the option that the customs presence it would need in order to clear goods coming in would be on a cost recovery basis. It was difficult to establish how it was going to compete with the Port of Vancouver when the Port of Vancouver's services had been grandfathered and those of the Port of Prince Rupert would be on cost recovery basis.

I suspect, and I am wondering if the parliamentary secretary could confirm it, that the Tremblant services were part of a new suite of services that were on a total cost recovery basis.

It seems to me, and I think the parliamentary secretary alluded to this, that the department is looking at core services and non-core services as being the more rational way of deciding what is on a cost recovered basis and what is part of core government services. I am wondering how that review is coming along and when the department, the minister and the parliamentary secretary will be able to brief Parliament on the new approach to cost recovery as it relates to customs.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Public Safety and National Security
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CPC

Dave MacKenzie

Conservative

Mr. Dave MacKenzie

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for making it perfectly clear, which is opposite to what the Bloc did, that it was not this government that made this change. It was changed a long time ago. It was changed for the purposes of cost recovery. That is simply what is going on with Mont Tremblant. It is purely in that vein.

The core services review of which my friend just spoke is certainly ongoing. I am of the opinion that there will be updates on that very shortly, although I am not certain of the exact date.

This process, as he indicated, has taken some time. It is meant to be thorough. Hopefully we will address many concerns expressed with respect to the core services review of airports and those things that the Canada Border Services Agency is responsible for. It is absolutely true that it is on a cost recovery basis for CBSA people to attend at airports on international flights.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Public Safety and National Security
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BQ

Serge Ménard

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Serge Ménard (Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, could the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety clearly explain to the people of Mont Tremblant why this is the only airport in Canada with regular commercial flights during normal hours of operation that must pay customs charges?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Public Safety and National Security
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CPC

Dave MacKenzie

Conservative

Mr. Dave MacKenzie

Mr. Speaker, I do not believe the member's statement is totally accurate. These are charter flights that come into the resort area. It is an area that is important to us. It is important from the perspective of the Mont Tremblant area. These are not regularly scheduled flights, to the best of my knowledge. They are charter flights that come in at different times. The CBSA people have to attend when the planes are coming in. They cannot be stationed there on an eight hour a day basis.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Public Safety and National Security
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BQ

Thierry St-Cyr

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Thierry St-Cyr (Jeanne-Le Ber, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat surprised by the answer given. In fact, everyone knows that there are regular commercial flights during normal hours of operation at the Mont Tremblant International Airport. The entire community, all tour operators and all airlines advertise them and recognize them as such.

Am I to understand that we need only prove that these are regular flights for the parliamentary secretary to undertake, on behalf of his government, to abolish the charges in question? Is that what we are to infer from his answer?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Public Safety and National Security
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CPC

Dave MacKenzie

Conservative

Mr. Dave MacKenzie

Mr. Speaker, my understanding was that the international flights are charter flights. There are other flights in and out of the airport, but not necessarily international flights.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Public Safety and National Security
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?

Some hon. members

No, no, they are regular flights.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
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CPC

Dave MacKenzie

Conservative

Mr. Dave MacKenzie

If I have the wrong information, I am more than happy to get that information. I will share it with my colleague.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Public Safety and National Security
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LIB

Roy Cullen

Liberal

Hon. Roy Cullen

Mr. Speaker, I would encourage the parliamentary secretary to try to accelerate the review of this cost recovery policy, because it is creating a lot of anomalies and situations where there is unfair competition.

I can recall that courier companies were set up at various airports, for which there have to be customs services either 24/7 or very early in the morning. As the shipments come in, they have to be processed through customs.

There was an anomaly. A new courier company would come in and its services would be on a cost recovery basis, while the other courier services would be part of grandfathered core services. This creates some competitive issues.

Issues also arose at the Detroit-Windsor border, where there were opportunities to move more trucks on a ferry, but because of this cost recovery policy, the customs services were going to be on a cost recovered basis. That did not help in terms of the business case of moving more trucks across the river on a ferry to take some of the congestion off the Windsor-Detroit bridge.

I think it is a matter of some urgency now. I am surprised, frankly, that solutions have not been forthcoming. It was our Liberal government that brought in the grandfathering policy. That was done in the mid-1990s out of a need to deal with a $42 billion deficit.

Is it the most sound policy given today's circumstances? No, it is not. That is why our government started that review. We were close to seeing some resolution, but then the writ was dropped and there was an election.

However, the Conservative government has had more than two years now. I plead with the parliamentary secretary to get the Canada Border Services Agency to come up with some solutions to this problem as soon as possible.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Public Safety and National Security
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CPC

Dave MacKenzie

Conservative

Mr. Dave MacKenzie

Mr. Speaker, my colleague makes quite a point that the Liberals changed the policy in the mid-1990s. They had 10 years. It is the same Liberal story: “We're almost going to get it fixed”. In that 10-year period, they obviously recognized that they had created some anomalies, as he suggests. They did not fix it during that time.

The Minister of Public Safety has asked for that review to take place. We have only been in power for a little over two years. I understand the need to urgently address it, which it will be done, but I would hope that he would have as much patience to see us get through it as he did not have when they were in power for 10 years and never fixed the problem. They created it, then were almost ready to fix it, and the writ was dropped and the parties changed.

With all due respect, if he is prepared to wait a bit longer, I think that solutions are at hand and the matter will be addressed.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Public Safety and National Security
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BQ

Johanne Deschamps

Bloc Québécois

Ms. Johanne Deschamps

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have a moment for a few final comments on this matter because I am speaking about a problem in my region. Since coming to power, the current government has blamed the previous government whenever it has been criticized for its inaction, inertia and inability to take tangible action.

We are going back and forth. The Conservatives are unwilling to take a firm stand and implement the necessary measures. The Minister of Public Safety has the authority to take immediate action in this matter. If he had some political will, the problem would have been solved a long time ago. Instead, we—

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Public Safety and National Security
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CPC

Andrew Scheer

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer)

Order, please. I will allow the hon. parliamentary secretary just a few seconds to respond.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Public Safety and National Security
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CPC

Dave MacKenzie

Conservative

Mr. Dave MacKenzie

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member listened to my colleague across the floor talk about how this changed 10 years ago, she would probably understand. We have put $43.5 million into infrastructure in the Mont Tremblant area. She talks as if we had completely ignored the area. That is absolutely not true. As usual, all the Bloc can do is bark anyways.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Public Safety and National Security
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LIB

Marcel Proulx

Liberal

Mr. Marcel Proulx (Hull—Aylmer, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, Mont Tremblant and its ski resort are the region’s economic driver. Indeed, deeply affected by the forestry crisis, this region of Quebec is counting on its tourism industry for its survival. All stakeholders joined hands to find a solution, and they found it. They chose to diversify their economy with tourism development.

The tourism industry is now firmly established in this region. The Mont Tremblant Ski Resort attracts international visitors, particularly Americans. This year, we learned that, while Canadians were getting warmed up in Mexico, Mexicans were coming here to experience winter and ski at Mont Tremblant.

Also, the region has an airport providing fast and easy access for foreign tourists. Mont Tremblant International Airport, the third largest in Quebec, is a major economic development tool for the Hautes-Laurentides region.

It was under the Liberals in 2004, more specifically under the then Minister of Transport, the hon. Jean Lapierre, that the Mont Tremblant airport really got under way. As early as 2002, the stakeholders in the file had collectively decided to acquire an airport by rehabilitating the old military airport of La Macaza, located in the region’s geographic centre.

Still under the then Minister of Transport, the hon. Jean Lapierre, a company was formed: the Aéroport international de Mont-Tremblant inc. This company includes the municipalities around the airport, the CLD and CFDC development agencies, the municipality of Antoine-Labelle, and also a few small shareholders from the private sector.

The community’s involvement and its motivation to develop the economy of this sector are not new. The decision by the Canada Border Services Agency makes this an even harder pill to swallow. It is actually indigestible.

I would like to tell you about some of the action taken by the partners in recent years: they have restored the runways; they have built a superb terminal; they got certification from Transport Canada to allow the operation of regular commercial flights; they got an air security designation from the federal government; they got a designation from the Canada Customs Agency recognizing it as an airport of entry to Canada; they got financial support from Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions so that infrastructures could be put in place; and from CATSA they got the implementation and operation of a security checkpoint with X-ray equipment—entirely at their own expense.

The people of the community have done their job and they have done it well.

To digress, if I may, CATSA agreed to provide services for free. Unlike the Minister of Public Safety, this authority understood that the Mont-Tremblant airport is an international airport.

Despite all the goodwill of stakeholders, the appreciation of the Canadian dollar has deeply affected the regional economy. And now, this government wants to make things even worse.

The Canada Border Services Agency is demanding that the Mont-Tremblant airport pay for customs services for international passengers. It is the only airport in Canada that has to pay for these passengers.

In 2006, the daily cost of customs services was $374. It stands now at over $1,100, and it is an unbearable financial burden.

The Minister of Public Safety does not want to do anything to help this area that got together in response to the severe impact of the forestry crisis. We do not need anybody to make the situation even more difficult. But that is exactly what the government is doing. It will not listen. It does not want to understand that Mont-Tremblant will be less appealing as a tourist attraction if it loses its airport.

I want to remind all my colleagues that the Mont-Tremblant airport is the only airport with regular commercial flights in Canada that has to pay for customs services. When private jets from New York or San Francisco land there, customs clearance charges will apply. But if there are charges for commercial flights, they will have to be paid by the airport, because it would be irresponsible to try to pass them on to passengers or carriers.

These customs charges would have a considerable negative impact on tourist visits to the region.

Approaches have been made to the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. I have consulted the website of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, and there I found out about the program they call Community Diversification. Do you know what one of that program's objectives is? I quote: increase communities' capability to attract tourists and skilled individuals. How can the minister encourage communities to develop their tourism sector while his government is knocking the feet out from under that very same sector?

Is this government aware of the extent of the loss this represents in terms of economic spinoffs if the Tremblant airport is forced to close? Yes, the Mont Tremblant airport may have to contemplate closing down if the Minister of Public Safety refuses to resolve the problem of the Canada Border Service Agency custom charges.

The Mont Tremblant airport is an essential component of the region's tourism-based economy. You only have to look at all the revenues generated by visitors using the Mont-Tremblant airport, all the related jobs, all the related income tax, all the sales tax collected on tourism dollars, compared amount to what the Canada Border Service Agency is demanding, to realize that the decision to make the airport pay custom charges makes no sense. It is a bad decision, and very close to being a ridiculous one.

The Mont Tremblant airport is developing in the same way the Vail-Eagle airport in Colorado did. There are a number of parallels between the two. Both service major ski destinations and so their specialty is tourist travel. This type of development forges a synergistic partnership between tourism companies. The partners in developing the airport, the ones who created the program then played the role of catalysts, attracting the attention of consultants, churning up interest by hotels and seeking the support of surrounding municipalities.

Traffic at the Vail Colorado airport increased rapidly, and the figures for the first year of operations at Mont Tremblant are similar to the ones for Vail in 1989-90. In 1989-90, Vail handled 5,956 passengers. In 1997-1998, this figure rose to 172,634, an amazing jump. If Mont Tremblant airport progresses at the same rate, the regional economy will be really healthy as a result.

Airport status is a complex thing, it must be understood, and has not got any less complex under the Conservatives. Many people are calling for a thorough review of airport policies, but the Mont Tremblant airport cannot wait for its status to be reviewed.

Mont Tremblant International Airport has two separate contracts with the agency, one for 15-passenger aircraft and the other for 50-passenger aircraft. The proposal is to continue to pay customs charges for small planes and to ask for a revision of its status for large planes from recovery to non-recovery.

To clarify; they are seeking to have the customs charges dropped for commercial aircraft only. Some other airports in Canada are calling for changes to the number of hours allowed. This is not the case for the Mont Tremblant airport.

I was told that a change of status application had already been submitted. That application is based on the fact that: first, the airport has already accommodated over 100 flights with 50 passengers; second, its infrastructure complies with the agency's requirements; third, the return of American carrier Continental Airlines has been confirmed, and two new carriers, namely American Airlines and Mexicana, may also begin to provide service there; fourth, tax revenues alone far exceed the costs generated by the agency, and; fifth, Quebec is lagging far behind Ontario, in terms of the number of airports that can accommodate aircraft with 50 passengers.

We are convinced that stakeholders involved in the Mont Tremblant airport issue have made very significant progress, both for the airport and the Upper Laurentians.

Not only is the decision to charge compensation fees at Mont Tremblant airport bad, it is also unfair.

It is unfair to all stakeholders who got together to save their region's economy. It is also unfair to employees of that airport and to their families, because they are adversely affected by it.

The Mont Tremblant airport is experiencing a major boom. It handled over 1,000 commercial flights over the past year. In fact, the number of flights has doubled every year since 2004.

Since last winter, Continental Airlines has had a daily service between Mont Tremblant and Newark, close to New York City. Let us not forget that the contract with Continental Airlines was signed before customs charges were imposed. While it is true that stakeholders at the airport signed this agreement, it must be realized that they did it with a loaded gun to their head. They had no choice.

This new requirement by border services is jeopardizing the signing of other contracts with carriers from other countries. The Conservatives threatened to seize the airport's bank accounts to pay customs charges. They jeopardized the airport's survival. With the unanimous support of the Quebec National Assembly, the Quebec minister of economic development, innovation and export had to plead with his federal counterparts to have Revenue Canada lift the order for seizure. Is this the Conservative government's idea of economic development?

The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security has studied the issue and tabled its third report, which contains the following recommendation:

That the Committee recommend that the Rivière Rouge Mont Tremblant International Airport (YTM) be recognized as an airport of entry into Canada, without customs charges being imposed for regular commercial flights, as is the case with the airports in Montreal and Quebec City.

Elected representatives from the Laurentian region at all levels of government strongly support the Mont Tremblant International Airport in asking Ottawa to exempt this airport from paying customs charges. My colleagues will agree with me that the site and facilities at Mont Tremblant are exceptional. This destination attracts a prestige clientele and has found its place again as a high profile international tourism destination.

Recognizing Mont Tremblant as such an exceptional destination, the Government of Quebec has announced that it would open a casino on the site. Is the federal government pulling the rug out from under its provincial counterpart by maintaining its decision to have the Mont Tremblant airport pay customs charges?

The Conservatives are showing once again that they have abandoned the regions of Quebec. In a region affected by the forestry crisis, the Mont Tremblant airport is an essential economic driver, particularly for the tourism sector.

The economic survival of that region is based on international tourism, and future infrastructures must meet the expectations of that clientele. It all depends on the airport being able to survive. Without the airport, there is no salvation.

Therefore, I am asking all my colleagues to support the third report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. The decision to have the Mont Tremblant airport pay customs charges is unfair and a serious threat to the economy of the entire region. Good common sense must prevail. The Minister of Public Safety must cancel the decision to impose customs charges to the Mont Tremblant airport.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Public Safety and National Security
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CPC

Laurie Hawn

Conservative

Mr. Laurie Hawn (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. After consultation, I think if you seek it, you will find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, in relation to Bill C-60, An Act to amend the National Defence Act (court martial) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, the bill may be called for debate today; a Member from each recognized party and an independent member may speak for a period not exceeding 10 minutes, after which time the Bill shall be deemed concurred in at the report stage on division and deemed read a third time and passed on division.

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Subtopic:   Business of the House
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CPC

Andrew Scheer

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer)

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

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Subtopic:   Business of the House
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?

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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Subtopic:   Business of the House
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CPC

Andrew Scheer

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Business of the House
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June 17, 2008