International Bridges and Tunnels Act

An Act respecting international bridges and tunnels and making a consequential amendment to another Act

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.

Sponsor

Lawrence Cannon  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment establishes an approval mechanism for the construction, alteration and acquisition of international bridges and tunnels and provides for the regulation of their operation, maintenance and security.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • June 20, 2006 Passed That Bill C-3, An Act respecting international bridges and tunnels and making a consequential amendment to another Act, as amended, be concurred in at report stage with a further amendment.

October 6th, 2011 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

With regard to that, Russian oil, California crude, Venezuelan crude are all more carbon intense than oil sands from Fort McMurray. Certainly if you look at what's happened in Nigeria—oil flowing freely in the rivers—and the violence that's brought about as a result of different conflicts over oil in different countries, none of that happens in northern Alberta; none of that happens in Canada. It's a great story, and I think we should talk about it a lot more.

In fact I'd like to congratulate Mr. Masse today. There's been more attention by our federal Conservative government in his riding—more money spent than any other constituency in Canada. One of the first bills we passed as a government was Bill C-3, the International Bridges and Tunnels Act, which facilitated the ability of the federal government to move forward on things like international crossings, and the loan to Michigan, etc.

I mean, there's been no more attention paid by this Conservative government to anywhere in Canada than Mr. Masse's riding, and I would think he would do nothing but thank us for that today. Notwithstanding that—

November 22nd, 2007 / 10:40 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

Mr. Minister, thank you very much for appearing before the committee.

One of the things I heard on Bill C-3, for example, was that somehow it wasn't very conservative to curb the market activities of private business monopolies. In this case there may be the question, this being a conservative government, about how conservative it is to be involved in the free market activities of big companies such as railways.

I would submit, on the other hand, that it is very conservative to ensure broader competition rather than monopoly or oligopoly. You've stated that in some regions of Canada rail in fact operates as a monopoly.

Could we have your comments on that and on why our government is bringing this forward?

November 22nd, 2007 / 9:15 a.m.
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Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Transport

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Before I begin my formal remarks, I would like to say that of course I'm happy to be here early in this new session, and I want to congratulate you, as well as the two vice-chairs of the committee, for your election. And to the new members and the veterans, I look forward to working with you all.

I'm pleased to appear before the SCOTIC committee today to discuss Bill C-8, which improves the shipper protection provisions of the Canada Transportation Act. These are the provisions that deal with the potential abuse of market power by the railways.

I have with me today Helena Borges, director general of surface transportation policy, and Alain Langlois,

our legal counsel.

Bill C-8 is the reinstated version of the former Bill C-58, which had been referred to this committee before the previous session of Parliament was dissolved. It is the third and final bill amending the Canada Transportation Act. These bills have all been based on extensive consultations dating back to the statutory review of the CTA that took place in 2000 and 2001.

Bill C-3, the International Bridges and Tunnels Act, received royal assent in February of 2007. As well, Bill C-11, which amended provisions related to the Canadian Transportation Agency, air travel, mergers and acquisitions, rail passenger services, railway noise and the grain revenue cap, received royal assent in June of this year.

Bill C-8, by far, is the shortest of the three bills. However, it is extremely important to rail shippers, the hundreds of companies that use railways to ship their goods. This bill is also important for the growth of international trade and the competitiveness of our economy as we experience unprecedented levels of trade with the Asia Pacific region. The bill will provide the regulatory stability that the railways have been seeking, which will, in turn, ensure that much-needed capacity investments are made on the key trade corridors. Improved capacity will help our railway industry and shippers to remain competitive with their counterparts in the United States.

I am sure that most of you have heard many complaints from shippers about railway service and rates. Shippers are looking for stronger statutory remedies to improve their leverage in negotiations with railways. I had very positive feedback from shippers on the former BillC-58. Shippers expressed strong support for it to be reinstated and passed as quickly as possible.

The railways feel that Bill C-8 reintroduces too much unnecessary regulation. I believe that it establishes a better balance between shippers and railways. Passage of the bill will put an end to the extensive debates that have taken place and will provide both sides with regulatory stability.

When I announced tabling of the former BillC-58 on May 30, 2007, I also indicated that the government would conduct a review of railway service to commence within 30 days after the bill is passed. I will speak more on this later.

These two initiatives, BillC-8plus a review of railway service, fulfill an important commitment I made to shippers: that I would address their concerns about railway service and rates.

The CTA is the legislative framework that regulates the economic activities of the railways. The act generally relies on market forces to govern the relationship between shippers and railways. However, as I noted earlier, there are a number of sections that protect shippers from the potential abuse of market power by the railways.

I want to note that the legislative and policy framework for railways in Canada has worked quite well. CP and CN are among the most efficient railways in the world. They both operate networks in the United States and compete quite successfully against their U.S. counterparts. They don't require any operating subsidies from government. Their financial success means they have the capital funds necessary to maintain and expand their infrastructure and to acquire new equipment.

While the framework has worked well, it's not perfect. Transport Canada officials have heard increasing complaints over the last few years about poor railway service and high freight rates. I have heard many similar complaints in my capacity as minister. Also, I know that many members of the previous committee heard from shippers and others, even when the former Bill C-11 was being reviewed by the committee and the House.

These complaints may stem from the strong performance of the Canadian economy and the fact that the supply of transportation services, including rail freight services, has been quite tight relative to demand throughout North America. Railways are of critical importance to many Canadian shippers in domestic, continental, and international markets, especially to shippers of bulk commodities, who often don't have any practical alternatives. Shippers need reasonable access to efficient and reliable service at fair rates.

I believe the time has come to rebalance the legislative framework in favour of shippers.

During the consultative process in the summer of 2006, I encouraged the railways to develop a commercial solution that would complement amendments to the shipper protection provisions. The railways developed a commercial dispute resolution proposal for discussion with shippers. Significant progress was made. Unfortunately, the two sides were unable to reach agreement. I still support a commercial approach, since it would be more expeditious, less costly, and less confrontational than regulatory remedies.

With your permission, I would like to briefly describe the provisions in the bill.

The existing section 27 of the act requires the agency to be satisfied that the shipper would suffer substantial commercial harm before granting a remedy. Shippers have long objected to this test. It is being dropped under BillC-8.

The bill amends the notice that a railway must give for increasing freight rates from 20 days to 30 days. This will provide more time for shippers to make the necessary adjustments to their shipping plans.

There are two new provisions that deal with shippers' concerns about railway freight rates and ancillary charges. I want to clarify the difference between these two terms, since different remedies apply to each.

I'll deal with freight rates first, since it is the easier concept to understand. Freight rates are simple rates applied to the movement of traffic from point A to point B, for example, for moving wheat from Moose Jaw to Vancouver.

When you look at the various rates and charges levied by railways, the payment for freight rates are the big-ticket item. Now, I want to point out that the intended remedy for freight rates is final offer arbitration.

Aside from the rate application applicable to the movement of traffic, railways levy various other charges. These charges can either be levied in relation to the movement of traffic or in relation to the provision of non-typical railway services provided by the railways.

Now, the best example of a charge that may be imposed by a railway in relation to the movement of traffic is demurrage, which is the amount paid when cars are not loaded or unloaded within the free time provided by the railways. Examples of charges that may be imposed in relation to non-typical railway services provided by a railway include car cleaning, weighing, or storing of the cars.

The amounts paid by shippers for the various charges imposed by a railway are less significant than that amount stemming from the applicable rate for the movement of traffic. However these charges have become an issue with shippers over the last few years. Amongst the concern frequently heard is the fact that these charges, or their associated terms and conditions, are unilaterally established by railways and are often unreasonable in light of their purpose.

With respect to these charges, a new provision is being added that will give the agency the authority, upon complaint by one or more shippers, to review such charges and associated terms and conditions that are contained in a tariff of general application. Now, the agency is also given the authority to order the railway to amend the tariff if it finds the charges or associated terms and conditions to be unreasonable.

The bill contains a number of factors to guide the agency. The agency will determine the period of time any revised tariff will be in effect, provided that such a period does not exceed one year.

Shippers were hoping that the issue of charges could be addressed through changes to the final offer arbitration (FOA) provisions. In our view, the agency review approach is more effective. It provides for a “one-stop shop“ to address complaints. The FOA approach could require a number of FOA applications to accomplish the same thing, because FOA decisions are normally limited to the applicants.

The FOA provision is one of the more popular shipper remedies. A shipper can apply to the agency for FOA if the shipper is not satisfied with the railway's freight rates for the movement of traffic or any of the associated terms and conditions. Under FOA, the railway and shipper each make their final offer, and the arbitrator selects one of them without modification. This encourages the two sides to narrow their differences.

Bill C-8 expands the availability of the FOA remedy to a group of shippers. In order to qualify for group FOA...

Editorial Note: technical difficulties

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2007 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to engage in the debate on Bill C-58, amendments to the Canada Transportation Act.

This is really one of a trilogy of bills. This is the third of the three bills which address various issues within transportation. The first bill, Bill C-3, actually addressed the whole issue of bridges and tunnels, making sure government was able to protect the interests of Canadians in ensuring that our bridges and tunnels on our international borders are protected and maintained properly. The second one, Bill C-11, addressed the whole issue of railway noise, making sure that we had grain caps in place, making sure that communities had a say in what happens when there are disputes with railways. This bill, Bill C-58, addresses the issue of freight across our country.

The railways are what Canada was built around. The railways were a driving force in making sure that Canada became the country it is today. Railway freight is really the object of Bill C-58.

Canadians rely on our railways for their livelihood. Our economy depends on the timely delivery of freight across our country. Not only is freight delivered to the various areas and communities of our country by rail, but our railways are also used to deliver freight to the gateways of our country, the Pacific gateway, the Atlantic gateway, even our border with the United States, a critical gateway to make sure that we protect the ongoing prosperity of our country.

This bill addresses a number of concerns that have been raised over the last five to ten years. The existing Canada Transportation Act is some 10 years old. Shippers in particular have been raising a number of issues with how our railways are administered. They have had beefs with some of the pricing of the services that are delivered. They have had beefs about how railway siding abandonment has been addressed. They have been worried about advance notice for a number of the issues that are dealt with under the Canada Transportation Act. They are also concerned about how disputes with the railway companies are addressed.

This bill is addressing the concern that shippers have with respect to the relatively tightly concentrated ownership of railways in Canada. We know from experience that in industries that have relatively few players, such as the railway industry in Canada, there is always a risk that the players within that industry will engage in predatory behaviour. I am not for a moment suggesting that is what is happening in Canada, but it is one of the concerns the shippers in Canada have raised.

The shippers want to make sure they are treated fairly. Shippers have concerns. They want to make sure they can get their products from point A to point B in a cost effective and timely manner. When there are disputes about the level of service, or a dispute over the prices charged for transporting freight from point A to point B, they want to know that there is an effective and efficient mechanism in place to achieve that.

Bill C-58 actually provides a solution. It is called final offer arbitration. Final offer arbitration already exists under the Canada Transportation Act, but it applies in limited circumstances. Unfortunately, it is an expensive process. It is one that many of the shippers, especially the small shippers, cannot afford.

Typically we would want to make sure that our shippers and railways resolve their disputes in a commercial manner, for example, by negotiating with each other. That is the ideal. If there is a beef about the pricing for getting the freight from one point to another, the shipper wants to be able to sit down with the railway and negotiate something that is fair. Sometimes negotiating does not work and the parties move on to something called mediation where a third party is brought in to review the issues, to review the pricing and perhaps the level of service.

Sometimes a mediator can come up with a solution that the other two parties are not able to arrive at on their own. If that does not work, shippers are left with a problem. They are left with arbitration. As a result of arbitration being expensive, sometimes it can cost up to half a million dollars to arbitrate a dispute. Many of the shippers cannot afford the current arbitration process.

This bill implements final offer arbitration within a broader context. Let me explain to the House how final offer arbitration works.

In those provisions, the shipper and the carrier each make their best offer. They have a dispute, they come to the table, and each comes forward with their best offer and presents that offer to the arbitrator. The shipper is not going to bring in an offer that is totally out to lunch because he or she knows that the arbitrator is not going to take that offer. The arbitrator is probably going to take the railway proposal. The railway is going to be in the same boat. It is going to bring forward an offer that is as close to where it probably should be to make sure that the other party's offer is not taken. This effectively drives the parties closer in their negotiations and closer in terms of the offers that they present.

The arbitrator can only make one choice. He chooses one offer or the other. He cannot amend the one offer or the other offer. He cannot combine them. He cannot come up with a compromise. He picks one or the other. The purpose is to make sure the parties, when they make their offers, are as close as possible. It certainly drives the parties to negotiate these disputes if there is any way of resolving them outside of the arbitration process. There is an incentive for the parties to put forward reasonable offers.

Final offer arbitration is one of the more popular remedies under the Canada Transportation Act, certainly with shippers. One of the reasons is because shippers have considerable control over the process and are not dependent on other parties. In essence, the shippers determine the rates and conditions that are contained in the final offer, so they have some control over that process. This forces the railway to respond in kind.

The decisions that the arbitrator makes are, of course, confidential. On the whole, shippers are satisfied with final offer arbitration under the Canada Transportation Act. However, they complained again because of the costs. Individual shippers really cannot avail themselves of this process because it is just too expensive. Our amendments to Bill C-58 address that problem.

Bill C-58 proposes two main amendments. First and foremost, Bill C-58 extends the final offer arbitration to a group of shippers who are disputing a railway's proposed freight rates or conditions for the movement of traffic across Canada. This allows a group of shippers to come together and share the costs of final offer arbitration. It will generally give shippers more leverage during their negotiations with the railways because now the railways know the costs of this final offer arbitration are going to be spread over a large number of shippers rather than one or two.

To be eligible for this, the shippers have to have issues in common. This ensures that they are not dealing with a scattergun approach and that the arbitrator has a specific issue to address. It would be unfair to expect an arbitrator to consider a group application that lacks sufficient commonality. This legislation clearly addresses that.

The second part of this amendment requires that the arbitrator and the agency must be satisfied that the members of this group of shippers have attempted to mediate the matter. In the ideal world, we want to make sure that the parties try to negotiate first, keep it out of a formal system, and subsequently maybe use a mediator to try to come to a common resolution. Once the Canadian Transportation Agency is satisfied that mediation has been attempted, it will then move to allow an arbitration process to take place. Shippers have strongly endorsed this concept of group final offer arbitration.

Bill C-58 also provides a provision that permits parties to a final offer arbitration to suspend the arbitration halfway through the process to try to engage in negotiation or further mediation.

Again, that makes sense because the parties know the arbitration process is going to end up with one offer or the other being chosen and it is binding on both parties. There is still an incentive for them to consider going back to negotiation and mediation to try to resolve the dispute without having the final decision made by the arbitrator.

It gives an opportunity for the shippers and the railways to take a time out and a deep breath. They can say they are getting close and resolve it among themselves rather than going to the arbitrator. All those options are available under our amendments.

These changes to the arbitration process are going to assist the shippers in getting their problems resolved with the railways. It is also a faster way of bringing resolution to these problems.

The government has heard the shippers. It believes it has addressed these concerns. I have addressed one of the concerns in Bill C-58. My colleagues are going to address a number of other amendments within Bill C-58.

I would encourage all members in the House to support this legislation because it is good for our communities. It is certainly good for the city of Abbotsford which relies heavily on the railways to get grain to the feed mills that provide feed to our poultry growers. We also have a strong manufacturing sector in Abbotsford that needs the railways to provide cost-effective pricing and timely service.

This bill will achieve all of those ends. It is a huge step forward in bringing Canada into the 21st century when it comes to transportation. I encourage members in the House to support Bill C-58.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

June 13th, 2007 / 8 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, what a pleasure to answer this question.

Yes indeed, this legislation clearly states the obligation of railways with respect to noise and vibration. The agency certainly has jurisdiction there. I would suggest the member contact it.

I would like to deal with my colleague's first comment about the Liberals putting legislation forward similar to this bill, which they did, but it took seven years and they did not get it passed.

I am proud to stand in the House today. Bill C-6, Bill C-11 and Bill C-3 were all on the order paper for seven years under the previous Liberal government and none of them passed. All three have now passed. Bill C-6 was passed by committee a couple of days ago. We are very proud of this government's initiative. In less than 18 months, three bills have been put forward that were never passed by the Liberals.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

February 28th, 2007 / 3:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, there was a blinding light on the road to Damascus. It was more like a blinding light of Conservative government because the people spoke and they got what they wanted. They got a Conservative government that was going to take action.

Let us talk about Bill C-44, the predecessor to this bill, and I think there was another bill before that, but not another one before that one, yet it would not surprise me if there was another one before that. That bill was far too cumbersome, something that just could not work because we could not find consistency.

This is the situation. This Conservative government wanted results, so we split the existing Liberal bill into three bills. So far in eight months we have gotten two of those bills to this point. One bill passed, Bill C-3, another bill is before us today, Bill C-11, and another bill is coming forward in two weeks with some cooperation from members on the other side, as long as they can see and are not be blinded by the Conservative light. It will move forward and we will get results for Canadians.

February 19th, 2007 / 6:50 p.m.
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Fort McMurray—Athabasca
Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the member that we will do what is in the best interest of Canadians and Canadian taxpayers, as well as residents in the Windsor area.

The gateway is essential to Canada, and we know that it is very important. As the member mentioned, it is the busiest border crossing. It is absolutely essential to not only our trade but to our continued economic success and security.

The government is working right now with bilateral and binational partners, such as the United States federal government, the state of Michigan and the province of Ontario where it is situated, to develop a solution that ensures sufficient capacity across the Detroit River to facilitate cross-border trade and traffic, and in fact to enhance it.

As part of this work, we are conducting a comprehensive and harmonized environmental assessment, and I am sure the member would encourage that environmental assessment, to identify the locations of the bridge crossing, the inspection plazas and the access roads.

As well, we are also assessing possible models for delivery of the new crossing because we want to do what is in the best interest of Canadian taxpayers, who are ultimately our boss. Private sector participation, such as the public-private partnership, is one of the models that is being considered.

In November the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities stated at the public-private partnership conference in Toronto that the government was exploring the opportunities for using a private-public partnership for financing, building, operating and maintaining the new crossing between Windsor and Detroit. This is just one of several options, and I want to be clear with the member. We on this side of the House act in the best interest of Canadian taxpayers. No decision has been made as of it. This can deliver new infrastructure more efficiently and more expeditiously.

Although the government can borrow at a lower rate than the private sector, which is one of the considerations the member has brought forward, financing is only one of the many possible considerations that we have to look at before making this decision.

The cost of private sector borrowing would be offset by the risk that the private sector would take and by increased innovation and efficiency. I suggest the member would have to agree with what the private sector can bring to occasional projects from time to time.

We still have appropriate and effective public oversight by the federal government. More specific, Bill C-3, which was one of the initial pieces of legislation the Conservative government put forward, received royal asset on February 1. No matter what model the government picks, it will be the model for governance over our international bridges and tunnels for the best interest of Canadians. The Conservative government will also ensure that the operator puts in place mechanisms to address community concerns.

Let me assure members that the government is absolutely committed to selecting the delivery option that provides the greatest value for taxpayers while maintaining appropriate public oversight of the new crossing. It is quite frankly a balance for the best interest of Canadians.

The government will continue to work with the binational partnership, all of our partners and listen to stakeholders to explore models for delivering the new crossing that is in the best interest of Canadians. If such a model cannot meet the objectives of the Government of Canada or its United States partner, alternative delivery mechanisms will be pursued.

The Windsor-Detroit gateway is a matter of national priority and the government remains committed to ensuring that a new crossing will be in place by 2013, but we will do so in the best interest of Canadian taxpayers, the residents and all stakeholders.

February 1st, 2007 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Before questions and comments, I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received, which is as follows:

Rideau Hall

Ottawa

February 1, 2007

Mr. Speaker:

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bill listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 1st day of February, 2007, at 11:36 a.m.

Yours sincerely,

Sheila-Marie Cook

Secretary to the Governor General

The schedule indicates the bill assented to is Bill C-3, An Act respecting international bridges and tunnels and making a consequential amendment to another Act.

The House resumed consideration of the motion in relation to the amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-3, An Act respecting international bridges and tunnels and making a consequential amendment to another Act.

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
Government Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's excellent question brings forward the point that the amendments we are dealing with are more technical in nature. They are ones to which I do not have any objection. At the same time, I know that in the Senate process there were extra questions and concerns raised. In fact there were misunderstandings about what the bill was about, whether it was ownership and a few other things.

What is important is that we are going to move further past this process. Bill C-3 is just the start of cleaning up our borders in Canada. We must understand that right now we have no regulations, control or ability to have an influence on those things. This is starting from there. We need to do the same thing with border authorities, community investment funds and also infrastructure funds for the areas around them.

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
Government Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-3. Accountability has been a long time coming on some of our border processes.

Quite frankly, to continue the discussion on Bill C-44 and Bill C-3, there were some excellent things in Bill C-44, but I am glad at the very least that we are moving on Bill C-3. It is very important that we get some type of accountability.

That is what has been lacking on our 24 international bridges and tunnels that connect us to the United States. There has not been a standardized process to ensure safety, security, pricing, and a whole bunch of operational issues. That is why we want to see this bill pass in the House of Commons.

It is not the perfect bill. It is something that I tried to improve with a number of different motions. Some actually got through and some did not, but at the end of the day this is an opportunity to do something good for our commerce and our prosperity for the future. It is more than just the operations that we have to be concerned about. It is the investment.

I first want to outline the summary of the bill. It is important that people understand this context. It did not really come into the national perspective of the sensitivities and difficulties at border crossings until 9/11 in 2001 with the terrorist attacks and the shutting down of the border with the United States. We in Windsor, Ontario and many other jurisdictions across the country understood the infrastructure, operational and accountability deficiencies, but were unable to successfully penetrate it to a national level that would get it to the point where there would be action taken by any particular level of government. That was very important.

When that episode happened, new challenges began to emerge that became very important, not only to the people who lived around the immediate facilities of the border crossings but to those who live in an area that has four border crossings in total; who live along the 400 series highways, the Golden Horseshoe area; Montreal; British Columbia; and those who live in areas of border crossings right across the Prairies.

A number of different challenges began to emerge, but when it came to international bridges and tunnels, there was no actual mandate for the federal government to have some type of accountability standards or procedures and to ensure there was oversight. That is very important because there are border crossings that are privately held.

Two of the 24 are very unusual in the context of the overall infrastructure portfolio this country has, but they are very significant ones. Second to that, there was also no standardization for the other ones owned by the federal government, provinces and municipalities that had some type of vested stake in the actual border crossing. This brings a greater perspective for all of us in relation to this bill.

The summary states:

This enactment establishes an approval mechanism for the construction, alteration and acquisition of international bridges and tunnels and provides for the regulation of their operation, maintenance and security.

That is important to note. Looking at the titles of the different chapters, it is about interpretation and application for actual border crossings, construction and alteration, maintenance and repair, operation and use, security and safety, changes of ownership, and operational control. These are all things that are very important to how the border functions and operates.

As I was discussing earlier, it is not just about the operator of the border crossing, whether it be a public or private entity. It is about the repercussions that are faced by the goods and services trade, people and vehicular flow across these border crossings into other regions. The less efficient they are, the less accountability that happens with regard to public safety and investment in infrastructure to ensure it is preserved in perpetuity, the less investment there is to actually expand and meet the challenges and, on top of that, the less there is to do with accountability about pricing, which is an actual trade barrier to our country being successful with the United States. Whether it be the tourism aspect, where people pay a higher price by going along a certain border corridor or transport trucks being charged far greater than what they should be, all of these affect our economy.

What is important to note about that is that in the auto industry and other types of industries these are significant costs. At the border, for example, in Windsor, Ontario an automobile can quite literally cross the border six times before it is completely finished. Between all the parts and different operations that are exchanged, the vehicle will cross the border to Michigan and return to Ontario multiple times. If there is a lack of investment, all of these additional costs will have a significant impact not only on our current infrastructure and economy but also on decision-making.

I have been involved in this since 1997 when I was a city councillor. We have been arguing for this investment as a way of showing Ontario and Quebec in particular that we could solve the border problem to ensure it was fast, safe and secure. This would enable goods to get to markets very quickly and it would be done in an accountable way. This would provide for possible plant expansions. I have heard from different corporations that they have withheld funding for plant expansions because of their concern about the border question.

We still have this problem in the Windsor-Detroit corridor despite all the rhetoric and all the bluster in many announcements. There is yet to be the political will to invest the capital to fix our current problems. We have not seen anything. It is important that we at least get the operational aspect under control. It is not sinister. It is not something one would think there would be problems with.

The fact of the matter is that we have to deal with the most important border crossing between Windsor and Detroit which is owned and operated by a private American citizen. We have to ensure that Canada's interests are represented. We have to ensure the infrastructure is safe and sound. We have to ensure the infrastructure is going to have the proper operational supports so in times of emergency there can be an appropriate response. We have to ensure that the planning process will be done in conjunction with the community and the province and country at large.

As a result of the previous administration's lack of political will, the Windsor, Ontario area has become a literal battleground with respect to who wants to own and operate the next border crossing. People are receiving letters. TV commercials, airwave commercials, propaganda of all sorts is being received by people in the area from private proponents about why one proposal should be supported over the other.

The previous prime minister promised that this would impact positively on the quality of life of citizens in the area. We wanted the trucks off our city streets. We wanted to ensure a free flow of economic goods and services without the hazardous materials and the pollution flowing through our streets. We are still being confronted with congestion and safety issues on a regular basis.

This bill would provide some remedies to these problems. There is actual incorporation. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh and myself have been pushing hard for amendments to make the local municipality engaged on this issue. This is one of my concerns about the bill. It would give the minister greater influence. However, we could not allow no accountability whatsoever.

As things stand right now we do not have any rights on private property where these privately owned and operated border crossings are located. Public crossings need consent. This is a problem. How can we assure the general public that proper procedures are being followed? How can we assure the general public that the necessary investment is being received?

The Ambassador Bridge in my riding has made millions of dollars over the years with respect to tolls. I do not have the official number but some of the estimates are $50 million to $60 million a year. This is significant. However, at the same time we have to ensure that investment will be made to the infrastructure at the end of the day for perpetuity.

This is a definite problem because the toll rates at this particular operation are much more expensive than at other operations such as those at Sault Ste. Marie, Sarnia, the Blue Water area, and Niagara Falls. All of these areas have lower toll rates for passengers as well as for transport trucks. This has caused extra costs to be added to businesses, especially local and regional commerce, in order to compete.

Industries in Ontario, for example, have been suffering significantly from manufacturing competition from the United States because it has invested in these types of facilities in order to maintain them and to keep and grow the jobs. Canada has not been as aggressive. Beyond this is the issue of other developing countries which have really had a profound impact on the actual manufacturing base of our economy.

What is really important is that we are demonstrating, and Bill C-3 does this to a certain degree, that we are actually going to rein in some of the issues about the border. The second step to this which is very important and something I could not get through the bill but I believe is so important, especially for the Windsor economic region as well as the rest of Ontario and the Montreal area, is that in the Windsor corridor we need to get a border authority developed.

The border authority is something that New Democrats have been pushing for that area for a long time. Sarnia has one, Sault Ste. Marie has one, Fort Erie has one and Niagara Falls has one. Everywhere around the region are these border authorities. They are binational organizations that have representatives from different government agencies as well as the communities that provide solutions and ongoing contact about how to manage the border.

If we look at our most important corridor, being Windsor-Detroit where we have 42% of the nation's trade, we have an issue. We have a rail tunnel that is privately held. We have a city tunnel for vehicle traffic and transport trucks that is owned by the City of Windsor on the Canadian side which we just got back after many years. It is paying a profit back to the people and has lower fares and will do so in the future. The Detroit side of it is owned by the City of Detroit and outleased to Macquarie North American, a private infrastructure leasing agreement that was decided upon. The Ambassador Bridge is privately owned by an American citizen. We have the ferry system which is also owned by a private American citizen.

We have four different border crossings and there is absolutely no coordination whatsoever from an overall perspective. When we have issues develop, such as the unilateral action by the United States with the new bio-terrorism act that requires more standards and more procedures to be followed by commerce and particularly in goods and services from agriculture. That is particularly important for the County of Essex and Chatham and Kent as we have a big greenhouse industry that actually produces a lot of different vegetables that go to the United States market. If they are delayed there are additional costs which causes problems.

There is not only the effect of that legislation with the extra cost being introduced but second to that are new procedures for the physical infrastructure at the border and the processing that needs to be done. Therefore, we need a border authority to help coordinate and advocate for that.

I remember in the Niagara Region when the NEXUS program was introduced and the American customs officials on the other side of the border were opening every single trunk. For those who do not know what NEXUS is, one goes through a pre-clearance inspection. Persons are validated on who they are and agree to certain terms and conditions so they can traverse across the border more quickly than if they go through the regular channels. There are limitations on what they can bring and what they can bring back but it is a bonded agreement between the person and the department of homeland security.

The whole point of that is to move vehicles quicker. In the Niagara Falls area they were opening every single trunk which was basically defeating the whole point of NEXUS, after people had gone through all the screening. It has a commission that can advocate for the changing of that practice. That is what happened in that region which was very successful.

In the Windsor and Essex County area we need the same type of body to deal with legislation coming forth in the United States in terms of lobbying. The bio-terrorism act is a classic example. The then Minister of International Trade found out about it, did not bother to tell anyone, and later on the Canadian Trucking Association found out about it two weeks later with the general public and it caused quite a bit of havoc.

We need to ensure that we are going to present a common front together especially when legislation like that is not even warranted. I do not want to get into the details of that legislation, but it is one classic example of the challenges that we face.

The second thing that we tried to get into the bill which was very important for the areas that are affected by the border is a community investment fund. We have seen significant problems with backups and environmental degradation. In the Windsor Star today, our home town paper, a study is reported that came out of California which shows that if persons live along an area with traffic congestion within a 500 metre radius, they are more likely to have different types of diseases and can contract problems related to health, be it heart and stroke or a series of different problems.

We had wanted an investment fund on the environment so that the local communities would be able to actually extract remedies for their areas on the environment.

That is one of the big battles that is going on right now through the new process that we have on the border in Windsor and Essex County, the DRIC process. It is binational. The American federal and state governments and the provincial and federal governments on our side are trying to come up with a plan.

The environmental degradation of a new border crossing and where it would go is a big issue. The New Democrats want some type of investment fund so that local leaders, advocates and municipalities could cope with the problems on the border. That would give people who live with those types of problems hope and an opportunity to participate in the betterment of their communities. On top of that, it would improve our image on the borders between Windsor and Detroit and all across Canada because everyone would be entitled to this type of support structure.

We also wanted to enshrine an open process for the border competition regarding what was going to happen in the future in terms of ownership and new crossings. That was very important to us but we were not be able to pass that.

I hope no other community goes through this, but as I mentioned earlier, a ground war is going on in my community. The Ambassador Bridge is pushing ahead its particular proposal and the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership wants to ram a rail tunnel through an area. It has been a divide and conquer situation, basically spending a lot of money and requesting basically a public subsidy at the end of the day for their operations to move ahead with their particular proposal despite there being a planned process in place. We wanted to see that move to a more transparent level.

I have been calling on the government for public ownership of the next border crossing, similar to the one that is being built on the east coast, but there has not been a commitment. There have been many studies and evidence that public border crossings actually have lower fares. The most recent study was by Citigroup in the United States. It looked at the public benefit of corporation owned versus privately owned border crossings. It looked at interest rates, equity, corporate income and sales tax and compared the advantages of each different sector. It found that privately owned infrastructure facilities usually require toll rates that are 35% to 40% higher.

It gives me great concern that if we do not have the same commitment for the next Windsor-Detroit region border crossing to be publicly owned and operated, we would then add another cost factor into that infrastructure that would affect the viability of commerce going between our two nations. Once again, there is approximately $1 billion a day in trade through this corridor. If we were to add on another layer of cost it would certainly be a net detractor from further investment in Ontario and other areas.

We want to make sure that the toll rates are low and relatively stable. More important, like many other publicly owned and operated crossings, we want to make sure that the money actually goes back into the management and operation of the facility and also toward future expansion and community issues. The Peace Bridge in Fort Erie has done a series of work for the community around it to help offset the impact on having the border there.

We also wanted more protocols regarding hazardous materials and procedures to be implemented for bridges and tunnels. Unfortunately that motion was defeated. There is enough evidence to warrant that we are not doing the best job we could on this. The government's logic was that this could be moved to the hazardous materials act. I am hoping it has a great interest in doing that. The government said that was going to move that forward quickly in this session and I would expect it to do so. I wanted it in this bill because we have a series of regulations that will involve those types of operations. People need to understand the significance of this.

In the United States a number of municipalities have worked to ban the transportation of certain gas materials and hazardous materials through their regions. Cleveland has done that. It could be anything, such as chlorine gas that could cause quite a bit of a difficulty. It is a safety issue for thousands of people.

I will wrap up by saying that Bill C-3 is just the start of the real accountability that is needed at our border crossings. It will improve things. It is not a perfect bill but it is necessary at least for the public safety and security of all bridges and tunnels in our great land.

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
Government Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 1 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, a few moments ago, I had a remarkable experience. I would like to thank my hon. colleague from the Bloc Québécois for making this possible.

Let me explain. A Bloc member just congratulated the Liberal Party and complimented it on initiatives taken in this area during the previous Parliament.

This is remarkable. He also wanted to underscore the fact that the Conservatives did not want a progressive, forward-looking piece of legislation, such as Bill C-44. I am almost speechless.

I have a question for my colleague, whom I have known for several years and who worked hard on the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. By supporting Bill C-3, does he want the federal government to control transportation costs or does he simply accept the role that the government can play in cases of national interest?

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
Government Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 12:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in this House for the first time in 2007. I would like to wish Quebeckers and Canadians a happy 2007 full of health and prosperity.

Mr. Speaker, I wish you a happy 2007 full of wisdom.

I also want to wish my colleagues wisdom and transparency in their words.

I will be discussing Bill C-3, An act respecting international bridges and tunnels and making a consequential amendment to another Act. From the outset I will say that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the amendments to the bill and what the government has introduced, given the fact that in Quebec, only one bridge is subject to this legislation. I am referring to the Sutton bridge linking Quebec and Vermont. Responsibility for this bridge is shared between the State of Vermont, the municipality of Sutton and the Government of Quebec. That is why we have worked conscientiously on this.

In all transparency, I would like to go back over Bill C-3, since the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, the Conservative member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca, told us he finally decided to divide bills introduced by the Liberals that had died on the order paper. However, he did not exactly say what truly happened.

Let us not forget that the bridges and tunnels issue was part of Bill C-44 prepared by the Liberals, a bill that was delayed because his party—the Conservative Party—did not agree with one of its main provisions, which created Via Rail. The issue is that Via Rail is a crown corporation and that Bill C-44 created the Via Rail Act replacing the articles of incorporation and making the corporation much more independent and capable of taking care of its future, especially the development of its industry, which is often linked to government decisions.

Let us recall the infamous project known as VIA Fast. Once again, I must take to task the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities for not telling us that the Conservatives were against drafting the legislation that created VIA Rail and that would have given rise to the VIA Fast project for a high-speed train linking Montreal, Windsor and Quebec City. That was the aim and VIA Rail never hid that fact, nor did the Liberals. This is why the new Liberal Party critic, the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence, will represent the Liberals on the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Naturally, I would like to acknowledge and say hello to him.

Nevertheless, at that time, the Liberals were themselves divided. The minister at the time, Mr. Collenette, wanted to make a concerted effort and provide VIA Rail with a good opportunity to develop. However, not all Liberals agreed on the subject. It must therefore be understood that Bill C-3, before us here in the House today, constitutes just one small part of an interesting platform. This was backed by the Bloc Québécois, especially with respect to the new legislation that would have made VIA Rail Canada an independent corporation. Thus, VIA could have taken care of its future and development, and secured its own loans in order to ensure its development. VIA Rail was refused this by a group of Liberal members who were against it, who were divided.

I would remind the House that, at that time, there was a considerable division between the Chrétien camp and the Martin camp. Moreover, as we have seen, the Conservatives have presented no new legislation regarding VIA Rail, because they are very afraid of VIA's development.

I listened to the Liberal Party critic talk to us about safety. That is fine. However, problems with safety do exist, as we have seen. It was mentioned that General Baril, Chairman of the Board of Directors of CATSA, is taking early retirement on this count.

The fact remains that there are some difficult situations. Some reports have indicated that there are security breaches at Trudeau airport in Quebec. Journalists have to play the role of politicians, to investigate and find flaws. However, in the meantime, the damage has been done insofar as the public is concerned.

In a way, VIA Rail was right to develop a market. However, it is wrong to believe that people who are afraid to fly because of television reports on airport security are going to eagerly buy airline tickets. They will use other means of transportation. The Bloc Québécois truly believed that the legislation to create VIA Rail should have been enacted and that this company would have had the opportunity to develop and to compete with airlines by providing Quebeckers and Canadians with another quick and efficient form of transportation.

We were not talking about high-speed trains, but of the VIAFast concept. For those who remember, this was a rapid rail service that could easily have served the Quebec City-Montreal-Windsor corridor, and perhaps even the Quebec City-Montreal-New York line. We could have opted for development of this service and provided Quebeckers and Canadians with a safe and rapid rail service which would not have taken anything away from the air system.

We must make efforts to continue to ensure the safety of air transportation and strengthen this market. However, we must also provide other means of transportation considered to be just as safe or safer to those who wish to travel . That was the objective.

Today, I find that what has been said does not line up with what took place. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca, did not mention that, in the end, Bill C-3 was tabled because Bill C-44 was not enacted. Yes, he did mention that fact, but he did not say why.

The Conservatives were dead set against new legislation that would have created VIA Rail. The Liberals were as well. The Liberal critic did not mention that Bill C-44, which his party had introduced, was never passed because many Liberal members were against legislation that would have created VIA Rail Canada.

As I have already said, there was a huge debate, a huge competition between the Martin and Chrétien camps. But Quebeckers and Canadians are the losers today, because no investment was made. VIA Rail was not given a chance to develop fully and provide faster, safer rail transportation in order to compete with air and road transportation. It would be a good way to encourage travel, to help the economy run properly and to allow people to do business more expeditiously.

Once again, there were internal debates among the Liberals and the Conservatives, who likely were keen to protect WestJet in western Canada. They were afraid that the airline would suffer serious financial difficulties, when it is actually in very good shape, and they knew it at the time. Quite simply, the Liberals and the Conservatives are digging in their heels, because their personal interests run counter to the public interest. That is what the Conservative government is doing, just as the Liberals did before it and are still doing today. Personal interests are taking priority over the public interest.

Members can be sure that this is not true of the Bloc Québécois members. They are always prepared to defend the public interest. That is what we are doing in the case of Bill C-3. We will therefore vote in favour of Bill C-3, which is but a small portion of Bill C-44, even though, as I said earlier, we have only one bridge that will be subject to this legislation, the Sutton bridge. In the event there should be other bridges in future, we have volunteered to monitor the situation.

I will review part of Bill C-3, which required some rather difficult and tough debates, because when the legislation was first introduced by the Liberals—and then reintroduced by the Conservatives—it included three major parts. Of course, the first part deals with the construction and alteration of bridges.

It must be realized that these international bridges come under the responsibility of a number of bodies, both in the United States and in Canada, and may include provincial or municipal governments. Sometimes, private owners are also involved. In each case, individual agreements are reached for every one of these bridges. I can understand why some members who have such bridges in their ridings were really affected by the debates on this legislation. Indeed, we wanted, among other things, to ensure that those who have an interest in these bridges would be able to express their views.

So, whether we were dealing with the construction, alteration, maintenance, security or safety of these bridges, provincial and municipal governments were included in the discussions. That was the purpose of the amendments that were made and that were supported by the Bloc Québécois. We want to allow the administrations, and all the stakeholders, which have to make decisions regarding these most important structures and which have to deal with these situations, to have a say. I believe that, ultimately, with the amendments proposed by the Senate, this objective will be achieved.

It is a case of being able to bring about change when making a decision. Indeed, the first sections that I referred to earlier, clauses 6 to 12, deal with construction and alteration of infrastructure. When alterations are to be made or construction is proposed, the Government of Canada must be informed. That was not the case previously.

We need to understand that many of these bridges are very old and date back to the 1900s. Agreements were signed by private companies who were the owners. They signed contracts with different levels of government. These were separate agreements. I believe that at some point we have to be able to do things and to say to all those bridge administrators that there is now a law that transcends all those arrangements. In other words, regardless of the agreements signed in the past, the law now applies in the same way to everyone. I believe that idea was also well received by the witnesses who appeared before the committee and by the industry, with some minor changes or observations.

Plans for construction and alterations are therefore to be submitted. That is a request that will have to be enforced. Any time someone wants to make alterations to these structures or to build new ones, they have to contact the federal government and also discuss the matter with the provincial and municipal authorities concerned.

Next, in clause 13, Maintenance and Repair, through clause 16, Operation and Use, there is clearly a whole procedure dealing with operation. When work has been done and so forth, there is always a question about cost because many of these facilities collect a toll. Obviously, a whole structure of provisions has been incorporated into Bill C-3 to ensure that the federal government has something to say about the setting of prices. Moreover, a role was added for the provincial governments and municipalities because the places where these infrastructures are located should also have a voice in setting the charges and fees that are often related to the maintenance work that is carried out on these bridges.

The third important issue is the matter of security. Obviously, the government must be able to establish certain standards of security. Since September 2001, we have recognized that safety and security are of the greatest importance. It was time therefore to include in the law an obligation for the administrators of these bridges to meet standards of safety and security.

The only thing that may have hit a snag in committee was the question of hazardous materials. In fact the government did not want to go any further in this bill with respect to hazardous materials because there is already legislation for the transportation of hazardous materials. Still, I wish to make the same observation I made to the committee, namely that we are prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt. It is true that there is legislation respecting hazardous materials, but it might have been important to include this aspect in this bill. We will see.

The Bloc Québécois is going to be keeping a very close eye on this bill and I am going to do the same thing. I am going to urge my colleagues in the House of Commons to bear this bill in mind when problems arise concerning the transportation of hazardous materials crossing these international bridges and going through these international tunnels. We could have gone further with this bill, pushed things and even clarified the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act. We are told that there will be a future amendment to the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act and that we should not confuse things. In my opinion, though, always trying to go further and to see things more clearly does not confuse anything.

However, we were good losers. We rallied the majority who did not want to see this point in this bill or to discuss the whole section on the safety of transporting hazardous materials. I still think there will always be a safety and security problem and obviously giving carriers clear standards and guidelines suits us. This also goes for the operators these bridges so that there are some very significant security standards when the time comes to transport hazardous materials. This has to be clarified in all the bills having anything to do with transportation.

This bill respecting international bridges and tunnels obviously affects the transportation of all products, people, goods and services, but also the transportation of hazardous materials.

We may understand why the government did so, but I would say the stronger the better. We could have added to the bill all the standards to be met by operators regarding hazardous materials and taken the opportunity, every time transportation and safety came up, to subject all these people to the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act and made things clear.

The title of the bill reads as follows: An act respecting international bridges and tunnels and making a consequential amendment to another Act. This other act created various administrations to manage the bridges.

So it is amended. When we passed an entire clause on the transportation of dangerous goods, we could very easily have amended the 1992 Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act.

However, the officials at Transport Canada obviously did not see it this way. They managed to convince the other parties that the best approach was to deal with the transportation of dangerous goods in another act separate from the one on international bridges and tunnels. Apart from these small suggestions for our colleagues that we should closely follow the recommendations made by the operators of the international bridges and tunnels on the transportation of dangerous goods, the Bloc Québécois fully supports this bill. We are in favour of the amendments that were made.

I would like to return now to what I said in my introduction. I want it to be very clear to the Quebeckers and Canadians listening to us that when it comes to Bill C-44, they should not pay any attention to the parliamentary secretary when he says that the bill tabled by the Liberal Party, that is Bill C-44, died on the order paper. A bill often dies on the order paper because the parties do not all cooperate.

If Bill C-44 at the time, which was the original of today’s Bill C-3, died on the order paper, it was because the parties did not all cooperate in the House. I said it before and will say it again: the Conservative Party was against Bill C-44 for one single reason. Obviously, it was not because of all the clauses on bridges and tunnels because they agree now and tabled a bill.

At the time, they introduced another bill on railway noise. They agreed with all of Bill C-44 except for the part enacting the Via Rail Canada act that was the heart of the bill.

The most important part of Bill C-44 was the act to create VIA Rail and give the company the support it needs to develop its service. It was as simple as that. VIA Rail would have been transformed from a Crown corporation to a private company. It would have been called VIA Rail Canada and would have been an independent company subject to the Canada Business Corporations Act. It would have managed its own development and created VIA Fast, a project supported by the Bloc Québécois. VIA Fast would have been a fast train linking Montreal to Windsor or Quebec City to Montreal, thus offering an alternative to air travel and developing a safe rail transport network.

Bill C-44 did not go through. It died on the order paper. The Conservatives were against it and they did everything they could to make sure it did not go through. As for the Liberals, they were divided. Chrétien's camp was in favour, but those backing the member for LaSalle—Émard were not.

Earlier, I congratulated the critic on his new portfolio in the Liberal shadow cabinet, but he did not mention Bill C-44. I hope that he will be among those who support VIA Rail's development, not among those who oppose it. We will have opportunities to discuss this in future debates, debates that we hope will be marked by wisdom and transparency. Bill C-3 is fine, but the Bloc Québécois is very disappointed that Bill C-44 died on the order paper because it would have brought into force legislation creating VIA Rail Canada, thus enabling VIA Rail to develop and introduce fast train service between Montreal and Windsor. Eventually, it would also have introduced a fast train between Quebec City and Montreal and Montreal and New York.

On that note, happy debating in 2007.

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
Government Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 12:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, in his comments, the member for Eglinton—Lawrence spoke about security and accountability in regard to the border crossings, which is something that I have been pursuing for a number of years.

I would like to ask my colleague a question about his party's performance. I will not get into the difficulty we have had since 2002, when actually for the first time there was an introduction to trying to solve some of the border problems in the Windsor corridor area. Despite the years of neglect and delays, it took a lot of effort just to get that.

More important in regard to Bill C-3 is the fact that the Liberal member for North Vancouver introduced a motion that I will read for members:

That Bill C-3, in Clause 6, be amended by replacing lines 37 to 39 on page 2 with the following:...

6.(1) No person shall construct an international bridge or tunnel without the approval of the Governor in Council.

That would be removed. The Liberals wanted to substitute this:

(2) Despite subsection (1), the approval of the Governor in Council is not required in the case of replacement, substitution, expansion or twinning of an international bridge or tunnel at an existing international crossing.

What would that have done? It would have given the opportunity for border crossings to actually expand, twin or do what they want with no accountability. In particular, that could have been done without environmental assessments. Why the Liberal Party would want to introduce that type of motion is puzzling at best.

Also, the motion comes at a time when it is counter to the Detroit River international crossing study being done and the Windsor border corridor that was set up by the previous administration, the member's own government. I ask the member, why is it that during the committee process one of the Liberal members had the intent to move for border crossings, twinnings, expansions and a whole series of developments without community consultation and also without environmental assessments?

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
Government Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 12:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin on a very positive note. The parliamentary secretary began to thank the previous government for its initiatives in this regard. In that spirit it is important to acknowledge that the bill deserves support if for no other reason than it is but a small portion of its predecessor, Bill C-44.

Bill C-44, as the parliamentary secretary indicated, was an initiative of the former Liberal administration. I will say a few more words about that in a moment. That bill, which was very comprehensive, strategic, forward looking and proactive in its nature, has now been reduced to something a little bit smaller and has a very specific role. I want to compliment all of those members of Parliament who worked on the House committee, especially the members on this side of the House from my party, including the previous critic for the role they fulfilled so admirably. We in this party are going to support the bill. I will explain the details in a moment.

I was especially struck by the chronology of events the parliamentary secretary thought were significant enough to warrant 10 minutes of parliamentary time. I want to digress for a moment from the courteous diplomacy and positive demeanour I have just indicated and become a little bit more harsh.

In harshness I would say that some people in the morning must get awfully tired of putting salve on all their nicks after shaving as they look at themselves in the mirror and puff themselves up. I do not think the Conservative government can claim it has done something very positive when it spent 13 months during the previous administration trying to tear down a bill that was much more comprehensive than this one and then say that they did something in nine months and it is great news and that none of the members of the other opposition parties in the House ever did anything for it.

Members of the Liberal Party devoted all of their time to ensuring that the bill would pass. It was part of a comprehensive, strategic, proactive forward looking piece of legislation that came out of government policies when the previous Liberal administration was in power. Why did they do that? This cannot be puffery on the part of the Liberals. We do not engage in that sort of thing. We deal with realities.

The member for Windsor West had an interest in this and always made sure that that interest was focused on his party rather than on the government that was doing its job. That member's party was not looking at the things that we in the government at the time felt were absolutely crucial and important: one, security and two, economic.

I do not mean to switch the two, but obviously in a post 9/11 environment, security issues from political and terrorism points of view were extremely important. They were also important from an infrastructure point of view. The government of the day through Bill C-44, the predecessor to this bill, said that we must pay very special attention to the means and mechanisms by which the Government of Canada would assume the responsibilities for ensuring that there be a safe and secure environment from a political perspective, one that would be coordinated very closely, but not subordinate to, the interests of homeland security defence in the United States.

We were establishing a period of cooperation to ensure that our borders would be safe; safe politically, safe for the purposes of maintaining our sovereignty, safe for the purposes of maintaining our economic viability and durability. We proposed a bill and the opposition parties of the day, one of which is currently the government, objected to it every step of the way. That bill focused on putting in a place all the mechanisms necessary to provide the security to keep Canadians safe and assured that their country would be beyond attack, and that the mechanisms for response in the event of any kind of action would be readily available and quickly dispatched.

That security is not just political. We cannot conjure up images of people with grenades, missiles, et cetera, at our borders in all instances. No, part of the security, as we know, is economic.

The member for Windsor West knows that in excess of $1 billion a day of business goes through precisely the targets of this bill, our bridges and tunnels. We need to make sure that that $1 billion a day of business is maintained in its security. We need to ensure that the crossing points between our country and our neighbours to the south are always maintained in a fashion that the people of Canada can be assured that their business, their commercial relationship with the United States and the interests of all the businesses that generate activity are always within the reach of the powers of the Government of Canada.

What were the difficulties? I note that the government member did not mention any of them. They have to do with building and maintaining an infrastructure, as I am sure the member for Windsor West will indicate in his presentation, to ensure the free and quick movement of truck traffic now, but also rail traffic across our two boundaries.

The Liberal government of the day had already begun a series of initiatives that were designed to move that commerce quickly to give substance to that just in time economic theory, to ensure that all goods would traverse the border points without undue delay. It is not only people that cross the border but also the goods that provide us with the lifeblood of day to day work environments. We wanted to ensure that all investments made by companies on this side of the border because of the advantages that the Canadian environment provides, would always reach their market in a timely fashion, but to do it with due consideration for the environmental strategies of our country, of the Liberal government of the day.

All these issues that appear to be, if I can judge the parliamentary secretary's 10-minute rendition of chronology, the government's priorities, i.e., one detail after another, do not strike at the heart of what it is that causes legislation to be tabled. It is strategic, as I said. It is always about being proactive. There has to be a purpose to government. There has to be a purpose to the importance of the jurisdiction of the federal government in this affair. That affair is security and economy. It is engendering greater economic interest in the areas being served by the targets of this legislation.

The parliamentary secretary said that there are 14 border points, tunnels and bridges, in Ontario where the bulk of that trade takes place. Were something to have happened at any of those places, the economy of southern Ontario in particular but not exclusively would be in grave danger. We were moving to ensure that would not happen. He said there were another nine in New Brunswick and one in Quebec, almost as an afterthought.

I understand why there would be an afterthought, because for the Conservatives it was of little interest. When we were trying to promote this legislation two years ago, the obstructionism from what is now the government side was palpable. They had no interest in it: why have that bill pass? Today, the Conservatives want to take credit for the fact that we are going to support it, as I said, in its reduced form.

We would love to have much more, because at the time we were putting substance behind our thoughts. We were putting reality behind the political rhetoric that the government of today likes to think is a matter of substance. There was a $300 million infrastructure program specifically addressing the issues in southern Ontario. There were more in other places, including Quebec and New Brunswick, with those other 10 points, the points of contact. For us, there was a material need to ensure that people engaged locally, regionally, provincially and nationally.

It should not come as a surprise to anybody on that side of the House, whether in government or opposition, to know that we on this side will support this bill. The bill retains some of the strategic components that we put into Bill C-44.

It retains, even if in a reduced fashion, the understanding that we must have a macro view to economic survivability. It thinks in terms of, as I said, a proactive role for the Government of Canada. By grouping into one all of those pieces of legislation that governed each and every one of those points through various parliamentary acts, it recognizes that the federal Government of Canada has the responsibility to coordinate all of those issues that ensure the viability of our security, our sovereignty and our economy so that we will have one repository of responsibility and action. With that repository of responsibility and action comes as well an incumbent accountability to be able to say that we have to plan for tomorrow.

There were a lot of people who thought that perhaps we should not get involved because, as the member for Windsor West indicated, there is a private owner. People in the NDP do not like private enterprise and said that was bad and that these people were holding us to ransom.

No. Our response of the day, the fact of the matter, which has now been put into this bill even though nobody wants to give credit to the minister of transport or the former Liberal government and the Liberal government as a whole, is that what we do is safeguard the role of that private owner as we safeguard the maintenance and the management of all of the border crossings, but now the Government of Canada can exercise its authority to ensure that no harm comes to the Canadian economy or the Canadian people, its authority to be proactive and to direct that certain things be done in the public interest.

That is a pretty strong thing for the Government of Canada or any government to do. I imagine the current government has accepted that principle because, faced with having a minority government, it cannot control, except by subterfuge. It must do what has to be done.

I have looked at this because we are talking about security. In the last several days, we have been deluged with issues relating to CATSA and to the way the government is dealing with security issues with the agencies that have been established to ensure that Canadians can sleep well at night in the knowledge that all of those agencies--and the government--that are to take control or care of security issues are functioning properly.

The government loses a most valuable member of the board, General Baril, the chairman of the board of CATSA, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority. We do not know why, except that it is reported that he no longer has the energy or the will to address all the tasks and challenges that have emerged in this last year.

Can we imagine? Because the chairman of that board disagreed with the government in trying to establish an appropriate modus operandi and to ask for the resources necessary to effect those tasks, he is gone. As for the very terse statement that he just did not have it any more, the Canadian public deserves a lot more.

The kind of oversight and responsibility envisaged by the framers of the bill in Bill C-44, its origin, demanded that the minister not only assume the responsibility but divest that responsibility in an open and transparent fashion, open to public criticism, good or bad. We do not see that now. The minister is not here to explain the relationship between him and his department and an organization that is absolutely crucial to air transport and travel in the country.

I think it is important to keep something in mind in the context of transport issues, especially since the Auditor General has filed a report that does not appear to be very favourable to the minister. We have to take it in the context of what the ambition, the focus or the goal of Bill C-3 was initially.

It was to ensure that the Minister of Transport be vested with the authorities necessary to ensure that the sovereignty, the security and the economic well-being of the country be handled expeditiously, with great dispatch, but with accountability, to ensure that it would be his responsibility by virtue of his mandate as minister. We do not see any of that in the actions of today, but we can say that at least with Bill C-3 we now have the opportunity to give to the minister of the Crown responsible for those things the tools he or she needs--in this case he--to ensure that this begins to take place.

It is a great responsibility. I am not sure that the government opposite is up to that task, but we are going to give it that responsibility because we believe in a parliamentary system that functions for the betterment of its people. Its people are now at the mercy of the Minister of Transport.