House of Commons Hansard #12 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreement.

Topics

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
Government Orders

April 28th, 2006 / 10 a.m.

Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Transport

moved that Bill C-3, An Act respecting international bridges and tunnels and making a consequential amendment to another Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, this bill addresses the long-standing lack of legislative framework within which the federal government can exercise its authority over international bridges and tunnels.

I am very pleased to begin the debate today on Bill C-3, the international bridges and tunnels act. This bill includes a number of measures that reinforce and acknowledge that our economic well-being increasingly depends on strategic gateways and trade corridors.

The capacity to create jobs and strengthen Canada's economy is directly linked to our ability to ensure the efficient flow of trade with our greatest trading partner, the United States, but today's bill also recognizes the importance of secure borders and that securing our borders begins with securing our border crossings.

There are currently 24 bridges and tunnels that carry vehicular traffic across the 6,400 kilometre border between Canada and the United States. There are also five rail bridges and tunnels linking our two countries. More than $1.9 billion worth of goods moves across the border each day. These crossings are a critical part of the infrastructure that facilitates trade between our two nations.

Well-operated border crossings mean more trade, a stronger economy and jobs for all Canadians. The federal government, therefore, has a critical role to play in ensuring that the way in which these bridges and tunnels are operated does not interfere in any way with the uninterrupted flow of goods and people across the border. Equally important is the federal government's responsibility to ensure that our national interests are protected, that our borders are secure and that people can use our bridges and tunnels in safety.

The federal government's jurisdiction over all international crossings is set out in section 92 of the Constitution Act of 1867. However, the federal government's ability to exercise this authority has never been set out in framework legislation.

With events such as September 11th, I think the hon. members would agree that Canada's international bridges and tunnels cannot be left to ad hoc decision-making processes. They must be carefully and strategically operated.

It is time for the Government of Canada to put in place a legislative framework so that it can carry out its jurisdictional responsibilities, efficiently, effectively and coherently.To that end, the bill we are debating today draws on the provisions related to international bridges and tunnels contained in the two previously introduced bills.

The international bridges and tunnels act would provide the Government of Canada with the legislative authority required to effectively oversee these bridges and tunnels and to protect the interests of Canadians. Today's bill also possesses two new provisions in response to critical issues that have recently emerged in relation to international bridges and tunnels.

I would like to begin by introducing some of the more significant provisions in the bill.

First of all, unlike the United States, Canada does not have a formal process to approve the construction of new international crossings. In the past, we have enacted specific legislation on a case by case basis. Fourteen of the 24 crossings were created by special acts of Parliament designed and adapted to fit the conditions specific to each case. Given that there are currently three proposals for new international crossings, at St. Stephen in New Brunswick and at Fort Erie and Windsor in Ontario, addressing this legislative gap is particularly critical at this time.

Today's bill will begin the process of ensuring that we have the necessary powers to grant approval to build these new crossings. It would also give the federal government the authority to impose whatever terms and conditions are needed to protect the public interest.

More specifically, the bill recommends that the governor in council be given the authority to approve the construction or alteration of international bridges and tunnels as well as the authority to establish conditions for their construction, operation and maintenance. By eliminating the need for individual independent acts of Parliament for each particular bridge, this new legislation would clarify and streamline the approval process.

The development of new crossings is a complex undertaking, requiring negotiations between provincial, state and federal governments on both sides of the border.

A more streamlined process within the Government of Canada—comparable to that which is already in place in the United States—would bring greater efficiency to the overall process.

One of the more significant challenges of the current ad hoc system is that there are widespread inconsistencies on key issues across the international bridge portfolio. The way in which the bridges and tunnels deal with functional safety, maintenance and security vary significantly between the different bridge and tunnel operators. Such widespread inconsistencies on critical issues directly affect the federal government's ability to act quickly, decisively and accurately on key public issues.

Therefore the second provision I would like to highlight in this new legislation would give the Governor in Council the authority to make regulations for all matters related to safety and security of international bridges and tunnels. The Governor in Council would also be able to make regulations respecting the operation of these crossings, such as the efficient and competitive flow of international traffic to ensure it is not jeopardized.

Ensuring that international traffic flows freely across the border not only affects the bottom line of businesses that depend on just-in-time delivery, it also reduces unnecessary carbon dioxide and other emissions that result from traffic congestion and delays at the border.

A clean environment is important to all Canadians. This is why, under the proposed legislative framework, the federal government will be able to ensure that environmental assessments with respect to international bridges and tunnels are conducted under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, when appropriate.

Environmental considerations must be fully integrated into all projects, so that future generations of Canadians enjoy clean air, water and land.

This is particularly important for projects that directly affect our waterways and influence the levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, I would like to highlight the two new provisions that did not appear in the previously introduced bills. The first new provision concerns crossings over the St. Lawrence River. In the current legislative structure, any new bridge over the St. Lawrence River requires a special act of Parliament.

By specifying that the proposed international bridges and tunnels act is applicable to international bridges and tunnels crossing the St. Lawrence River, any such bridges or tunnels will be subject to the government's approval process as outlined by the act. This provision would support the current initiative to construct a new low level bridge in Cornwall, Ontario by streamlining the approval process and removing the burden of the current requirement for a special act of Parliament.

The second new provision would give the federal government the authority to approve all transactions affecting the ownership or control and operation of international bridges and tunnels. Given the critical importance of these crossings, the federal government has a clear role to play in protecting national interests and public policy objectives when ownership or operation of these structures is transferred.

With the proposed sale of the bridge between Fort Frances, Ontario and International Falls, Minnesota, as well as the possible sale of the tunnel between Windsor and Detroit, it is critical that the federal government have the authority to intervene as needed to protect our national interests.

This bill is important because transportation is one of the core elements that contributes to Canada's economic success. I think the hon. members will agree that in an age when over 70% of our trade flows to the United States, Canada's international crossings are crucial to our economic well-being.

International bridges and tunnels represent critical gateways and key trade corridors through which our trade with the United States flows. As such, they are vital to Canada's success as a trading nation and will continue to be an important element of prosperity for future generations.

The introduction of this bill represents an important opportunity to finally put into place a clear and consistent framework for the exercise of federal government jurisdiction over international crossings. This bill will also help us fulfill our responsibility to protect the safety of Canadians and ensure our national security.

We must continue to be flexible and responsive in legislating our transportation system. Too much is at stake to stand still or rely on old ways of thinking.

I urge all members to support this bill, so that the Government of Canada can effectively protect our national and international interests, build upon the many successes of our transportation system and facilitate Canada's growth as a nation.

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is difficult for me to disagree with the bill because it is, so far as I can tell, the same as the Liberal bill that was before Parliament before the election. It sounds extraordinarily familiar.

Could the minister tell us whether there are any substantive differences between his bill and the one we presented previously?

I would also like to say that Canada-U.S. trade is the lifeblood of the country. Millions and millions of jobs are at stake and in terms of the efficient functioning of trade between the two countries, efficiency of transportation infrastructure is critical, which is what the bill is about, but how our goods are received at the border by the customs officials is equally important.

In light of the agreement on forestry and given that this Canada-U.S. trade is the lifeblood of our economy, is it not unfortunate that yesterday's agreement abandoned the principle of free trade, moving to managed trade, because once we get to 34% and above that, zap, it is no longer free trade? I think that is a huge abandonment of the principle. Is it not also unfortunate that the agreement effectively kills the dispute settlement mechanism under NAFTA which was negotiated with huge difficulty and is critical for our future trade relations? This sets a very dangerous precedent in that the traditional dispute settlement mechanism was abandoned in this case and what is to say it will not be abandoned for other industries.

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are two new provisions in the legislation that has been tabled before the House. The first provision, of course, is the one dealing with crossing over the St. Lawrence River and the second one clearly deals with the federal government's authority to approve all transactions affecting the ownership or control and operation of international bridges.

In this context, I find it strange to hear my hon. colleague opposite refer to the agreement Canada reached yesterday with the United States. I was expecting him to rise and congratulate us on what we had accomplished on this issue. In 13 years, the previous government did nothing to deliver the goods on this issue.

The hon. member referred extensively to a government that used to talk about softwood lumber, trade and trade agreements. I clearly remember that the former head of the Liberal Party of Canada, Mr. Turner, vigorously opposed free trade during one election campaign. But Canadians supported the government of Mr. Mulroney and voted for greater prosperity.

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
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10:25 a.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, we support Bill C-3. However, I have two questions for the minister.

First, since the 1990s, a number of responsibilities, particularly relating to infrastructure, have been handed over to the provinces, who proceeded to delegate them to municipalities. Responsibilities have trickled down, but money has not. I want to know who will finance these infrastructure projects.

Second, during the 1990s, when railway companies abandoned certain rail lines, the owners of those lines sold them to create greenways for cyclists and pedestrians.

The bill provides that offers to purchase will be accepted from urban transit authorities first and from municipalities last. Will selling these railways to companies other than those in the tourism and recreation sector help the environment and encourage the creation of greenways?

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member raised two questions more or less related to this bill.

I would like to inform the member that I am quite aware of the responsibilities being thrust upon municipalities. As a city councillor for the lovely and extraordinary city of Gatineau, I was in a position to experience this first hand. Yesterday, Premier Charest's government responded to many of these issues by signing a new fiscal deal with municipalities.

Getting back to the bill, the member's second question is about bridge divestiture and management. At issue are international bridges linking Canada and the United States, our trading partner. The bill will have a positive impact in that regard.

For example, we know the environmental cost of pollution caused by slowing or stopping the flow of traffic between Canada and the United States. As I stated earlier, this bill will give us the tools to improve the flow of goods between our two countries.

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
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10:25 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, my question for the Minister of Transportation concerns environmental issues and the concerns many residents along the border have with the movement of hazardous goods through tunnels and bridges. As the rate of rail movement has increased in Canada we have seen incidences where these environmental concerns have turned into environmental problems.

Does the bill bring clarification to the direction that we will take with the development of new facilities and with the movement of hazardous goods within those facilities?

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is an extremely important question. I think the member is referring to circumstances where some bridges can be used for the purpose of allowing hazardous wastes to cross over to Canada or to the United States. In some circumstances the regulations that are in place are more or less respected. This legislation would enable us to put forward a comprehensive and coherent set of regulations that would basically cover the issues that the hon. member has raised.

In that regard, this legislation should, in my view, obtain a full and complete buy-in by everybody in this House.

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is the hon. parliamentary secretary rising on questions and comments? I am sorry, the hon. member for Palliser.

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Dave Batters Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief question for the Minister of Transport. In the post-9/11 world, the security of these 24 bridges and tunnels and five rail tunnels, I am guessing, is a crucial part of what is driving the bill. Could the minister comment on that, and the importance of the security and the safety of these vital networks to this country?

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before the minister comments, I would remind hon. members that they must address the House in their own seats. This is why I was confused when the hon. member for Palliser stood up and I assumed he was a parliamentary secretary, but he was not in his own seat. Technically, he should not be allowed to address the House and I am trying to correct this problem. We are sitting as a House and not as a committee of the whole and I remind hon. members of that. The hon. Minister of Transport.

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
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10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, you are right.

In fact, the Speaker is always right.

As a matter of fact, yes, since 9/11 we have been extremely vigilant as a government. This is another step that we must take in securing our borders and ensuring that not only are they secure but, as I mentioned before, that there is a seamless flow between both our countries. We do understand that the context has changed.

As our political party has mentioned over the last campaign, we intend to not only stand up for Canada, but ensure also that our border crossings are safe. We are committed to doing that. In that regard, hopefully, this piece of legislation will get quick approval from all our colleagues.

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister defended vigorously the negotiation of the free trade agreement by the Mulroney government and noted that at the time, the Liberals under John Turner were opposed. That is true but that is ancient history. The Liberal Party has been strongly in favour of NAFTA and free trade for over a decade.

It is the Conservative Party that ought to be embarrassed. It is the Conservative Party under Brian Mulroney that negotiated free trade. The agreement reached yesterday is in fact a betrayal of free trade. It is not free trade when we have a maximum quota of 34%. It is managed trade.

One of the key achievements of the Mulroney free trade agreement was the dispute settlement mechanism. The government has abandoned the dispute settlement mechanism creating an extraordinarily dangerous precedent for future sectors as we go forward.

I have not heard any reaction from Mr. Mulroney, but I would imagine he would be distressed that the critical principles of his negotiations, that is to say the free trade principle and the dispute settlement mechanism, both have been abandoned by the government in the accord which was reached yesterday.

It is not surprising that the Liberal Party supports this bill since, given its main points, it is essentially the Liberal bill.

Therefore, I am very pleased, and I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, that the Conservative government is indeed proceeding with this project which we initiated.

We do think, as the minister said, that it is extremely important to have a framework that oversees everything to do with bridges and tunnels, including their building, maintenance and security. As I said earlier, Canada-U.S. trade is the economic lifeblood of our country and to a lesser extent their country with millions and millions of jobs at stake. In order for that trade to be efficient and go barrier free, one of the essential ingredients is free trade, which was kind of abandoned yesterday, but another one is an efficient transportation infrastructure.

Two-way trade between Canada and the U.S. is more than $532 billion annually. Canada is the largest export market for 37 out of the 50 states.

Another statistic that I found very surprising is the fact that Canadian exports to Home Depot are greater than Canadian exports to France. It would be hard to overstate the importance of trade between Canada and the United States.

That is why it is extremely important that our transportation infrastructure be reliable and well maintained. The government must have the tools to ensure that the system is not only functioning on a day-to-day basis, but is able to respond effectively and efficiently to new initiatives that become required.

We need a framework in place so the building and maintenance of our bridges and tunnels is secure and regulated. We have 24 bridges and five international rail tunnels that link our two countries. Given the importance of all of this, it is perhaps surprising that even though the responsibility of the federal government in this area has been there since 1867, there has never before been any comprehensive clear-cut authority laid out that gives the government the authority to deal with requests about bridge and tunnel infrastructure whether for a new bridge or for a change in a bridge. Given that this is so fundamental to Canadian jobs and Canadian prosperity, it is high time that we have such a mechanism.

In the past any bridges or tunnels that were built were done through special acts of Parliament with the U.S. neighbours enacting similar ad hoc legislation. Therefore, this legislation provides an overall framework which will obviate the need for such ad hoc case-by-case agreements.

We urge the Minister of Transport in the interest of transparency to ensure that any reports from bridge and tunnel operators regarding maintenance and repair, and safety and security are tabled in Parliament for all to see.

The bill that was on the table before the election would have expedited the approval of new facilities and ensured the efficient and competitive flow of goods and people. We hope and believe that the government's plan will effectively do the same thing. The government will not have opposition from the official opposition on this bill. How can we oppose our own bill?

I would like to end with a few comments on the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund which is also, I believe, the responsibility of the minister. He has many responsibilities and we believe that this is absolutely crucial for the future of our cities and communities. The Liberal government put approximately $4 billion into the fund to support large scale infrastructure projects.

This fund has helped very much to improve the quality of life in many communities by partnering on major infrastructure projects. I will name a few: York Region Transit network improvements, Banff National Park Trans-Canada Highway improvements, New Brunswick Urban Bypass projects, and the Kicking Horse Canyon project.

In my region of York, Ontario, I sometimes say that traffic gridlock is second only to health care in the concerns of my constituents, The Liberal government put funding into Viva Transit, GO Transit. These are really essential to the livelihood and the quality of life of the residents of York region and my own constituents. Public transit is essential for the efficiency of the transport system and also for environmental reasons to which the government does not seem to attach great priority.

There is concern that the government has made no commitment to replenish this vital program. We are concerned that important projects that help vitalize our Canadian cities may go by the wayside, leaving communities underfunded and struggling to make their own way on inadequate budgets.

The health of our cities and communities is in jeopardy. This is a fundamental, core contribution of the previous government to essential infrastructure in all regions of the country. Naturally, we are very concerned about the future of this program. We urge the minister to apply all the influence he has to other members of the government to ensure that this program is continued and funded in a manner that is adequate to respond to the needs of Canadians across the country.

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
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10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is refreshing to hear the member across the floor say he will support this legislation. He says he will support it because it was legislation presented by the Liberal government last time. That is true to a point, but it has been improved with a couple of key changes. I hope he will acknowledge that.

He went on to say that this Conservative government should be ashamed of the softwood lumber deal. Let us look at a bit of the history of the softwood lumber issue.

First, it is an issue that could not be settled in the original free trade agreement. It could not be settled by his government when it completed the NAFTA agreements. As a result, it has been a serious trade irritant for some time.

His government negotiated quotas. In this agreement, there are no quotas under current market conditions. It is a good deal, a deal that the Prime Minister pledged to achieve and did achieve.

Canada stuck to its position. Canada's key conditions were accepted. It is a long term agreement of seven years. The agreement gives Canadian producers stable, predictable access without quotas and without tariffs. That is very important. This agreement returns at least $4 billion U.S. to the Canadian industry.

The agreement recognizes provincial differences. We saw the Liberal Premier of Ontario vigorously support this agreement yesterday. That was very refreshing. He put aside partisan politics and supported the best deal that could be achieved.

Is it a perfect deal ? No. The Prime Minister said that. But this has been a longstanding trade irritant .

That leads to the second point. This agreement is important beyond the softwood issue itself. It demonstrates what can be achieved when we put aside harmful rhetoric, such as that presented by his government over many years, and replace it with hard work.

Because of the better working relationship that has developed between the Prime Minister and the President of the United States, between Canada and the United States, when it comes to difficult issues like this, we can negotiate in a very tough fashion. We have at least a working relationship. His government could not reach an agreement because of the harmful rhetoric and the negative working relationship with the United States.

This is an important point that maybe has not been talked about enough. It is a new relationship. When it comes to tough issues, we can negotiate in a very tough and firm fashion, and achieve results, results that his government could not achieve.

Again, I appreciate that the member opposite did acknowledge that this legislation should be supported. It is an improved version of legislation that was presented by his government. I look forward to this passing in very short order.

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
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10:45 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, there were four little weasel words that came out just now, though not spoken very loudly, “under current market conditions”. Does anyone think that market conditions always stay the same? No. Markets go up and markets go down. To say that something is free under current market conditions is to say it is not free under different market conditions.

The member's point is incorrect when one looks beyond the current month or year because market conditions will change. When that market goes south, the U.S. interests will prevail. Why do we think the U.S. signed on? It was in large measure for that reason.

The other little problem was when he said $4 billion. I thought the amount was $5 billion. As the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, what happened to the missing $1 billion that is going to be in the hands of U.S. lumber producers? I seem to remember it was the election promise of the current Prime Minister to get back every penny of that $5 billion. Now it is $4 billion. Is the Prime Minister going to write a personal cheque for $1 billion? How is he going to make up the difference? This is another example of broken promises by the Prime Minister.

When the member says this is important beyond the softwood issue, I agree because that speaks to the point I made earlier. It is important beyond the softwood issue because it sets a dangerous precedent for other industries going forward. The precedent is that it is no longer free trade but managed trade.

The precedent is that we no longer rely on the dispute settlement mechanism under NAFTA but we rely on ad hoc case by case negotiations. This kills the dispute settlement mechanism negotiated with such difficulty by a past Conservative government, which must be somewhat disappointed to see that its central achievement has now been destroyed by the current Conservative government.

International Bridges and Tunnels Act
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10:45 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would point out that for as long as I have been an MP the NDP members from Windsor had been appealing to the former Liberal government to do something about the Ambassador Bridge and the billions of dollars of lost trade and opportunity that stems from the inadequacy of that vital crossing. I was shocked to learn as an MP that the Ambassador Bridge is actually privately owned. Neither the provincial government nor the federal government owns the Ambassador Bridge. Some individual owns it.

The Liberal government had this problem. It was supposed to be seized of this problem for all those years and yet to this day, there is a backup of semi-trailers waiting to take our exports to the United States. Those semi-trailers sit there with their engines idling, poisoning the good citizens of Windsor West. The lost opportunity is staggering and it is on the member's former government for failing to do anything for 13 years with that border crossing.

The member spent a lot of time in his speech talking about the Canada infrastructure fund. The Liberal administration of the Canada infrastructure fund was like some shady ring toss on a carnival midway. That is how it was treated. It was a setup. It was politicized and used as an instrument for throwing partisan freebies and goodies around the country. I do not lament the end of the administration of that particular infrastructure program one bit.

I would ask my colleague to comment on the Ambassador Bridge issue, as well as his government's stance on solving the softwood lumber crisis. Its stance was on its knees. We have a saying in the labour movement that the great only appear great to us because we are on our knees. That was the Liberal approach. When the Liberals sent negotiators to Washington for all those years it was as sycophants or something. They did not deliver the bacon. It is hard to hear the member pontificate about the job the Liberals did on the softwood lumber file when nothing was delivered.