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.