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.