Madam Speaker, it is an honour to raise issues on Bill C-49, the transportation modernization act, which is a long bill with many different components in it. I am going to focus on one important component. There are a number that speak to all Canadians and communities, but one specifically speaks to an issue in my community that is very troubling, very sad, and very disturbing. This bill would give the powers that be, those who are appointed, who lurk in the shadows, and who do not have to have accountability, the strength and more empowerment to do what the public does not want. Specifically, Bill C-49 would allow port authorities to have more clandestine borrowing practices through the Canada infrastructure bank and allow the ports to do more environmental and other community damage with less accountability.
People at least appreciate the context of what a port authority can or cannot do. Port authorities across Canada are stewards of the land of the people. That is, first and foremost, what we need to get straight, especially for the people who feel they do not have the power to speak against the powers that be. The reality is that ports, with their control and their power, at the end of the day, are responsible to the Minister of Transport, the Prime Minister, and cabinet, full stop. The use of the lands and relationship with communities are still, at the end of the day, controlled by the Prime Minister, the cabinet, and the people of Canada. They are not private businesses or enterprises that have no responsibility or no moral compass as they go about their business. They are, in fact, having to answer accountably to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Transport.
In my situation, what is very peculiar is that the bill would create additional powers that cause me concern related to a place called Sandwich Town. It is basically the oldest European settlement west of Montreal. It was settled by the French, then the English, and now is the home of many immigrants, new Canadians, students, populations that, quite frankly, have challenges because of the geography. For those out there who feel compelled to understand the story of the underdog, this is it in Canada.
Imagine living in an area where Canada was defended during the War of 1812. This was where it happened on the front lines of southern Ontario. This was where the decisive battles occurred that formed this nation. Aboriginal communities, the British at the time, the militia, and the local populations bonded to defend Canada. Since that time, we have seen the most unusual of circumstances for this small settlement that eventually became part of the City of Windsor, which marks its special foundation today.
I am talking about a small community being trapped next to the Ambassador Bridge, which is owned by a private American billionaire, who in his operations on the U.S. side actually went to prison because of practices related, ironically, to government contracts on the U.S. side, where homes were being bought up, boarded up, and eventually demolished or left to decay. People have lost businesses, schools, and places of faith. All of those things have happened in the shadow of an empire that has 10,000 trucks per day, 40,000 vehicles in total, of pure profit. Some 30% to 35% of Canada's daily trade with the United States, nearly $1 billion, is within earshot of some of the people most disenfranchised because of the repercussions from what has taken place.
Why Bill C-49 is important is that most recently there has been hope, an extended opportunity, with the fight for this area, for a new border crossing. It took place over a decade and a half. The original idea was to allow the development next to this place to destroy it.
However, we have a new border crossing, the Gordie Howe international bridge, which will be built as a result of a compromise among the community, the environment, business, and two nations to finally add border capacity. In this capacity, there will be a community benefit fund. We actually voted for that in Bill C-344, a Liberal member's bill that the House recently passed at second reading, including with the support of the Minister of Transport and the Prime Minister, to at least send it to committee. The community benefit fund is for infrastructure projects such as this to get some relief, planning, and opportunity. That bill, in spirit, is what is taking place. We are finally getting some community benefits to come to this area.
What has happened, and why Bill C-49 is so important, is that the port authority wanted to develop a piece of its property, called Ojibway Shores, against the wishes of the community. This port authority property is pristine environmental acreage, 33 acres in total, with endangered species, flora, fauna, species at risk, amphibians, wildlife, birds, and all of those things that are so important. It is right on the Great Lakes, and one of the last places on the Great Lakes that is undisturbed in this era.
The port wanted to bulldoze Ojibway Shores, it wanted a way to clear it, and it actually got at one time a private partnership that would have done so. The private developer with the port at that time, despite knowing they would have made a lot of money, said no, because it was the wrong thing to do. When they backed out, the port no longer considered Ojibway Shores to be developable. However, the port has asked for $12 million from the community benefit fund to not develop Ojibway Shores for 30 years. They do not just want the land to remain undeveloped, in terms of turning it over to the public in perpetuity, but have asked for $12 million for a 30-year lease not to bulldoze it.
It is almost unconscionable to think that a board member would request this of the public. By the way, board members are representative of the city, province, federal government, and the users. They are citizens like anyone else. Part of people's education today, including the the people of Sandwich, Essex, and beyond who care about the environment, is to understand that people are paid to represent them on these boards and to make decisions. They need to understand that power and their ability to connect with those individuals, and not just in Windsor, but in other ports across this country. This is the first step in actually taking back land and stewardship for the people, which should belong to them.
Bill C-49 now proposes to give more power to the infrastructure bank to allow the ports to develop things. We are concerned about that, because it would potentially open up another revenue source for the port to go ahead and bulldoze the property.
It is interesting right now that when we think about this situation, a choice has to be made for the people. A simple clause would allow this property to be divested to Environment Canada. It is a simple thing that we have asked for. It would just take a two-signature process, and has been done before. We have done the research, and it is actually part of a legislative process, and part of what I think was drummed up with regards to the transfer of properties for situations like this in the public interest.
As I conclude today, we have a choice on this. Right now, Bill C-49 would give more powers, but in the meantime, let us save this situation. Instead of the port getting that $12 million, it can go to poverty reduction, students' education, housing, or employment in one of the most disadvantaged areas of Ontario.