Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for inviting me to meet with the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to provide an update on the transport, infrastructure and communities portfolio, and to address our main estimates.
I am joined today by my colleague, the Honourable Steven Fletcher. We are very proud and happy to have him back. He will speak to you about the crown corporations under the transport, infrastructure, and communities portfolio.
I am also accompanied by Ms. Yaprak Baltacioglu, the deputy minister, and by Ms. Anita Biguzs, Mr. André Morency, Mr. Taki Sarantakis and Ms. Su Dazé. My thanks to them for being here.
I also want to thank the committee for its many contributions to various transportation issues. I look forward to continuing to work with you to build a transportation system that will serve Canada's current needs and help drive tomorrow's prosperity.
The funding that Transport Canada is seeking through these main estimates will help to achieve these goals.
Transportation has always been identified with opportunity in Canada: it connect workers with jobs, travellers with destinations, and products with markets.
However, the current global economic environment is volatile and uncertain, as you know.
Canada's future prosperity will depend to a significant degree on how effectively we're able to anticipate and respond to global pressures. Our government has long recognized this fact. We continue to modernize our systems and policies to support the transportation sector, a process that has benefited from the input from this committee.
A prime example of building Canada's transportation sector is the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor initiative. Linking trade and transportation, the gateway approach has brought together public and private stakeholders to address issues of efficiency, reliability, performance, skills and system bottlenecks.
The Gateway and Corridor initiative is revolutionizing the way Canada trades with the Asia-Pacific region. It has opened up opportunities for trade, not only in western Canada but right across the country. We are applying the lessons learned with the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor to other key gateway and corridor regions in Canada—particularly the importance of aligning systems and maximizing efficiencies.
One vital trade corridor we remain focused on is Windsor-Detroit. It's North America's largest border crossing and our busiest port of entry. We remain fully committed to developing the new Detroit River international crossing. We continue to work with the governments of Michigan and the United States to jointly develop a model for delivering this crossing. It is our intention to pursue a public-private partnership to design, build, finance, and operate the new bridge crossing. Governor Snyder of Michigan assured me that this project remains a top priority for his administration.
He too wants a seamless crossing to improve the connection between one of the premier manufacturing and consumer corridors in the world: the mid-west states, Ontario and Quebec.
I have received the same assurance from Secretary LaHood, the United States Secretary of Transportation, and from Ambassador Jacobson.
In keeping with this theme of gateways and corridors, I also want to talk about the new bridge for the St. Lawrence—another key trade artery and the most heavily travelled bridge in Canada.
Last fall I announced that our government will proceed with this bridge in Montreal. Work is progressing well on this major project. We have launched the federal environmental assessment and have issued two requests for proposals to hire environmental experts, financial advisers, traffic forecasters, and design engineers. Discussions with partners to determine the most efficient way to move this project forward are ongoing and will continue throughout the duration of the project.
In the meantime, the Champlain Bridge remains an important commuter route and trade corridor for the regional economy, handling nearly 60 million vehicles per year.
With an estimated $20 billion in international trade crossing the bridge annually, it is critical to our national economy.
The safety and security of the people crossing the existing bridge each day remain a top priority for our government. That's why, since 2009, our government has announced significant investments totalling $380 million to keep this important bridge safe for all who use it.
Another area where we have made significant strides is railway safety. As you know, I have introduced Bill S-4 to amend the Railway Safety Act of 2001. It is the latest in a series of actions we have taken to strengthen the performance of the rail sector.
My predecessor launched a full review of the Railway Safety Act in 2007 following several high-profile accidents during the two previous years. That was followed by an investment of $72 million over five years, announced in budget 2009, to ensure that Canadians can count on a safe and reliable rail transportation system.
Bill S-4 is the next important step in advancing this goal. The legislation has been in development for more than three years and incorporates input from government, industry and labour. In fact, the legislation has been dissected clause-by-clause by standing committees on two separate occasions. It was approved by all parties both times.
The proposed amendments to the act reflect recommendations from the Railway Safety Act review, as well as the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities' study.
This bill is about better oversight tools to ensure safety; enhanced safety management systems to build a stronger rail safety culture; and additional authority to help protect our environment. Recently, second reading for Bill S-4 commenced, and members from all parties again expressed their strong support for this important piece of legislation. After several years of analysis, consultation, and debate, I look forward to the timely passage of Bill S-4.
Freight transportation is another railway sector in which we have been active. We kept our promise by launching the facilitation process for the rail service review and by appointing Mr. Jim Dinning to head it. I am pleased that he has agreed to take on the challenge of holding the consultations that will lead to improvements in the quality of service provided by the rail companies.
This review of rail freight services was launched in order to ensure that Canada has the rail network it needs to support a robust economy. As always, our Conservative government will honour its commitments.
Mr. Chair, I would now like to turn my attention to Infrastructure Canada and the important work it does.
As a former municipal politician, I know how essential federal infrastructure investment is to municipalities, provinces and territories.
It means a stronger economy on both the local and the national level. It means more secure jobs for Canadians. It means that people have reliable public transit. It means cleaner water and air. It means more parks, trails, community centres, and other important things that make communities better places to live and work.
I'm proud of our government's unprecedented actions to make federal infrastructure investments a priority. We started with budget 2007 and the seven-year Building Canada plan, and we invested $33 billion, the single largest federal infrastructure commitment in Canada's history.
Under this plan, we are funding thousands of infrastructure projects across Canada—projects that will have lasting economic and social benefits in communities for years to come.
Our government continued building on this foundation in budget 2009 with the economic action plan. Among many other measures, it introduced an additional $5.5 billion in targeted and timely federal infrastructure funding for provinces, territories, and municipalities.
In October 2011, I had the pleasure of celebrating the successful completion of about 4,000 projects under the infrastructure stimulus fund. These are important projects that got the economy moving and created jobs.
Since we introduced the economic action plan to respond to the global recession, 610,000 more Canadians are working today, resulting in the strongest recent employment growth by far among G7 countries.
In an uncertain global economy, our government will stick with our low-tax plan for jobs and growth—a plan that is working and which serves Canadians well.
Our balanced approach will boost our efforts to achieve a sustainable and prosperous recovery and preserve our economic advantage now and in the future. Key to achieving this progress is our ongoing commitment to public infrastructure, which last year's budget made clear.
We continue to make great progress in implementing two important commitments for the Government of Canada.
The first is a permanent annual investment of $2 billion in the gas tax fund. I am so pleased that we have passed this commitment into law, and now municipalities can count on stable, predictable funding for their local infrastructure projects, year after year after year.
Second, our government is working with our key partners—provinces, territories, and groups such as the Fédération canadienne des municipalités—on the development of long-term plans for public infrastructure to extend beyond the expiry of the Building Canada plan.
Your committee recently tabled a report on transit in Canada. The result of this work will help inform our long-term planning. Even though provinces and municipalities are responsible for transit, the information gathered through the committee's study will be valuable.
In November I announced with the Fédération canadienne des municipalités' board of directors how this engagement process would unfold. As a first step, we are currently taking stock of all that we have accomplished together with our partners and what the tangible benefits of our funding has been.
In phase two, we are continuing to work with our partners along with academics, technical experts, and practitioners to do some of the important analysis. Our goal here is to build the knowledge needed to make informed decisions.
This will set the stage for the final phase. Similar to when we launched the Building Canada plan, we will engage our partners on the broad principles and directions in a future infrastructure plan. The end result will be a long-term plan that meets the needs of Canadians.
As all of this is going on, our government will continue to deliver on its previous commitments, including managing the effective close-out of our programs under the economic action plan, and seeing our Building Canada plan commitments through to successful completion.
I'm proud to be part of a government that continues to lead the way in investing in public infrastructure and in building a better national transportation network that benefits all Canadians.
That concludes my remarks. I will now ask Minister Fletcher to speak to you. I would be happy to answer any questions that members of the committee have.