House of Commons Hansard #22 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was project.


Prince Edward Island Fixed LinkGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.


Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am willing not to mention the absence of the member but I would like to know if someone opposite can answer the questions that we are asking.

If the issue is worth debating, it would be important to have a valid speaker to respond to these concerns. Let me remind you that the role of Parliament is really to allow members of Parliament to express opinions on projects.

I think that the motion before us today is aimed at seeking the co-operation of the opposition parties. A number of speeches that were made until now are asking for that support. That support is being given, but-and this is important-the people responsible should at least try and respond to our concerns.

I agree not to mention the absence or presence of a member, but I certainly wish, and I know I am complying with the Standing Orders, that someone could give us an answer and listen to us in order to be able to give details and explanations on this matter.

Therefore, I will go back to the financing issue. It would not be the first time in this country that a project costs more than expected. How does the government intend to finance cost overruns, if any? I suppose that a responsible government has thought of something. If this is the case, I would like to know about it and we would like to know who will take over the responsibilities if the project is a disaster in terms of construction. It is important for us to know that.

Mr. Speaker, you will appreciate that there was a time when the financial situation of the government was sound and perhaps those questions were less important. But when the government is preparing to cut social programs and health care programs, or any other program for that matter, because money is tight, because our deficit is over $40 billion a year, we have reasons to be concerned with this issue at this point. Surely the government has thought of some way to overcome cost overruns, if any, and they have to explain what their intentions are.

We are also concerned with maintenance. I did not come across any estimates in the documents made available to us. They probably exist, but I did not find them. I would like the government to answer the following: What are the estimated costs for the maintenance of this structure each year? Would the costs be paid for by the consortium that will be in charge of bridge management? Have any maximum costs been established? If the maintenance costs are higher than expected or if there are major problems, who will pay the tab? Will the government take some responsibility then or will the promoters deal with the unexpected costs and other potential risks? It would be important to know about that.

Although it is not the same type of structure, one knows that a bridge built over salt water is likely to be subjected to more damage than elsewhere. Therefore, the maintenance costs are likely to be proportionate to the location of this bridge, to the fact that it is an extremely long bridge located, one has to admit, in an area with a very harsh climate, in the heart of the gulf of St. Lawrence and subject to significant weather and climatic variations. It would therefore be useful to be given all the information regarding the responsibility of the government with respect to maintenance costs or in case of possible major structural failure.

These are matters which require some clarification. This project economically is so very important for this region. We must therefore ensure that it is a success in terms of both its construction and its operation.

I know that my colleagues opposite agree that it must be a success. But it is not enough to say it. It is not enough to say that we want it to be a success in terms of its construction and its maintenance, to be a success in social an economic terms, to be a success for the company that will be in charge of its operation, also for the government which is going to be watching people coming and going and which, with this structure, is going to link an isolated province with the continent. We all want that project to be a success in all those respects, but again, it is not enough to just say so.

The government must act in a responsible manner. It must give all the necessary explanations. It must look for every aspect, even the smallest one, which may be a problem or about which people may have concerns in order not to embark, once again, on an unending adventure which finally will result in all Canadian taxpayers paying for something which does not even work properly.

A lot of questions have been left unanswered. I think it is for the House, during this debate, to answer them.

In conclusion, I would like the people mandated by the minister to answer all those questions. Like my colleague from Bourassa, I would like to express my concern over the possible job losses-nearly 400 jobs, roughly 350 jobs-that this project entails, since the bridge's operation will not require as many employees as a ferry service.

I can understand why so many discussions were held with so many people. Before a company closes shop, there are always a lot of discussions between manpower centres, economic development corporations and other stakeholders, in order to find alternatives, retrain employees, etc. Such a situation results in a significant reduction of net employment in the area, where needs are great.

There is no assurance that the people will easily adapt to the necessary social reorganization because of job losses following this negative change. Will the bridge create a positive spin-off in terms of job creation for the residents of the Island and of New Brunswick? Maybe. We hope for the best but it is far from sure and I see a lot of ill defined areas in the whole employment issue. The government would do well to look more closely into it in order to come up with better answers than it did up to now.

Prince Edward Island Fixed LinkGovernment Orders


Victoria B.C.


David Anderson LiberalMinister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick comment on the member's speech.

First, there appears to be some confusion between him and the Leader of the Opposition on the environmental effects and the satisfaction on this. I trust that they will straighten out this apparent discrepancy.

I would also like to point out that many of the questions which he wished to pose to the minister were in fact replied to in the minister's address. I do not know whether the hon. member was here at the time. Perhaps he was talking to a colleague. However, many of the questions that were raised were, as I understand it, from at least a failure to appreciate what the minister was saying.

The hon. member mentions the absence of the minister. I would like to point out that almost immediately behind the minister sits his parliamentary secretary, the hon. member for St. Boniface. I believe it is important for all members to recognize the tremendous support that ministers receive from their parliamentary secretaries. These members accept additional responsibilities and do a tremendous job, particularly on detailed questions such as the one the member put.

While I do not wish to build up the hon. member's performance to levels of high expectation, we fully expect all questions of this type to be very carefully analysed and dealt with by the parliamentary secretary.

I have a parliamentary secretary sitting just behind the member for St. Boniface and she is of immense help in debates such as this in dealing with questions. When she speaks on such questions I want it known, just as when the member for St. Boniface speaks on such questions, that these people are acting on behalf of the minister. In fact, quite often they speak more eloquently than ministers. We are very happy with the support that is given.

I am sure the hon. member will want to correct the impression given that somehow the parliamentary secretary is not able to handle the questions he put. I know full well that when the parliamentary secretary rises to speak we will have a detailed and careful analysis of the questions. The hon. member I am sure, being a man who is very fair in his approach in the House, will find the answers extremely acceptable.

It is important to point out that if at any particular moment the minister of public works happens to be out of the House we can rest assured that the presence of his parliamentary secretary backstops very well that absence. The same is true in my case. I was away from the House yesterday on business in Vancouver and I had absolutely no compunction in leaving everything related to my department in the hands of my parliamentary secretary who, as I mentioned before, is a person whose skills and ability I have high regard for.

I trust the hon. member will recognize there are ministers in the House from time to time but we have full confidence in the ability of our parliamentary secretaries. If the hon. member was not here to hear the minister and thus had questions about what he did not hear, we would be-

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12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I wonder if I could ask the co-operation of the House on the issue of the absence and presence of members. As we all know the demands on everyone's time are of such a nature that all members are not able to be in the House at all times. I know we would want to extend that respect to one another.

I believe the minister had concluded his remarks. I will now ask-

Does the hon. member for Roberval want to add something to the comments of the Minister of National Revenue?

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12:05 p.m.


Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, when a cabinet member hears what he wants to hear, then there is certainly reason for concern.

Remarks that were never part of my speech have just been attributed to me. I never said that the parliamentary secretary was unable to answer questions. Never. Is that what the minister understood? Such behaviour in the House on the part of a minister is cause for concern. I never said any such thing. But I did raise many questions to which the minister was unable to provide explanations in his speech.

The Minister of National Revenue has just told us that the minister has answered all questions asked by the hon. member. Either the minister hears only what he wants to hear or we are facing a problem as far as interpretation or understanding is concerned. There is definitely a problem.

My questions deserve answers. If the parliamentary secretary can answer them, he has only to rise and do so. That is why, considering how time is important in the House, I nevertheless spent 20 minutes to question a project in a reasonable, correct, appropriate and parliamentary manner. I do not want people to say that I agreed to a project when I really had reservations. I did agree to it but at the same time, I did ask for explanations from the minister. There is nothing wrong with that. This is typical of debates in the House, and I would appreciate a more serious follow up, instead of having someone put words in my mouth.

I cannot understand the minister's approach and, when I look at his answer, I wonder if he understands it himself.

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12:05 p.m.


Jane Stewart Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the hon. member's 20 minutes and to the speech given by his leader.

They acknowledge that this is an amendment to the Constitution and with glee seem to recognize the government's recognition of the referendum that occurred on the island and the importance of it.

They seem to be setting this discussion up as a precedent for something. What I did not hear them speak about is the message the minister gave about the importance of this fixed link not only for the people of P.E.I. but for all Canadians.

I would suggest to the hon. member that if they are looking at this discussion today as a precedent for something, they should remember that it is important that things discussed in this House be for the benefit of all Canadians. I would suggest that some of the initiatives which the hon. member might be suggesting in the future will not be for the benefit of all Canadians.

I believe that the direction of the party and its focus on solidifying Quebec may not be for the best of all Canadians, nor in fact for the benefit of all Quebecers. However I hesitate to speak on their behalf. I would like to recommend that to the member and have him remember that when the minister was speaking about the importance of this fixed link, he focused on the value for the whole country.

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12:10 p.m.


Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am absolutely flabbergasted. I can hardly respond to what the hon. member has just said, that is, that the results of a referendum on an issue which she considers of national interest should be binding but that those of a referendum held on an issue she does not consider to be of national interest should not have the same value nor should they concern this House in the same way.

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12:10 p.m.


Raymond Lavigne Liberal Verdun—Saint-Paul, QC


Prince Edward Island Fixed LinkGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I hear comments to the effect that this is true. That is quite serious. If, for the other side, respect of the democratic process-

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12:10 p.m.

An hon. member

We have to listen to this?

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12:10 p.m.


Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Indeed, you do. If, for the other side, respect of the democratic process is important only when it suits their purpose, Mr. Speaker, then it is time they say so.

I think that, in our country, the results of a democratic consultation should always be binding whatever the consequences. If, on the other side, there are members who think that the results of democratic consultation should not be binding when they do not serve their political interest, then I would urge them to discuss it with the Prime Minister. They seem to have a problem within their caucus. I am not sure the Prime Minister would be proud if he knew that his party members plan to apply referendum results only when they suit them. We take notice of that.

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12:10 p.m.


Joe McGuire Liberal Egmont, PE

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to address this amendment, secure in the knowledge that the construction of the fixed link is part of the government's program. All that remains is passage of the resolution to amend the terms of the union between P.E.I. and the Dominion of Canada.

I want to thank my colleague, the hon. member for Cape Breton-East Richmond, the minister of public works. He has been a longstanding advocate and promoter of Atlantic Canada and he earned the gratitude of the vast majority of P.E.I. residents with his strong support for the construction of the fixed link. I have been a supporter of the fixed link since day one, having voted for it in the plebiscite in 1988.

For all members present, I would like to clarify a topic which has just been addressed by the hon. member for Roberval and two other members of the House. Prince Edward Island never had a referendum on the fixed link. Prince Edward Island had a plebiscite on the fixed link. There is a distinct difference between the two. A referendum is binding in law. A plebiscite is not binding.

Premier Ghiz wanted to test how the people of Prince Edward Island felt about the construction of a fixed link. Therefore he called for a plebiscite. It was not binding on him to continue no matter what the result was. All he wanted to do was test public opinion to see whether he should go ahead. If the people of Prince Edward Island at that time had said they did not support the fixed link, he was prepared to endorse the voice of islanders and not proceed.

There was never a referendum taken of the people of Prince Edward Island on the fixed link. If any member opposite or on this side believes it was the case, it never was.

Since the House gave approval to the project last June 15 in Bill C-110, my decision to support the link has been reinforced. Even though link construction is really only in its infancy, one can feel a sense of hope and optimism permeating the island community. An official in the construction industry had said that the link is not just an economic boost, it is really the only game in town.

I realize that on P.E.I. support for the link was not, is not and probably never will be unanimous. When the plebiscite was held in 1988 the results were 60 per cent to 40 per cent, approximately. Since then support has grown steadily. Recent estimates indicate that it now ranges in the area of 75 per cent to 80 per cent in favour of the fixed link. Every effort was made to provide forums for legitimate opponents of the project to lay before the legislative committee their reasons for opposition.

During the House of Commons legislative committee hearings last March we went to great lengths to promote a balance in witnesses between the proponents of the fixed link and the opponents of the project.

Over 200 new members in the House did not participate in the debates of the 34th Parliament when we passed Bill C-110 which enabled the project to proceed. When the legislation was enacted here we had already gone through the questions raised by the member for Roberval and other members. They are all in the records, whether in the legislative committee record or in the House debates of last March, May and June. Many of the questions being raised today have already been debated and answered to the best of our ability. If hon. members would like to read what transpired in the House when Bill C-110 dealing with the fixed link went through, they should do so.

Today we are mainly concerned with amending the Constitution. The legislation to build a fixed link has already passed. I can understand the curiosity and the questions hon. members are coming up with today.

As I said earlier, despite local opposition in some quarters support among islanders has continued to grow. We are here today to deal with the final legal obstacle, a court ordered constitutional amendment which would allow a fixed link, a bridge, to replace the steam service guaranteed in P.E.I.'s original terms of union. We were ordered to do this by Madam Justice Reed in a 1992 decision.

I want to remind the House in the strongest possible terms that the Government of Prince Edward Island has already endorsed this amendment and has done so unanimously. The federal government, the Government of Prince Edward Island and the Government of New Brunswick have endorsed the project. In effect it is saying yes to Atlantic Canada.

Because of the inefficiencies of the present ferry system the project will allow the federal government to fulfil its responsibilities to provide an adequate transportation-communication service between P.E.I. and the mainland. The project will allow P.E.I. to share in the transportation vision which opened up other

parts of Canada to growth and development. The project is reflective of the spirit of our federal state.

This is why I am happy to be here today to speak one more time in support of the project. The history of the idea and the development of the concept of a fixed link have been discussed at length and are matters of record. So too are the numerous debates and studies conducted in relation to the particular project. As I said earlier we went through the whole process last spring and early summer.

Since this is the case I want to move to the primary purpose of the debate today, that is to amend P.E.I.'s terms of union, and put on record the original clause. The original terms of union state:

That the Dominion Government shall assume and defray all the charges of the following services-efficient steam service for the conveyance of mails and passengers, to be established and maintained between the island and the mainland of the Dominion, winter and summer, thus placing the island in continuous communication with the Intercolonial Railroad and the railroad system of the Dominion.

Today's amendment will provide a fixed crossing, a bridge, as a replacement for a steam service. As most hon. members know we do not have a railway system in P.E.I. any more. We are basically connecting our car-truck service to the roads and highways of the rest of Canada.

It has taken over 120 years and over 90 studies to bring about a change that is already providing benefit to Atlantic Canada. In 1988 the Government of P.E.I. crystallized the issue by holding a plebiscite. The positive results of the plebiscite provided the stimulus which brought the concept of the link to reality. The numerous studies and actions taken subsequent to the plebiscite have addressed the concerns of the people and the governments involved.

It is time to recognize that the project makes immense good sense. It has united business and labour in Prince Edward Island. It has brought political opponents together in common cause. In the previous Parliament the Conservative government was basically sponsoring the legislation and the Liberal Party at the time joined with the government in supporting it.

The organization, Islanders for a Better Tomorrow, spearheaded support for the link and deserve credit and recognition for its efforts. This group and all other link supporters believe the project is of tremendous importance to the future of P.E.I. and Atlantic Canada. It will provide an opportunity for P.E.I. to establish itself as a key player in a revitalized economy in Atlantic Canada. It will be an opportunity for our province to be recognized for other things than its small size, equalization payments and potatoes.

The naysayers have raised questions about the environment, the fisheries and the ferry workers. The courts have ruled that all reasonable measures have been taken. Any potential adverse environmental effects of the specific bridge proposal were either insignificant or mitigable with known technology. In the fishery an agreement has already been reached which will provide compensation to fishermen for any disruption or loss of access during the construction period.

Discussions for ferry worker compensation are under way. This booklet will tell us exactly what moves we are making toward the ferry workers on retraining, job opportunities, early retirement and so on. That will all be developed over the next number of years to address the concerns of the ferry workers, which is a very important aspect of the whole discussion.

The scales are heavily weighed on the positive pro-link side. Economic activity will grow. It will grow during the construction period and it will grow in the years afterward. The link will generate experience and create jobs. P.E.I. has a desperate need for jobs.

This is the biggest infrastructure program ever undertaken in Atlantic Canada. There will never be an opportunity as great as the one we now have. It is time to get on with it.

In that vein I want to close with a quote from Rob Matthews, business editor of the Halifax Chronicle Herald and the Mail Star , in his column of February 4. In part he said: ``The issues have already been studied sufficiently for elected and appointed officials to decide the crossing was worth while politically, economically and environmentally. There must be an end to discussions at some reasonable point. Sadly valuable projects are often beset by those who want the process to deliver only their solution or, failing that, another process that will. Entrepreneurs and governments have come to understand that someone will object to almost any construction project. These days there is no single body of opinion on anything. It is much the same with public assessments in which the same few voices and personalities vie for the spotlight, unwilling to accept reality or unable to comprehend that action not paralysis brings jobs and development. There are great benefits ahead as a result of the fixed link. The sooner we can attain them the better''.

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12:20 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member gave his definition of referendum and plebiscite and he underlined that since, in this case, it was only a plebiscite, its results were not binding on the government, which decided nonetheless, as we can see today, to respect the will of the people and go ahead with the project.

I also wanted to talk about traffic. Having travelled several times to Prince Edward Island, I can say that the bridge will no doubt have the effect of increasing car traffic on the island. Everybody knows that to go to the Magdalen Islands, one has to

drive across Prince Edward Island to take the ferry at Souris. Does the hon. member know about studies on increased traffic that could alleviate our concerns about delays on the way to the Magdalen Islands? Can he comment on that?

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12:25 p.m.


Joe McGuire Liberal Egmont, PE

Mr. Speaker, in reference to the hon. member's question about a plebiscite, the federal government was in no way, shape or form involved in it. The plebiscite was strictly within the province of P.E.I. It was held to give the government, under Premier Ghiz at that time, an indication of what the islanders felt about a fixed link to the mainland. It had nothing to do with the federal government. The federal government was not even remotely involved with the project at that time. It was merely a sampling of public opinion as to what islanders actually felt about the fixed link.

As far as getting to Magdalen Island, which is part of the beautiful province of Quebec, I would think a fixed link would make it a lot easier. The member would not have to wait at Cape Tormentine for any length of time. He could simply drive up, drive over the bridge, continue on his way to Surrey and catch the ferry to Magdalen Island. He would be able to spend more time there once the fixed link was built.

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12:25 p.m.


Len Taylor NDP The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be very brief. I have a question of clarification for the member for Egmont who just spoke.

I visited his constituency on several occasions. I find it to be a very beautiful part of our country. I am slightly envious of him in representing that constituency. I know he would be of my constituency as well. I invite him to visit any time he wishes to do so.

I have two points of clarification. The first has to do with the plebiscite. Could the member confirm my recollection that when the plebiscite was held the question implied that perhaps the fixed link could be a safe underground tunnel as much as it could be the construction of a bridge?

Second, I heard him say in his speech that the constitutional amendment we are discussing today has been dealt with in the Prince Edward Island legislature. I was not aware of that. Could the member clarify if the amendment has been dealt with in the Prince Edward Island legislature, including the parts about tolls and possible privatization of the structure?

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12:25 p.m.


Joe McGuire Liberal Egmont, PE

Mr. Speaker, I invite the hon. member to revisit Prince Edward Island any time, and all members of the House. It is the best place one could possibly visit in the summertime. I would not want to visit the hon. member's riding in the wintertime either so I do not expect him to come to Prince Edward Island.

The question on the plebiscite did not include any options. The tunnel was never on the ballot as an option. It was strictly: "Are you in favour of a fixed link?" The people who were bidding for the fixed link considered in the development of a proposal the option of a tunnel. I think they found only one bidder who actually went into the matter of the tunnel to any great depth. Even that company felt it was much too expensive to continue any further exploration of that option and that the most economic option was the bridge option.

It was not considered at all on the plebiscite. The people who did look into it on the construction side and the bidder side felt there were many environmental problems with the tunnel. It was not an economically viable option.

On the member's second question, the provincial legislature last spring passed a unanimous resolution endorsing the constitutional amendment to the terms of union between P.E.I. and the Dominion of Canada. That has already gone through its legislature. It is a resolution only. It was directed, as we are directed today by Madam Justice Reed, that this had to happen before the bridge could be legally used in place of a ferry system.

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12:30 p.m.

Halifax Nova Scotia


Mary Clancy LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, it is a very great privilege to join in this debate today. It is a particular privilege to follow the hon. member for Egmont who for such a long time has been an advocate in this House for all of the interests of his home province of Prince Edward Island. He has been such an advocate for the establishment of the fixed link.

Before I continue, Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment. It is a delight to have you in the chair. I am sure you will prosper there with all of us to be your sheep, shall I say.

With regard to this debate, in the more than five years I have been privileged to be a member of this House representing a riding in Atlantic Canada, I have stood countless times and spoken on matters of great and indeed of crucial interest to the people of our region. Frequently we have looked at the possibilities of development for employment, development to create a better climate for business, development in the area of natural resources and so on and so forth. We have met walls because of our small population. We have met difficulties because of the problem of distances, as in every region of this country, et cetera.

It is with particular gratification that I stand today to speak in support of the constitutional amendment to enable the building of the fixed link crossing between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

There are many reasons that this fixed link is a superb idea. Members much more involved from the provinces of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick have articulated these ideas, but I would like to talk just about one area where I see the fixed link making a difference. It was very interesting that a member questioned my colleague from Egmont about the traffic and about getting to Iles-de-la-Madeleine, which is the area I want to talk about.

In spite of all of the setbacks and drawbacks in Atlantic Canada, we think we really are the most fortunate people in the country. If one is fortunate enough to live in Atlantic Canada, particularly in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island is normally the vacation place of choice. I must say New Brunswick is also, but we like to go to P.E.I. for the beaches, the wonderful golf courses, the great food, the terrific restaurants, and on and on.

I have been visiting Prince Edward Island as a tourist since I was a small child. I have jokingly referred to the fixed link from time to time as the span of Green Gables. That reminds us why young women in this country consider a visit to Prince Edward Island to be practically a religious experience: the shrine of Anne of Green Gables and that great Canadian writer, and feminist I might add, Lucy Maud Montgomery.

I have spent many hours as a child, as an adolescent and as an adult sitting in a car, usually at Cape Tormentine, waiting for a ferry. I remember one particular visit at this time of year. When Joe says he does not want to go to the Battlefords in February he is probably right. However, getting to P.E.I. in February can be quite something too when one is dependent upon the mercy of the ferry in the Northumberland Strait when the ice is in.

There was a meeting. It was the kick-off to a very famous political campaign. The Atlantic provinces student Liberals were meeting in Charlottetown in 1968 to decide whose students would support the leadership of a great political party. A group of us from Halifax headed out for Tormentine. Given that it was February we did pretty well. We arrived there in about four hours from Halifax. We then waited for six hours until the old Abegweit could get into the dock. We got on the Abegweit . I think normally it takes about 45 minutes to cross in good weather, but seven and a half hours later we landed in P.E.I. It is one thing when it is a group of students. We had a good time on that ferry.

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12:30 p.m.

An hon. member

I suspect you did.

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12:35 p.m.


Mary Clancy Liberal Halifax, NS

Yes, we did. We really did not mind a whole lot the almost seven hour extension of the trip.

I remember we were met on that illustrious morning by one of Prince Edward Island's most famous sons. I refer to Premier Alec Campbell as he then was and who today is Mr. Justice Campbell of the island's supreme court. Premier Campbell was not very happy on that day. He knew the ferry had been frozen in the middle of the strait for over seven hours. He took the opportunity to make a public speech right there and he got a good crowd, as island politicians usually do. He spoke about the fact that the ferry really did not fulfil the constitutional agreement to create a proper link and a proper mode of transportation to and from Prince Edward Island.

That happened 26 years ago this month. I remember it very well. Consequently most of my subsequent trips to Prince Edward Island have been by air or in the summertime, but I have never forgotten the passion with which Premier Campbell addressed this issue.

I discussed this issue on many occasions because, as the member for Egmont can tell you, I was not a total convert to the concept in the beginning. The member for Egmont, the Secretary of State for Veterans, two other premiers of Prince Edward Island, Premier Callbeck and former Premier Ghiz, and the present member for Malpeque have all had a part in convincing me that this is absolutely the right thing, not just for the people of Prince Edward Island, not just for the people of Atlantic Canada but for the people of Canada. It will create the access we need and deserve to get to the cradle of Confederation, one of Canada's unique beauty spots.

Members who have been here for any length of time know and new members will learn very soon that being members of Parliament gives us a very privileged sense of the country as a whole, as a unit from sea to sea to sea.

To go to Charlottetown and see where the fathers, sent by the mothers, of Confederation first met to discuss what would happen in 1867 gives one a very particular and very warm view of what the politicians of the day were struggling over, arguing over, negotiating and deciding to do for Canadians then and now. Young Canadians from the other nine provinces would benefit from visiting, seeing and spending time in the cradle of Confederation. I agree that we would all benefit, young people in particular, from seeing all the parts of this magnificent country.

Tourism is one of Prince Edward Island's major industries and we certainly do not see people staying away because of the ferries. However, as we enter a more modern age heading toward the year 2000 it is only sensible to ensure that access to that province be done in the most sensible, safest and time saving way. That is why those of us in this House from the province of Nova Scotia stand in great support of our colleagues from Prince Edward Island and in great support of our colleagues from New Brunswick.

Another thing I would like to bring to the attention of the House is the fact that this fixed link is going to create an incredible number of jobs. In the provinces of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick the creation of jobs is something every one of us is committed to and I can only say it is with an almost spiritual fervour. We do not like to be considered

the poor relations of Confederation. We do not like to be called the have not provinces.

This fixed link will create an economic boom and an advantage to business and tourism. I am in favour and I say three cheers for those who decided to go ahead with the fixed link.

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12:40 p.m.


Roseanne Skoke Liberal Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague, the hon. member from Nova Scotia.

As the member for Central Nova, the issue of the fixed link is one of major concern in my riding. It is recognized that the Northumberland bridge, the fixed link to Prince Edward Island, is a link to economic opportunity and progress for Prince Edward Island and all of Atlantic Canada. This link will create job opportunities for Atlantic Canadians throughout construction of the bridge and maintenance thereafter. It will create opportunity for tourism and economic progress.

However in my riding of Central Nova some concerns have been expressed regarding competition between the fixed link at one end of the island and the ferry service at the other end. The employees of the ferry service rely upon this means for commercial and domestic transport and for carrying tourists from Caribou to Wood Islands. The shipbuilding industry and Steelworkers of America Union rely upon the building of new ferries and the maintenance of those existing for their livelihood.

I wish to reassure the people of Central Nova that the competing interests between one end of the island and the other and competing interests between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia along with the competing interests of construction workers, ferry workers and shipbuilders can be very readily reconciled.

The fixed link will create employment opportunity as well as tourism opportunity for all of us in Atlantic Canada. It will in no way diminish the importance of the ferry service running between Wood Islands and Caribou. The continuation and upgrading of the ferry service between Caribou and Wood Islands will create opportunities for tourism and economic progress in Central Nova and for the province of Nova Scotia.

Therefore on behalf of the people of Central Nova I support the motion put forward this morning by the hon. minister of public works. I thank my learned colleague for her comments.

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12:40 p.m.


Mary Clancy Liberal Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the hon. member from that great riding of Central Nova which for the first time in many years boasts a member from the Liberal Party. I congratulate her on her election and on her comments this morning.

In talking about the benefits of the fixed link to tourism I was remiss in not particularly mentioning the Caribou-Wood Islands service. It is essentially a summertime service and is also a great boon to tourism. The ferries on that line are built in the shipyard in Pictou county and all of us want nothing more than to see this line continue. It too is a wonderful way to travel between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia to get the benefits of two of the most beautiful places on earth, that is Prince Edward Island and Pictou county.

I know when the hon. member speaks with her passionate devotion to the people of her area they can be assured of the safety of that line and the continued interest in both the use of that line for tourism and business. The two access points to Prince Edward Island, to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia can work very well together in harmony and to the benefit of all Canadians.

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12:40 p.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley East, BC

Mr. Speaker, in May 1873 the government of Sir John A. Macdonald passed an act admitting Prince Edward Island to Confederation. A month later his cabinet approved an order in council which also promised the "efficient steam service for the conveyance of mails and passengers to be established and maintained thus placing the island in continuous communication with the intercolonial railway and the railway system of the Dominion".

The provision of that order in council has now become part of our present day Constitution. The promise has been kept for 121 years. Today it is the intention of both the federal government and that of Prince Edward Island to change the wording of the clause but not the promise itself, thus committing the federal government to a fixed link instead of a ferry service.

At the outset I want the House to note the intention of our forefathers. Their intent was obvious. They were clearly intending to obligate the federal government to keep the island in continuous communication with the mainland. The mode of transportation by ferry was also specified and the federal government wishes to confirm that same intention. However, today it wants to specify a different mode of transportation.

The Reform Party of Canada does not wish to argue that a bridge would not be beneficial to Prince Edward Island. Common assent to the plan has been given by provincial plebiscite and resolution.

The fixed link has weathered protests by environmentalists and engineers who argue that the bridge will be unhealthy or unsafe. It has endured bad press, public dispute and court challenges and now all that remains is to change this clause. No one argues that the bridge will mean more prosperity for the maritimes and increased economic development for Prince Edward Island in particular.

The principle of a bridge replacing a ferry is not the substance of our complaint today. The Reform Party wants nothing but increased prosperity for all of the maritime provinces. However, the federal cabinet should not pass an Order in Council today to change this clause. To alter it today requires an amendment to the Constitution, that document foundational to our nation, the instrument which defines our political system and, more specifically, defines the nature of the relationship between provinces and the federal government.

I address two different audiences today. To the audience in Prince Edward Island, I understand why it needs this bridge or why it wants it. It will be good for that province and I think there is widespread public support in Canada for the bridge.

To my second audience, the Government of Canada, what it is attempting to do in this House today is both incorrect and unwise. Allow me to explain what I mean.

The Government of Canada is proceeding under section 43 of the Canadian Constitution which reads:

An amendment to the Constitution of Canada in relation to any provision that applies to one or more, but not all, provinces-may be made by proclamation issued by the Governor General.

The government assumes that it can safely proceed under this section because it also assumes that this issue relates only to the federal government and two or three provinces. Is this really the case? Could it be true that the provision of a fixed link to Prince Edward Island involves all the provinces of Canada, not only the maritime provinces? I submit that although this amendment does not apply directly to every province of Canada, it affects every province in an important and substantive way and therefore the government could be acting improperly.

If changes are necessary at this time, it should proceed in a fairer and more conventional manner by way of section 38 of the Constitution, a section which at least attempts to involve the input of all Canadians.

How are other provinces involved? This venture is a shared cost venture and these costs are not shared between just one province and the federal government. The subsidy which now operates the ferries is taken from the federal government's general revenue. Who contributes to the federal treasury, all provinces or just a few? All provinces are involved today in subsidizing Prince Edward Island's ferries and we are happy to do so.

However, the estimated cost of the bridge, $850 million and climbing, will also be borne in some fashion by all members of the federation because the federal government will subsidize this bridge to the amount of $43 million per year for the next 35 years. This is not an insignificant sum. This kind of significant commitment requires the approval of all Canadians.

However, there is an additional problem. The government through a constitutional amendment will continue to commit itself not just to the fixed link but to the original intention of the clause written in 1873. That intent is to place the island in continuous communication with the mainland.

What if problems are to develop? What if the bridge suffers cost overruns of more than 10 per cent? Another member indicated that it may double. Other projects around the world such as the tunnel under the English Channel or the Hibernia oil project nearby have experienced vast cost overruns. We all know the appalling record of past federal governments in this regard. We will be committed to a bridge no matter what problems occur.

What if, God forbid, this bridge should collapse? The government will be constitutionally obligated to rebuild it. The question I am asking here is a serious one. By constitutional amendment all members of the federation will be committed to providing a fixed link with the mainland forever.

If the bridge is rendered unusable for periods of time during the winter or encounters other major problems, the intent of the constitutional amendment will still stand. Continuous communication with the mainland will have to be maintained by the government. In other words, if the fixed link proves unworkable the government will still have to provide a ferry service.

Speaking outside of constitutional law, the government could not allow an entire province to be cut off from the mainland for very long. A ferry would have to be provided if the bridge proves to be unreliable. If it comes to a disagreement and finally to law, the people of Prince Edward Island could demand a ferry service through the courts if necessary.

The member for Lac-Saint-Jean noted the ambiguity between the French and English versions of this amendment earlier today when he mentioned that in one version it says they may and in the other it says they will. That is still unclear. It is a moot point. We will be obligated and in this case we will be obligated to this continuous communication.

In that case the cost of this constant communication with the mainland would effectively double. This is a much greater commitment than the government would now have us believe. This is a significant commitment that every province in Canada deserves to address through a resolution under the current constitutional arrangements by each legislature under the authority of section 38 of the Constitution.

Although it is clear to me that the government is acting incorrectly, perhaps unlawfully and certainly unwisely, I do not propose a legal remedy. Constitutional change should never be forced on the nation in the name of expediency. If the government insists on proceeding in this manner, there is a simple resolution which lies in the decision of the Federal Court of Canada given in March of last year. Madam Justice Reed there

indicated that a discontinuance of the ferry service must be sanctioned by a constitutional amendment. We agree to that. She gave the House of Commons no direction as to the wording of that amendment in the form of a resolution.

If the government must go ahead with this change, and I repeat many of us feel this is not the way to go about constitutional change, it should reword its resolution to reaffirm the constitutional intent to provide constant communication with the mainland but to despecify the mode of transportation required. To be very clear, the amendment would promise a continuous link with the mainland, period.

In this way the government would have a free hand to choose the least expensive transportation option in the future while still carrying through with its plans for a bridge today.

Here the Government of Canada would not be committing all provinces to provide a fixed link for all time and at any cost, and under no circumstances could Canada be legally obliged to provide a bridge and a ferry service at the same time.

Although this legal argument is significant, it does not form the basis of our objection to this resolution. Our objection springs from a root that goes far deeper than a simple legal technicality. The Constitution of Canada defines the relationship between provinces and the federal government. The amending formula is the way to redefine or to change these relationships. If we redefine these relationships we must be careful to do so in a way that shows consideration for all parties. We show consideration to all parties in order to preserve good will between them. Countries are not built on technicalities. They are built on relationships. Those relationships, especially in this period of Canada's history, must be preserved at all costs or the federation is lost.

The Reform Party of Canada envisions a better process for our nation, one that preserves national relationships and respects the wisdom of individual Canadians, one that provides popular ratification of constitutional change in a bottom-up process, not a top-down process like we are experiencing here again today, in which each concerned Canadian can participate in constitutional conventions and finally have their say through a referendum.

This government is proceeding today just as it might have 50 years ago when it would simply pass a resolution to ask Britain to change the BNA Act. This process is no longer acceptable to Canadians.

I think of the case of the Roman Empire. At the start of every major undertaking they would pray to the god Janus. Janus was a two faced god who looked into both the past and the future. They hoped to be guided by this god who would say: "These are the mistakes we made in the past and we will not repeat these as we try to guide our nation forward into the future".

That god passed into the history books along with the Roman Empire but we can learn from that concept. When it comes to constitutional change, if we ignore what we have gone through in the past few years as we plan for the future, we are making a serious mistake in the House of Commons.

The Canadian voter is no longer tolerant of politicians who fall victim to what we describe as Ottawa fever as soon as they are elected. This disease results, as we have talked about before, in selective hearing, poor memory and the inability to discern the common sense of average Canadians. Ottawa fever killed both a government and a national party just a few months ago. Has this government learned from the mistakes of the Conservatives?

I have a genuine fear that this House and this government are embarking on a legislative program, including these constitutional changes, that shows that they have the early symptoms of Ottawa fever.

The finance minister talks about filling the loopholes and broadening the tax base in the upcoming budget. He puts a pretty spin on an ugly subject by saying that Canadians want to increase equity in the tax system, which is just another way of saying that the government wants more out of the taxpayers. This is at a time when taxpayers are pleading with the government to stop gouging them and start listening about cutting some expenses.

On another issue, many voters, especially the voters of Markham-Whitchurch-Stouffville, are demanding the right to recall MPs but their appeals fall on deaf ears. We cannot see any movement on this right to recall. Why is that? Why is it that no one is listening to that?

Now we see this government promising also an ill-defined aboriginal self-government even after the Charlottetown accord was soundly rejected by Canadians. How is that possible?

This government is running far ahead of the voters. It may even be in a different running lane, I am not sure. The House needs to stop pushing only the government's agenda and start pushing ahead with the people's agenda.

Is it any wonder Canadians have a negative attitude toward governments in general? If the government will not listen to Canadians and cannot put its financial house in order, how will it possibly deal with wisdom regarding constitutional issues which form the foundation of that house?

The Constitution has been the focus of much needless hurt in our nation. It started with the patriation in 1981, a unilateral action which caused the rancorous constitutional conferences of the mid-eighties. These led to the political disasters of Meech Lake and the Charlottetown accord. Out of them emerged the

Bloc Quebecois and a full-blown separatist movement that threatens to split our nation in two.

Today, what do we find? Yet another amendment to the Constitution, virtually free of national debate, unfettered by consultation with anyone with Prince Edward Island, slipped under the noses of parliamentarians as if the last decade simply disappeared. It appears that the government has learned nothing from the mistakes of the past.

Not only that, but the government conveniently ignores the voices of millions of other Canadians who have said through their votes and through other mechanisms that they are demanding other changes to the Constitution, changes that they say are at least as important, possibly more important, than these.

We have long advocated changes like a reformed Senate, entrenched property rights over which there is already a lot of general national agreement, positive changes such as a constitutional ceiling on government spending, something that would ensure that undisciplined politicians could never again spend our children's inheritance.

Last year the ousted Conservative Party barged ahead with a constitutional change for New Brunswick, just after that very change was rejected as part of the Charlottetown accord. Reform voted against it. Now we see this government forcing us to accept changes on behalf of Prince Edward Island. Reform once again rejects the process that ignores the cries of millions of other Canadians. This process should be a source of shame to this government.

This small amendment is no small matter. It deals with an enormous principle. It brings back memories of how our Constitution has been mishandled over the past 15 years. The Reform Party of Canada opposes this amendment on three firm grounds. The first I went over at some length earlier in my presentation. It is simply unwise to glibly approve a permanent, unqualified commitment to the bridge.

The second ground is that of consultation. To satisfy voters and preserve the relationships of the federation, the government should proceed in a way which allows input from every province and, through a referendum, every citizen.

The third principle is that of common sense. It says: "First things first. We ought not approach the House lightly on such weighty subjects. There are other important constitutional issues that could be and should be dealt with at the same time".

To sum up, the Reform Party would be very pleased if one day at the end of a proper consultative process the House dealt with a balanced package of positive, popular constitutional amendments that included perhaps a re-worded amendment for the benefit of Prince Edward Island.

Today the Canadian people expect to participate in the most important decision that the House can make. It is foolhardy to push their patience once again regarding constitutional change.

I would therefore ask the Prime Minister to reconsider the process by which this decision has been brought to the House. I urge all members to carefully distinguish expedient choices from choices that are motivated by a concern for the future, a search for wisdom and a love for your country.

My concerns and the concerns of each of our constituencies deserve more of a hearing than a few short speeches given to a basically empty House.

This is not mere housekeeping legislation we are considering. Any changes we make now become a permanent part of our Constitution. The obligations we shoulder today will weigh on our grandchildren a century from now. Surely this law should not be sandwiched between bills on excise taxes and port operations. This process trivializes the Constitution of Canada, the foundation of our nation.

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1 p.m.

Cape Breton—East Richmond Nova Scotia


David Dingwall LiberalMinister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Mr. Speaker, just a comment then a brief question to my hon. colleague opposite.

I did not hear the full extent of his remarks but I did pay particular attention to some of his wording. If I quote him incorrectly I hope that he will do the honourable thing and advise the House that I have done so.

The hon. member made reference to this creeping into the House of Commons and somehow the guillotine will come down fairly soon on a decision which is of gargantuan importance to Canada, to the world and to other planets if you will. I am paraphrasing of course, but I understand the hon. member is new to the House. However new to the House does not give you the right to flagrantly abuse-

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1 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I know the minister is a very experienced parliamentarian and that he would want to direct all of his comments through the Chair.

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1 p.m.


David Dingwall Liberal Cape Breton—East Richmond, NS

Mr. Speaker, as I was making my point through you to the hon. member, it does not give him the right to abuse flagrantly and selectively some of the discussions which took place in this Chamber not more than a year ago. He suggested in his remarks that somehow this evil thing that we put before Parliament today was concocted, if you will, in the back rooms. It has been around for five full years.

I cannot understand why the hon. member would try to give that impression to his constituents. Perhaps we might wish to have a recall of the hon. member's ability to remember all of the facts and all of the things that have gone on in this House.

The question I have for the hon. member is the following. Does the hon. member not think it appropriate that the people of Prince Edward Island, who over 130 years ago decided that they would become a part of Confederation, have now determined through the most democratic way, namely a referendum, that they wish to amend those terms of reference which they consummated over 130 years ago? Is the hon. member saying to Canada's smallest province, to that group of individuals, that they no longer have that right as other Canadians in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and across this country have that right?

Is the hon. member suggesting in a code that because one comes from a small province, because one comes from a small population base, one does not enjoy the rights that other provinces have? Is that not what the hon. member is suggesting?

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1:05 p.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was moved. I do not know what it is that the minister seems to get so apoplectic about every time I speak. This is the second time he has become so vociferous in his attack on me. I am not exactly sure why.

If I could address the points he raised I will go through them and try to remember them all. He said that I should not use selective memory in my remarks concerning last year's discussions but that I should think back to the extensive discussions.

What I was trying to emphasize during my presentation was that I have not forgotten the extensive consultations of last year. I have not forgotten that other members of the House, including every other party but-not the Bloc perhaps-the Reform Party of Canada were in favour of the Charlottetown accord. The Reform Party of Canada was in tune enough with the Canadian people to know they had rejected it wholeheartedly.

I was not dissociating myself from that discussion. Of course, I remember that and so should the hon. minister. Of course we want all discussions to be out in the open. Of course we want things to be decided through a referendum. When it comes to recall, if the minister thinks I am nervous of being recalled I invite him and his government to bring forward recall legislation at the earliest possible moment and we will put it to the test. It will not happen here.

It will happen first of all in Markham. I am convinced of that. As a matter of fact I expect thousands of people to come out to the rally tonight to determine that. If the minister wants to bring that kind of legislation forward, he will have widespread support on this side of the House. I am starting to get a little wound up myself but I mentioned it clearly if the minister was listening to my speech.

I am not opposed to the idea of a bridge. The bridge may be a wonderful idea but to cherry pick your way through the constitutional orchard picking a cherry here, a cherry there, with the government deciding what it wants to do even if it has no support among the Canadian people at large. If there is going to be constitutional change the people want to ratify it themselves. They proved that during the Charlottetown accord. They will not accept anything less. If the government wants to check on the pulse of the Canadian people, do not be afraid to go to a referendum. The people will give it the answers it requires. They may well approve this change. I hope they do but the process must remain, involving all Canadians. If it does not it has no support from the Reform Party. I believe it has no support among the Canadian people.