Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on this bill, that is this constitutional change.
I am pleased to speak in support of this resolution which will clear away one of the final remaining obstacles to the Northumberland Strait bridge project. Before proceeding further I want to answer a few questions raised today. Neither the minister nor I had the opportunity to provide answers.
Some members will recall that a member of the Reform Party questioned the process the government was undertaking with respect to this initiative. I remind that colleague and other colleagues that the judge had directed the constitutional change. The judge had indicated the change could be undertaken via section 43. It is important to make those points for fear that someone may believe proper advice was not followed.
I was also somewhat taken aback by that member of Parliament who, with a certain amount of enthusiasm, suggested the government had received nothing but bad advice, that it might even have been proceeding illegally. I have to say this person does not lack in confidence and I wonder what credible source my colleague was quoting.
I underline as well the fact that the people of Prince Edward Island joined the union. They made that decision with a condition and it is correct for them to amend that condition. It is correct for them to determine that condition should be changed because they decided to join under it.
This morning, I believe the Bloc Quebecois made reference to a firm which indicated that some $1.3 billion might be spent on that project. If that is indeed the comment made, it is erroneous. The fact is that this firm said in 1988 that even if the project was to cost $1.3 billion, it would be worth it. This is not the same statement at all.
I also want to point out that we did have a reliable source, an independent engineer, who certified that the project would cost approximately $840 million. Again, this amount was certified by an independent party.
I must add another comment. If there are additional costs and if the project goes over the estimated budget, what will happen? I think some are under the impression that the government would foot the bill. On the contrary, it is the private sector which would have to absorb these additional costs.
Finally, you are well aware that environmental concerns were raised regarding this project. I simply want to remind hon. members that more than 90 studies were conducted and over 80 meetings were held; moreover, two court decisions concluded that the project was very reasonable from an environmental point of view. Of course, you can never be absolutely sure, but if you look at megaprojects, you will see that the government proceeded very cautiously with this one, at least as regards financing and environmental aspects.
Finally, there was this question about the workers. It is unfortunate-and I share this concern with my colleagues from both sides of the House-that workers will be displaced. It is really very unfortunate. I want to remind this House that this government makes it a priority-and I hope it is the same for all
my other colleagues-to find ways to meet the needs of these men and women.
With regard to the fixed link project, those workers will have hiring preference and some will be able to take advantage of early retirement programs. There will be training and retraining programs as well. I insist on it and I hope that we will work very hard together to try and make sure that these men and women will not find themselves out of work because of the bridge.
Having answered those questions I felt needed some additional detail, I want to proceed very quickly with some of the main points I consider important from my particular perspective.
Our government made it clear during the election campaign and in the recent throne speech that putting Canadians back to work is the number one economic, political and social challenge facing this country. We are committed to taking every step within our power to support job creation, to stimulate increased economic activity and to restore hope and confidence in the future for all Canadians. This project helps in reaching those particular goals.
Nowhere is this more the case, the need that is, than in Atlantic Canada which almost more than any other area of the country has suffered too long from high levels of unemployment resulting in dependency and despair. Everyone should welcome this initiative for that part of the country which has been hard hit economically.
The Northumberland Strait bridge project will have an immediate significant impact on the economy of Atlantic Canada in general and that of Prince Edward Island in particular. The rest of the country can expect to feel the positive effects of this project in the long term too. That is a positive spin off.
Members will recall we have estimated there will be 1,000 direct jobs for each of the four years of construction or almost 3,000 person years of employment in all. That is a lot of work for a lot of people. Under the terms of the contract between the federal government and the contractor, more than 95 per cent of these jobs will come from Atlantic Canada. Of course with its high unemployment numbers it is of particular importance to this area as well as the rest of Canada.
This project will provide a tremendous boost for employment throughout the region. It will provide thousands of workers with gainful employment and the opportunity to practise and improve their job skills, quite apart from the work it will provide. However direct employment tells only part of the story.
The contract also specifies that some 70 per cent of the total procurement requirements will be sourced in the region. These requirements are massive: thousands of tonnes of cement, reinforcing steel cable, fabricated metal, manufactured components, et cetera. Given that the total project is estimated at $840 million to $850 million, the wages and procurement expenditures paid by the developer will inject more than $.5 billion into the Atlantic economy over the next five years. This should give a real kick-start to the economy in a region of this great country that badly needs it.
It is also important to note that this bridge project most definitely is not a make-work project aimed at providing some short term relief for some of Canada's poorer provinces. Obviously once the bridge is built some jobs will cease, but there will be spin-off benefits. There will be an increase in tourism and in business opportunities. I could go on.
I for one have found the hon. minister's remarks very enlightening and convincing today. There is no question that the bridge project is a very good deal for the Canadian taxpayers. In accordance with the terms of the union act signed with Prince Edward Island, the federal government is clearly required to fund a link of some kind, whether a bridge or a ferry system, to join the island to the mainland.
In the case of a ferry service, it would cost Canadians taxpayers at least $42 million a year for the next 35 years to allow Marine Atlantic to operate the service. This amount includes the cost of operating the ferries, the cost of maintenance and capital costs, for example, for the purchase of new icebreakers during that period. After 35 years, federal government subsidies should continue and increase because of the demand for service. As the minister mentioned, this would lead to uncontrolled spending with no end in sight, and that is not a good deal for the taxpayers of this country.
Let me add a few comments to what the minister said about the environmental quality of the project. This has attracted a lot of attention during most of the five years that the project was being developed. The environment was the main concern of the government and of the developer. Indeed, this project has been the subject of the most thorough environmental studies ever undertaken for a project of this size. As I said, there were over 90 studies, 80 meetings and the public had many opportunities to speak on the project requirements at some 85 public meetings. This project meets all the technical requirements and all the environmental requirements.
In closing, I ask my colleagues to support this project because it is sound, it will meet the economic, tourism and other needs of the region and I think it is being approached in a most appropriate way.