Mr. Speaker, as the member for Lévis, I am one of those who cross the Quebec bridge regularly to come to the federal Parliament.
One of the bridge's piles is in the riding of Lévis, the other in Louis-Hébert. This explains why my colleague and I sponsored this motion together. He was lucky in the draw today, and I fully support his motion.
I have already detected a positive impact of discussing the Quebec bridge for one hour. I have noticed, for example, that a Reform Party member showed a certain interest in the subject, also a certain ignorance. This has allowed us to make certain clarifications, and to more fully inform all the members of the House.
I have also noticed that the members across the floor have been forced to ask about the respective positions of the Department of Transport and the Department of Canadian Heritage since, two days before being relieved from his duties, the former Minister of Canadian Heritage had recognized the Quebec bridge as a national historic site-national, in the Canadian sense, of course.
Let me review the historic significance of this structure. This bridge has been the subject of a long debate that dates back to the very beginning of the Canadian Confederation. I remind the House that, at the time of Confederation, the railway issue was important. All regions had to be linked. At that time, trains ran along the south shore. They did not serve Quebec City which was a capital. No service was provided to those who wanted to cross over from Quebec City to get to the Maritimes.
This issue was discussed at length, and one could say that Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who declared it an important issue, was it main champion. Since history was to be made, he wanted this bridge to be a symbol. He had said-I do not have the exact quote-that it was the symbol of federalism in Quebec.
The coalition wrote this week to all the members opposite, in fact to all members of the House of Commons. They sent them an envelope with a little piece of the bridge enclosed, to show that any member concerned about Canadian heritage has reason to be worried. This symbol of federalism is now becoming a symbol of collapse, of disintegration. This is a signal, a warning sign.
It is very important; it is history. If Sir Wilfrid Laurier was here, I am sure he would agree with me. He would say that it is critical to save this historic structure.
Unfortunately, Canadians do not judge it at its true value. The member for Louis-Hébert told us earlier that the members of the transport committee did not show any interest, when they met the coalition's members. One member, whose name I will not reveal, said that, all told, CN owned some 6,000 bridges across Canada. He compared this bridge to any structure that crosses a stream or small river.
We are talking here about the St. Lawrence River, and the longest railway bridge in the world. It is also the first cantilever bridge in the world. Later on, there was one built in Scotland, which is also recognized as part of the world heritage.
The member for Pontiac reminded us earlier that the American Society of Civil Engineers had recognized the bridge as a masterpiece of engineering. As for folk culture, everyone remembers that the bridge of Quebec was considered to be the eighth wonder of the world. But absolutely no one is filled with wonder by it anymore; on the contrary, many are afraid of it.
I invite the people opposite, all those who still have some interest in the Canadian national heritage that is symbolised by the Quebec bridge to respond as soon as possible to the letter of the Quebec bridge coalition's president by saying: I am convinced that the necessary efforts should be made and I support the federal government in doing so.
But since my time is almost up, I would like to remind the House of some numbers. First, I listened to the hon. member for Pontiac-Gatineau-Labelle when he said 25,000 vehicles a day are now using the bridge, that is, more automobiles than trains. That is true. And that because of it, the owner, the CN, should make the leaseholder pay more.
I would inform the hon. member who announced his government's position, which is that CN will spend the necessary amounts, that the Quebec government agrees, and in writing. Not just orally but in writing. It told the president of the coalition they were ready to spend $1.5 million a year over 16 years to review the contract, provided, of course, that the owner first undertakes to do the work. A tenant does not pay the rent on a new apartment in advance before the work is done.
Then, the government replies, like Pontius Pilate: "Oh, but you know, it is not really our responsibility. CN is now a private company". I remember, I was one of those who took part in the debate at the time. We wanted the new Canadian corporation, CN, which has since become a private company, to exclude the Quebec Bridge, as it did the CN Tower in Toronto. This, however, was not done. The government did not exclude the Quebec Bridge. Although it recognized, six months later, that it was of national patrimonial interest, it left the matter in the hands of CN.
They are now content to say that CN will do its part, that it is a private company, that, in 1993, an agreement was reached to transfer the bridge to CN, but the members did not read everything. It may take me a while to find the article, but there was a land transfer worth $35 million, provided CN did the work.
Well, the work would cost around $63 million. I was listening to the hon. member for Pontiac-Gatineau-Labelle earlier. In the end, only $22.5 million to $24 million would be spent, although the work would cost $63 million. The announcement is made, and the people listening think: "My God, the federal government is saying it will be done, that CN will do it", even though this amount represents only half the cost, even less. Of the $63 million needed, $40 million is still missing. Where will it come from?
Again, the Quebec government is prepared to contribute $1.5 million per year for 16 years, for a total of $24 million.
The federal government recognizes the heritage value of the bridge, but there is still $14 million missing. The federal must do one of two things: either provide the $14 million missing, or force CN to do what was provided in the agreement. After all, a contract means something.
Article 4 reads as follows: "Canada shall transfer the Quebec bridge to CN as part of the first land block transfer of CGR lands". This is what is worth $35 million. "CN shall undertake to fund a major maintenance program on the bridge, including the installation and maintenance of architectural lighting, which shall restore this structure to a condition which shall ensure its long term viability and ensure it is maintained in this state. Without limiting CN's obligations described above, CN will attempt to reach an agreement with the Province of Quebec to co-fund such a maintenance program", etc. That was done.
So, we ask that articles 4 and 13 be applied, because even if CN is privatized, it cannot elude its obligations. Let the federal government force CN to pay the missing $14 million.