That, in the opinion of this House, the government should establish a National Highway Policy in partnership with the provinces to ensure the long term viability of our national highway system in light of the nature of our country, our geography and our culture which demands a consistent and uniform highway system.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand before the House today to debate Motion No. 102. I would like to point out that this is the last private member's motion of the century. I brought this motion to the House two and a half years ago and I always wondered why it was held up so long. I now know why. The best has been kept until the last. What a way to end the century by talking about a new highway system to lead us into the new millennium.
My motion is very simple. I call on the government to establish a funding program to restore and improve the national highway system. It has truly fallen into disarray over the last few years with no funding program in place, no long range planning, no planning at all and no arrangement for the provinces or anyone to plan ahead.
The present situation we have for funding highways in the country, which needs highways so desperately, is a very ad hoc system. Currently, the Department of Transport and the parliamentary transport committee estimate that it will take $17 billion to restore our highway system. This is not to improve it but just to restore it and make up for the money that has not been spent on the highways over the last seven or eight years.
It is agreed that approximately 38% to 40% of our national highway system is now in a declined situation, which is not up to standard and not acceptable. Seven hundred and ninety bridges on our national highway system have been identified as in need of major strengthening and repair. There are no current funding programs available. This is the situation we presently have in the country.
The old policy we had up until approximately 1993-94 was a program where the federal government would sign agreements with the provinces on an ad hoc basis. They would negotiate them one-on-one and come up with a 50:50 program to fund highways in some provinces but not do the same thing in others. This was very inconsistent and very short term with no long range planning. It did not allow the provinces to plan for communities, traffic patterns, or to take advantage of our free trade programs and everything else that we have established in the country and that are so important.
What is wrong with not having a highway funding program? I want to hone in on Atlantic Canada for a minute because it is a true example of what can happen without a highway funding program.
In Atlantic Canada, with no money to build highways and no program, the provinces got creative and established toll highways in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. These two provinces target the traffic from other provinces for revenues to their coffers. A lot of people have complained about these toll projects. It is not just a matter of paying the toll. Part of the deal for both the highway in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is that the legislatures in their respective provinces passed legislation to prevent people from using public highways that ran parallel to the toll highway. Even though the taxpayers pay for these highways, they cannot use them. They are forced onto the toll highways by legislation even though these are provincially and federally funded highways that were built decades ago. This is very offensive to the people. This is not only offensive to the people and to me, but also to all three auditor generals. The auditor general of New Brunswick, the auditor general of Nova Scotia and even the Auditor General of Canada have taken exception to these things.
The auditor general of Nova Scotia was the first to point out the problems. He blew the whistle on the Nova Scotia toll highway when two ministers, one federal and one provincial, transferred $26 million from the federal-provincial highway program to their own ridings. I will not go into the details, but the auditor general blew the whistle and forced them to put the money back into the highway fund.