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House of Commons Hansard #42 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was transportation.

Topics

Business Of The House

December 17th, 1999 / 10 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among all political parties and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That the House shall take up the Private Members' Business scheduled for today from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and the House shall adjourn at the conclusion of Routine Proceedings later this day.

Business Of The House

10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is there agreement to proceed in such a fashion?

Business Of The House

10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

moved:

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.

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

An hon. member

Was that Dave Dingwall?

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

It was Dave Dingwall, and Ritchie Mann who was the minister of transportation in the province of Nova Scotia. They transferred these funds in a very inappropriate manner and the auditor general of Nova Scotia blew the whistle.

The federal auditor general has also blown the whistle on toll highways. The auditor general has written a whole book on the highway program in general but on the toll highways in particular. It goes on and on and lists different things that were done and not done and that should not have been done.

Here are a couple of comments the auditor general made. “Transport Canada has failed to exercise the controls entrenched in the agreements under which these investments were made. We found that it has failed to discharge the leadership responsibility to co-ordinate information for the government on federal highway spending overall”. In other words, the federal auditor general said that it was chaos. He honed in particularly on the toll highways in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Just two weeks ago, the auditor general of New Brunswick joined the auditor general of Nova Scotia and the Auditor General of Canada. In his report he accuses the provincial Liberal government of New Brunswick of not even giving adequate consideration to options or anything else, that it just dove into this toll highway system for entirely political purposes. The auditor general has listed a long range of failings in the New Brunswick highway deal.

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

An hon. member

Wasn't that Doug Young?

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Yes. The report of the New Brunswick auditor general, Daryl Wilson, yesterday leaves little doubt that the former Liberal government painted itself into a corner with the Moncton to Fredericton and Moncton to Saint John toll highway deal by failing to explore several alternative options. Again, when there are no federal funding programs, no national standards and no set of rules to follow, the provinces will get creative.

We have two inappropriate deals in Atlantic Canada, one in Nova Scotia and one in New Brunswick. Again I say, this is not only me finding fault, it is all three auditor generals. There are no more auditor generals to find fault with it. Everyone of them have found fault with these programs. That is what happens when we do not have a federal funding program.

The problem is really serious now. It is getting to the point where action has to be taken. Two years ago, the minister said that highway refunding was a top priority for him, but he has done nothing about it. As I said earlier, 38% of Canada's national highway system is now deemed in need of major repair, estimated at $17 billion.

Why do we have this problem? For one thing, highways do not deteriorate on a straight line basis. They stay solid for some time. When they start to deteriorate, they deteriorate quickly. If they are not maintained, they will go beyond the point of no repair and then must be replaced. Because there has been very little maintenance in the last five or six years on highways in Canada, we find ourselves with some very serious problems.

Another reason is that there has been no funding program for the last five years. I believe the last programs were signed by the Conservatives. I am not sure of that, but I think that is exactly right.

The next government policy that has caused these problems is the policy to reduce the number of trains that take heavy freight and heavy tariffs from coast to coast. By reducing the train routes and tearing up short lines all over the country, it has forced traffic and goods onto the highways. This means bigger trucks, more trucks and more damage to the highways. That is another government policy that has built on this.

Another one is simply that the international truck traffic has tripled in 10 years, up 300%. Again, that means more trucks, bigger trucks, more damage, worn out highways, rutted highways, broken highways and unsafe highways. Although I talked about Atlantic Canada a lot earlier, this is not only Atlantic Canada. I have just picked a couple of highways that are particularly infamous for their problems.

Quebec highway 75 from Quebec City to Chicoutimi is an example of a very dangerous highway. This highway has not been fixed and instead of fixing it, they have increased the policing to make sure people go real slow because the highway is deficient, not adequate and cannot handle the traffic.

In Alberta, highway 2 south and highway 1 east, which was designed for much less traffic than they experience now, cannot handle it.

Then, of course, there is the infamous highway 401 in Windsor where there have been so many tragic accidents. Even in the new territory of Nunavut, there is no road link and no highway system at all. This is an issue that goes coast to coast, involves every province and every territory.

When I was first assigned the duty of transport critic, I wrote every minister of transportation in every province and asked them what their number one problem was. Every single one of them who answered said that highway funding was the number one problem.

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:10 a.m.

An hon. member

Potholes.

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Potholes, right. Potholes on the road to the millennium.

The auditor general also agrees that it is the number one problem. He confirmed that it will take $17 billion to restore, not improve, our highway system to a standard that is acceptable.

Two years ago, the minister laid out highway spending as his number one priority. It has not happened. Nothing has happened. There have been Department of Transport studies and even Federation of Canadian Municipalities studies. A couple of years ago, the transport committee wrote a very indepth report stating that the highways needed a great deal of repair.

It is interesting that even the Liberal members of parliament, about a month ago, wrote a report called “Catching Tomorrow's Wave”, calling for government investment in highways. They condemned toll highways. These were written by Atlantic Canadian members of parliament. I do not know where they were when the Liberals were building these toll highways, but we did not hear anything from them then. Now they have discovered that those highways are not good for the economy and are not an appropriate way to fund highways.

Our number one competitor in the global economy has recognized the problem. The United States has just recently identified and dedicated $36 billion only over six years to improve the system.

Where we are is that we do not have a system at all. Our system is in disarray. Our highway funding system was abandoned years ago. Our competitors are getting ahead of us and that is where we are.

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:10 a.m.

An hon. member

Where's the gasoline tax in this?

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

My proposal is very simple and it does involve the gasoline and diesel tax. It amounts to dedicating 15% of the gas and diesel oil tax to a highway funding pool. This pool would be available to the provinces on the condition that they match it dollar for dollar. In this way, it is user pay because the taxes are only paid for by the people who buy gas and diesel oil. It will leave 85% for the Minister of Finance to put in general revenues. It will allow long term planning by the provinces so they can plan five, ten and fifteen years ahead and know they will have funding available.

A tax of 15% on gas and diesel fuel yields about $700 million a year. If that is matched with the provinces' equal contribution, it would come to about $1.4 billion a year to go into highways. Spread over 10 to 12 years, that would restore our highway system, our bridges and our main transportation system to the level it should be as identified by the auditor general.

It would not mean any new taxes. It would provide safe highways. It would make us globally competitive and would certainly address our transportation needs. User pay is politically acceptable. It is a great plan. It is nice and simple. I advocate this as my proposal.

Before I close my remarks, I wish everybody a merry Christmas and a happy new year to the staff, all members of parliament here today and all citizens watching on television.

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:15 a.m.

Thunder Bay—Atikokan Ontario

Liberal

Stan Dromisky LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Transport

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to discuss the issue of national highway policy.

The motion by the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester is another indication of the importance that Canadians attach to our national highway system. Indeed, the concern about Canada's surface transportation infrastructure is shared by all. Ensuring the mobility of persons and goods across Canada is critical to the quality of life for individual Canadians and to maintaining Canada's competitiveness in the global economy.

Historically the highway system has played a major role in the development of the Canadian economy. The recent Speech from the Throne credited our highway system, along with other achievements such as the national railway, the postal system and national cultural institutions, for providing the foundations for our quality of life.

The Prime Minister also touched on this aspect in his response to the Speech from the Throne. He mentioned that Canada has been characterized as a triumph of will over geography and economics. This is indeed true of Canada's surface transportation system. The building of the Trans-Canada Highway and the railway system are the most obvious examples.

Highways are indeed the backbone of Canada's transportation systems. Highways, roads and streets play a vital role in Canada's internal trade and international commerce, from the initial shipment of raw material to the delivery of final products to the market.

Studies show that highways support about 90% of all intercity passenger trips and 75% of Canadian freight shipments by value. Approximately 4.5 billion vehicle kilometres of this travel occur on the national highway system.

The importance of transportation to our industrial sector is indisputable. In particular, transportation represents a large portion of the export costs of traditional Canadian commodities; for example, 45% for coal exports and 30% for lumber exports.

We all know that highway infrastructure is very costly to build and maintain. We also are aware that the existing system is deteriorating rapidly and that rehabilitation costs will continue to rise the longer we delay our efforts.

The challenge before governments is to ensure a proper balance between a safe and efficient surface transportation system versus other competing government priorities. We need to acknowledge that significant benefits can be gained from such strategic investments.

The council of ministers responsible for transportation and highway safety commissioned a multi-year national highway policy study in 1987. This study established a national highway system, which accounts for approximately 24,400 kilometres of Canada's existing highways.

The study also concluded that the estimated cost of upgrading this national highway system amounted to approximately $14 billion in 1992.

In June 1997 a federal-provincial-territorial working group, again under the auspices of the council of ministers for transportation and highway safety, was formed to update the 1988 national highway policy study. The new study, entitled “National Highway System—Condition and Investment Needs Update”, was released in December 1998. The study found that federal-provincial-territorial governments had invested over $8 billion in capital improvements in the national highway system since 1988 and that annual expenditures on the system were currently twice the levels reported in 1988.

The study concluded that despite a doubling of annual expenditures in the last decade, and correction to some of the deficiencies of the system, the condition of the national highway system had not improved significantly. When measured against the same standards used in 1988, the length of the system judged to be deficient had increased by 30%.

The cost of correcting the identified current deficiencies of the national highway system was estimated at $17.4 billion in 1998, an increase of over $3 billion in less than 10 years.

In support of increased funding to rehabilitate the national highway system, the study provided an indication of the benefits that would accrue from an upgraded highway system. Over a 25 year horizon, the expected present values of benefits of the highway system investment program were estimated to exceed $30 billion, comprised of $22 billion in travel time savings, $5.8 billion in highway safety improvements, $2.9 billion in reduced vehicle operating costs and $1.3 billion in network benefits.

Reduced congestion and improved highway conditions could be expected to reduce the number of fatal traffic accidents by up to 247 per year and injury accidents by up to 16,000 per year.

Improving the national highway system would also be expected to reduce fuel consumption by up to 236 million litres per year.

The study further indicated that a review of literature and international experience provided strong evidence that investment in highways can generate significant productivity growth and support economic development.

Although they have jurisdictional responsibility over most of the national highway system, the provinces and territories have indicated that their governments cannot fully fund the repairs and improvements that are urgently needed. They have asked the federal government for financial assistance to help preserve and develop the existing highway system. This is something which I know the Minister of Transport has been seriously studying.

At the recent annual conference in Quebec City in August, premiers and territorial leaders called on the federal government to initiate an infrastructure improvement program in which highways would be a major component.

The August 11 communique enunciated six principles for an infrastructure investment program. The premiers and territorial leaders indicated that infrastructure investment should be flexible enough to address other transportation priorities, such as trade corridors, border crossings, intermodal facilities, urban transit and intelligent transportation systems.

In his August 11 press release in response, the Minister of Transport welcomed the agreement by the premiers and territorial leaders on the development and maintenance of a strong infrastructure base, with transportation as a key component. He indicated that the development of a strategy to renew Canada's national transportation infrastructure in a sustainable fashion has been a top priority for him.

The minister agreed that governments should look beyond the rehabilitation of key highways of national significance. He also agreed with the need to address other transportation issues, such as those identified by the premiers and territorial leaders.

Discussions concerning highway investments have also taken place at the federal level. In June 1996 the Standing Committee on Transport received a reference from the House of Commons to study the economic relationship, efficiencies and linkages among transportation, trade and tourism.

Recognizing that highway transportation will remain the dominant mode in support of Canada's economic activities, the committee chose to focus primarily on the renewal of our national highway system and its relationship to trade and tourism.

In its final report, submitted in February 1997, the Standing Committee on Transport recommended that the federal government make a long term commitment of at least the current level of annual federal expenditures on highways to finance a national highway renewal program.

Members on both sides of the House know that the issue of tolls has been a major concern for the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester. I would like to inform the House that a great deal of work has been done on this issue this past summer.

Officials from Transport Canada have been exploring with their provincial and territorial counterparts the terms and conditions of a proposed highway toll policy that would be applicable when the federal government contributes to a particular highway project. If and when federal highway funding becomes available, the minister would be prepared to outline a policy on tolls.

As the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester is aware, the recent Speech from the Throne announced a five year infrastructure program to improve physical infrastructure in both urban and rural regions across Canada. The Speech from the Throne clearly identified transportation infrastructure as a component of this program, but it is too early in the process to speculate on details. What is quite evident is that the $17 billion needs of the national highway system are far in excess of what the federal and provincial governments can collectively address.

Furthermore, when combined with the needs for other infrastructure programs, such as roads, bridges, transit, sewer, water, tourism and so on, funding requirements for the entire system are really significant.

Both the Speech from the Throne and the Prime Minister's speech in response stressed the need for collaboration as the issues facing our diverse society grow in their complexity. The Prime Minister stated that the role of a national government today is to represent the future to the present. It is to focus on those areas where it can make a real difference.

The development and maintenance of a strong basic infrastructure, as well as a knowledge infrastructure, is a key component of a competitive economy for the 21st century. All aspects of the infrastructure plan must be well planned to meet the needs of the modern economy.

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:25 a.m.

Reform

Val Meredith Reform South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 102, presented by my hon. colleague from Cumberland—Colchester.

I appreciate the sentiment of my colleague's motion, but I really do not think it goes far enough. It views our highway system as a parochial system. Going into a new century, we have to look at what is really needed, and that is a seamless, integrated, continental transportation policy. Canada has to be a player in the development of that policy. There is no doubt that highways are a key component of this integrated transportation continental system.

I am a little concerned. Once again we have heard the parliamentary secretary speak about the studies; the years of studies that governments, provincial and federal, have been doing. I believe that Canadians want us to stop the studies. We have all the information that we need. Let us get on with improving our highway system.

Our Trans-Canada Highway is the counterpart for the American interstate highway program. The commitment that the U.S. federal government has made to its highway program is in the neighbourhood of $218 billion over six years, and it is financing the program through gas taxes.

In our country the government does not transfer the revenues that are collected through gas taxes to the transportation system, to the highway system and to the users, the people who pay the tax to the system they use.

We are talking about commercial traffic, which has increased, as my colleague has said, 300 times or 30 times or 3 times. The number is irrelevant. The system is gridlocked because of the increase in commercial traffic. It is not only commercial traffic; it is also tourist traffic. In Canada we encourage tourism. It is one of our largest industries. Tourists must be able to access those things that we are selling. There is growth in commercial traffic, there is growth in tourist traffic, and the government is studying the issue.

We need to talk about reality. Government last year collected $4.5 billion in gas tax, but it spent only $150 million on highways. That is 3% of the revenue that was generated.

Our current highway system is dilapidated and dangerous. When polled, 83% of Canadians identified safety as the number one issue when talking about the national highway system. They feel that their personal safety is at risk when they travel our national highways. That is a shame.

We only have to look at Highway 17, which is 30 miles west of Ottawa. It is part of our national highway system. It is called the killer strip because of all the fatal accidents that happen at the point where the lanes go from four to two.

In February 1997, when considering the national highway renewal strategy, the transport committee found that upgrading the system would reduce traffic fatalities by 4% and prevent an additional 2,300 personal injury accidents. If we were to transpose that into our health care system, the savings would be astronomical.

The report states that every dollar invested in safety related road improvements would save $2.70 in crash costs. That is not in health costs; that is in crash costs.

For six years the government has been talking about infrastructure, but rather than putting money into our transportation infrastructure it chose to put the money into such things as recreational facilities like bocce courts.

Now I ask, how does a bocce court give a foundation to the economic well-being of our country? It is nice to have those recreation facilities and they are needed in communities, but the priority of the federal government should not be in recreation facilities. It should be in maintaining and improving our national highway system which leads into a continental highway system and which increases our economic output and the economic stability of our country.

Highways are not just pavement. They are an integral part of our economy and the continental economy we have developed through the free trade agreement and NAFTA.

It is getting to the point where the government can no longer delay. I was at a conference in Niagara. There was great concern over the congestion in that part of Ontario that services the free trade agreement and NAFTA commerce over the Ambassador Bridge, the Peace Bridge, Fort Erie and all those areas. The gridlock that is occurring in that part of Ontario around Toronto, Sarnia and Windsor is starting to create not only hazards but delays and congestion that costs all of us consumers money.

It is also costing the environment. When trucks are lined up trying to go over a bridge or trying to get from point A to point B , they are idling and putting a lot of emissions into the air. I would think that from an environmental point of view improving our highways would certainly be advantageous.

Part of our transportation system also includes urban areas. That congestion in urban areas has to be dealt with as well. Highway 401 is one of the busiest stretches, if not the busiest highway in the world. Traffic has increased dramatically, especially the truck traffic, but the infrastructure has not increased or changed at all.

A person can now drive from Toronto to Miami and hit only 14 stoplights. Thirteen of them are in Windsor. If we could spend some energy on trying to get that flow of traffic going, I am sure the economic benefits to our country would be enormous.

The government announced in its throne speech that it was finally going to do something, but it is talking about spending the next year, 2000, talking to the various players and the provinces before it actually does anything or spends any money. That is not good enough.

It is time that the federal government sat down with provincial and municipal governments and worked out an integrated, seamless, transportation policy that includes all levels of government and the various modes of transportation. We need to think planes, trains and automobiles as well as ships and put them all into one transportation policy. We need to figure out how they can enhance each other, how they can be made more efficient and how they can operate on a continental basis rather than on a country basis.

That is why we in the official opposition are calling for the federal government to work with the provinces, the municipalities and the private sector, as well as our NAFTA partners to plan, to implement and to figure out some way of funding a seamless, integrated continental transportation system for the 21st century.

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois on Motion No. 102 put forward by the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester.

First, I want to say that this motion should be deemed admissible only if it is agreed that Quebec would oversee the new policy being promoted in the motion.

Quebec has a comprehensive transportation policy with very specific priorities and goals. Members may remember the meeting of Canada's premiers held in Quebec City last autumn and hosted by the premier of Quebec, Lucien Bouchard. The premiers unanimously agreed to ask the federal government to start reinvesting in a national highway strategy. They did not ask the federal government to intrude in areas of provincial jurisdiction but only wanted Ottawa to do its share where the national highway system is concerned.

Some of the highways in my area of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean lead outside our region. I am referring to highway 175 as well as highway 169 in the Parc des Laurentides. I have often put questions to the Minister of Transport in this House and I have sent him letters asking him to reinvest in this national highway.

Since 1996 the Canadian government has refused to renew the strategic highway improvement program. In Quebec, half of the costs of this program were covered by the province and the other half by the federal government. Ottawa did not renew its financial contribution.

Like the former Quebec transport minister, Jacques Brassard, and the current Quebec transport minister, Guy Chevrette, I have asked the transport minister again and again to renew the program. Each time, the Minister of Transport's answer was that we needed a national agreement. There was national agreement at the last meeting of the premiers and leaders of the territories.

I do not understand why this government always ignores every region's concerns about the infrastructure necessary for regional development.

Many years ago, this government stopped subsidizing the railways. What happened? An increasing number of heavy trucks travel our highways. Heavy trucks crowd our highways. Access is more difficult and there are fewer opportunities because our system was not really designed to handle the effects of globalization, as I said, in the Parc des Laurentides.

This government withdrew its financial support for railways, airports and shipping. What happened? All major firms are now shipping their products by truck.

Highways are under provincial jurisdiction. This government withdrew from an area where it should have been working with the provinces.

I think the proposal is the obvious solution but I encourage the member to demand that the government let the provinces implement the agreement, which is part of his proposal.

We will have to stop thinking that the government has the authority to intrude in all areas under provincial jurisdiction. Ottawa needs to understand what the provinces expect from it. It collects taxes in each and every province, so it needs to contribute to highway improvement.

I must say that I will support the proposal provided the provinces are in charge of its implementation. I hope the government will listen to us. In 1998, all provincial transport ministers submitted a five-year proposal to the federal Minister of Transport. It was a comprehensive proposal whereby, over a five-year period, the federal government and the provinces would have invested $16 billion in a joint national highway building and improvement plan.

Once again, the government, through the Minister of Transport, told the provinces that they would have to talk to their finance ministers and their premiers. It is always the same old song we get from the government through the Minister of Transport.

As we move toward the new millennium, the government is bragging about the astronomical surpluses it is expecting after slashing transfers to the provinces and bleeding the middle class dry. It has refused to index the tax tables. It grabbed the EI surpluses, which actually belong to workers and employers.

I think the federal government must start acting and stop prevaricating constantly adding new conditions to the legitimate and justifiable requests of the provinces and the population of this country.

I hope this motion will serve as a wake-up call to the government, whose ears must be stopped up. I think it is normal and that the provinces ought to have full jurisdiction. Then and only then will I be able to support the motion of my hon. colleague.

I want to take the opportunity to wish all my hon. colleagues in this House and everyone listening to the debate a happy new year and a very pleasant holiday season.

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I commend my hon. colleague from Cumberland—Colchester on his motion. Numerous members have talked today about the substandard highways we are dealing with and about the disrepair of our highways, that it is going to take $17 billion to bring them back to where they should be. For example, there should be four lanes when the traffic warrants so we do not have the killer highway that is just outside of Ottawa.

There is no question that people nationwide realize there is a problem. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has been pushing to have dollars go into a national highway policy as well as into assistance with other infrastructure and highways throughout the country. The government has failed to do that.

This is another area in which the government lacks any vision whatsoever. It lacks any sound vision as to where Canada should be going. It is literally letting the nation fall apart in front of us with the underfunding of health care, the underfunding of education, with the EI surplus where dollars have been taken away from the EI fund and from the unemployed, those not able to get enough work. Money has been taken from the Canada pension plan. The government sings its praises on a wonderful surplus but fails to put anything back into the country.

The hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester indicates it would be done with the partnership of the provinces. I do not think there is any question that if we are going to have a nation where the people can go from one end to the other, whether it be north, south, east, west, in any direction they choose to go, they need to feel comfortable and safe when they are travelling our highway system. They want to know that when they go through Saskatchewan there will be safe roads, that when they hit Manitoba they can continue on the same. They do not want to hit that provincial boundary and say, “Now we are going through New Brunswick, we are going to hit a toll highway, we are going to have to pay for it and my taxpayer dollars have already done that”.

They want to know that highway is safe. In order to not pay to go on that highway they will have to go on an unsafe road.

Canadians deserve to feel safe throughout the country, and they have in the past, but over the last 10 or 15 years it has gradually deteriorated. The point I want to make in that regard is it started during the time that the party of the member for Cumberland—Colchester was the government of the country. It failed to put funding in place as well. I do not want him to feel that it is all hunky-dory and rosy on his side over there and just blame it on the other side because they are both at fault.

Both those parties have failed when they had the opportunity to ensure that funding was there. If they want to use the gas taxes, by all means let them do it. In the past my party and I have not supported dedicated taxes. However, government time and time again does not put dollars into services and infrastructure. Then we start to think that we need legislation which says the government has to put money there. It will have to do that. It has failed to show Canadian people a true commitment to providing for the country, to ensuring that the dollars are going where they should be going.

Canadians do not argue about paying taxes. I do not know about the people here, but if I pay my taxes and education is there, health care is there, and we have decent roads and decent services, we will not hear Canadians complaining. They do not mind paying for what they get.

We all work hard and we do not want everything for nothing. We will pay our taxes but we want services in return. When our money goes to the federal government and we do not get it back in any kind of service that is when we get disgruntled. That is when we get parties like the Reform Party saying “Scrap the taxes. Scrap everything”.

What did the hon. member from the Reform Party say? No money is to go into recreational facilities. Can hon. members imagine putting no money into recreational facilities? It is common knowledge that every dollar spent in recreational facilities for youth in our communities will save $7 in the future on problems that may result from children not having somewhere to go and getting into lives of crime because they do not have things to do. When they become adults a good number of them will end up in jail because they did not have enough things to do when they were younger. This blanket statement of no funding for recreational facilities is wrong.

We need a cohesive country where we have dollars supporting all these different programs: infrastructure, recreational facilities, highways and post-secondary education. We need funding in all those areas.

Although I commend the hon. member and support his motion, I wanted to make those points. We had a much similar debate just a few weeks ago with the suggestion of dedicated taxes. As I said, the problems are there. There is probably about a $17 billion cost to improve our national highway structure. We certainly need a national highway policy and we need a national transportation policy. There is no question. We heard it all here today. With all of us knowing it, surely some good can come out of the discussion we have had over and over again and we will see the government make a real commitment to the country.

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, this is the last day of the 1900s and to end it in Private Members' Business with a discussion on roads is one of the most significant moments in this parliament, because this parliament has demonstrated throughout this century that it is one of the finest political institutions in the world and one of the most democratic.

With the permission of the member for Cumberland—Colchester, I would like to make a few remarks that pertain more to the end of the millennium than they do to roads. Some years ago I found myself alone travelling in Tunisia and I came across a ruined Roman city in the mountains, right on the edge of the mountains in Tunisia, next to the desert. This city probably had a population of about 20,000 or 30,000 and it was far more dramatic than Pompeii.

For those Canadians who may have travelled in north Africa, they will know that the Roman ruins and Roman cities are very well preserved in north Africa. One can actually walk down the streets of these cities and feel as though one is back 2,000 years, because the streets are there, the shops are there and the aqueducts are there. The only thing that is missing is the people.

I point out that 2,000 years ago the world was not that much different than it is today. In fact, there are eerie coincidences between the state of the world 2,000 years ago and the state we find the world in today. I point out that at that time, the time of the city that I walked through, Rome ruled the world. Rome was the superpower and from Rome it ruled all the civilized world. Roman culture was everywhere.

I point out that we have the same type of situation now, 2,000 years later, when we have another superpower, the United States, that not only is its political influence felt everywhere but so too is its cultural influence. That was precisely the situation that existed 2,000 years ago.

Indeed Rome was known for its military might. Not only was it tremendously far advanced in the military technology of the day, in the type of weapons the Roman soldiers used and the catapults and the other kinds of siege weapons that the Romans had developed, but it had a tremendous martial spirit so the quality of its soldiers was what basically kept the peace in the world of 2,000 years ago.

We cannot help but be struck by the parallel that the United States again has a similar military power, an all pervasive military power. Yet we have to remember that pervasive military power has been tested, as it was later in Rome, in places like Yugoslavia and Somalia.

What has been found, as was the case 2,000 years ago, is that all the military technology in the world does not save a nation when it has problems with its soldiers losing the esprit de corps, shall we say, and that happened in Rome. We see that again happening in the former Yugoslavia and Somalia where despite all the technology the Americans and the United Nations, if you will, were not able to control the type of independence movement that occurred in these countries. Indeed, that is precisely what happened in the Roman world.

Then we had a kind of global free trade 2,000 years ago.

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:50 a.m.

Reform

Val Meredith Reform South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order to ask a question of relevance here. If this individual is speaking on a national highway's program, I fail to see the connection.

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I understand the hon. member's point of order but, as the hon. member said earlier, he has the contentment of the member for Cumberland—Colchester to deviate a bit from the subject.

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

I am sorry that the Reform Party takes such an attitude when this is a very historic moment. I will go quickly through it.

Two thousand years ago global free trade existed. It is what we had in the Roman world, tremendous prosperity because based on Rome the entire world was in a situation where trade was centred on Rome and Rome became very wealthy but prosperity existed all around the Mediterranean rim.

I suggest to you, Madam Speaker, we have precisely the same situation now. We remember what happened to Rome. Eventually global free trade in Roman times collapsed. I suggest to you, Madam Speaker, we have to remember as we go into the next millennium that what we see before us in terms of global free trade is only temporary. We should be worried as Canadians and people of the world of the consequences when eventually global free trade collapses in this world in this millennium. We will see it, I am sure, in the coming years.

We also have the parallel of climate change. Two thousand years ago in the Roman world in north Africa the desert was green. Of course the reason why the cities are empty in north Africa is that there was a major climate change that occurred after the year 2000.

Finally is the parallel and so singular between 2,000 years ago and today is the fact that 2,000 years ago there was a vacuum in religion. There was a vacuum in organized religion. They accepted gods as being set aside for the rationalism of Hellenistic Greece, of Aristotle. We know that the world as it existed then had fragmented into cults and we know then that led to the foundation 2,000 years ago of two great religions, because 2,000 years ago was the birth of Jesus Christ and a few centuries later Muhammad arrived on the scene and we now, 2,000 years later, have two great religions of the world.

I just wanted to take note that we are entering into the new millennium. It is an exciting new millennium and I think that this country of all the countries is the best suited for it because we leave this century stronger than when we began. I believe our democracy and this parliament has demonstrated with the civility of our debate, even in the independence questions, that we are a model to the rest of the world and that we stand the best chances—

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:55 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester.

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, again we have switched Speakers. I welcome you back to the chair. I want to say how pleased and honoured I am to be sponsoring the last private member's motion of the century. It is even called Motion No. 102. Highway 102 goes through my riding, which is kind of coincidental.

The hon. member for Wentworth—Burlington questioned whether his speech was relevant. He was talking about the roads of 2,000 years ago. I thought that was relevant because a lot of the time when I am on the highways in Nova Scotia they feel as if they are 2,000 years old, considering the condition they are in. That is why we are here today to talk about a federal-provincial funding program for highways.

As a coincidence, in my previous presentation I talked about toll highways. While I was speaking, the new premier of New Brunswick, the honourable Bernard Lord, announced that he agreed in principle with the highway development company, Maritime Road Development, the company of former minister Doug Young. They have agreed in principle to take the tolls off the New Brunswick roads which is a big step, considering the auditor general's reports both federally and provincially are against this concept. That leaves Nova Scotia with the only toll highway left on the Trans-Canada Highway.

During some of the comments I was thinking that there should be a caution sign at the beginning of any toll highway in Nova Scotia for politicians that reads tolls can be hazardous to our health. In New Brunswick the Liberals put tolls on the Trans-Canada Highway and they were soundly defeated in the next election. In Nova Scotia the Liberals put tolls on a highway and in the next election they were soundly defeated. In Nova Scotia there were 11 federal Liberal MPs before the last election and they were all defeated. A government should be very careful before it puts tolls on highways in Canada.

I want to come back to the point that we definitely need a highway funding program. We need a national transportation system program that the provinces and all parties involved can use for long range planning; predicting the future; planning their communities, their routes, safety issues and certainly pollution issues; and planning all other things that are appropriate.

As I said in the motion, because of our geography it is of the utmost importance for Canada to have a proper transportation system, especially a national highway system. It should be a priority, as the minister has said over and over again, but he has not done anything about it.

In closing this debate we urge the minister to make it a priority and actually do something about it because there is a total vacuum of transportation policy with respect to our national highway system.

I thank all colleagues from all parties for participating in the debate. I really appreciate it. We have heard some excellent debate and some excellent ideas. I wish one and all a merry Christmas and a happy new year and a great century.

National Highway PolicyPrivate Members' Business

10:55 a.m.

The Speaker

The time provided for consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. The order is dropped from the order paper.

CanadaStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, as we prepare to close down, I would like to wish a happy holiday to all the people of Canada.

In particular, I would like to invite the sovereignists to take the time to reflect, more specifically to reflect on this opportunity and privilege we all have to live in such a great country, such a free country, a county with so much to be shared, to reflect on the reality, recognized the world over, of Canada's strengths: economic, social and cultural.

My wish to the sovereignists is that they may open their eyes and realize, finally, that our freedom is a treasure, one we must guard jealously, for fear of losing it forever.

I wish the sovereignists a happy holiday season.

Festival Of Eid Ul-FitrStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Reform

Deepak Obhrai Reform Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, since early December, Muslims in Canada have been fasting during this month of Ramadan, a month of blessing marked by prayers and charity.

I have had the honour of joining in the celebrations over the years. The Muslim community has made a tremendous contribution in enriching Canada. Their involvement with other Canadians in academic, professional, artistic and cultural sectors is what has helped make Canada the number one country in the world.

Ramadan ends with the Festival of Eid Ul-Fitr which means breaking the fast. Eid is celebrated after the sighting of the new crescent on the previous evening. As Eid falls in January and the House of Commons will be closed, I take this opportunity on behalf of the Leader of the Official Opposition and members of the Reform Party to wish all Muslims “Eid Mubarak”.

I would also like to extend to all Canadians season's greetings, and on the dawn of the new millennium, our best wishes.