Madam Speaker, the government has brought in legislation, at a very suspicious time in our electoral process, with little to no hope of it getting passed through. It raises a suspicion of electioneering at a time when the west coast of Canada needs sound investment and a sound strategy to actually achieve the status on international trade that we have talked about in this place for many years but have done little to support.
The Pacific gateway strategy, Bill C-68, which has been a long time coming and which was thrown together and presented on the west coast with little chance of making it through this House, leads one to all levels of suspicion. While the intent of the bill is perhaps good, the timing erodes any confidence that Canadians should have in the government's attempt to, as the Prime Minister put it, finally end western alienation as a mark of his prime ministership. I would suggest that once again he has failed the west coast, British Columbians and Canadians in general.
With respect to the vitality of these ports and shipping routes, few Canadians realize that shipping a product from central Canada or the United States via the northern route, in particular, through the Port of Prince Rupert, is three days shorter than any other known route on the continent right now. In terms of saving time, energy and money for Canadian businesses and for our American partners who want to join with us in manufacturing, this is the route to go and yet for almost three decades the Port of Prince Rupert has had to struggle to get the attention that we finally got by, I would suggest, potentially electing a New Democrat to the region, enabling the government to pay some attention, at long last, to invest in the container port in Prince Rupert. Now we have Bill C-68, which is too little too late.
I previously asked the minister what interest he had in participating in the region where much of this line through this so-called Pacific gateway will pass, a region that has been plagued by the boom and bust cycle of much of the resourced-based economies in Canada, the inability to attract the proper investment for secondary manufacturing, the inability to attract the political will to solve some of the problems that affect the region, the province and, as such, the entire country. I would point to the softwood lumber dispute, bugwood and a number of other issues that the government has found a way to ignore in its time in office.
Infrastructure in British Columbia has been neglected for a number of years. Report after report has shown us that. Whether it is the infrastructure in the lower mainland, whether it is some of the transportation around the province or the main corridors of transportation, such as the one we are talking about today through the northwest of British Columbia, we know that neglect has held Canadian productivity back and has held our ability back to truly access the Asian markets in a meaningful way.
The bill was introduced late, without a lot of specifics but with a lot of fanfare. The Auditor General recently handed down a report that the government has a penchant and excitement for announcements but is often gone before the confetti hits the floor. The actual rolling out of its decisions and strategies is a long time in coming, if we ever see them at all.
The actions this past year in the Port of Vancouver by the Trucking Associations and independent truckers show how susceptible the facilities are and how close we are with our transportation in this country to near and total shutdown. The government is unwilling to step in and start to make the investments and alleviate some of the problems that are happening in our transportation corridor. In a heartbeat we could lose that connection to the rest of the world. One of the key advantages we have in British Columbia and in this country is our incredible and close access to some of the greatest and strongest growing markets in the world.
As we explore these markets, what is also seemingly to be absent is that when our trade delegations are here in Canada, before leaving for places like China, they are strong on the human rights and environmental front and yet when they arrive in Asia Pacific, when they arrive in China, nought is to be seen. There is no improvement on the human rights issue within China. There is no official talk and calling into question the human rights abuses that go on.
A Chinese state-owned firm run by a Communist, a completely non-transparent government, recently made a proposition to buy the Noranda Company in Canada, one of our major resource companies, with nary a word of concern in the House from the government benches.
We have opened the doors to 11,500 foreign acquisitions and counting without one concept that one of those deals may actually have been bad for the people of Canada. What an incredible string of good luck. The government is suggesting that acquisition after acquisition by foreign companies, and in this case, a Communist foreign government, our government's wide open door policy is in listening to Bay Street rather than main street, reigns supreme again.
In terms of transportation, we are the only G-8 country that has no long term sustainable national highways program. We do not see the concept of actually investing strategically in our highway systems to improve on efficiency and lower some of the pollution and congestion that Canadians face every day. The government has had no real interest for 13 years and counting, unfortunately, in developing a strategy and engaging the provinces and the municipalities that are in such desperate need. Instead it makes announcements, such as the gas tax rebate, that are gone before the confetti hits the floor. We wait for the details but they never come.
The United States just committed $270 billion to improving its highway system. In Canada the silence is deafening as to how we are going to improve the efficiency and the capacity of our transportation system.
As many of the previous speakers have pointed out, the bill is very short on details . It contains broad sweeping terms about a strategy, as if somehow the idea of Asian markets and moving Canadian goods to Asian markets is new to the government, so it should set up committees to look at where the investments should be.
After so many years in office, after so many articles written and after so many delegations, team Canada trips, et cetera, now the Liberals introduce a bill to the Canadian people that is short on specifics with some notion of setting up a committee with a budget of something like $35 million to, I assume, take trips. We are meant to believe that appointments to the committee will be based on merit. I suggest that one of the key merits will be, among others, participation in the Liberal Party of Canada.The record of the government in terms of appointing people through the patronage system is deplorable at best.
The confidence we are meant to feel in the committee that will be in charge of the $35 million budget initially and then in an increased budget of $400 million in deciding where the funding spending is actually going, will be anything but transparent. It will be anything but an ethical progress through putting good decision makers in key roles to help this country. I will be very curious as to what the expenditures of the committee are going to be to rack up $7 million, particularly if there is any patronage involved whatsoever.
Skeena—Bulkley Valley, the region I represent, is the terminus point for this investment. The plans for the container port and many other port facilities within the region are the first spark of hope in a region that has experienced a loss of almost half of the population of the city. It experienced 20% and upwards unemployment rates which is absolutely devastating. It is devastating not just on the economic front, but on the social front, on the community's cohesion and on the ability to raise children in the confidence they will be able to progress through their entire education in one place. All of that has been put under threat over the last number of years. Now we have a spark of hope that this community can raise its head with confidence and pride and march forward.
The question is whether the government is willing to participate with all the other communities down the line in northwestern British Columbia who have experienced equally, if not worse, economic conditions. I was recently in Hazelton, British Columbia, a very small, beautiful, picturesque town that has consistently had upwards of 80% unemployment over the last seven years, numbers that are staggering, incomprehensible to most Canadians, and yet these people have been surviving in whatever way they could over the last number of years and now the opportunity arrives of a major corridor passing through.
My office has been working with community groups to help coordinate the conversation that has been long overdue. If this container port proceeds, which it will, and if this major transportation corridor receives the investment from the federal coffers that it should, how will communities like Hazelton benefit? How is it that they will finally start to diversify their economy? How is it that their children will start to feel that sense of hope that they can potentially live, thrive and survive in this community and potentially raise their own families and start to create that growth that is so desperately needed in a region that has just gone through boom after bust after boom after bust?
During the take note debate on the softwood lumber dispute last week the government rattled its sabre again and said how NAFTA should be respected. The Conservative Party's solution was to send a special envoy, its solution to a debate that has raged on while our American counterparts refuse to accept the deal that they signed.
The residents in my region are wondering at what point the government will get serious about the softwood lumber dispute. My constituents want the government to use the tools that we know will bring that issue home to the voters in the United States, which will then bring that issue home to the Congress and the Senate to actually get the Bush administration moving toward some sort of fairness. The U.S. government claims fairness but never moves toward it.
Instead we get the suggestion of a special envoy from the Conservatives, a vague notion of something that has little or no consequence in the circles of power in Washington. From the Liberal Party of Canada, the party that is supposed to be championing this, we get radio addresses rattling the swords but no actual concrete action to end this travesty in our trade relations.
The mountain pine beetle has been absolutely crushing to the economy of the interior of British Columbia and the northwest region of British Columbia. This infestation now has the potential to move over the Rocky Mountains into the boreal forests and perhaps it finally will get the attention in this place that it deserves. To truly diversify these economies that have been affected by bugwood they will need major investments.
These are proud and hard-working people who simply want the tools to facilitate their own growth and future prosperity. These people are not looking for handouts or government largesse. They want to do the work to put their communities back on their feet and get moving but they need the attention of the government which has focused other ways.
We saw a collapse in the sockeye fishery earlier this year, an industry that is increasingly important to the people on the west coast, but the government was not present on the issue. We made some small suggestions in order to keep the boats on the water for next season. Hope springs eternal in the mind of the fishing fleet in British Columbia despite the continued mismanagement of the fishery by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The government was completely absent from the issue. It paid no attention whatsoever in any meaningful kind of way. We are seeking local control of that fishery. We have proposed a number of options so the government can save some face. These options that would allow the people of the northwest to realize the prosperity that they need.
At some point we must decide as a nation, and I think my region is actually representative of this, to no longer simply be the hewers of wood and drawers of water. As a nation we need to make those key investments that our counterparts in the other developed nations of the world have continuously made over the last number of decades.
We can no longer rely on a low Canadian dollar and high commodity prices. We need to build together as a nation the investments that are required for those communities to rise up and to avoid the boom and bust cycles that are absolutely devastating to these small towns and communities right across the country. We need to make the investments that make sense.
Will there be an on and off ramp on this major highway going to the Asia Pacific and the mid-west and mid-eastern United States and Canada? Will there be access and opportunity? When I asked the minister this question I received a vague answer, which is similar to the bill. He said, “We encourage...it is interesting...of some note”. We need specifics.
The people of western Canada, of British Columbia, of central and eastern Canada, of Quebec and the Maritimes needed specifics. They needed to know that the government was moving and progressing toward a very specific and concrete strategy to get this off the ground. After 13 years in power it is as if the government just woke up to the idea that trade with Asia was important enough to invest in key and critical places, rather than setting up a potential patronage committee of five to seven members who will be making recommendations over some years. All of this is in a bill that was introduced a few weeks before the House rises for the Christmas break and potential prorogation, if one were to listen to the rumours flying about this place, but with no serious intent of the legislation being passed.
The government made no serious attempt to introduce the legislation at a time when this could have seen the light of day and could have come before this House for a vote. The committee could then have had enough time to hear the witnesses and experts to find out whether the bill was too vague or whether it was strong enough to actually support the investment.
I asked the minister some specific questions on security measures that are important to the port of Prince Rupert. It has been asking, for a number of months, that the investments made by the different investors in Canada and North America would be held secure, that security would be held on a level playing field with the other ports in Canada. Again, I received a vague answer back. It is very disconcerting and very difficult for those people in the northwest of British Columbia to feel confidence.
We are talking about the diversification of our economy and the inclusion of the communities in a meaningful way. I will be calling upon the government to support the efforts in the northwest for the communities to actually participate. They could help design this project and help design the container port and the routes that CN is building, so that they may actually access this and receive the investments from the massive EI surplus that the government sloughs every year into general revenue.
This remains a disgrace and a blight in this country. It remains an issue that absolutely cuts to the heart of where the interests actually lie, whether it is fairness for employees and employers or is some sort of piggybank that the government can keep going back to while regions like Hazelton, Prince Rupert, Kitimat and Terrace suffer without the proper investments that were collected on their behalf to ensure that the education and training would be there for them when it is needed.
We need to actually attract those manufacturing facilities, those secondary manufacturing places, so that the resources that we have--and we often forget that the resources are ours. There is a mantra in British Columbia politics right now that is not a right or a left; it is a debate about who these resources actually belong to, the water, the minerals, the wood of this country. Who do they belong to? Do they belong to a multinational firm making a bid on it or do they belong to the people of Canada? Do they belong to every resident within this country?
If the government actually acted that way when it was dealing with foreign acquisitions and dealing with foreign governments in attracting that type of investment, a pride would be present in those negotiations and a confidence that all Canadians would feel about this endowment, this blessing that we have, to be born in this country with the resources that are available to us. We do not want an open-door policy where a come one, come all, lowest bidder, lowest common denominator will have access to everything that we have been endowed with.
This has to fundamentally change. We need to address our trading partners. We need to look to foreign governments that have an interest in participating here with a certain sense of confidence that there is something here that they want. If there is something here that they want, they must negotiate with us on our terms. They must be willing to negotiate with us on human rights issues. They must be willing to negotiate with us on environmental standards.
Perhaps the government has a certain level of shame in this and does not want to bring an issue like human rights to the table because we have the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister condemning the new Iranian president's comments on Israel while at the same time deporting people to that very same government, participating with the United States and deporting people to places like Syria.
What record do we have to stand on when it comes to the environment, when report after report comes out locating Canada near the bottom of the pack when it comes to the performance of developed countries? Perhaps the government feels a certain amount of shame, then, bringing up those issues with our foreign competitors and our foreign partners. Maybe we finally hit upon the reason why they are often exempt from this discussion in any kind of a meaningful way.
The timing of this is suspect. I looked through the bill and the first nations consultation is near to absent. There is one small place for first nations and 30% of the people in my riding are first nations. The courts have spoken time and time again about the need to consult in a meaningful dialogue with first nations prior to any major development, any major action happening within their territory and yet, when I look through this bill, it is near to absent.
When I talk about first nations representatives within my region, they are considered at the very end of the process, as opposed to up front in a meaningful way. It seems the government has a hard time catching up with some of the fundamental decisions that have been made in this land, Sparrow, Delgamuukw and the rest.
There needs to be a true exchange. There needs to be a recognition that the resources that we are talking about, and are so often called upon to sacrifice to is ours. This is our place. This is our country. These are our resources. When we develop links like this, they must be done in a transparent way, where the people of Canada feel ownership over the development, where all peoples of Canada feel an empowerment to directing the government.
Introducing a bill at a very suspicious time prior to an election with little chance of the normal passage and with the government paying attention to a very key trade and western issue happens at a time that leads us to great suspicion at this end of the House.