Madam Speaker, I am proud to speak to Bill C-68, an act to develop Canada's Pacific gateway. As we have heard from many of my colleagues in the Conservative Party, we do support this initiative.
I would like to speak to the bill on two fronts, first, as a representative from the west, and second, as the official opposition infrastructure critic, and address some of the challenges I still see that we need to address in moving forward.
As many Canadians know, the opening of the west has been an important part of Canadian history, from the development of the railroads to the building of the Trans-Canada Highway. For the Conservative Party and myself from Edmonton--Strathcona, it is paramount that the west not only receives fair treatment from Ottawa but also the respect it deserves. Unfortunately, we have seen over a decade of Liberal rule that the federal government is really out of touch with the west.
We are looking at initiatives of how to strengthen this gateway. My colleague from Cambridge asked the parliamentary secretary about the funding and the lack of funding. The greatest accomplishment of the public safety minister, who is a Liberal from Alberta, is the gun registry, for which I think most Canadians would agree we have seen no value. The $2 billion from that program could have helped fund the initiatives required in this particular project.
The whole gun registry is a scheme to register the long guns of duck hunters while the Liberals totally ignore the underlying causes of crime, such as drugs and gangs. If the Liberals did have respect for the west, they would go after these sorts of problems instead of focusing all the feigned outrage on western hunters who simply wish to share this unique experience of hunting with their children. If the government were in touch, we would see initiatives such as this actually being funded properly.
Canadians living west of Kenora realize that the Liberals are out of touch. This is why they continually, election after election, select a majority of Conservatives to represent them here in Parliament. It is something that I think Canadians in central and eastern Canada are also realizing. In the last election, Canadians overwhelmingly moved their vote away from the Liberals to other parties, namely the Conservatives who were the recipients of that benefit in Ontario and Atlantic Canada. In the next election, I think the Liberals will finally realize what Canadians already know. They will find that Canadians do not want an arrogant, tired, corrupt Liberal government that specializes in playing regions against each other. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that the Liberals have not yet learned.
We can take this bill as an example. It is a clear, unabashed attempt to win votes for the Liberal Party in British Columbia because of the way they tried to sell the plan. The Liberals think they can buy off one region of Canada against another and they are playing British Columbians against the rest of country, telling the detractors of this bill that if they do not support this bill they do not support B.C.
This sort of Liberal trick to try to play this game has not worked as well as they think. As a western Canadian, I am here to tell them that they should be ashamed of themselves and that this sort of thing has actually created more divisions and alienation across the country resulting in Canadians feeling disconnected with their parliamentarians here in Ottawa, especially the Liberal Party.
I also want to address Bill C-68 in my capacity as the infrastructure critic, first and generally, on the issue of infrastructure and then some specifics according to the bill.
The past 12 years of Liberal rule have brought Canada many infrastructure projects meant to boost Canada's transportation networks, and yet, in many ways, these programs have failed as the infrastructure deficit continues to grow. We have seen the FCM estimate the infrastructure deficit at over $60 billion.
The Canadian Automobile Association is another one of those groups that estimates the country needs to invest about $20 billion in our roads in order to bring them up to snuff. Where does it get this figure? It gets this figure from the provincial highway ministers who said that the figure in 2000 was about $17 billion. Of course, since then that has risen due to inflation and the lack of regard by the Liberals to the roads that we drive on across the country.
This is a very serious issue and I need to underscore this point. I would like to read an action plan that was developed by the CAA and published earlier this year in February trying to warn the government of warning signs, especially when it comes to our national highway system and our roadways.
The first action the CAA talked about was that they see roads as an investment, not an expense, and that when we consider all the gas tax money collected in the country, more of that money should be going into our highway system. The federal government should make better and safer roadways a major goal and consider them as an important part of the federal productivity agenda.
The second action would be to implement a national highway strategy. The federal government must recognize the national highway system as a strategic national asset and then it must adopt the national highway policy for Canada's NHS as proposed by the provinces and territories. It must then move immediately to fund this national highway system to ensure it is safe, efficient and environmentally responsible from coast to coast.
We have to set funding priorities. The federal government must invest in the national highway strategy to upgrade it to the optimal standard and address the future needs as well. This ties into Bill C-68, especially if we are expanding the gateway. The highway system will be crucial to that. It should also include speeding up the border infrastructure program and develop a rural road safety and improvement program.
We also have to invest in the roads of tomorrow, enhance the role of technology and innovation when exploring the development of better and safer roads and highways, and finally, encourage eco-driving. I think it is interesting that even the Canadian Automobile Association says that there should be some sort of incentives in place, especially as technologies are evolving, looking at new ways to develop hybrid cars and other types of fuel cells, that there should be incentives for Canadians to change their habits and that leadership should come from the federal government.
Those are all actions that as a future government I believe we would definitely support and initiate. The question is whether the Liberals are willing to listen to the motorists of Canada and start working to address those infrastructure needs.
What I have been arguing about this particular bill is that it sometimes seems more politics than policy. If the federal government really wants to support this gateway initiative I believe it needs to finance the initiatives that were identified by B.C.'s comprehensive British Columbia ports strategy. I believe my colleague from Cambridge referred to it. It was developed jointly by British Columbia's ministry of small business and economic development and the ministry of transportation in B.C. The B.C. progress board, a provincially nominated blue ribbon panel of experts, largely supports the recommendations.
Bill C-68 would create an advisory council to help decide how to spend the $400 million that the federal government has announced in support of the specific gateway initiative. The council would have 15 members, 9 of whom would be nominated by the federal government , 5 of whom would be nominated in cooperation with the four western provinces and the final member would be the chairperson of the Asia-Pacific Foundation.
Bill C-68 is a Liberal strategy so it can be seen as doing something to help promote B.C. ports. By setting up the council as a means of subjecting current initiatives to further consultation, the Liberals can continue to postpone their financial commitments while being seen as taking a bold step to support this initiative. I believe it will cost approximately $30 million just to operate the consultation group, which, as has already been proven, consultation has been done by the B.C. government.
The B.C. government estimates that about $3.5 billion will be required to actually identify and enhance the projects that would support the Pacific gateway. The province's number one transportation policy to date was not funded by the federal government's gateway announcement. It is looking at approximately, as my colleague mentioned, $1.5 billion on average, or maybe a little higher, that would fund about 50% of what is required to make the gateway project work.
With this level of shortfall, which I believe was a $400 million announcement for future initiatives, it will not even come close to providing B.C. the money for its initiatives. I know that the costs of some of the projects that were identified were quite large. We are looking at the Kicking Horse Canyon project, the North Fraser perimeter road, Port Mann Highway No. 1, the South Fraser perimeter road and the New Westminster rail bridge. None of these projects, which will directly affect the functionality of the Pacific gateway, were even touched in any of the proposals put forward. These are all significant projects and they have all been identified as crucial to making the new project work.
I will conclude with what we would have done and how we would have approached things differently. Rather than announcing ideas or policies throughout Canada's Pacific gateway, the Liberals have announced more bureaucracy. Western ports need real solutions to their challenges, not this Liberal half-step.
As a government, we would make real policy changes that would allow the Pacific gateway to become a reality, not a Liberal catchphrase. We would eliminate Ottawa's borrowing cap on the port of Vancouver, which is a big problem. We would allow B.C. ports to voluntarily merge for competitive advantage and facilitate their access to more investment. We would streamline security at our ports, offer assistance with dredging, invest gas taxes into our infrastructure, and work with provincial governments and port authorities on high priority infrastructure projects. This would be the proper blueprint.
Canadians deserve better than Liberal catchphrases.