Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on behalf on Bill C-68, which is something that is quite extraordinary in the modern history of Canada. It recognizes that the west of Canada, British Columbia, is the gateway to the Asia-Pacific, which is an extraordinary area of the globe in terms of growth, population, immigration and part of the very special makeup and diversity of the country itself. British Columbia is being recognized as the gateway for a national project.
The Pacific gateway is something that is good for every Canadian. There are three billion people in the Pacific Asian market who are building a middle class. With 250 million people who now have joined the middle income ranks of the Chinese population, they are looking to purchase goods and resources to build their extraordinary economy that is growing at 10% a year, and has for almost the last 20 years.
The gateway concept is extremely important. We are trying it out. The concept understands that for economic growth, prosperity, tourism and the quality of life in our country, we have to take advantage of gateways to the world. There is a gateway in southern Ontario to the United States and a gateway in Halifax over to Europe. We will be developing more gateways on this model as it develops.
However, let me just mention a few aspects of this important Pacific gateway. First, it will deal with infrastructure. We have heard some comments about inadequate infrastructure. The federal government has invested over the last 10 years some $12 billion to $13 billion in infrastructure along with and in partnership with provincial and municipal governments. That is leveraged to over $30 billion of infrastructure.
The government leads on the concept of infrastructure. When the Pacific gateway initiative was announced by the Minister of Transport last month, he said that $590 million would be the down payment, the same words that the Prime Minister used, on future infrastructure needs. However, we are starting out in a cautious way to prove the model and to ensure that these investments are in the very most needed and important ways.
It will deal with border infrastructure, security and efficiency at the border. We must have both. That means high technology. It means expanding our border services, and that will come out of this Pacific gateway initiative.
We know the demographics of the country demand that we increase our immigration, not only in numbers but also to ensure that those people are paired with the necessary skills needed and when they have foreign skills and training, that they receive appropriate certification as soon as possible on integrating into Canada.
There are the cultural, skills, border and transportation links. Harmonization of standards is extraordinarily important and this Pacific gateway initiative addresses that. The money is only a start. We know the British Columbia Greater Vancouver Gateway Council, which has been a sectoral transportation council for the last eight years, has identified many projects that will decrease the congestion, particularly around the movement of goods around the greater Vancouver area. This will start to address, in partnership with the provincial government of British Columbia, some of those very desperate needs.
However, it will go beyond that. It will go to increasing the port facilities at Prince Rupert. Last April the government made the announcement of an investment of $30 million into a container facility in Prince Rupert. Prince Rupert is an extraordinary place in terms of this Pacific gateway.
Prince Rupert, as I think many people know, is the deepest port on the west coast of North America. It has a sheltered, ice-free harbour, but it has clearance to it through the south of Haida Gwaii. Most important, it is close to Asia. If we look at the configuration of the continents as well as the curvature of the earth, it puts Prince Rupert 40 hours by ship closer than Seattle and Vancouver to major Asian ports.
Vancouver itself a major part of the gateway at the current time, is itself over 50 hours closer to Shanghai by ship than is the port of Los Angeles.
We have tremendous aspects to our gateway concept that merely need to be invested in and developed to provide greater employment, investment and trade and therefore a higher quality of life for people across our country.
The previous speaker spoke about the gateway council. He had some difficulty with it, although I am not sure why. The way it is set up in the bill, and I am glad to see he is supporting it in general, it is widely representative. It would include transportation sectors, the environment sector, the aboriginal community, appointments recommended or made in consultation with the four western provinces and representatives from municipalities in the various advisory committees of this council.
This is an extremely important recognition of the reality of new governance, which goes beyond any one government getting its own act together or even coordinating well with other levels of government. It goes out to civil society, to business, to the professions and to our research and teaching universities. Quoting from the bill, clause 5(b):
promote consensus among interested stakeholders and raise awareness among decision makers regarding solutions to problems identified by the Council;
What could be more conciliatory and collaborative? However, it goes on in clause 5(c):
promote collaboration, engagement and complementarity of activities with existing networks of stakeholders that have an interest in the Asia-Pacific region or Canada’s Pacific gateway.
What could be a better example of the reality of modern governance, of bringing the ideas from the people who are most involved to government for consideration through their recommendations.
The history of the Pacific gateway did not start last month when this initiative was first announced. This has been going on for some period of time.
There are 300,000 people of Chinese ancestry who live in British Columbia and a further 300,000 from other Asian countries with Asian descent. This is an extremely important competitive advantage of our country. Our multicultural makeup itself is an advantage in our trading relationships.
A project that has gone on since 2002, through my department, Western Economic Diversification, also is called Gateway to Asia. It was started to link new immigrant entrepreneurs from Asian countries with manufacturers and suppliers in British Columbia in order to take advantage of two things. The first is the need for new markets, and previous speakers have mentioned the need to diversify our markets. The second is to link back to those networks, those contacts that new Asian entrepreneurs have with existing manufacturing companies in British Columbia. Now that has spread into Alberta and it will spread across the west.
In the first two years of that gateway project with the Immigrant Services Society's success in Vancouver, a very outstanding organization, over 750 companies signed up in British Columbia for that link with Asian entrepreneurs. They did over $4 million worth of business in those first two years. That has now gone up to $6 million in the third year with over 900 companies engaged in that process. That is a previous gateway initiative.
We know the Canadian Tourism Commission is being moved from Ottawa to Vancouver to take advantage of the fact that not only will we be hosting the 2010 Olympics, but that Vancouver has been named year after year the most livable city and one of the greatest tourist destinations in the world.
That is very significant, and certainly this expanded gateway initiative will add measurably, and even immeasurably, to the tourism potential of all of Canada, but through this gateway in many cases. We have negotiated and are close to concluding with the Chinese government the assured destination status, which will lead to potentially hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists a year coming to Canada. That is another aspect of this gateway.
Let me say as well that we have an organization created in 1984 by the Liberal government under Prime Minister Trudeau and called the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. This is an extraordinary foundation, a research and cultural communication institution that has recently been given a $50 million endowment by the Government of Canada so that it can enhance, in research into economic, cultural and social issues, our relationship to the Asia Pacific countries. This complements perfectly this new Asia Pacific gateway concept.
Let me say with respect to the gateway, if I may, that there is an extremely talented 92 year old artist from Vancouver, John Koerner, who started a Pacific gateway series in his art in 1979, so that while we all claim credit and pride in this new Pacific gateway concept, it has been in this fantastic artist's mind for some time. He has produced some of the most extraordinary art in Canada. I should declare my interest here. He is my father-in-law. He continues to paint very prolifically on this great theme.
I will conclude these introductory remarks by talking a bit about what is happening in China. The port of Shanghai at the moment is one of the top three ports in the world for container shipments. Per year, it ships 15 million TEUs, twenty-foot equivalent units, out of Shanghai. Over the next four years, that will expand to 32 million TEUs. Where are they going to go?
China is now building ships that are too large to go through the Panama Canal. They will come to the new infrastructure in the ports of Vancouver, as well as the other ports of British Columbia, Canada's west ports, including this extraordinary capacity which can be built up in Prince Rupert.
Not only is Prince Rupert a deep port with unconstricted access and much closer to Asia than any other port of the Americas, it is also uncongested by population or geography. It is connected by the CN network of railroads, some of the best-run railroads in the world, right across to Edmonton, to Winnipeg, into the Sault and the Great Lakes system, down the St. Lawrence,over to the east coast, down through Chicago and the Midwest, down to Louisiana and the gulf, and out to the east coast and New Jersey.
Thus, literally, this gateway, coming through B.C. ports, which of course have both CN and CP, will link Asia not only to all of Canada but right through the United States and even on to Europe through this great increase in container traffic. The opportunities are limitless.
In concluding these remarks in terms of diversification, which we hear a lot about--and my department of course is western economic diversification--I would suggest that we have to diversify in a number of areas. Obviously we have to diversify in markets.
To my amazement, the member for Burnaby--New Westminster decried the importance of NAFTA. I am sure that if he were to realize the trade surplus that we have with the United States, which is quite extraordinary, he would think twice before he downgrades or degrades our relationship with the United States and the wealth that it brings to Canadians, to the strength of our economy and therefore our quality of life.
We must diversify. The softwood lumber dispute shows why not to replace trade with the U.S., because that will continue to grow to the benefit of Canadians, but to provide other opportunities, and of course Asia is one of those great opportunities.
There is a new community on the outskirts of Shanghai, a suburb of Shanghai, which is a demonstration project for British Columbia designed and engineered homes, using British Columbia softwood. It is developing houses for the Shanghai market, which I am sure members know is growing at a tremendous rate. It is one of the largest cities in the world, perhaps the largest, with a greater Shanghai population of approximately 29 million people.
The diversification of markets is critical. We also have to diversify up the value chain to add value to our raw materials. Part of the boom and bust modern history of western Canada has been the problem of the fluctuations in international commodity markets. Of course commodities by definition are low value added and large quantity, with a very narrow profit margin.
I will end with this. With those narrow profit margins, they are boom and bust in the swings of commodity prices, so we must add value to add employment to Canada, of course, but also to have broader profit margins that withstand those commodity price fluctuations. That is another aspect of this diversification. Of course, those products that we are adding value to will be shipped back in containers to Asia. It is obvious arithmetic that if we can fill a container for both ways, we cut its price in half.