Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois readily supports the principle of Bill C-3, the international bridges and tunnels act, but we still have some reservations, which I will explain in the next few minutes.
I would first like to make the point, for the benefit of the Quebec audience, that there is only one international bridge in Quebec, the one in Sutton. It is on the Vallée-Missisquoi road and crosses the Missisquoi River in Sutton. An old, metal bridge, it is approximately 50 metres long and was built around 1929. It spans a beautiful gorge. It is used by many trucks and appears in need of repair. It is owned by both Vermont, primarily, and the municipality of Sutton. It is inspected by Quebec's Department of Transport and in conjunction with Vermont as well. The municipality is responsible for repair costs, under a Quebec infrastructure fund. Vermont pays approximately 70% of repair costs.
Now that I have clearly described our international bridge in Quebec, I will address the positive aspects of Bill C-3.
There has been a legal void in the area of international bridges and tunnels. Bill C-3 aims to improve the security of these structures. According to the Department of Transport, local stakeholders are in favour of the provisions of this bill.
Let us now move on to the negative aspects. In the international brides and tunnels legislative framework, a very broad policing power is being given to the government such as the power to investigate without a warrant and a very authoritarian power of seizure. The government has the power to legislate, but the financial responsibility rests on other shoulders. In time, this situation can lead to conflicts.
The current bill left out a number of important and highly useful measures that were in Bill C-44. I will come back to that.
For example, there was a requirement that airline advertising be more transparent. The airlines would have had to change their advertising methods. They would have been required to list the total price of the flight including related fees. This measure was much demanded by the consumer associations.
The provisions of Bill C-44 that are missing from Bill C-3 would have improved the conflict resolution process for sharing the rail lines between passenger transportation companies and freight companies. Bill C-44 included a section under which a railway company wishing to sell a railway line would first offer it to any interested urban transit authorities, giving municipal governments priority in order to avoid tearing up the tracks.
The new VIA Rail Canada Act, proposed by Bill C-44, would have given it greater decision-making power, in the hope of improving rail transportation, reducing environmental impact and achieving energy savings.
Section 32 of Bill C-44 would have provided the Canadian Transportation Agency with authority to address complaints relating to railway noise in order to require railway companies to take measures to prevent unreasonable noise, particularly around marshalling yards.
I will speak later about these measures which are not found in Bill C-3. First, I would like to give the background of this last bill, which was introduced at first reading on April 24, 2006. It seeks to bring forward part of former Bills C-44 and C-26.
There are 24 international vehicular bridges and tunnels connecting Canada and the United States: 14 in Ontario, nine in New Brunswick and only one in Quebec, as I mentioned earlier. In addition there are five railway bridges and tunnels in Ontario. Only five of these crossings are owned by the federal government. According to the Department of Transport, the events of 9/11 brought to light the importance of protecting these vital infrastructures.
Responsibility for international bridges and tunnels lies with the federal government, which has sole legislative jurisdiction in this matter . However, the federal government does not have the clearly defined legislative and regulatory authority to administer these crossings. According to the Department of Transport, there is currently no process to approve the construction of new bridges or tunnels or alterations to existing structures.
In the past, the construction of a bridge or tunnel was authorized by a special act of Parliament and by the adoption of identical legislation in the United States. Again according to the department, consultation of key players was carried out and the provisions of Bill C-44 received considerable support. The majority of players were eager to participate in the regulatory process.
The provisions in this new bill are practically identical to those in Bill C-44. The enactment contains two new provisions: approval for all changes in ownership, operation and control, and clarification of the process for obtaining permits to build bridges over the St. Lawrence River.
Besides confirming the federal government’s jurisdiction with respect to international bridges and tunnels, the proposed legislation would enable the federal government to issue guidelines concerning approval for the construction or alteration of new and existing bridges or tunnels; specify conditions regarding bridge maintenance and operation; approve changes in ownership, control or operation of international bridges or tunnels; and finally, ensure that the crossings are safe and secure.
The expression “international bridge or tunnel” means “a bridge or tunnel, or any part of it, that connects any place in Canada to any place outside Canada, and includes the approaches and facilities related to the bridge or tunnel”. As hon. members know, international bridges or tunnels cannot be build without government approval. Such approval may be given to the site or plans of an international bridge over the St. Lawrence River.
Other provisions state that the government may make regulations respecting the maintenance, repair, operation, use, security and safety of international bridges and tunnels. The bill also provides that the Minister may make any appropriate directions, if he is of the opinion that there is an immediate threat to the security or safety of any international bridge or tunnel or to the safety of persons. Government approval would also be necessary to change the ownership, control or operation of international bridges or tunnels. Under this bill, it would also be possible to establish a crown corporation to administer a bridge or tunnel.
Unfortunately, very broad police powers are being granted to the government, such as the power to investigate without a warrant and a most authoritarian power of seizure. I am referring to clause 39.
A great deal of what Bill C-44 provided for is not covered by Bill C-3, particularly with respect to rail transportation. For instance, Bill C-44 proposed improvements to the shipper protection regime for rail service users and the elimination of the requirement for the Canada Transportation Agency to determine whether the commercial harm to the shipper would be substantial.
It would appear that the time allotted me has expired.