moved that Bill C-3, An Act respecting international bridges and tunnels and making a consequential amendment to another Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, this bill addresses the long-standing lack of legislative framework within which the federal government can exercise its authority over international bridges and tunnels.
I am very pleased to begin the debate today on Bill C-3, the international bridges and tunnels act. This bill includes a number of measures that reinforce and acknowledge that our economic well-being increasingly depends on strategic gateways and trade corridors.
The capacity to create jobs and strengthen Canada's economy is directly linked to our ability to ensure the efficient flow of trade with our greatest trading partner, the United States, but today's bill also recognizes the importance of secure borders and that securing our borders begins with securing our border crossings.
There are currently 24 bridges and tunnels that carry vehicular traffic across the 6,400 kilometre border between Canada and the United States. There are also five rail bridges and tunnels linking our two countries. More than $1.9 billion worth of goods moves across the border each day. These crossings are a critical part of the infrastructure that facilitates trade between our two nations.
Well-operated border crossings mean more trade, a stronger economy and jobs for all Canadians. The federal government, therefore, has a critical role to play in ensuring that the way in which these bridges and tunnels are operated does not interfere in any way with the uninterrupted flow of goods and people across the border. Equally important is the federal government's responsibility to ensure that our national interests are protected, that our borders are secure and that people can use our bridges and tunnels in safety.
The federal government's jurisdiction over all international crossings is set out in section 92 of the Constitution Act of 1867. However, the federal government's ability to exercise this authority has never been set out in framework legislation.
With events such as September 11th, I think the hon. members would agree that Canada's international bridges and tunnels cannot be left to ad hoc decision-making processes. They must be carefully and strategically operated.
It is time for the Government of Canada to put in place a legislative framework so that it can carry out its jurisdictional responsibilities, efficiently, effectively and coherently.To that end, the bill we are debating today draws on the provisions related to international bridges and tunnels contained in the two previously introduced bills.
The international bridges and tunnels act would provide the Government of Canada with the legislative authority required to effectively oversee these bridges and tunnels and to protect the interests of Canadians. Today's bill also possesses two new provisions in response to critical issues that have recently emerged in relation to international bridges and tunnels.
I would like to begin by introducing some of the more significant provisions in the bill.
First of all, unlike the United States, Canada does not have a formal process to approve the construction of new international crossings. In the past, we have enacted specific legislation on a case by case basis. Fourteen of the 24 crossings were created by special acts of Parliament designed and adapted to fit the conditions specific to each case. Given that there are currently three proposals for new international crossings, at St. Stephen in New Brunswick and at Fort Erie and Windsor in Ontario, addressing this legislative gap is particularly critical at this time.
Today's bill will begin the process of ensuring that we have the necessary powers to grant approval to build these new crossings. It would also give the federal government the authority to impose whatever terms and conditions are needed to protect the public interest.
More specifically, the bill recommends that the governor in council be given the authority to approve the construction or alteration of international bridges and tunnels as well as the authority to establish conditions for their construction, operation and maintenance. By eliminating the need for individual independent acts of Parliament for each particular bridge, this new legislation would clarify and streamline the approval process.
The development of new crossings is a complex undertaking, requiring negotiations between provincial, state and federal governments on both sides of the border.
A more streamlined process within the Government of Canada—comparable to that which is already in place in the United States—would bring greater efficiency to the overall process.
One of the more significant challenges of the current ad hoc system is that there are widespread inconsistencies on key issues across the international bridge portfolio. The way in which the bridges and tunnels deal with functional safety, maintenance and security vary significantly between the different bridge and tunnel operators. Such widespread inconsistencies on critical issues directly affect the federal government's ability to act quickly, decisively and accurately on key public issues.
Therefore the second provision I would like to highlight in this new legislation would give the Governor in Council the authority to make regulations for all matters related to safety and security of international bridges and tunnels. The Governor in Council would also be able to make regulations respecting the operation of these crossings, such as the efficient and competitive flow of international traffic to ensure it is not jeopardized.
Ensuring that international traffic flows freely across the border not only affects the bottom line of businesses that depend on just-in-time delivery, it also reduces unnecessary carbon dioxide and other emissions that result from traffic congestion and delays at the border.
A clean environment is important to all Canadians. This is why, under the proposed legislative framework, the federal government will be able to ensure that environmental assessments with respect to international bridges and tunnels are conducted under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, when appropriate.
Environmental considerations must be fully integrated into all projects, so that future generations of Canadians enjoy clean air, water and land.
This is particularly important for projects that directly affect our waterways and influence the levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
Finally, I would like to highlight the two new provisions that did not appear in the previously introduced bills. The first new provision concerns crossings over the St. Lawrence River. In the current legislative structure, any new bridge over the St. Lawrence River requires a special act of Parliament.
By specifying that the proposed international bridges and tunnels act is applicable to international bridges and tunnels crossing the St. Lawrence River, any such bridges or tunnels will be subject to the government's approval process as outlined by the act. This provision would support the current initiative to construct a new low level bridge in Cornwall, Ontario by streamlining the approval process and removing the burden of the current requirement for a special act of Parliament.
The second new provision would give the federal government the authority to approve all transactions affecting the ownership or control and operation of international bridges and tunnels. Given the critical importance of these crossings, the federal government has a clear role to play in protecting national interests and public policy objectives when ownership or operation of these structures is transferred.
With the proposed sale of the bridge between Fort Frances, Ontario and International Falls, Minnesota, as well as the possible sale of the tunnel between Windsor and Detroit, it is critical that the federal government have the authority to intervene as needed to protect our national interests.
This bill is important because transportation is one of the core elements that contributes to Canada's economic success. I think the hon. members will agree that in an age when over 70% of our trade flows to the United States, Canada's international crossings are crucial to our economic well-being.
International bridges and tunnels represent critical gateways and key trade corridors through which our trade with the United States flows. As such, they are vital to Canada's success as a trading nation and will continue to be an important element of prosperity for future generations.
The introduction of this bill represents an important opportunity to finally put into place a clear and consistent framework for the exercise of federal government jurisdiction over international crossings. This bill will also help us fulfill our responsibility to protect the safety of Canadians and ensure our national security.
We must continue to be flexible and responsive in legislating our transportation system. Too much is at stake to stand still or rely on old ways of thinking.
I urge all members to support this bill, so that the Government of Canada can effectively protect our national and international interests, build upon the many successes of our transportation system and facilitate Canada's growth as a nation.