Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have this opportunity to stand in the House today to speak to this important piece of public business, Bill C-3, because it affects bridges and tunnels that connect us with our neighbour to the south, the United States of America.
It is an important bill and one that we need to get behind and support but it is not perfect. It needs amendments. It needs to be put through the process of this place. At committee we need to hear from some folks. At the end of the day we in this caucus are hoping that the government will be open to some suggestions because many of us have done some long and hard work on this.
The member from Windsor West, in particular, who was not able to be here, has been very passionate and knowledgeable on this and has worked very hard in his community of Windsor to try to not only resolve the bottleneck on the bridge but also its inadequacy because it affects his whole community and the economy of the area surrounding Windsor, not to mention of the economy of the province.
I have some issues myself that flow out of my own community. We have a bridge that needs upgrading, maintenance and more authority to ensure we have the security that is required. I want to talk about that as well in speaking to the bill.
As this is my first opportunity in this Parliament to speak and to participate in the way being here allows us, I want to say how pleased I am to be back and to have been re-elected in my own community of Sault Ste. Marie and the district surrounding it: the wonderful communities on St. Joseph Island, Hilton Beach , Richards Landing , Bruce Mines, Desbarats, Echo Bay, Hayden, Searchmont, Goulais, Montreal River and Batchawana Bay. I represent all those wonderfully exciting, vital and viable places situated on the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Superior and I hope to represent them well here in the House. I appreciate their support for a second time to the House of Commons. It was an honour and a privilege to have served the community of Sault Ste. Marie for 13 years provincially. I enjoyed that.
I look forward to working with the government of the day and the opposition parties in getting some things done for my community, for the people of Sault Ste. Marie and for all of northern Ontario. We have some issues there. Our economy has been challenged for a while. We need the partnership of the senior level of government if we are going to turn around some of the longstanding industrial sectors that at the moment are struggling to get breath, so they can take advantage of what we know are the opportunities and challenges out there.
We know that in northern Ontario the very first thing we need to do, if we are going to protect our economy, is to stand up for what we have. We have always been a resource based industry in northern Ontario and always will be. However I will be speaking with some of the companies in the forestry sector when I go home this weekend to hear their response to the deal that was cut by the government with the United States of America on softwood lumber to see whether it will be helpful to them.
They have heard promises over the last couple of years by the senior level of government and have heard talk about substantial money but nothing has actually happened. We have communities, like Dubreuilville and Smooth Rock Falls, that are hanging on by their fingernails. Workers who have lost their jobs do not know what tomorrow will bring. They do not know whether they will have to leave town to find work to support their families. They will be looking very closely at this agreement to see if there is anything concrete in there.
My leader has suggested, with the first look at this and after listening to the Prime Minister last night, that there really was not anything concrete that we could grab on to. However we are hoping that there is, that there is something for those communities and those workers that will carry them over until this industry turns itself around and we can again see forestry as the exciting opportunity it is to provide employment, economic opportunity, to attract investment and to actually work with everyone to ensure it is sustainable over the long haul.
Forestry is only one sector. We have a number of resource based sectors in northern Ontario that we need to protect. We talked about that in the election. The people in my riding decided that the things I was saying on those issues were important enough for me to be sent back here to continue that challenge.
That brings me to the bill in front of us today, Bill C-3. How we get our goods to market is an important question for northern Ontario and the resource sector economy that serves Canada so well. Of course, bridges and tunnels are the lifelines that stand between us and the U.S. market which is so important. If we do not manage those pieces of infrastructure well, we will end up with the problems that we are experiencing today in spades. We will have bottlenecks, slowdowns and security and safety issues that we will not know how to deal with.
I speak on behalf of my colleague from Windsor West and my colleague from New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby who cannot be here today to lead off on this important bill when I say that we think this is a move in the right direction and something that needs to be done quickly so we can deal with some of the challenges that we have been facing for a number of years where these important pieces of infrastructure are concerned.
We are saying, though, that the bill is not perfect. I am pleased that the Minister of Transport is here today to hear us say this because we are speaking to him directly when we put out the challenge that the bill needs to go to committee. The committee needs to hear from our members, as well as other members around the House, and it needs to hear from those who are directly affected by what will happen when the bill becomes law. We are hoping he will be open to amendments. If there are changes that we think would be helpful, we hope he will listen and work with us to ensure they are included so those areas of concern can be addressed.
One of the concerns in the Windsor area and in Fort Frances in northwestern Ontario is the question of actual ownership of the bridges. I know the government is concerned about that and wants to have some control over the ownership as to who at the end of the day will own these important facilities. I think it is a critical question.
As a matter of fact, we would encourage the government to look at public ownership, that it should be the government itself. Because of the safety and security issues that have arisen since 9/11 and some of the initiatives coming from south of the border, the United States government, the western hemisphere initiative, et cetera, we need to have more control over these bridges and tunnels, and not only that, but with control we also need to take responsibility for ensuring they are safe and secure.
We are talking big money. We are talking about a significant investment to build new bridges. Windsor has the expectation that it will happen. A lot of work has been done over the last few years to make that happen. However the ownership and control question that is being addressed somewhat in the bill still presents as a very difficult proposition in that area, just as it is a difficulty in Fort Frances.
The bridge at Fort Frances, just as the bridge in Sault Ste. Marie, is an important connector to markets. Some very large and heavy products are transported from steel mills and lumber mills across the area into markets in the United States of America. We want to ensure those bridges are managed properly and that the cost of transporting products across those bridges continues to be affordable. We believe the only way to guarantee that is for government to actually own those facilities, to be willing to put in place the moneys necessary to ensure they are both safe and secure and that maintenance is done on a regular basis.
The bridge in my riding is run now by an authority. At one time there was a combination of funding from the Michigan department of transportation and the Ontario government. Now a local authority runs that bridge and it is forever trying to figure out how to get the money it needs to just maintain the bridge and ensure it continues to be safe and secure. That does not even include the personnel required at either end of the bridge to ensure the flow of traffic continues at a pace that is convenient and helpful to those going back and forth and wanting to access both countries.
The question of ownership of these bridges is central to the bill and we need to discuss that further. We are hoping the government will be open to some suggestions that we might make around the government itself stepping up to the plate and taking hold of that.
Secondary to that but equally as important is the issue of financing them. Who will put the money up to build new bridges? When we look at the level of traffic and the impact of the backup of that traffic into communities such as Windsor, there obviously is a need for new bridges. The member for Windsor West has spoken both eloquently and intelligently to that fact in this House and he would want me to say that the government needs to be forthcoming. We heard announcements over and over again from the previous government about infrastructure funds and border crossing funds but seemingly hard to get a handle on so that those communities could actually get those funds and make the repairs or the investments that are necessary.
Hopefully, something will be in the budget on May 2 that speaks to the very real requirement of a significant investment in these pieces of infrastructure because they are so critical to our trade, not to mention our security and safety.
Where Windsor has the need for a new crossing, whether it is a bridge or a tunnel is up to it, hopefully, with the leadership and direction in this bill from the federal government, that will happen and it will happen in a way that will consider the impact on the people who live in the areas adjoining the roadways that will have to be built and developed, not to mention the environmental impact of traffic if there are backups, as there are now, and the spewing of exhaust that goes into the community and affects people and the quality of air.
In my own community we are hoping to become a hub of some significance. We already are an important hub but we want to become more important and more significant in the offering of how we get goods to market from our country into the United States and back and forth. We have developed a multi-modal plan in Sault Ste. Marie where we have in our back yard access to rail, road, water and air. All of the modes of transportation come to Sault Ste. Marie. We are strategically located at the centre of the Great Lakes. In fact, when we look at the map we see that we are strategically located in the centre of Canada and in the centre of North America. So we could become--