Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to rise to speak to Bill C-3, An Act respecting international bridges and tunnels and making a consequential amendment to another Act. Since it incorporates part of Bill C-44, which the Bloc Québécois supported, we must support this bill, but with certain reservations, as I will explain later.
This is the first time the Government of Canada has put legislation in place to allow it to exercise its authority over international bridges and tunnels. The new government tells us it wants to ensure that the security, safety and efficient movement of people and goods are in accordance with national interests.
The events of September 2001, it must be noted, made clear the importance of protecting these vital infrastructures. The proposed amendments would give the Government of Canada new and broader legislative powers to oversee approvals of international bridges and tunnels. These amendments would give the government power to approve, on the recommendation of the Minister of Transport, the construction or alteration of international bridges and tunnels and to formulate regulations governing the management, maintenance, security, safety and operation of these structures.
The bill would also authorize the federal government to approve the sale or transfer of ownership of international bridges and tunnels. Note as well that it would strengthen federal government oversight of all new and existing international bridges and tunnels in order to better protect the public interest and ensure the flexible flow of international trade. There are currently 24 international vehicular bridges and tunnels and five international railway tunnels linking Canada and the United States. These bridges and tunnels carry the vast majority of international trade between Canada and the United States and play a vital role in Canada’s transportation system.
The provisions of this new bill are almost identical to those of the defunct Bill C-44, which was tabled by the former government and died on the order paper when the election was called. That bill,the Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act, to enact the VIA Rail Canada Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, was tabled in the House of Commons on March 24, 2005 by the former Minister of Transport. Bill C-44 was itself similar in many respects to the previous Bill C-26, which bore the same title and was tabled in the House of Commons on February 23, 2003. Those two bills each died on the order paper upon the prorogation of Parliament. As you can see, the Parliament of Canada needs a lot of time to get its bills passed.
What affects us in Quebec most closely in this bill is a provision concerning the international bridges and tunnels that cross the St. Lawrence River. This provision corrects a legislative anomaly in the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which requires that a permit be issued for all work that has repercussions on navigable waters but which does not authorize the issuing of permits with regard to the St. Lawrence River. That anomaly had become evident during review of the proposed highway 30 bridges crossing the St. Lawrence Seaway. Those bridges have yet to be built, as you know, and these projects have been making very slow progress for many years.
In his speech last Friday, the minister said that any new crossing over the St. Lawrence would be subject to federal approval. I would like to know to what extent that sort of approach has the approval of the Quebec government, as it is likely to infringe upon its fields of jurisdiction.
Although the bill fills a legal void in the area of international bridges and tunnels, is designed to improve the safety of the infrastructures in that area, and has the consent of local stakeholders, we still have certain reservations. In the context of the regulation of international bridges and tunnels, the bill gives us the impression that the government is being conferred some very extensive, quasi-police powers, for example, a 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. The Bloc Québécois believes this situation can lead to conflicts. What disappoints us the most is that a number of important measures that were in Bill C-44 were dropped from the current bill. It is important to point that out because we were told that this bill included the measures already outlined in Bill C-44, but only a small number of them are left.
Some parts of Bill C-44 were very important for the Bloc Québécois and for now they are being dropped. I am talking about the requirement that airline advertising be more transparent. The former bill would have required airlines 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 bill 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 rail line would first offer it to any interested urban transit authorities before offering it to municipal governments. A number of residents in my riding and in other regions of Quebec are concerned about this issue. Bill C-44 promoted setting up commuter trains across the country.
Our constituents are increasingly aware of the importance of developing public transit as a solution to traffic congestion problems and greenhouse gas emissions.
The bill also included a provision on Via Rail. It gave Via Rail more power to make its own decisions with a view to improving the rail service. Rail transit is a good alternative to road transportation, which currently is about the only option.
Clause 32 of Bill C-44 gave the Canadian Transportation Agency the power to investigate complaints concerning noise caused by trains. It required railways to implement certain measures to prevent unnecessary noise, particularly at rail yards. The noise issue is causing a lot of controversy in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.
According to the British North America Act of 1867, the responsibility for international bridges and tunnels falls exclusively within federal jurisdiction. But in most cases, the Canadian portion of these structures is owned by the provinces. We must ensure that the regulatory and financial application of this act is negotiated and occurs in collaboration with the provinces.
In his speech last Friday, the minister stated that the federal government will be able to ensure that environmental assessments of international bridges and tunnels are conducted in accordance with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, when appropriate.
What did the minister mean by adding the word “appropriate”? I believe the minister was implying that jurisdiction over the environment is shared between federal and provincial governments, and that he does not necessarily have the final say in the matter.
I again ask the minister if he held negotiations with the Government of Quebec concerning sharing jurisdictions. Given its declaration of good will toward Quebec, it would be desirable for the new government to demonstrate its good intentions with respect to Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois will support the second reading of the bill, despite the fact that it only partially resolves the many transportation problems that still exist in Quebec and Canada.