Mr. Speaker, I want to begin on a very positive note. The parliamentary secretary began to thank the previous government for its initiatives in this regard. In that spirit it is important to acknowledge that the bill deserves support if for no other reason than it is but a small portion of its predecessor, Bill C-44.
Bill C-44, as the parliamentary secretary indicated, was an initiative of the former Liberal administration. I will say a few more words about that in a moment. That bill, which was very comprehensive, strategic, forward looking and proactive in its nature, has now been reduced to something a little bit smaller and has a very specific role. I want to compliment all of those members of Parliament who worked on the House committee, especially the members on this side of the House from my party, including the previous critic for the role they fulfilled so admirably. We in this party are going to support the bill. I will explain the details in a moment.
I was especially struck by the chronology of events the parliamentary secretary thought were significant enough to warrant 10 minutes of parliamentary time. I want to digress for a moment from the courteous diplomacy and positive demeanour I have just indicated and become a little bit more harsh.
In harshness I would say that some people in the morning must get awfully tired of putting salve on all their nicks after shaving as they look at themselves in the mirror and puff themselves up. I do not think the Conservative government can claim it has done something very positive when it spent 13 months during the previous administration trying to tear down a bill that was much more comprehensive than this one and then say that they did something in nine months and it is great news and that none of the members of the other opposition parties in the House ever did anything for it.
Members of the Liberal Party devoted all of their time to ensuring that the bill would pass. It was part of a comprehensive, strategic, proactive forward looking piece of legislation that came out of government policies when the previous Liberal administration was in power. Why did they do that? This cannot be puffery on the part of the Liberals. We do not engage in that sort of thing. We deal with realities.
The member for Windsor West had an interest in this and always made sure that that interest was focused on his party rather than on the government that was doing its job. That member's party was not looking at the things that we in the government at the time felt were absolutely crucial and important: one, security and two, economic.
I do not mean to switch the two, but obviously in a post 9/11 environment, security issues from political and terrorism points of view were extremely important. They were also important from an infrastructure point of view. The government of the day through Bill C-44, the predecessor to this bill, said that we must pay very special attention to the means and mechanisms by which the Government of Canada would assume the responsibilities for ensuring that there be a safe and secure environment from a political perspective, one that would be coordinated very closely, but not subordinate to, the interests of homeland security defence in the United States.
We were establishing a period of cooperation to ensure that our borders would be safe; safe politically, safe for the purposes of maintaining our sovereignty, safe for the purposes of maintaining our economic viability and durability. We proposed a bill and the opposition parties of the day, one of which is currently the government, objected to it every step of the way. That bill focused on putting in a place all the mechanisms necessary to provide the security to keep Canadians safe and assured that their country would be beyond attack, and that the mechanisms for response in the event of any kind of action would be readily available and quickly dispatched.
That security is not just political. We cannot conjure up images of people with grenades, missiles, et cetera, at our borders in all instances. No, part of the security, as we know, is economic.
The member for Windsor West knows that in excess of $1 billion a day of business goes through precisely the targets of this bill, our bridges and tunnels. We need to make sure that that $1 billion a day of business is maintained in its security. We need to ensure that the crossing points between our country and our neighbours to the south are always maintained in a fashion that the people of Canada can be assured that their business, their commercial relationship with the United States and the interests of all the businesses that generate activity are always within the reach of the powers of the Government of Canada.
What were the difficulties? I note that the government member did not mention any of them. They have to do with building and maintaining an infrastructure, as I am sure the member for Windsor West will indicate in his presentation, to ensure the free and quick movement of truck traffic now, but also rail traffic across our two boundaries.
The Liberal government of the day had already begun a series of initiatives that were designed to move that commerce quickly to give substance to that just in time economic theory, to ensure that all goods would traverse the border points without undue delay. It is not only people that cross the border but also the goods that provide us with the lifeblood of day to day work environments. We wanted to ensure that all investments made by companies on this side of the border because of the advantages that the Canadian environment provides, would always reach their market in a timely fashion, but to do it with due consideration for the environmental strategies of our country, of the Liberal government of the day.
All these issues that appear to be, if I can judge the parliamentary secretary's 10-minute rendition of chronology, the government's priorities, i.e., one detail after another, do not strike at the heart of what it is that causes legislation to be tabled. It is strategic, as I said. It is always about being proactive. There has to be a purpose to government. There has to be a purpose to the importance of the jurisdiction of the federal government in this affair. That affair is security and economy. It is engendering greater economic interest in the areas being served by the targets of this legislation.
The parliamentary secretary said that there are 14 border points, tunnels and bridges, in Ontario where the bulk of that trade takes place. Were something to have happened at any of those places, the economy of southern Ontario in particular but not exclusively would be in grave danger. We were moving to ensure that would not happen. He said there were another nine in New Brunswick and one in Quebec, almost as an afterthought.
I understand why there would be an afterthought, because for the Conservatives it was of little interest. When we were trying to promote this legislation two years ago, the obstructionism from what is now the government side was palpable. They had no interest in it: why have that bill pass? Today, the Conservatives want to take credit for the fact that we are going to support it, as I said, in its reduced form.
We would love to have much more, because at the time we were putting substance behind our thoughts. We were putting reality behind the political rhetoric that the government of today likes to think is a matter of substance. There was a $300 million infrastructure program specifically addressing the issues in southern Ontario. There were more in other places, including Quebec and New Brunswick, with those other 10 points, the points of contact. For us, there was a material need to ensure that people engaged locally, regionally, provincially and nationally.
It should not come as a surprise to anybody on that side of the House, whether in government or opposition, to know that we on this side will support this bill. The bill retains some of the strategic components that we put into Bill C-44.
It retains, even if in a reduced fashion, the understanding that we must have a macro view to economic survivability. It thinks in terms of, as I said, a proactive role for the Government of Canada. By grouping into one all of those pieces of legislation that governed each and every one of those points through various parliamentary acts, it recognizes that the federal Government of Canada has the responsibility to coordinate all of those issues that ensure the viability of our security, our sovereignty and our economy so that we will have one repository of responsibility and action. With that repository of responsibility and action comes as well an incumbent accountability to be able to say that we have to plan for tomorrow.
There were a lot of people who thought that perhaps we should not get involved because, as the member for Windsor West indicated, there is a private owner. People in the NDP do not like private enterprise and said that was bad and that these people were holding us to ransom.
No. Our response of the day, the fact of the matter, which has now been put into this bill even though nobody wants to give credit to the minister of transport or the former Liberal government and the Liberal government as a whole, is that what we do is safeguard the role of that private owner as we safeguard the maintenance and the management of all of the border crossings, but now the Government of Canada can exercise its authority to ensure that no harm comes to the Canadian economy or the Canadian people, its authority to be proactive and to direct that certain things be done in the public interest.
That is a pretty strong thing for the Government of Canada or any government to do. I imagine the current government has accepted that principle because, faced with having a minority government, it cannot control, except by subterfuge. It must do what has to be done.
I have looked at this because we are talking about security. In the last several days, we have been deluged with issues relating to CATSA and to the way the government is dealing with security issues with the agencies that have been established to ensure that Canadians can sleep well at night in the knowledge that all of those agencies--and the government--that are to take control or care of security issues are functioning properly.
The government loses a most valuable member of the board, General Baril, the chairman of the board of CATSA, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority. We do not know why, except that it is reported that he no longer has the energy or the will to address all the tasks and challenges that have emerged in this last year.
Can we imagine? Because the chairman of that board disagreed with the government in trying to establish an appropriate modus operandi and to ask for the resources necessary to effect those tasks, he is gone. As for the very terse statement that he just did not have it any more, the Canadian public deserves a lot more.
The kind of oversight and responsibility envisaged by the framers of the bill in Bill C-44, its origin, demanded that the minister not only assume the responsibility but divest that responsibility in an open and transparent fashion, open to public criticism, good or bad. We do not see that now. The minister is not here to explain the relationship between him and his department and an organization that is absolutely crucial to air transport and travel in the country.
I think it is important to keep something in mind in the context of transport issues, especially since the Auditor General has filed a report that does not appear to be very favourable to the minister. We have to take it in the context of what the ambition, the focus or the goal of Bill C-3 was initially.
It was to ensure that the Minister of Transport be vested with the authorities necessary to ensure that the sovereignty, the security and the economic well-being of the country be handled expeditiously, with great dispatch, but with accountability, to ensure that it would be his responsibility by virtue of his mandate as minister. We do not see any of that in the actions of today, but we can say that at least with Bill C-3 we now have the opportunity to give to the minister of the Crown responsible for those things the tools he or she needs--in this case he--to ensure that this begins to take place.
It is a great responsibility. I am not sure that the government opposite is up to that task, but we are going to give it that responsibility because we believe in a parliamentary system that functions for the betterment of its people. Its people are now at the mercy of the Minister of Transport.