Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to present to the House today a proposal that will support a more commercial operating environment for Canada Port Authorities.
This proposal is a two-pronged strategy. It includes amendments to the Canada Marine Act, which is of course the legislative framework that governs ports, in combination with several policy measures. It is an approach that is responsive to industry concerns. It recognizes the importance of promoting strategic investment and productivity improvements, yet protects port lands for future transportation needs.
In relation to the Canada Port Authorities, the national marine policy of 1995 emphasized the elimination of overcapacity, promoted cost recovery, mandated self-sufficiency, and instituted a consistent governance structure for all major ports.
I am pleased to report that those objectives of the national marine policy relative to ports have largely been met through the Canada Marine Act, the legislation that introduced a commercial approach to managing the national ports system and marine infrastructure. CPAs have undertaken their management responsibilities in a sound and fiscally responsible manner and ports are well managed today as a result of that.
Budget 2007 positioned modern transportation infrastructure as a core element of our agenda. We have launched a national gateway and corridor approach which recognizes that transportation systems that enable us to move goods and people with world class efficiency are absolutely essential to our future prosperity.
Specific initiatives, such as the Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor initiative, the Ontario-Quebec continental gateway and trade corridor, and the Atlantic gateway initiatives are tailored to geographic and transportation opportunities in specific regions.
These initiatives recognize that transportation infrastructure investment requires the cooperation of many parties. That is right: this government works in cooperation with many parties across the country to get what Canadians want: better results.
These include Canada Port Authorities, representatives from all modes, all levels of government, and private investors. Each of these initiatives will provide concrete measures to contribute to a more productive economy and a stronger competitive position for Canada in international trade. Let us face it, we are a trading nation, and trade is very important to our future.
There are 19 Canada Port Authorities in the national port system. These CPAs are located in each of the regions in which gateway and corridor initiatives are being developed.
Efficient marine transportation and modern port infrastructure are key elements in reaching our government's goals. Indeed, Canada's ability to compete on the world stage is highly dependent on the efficiency of our ports and the availability of port infrastructure. This is particularly true for our gateway ports that are of specific strategic importance to this country.
While the national policy and the legislative framework governing ports are sound and have met their intended objectives overall, these instruments need to be modernized to ensure that our ports can respond and take advantage of the significant opportunities in the current global markets. We have all heard the stories of Asia and the emerging markets in that area. Canadians need to take advantage of that in order to continue to have the best quality of life in the world.
We must make sure that the Canada Marine Act is not a barrier either for ports or for the federal government. Instead, we must make sure that the Canada Marine Act supports the government's ability to make funding decisions in the public interest and to position Canada advantageously within changing global supply chains.
We are responsible for determining the role of the federal government and identifying gaps where other levels of government or private investors cannot provide the level of investment required to support these projects, and projects that are in the national interest and so important to Canadians.
The landscape has changed. The new context calls for an updated policy framework, as I said, for national ports through a combination of legislative amendments and targeted policy initiatives. The proposed legislative amendments are wide-ranging. They focus on the following areas.
First is financial flexibility, which is so important even in private business.
Second is port access to infrastructure funding, which is important for the future.
Third is environmental sustainability, which is the cornerstone of this government's policy and is on every Canadian's mind.
Fourth is access to security funding. We want to keep Canadians safe, because without that we will not enjoy any future.
Fifth is a commercially-based borrowing regime for larger ports.
Sixth is supporting amalgamations and governance at ports if required and if in Canadians' best interests.
This means targeted policy initiatives focused on a modernized national marine policy as it relates to ports, a streamlined mechanism for borrowing, and flexibility in the management of port lands for the future.
Today we face unprecedented growth in trade with Asia-Pacific countries, as I mentioned. This is resulting in tremendous pressures on the west coast. These pressures are starting to be felt in other areas of Canada, for instance in the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway system and on the east coast, where we recently announced an Atlantic gateway initiative.
Our challenge is to find ways to promote new investment in the marine sector while encouraging it to behave as commercially as possible in the best interests of Canadians. Some of the larger Canada Port Authorities have made extensive infrastructure investments to address capacity constraints but cite barriers such as their current ineligibility for most federal funding as an impediment to further growth.
We are proposing to amend the CMA to provide these Canada Port Authorities with access to federal contributions for, first, capital costs for infrastructure, which is so important for the future; second, environmental sustainability; and third, security projects.
This is great news for Canadians. This approach would put CPAs on an equal footing with other transportation modes that have access to contribution funding. It would make them competitive.
We are not proposing the creation of a new funding program. Instead, we are proposing the establishment of a framework to allow CPAs to apply to contribution programs related to infrastructure, environmental sustainability and security projects.
Do members see a theme here? That is right. These programs that either currently exist or future contribution programs that may be developed in the future are the key.
In all cases, the ports would have to present a strong business case that fits specific criteria and that ultimately is in the public interest to warrant receiving public moneys. We are going to make sure that they remain accountable.
For example, these amendments could facilitate access to funds for the exploration of ways to address environmental concerns through new technologies to improve emission controls. They would also ensure the continued access of CPAs to any available security contribution funding.
Without this amendment, as of the end of November 2007 contribution funding for the implementation of security enhancements will no longer be available to CPAs. That is why this is so important.
We are also proposing that Transport Canada work in close collaboration with the Department of Finance and the Treasury Board Secretariat to implement a two-tier approach to borrowing that would provide for a commercially based borrowing regime, with accountabilities for larger ports with gross annual revenue generation above $25 million-- just for the big guys--at the same time streamlining the process for the smaller ports seeking changes to their borrowing limits. We want to make sure they remain accountable, but we want to make sure as well that they remain competitive.
There are other concerns related to the use of port lands. Some key ports are now facing encroaching residential developments and capacity limitations, an added pressure on the preservation of critical transportation lands in urban areas.
At the moment, there is little incentive for ports to retain lands for future transportation corridors. It is important to find the right mechanism to maintain ports as important economic generators for national, regional and local economies, as it is so important on the ground in these local communities that have these ports.
It is absolutely critical that we find ways to encourage our ports to invest in land holdings for long term port development. We are not talking about next year. We are talking about 100 years or 200 years down the road, but we need to be ready today for that growth that we expect and know is coming.
To promote the preservation of transportation lands, these opportunities would be given to CPAs by way of new policies implemented through supplementary letters patent. This would expand allowable uses for land that CPAs lease or license to third parties and assist CPAs in increasing revenues generated on those lands until such time as that port is ready to develop the property for port purposes.
However, Canada Port Authorities are not proposing to be less vigilant in regard to these lands, and all permitted activities will need to be compatible with port operations. For instance, we would not allow condos to be built on those particular lands. They have to be ready for the future.
Other amendments that will further benefit the Canada Port Authorities are those associated with future amalgamations, similar to the one under way in the lower mainland of British Columbia. We are proposing to incorporate provisions that would put in place a consistent approach, which is so important for certainty, to facilitate potential future amalgamations.
We want to work toward what is in the best interests of Canadians and at the same time make this a good governing instrument to do so. Some key governance amendments are proposed that would be more responsive to Canada Port Authorities' needs and would promote a more sustainable, more stable and more long term management framework.
There is also a complementary set of amendments being proposed that are more technical in nature and which clarify the wording of the act and harmonize certain provisions with other pieces of legislation. This is an important piece of legislation, but it does have to work with other pieces of legislation in the government regime.
Finally, with these changes in place, we propose to modernize the national marine policy as it relates to ports to ensure that the policy context for future decision making takes into account the emerging trade and the global business environment and that we remain competitive with it.
In developing this package we have attempted to strike what we consider to be a very reasonable balance between encouraging fully commercial behaviour on the part of ports and leaving the door open for them to compete for contribution funds under general programs like our new building Canada initiative, which again is great news for Canadians on the realm of infrastructure.
Ports in the United States and overseas are competition. They are focusing more effort on and are receiving more government funding for infrastructure, security and environmental initiatives. Long term access to federal contribution funding to spur growth in the new gateways or to implement security enhancements is consistent with the high priority we are placing on security and trade in this government. Two very important issues for Canadians are their safety and their jobs. What could be more important?
Canadian ports compete with international counterparts that receive security funding essentially for reassuring international trading partners. Associations representing the marine sector have requested that the government provide the same level of access to funding for Canada Port Authorities as exists for other transportation entities.
Other stakeholders we have consulted have strongly supported access to infrastructure funding for ports. That is important to this government as well. We have considered several different options to determine which one would provide the highest return for our stakeholders and for the Canadian economy, because this government is going to get the best return on investment for Canadian taxpayers.
We are proposing these changes in order to provide a balanced approach, as I mentioned, one that combines legislative amendments with targeted policy initiatives that will have the highest positive impact on the marine community and the Canadian economy. Yet at the same time, it will continue to require a small payment of rent to the Crown and puts reasonable safeguards around borrowing practices.
On the question of access to government funding programs, we are proposing to put ports and port authorities on the same level playing field as other players in the transportation sector. However, the government also recognizes that the right checks and balances for accountability to the Canadian taxpayer will need to be implemented to make sure that accountability continues. As such, funds provided through contribution programs with clear accountabilities and program criteria would provide excellent controls and reflect the government's current approach to the provision of funding under certain conditions.
We believe the proposed amendments in Bill C-23 are the right thing to do for our ports. They are an important part of the government's overall policies and framework supporting transportation and trade throughout Canada from coast to coast to coast. It is the right time to make these changes for the Canadian economy. This is the best thing for Canadians.