House of Commons Hansard #113 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nations.

Topics

6:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, what the parliamentary secretary is not saying is that 89% of francophones speak English and that only 11% of anglophones speak French. It is therefore not proportional.

Now the government is saying that it plans to ignore the law until 2012—another six years. The Conservatives say that their government is committed to protecting the country's two official languages, yet they are taking away the court challenges program. How can this government call itself committed?

The Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages says, “The plan is new and clear with specific objectives and activities whose effectiveness is measurable”. The Conservatives have decided not to comply with the law and not to make people learn French until 2012 but, instead, to put together an easy plan and to do the bare minimum.

How can the government protect our country's two official languages if that is how they think?

February 19th, 2007 / 6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I explained that earlier to my friend from Acadie—Bathurst, but I would like to ask him a question.

Why does the NDP not want to work with us to support our country's growing linguistic duality and to unconditionally support our Canadian soldiers and officers? We are talking, but we are also taking action. We are taking action by putting in place a firm structure in order to work with all francophones and all anglophones. We have to target where the needs are and still comply with the Official Languages Act.

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to ask a question in the House of Commons. On December 7 I asked a question of the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. I wanted to find out from the minister the position of the government on public versus private ownership of the Windsor-Detroit border. For those who are not aware, this is the busiest international trade corridor in North America. It is one that has a significant impact on the economy.

Recently Citigroup, a financial institution and one that anyone could hardly suggest is a left leaning think tank, did a study on public versus private ownership of international bridges and tunnels. From that, it measured several different factors. It looked at interest rates, equity, corporate income tax and sales tax. The result of all those analyses was that private ownership would have a 35% to 40% increase in toll rates versus those of under public ownership.

Windsor and the surrounding area have four border crossings right now, with a mixture of ownership. One that is privately held has significantly higher tolls than even its competitors, for example, in Sault Ste. Marie, Sarnia, Fort Erie, Buffalo and also in the region.

As we move forward with a brand new border crossing in my region, our concern is that it be publicly owned and operated and that we ensure the lowest fares possible to add increased competition, but not tax the users too much. We all know about the manufacturing issues in Ontario right now. Being able to compete fairly with the international trade agreements coming into force is very concerning to manufacturers. We do not want to add an additional tax burden on the businesses currently there.

I ask for a commitment from the parliamentary secretary's government that the next bridge crossing between Windsor and Detroit will be one publicly owned and operated, similar to others being built across the country.

6:50 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the member that we will do what is in the best interest of Canadians and Canadian taxpayers, as well as residents in the Windsor area.

The gateway is essential to Canada, and we know that it is very important. As the member mentioned, it is the busiest border crossing. It is absolutely essential to not only our trade but to our continued economic success and security.

The government is working right now with bilateral and binational partners, such as the United States federal government, the state of Michigan and the province of Ontario where it is situated, to develop a solution that ensures sufficient capacity across the Detroit River to facilitate cross-border trade and traffic, and in fact to enhance it.

As part of this work, we are conducting a comprehensive and harmonized environmental assessment, and I am sure the member would encourage that environmental assessment, to identify the locations of the bridge crossing, the inspection plazas and the access roads.

As well, we are also assessing possible models for delivery of the new crossing because we want to do what is in the best interest of Canadian taxpayers, who are ultimately our boss. Private sector participation, such as the public-private partnership, is one of the models that is being considered.

In November the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities stated at the public-private partnership conference in Toronto that the government was exploring the opportunities for using a private-public partnership for financing, building, operating and maintaining the new crossing between Windsor and Detroit. This is just one of several options, and I want to be clear with the member. We on this side of the House act in the best interest of Canadian taxpayers. No decision has been made as of it. This can deliver new infrastructure more efficiently and more expeditiously.

Although the government can borrow at a lower rate than the private sector, which is one of the considerations the member has brought forward, financing is only one of the many possible considerations that we have to look at before making this decision.

The cost of private sector borrowing would be offset by the risk that the private sector would take and by increased innovation and efficiency. I suggest the member would have to agree with what the private sector can bring to occasional projects from time to time.

We still have appropriate and effective public oversight by the federal government. More specific, Bill C-3, which was one of the initial pieces of legislation the Conservative government put forward, received royal asset on February 1. No matter what model the government picks, it will be the model for governance over our international bridges and tunnels for the best interest of Canadians. The Conservative government will also ensure that the operator puts in place mechanisms to address community concerns.

Let me assure members that the government is absolutely committed to selecting the delivery option that provides the greatest value for taxpayers while maintaining appropriate public oversight of the new crossing. It is quite frankly a balance for the best interest of Canadians.

The government will continue to work with the binational partnership, all of our partners and listen to stakeholders to explore models for delivering the new crossing that is in the best interest of Canadians. If such a model cannot meet the objectives of the Government of Canada or its United States partner, alternative delivery mechanisms will be pursued.

The Windsor-Detroit gateway is a matter of national priority and the government remains committed to ensuring that a new crossing will be in place by 2013, but we will do so in the best interest of Canadian taxpayers, the residents and all stakeholders.

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, given the importance of this infrastructure and the future of our country, it is a slam dunk in terms of moving toward public accountability and ownership.

I have done parliamentary research in the past. What has been concluded when examining public versus private ownership is that under public ownership we have direct control over access, safety, quality and pricing. It is very important for national security issues.

Second to that, I point out that I am concerned about the way the government is operating and moving toward an American style privatization of highway systems, which means increased tolls. What ends up happening is we get investment bankers. For example, Australian and Spanish builders in the United States have taken advantage of the public assets and have make huge profits at the expense of ordinary citizens. However, now there is a backlash because they have gone too far down that road.

What I want to hear from the government is whether it will support the call for public ownership.

Now the province of Ontario has joined the cause. In the parliamentary secretary's response to me he mentioned the provincial government. Last Friday in the Windsor Star, David Caplan, the province's public infrastructure minister, said:

The Ontario government is urging Ottawa to steer clear of private ownership of the next Windsor-Detroit border crossing...

Once again, I stress the importance of public ownership. Get on with the next crossing and avoid lawsuits. It will happen if we have public-private partnerships.

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his interest and his research. I would suggest that instead of holding it close to his chest, as so many other members from other parties in the House do, he should provide that information to me. I would be more than happy to look at it, review it and provide it to the minister if it be appropriate. We are a government that is listening to stakeholders and listening to all parties because that is what Canadians want us to do, to work together. I would suggest that the member and all members do that.

I just hope it is not similar to the situation with respect to Bill C-6 which is in the transport committee, and Bill C-11. Bill C-11 was on the projected order for today but I understand the NDP put forward some speakers to try to hold up legislation again. I am hoping that we can count on the member to provide us with the cooperation that is necessary to move legislation through the House and to move in a way that acts in the best interest of Canadians.

I assure the member that is what this government will do. We will act in the best interest of Canadians overall, but we have a balance to strike and we will strike that balance for the Canadian public.

7 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:00 p.m.)