Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to rise in the House for the third reading debate on a bill that is critical to the realization of some of Canada's key economic, transportation and trade priorities: amendments to the Canada Marine Act. This act is the economic framework for, among other entities, Canada's port authorities.
It has been well recognized that while the implementation of the Canada Marine Act has greatly contributed to the success of the marine industry, in order to better respond to the future market demands, changes now reflected in Bill C-23 are required, and they are required as soon as possible.
Bill C-23 is extremely important to our Canadian ports and, indeed, it is very important to Canada's economic prosperity.
I would like to remind members that the bill is the result of extensive and very broad based consultations that date back to 2002 with the Canada Marine Act review.
The Standing Committee on Transport, Communities and Infrastructure, of which I am a member, heard widespread industry support for Bill C-23, not only unanimous support from the membership of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities, but also from the Shipping Federation of Canada and the Chamber of Marine Commerce. They have all endorsed these positive changes that our government has brought in under the bill.
The Association of Canadian Port Authorities has been very clear in its submissions. While the Canada Marine Act has worked fairly well overall since its inception in 1998 and has been beneficial for the users of the ports, now the time is right to make changes that will allow port authorities to respond to shifting global supply chains and trade markets and to play an even larger role in Canada's economic prosperity. This is very important to us.
The Shipping Federation of Canada, representing virtually all of the trade moving between eastern Canada and ports overseas, has urged the government to move swiftly in ensuring its passage. It has stated:
--the amendments...will go a long way towards addressing the financial constraints under which Canada's ports have operated since the Canada Marine Act was passed in 1996, thus ensuring that Canada has a strong and competitive ports system that can fully meet present and future trade objectives.
The Chamber of Marine Commerce has stated:
--Bill C-23 appears to be the badly needed next step in the evolution of the competitiveness of Canadian ports and the future prosperity of Canada's system of marine commerce.
Those are the chamber's words, not ours. It has also encouraged all parties to act toward the swift passage of the bill in the House of Commons and the Senate.
We have heard from witnesses appearing before the standing committee that the various port labour interests also support these changes. We have been informed that the unions view these proposed changes positively as facilitating port growth and in turn creating jobs for their members from coast to coast to coast.
The message to the standing committee from industry stakeholders was very clear: we need to move quickly on Bill C-23.
When asked during committee how urgently the bill is needed, Mr. Sean Hanrahan of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities responded:
If all of this could be done with final proclamation by spring [of this year], that would be the best.
Mr. Hanrahan elaborated further:
Trade is projected to double by 2020, and that is 11 years away. We simply have to dovetail everything that encourages commercialization and development at the same time as we hit this impending growth.
Those are not my words. They are not the words of members of the government and they are not the words of members of the opposition. They are the words of the people who operate in our ports and they are saying that we should pass this bill quickly, that Canada needs it.
Indeed, I am pleased to inform the House that the standing committee concluded its clause by clause review very swiftly, somewhere in the range of 30 minutes, resulting in only one minor change to the bill to correct a typographical drafting error. This change in fact was a government sponsored amendment to bring the French and the English into consistency.
I should note that a minor consequential amendment to correct a drafting oversight is also in the works. This consequential amendment will simply fix a reference to the new numbering of paragraphs that is necessary to the acceptance of the government sponsored amendment.
I would now like to briefly address some of the key provisions of the bill.
Bill C-23 will recognize our ports as the significant economic contributors that they are to this economy. It acknowledges the role of marine transportation, signifying the government's recognition of this sector's vital contribution to Canada's economy, especially by ports that are critical to international trade. We are a trading nation and our success, the success of our economy and the success of our future generations, depends on the efficiency and effectiveness of our ports.
Many stakeholders have requested these amendments, suggesting that in order to respond to the challenges ahead, an explicit recognition of the marine industry's vital contribution to Canada's economy is essential to fostering further growth and the future success of our marine transportation industry.
Trade, capacity pressures, aging transport infrastructure and increasing pressures on transportation lands in urban settings are now part of the marine environment. Canada port authorities are critical components of trade gateways and require new tools in a new era of trade to respond to market forces in a timely manner in order to support Canada's international and domestic trade.
“Advantage Canada”, introduced by this government, made “modern transportation infrastructure” a core element of the government's agenda and recognized that Canada's ability to compete on the world stage is highly dependent on the efficiency of larger ports such as Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax. This bill takes great steps toward their efficiency.
We must ensure that Canadian port authorities have the tools they need in the years ahead, not just today but in 10 and 20 years from today. Bill C-23 introduces much needed flexibilities, enabling Canada port authorities to compete and prosper in this global market.
Bill C-23 will facilitate trade and complement our gateway and corridor initiatives such as the Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor initiative, the Ontario-Quebec continental gateway and trade corridor, and the Atlantic gateway, all three very important to jobs in this country. The flexibilities it will provide are absolutely imperative for Canada to take advantage of trade opportunities, both today and in the future.
It is imperative, as you know, Mr. Speaker, that our ports have access to a suite of modern financial instruments. How can they be successful without that flexibility?
In a speech delivered in British Columbia on May 4, 2007 at the International Conference on Gateways and Corridors, the Prime Minister indicated that the government would “make it easier for them to obtain financing for expansion and improvements”, referring to the ports.
New measures are required if ports are to expand their capacity to meet new demands.
Refining a framework, as proposed in Bill C-23, to provide more borrowing flexibility and access to relevant contribution program funding would also encourage the private sector and would encourage it to invest. This would enable governments to make targeted infrastructure investments that are in the public interest where important funding gaps in the system cannot be met by other levels of government or private investors.
Currently, Canada's port authorities are prohibited from accessing contribution funding, while other transportation modes do not have these legislative restrictions. We are bringing in an even playing field. Does it make sense to treat our ports differently from other modes knowing that it will limit their opportunities at a time when ensuring sufficient port infrastructure is absolutely critical to our success and to the success of our gateway and corridor initiatives?
Bill C-23 would permit CPAs to access federal contribution funding specifically for three things. The first is capital infrastructure projects. The second is security, which is so important since 9/11. The third is environmental initiatives, which are important to all Canadians.
More and more, we see the significant impact that transportation has on our environment. This is certainly true when we speak of our major marine ports, where a convergence of rail, road and marine transportation is part of everyday business and operations.
Many ports are already exploring new, greener ways of doing business, covering both land and waterside operations, from a greater use of diesel electric gantry cranes to more efficient and effective lighting and incentives for cleaner marine fuels and the exploration of alternative shore power.
Given the future economic benefits of more energy efficient transportation systems and improved quality of life for our local communities in particular, which all in this House are trying to do, this is an area where it makes eminent sense for the government to allow for strategic, focused funding at ports that is related to environmental sustainability. We want to encourage the environment in every aspect of Canada's economy, and we are doing that.
I would like to remind members that as of the end of November 2007 contribution funding for security enhancements through the Marine Transportation Security Act was in fact discontinued, yet security enhancements continue to be required for Canada's port authorities.
Canada's port authorities, shipping lines and shippers have all made it very clear that the federal government should continue to contribute toward the cost of national security, particularly in light of the funding being provided to ports for increased security in the United States. We should have and give to them a competitive environment so they can succeed against their competitors in the United States.
It is essential that the government maintain a sound security posture to reassure the travelling public and its partners, to ensure the continued flow of international trade, and to make our country more secure.
Without question, the Canadian port authorities must be able to operate their assets in a commercial manner. They need to be able to set fees and negotiate commercial leases and contracts that are market driven and competitive. They also need a more dynamic and responsive borrowing regime that is adaptable to changing circumstances. This is paramount if our ports are to take advantage of the anticipated increase in trade.
This amendment is important not only for the ports, but for Canada's entire economy. That is correct: the economy of Canada. We all know that major financial investments require the collaboration of a number of parties, be it the port authorities themselves, the municipalities, the provinces, other modes of transport or private sector investments.
Currently, port authorities can only seek an increase in their borrowing limit by making a request to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to amend their letters patent. It is quite the process. It takes a long time.
With this new amendment, those ports that meet certain conditions, and have the capacity to do so, could assume a larger debt obligation consistent with a borrowing code, to make sure they can pay it. Such a regime would maintain the accountability this government stands for, yet would allow ports to respond to opportunities more efficiently and recognize their changing financial circumstances as our trade doubles in 11 short years.
Recognizing that many of our ports are already operating at capacity today and feeling the pressure of increased trade, it is not difficult to imagine the capital infrastructure funding that will be required for our ports to respond to the anticipated growth in trade in the coming years.
Patrice Pelletier, CEO of the Montreal Port Authority, told the committee that the authority would need to invest a minimum of $220 million to maintain existing infrastructure and an additional $500 million to make necessary expansions to the port over the next five years, and that is only for the port of Montreal.
Captain Gordon Houston, CEO for the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, told the committee that this port has $350 million worth of commitments on its $500 million borrowing capacity in addition to a $1.3 billion terminal that is to be built, bringing the total up to somewhere around a $1.7 billion requirement, potentially. Those are the port authority's words, not ours.
These amendments to the Canada Marine Act will also strengthen governance. It is hard to argue against strengthening long term stability and continuity in the governance of our Canada port authorities.
Although the Canada Marine Act already allows for amalgamation of ports, as was evidenced in the recently amalgamated Vancouver Fraser Port Authority which we see as being very successful in meeting the demands of international trade, it is recognized that certain amendments would make future amalgamations easier and these amendments are welcomed. When a strong business case exists for the amalgamation of ports in the future, Bill C-23 would ensure that the process is clear and the transition transparent and streamlined.
In conclusion, Bill C-23 is extremely important. The ports have been waiting for these changes and are encouraging all parties, from the Liberals to the Bloc to the NDP, to pass this bill as soon as possible. I would, therefore, encourage all members in the House to pass this bill as quickly as possible, so that our colleagues in the Senate can start the process of reviewing this bill without any delay and we can get one step closer to this bill, a very important bill and the future of our economic prosperity, becoming law.