Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Marine Act, the Canada Transportation Act, the Pilotage Act and other Acts in consequence.
For the benefit of our listeners and my colleagues in this House, it is important to briefly go over the content of the bill. This bill has a very specific objective concerning Canada's port authorities.
I will use Quebec as an example. Not all the ports in Quebec that our citizens are familiar with will benefit from this legislation. Five ports have port authorities. Those port authorities are autonomous management companies. They are in Montreal, Trois-Rivières, Quebec City, Port Saguenay and Sept-Îles. They are responsible for the administration of the ports, as well as domestic and international trade, and they form what is known as the national port system.
This bill targets these ports that have port authorities, autonomous management companies. They have constantly changing needs. There is a reason I previously gave the example of the port of Vancouver. The Liberals created the Asia-Pacific corridor, and the Conservatives have put money into the Pacific gateway. But both the Conservatives and the Liberals forgot that Canada had other maritime gateways. The St. Lawrence-Great Lakes corridor is another extremely important gateway.
This bill enables port authorities to take advantage of infrastructure programs. We have to be careful, though, because the $33 billion in funding announced includes only one infrastructure program. I am not making that up. It is in the Conservative government's budget. It was in the economic statement last fall. Of the $33 billion, $1 billion is set aside for the Asia-Pacific corridor and the Pacific gateway, which means for the port of Vancouver and, I believe, Fraser port.
What this will mean for other ports once this bill is adopted is that they will have to apply for funding to other infrastructure programs, many of which are intended for cities.
This is important to us. I want to tell my Conservative and Liberal colleagues that the Bloc Québécois is the conscience of Quebeckers. That is why Quebeckers elected us: to point out the gaps in all the bills that apply to Quebec. We are happy to do this, and that is why we work collaboratively.
We will support this bill, but we have to be able to raise red flags. We are the only party that raises red flags for Quebeckers. Once again, the funding announced includes money only for the Pacific gateway. The Liberals created the gateway, and the Conservatives have continued funding it. We shall see what happens.
As I said earlier, this bill will enable port authorities to apply to various infrastructure programs, something they were prohibited from doing by the legislation that created them.
When the port authorities were created, just like when the airport authorities were created, they were supposed to pay for themselves. That is why users and shipowners pay fees to use port facilities. Airports have their airport improvement fees—the AIFs that people pay every time they buy a plane ticket. These authorities were supposed to pay for themselves.
In the marine transportation sector, economic development is tied to development. The industry is changing, and marine transportation is growing. Major new facilities will be needed in various ports for all kinds of reasons.
Earlier, someone talked about how the Montreal port needs $500 million. An application will probably be submitted for that money. The port of Montreal wants to be able to accommodate cruise ships. Montreal is one of our most beautiful cities, along with Quebec City and other cities. I mean those with ports, like Sept-Îles. The member for Manicouagan, who is doing such a good job of representing the region, knows that the city of Sept-Îles is a very beautiful city. We also have Port Saguenay, Quebec City, Trois-Rivières and Montreal. Among other things, Montreal would like to invest a lot of money in facilities to accommodate passengers there. That could mean an investment of about $500 million.
The Bloc Québécois would like to see that happen. However, we would not want Montreal to apply for funding from infrastructure programs and be competing with applications from the City of Montreal. We do not want what is happening in Toronto to happen in Montreal.
I am from Quebec, and I stand up for the interests of Quebeckers. With all due respect to the members from Ontario—I have no idea what they are doing about it—the City of Toronto and the Toronto Port Authority are at war. I do not want to see these conflicts get any worse and spread to the other ports I mentioned earlier—Montreal, Trois-Rivières, Quebec City, Sept-Îles and Saguenay. Port authorities can now apply for funding from infrastructure programs, and they do not necessarily have the same vision as the cities. It is important to emphasize that.
We have to tell the Conservative government that it must not give all of the money to the Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor. It will have to invest money. We know that is not in this year's budget, but we hope that the Conservative government will listen to us and that next year, there will be significant funding for development of the St. Lawrence—Great Lakes corridor.
This bill will also allow the borrowing limit to be increased. The port authorities, the port of Vancouver among others, have maximized their borrowing capacity, likely as a result of their rapid growth, and would like to do business like any other private organization. That is more or less the case. They will be allowed to make borrowing rules and access the markets with their income. Their borrowing limit is being increased to allow them to further their own development.
The port of Montreal is not asking for this because it does not have any debt. That is why the Bloc Québécois has to be the conscience of Quebeckers. If the port of Montreal could apply to infrastructure programs, it would not borrow money and go into debt just because other ports, like the port of Vancouver, are in debt. There needs to be some logic in all this and every port should be allowed to develop within their own limits.
In addition to the increased borrowing limit and the ability to apply to different infrastructure programs, governance is being improved and the ports will be allowed in their letters patent to manage real property. This is something the port authorities asked for in order to have more latitude in managing the federal government's assets and to be able to purchase property and other facilities.
All this is because the ports are undergoing intensive development. They want to be able to make forecasts and acquire property before an expansion. They wanted to have the financial ability to plan and not have to wait until the last-minute. Sometimes while they are waiting to acquire the land around a port, the price goes up. If port authorities could plan their investments over ten or more years, they could immediately start acquiring land and rent it out in the meantime, for other purposes, until they can use it to achieve their development objectives.
We have to be careful. We cannot allow them to become speculators for the government. Once again, the Bloc Québécois will be the conscience of Quebeckers. We will make sure the bill is used appropriately by the port authorities. We are prepared to give them this chance to develop and plan their development. However, we do not want this to interfere with the major development the cities are planning in their own jurisdictions. That is where we draw the line because when we allow port authorities to apply to the same infrastructure programs as the cities, there is a problem.
No one can tell us otherwise. There is only one envelope for marine transportation and that is the billion dollars for the Asia-Pacific gateway announced by the federal government. No other monies have been set aside in the infrastructure program for the St. Lawrence—Great lakes corridor in particular, which is an underutilized corridor. Earlier I heard a Liberal member say that they had contributed to its development.
The St. Lawrence Seaway is underutilized. I will give you some statistics. The total amount of goods shipped on the St. Lawrence fell from 130 million tonnes in the early 1980s to 100 million and 105 million tonnes in recent years. Once again, even with a 5 million tonne increase in the past three years, we have nevertheless lost 25 million tonnes in marine shipping on the St. Lawrence since 1980.
However, over the past 30 years, shipping has increased 600% internationally. On the Mississippi system, which is the St. Lawrence's direct competitor, shipping has increased from 450 million to 700 million tonnes. There is not one Liberal who can boast about that in this House.
Since the early 1980s, the St. Lawrence has lost out with shipping falling from 130 million to 105 million tonnes, whereas on the Mississippi shipping has increased from 450 million to 700 million tonnes and international shipping has increased by 600%. Once again, the governments, both Liberal and Conservative, underestimated the capacity of the St. Lawrence—Great Lakes corridor, which is the main access route to the central United States. Again, the governments overlooked Quebec and Ontario.
It must be said—we are very honest—when we defend Quebec and the St. Lawrence—Great Lakes corridor, we are defending the Great Lakes and Ontario, whether the Liberal members like it or not. They have a majority in Ontario, and have seen marine transportation in the St. Lawrence—Great Lakes corridor decline, but it did not seem to bother them, and it does not seem to bother them now.
Once again, the Bloc Québécois is alone in defending this very important St. Lawrence—Great Lakes corridor. Why? Because we have five very important ports in Montreal, Trois-Rivières, Quebec City, Port Saguenay et Sept-Îles. We want these ports to be able to develop without having to compete with municipalities. That is why we will call for an independent program.
Yes, this bill is important so that port authorities are able to increase their borrowing capacity, acquire land to plan their development over the next 10 years, and apply to infrastructure programs. But these ports in Quebec and in other regions, such as Ontario, should not have to compete with municipalities in the other infrastructure programs, because there was no money allocated for the St. Lawrence—Great Lakes corridor, as there was for the Pacific gateway.
Once again, the Bloc Québécois is proud to be the conscience of Quebeckers. It is the only party in this House to do so.