Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-23 today. Before I begin I want to say that our thoughts are with the over 4,000 people who may have died during the tragedy in Burma on the weekend.
On November 16, 2007, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities introduced Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Marine Act, the Canada Transportation Act, the Pilotage Act and other Acts in consequence, in the House of Commons. The bill is very similar in respect to its predecessor, Bill C-61, An Act to amend the Canada Marine Act and other Acts, which was introduced in the House of Commons on June 22, 2005 by the previous Liberal government. The bill died on the order paper with the dissolution of Parliament without having passed first reading.
Just to ensure our critic knows where I stand on this, I am in favour of the bill to modernize and increase the efficiency of our ports. I have a few questions and concerns on certain elements, but they are basically bringing forth the main points that we had in our bill. We are in agreement with the modernization of the ports in this trading world and to do anything that would make it more efficient and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are so critical to my area in the north.
In 1998, during the Liberal government's term in office, the Canadian Marine Act received royal assent. This was the first comprehensive legislation to govern several aspects of Canada's marine legislation. In addition, the act allowed for the establishment of Canada Port Authorities, port facilities and continued divestiture of certain harbour beds.
The Canadian Marine Act assisted in the commercialization of the St. Lawrence Seaway and contained provisions for the further commercialization of federal ferry services.
In 2003, the Canadian Marine Act was subject to a legislative review and, since 2003, Transport Canada has carried out a number of studies from which it was able to compile several recommendations to improve the Canadian Marine Act.
Canada's policy framework of 1995 for federal ports focused on the elimination of overcapacity in the new government structure to support a more commercialized system. Global trading patterns have changed in the context in which federal ports operate. Port modernization is required to ensure that ports have the tools needed to compete in a global trading environment and to support the government's new national policy framework for strategic gateways and trade corridors.
The Canada Port Authorities have locations now in St. John's, Belledune, Halifax, Saint John, Sept-Îles , Saguenay, Trois-Rivières, Montreal, Hamilton, Toronto, Windsor, Thunder Bay, Port Alberni, Nanaimo, Prince Rupert and Vancouver which will be amalgamated with the Fraser River and North Fraser.
Some aspects of the bill are administrative and some are more substantive. Certain administrative aspects were made to increase the clarity and consistency between both language versions. One changes the purpose so it would recognize the significance of marine transportation and its contribution to the Canadian economy.
Our party, in developing this act in the first place, is very supportive of this modernization of the ports. In fact, our leader, the Leader of the Opposition, announced before this past Christmas about a number of new ports in Nunavut, small boat harbours, which is very exciting. Unfortunately, the government has only announced one port, which is one commercial harbour in Nunavut, and we would certainly like a lot more small boat harbours in Nunavut.
The government also announced the enhancement of the military harbour but we have not seen much progress on it to date and we certainly would like to see that initiative related to harbours proceed.
During second reading on this bill, I asked questions as we have had problems relating to consultation with many bills in this Parliament. I was happy to find out that stevedores and longshoremen were consulted. The government had to do some research to find that out but I finally got the answer to that question. The opinions of the pilotage associations are very important. I meet with them usually once a year and they have very important considerations. Of course, also the port authorities, which we know had major input into this bill.
The purpose of the bill, over and above the technical amendments I talked about, is to do a number of things. I will talk about each of these things in more detail and maybe some specific elements of the bill on top of that.
First, the bill would modify the port authorities' access to federal funding.
Second, it would add provisions regarding the power of a port authority to borrow money.
Third, it would provide additional regulatory powers to the Governor in Council.
In some things related to the amalgamation of port authorities, the way in which the directors on the boards of the port authorities' would be pointed would facilitate the processes.
The bill adds provisions regarding port amalgamation, which, in the original times, were not needed because there were so few major ports operating. We now have many more ports to accommodate the huge increase in the world shipping trade. I will list them later on in my speech.
The sixth item related to the bill is that it would modify provisions regarding the boards of directors the port authorities.
Finally, it would add a penalty scheme and streamline certain other provisions.
Before I go into each one of those, I want to state that there are 19 Canadian port authorities right now when we are talking about the amendments related to port authorities. These are located in each of the regions in which gateway and corridor initiatives are being started. I will refer to those later on as well.
One of the areas in which I am interested and hope to hear from the government about is the amendment, as of November 2007, that contribution funding for implementation of security enhancements would no longer be available to Canadian port authorities. I wonder why that has been allowed to expire and why something else was not put in place. I know that is the intent of this bill but, as I will talk about later, I do not want it to detract from money that would be available for other security provisions.
I know a bill was put in place to allow security investments in ports, for instance. I also know that the Canadian Fertilizer Institute approached us for a similar program so it could invest in the very expensive security requirements for fertilizers and dangerous chemical items to make it more competitive in the world markets and more competitive for our agricultural markets.
The bill would give ports the ability to use some of their lands for different purposes, not just for the port itself. In general, I am very strongly supportive of this provision for two reasons. The first reason is that there would be no incentive for a port to expand to cover future contingencies. As we have seen, there have been great increases in shipping in the world and yet some of our ports could not keep up and then, all of a sudden, the land is all gone.
When condos, art centres and other big structures are built on waterfront land that should have been reserved for a port, it becomes very difficult to expropriate them when the land is needed for a port. It would be hard to get public opinion behind it to use that land and it would be very expensive and wasteful.
For long term planning, we need to set aside that land up front, but if it were to be set aside and left vacant, there will be all sorts of public pressure from every group, commercial enterprise, government, other transportation facilities, convention centres and everyone who wants that land for something else.
This bill would allow that land to be used for other purposes and generate revenue for the port authorities, which should be as self-sufficient as possible, of course, until such time as it is needed.
I definitely am in favour of that, with the exception that we must ensure that once again things are not put on the land that would cause the same problem, permanent structures such as condominiums, transportation networks or art centres, something that cannot just be taken down when the land is needed. I think this is a good provision but it needs to be watched carefully to ensure it is used properly.
For Canada, the ports are more important than for many other countries because we are a trading nation. The parliamentary secretary said that in his speech at second reading. In that light, I hope the government will stop closing important consulates around the world because they are just as important for us as a trading nation.
I said earlier that I would talk about the increase in the number of ports and talk about why we need to deal with things like amalgamations in this bill. In British Columbia, where there was originally one major port, it now has one in North Fraser, Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Nanaimo and Port Alberni, all to help the great expansion of trade to Asia. That is why we need coordination, not only with the ports themselves but also with the other types of transportation that feed into the port.
All the investment cannot be in the port land itself, because we also need to invest in the appropriate bridges, roads, parking and customs facilities in a type of corridor strategy. When we did the west coast port corridor we envisioned all of those items. I hope the Conservatives enhance and speed up the investment in that Pacific corridor at the rate that we had envisioned.
A few years ago we missed an opportunity to re-enhance the capacity of the Halifax harbour to handle the giant ships coming into the marketplace. I hope we do not miss that in the future.
When we are talking about the gateways, I want to assure my colleagues in Quebec and Ontario that we are not just talking about the Atlantic and Pacific gateways, which I have mentioned. We also need to ensure there is investment in the St. Lawrence--Great Lakes corridor and the St. Lawrence Seaway. That corridor has good potential because many of those ports would not be in competition with the east or west. They would be taking goods directly inland in a more efficient and economical way. This would help to build efficiencies in Ontario and Quebec in their ports on the Great Lakes and on the St. Lawrence River.
The distance between Montreal and Rotterdam is 5,813 kilometres, while the distance between New York and Rotterdam is 6,154 kilometres. Therefore, there is no reason that we cannot get that faster entry into the heartland of the Americas if we ensure we have just as efficient a system for getting the goods into our ports as opposed to ports like New York.
In spite of increased shipping around the world, Canada's use of that particular route has dropped. The total amount of goods transported via the St. Lawrence dropped from 130 million tonnes in the early 1980s to approximately 100 million tonnes 10 years later, only to have around 105 million tonnes since. Thus, since 1980, the ports on the St. Lawrence have received less merchandise than the 150 million tonnes they received in 2007. It was 25 million tonnes less than what was being transported on the St. Lawrence in the early 1980s.
Over the past 30 years the carriage of goods by ship has grown in the world 600%, while traffic on the St. Lawrence has dropped from 130 million tonnes in the 1980s to the current 105 million tonnes. Even the Mississippi River, which is a competitor to get into the heartland of the St. Lawrence, saw its traffic increase from 450 million tonnes to 700 million tonnes. I want my colleagues in Ontario and Quebec to know we are thinking of them and that our vision of ports includes them in the modernization and investment of their ports.
Those were introductory remarks. I want to now go on to the major components of the bill.
First, I will talk about the borrowing limits. It is certainly important to make sure that ports can make their investments, that they are borrowing efficiently and that everything else as a system is monitored and controlled. It should be done in such a way as to ensure they have secure borrowing and can be able to pay the bills. To date, the government has not had to step in. We would not want a situation where there was excess borrowing where ports could not control themselves.
The next area is access to contribution funding. This is perhaps my biggest concern with the bill. It is related to making ports eligible for funding through existing programs. Of course, we all agree that ports have to have funding, but it is perplexing to me as to why the government, if it believes in that, just does not provide the funding and why it would want to take the money from other federal government programs as opposed to providing a program for the ports. For instance, the ports want funding for infrastructure and security, which of course what we want, but why would the government take that money from other areas?
We have limited infrastructure. The government, fortunately, after extensive lobbying, carried on the infrastructure programs to the tune of $33 billion but changed the conditions. Most of the municipalities across Canada have not heard how much of that they are going to get. I have said time and time again in the House, and I know the Minister of Finance has heard me, that municipalities have to get the same amount of infrastructure money as they did under the previous government, which was $33 billion, and they need to know the rules so they can apply it and it is not distributed all over the place.
The municipalities have not heard for so long, the new rules are not out, and there is worry across the country. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Association of Yukon Communities have been wondering when they are going to hear what the rules are and how much of that money they are going to get. Are they still going to get the same amount of the infrastructure money as they did in the past?
The primary reason these programs were started in the first place was for the municipalities of this country. The Liberal Party will never cease to stand up for the municipalities to ensure they get their fair share of that funding. That is why, when there is a provision in this bill that adds another important need for funding to the same pile money, it is very worrying to me. Everyone will certainly be watching to make sure the ports get their money, but that the municipalities in Canada are not deprived of the funds they so desperately need.