House of Commons Hansard #121 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was documents.


Transfer of Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #139

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.


Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The hon. member for Guelph was not in his seat when the vote was called.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I presume the hon. parliamentary secretary is suggesting that the hon. member for Guelph did in fact vote. I am told that may have been the case. He was not in his seat when the vote was called and the voting started.

Could the hon. member for Guelph clarify the situation?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.


Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I recall, the vote was called. After it was called, I did stand up out of my seat and sat back down. I had misplaced my books and thought that they were here. I came right back to my seat.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The hon. member says “here”, he means in the chamber, that he had not left the chamber.

In those circumstances, I am inclined to suggest that perhaps there was no problem, but I will look at the matter further in case there is some precedent that I am unaware of on this matter.

Notice of Closure MotionResumption and Continuation of Railway OperationsGovernment Orders

December 1st, 2009 / 5:45 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.


Jay Hill ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I wish to give notice that with respect to the consideration of Government Business No. 7, which deals with the act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations, at the next sitting of the House a minister of the Crown shall move, pursuant to Standing Order 57, that debate be not further adjourned.

Notice of Closure MotionResumption and Continuation of Railway OperationsGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.


Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. It seems that the government's obstructionist tendencies are spilling over into the other place and your colleague, the Speaker of the Senate, detained me and I could not be here for the vote, but if I had been here, I would have voted with my party.

Notice of Closure MotionResumption and Continuation of Railway OperationsGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.


Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. As you well know, in the chambers of the Speaker of the Senate, unfortunately one does not hear the bells and the calm of the Senate side is not broken by the Commons bells. Unfortunately, I was not here for the vote, but I would have voted in favour.

Notice of Closure MotionResumption and Continuation of Railway OperationsGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.


Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, if you are looking for precedents about people being in the House, if you were to go to the very long Nisga'a vote, you would find that the Speaker of the day ruled that when a vote is called, the Speaker announces the contents of the vote, and a member must stay in his or her seat for the entire duration until the vote is actually called by the Clerk and reported to the Speaker.

Notice of Closure MotionResumption and Continuation of Railway OperationsGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Obviously, the hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia has a better memory than I. I am delighted to hear and receive his assistance on this matter. As I indicated, I will look into it as best I can and come back with an answer in due course.

In any event one vote is not going to make a difference on the result that was announced, so in those circumstances, while one might argue that it is an academic issue, it is one that will affect the House and I will come back.

It being 5:47 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Quebec BridgePrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Pascal-Pierre Paillé Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC


That, in the opinion of the House, the government should purchase the Pont de Québec for one dollar and commit to quickly finishing the repair work so as to respect its importance as a historical monument and vital transportation link for the Quebec City region.

Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to move Motion M-423 concerning the Quebec bridge. I will reread it to ensure that everyone understands it.

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should purchase the Pont de Québec for one dollar and commit to quickly finishing the repair work so as to respect its importance as a historical monument and vital transportation link for the Quebec City region.

The riding of Louis-Hébert is situated alongside the St. Lawrence River in the west end of Quebec City. It includes Sillery, Sainte-Foy and Cap-Rouge. The Quebec bridge is at the heart of the city. It is a main artery through the Quebec region and critical in terms of the economy, trade, tourism, history and heritage.

The Quebec bridge is the longest cantilever bridge in the world. Built in 1910 and 1917 by the Government of Canada to connect both banks of the St. Lawrence River, two major tragedies occurred during construction. Twice, in 1907 and 1916, part of the structure collapsed, killing dozens of workers.

With plenty of history behind it, the Quebec bridge was declared an international historic civil engineering monument in 1987. The only one of its kind in the world, this imposing structure designed by a disciple of Eiffel has attracted the admiration of many. The Quebec bridge was also designated as a national historic site by the Canadian Heritage minister in 1996. The government needs to acknowledge that it, and it alone, is responsible for ensuring the future of this heritage structure.

The Quebec bridge was built primarily for economic purposes, and it was used exclusively for rail transport for 12 years. In 1923, it was decided that Quebec could build a roadway across it. An agreement between the governments of Canada and Quebec regarding usage of the route took effect in 1928 and will expire in 2012. Under the agreement, Quebec leases the bridge for $25,000 per year, in addition to maintenance expenses that come out of the Government of Quebec's pocket.

More than 110,000 people use the Quebec bridge every day. In 1993, the Government of Canada sold the Quebec bridge to Canadian National for the token amount of $1, with bonus parcels of land estimated at $104.2 million at the time of the sale. The government would not reveal the reasoning behind that decision, even when asked by the Auditor General.

Canadian National committed to funding a major maintenance program on the bridge and to installing and maintaining architectural lighting. But in 1995, the Government of Canada privatized Canadian National by issuing public shares. In 1997, a $60 million deal was signed. Canadian National contributed $36 million, the Government of Canada contributed $6 million, and the Government of Quebec contributed its share of $18 million. The objective was to complete the restoration of the bridge over a period of 10 years. The project promised a Quebec bridge that would draw the eye the way one might expect for the 400th anniversary celebrations in Quebec City in 2008. That of course was last year.

From a more practical perspective, the agreement obviously also aimed to ensure the long-term viability of the Quebec bridge structure. The first phase of the work went as planned, in terms of the costs and the repair schedule. The second phase, however, which included sanding, cleaning and painting, was stalled, mainly because of new environmental requirements that sent the completion costs skyrocketing.

Now, 12 years later—I repeat, 12 years later—only 40% of the work has been completed, and the project is at a standstill. For the 400th anniversary celebrations of Quebec City, the bridge was grey, green and rust coloured, and went unnoticed. Work stopped in 2005 because the money allocated had already been spent.

Since then, subsequent governments have run into trouble on this file which, having hit a dead end, was brought before the courts and swept under the rug to squelch further publicity.

The dispute between the Government of Canada and CN is mainly about the difference between the 1993 agreement and the 1997 agreement. The situation is rather complex and I will try to be as precise as possible in my explanations.

The conditions of the 1997 agreement have been respected. However, under the 1993 agreement, CN is responsible for the long-term viability of the Quebec bridge. The company maintains that the 1997 agreement voids the previous agreement. The government, naturally, is of the opposite view that the previous agreement remains in effect.

It has become habit to say that nothing more can be done about the Quebec bridge issue because it is currently before the courts.

Legal matters take a long time. It could take another five or ten years before this issue is resolved in court. We have to wait for the court to appoint stewards before any action can be taken.

In the meantime, last January, the Delcan report that I have here, ordered by the current Department of Transport, revealed that the condition of the Quebec bridge structure is good to fair.

I want to reassure those who are taking the Quebec bridge this evening or tomorrow morning that there is currently no risk in crossing it. However, if nothing is done, the situation could change.

The Delcan report also states that areas showing significant corrosion are deteriorating. The restoration technique that was chosen to save a few pennies, is already outdated. The problem is not only that the work has not been completed, but that the government is not taking its responsibilities.

As far as the protection of historical and cultural heritage is concerned, it is well known that that is the least of the government's concerns, but it is very much on the minds of the citizens.

And what about concern for the safety of those who use the bridge? I do not believe that the Quebec bridge is currently unsafe, but when it comes time to vote on the motion it is important that we take our responsibilities so that this bridge not only can maintain its stature as an historic monument, but is safe for those who use it.

What is preventing the government from regaining possession of the Quebec bridge, shouldering its responsibilities and looking after the bridge before it collapses a third time?

I have here a letter from CN, which is willing to transfer the bridge to the Government of Canada at any time. The government has to stop hiding its head in the sand, which is absurd. It has to take responsibility for this issue, which has been dragging on for too long, unfortunately.

That is why this motion proposes that the government purchase the bridge and refurbish it so as to respect its importance as a historical monument and vital transportation link for the economy of Quebec.

In the past part of my speech, I will go back over certain points.

The case pertaining to the Quebec bridge and involving the federal government and CN is before the courts. The motion I am introducing today has nothing to do with what is happening in court at present. As I said earlier, it may take five or even ten years to settle this matter.

We are asking the government to shoulder its responsibilities, regain possession of the Quebec bridge and finish the repair work as soon as possible.

If the court rules that CN is responsible for repairing the bridge, all the government will have to do is send CN the bill for the repair work in five years.

However, if the court rules that the government is responsible for repairing the bridge, the government will have saved money. Taxpayers will have paid less because the longer we wait the higher the costs due to inflation.

Furthermore, Canada and the whole world are currently in the throes of a recession. It would be even more advantageous to contribute to repairing the Quebec bridge, which would create jobs and stimulate the economy in the Quebec City region. As I have already mentioned, in the long run we would be saving money on repairing the bridge.

I will repeat that this matter has been dragging on for 12 years. The House now has the opportunity to shoulder its responsibilities in this matter. When we are elected as members, when people vote for us, they expect that we will make decisions and carry out our responsibilities. The Quebec bridge is the perfect example of elected members taking responsibility for settling a matter that has dragged on for a long time. When the court hands down its decision, the government can either send the bill to CN or just cover the cost knowing that it could have been higher had they not gone ahead.

When a situation like that of the Quebec bridge drags on like this and is not taken care of by the elected officials of this House, that is the perfect recipe for feeding people's cynicism. Every time people use the Quebec bridge in their travels, they see that the bridge is grey, it is rusty, it is green. People are losing confidence in their elected officials and wondering exactly what we are doing about this. That is why I am proposing a simple solution here today, namely, that the government buy back the Quebec bridge and complete the work that is needed as soon as possible, so that we may resolve this issue once and for all, instead of waiting for it to be settled in court.

I will close by saying that, at this time, the government is showing an appalling lack of leadership, when all its needs to do is show some political will. We will hear some questions about this matter in a few moments. I will be very surprised if the government supports my motion, but I would be delighted. I do hope that the Conservative members from Quebec will support this measure, especially the two members from the other side of the river, right across from my riding, where the Quebec bridge ends. I am referring to the ridings of Lévis—Bellechasse and Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, which are home to part of the Quebec bridge. I really hope that the Conservative Party members from Quebec will support my motion, which should be put to the House in February.

In closing, some political will is all that is needed in this case. I hope that all members will support my motion so that some of its former glory can be returned to the Quebec bridge, an extraordinary bridge that deserves our respect.

Quebec BridgePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta


Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to ask the member a question in relation to this issue.

I understand it is the longest cantilever bridge in the world. The member suggested that the bridge was built in 1923 or thereabouts. I was wondering if he could give us more information on the builder. He suggested that it was built by the same gentleman who built the Eiffel Tower. I wonder if he could talk a bit more about that.

Quebec BridgePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Pascal-Pierre Paillé Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is another attempt to divert attention. I did not say that the bridge was built by Mr. Eiffel; I said that it was built by a disciple of Eiffel. Naturally, many people helped build the Quebec bridge, including a number of aboriginals. I could give a history lesson today, but I do not think this is the appropriate place.

I encourage the member opposite to consult some history books. I can even suggest some if he wants some good references. It is pretty clear that the government's strategy is to divert attention yet again.

Quebec BridgePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague, the member for Louis-Hébert, if he is familiar with the agreement signed between the federal government and CN in the early 1990s regarding the Victoria bridge in Montreal.

Quebec BridgePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Pascal-Pierre Paillé Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not completely familiar with it. I know a little about the current agreement between CN and the federal government regarding the Victoria bridge.

I would like to remind my colleague that we are talking about the Quebec bridge. What matters to me is that the Quebec bridge issue be resolved as quickly as possible. Without trying to change the situation, regardless of the agreements concerning the Quebec bridge that have already been signed or that could be proposed, I think the main solution is for the bridge to be bought back so that the government can resume work.

Quebec BridgePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, this certainly is a storied bridge. The bridge was begun in 1907 and, as a matter of fact, collapsed on two occasions and 80-some people died as a result.

I would like to note that the Delcan reports suggest that the current coating on the bridge is supposed to last for 30 years, but it is already judged as inadequate.

We have experience with the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis. In my own riding a truck hit the bottom of a bridge and now a bridge which is only 50 years old has to be replaced at a cost of $140 million. We can never assume that the bridges are not going to collapse on us very quickly.

We want to try to get this resolved as quickly as possible, but I would like to know where the Liberals were when this issue was being dealt with. Clearly, they were asleep at the switch. They allowed this bridge to leave the public domain, to be transferred over to CN, a crown corporation. That was the beginning of the problem. A private company now owns the bridge and it does not want to own up to its responsibility to do the repairs. The public is going to end up having to take the bridge back and do all of the repairs at the taxpayers' expense.

Quebec BridgePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Pascal-Pierre Paillé Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. In fact, this is a very complex issue.

When the government sold the Quebec bridge for a dollar, CN had not been privatized. Ordinarily, the government should have taken possession of the bridge again when CN was privatized.

I agree completely with my colleague. The problem at present is that a private company owns the Quebec bridge and does not want to have anything to do with heritage maintenance. It looks after regular maintenance, but I believe that it is not responsible for heritage maintenance of the bridge.

Quebec BridgePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta


Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to be here today to talk about this bridge. In fact, I had an opportunity to visit the riding of Lévis—Bellechasse with one of the Conservative MPs from the Quebec region, who worked very hard and diligently on this particular file for some years.

Indeed, I am pleased to rise today to tell Quebeckers and Canadians that this bridge is safe. It has been inspected recently. I want to make sure that the fear-mongering of the NDP is not brought into play with Canadians across the country, especially with regard to this particular bridge.

This motion, which proposes that the federal government acquire the Quebec bridge, is an interesting one. I understand that the member opposite and some other members of his caucus are interested in that. As a result of legal wranglings that are taking place right now, initiated by this government I might add, to bring closure to this file, I cannot comment completely on it and give too much information. Obviously it would not be appropriate as a result of the legal proceedings.

I will begin my comments by stating that members on this side of the House, especially the hard-working members of the Conservative caucus who live in Quebec, recognize the importance of the Quebec bridge as both a historic symbol and a vital transportation link that connects the communities in that area. As the longest cantilever bridge in the world, the Quebec bridge is a symbol of the knowhow and tenacity of Quebeckers and Canadians.

It has indeed been jointly declared as a historical monument by the Canadian and American societies of civil engineers. That is no small feat in itself. In 1996, it was also designated as a national historic site. The Quebec bridge provides a very vital link between the south and north shores of the Quebec City region.

It plays an important economic and social function in the daily lives of many people residing in the area. In fact, every single day, an average of 31,000 vehicles travel over the three-lane roadway and as many as 10 rail trains cross over its single rail line.

As the issue is before the courts, I have to limit my comments. However, I would like to provide some information with respect to CN's obligation as the owner of the bridge.

The federal government finished building the Quebec bridge in 1918. At that time, the bridge formed part of Canadian Government Railways. In 1923, the federal government conferred the management and operation of all Canadian government railway lands, including the Quebec bridge, to Canadian National, a new federal crown corporation at that time.

For all intents and purposes, CN has been responsible for the management and operation of the bridge for the past 85 years. In the 1980s and 1990s, the federal government began to implement a commercialization and divestiture policy with regard to transportation services. All Canadians recognize that and recognize that for the most part, it has been highly successful.

Accordingly, in 1993, Transport Canada entered into an agreement with Canadian National whereby the federal government committed to transfer title to CN of all Canadian government railway lands for $1. That is right. Across this great country of ours, all Canadian government railway lands were transferred to CN for $1.

In return, CN assumed responsibility for several properties, including the Quebec bridge, and committed to implement a major bridge maintenance program that would restore the bridge and ensure its long-term viability for the people of Quebec and all Canadians. In accordance with this particular agreement, the transfer of ownership of the Quebec bridge to CN was completed in November 1995, immediately prior to CN becoming a fully privatized and publicly traded company.

To be clear, with this transfer, CN became the owner of the Quebec bridge with full responsibility for its operation, maintenance and restoration. If one can imagine the amount of lands that CN received, CN was well compensated for assuming this ownership and responsibility, as it had received very valuable property assets in 1993 in exchange for this commitment.

Despite generously compensating CN to assume responsibility to restore the Quebec bridge, the Government of Canada did even more to help CN live up to its obligation. In 1997 the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec agreed to assist CN in meeting its responsibilities in respect of the bridge by contributing toward a 10 year, $60 million restoration program for this particular property.

This 1997 agreement ended in 2006, but some of the infrastructure work was simply not completed, as the member opposite brought attention to. As I said, many of the members of the Conservative caucus who live in Quebec have brought it to my attention and to the minister's attention many times. We have been trying to work toward some sort of settlement of this.

Let us be clear. This is CN's obligation. About 60% of the bridge surface has not yet been painted, but it is CN's obligation. We believe that CN has an obligation to finish this work. It committed to do the work, and the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec provided financial assistance to help undertake the work.

The Government of Canada has made numerous attempts to work with CN to ensure the restoration of the bridge, but currently to no avail. Our government continues to be heavily engaged in this matter in order to protect the interests of Canadian taxpayers and of Quebec taxpayers.

All across the country people recognize that we are in a time of global economic crisis, which the gentleman on the other side mentioned. It is true that we have the obligation to protect Canadian taxpayers' dollars and to make sure that those people who are responsible for certain contracts fulfill the terms of those contracts.

CN has a contractual obligation to complete the restoration work on the bridge. This government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, took action to ensure those obligations were met and will be met.

In February 2007 the Attorney General of Canada filed a motion with the Superior Court of Quebec requesting, among other things, that CN be ordered to complete the restoration of the bridge. This judicial proceeding is well under way. It is aimed at bringing about completion of the restoration work on the Quebec bridge. Quite frankly, it would be inappropriate to further comment on that particular aspect.

In conclusion, the federal government seriously recognizes the importance of maintaining the Quebec bridge in good safe and working condition as it is today. Our government has taken several steps to help CN fulfill its obligations, to ensure that it restores the bridge. The government has made numerous efforts to negotiate a deal to see the restoration work completed.

While we are talking about important infrastructure investments, I would also like to take this opportunity to remind the member and all members of the House about the significant infrastructure investments across the province of Quebec and in the Quebec City region. They are very important investments which go straight to the quality of life of Quebeckers and all Canadians.

For example, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister for La Francophonie, who is also responsible for the Quebec City area, announced last August an investment of $4.5 million for the Université Laval in the riding of Louis Hébert for the improvement of its football stadium in preparation for the Vanier Cup, which was held on that campus last weekend, a great event indeed.

Because of this investment made under Canada's economic action plan, Université Laval will be able to host this important national sports event again in 2010. This again will benefit the people of Quebec City and all Canadians, and the quality of life of Quebeckers especially, having regard to how important this is for them.

Our government also recently announced over $7 million for the Monique Corriveau library, which is also located in the riding of the member opposite, who spoke just before me.

These investments will help stimulate the economy and ensure that all Canadians, all Quebeckers will benefit from strong, modern, world-class public infrastructure.

As with all files of the government, we are calling to action the people responsible for this, and we will continue to do so.

Quebec BridgePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the motion by the member for Louis-Hébert. I want to thank him for bringing this issue to the attention of the House.

When I saw this motion on the order paper, I was immediately intrigued by its purpose and potential interest. I can understand perfectly why the hon. member wants this issue to be addressed in the House. The bridge is in his riding, and his constituents are directly affected by this major artery in the Quebec City area.

Not only is the Quebec bridge an important transportation link, but it is a historical monument that identifies greater Quebec City. It is a historical bridge, not only for Quebec, but for Canada as well, and it must be maintained. The federal government is responsible for the safety of the people who use this bridge, regardless of who owns it at present.

You will not be surprised to learn that there is also a bridge in my riding: the Champlain bridge. The Champlain bridge is clearly in no way a historical monument, but it does have the largest volume of traffic in Canada. Like the member for Louis-Hébert, I am concerned about the safety of my constituents and all the people who use the Champlain bridge.

Since I was elected, I have repeatedly called on the government to show real leadership in maintaining and improving this vital link with Montreal's south shore. And yes, I know that the members opposite will mention the $212 million that was allocated in the last budget, but that money is spread over 10 years and is nothing but a band-aid solution to a real, imminent problem.

I could talk about the challenges of the Champlain bridge all day, but what I would like to talk about is another bridge just down the river from my riding and one that is a big brother to the Pont de Québec. I am talking about Victoria Bridge.

Victoria Bridge, the oldest in the Montreal area, originally opened as a federal rail bridge in 1859 and Canadian National Railway inherited it from its predecessor, Grand Trunk Railway, in 1918.

Transport Canada entered into an agreement with CN, then a crown corporation, in 1962, taking responsibility for the costs of maintenance and repair of the brackets and the roadway surface, as well as other operating expenses. Transport Canada also began compensating CN for all lost toll revenues in the amount of $664,000 per annum under this agreement. According to a departmental press release in 1997, $150 million had been transferred to CN between 1962 and 1997 under this agreement.

Between 1997 and 2008, Transport Canada transferred approximately $54 million to Canadian National Railway—privatized in 1995—under this agreement.

Let us compare this to the Pont de Québec. The bridge was built as part of the National Transcontinental Railway, which later merged with the Canadian National Railway, CN. The federal government retained ownership of CN until 1993. The federal government transferred ownership of the Pont de Québec to CN for $1 in 1993.

There is currently no agreement—and therein lies the problem—between the federal government and CN with respect to federal contributions to the cost of maintaining the automobile section of this bridge even though CN did enter into such an agreement with the Province of Quebec. In 1997 the federal government agreed to contribute, together with the Province of Quebec and CN, to bridge repairs costing $60 million. The federal government allocated $6 million—$600,000 per year over 10 years—to the project.

CN and the federal government are currently in court over this project. The federal government claims that the project includes painting the bridge but CN decided that it would not paint the bridge because of the additional cost of environmental mitigation.

That is the situation today. The member for Louis-Hébert is concerned about the outcome of the dispute between CN and the federal government and has proposed a solution whereby the federal government would assume complete responsibility for the bridge to ensure that all necessary work is completed.

Unfortunately, I believe that CN will not agree to sell the bridge to the federal government for $1. However, I believe that immediate assistance is required to protect the safety of everyone using the bridge as well to preserve this important historic structure.

I would therefore like to suggest to my colleague that a proposal to government might be modelled after the Victoria Bridge approach. However, we support his motion in principle, provided there will be with discussions about mutually beneficial amendments.

Quebec BridgePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am in the habit of trying to begin my remarks in this House in French. However, I will be making many of my remarks in English this evening because I think this is an issue that deserves to be understood by all Canadians.

For anyone who has ever visited Quebec City, the bridge we are talking about is the very old cantilever bridge, the heavy steel structure that goes over the St. Lawrence. It is quite an interesting relic of a bygone era. It is the longest cantilever bridge in the world.

Coming across from the south shore into Quebec City, there is a very modern suspension bridge that bears the name of Pierre Laporte, who was a Quebec politician murdered in the early 1970s.

This is the older structure that is to the right heading into Quebec City. Anybody who has ever visited Quebec City has seen it. It was originally just a railway bridge for obvious reasons. It has accommodated carriage way and now has three lanes of road. Depending on rush hour traffic, it can be adapted for that.

It is also a very interesting example of engineering persistence. Anyone who takes the time to look up the history of the Quebec bridge will discover that it fell twice in the long period of its construction, but when they finally got it up, it has managed to stay there ever since.

That is what this is about tonight. We are discussing, as incredible as it might seem, what has to be done to properly maintain an essential piece of infrastructure, not only for the Quebec City area and for the province of Quebec but for all of Canada. The railway network that we built over the past century and a half is still something that is very important for us economically and it ties us together.

I listened intently when the representative from the Conservative government went through the history of it. Almost all the facts he gave are right, but what he has failed to mention, and anyone who has ever lived in Quebec City as I did for many years can tell us, is this subject has been in the news almost constantly for 30 years. It would have been interesting to be able to hear the observations of the member for Portneuf who has had a lot to say about this, going back decades.

Right now, we are discussing a Bloc Québécois motion to essentially take back ownership of the bridge from CN and to ensure that CN properly pays for what it has not done. Do not forget this. The government just explained that there was a court case going on. The words chosen were “judicial proceeding is well underway”. As an attorney what that means is the only people who will be happy with this file are the lawyers. Something like this will go on for decades, again. In the meantime, the bridge is going to continue to rot.

CN had a firm undertaking to spend $60 million and to complete the work on the bridge. It did not respect that undertaking. That land, those infrastructures, those works and things were given over to CN, and it had obligations that it has not met.

The House has powers, and this motion is about this: that the House of Commons, for and on behalf of all Canadians, assume its responsibilities with regard to this essential piece of Canadian infrastructure. The Bloc is to be congratulated for getting it to the floor of the House, because it is an absolute national scandal. I do not think enough people outside of the Quebec City area are aware of this.

I also listened to the Conservative representative give an assurance. It was categorical that the bridge was safe. I invite him to come and see it with me any time he would like. Let him come and see that the bridge is falling apart because it has been neglected for decades. That is on the public record.

I sincerely hope we proceed with the work that has to be done to secure the bridge, to provide the repairs and the maintenance that has to be done. He is never proven wrong as I think he would be if we do not proceed to that maintenance work.

We do not have a culture in our country of maintaining infrastructure. Indeed, we have always had a tendency to try to build the next thing we can cut a ribbon for rather than maintain, on a rationale schedule, what was already there. In Europe infrastructure lasts a lot longer, but the maintenance costs and the consistent maintenance is a way of life. That is sustainability and it is built in.

In his speech, the Conservative member managed to mention that Laval University had received money for its football stadium to hold the Vanier Cup, as if to say that the government gave it something. It is a total non sequitur. One has literally nothing to do with the other.

To drive home his point, he talked about money for a library at Laval University. What does that have to do with maintaining the Quebec bridge? To ask the question is to answer it. It has nothing to do with maintaining the Quebec bridge.

This infrastructure has been suffering from poor maintenance for decades. The Quebec bridge represents a real danger to the public and to navigation in the St. Lawrence River if it is not properly repaired and maintained. CN had a firm undertaking and it did not respect that undertaking.

We are speaking with one voice now. I listened to the Liberals, who usually leave room for manoeuvring. Their speeches were very short and, if I understood correctly, like the NDP, they are voting in favour of the Bloc motion because it is a good initiative. That is the right thing to do. It is in the interest of the nation to take back ownership of this bridge and make the necessary repairs to it, even if we have to decide through legislation how much money CN has to pay Canadians in compensation.

It is unbelievable. CN got infrastructure and projects worth billions of dollars in exchange for one dollar and it had a few undertakings, including maintaining and repairing the Quebec bridge, which it did not do. It now has the nerve to drag this matter through the courts. We will resolve this very quickly. We cannot put the lives of people and the prosperity of Quebec City in danger because CN is dragging its feet. It is not right.

Thus, this proposal aims to overcome this deficiency and ensure that the work is done properly. The bridge does not need to be completely re-engineered. We are talking about repairing it and reinforcing its steel components in order to make it safe. There are ways to do this. One only need visit the Eiffel Tower, which was built in about the same era of industrialization, to see that structures like these can be preserved. Something could have been done a long time ago. Rust began appearing decades ago and has been eating away at this structure, which would cost billions of dollars to replace.

It is absolutely inconceivable that successive governments have been so negligent. However, just because the Liberals, who signed the agreement with CN, were negligent, it does not give the Conservatives an excuse to continue doing nothing. I listened carefully to what the Conservatives said earlier. They are dragging this before the courts. This whole mess is going to go on for at least another decade if it stays in court. In the meantime, the structure in question, despite its importance to transportation in Canada, will continue to suffer from rust, decay and deterioration.

It is appalling and unacceptable that the Quebec bridge has fallen into its current state of disrepair. Anyone who lives in the Quebec City area is fully aware of the problem and has heard the public debates on it, which have been going on for years. People just keep passing the buck. Yet this issue was supposed to be resolved with the sale to CN.

Everyone gathered here in the House of Commons can say that we tried. That is the problem with this kind of privatization. We in the NDP have always warned that we cannot trust private enterprise and give it control over assets that once belonged to the Crown, because it will not do the work needed. What happened? We were wrong to trust private enterprise and this should never have been privatized. This another perfect example of how privatization runs counter to the public interest.

I commend this Bloc Québécois initiative. The NDP will support the motion, because it is what is best for the public interest and public safety, and for the economy of the Quebec City region.

Quebec BridgePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Louis-Hébert, who made it possible for us to debate the urgency for the Conservatives to take action regarding the future of the Quebec bridge. Were it not for a Bloc Québécois member, this debate would not be taking place today.

With the support of the opposition, I would like to clarify a few things the member for Outremont said. I have been here since 1993. The Liberals have been in power at times since then. I remember the questions I asked in the House about the future of the Quebec bridge, about its safety, and about maintaining an important structure recognized as being significant to world heritage.

At the time, we asked the Liberals to pay all of the costs associated with repairing and maintaining the Quebec bridge. At the time, we were told that there was a formal demand. The former member for Outremont, who was replaced by the current member for Outremont, told us that there was a formal demand, that they could not answer the question, and that we had to wait. Now the Conservatives are in power, and they say that the matter is before the courts.

I completely agree with the new member for Outremont that the government is putting things off. Earlier, we all heard the parliamentary secretary acknowledge the virtues of this architectural masterpiece. He described how it was designed and built, all of the obstacles encountered during construction, and the collapse of the cantilever bridge that claimed many lives.

Acknowledging that is all well and good, but that is one thing, and taking action is another. There can be no doubt that today's motion is critical. Why? Because the necessary restoration work is expected to cost many millions of dollars.

I would like to point out that there are five Conservative members from the Quebec City region, in my region, in the area around my riding. The government gave $440 million to restore the Champlain, Victoria and Jacques-Cartier bridges—which is great and fine by me—but Conservatives from the Quebec City region should also have put pressure on the government to ensure that some money was allocated to the Quebec bridge.

We know very well that their way of avoiding the problem is to say that the issue is before the court. But we also know very well, as my colleague and the member for Outremont said, that this legal agreement would not prevent the Superior Court from ruling on this case.

We are not asking the Conservatives to show sensitivity, but to show some respect for what the Quebec bridge represents to the people of Louis-Hébert and to all people in the Quebec City region. It is not only an important vehicle for economic development, but it is also, as was mentioned earlier, a recognized heritage structure. If we want to keep it in that state, we must not wait until it is too late.

Even the Auditor General wrote in 2005 that Transport Canada needed to act to ensure the long-term viability of the Quebec bridge.

I believe that the Conservatives are not acting in good faith. We had a question from the parliamentary secretary asking us about the history, and what engineers had helped build the bridge. Come on.

This bridge is deteriorating. Delcan has produced a report. The Conservatives have a copy of this report. The report talks about the state of the bridge. the bridge is deteriorating. There is a lot of rust and it is spreading.

Even if we wait 10 years, the bridge will still be in terrible shape. By then, we may no longer be able to consider it a historic monument and heritage structure. It will not do us any good to know when it was recognized as such. But that is not what we are talking about today.

The bridge is showing its age, and it is rusting more and more quickly. As Mr. Beaulieu, the former director of Laval University's civil engineering department, said, the time to act is now. What we need is a political decision.

The Quebec bridge and heritage preservation in general are not exactly the Conservatives' cup of tea. Quebec's military heritage is also falling into ruin. Drastic measures are necessary. But once again, the Conservatives are nowhere to be found.

The budget included a $100 million envelope, but it disappeared and nobody seems to know where it is. When we ask elected Conservative representatives questions in the House, instead of reassurance, we get pronouncements on other subjects and no assurance that millions of dollars will be allocated in the next budget.

Today, we want the government to feel the heat and wake up. They have to drop their laissez-faire approach to heritage preservation.

The saga around the armoury is another example of the Conservatives' laissez-faire approach to heritage preservation. More than a year and a half after the fire, the government is still investigating and asking people to assess parts of the building. The contract for this work was awarded to a Toronto firm instead of a Quebec City firm. That shows how interested the Conservatives are in heritage.

We can see why the Conservatives cannot meet Quebeckers' expectations.

The Liberal Party has shown openness to the motion, and we will see what happens in the coming days, when the time comes to vote. This is a votable motion. The Bloc is counting on the support of the NDP and the Liberal Party.

I hope that the vote will force the Conservative Party to act and that it will set aside money in the next budget. The government can no longer hide behind the argument it trots out every time we ask questions in the House because the issue is before the courts.

Today, it is the member for Louis-Hébert who has brought this debate before the House. This debate was brought before the House a second time because a Bloc member represented the riding of Louis-Hébert. Then the riding was represented by a Conservative, who did not bother to raise this issue in the House.

I hope we can take advantage of the openness that exists so that the members from the Quebec City area can finally respond to the demands coming from the community. A coalition was formed, but it no longer exists.

One thing I know about the Conservative Party is that it lets issues drag on. It was the same thing in the case of Shannon. Coalitions are forming and trying to put pressure on the Conservatives. The Shannon case is before the courts, and the government has changed attorneys to fight the class action suit.

The other day, the Minister of National Defence said that the Conservatives would do everything they could to prevent this class action suit from going to court. If the government told us it did not want a class action suit because it wanted to settle the matter, that would be a different story. But that is not what is happening.

We hope that the opposition parties will force the government to finally shoulder its heritage responsibilities.

Quebec BridgePrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this evening's debate, not only as the MP for the communities of Lévis, Bellechasse and Les Etchemins, but also as a civil engineer. It is often said that engineers in Canada wear a ring made from pieces of the bridge that fell during the tragic accidents that took place while the Quebec bridge was being constructed, to remind us that to err is human and that engineers must always be very careful in their design.

A clear consensus is emerging here this evening, which is to recognize the historical importance of the Quebec bridge as well as the importance of this vital link connecting Lévis to Quebec City, as well as the Chaudière-Appalaches region—which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year—to the Quebec City area. However, not everyone agrees on how to go about preserving the integrity and sustainability of the Quebec bridge. We saw the Liberals really improvising here this evening, with erroneous facts in their speeches, particularly about the agreement signed by the Quebec government and the use of the Quebec bridge. Of course we saw the NDP wanting to squander public funds without any guarantees, and we saw the Bloc dithering.

Before entering into the political debate as such, I would like to commend the remarkable work of a person who has contributed to keeping the importance of the Quebec bridge alive in the collective consciousness. Author Michel Lébreux has written two remarkable books on the history of the Quebec bridge, books that serve as benchmarks on the subject. He gives lectures on a regular basis. It is people like him who contribute to keeping the importance and vitality of the Quebec bridge on everyone's minds. I encourage him to keep it up because there is still a great deal of work to do to preserve the memory and future of the Quebec bridge.

I can say this evening that I am convinced the Quebec bridge will play a fundamental role in clearing up the problems of traffic congestion. I am talking about the problems encountered daily by thousands of my constituents. I was talking to one of my constituents this evening. It took him an hour and a quarter to cross from Quebec City to Lévis. The connection between the two shores needs to be improved and I think the railroad is the answer and the Quebec bridge is the key to it all.

Getting back to the matter at hand, I want to point out that the Bloc Québécois' recent change of heart on this issue is somewhat disconcerting. Allow me to explain. A little less than a year ago, the Bloc leader stated that the solution was to have Ottawa take charge of the work, pay for it, and send the bill to CN. If Ottawa lost, it would have to take responsibility and cover the costs. In other words, the Bloc Québécois leader was brazenly asking taxpayers and the federal government to do two contradictory things, while completely ignoring the serious and complex issues that are currently the subject of a court case.

On the one hand, they wanted the federal government to unilaterally take charge of work on a bridge that does not belong to it, and to cover the cost of that work, while on the other, they wanted the federal government to take CN to court for reimbursement. That is not logical, and it is damaging to the federal government's position in the current approach to achieving long-term resolution to the problem.

A year later, the Bloc Québécois has changed its mind and now—as we can see from the motion brought forward by the member for Louis-Hébert—it thinks that the government should buy the Quebec bridge for $1 and commit to completing the work as soon as possible.

In view of the incoherent change in the Bloc Québécois position on the Quebec City bridge, can we really take this motion seriously given that the Bloc may change its mind in six months? We even wonder if it is going to support its own motion when the time comes to vote. We will always support long-term solutions to the problem.

We realize that the Bloc Québécois will never be in power and therefore that this political party could change its mind depending on which way the wind is blowing. While the Bloc has been altering its position, changing its mind and tossing out ideas, our government has already taken tangible and responsible action to ensure that the bridge is repaired and remains safe. In this regard, our government recognizes the importance of maintaining the bridge in good repair and it is taking steps to ensure that this objective is attained.

It is not—

Quebec BridgePrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.