Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the motion this evening, and I certainly was prepared to speak to the motion on previous occasions. On December 1, 2009, and March 24, 2010, we had robust debate in the House on this particular issue.
This is a common problem throughout this country. Unlike European countries, Canada seems to build infrastructure that has a very, very limited lifespan. We are halfway between European structures, which seem to last hundreds of years, and Las Vegas, where buildings that are only 20 or 30 years old are demolished.
A new Winnipeg airport is being built at the moment. I would think any other country would have found a use for the old airport. Instead, the old one is to be torn down. An arena that was torn down four or five years ago would have been perfect for use by poorer areas of the city that are always short of recreational facilities, but the government simply tore the structure down.
This is a similar situation. The bridge was built a number of years ago. There was a story that it was referred to as one of the eight wonders of the world at one time, when the construction was completed in 1919. The history of this bridge is quite interesting, and I will get into it in a couple of minutes. I just wanted to comment that defective and deteriorating infrastructure seems to be a very common theme in this country.
There is a bridge in my own riding that is only 50 years old, which has been getting a lot of publicity over the last couple of years. A truck hit it and caused enough damage to it that now the entire structure has to be replaced at a cost of a couple of hundred million dollars. The Minneapolis bridge was another example, and I think it had even been inspected prior to its sudden collapse.
I did note that the government minister in charge of the infrastructure program, on one occasion last fall and again when I asked him a question this spring, indicated that now is the time to do infrastructure projects because the cost of construction has dropped drastically, particularly on big projects. We might not notice it on the home repairs we get quotes on, but certainly when we are into the millions and millions of dollars, if there ever was a time to get our construction projects done, it would be now.
To my mind, this is an infrastructure deficiency that needs to be looked at. The infrastructure funds should be used for things like this. One of the previous speakers, in reply to a question I had asked on the safety of the bridge, maintained it was 100% safe and we should not be fearmongering that the bridge could collapse. Well, come on. There has been a number of collapses of bridges, bridges in fairly good shape. Inspected bridges do collapse, so to let our infrastructure deteriorate does not make sense at all.
In this particular case, Canadian National Railways got a sweetheart deal. We could get into the specifics of the deal, but a deal was made by the previous Liberal government, which turned over a fairly substantial portion of land, worth I forget how many millions of dollars, on condition that CN take care of the bridge. Now that it is a private corporation, it is seeking to hide from its responsibility. The whole issue appears in court and, convenience of conveniences, the government can now hide under the fact that it is before the courts and there is nothing it can do. CN gets away with all the government's real estate and it is not fulfilling its contract and the condition of the bridge is getting worse.
That is a situation we find ourselves in many times when we are dealing with private entrepreneurs. We see this with private stadiums and sporting facilities. Any time there are private owners, they tend to take the government money and the incentives the government gives. It never seems to fail that, halfway through construction, they are there with their hands out for more. Things did not go the way they planned. They have new information and now they need more money. They demand that we pay up and if we do not pay up, then they are going to shut the structure down. They know they have the government in a bad situation here.
We are offering to buy the bridge back. We want the bridge to be bought back for a dollar, but what is going to happen with all these lands? CN is now a privately owned company, run more by Americans. Is it going to be returning that land, or is it going to be compensating for the value of the land?
These are all issues that will have to be resolved in the court case. As our critic from Outremont explained in his speech, the only people who are going to benefit from all this are the lawyers, at the end of the day. That is the sad part of it. Whenever we involve lawyers in the equation, all the money ends up being used up by the lawyers and none is left for the people.
My staff found some information about this bridge that I found very interesting. In 1907, in Quebec the biggest cantilever bridge in the world was being built. Little did people know that on August 29 they would also experience one of the biggest bridge collapses in history. The bridge across the St. Lawrence, six miles above Quebec City, was a brainchild of the Quebec Bridge Company, which was a group of local business people. Until then, goods were brought up from the south shore to Quebec City by ferry.
In 1903, the Quebec Bridge Company gave the job of designing the bridge to the Phoenix Bridge Company. It also contracted a renowned bridge builder from New York by the name of Theodore Cooper to oversee the design and construction of the bridge. The peculiarities of the site evidently made the design of the bridge very difficult. The St. Lawrence was a shipping lane and the 2,800-foot bridge had to have an 1,800-foot single span almost 150 feet above the water to allow the ocean-going vessels to pass.
The bridge was to be multi-functional and was to be 67 feet wide to accommodate two railway tracks, two streetcar tracks and two roadways. For those who are not familiar with the design, they have to think of it in terms of a continuous beam anchored at both ends to pillars. The key to the bridge design was the weight of the centre span. This kind of design is also used in large buildings where interior pillars cannot be used to support the roof, for example, in the case of aircraft hangers.
In late 1903, the Phoenix Bridge Company laid out the initial drawings of the bridge. The design was approved with very few changes by Cooper. The estimated weight of the span was to be calculated based on the initial drawings. In 1905, the working drawings were completed and the first steel girders were bolted into place. These working drawings took more than seven months to reach Cooper for final approval. In the meantime, the work had already begun. It was not until Cooper received the drawings that he noticed that the estimated weight of the span was off on the low side by almost eight million pounds.
Cooper had one of two choices. He could condemn the design and start over or take the risk that there would be no problem. He told himself that the eight million pounds was within engineering tolerances and he let the work continue because he wanted to be known as the designer of the greatest bridge in the world. Also factored into Cooper's decision was the fact that the Prince of Wales was scheduled to open the bridge in 1908 and any delay would upset his plans.
That was a very fateful decision. I do not have enough time left to finish all the details of this story, but as the members know, the bridge did in fact collapse. I believe it took about 12 years before the bridge was finally brought into use and completed in August 1919. I just wanted to share that with members. If anyone is interested in more details about this, they can certainly contact me.