House of Commons Hansard #34 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-3.


Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.


Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with some pleasure that I enter this debate.

I am a member from the rural parts of our country in northwestern British Columbia. Issues around refugee and immigration reform in general touch us as much in rural Canada as they do in other parts of the country. This is perhaps an untold story, that my staff and my communities are constantly dealing with questions that we facing here in the House.

I would also like to thank the member for Trinity—Spadina for her tireless work on this issue over the years, both bringing in personal sentiment and cause, and a calm rationality to try to reform the system that we all in this place can recognize is broken.

I think it is high time that Canadians come to understand where the true fixes lay, where the true solutions are to be had, and that governments resist the temptation that they have so often given in to, to politicize the refugee and immigration system in this country. Whether it is pandering to votes on one side of the conversation or to another, while it is trying to make some appeal to a particular group of new Canadians or make an appeal to some reactionary elements in our country that are fundamentally anti-immigrant.

We have to recognize that those forces are in play in this country and they come to bear on any government and any elected member. We have to resist those for a longer vision, a more noble and honest opinion of where Canada needs to be, not just in the next year or the next 10 years but in the next 100 years.

Decisions that we make with respect to bills like this have an effect for many years to come on those individuals and families seeking to reunite, seeking to find a better life here in Canada. We are also trying to find ways to keep folks from clogging up the system, entering the system knowingly, and trying to corrupt the system.

It is unfortunate but rules in this place are so often made for the minority. Rules are so often made for the cases of people trying to put the system into jeopardy but end up hurting so many of the vast majority who are simply trying to appeal to Canada's ethics and morality on a refugee claimant basis. They are coming from a country of some hardship and in particular circumstances, where they are being biased against for who they are, either their gender or their sexual orientation, and their economic status or political affiliations.

These are difficult questions for a refugee board to sort out. These are obviously difficult questions for a government to sort out.

No one, and certainly not New Democrats, lauds previous Liberal governments for their inaction on the backlogs that were created year in and year out. Justice delayed is justice denied. It was too often that people were cast into a system with no end in sight. This was not a decent way to deal with refugees and immigrants to this country. This was not a decent way or a humanitarian way to deal with folks.

We also see, with the current government's either action or lack of action in some cases, a contribution to the problem that we saw when the current government was elected in 2006. There was a reluctance to appoint new people to the boards.

The system is inherently political and partisan. This is something that we hope to reform. We actually had some glimmer of hope from the government when it sought to have an appointments commissioner, someone who would act in a non-partisan way to review the many hundreds and in some cases thousands of appointments in a year, that did not have any partisan connection, that could create a stand-alone committee at arm's length from the government.

New Democrats worked with the current government to make this happen and make it a reality. Unfortunately, the government's first choice for who should lead that commission was a gentleman who was the chief fundraiser for the Prime Minister, who had helped the Prime Minister achieve office.

Colleagues across the aisle are shaking their heads, but it is fact and case in point. When New Democrats asked if there was anybody else out there who could help with the appointment process other than this one individual most closely tied to the sitting Prime Minister, the government scrapped the whole idea. It said this was the only individual out of some 30-some odd million Canadians who was sufficiently capable of heading up an appointments process, and if we would not accept him it was going to get rid of the whole idea.

We thought it was a good idea. It was a good idea. The members can heckle all they want, but what they cannot deny is the fact that the Prime Minister put one single name forward and that was it, take it or leave it. We actually notice that time and time this has become this Prime Minister's tendency, his habit, to lean toward this type of leadership. It was rebuked earlier today from the Chair itself, this kind of intolerant approach.

Now we head to this issue of Bill C-11. My colleague from Trinity—Spadina made the good point that we sought to move this bill to committee prior to second reading. That would allow the committee even more latitude to make more fundamental changes to the bill. The government refused that.

We will work within the parameters of this place in a democratic way to effect this bill for the betterment of all those seeking refugee status in Canada.

It must be noted that when dealing with immigration and refugee issues, it brings out both the best and worst in a country. Our history has proven that out. In this place, the Prime Minister and various parties over the years have had to stand and publicly apologize for the treatment of people from different countries appealing to Canada's conscience to allow them to come to this country.

Some years ago, Jewish immigrants, Indians from the Komagata Maru and Irish immigrants were rejected simply based on narrow stereotypes of the worst order of that time. We evolve, move on, mature as a country, gain competence, and realize that we were wrong, that we used the barriers to our country as a tool or mechanism to punish those we were fearful of, those we did not like or suspected. This is the worst element of the refugee and immigration system and it is a difficult thing to get right.

We have no pretensions in the New Democratic Party that this is an easy thing to do, properly, fair and balanced, but today as we seek to speed up the process, we also look for a fair process. We look for one that does not sacrifice fairness for expediency, that does not create more errors that future prime ministers and governments will have to stand up and apologize for. This is something we all wish to resist and we should resist in every way as we look through this bill.

It is also a crisis in the making as the government refused, in the political appointment process, to put Liberals back on the board because it did not like Liberals and it did not want to give them a job, basically. I do not know if it did not like some of their decisions or it simply did not want Liberals on the government dime any more, but rather than replacing them with skilled and qualified Canadians to fill those roles, the backlog grew again.

When we have these crises, these moments that occur and require severe action, we have to pay attention to whether they were at all manufactured. If they were, then the cynical minds within this place will say it was done intentionally to move some radical reforms. If we create the crisis, we need to meet it with some expeditious force that will change it all dramatically.

It is also a story about the best of Canada, the best that we wish to be, and how we wish to present ourselves to the world as a safe haven for refugees, as a place people can come when they are being mistreated, and subjected to torture in all sorts of inhumane conditions. Canada must be a beacon of light in the world that people feel they can come to, where they can make an appeal to the Canadian system that is a full and transparent process.

This is the question we have on the expediency of this particular bill, the eight-day condition. Will refugees be able to seek the kind of legal support in order to defend themselves in front of the board or will they get one of these so-called consultants? We need to find another word for these immigration consultants.

I, like many members of Parliament, have had these folks on my doorstep. I am sure the immigration minister has met with some of them, bottom feeders I think the minister sometimes refers to them. These folks are sometimes in training and sometimes have noble intention, but too often pariahs on the system, pariahs on people's fear and desperate need to get into this country, and they offer them bad advice.

I worked in Sierra Leone for a while before entering politics and had the unbelievable frustration of meeting a young Sierra Leone man who had been engaged in the civil war and had his entire family wiped out by the rebels. He was appealing to Canada and had, through his church, forked over $850, which is an enormous sum to someone living in Sierra Leone, to one of these consultants. What did that Canadian consultant do? He provided that young man with a form that was available on a website.

These consultants prey upon refugees' fear and ignorance, that those seeking to come here think that this is an impossible system to get through. These people do not live in a democratic society where there are forms available for anything. This is a wartorn country and these consultants are preying upon these refugees, folks who often have already gone through hell and back, and are now seeking a better life in Canada. These immigration consultants pop up, promising the world, and charging even more for these folks to access Canada.

It seems to me we also need more refugee protection officers in the system. This is something the bill does not sufficiently seem to answer at this point.

We are caring communities in Canada. I represent northwestern British Columbia. Whenever there is a global crisis, whether it is Haiti or any other place, it is amazing to me that within days emails are in my inbox, I receive phone calls and people stop me on the street, either through faith-based organizations, their communities or themselves as families, saying they want to help, they want to offer access and safe refuge to people who have gone through such trauma.

As elected members, it is very rewarding when we meet those Canadians who are willing to open up their homes and sacrifice financially to welcome people in from another place and offer them a bit of the life that we have here, something that some of us were born with.

I am the first-born of an immigrant family and some of the things that concern me about the immigration reform before me is that I have to cast through and wonder whether my family would have made it through the system. Would my family of Irish farmers been able to apply under the immigration standards that the government currently holds? My family is a proud family but they were not rich. They did not have access or influence. They would simply have applied on the basis of their hard work, integrity and merit and spent the last 40 years helping build this country, as so many immigrants before them have. That is a test that I hold and a test that I hope we all hold, which is thinking back through our own lineages, our own coming here if we were not born here as first nations and for many generations past. I hope we give this bill a--

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Sorry but I must interrupt the member. The hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley will have nine minutes remaining when the House returns to this matter.

Business of the House
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I would like to inform the House that under the provisions of Standing Order 97.1(2), I am designating Thursday, April 29, 2010, as the date fixed for the consideration of the motion to concur in the first report of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. The report contains a recommendation not to proceed further with Bill C-310, An Act to Provide Certain Rights to Air Passengers. The one hour debate on the motion will be held immediately after the usual private members' business hour after which the House will proceed to the adjournment proceedings pursuant to Standing Order 38.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from March 24 consideration of the motion.

Quebec Bridge
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Resuming debate.

The hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse has two minutes.

Quebec Bridge
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Steven Blaney Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, two minutes is enough time to show that the government is firmly committed to finding a long-term solution for the Quebec Bridge.

Unlike the Bloc members opposite who change their minds about the future of the Quebec Bridge every six months, we have taken action. Proceedings are under way in which Transport Canada is asking the court to rule that Canadian National did not meet its contractual obligation to repair the Quebec Bridge. We are also asking that CN be required to finish the repair work, including painting the structure. If it fails to do so, CN will have to reimburse Transport Canada for any costs associated with repairing the bridge.

We made that promise. As soon as our Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities came to power, we took real action. We will continue to do so because we care about the Quebec Bridge.

What we do not like is the violation of parliamentarians' fundamental rights, which we saw in an insidious ad by the member for Louis-Hébert. He addressed a Quebec member with an English brochure about the Quebec Bridge. That showed a lack of respect toward the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, who received a poor-quality document that was, worse still, in English. Can the member for Louis-Hébert respect this country's bilingualism and send documents in both official languages, or at least in our language of choice? I urge the member for Louis-Hébert to use French first and foremost when sending ads or documents to Quebec members.

Getting back to the subject of the Quebec Bridge, I want to say that we are dealing with the issue and that we care about the future of the Quebec Bridge. We are not pulling these solutions out of thin air and changing our minds every six months. Above all, we will not make taxpayers pay to clean up messes made by private corporations.

Quebec Bridge
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the motion introduced by the member for Louis-Hébert. I 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 utility. I can understand perfectly why the member wants this issue to be addressed in the House. The Quebec Bridge is in his riding, and his constituents are directly affected by this 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 historic bridge, not only for Quebec, but for all of Canada, and it must be maintained. The federal government should be responsible for the safety of the people who use this bridge every day, regardless of who owns it at present.

There is also an unstable 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 between Montreal's island and south shore areas.

Although a pitiful $212 million was allocated in the 2009-10 budget, that money is spread over 10 years and is nothing but a band-aid solution to a real, imminent problem.

While I could wax poetic about the challenges facing the Champlain Bridge all day, I would like to take this opportunity to talk about another bridge just down the river from my riding and one that can be compared to the Pont de Québec. I am talking about the Victoria Bridge.

The Victoria Bridge, the oldest in the Montreal area, originally opened as a federal rail bridge in 1859, and Canadian National Railway, CN, inherited it from its predecessor, the 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 lost toll revenues in the amount of $664,000 per annum under this agreement. According to a departmental press release from 1997, $150 million had been transferred to CN between 1962 and 1997 under this agreement.

Between 1997 and 2008, the Department of Transport transferred approximately $54 million to Canadian National Railway, which was privatized in 1995, under this agreement.

Let us compare this to the Quebec Bridge. 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 Quebec Bridge to CN for $1 in 1993.

There is currently no agreement between the federal government and CN with respect to federal contributions to the cost of maintaining the automobile portion 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 worried 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.

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.

What I would like to recommend to my colleague is an amendment that would strengthen Motion No. 423. It is my belief that this amendment would also satisfy the members opposite and, hopefully, push the government into maintaining the Pont de Québec.

Mr. Speaker, if the member for Louis-Hébert would accept my suggestion, the amendment would read as follows:

That the motion be amended by substitution of the word “and” after the word “dollar” by a comma and by adding after the words “Quebec City region”, the following: “and should enter into discussion with the CN regarding the responsibility for the cost of maintenance and repair”.

I firmly believe that reaching an agreement with CN could ensure the adequate maintenance of the Quebec Bridge that we all seek.

Quebec Bridge
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I must inform the hon. members that pursuant to Standing Order 93(3), an amendment to a private member's motion or to the motion for the second reading of a private member's bill may only be moved with the consent of the sponsor of the item.

I therefore ask the hon. member for Louis-Hébert whether he consents to this amendment being moved.

Quebec Bridge
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Pascal-Pierre Paillé Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree.

Quebec Bridge
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The motion is in order.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona.

Quebec Bridge
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

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.

Quebec Bridge
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion. Even though I do not have much time, I would be remiss if I did not mention the outstanding job my colleague, the member for Louis-Hébert, has done on this issue.

This issue has dragged on for a number of years. I was elected in 1993, and I recall the member for Louis-Hébert who was elected in 1993, Philippe Paré, who is still alive and well and who raised this issue in the House. Thanks to the tenacity of the current member for Louis-Hébert, the issue of the Quebec Bridge is before the House today. There are people in this House who know that the Quebec Bridge is a historical jewel. In 2008, Quebec celebrated the 400th anniversary of its founding.

Unfortunately, successive Liberal and Conservative governments have dragged their feet so much that we are still talking about this issue today, in April 2010. I wanted to mention the work my colleague from Louis-Hébert has done.

As I said, the Quebec Bridge has been declared an international historic monument to civil engineering, but it would appear that this jewel is in very poor condition. The deterioration of the structure and major corrosion problems are increasingly cause for concern.

At a chance meeting, I had an opportunity to talk with someone who had done some inspection work on the bridge. This worker, whom I will not name, told me that some parts of the bridge were unbelievably corroded. The corrosion was so severe that with minimal pressure, one could almost poke through some pieces of steel. I do not want to cause panic among the people in the Quebec City area who frequently cross the river in both directions to go to work. They are the reason this bridge, like the Pierre Laporte Bridge, is so busy.

I will say it again, it does not mean that trains and automobiles should not be able to use the bridge, but desperate times call for desperate measures. This is no joke. The problem is that Canadian National, which is no longer a crown corporation as we once knew it but is a private company owned mostly by Americans, is refusing to undertake the necessary maintenance to repair the Quebec Bridge or to keep it in proper condition.

Mr. Speaker, I believe that you represent an Ontario riding. I do not know if you visit Quebec City often, but this bridge is part of the city's highway system. It is a vital piece of infrastructure. It is historic and part of our heritage, but it is also essential to traffic.

The Bloc Québécois—and this is the idea behind the motion moved by my colleague from Louis-Hébert—believes that the federal government must buy back the Quebec Bridge immediately and undertake the necessary repairs as quickly as possible.

Since the Conservatives came to power, they have gotten very good at putting the blame on others, at putting their heads in the sand and at sweeping things under the rug. They have perfected these techniques. Since the Conservatives came to power, not one spot of paint has been applied to the Quebec Bridge.

The current minister of Foreign Affairs, who was the minister of transportation when the Conservatives began their mandate, simply began a lawsuit against CN. Because going after CN made things happen. Teams of hundreds of workers are now preserving the bridge. No, the Conservatives merely sued CN. These are the Conservatives, after all.

However, in the 2006 quest to elect Conservative members in the Quebec City area, the current Conservative Prime Minister did not hesitate to say that he would work on the file. I remember the wonderful press conferences with all of the Conservative candidates on the Dufferin boardwalk with the Château Frontenac in the background. I remember that. In Quebec, it so happens that we have a fine motto: “Je me souviens” or “I remember”. And I do remember. And we will remember what the Prime Minister said to us in 2006. He made great promises, especially because in 2008 Quebec City was going to be celebrating the 400th anniversary of its founding. Since then, there has been nothing, zip. Nothing has been done.

Instead of taking effective, practical action, assuming their responsibilities and moving forward, the Conservatives decided to ignore the problem, as I said earlier. This lawsuit is meant to cover up the Conservatives' inaction in this file.

What we are asking for, what our dynamic colleague from Louis-Hébert is asking for, is that the federal government resume work immediately and assume the cost while we wait for the courts to decide, or that the government take steps to reclaim ownership. If we wait for this problem to be resolved, we will inevitably watch as the Quebec Bridge continues to deteriorate for the next 10 or 12 years. Technically, this case could wind up before the Federal Court. It could end up going as far as the Supreme Court of Canada and we all know how backlogged the courts are at this time. Nothing will be done.

That is why we are calling on the government, if it really cares about the interests of the people of the Quebec City area, to take steps to reclaim ownership of the Quebec Bridge.

I do not mean to completely dismiss them, but we are dealing with a bad corporate citizen, namely, CN. CN is not assuming its responsibilities and is behaving like a bad corporate citizen. Of course, it was a bad decision at the time to hand the Quebec Bridge over to CN. There is a saying, which I did not invent, that states that we cannot put toothpaste back into the tube. In other words, we cannot go back in time.

If the Conservatives wish, if they have an ounce of good faith or an ounce of good will, they will begin steps to reclaim ownership of the Quebec Bridge and they will immediately begin the repairs that are so urgently needed.

Quebec Bridge
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.


Bernard Généreux Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to motion M-423, which proposes that the Government of Canada purchase the Quebec Bridge and finish the repair work.

I would like to focus on three essential aspects of motion M-423. First, I would like to explain why it is important to keep the Quebec Bridge in good condition, for historical purposes, but also for transportation purposes. Second, I would like to talk about the key role that CN plays in maintaining the bridge and completing the massive restoration project. Lastly, I would like to talk about the measures taken by the Government of Canada to come up with a solution that will get the repair work done.

The bridge linking the north shore of the St. Lawrence, in Quebec City, to the south shore, in Lévis, was built over several years at the end of the 19th century. Replacing the ferry system used at the time by a railway bridge was seen as a way to speed up the economic development of the region.

Construction work on the Quebec Bridge started in 1900. It was a huge challenge that had its share of setbacks.

The first attempt ended in total disaster in 1907, with the collapse of the south arm of the bridge, which resulted in the death of 75 workers. The second project began in 1910, but again ended in disaster. In 1916, when the central span was being raised into position to be attached to the two cantilever arms, it fell into the St. Lawrence River taking with it 13 more lives.

The determination of the engineers and construction workers paid off and the bridge was completed by the federal government in 1918. It was part of the Canadian National Railway.

The Quebec Bridge remains the longest cantilevered bridge span in the world to this day. It was designated a national historic site by the Government of Canada and declared a historic monument in 1987 by the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering and the American Society of Civil Engineers. It is a testament to the hard work, talent and perseverance of the Quebeckers and Canadians who helped build it.

In the 1920s and the 1940s, the bridge underwent major renovations in order to accommodate automobile traffic. It currently has one rail line and three highway lanes that provide an economic and social link between businesses, communities and families in the region. On average, it is used every day by 31,000 vehicles and up to 10 CN and Via trains.

Given the historic value of the Quebec Bridge and the essential role it plays in the transportation networks, the government recognizes the importance of keeping it in good condition.

The Government of Canada also recognizes that CN has to assume its crucial responsibility of maintaining the bridge and preserving its long-term viability, as well as completing the major restoration project.

In 1923, the federal government conferred the operation and management of all Canadian government railway lands, including the Quebec Bridge, to CN, a newly formed crown corporation at that time. For the past 85 years, CN has been responsible for the operation and management of the Quebec Bridge.

Over the last two decades of the 20th century, the Government of Canada started commercializing transportation services and divesting itself of its infrastructure.

In 1993, the government concluded an agreement with CN, agreeing to hand over the titles of all its railway lands, including the Quebec Bridge. In exchange, CN committed to funding a major bridge maintenance program to restore the bridge and ensure its long-term viability.

CN is the owner of the Quebec Bridge and is entirely responsible for its operation, maintenance, safety and complete restoration. CN received generous compensation from Canadian taxpayers to assume these responsibilities in the form of land transfers from the government.

Despite additional investments by the Government of Canada, CN still had not completed the restoration work in 2006. Only 40% of the bridge surface had been repainted and some structural work had not been completed. In the opinion of the Government of Canada, the agreement included completion of painting and structural work.

Realizing that the restoration work would not be completed and that the previous Liberal government had dithered, our government decided to go ahead with legal action in 2007, in order to force CN to fulfill its obligation to completely restore the bridge.

As I mentioned, this dispute is currently before the courts. Our government is hopeful that the proceedings will ensure that CN fulfils its obligations. We wish to ensure that the restoration work is completed and that the interests of Canadian and Quebec taxpayers are protected.

We are also aware that, despite the legal proceedings currently under way, people who use the Quebec Bridge have questions about how safe it is.

I want to say that we have listened to their concerns and that our government considers the health and safety of those who use the structure every day to be a priority.

As such, I want to emphasize that, based on recent visual inspections by CN, an independent firm and Transport Canada inspectors, there is no cause for concern about the safety of the bridge right now.

In closing, I want to stress the fact that the Government of Canada recognizes the importance of keeping the Quebec Bridge in good repair because of its historic value and vital role in the transportation network. As the owner of the bridge, CN must fulfill its obligations to completely restore the bridge and ensure its long-term viability. The Government of Canada is involved in this matter and is working hard to find a solution that will result in the completion of bridge restoration work.

Quebec Bridge
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Louis-Hébert for his five-minute right of reply.

Quebec Bridge
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Pascal-Pierre Paillé Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, the passage of this private member's bill is of historic importance, mainly because this problem has dragged on forever without a solution. The rise in costs due to this government's wait-and-see attitude will be historic. History will remember that the government used every excuse to do nothing about the Quebec Bridge. This issue is also historic because the bridge is internationally recognized as a heritage jewel.

History is still being written today, and I invite the members present here to vote in the interests of the public. Not along party lines. Not with that old-fashioned political mentality that no one believes in anymore. Now that would be historic.

The Quebec Bridge is in the heart of the city and is a main artery through the Quebec City area in terms of trade, tourism, history and heritage.

The Quebec Bridge is the longest cantilever bridge in the world, and it is known the world over.

This storied bridge has suffered at the hands of the government, which sold it to CN when it was still a crown corporation, before it was privatized. The more time goes by, the more the government's responsibility erodes away, and we hope the bridge will not erode away as well.

The longer problems with the Quebec Bridge drag on, the more cynical people get about politics. This proves that there is a flagrant lack of leadership in this country and makes people think that politics is useless.

A parliamentary decision to take over the Quebec Bridge would be historic if the government were to take responsibility and do the work.

The passage of this bill will be even more historic if all Quebec members vote for it. Conservative Quebec members will make history if they vote against the party line and support the bill. I want to point out that party lines do not apply to private members' bills.

Historically, Quebec's importance has systematically been played down. For a long time now, I have had my doubts about Quebec's political weight in Canada's Parliament. If Quebec members vote against this bill, they will be reinforcing an unfortunate historical fact. Keeping the bridge in good repair is a matter that directly concerns several members, and I refuse to believe that they would vote against the interests of their own constituents.

I must clarify that the safety of citizens must never be a historic event. It should be a given and at the top of the government's list of priorities.

I expect Parliament to ensure that a positive and accountable decision is entered into the history books. I am calling on this House to write history. I am calling on this House to take possession of the Quebec Bridge. I am calling on this House to take its responsibilities and complete the repair work of the bridge.

I am calling on this House to ensure the safety of the public by taking action for the future. I am calling on this House to write a page of history, not with coercive law, but with a plan that will generate hope and confidence.

I am calling for the right to be proud of a historic heritage monument that must belong to the community. I am calling on hon. members to vote in favour of this bill.