House of Commons Hansard #61 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was fair.

Topics

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I also want to acknowledge the good work of my colleague from the NDP on the procedure and House affairs committee. We agree on more things than we disagree on for sure.

The NDP proposal suggests increasing the number of seats to Quebec by up to 10. Well, Quebec would be seriously over-represented in terms of the rest of the provinces. I just want to ask my colleague, how would it be fair to Canada and to the other provinces to have Quebec continuously over-represented, and increasingly so, with the formula that the NDP has put forward?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, I would also like to thank the member, who is a pleasure to work with in committee. Indeed, this committee is very open and we are able to say what we are thinking. It is very interesting to work there, especially with the member opposite.

What I will tell the member is that I do not think it is good to always try to compare provinces and pit them against each other. Quebec's political weight will not affect representation of the other provinces. Yes, some ridings in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta are huge and have large populations, as members have mentioned, but this has much more to do with riding boundaries within the provinces than with comparing the provinces. When we look at the total number, there is not a very big difference between the number of members of Parliament and the population of each province. For example, we cannot compare a riding in Prince Edward Island with a riding in suburban Toronto. These ridings have vastly different realities that, in my opinion, must be examined by the electoral boundaries commissions.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise today to express my support for Bill C-20, the fair representation act. Representation by population is at the heart of our democratic traditions. Our role as parliamentarians in this regard should be and must be to do our best to ensure that the makeup and weighting of the House reflects that of this great country.

We face challenges in this regard. The Constitution and precedents both present barriers to achieving perfect representation by population. Bill C-20 addresses this challenge through that most Canadian tradition: accommodation. Changes in Bill C-20 would allow the representation from our fastest-growing provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario to better reflect their growing populations.

At the same time, Bill C-20 would ensure that our smaller provinces maintain their number of seats in the House. I cannot imagine the citizens of Manitoba, Saskatchewan or New Brunswick, for example, being eager to have fewer representatives in the House of Commons than they have presently. In fact, Bill C-20 would bring every province in Confederation closer to representation by population. It amazes me that there are some hon. members in the House willing to speak against the fair representation act. Why would they insist that we maintain the current unfair system or, in fact, actually make it worse with some of their proposals?

As a member from Ontario, I am obviously concerned that citizens whom I am so privileged to represent receive fair representation in the House. I am privileged to represent more than 129,000 Canadians in the great riding of Kitchener—Conestoga and I consider it a privilege to exercise my responsibilities as a member of Parliament. It is an honour to be their voice in this chamber, where discussions take place on some very important issues. Decisions are made every week when we vote on matters that will not only impact the current citizens of my riding but their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

When I vote on these important issues, my vote in the House is worth no more and no less than that of the hon. member for Malpeque. In spite of my NDP colleague's assertion, Conservatives do love Prince Edward Island. In fact, we on this side have a great member of Parliament from that province. In fact, she is the Minister of National Revenue. However, when the House considers items of business, whether it be putting an end to the monopoly of the Wheat Board, restoring balance to our justice system, or ending the ineffective long gun registry, my vote in the House is worth no more and no less than the member for Malpeque. That is how it should be. No hon. member's vote should be placed above another's. However, this does raise questions.

In the last election, on May 2 of this year, almost 29,000 Canadians chose to entrust me with their vote. I participate in the important business in the House, thanks to the trust of almost 29,000 individual voters. That is more than the total ballots cast for all candidates in the riding of Malpeque during the same election. Does it follow, therefore, that the citizens of Kitchener—Conestoga are worth less than those of Malpeque? I hope not.

I recognize that Bill C-20 will not address this inequity entirely. Ontario will still remain under-represented, while other provinces will continue to be overrepresented. Again, I come back to that word “accommodation”. Because of our principled and reasonable accommodation, real progress is being made toward fair representation. Bill C-20 would not make the mistakes inherent in the proposals emerging from our opposition parties. The fair representation act would move Canada closer to representation by population instead of making the imbalance worse, as proposed by the official opposition. The fair representation act would not pit one province against another or pick winners and losers, as proposed by the third party in the House.

I will also note that while this government has worked through three Parliaments to make Canada's representation more fair, the opposition's proposals came as surprises not only to members of the House but to Canadians who supported them in the last election. By contrast, neither the New Democrats nor the third party made even a token attempt to address this challenge in their platforms, despite the fact that they were well aware of it. We cannot dream up systems of fair democratic representation on the fly. These matters are far too important to try to develop a plan on the back of an envelope.

Bill C-20 delivers on our government's long-standing commitment to move the House towards fair representation. We campaigned on these promises. Canadians voted for a strong, stable, national, Conservative majority government. We received a strong mandate. With this bill, we would move the House of Commons toward fair representation for all Canadians. We are delivering on our commitments.

The fair representation act would add 30 seats to the House of Commons, for a total of 338 seats. Ontario would receive 15, Alberta and British Columbia would each receive six, and Quebec would receive three new seats. More importantly, the bill provides an adjustment to the formula in order to account for future increases in population following future censuses. In other words, the makeup of this House would more accurately reflect where Canadians live, thanks to Bill C-20. Population changes would no longer badly distort our representation.

I too serve on the procedure and House affairs committee that studied this legislation. I was there when the Chief Electoral Officer explained the needless cost taxpayers would bear if the bill is not quickly implemented. The Electoral Boundaries Commission needs to start its work in February of 2012. That is in just two months. If it is to do its job properly and not needlessly duplicate a lot of work, it needs the final seat allocation formula in place by February. On February 8, the process begins when the chief statistician sends the census return to the Chief Electoral Officer.

We promised to reintroduce legislation to restore fair representation in the House of Commons. We promised to allocate an increased number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. We promised to maintain the number of seats for the smaller provinces. Finally, we promised to maintain the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population. With Bill C-20, we would honour those commitments.

With the status quo, over 60% of Canada's population is, and would continue to be, seriously and increasingly under-represented. This bill, the fair representation act, brings every single province closer to representation by population.

I really do hope that all members of the House will support this bill. It addresses many of the inequities that exist and restores the principle of fair representation for all Canadians.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to my distinguished colleague. I found it interesting when he said that the government's bill does not pick winners and losers. There are no winners, there are no losers, there is just something fair. But I do not see that, because on the one hand, the government wants to increase the number of seats for Quebec, but on the other hand, it wants to diminish its political weight. There is clearly a loser there, and it is the Quebec nation. The francophone community, and that of Quebec in particular, is a founding people of Canada, and this bill does not reflect the importance of Quebec's being unanimously recognized as a nation by this House.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, with all due respect, I do not think that my colleague was listening to my speech. I said clearly that the bill would move every single province closer to representation by population. The province of Quebec would have 23% of the seats in the House of Commons, as it has 23% of the population of Canada. However, that is not true for Ontario. Ontario does not quite come up to that threshold, but we are very close to seeing improvements.

It would be totally unfair to guarantee any province, be it Quebec or any other, a disproportionate number of the increase simply to satisfy a particular region. This is important for fairness across the country. That is why the bill is called the fair representation act.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague, with whom I have the pleasure of working on the procedure and House affairs committee, has said that our plan, which gives exactly the same weight as the Conservatives' plan to each of the provinces, is one that would pit provinces against provinces. However, mathematically, the Conservatives' system would continuously increase the number of people every 10 years as the population increases. The government would not dare undertake a redistribution, such as our very sensible and brave plan actually proposes, such as Ontario did, such as New Brunswick is going to do.

An eminent MP in this House of Commons said many years ago:

Canadians are already among the most overrepresented people in the world. A small House offers considerable cost savings, less government and fewer politicians. Clearly, this is what Canadians want.

Those are very wise words. In fact, this particular person is now the Prime Minister and he was advocating not only for the status quo, but also for reducing the number of seats.

I would like to hear from my hon. colleague what he thinks about those wise words.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, it just goes to show where the Liberal Party is. The Liberals are still living in the past, wondering what might have happened if they had or if they had not.

This party is looking forward. There is no province and no individual constituent of the provinces who would be shortchanged by my colleague's proposal. Can members imagine going into Saskatchewan and saying, “By the way, we're removing four of the members of the House of Commons from your province”? I do not think that would be palatable.

Just to address his concern about continual growth, the current projections for 2021 increase the number by 11 seats. We can fearmonger about the total expansion of this place, but the studies have been done. We have many years to go before we outgrow the confines of this chamber without major renovations.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his very interesting speech. I work with him on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. It is very interesting to work with him.

When the House of Commons unanimously recognized Quebec as a nation, was the intention simply to get Quebeckers to keep quiet, or was the gesture supposed to mean something? Can the government not give them something to demonstrate that it was not just empty rhetoric? I wonder what concrete action could be taken in that regard.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, we have many nations within this country. We refer to our first nations. In my recollection of the motion that was put forward, we wanted to acknowledge that the Québécois are a unique group of people who should be represented. However, there was no implication at any point that it had any special determination in terms of the number of seats in this House.

Bill C-20—Notice of time allocation motionFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, Bill C-20, which is currently being debated, moves every province closer to the principle of representation by population but the fair representation act needs to be passed soon in order for this decade's redistribution, which starts in early February, to use the fair updated formula outlined in the bill.

Therefore, I wanted to provide the following notice: I must advise that agreement has not been reached under the provisions of Standing Orders 78(1) or 78(2), concerning the proceedings at report stage and the third reading of Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act. Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at those stages.

Report stageFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Madam Speaker, I am happy to have this opportunity to speak about Bill C-20, the fair representation act.

The significant and increasing under-representation of Canadians in the fast growing provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario is a serious problem that requires an immediate solution. Something must be done. This problem is only going to get worse if we keep the status quo. Our government is committed to addressing this problem with the fair representation act.

Bill C-20 provides a principled update to the formula allocating House of Commons seats that is fair to all provinces. This is an important point. Increasing representation for the faster growing provinces should not be done at the cost of pitting region against region, or even Canadian against Canadian.

That is why we made three distinct promises on House of Commons representation in the last election to ensure that any update to the formula would be fair to all Canadians in all provinces.

First, we would increase the number of seats now and in the future to better reflect the population growth in British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta. Second, we would protect the number of seats for the smaller provinces. Third, we would protect the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population.

Our government received a strong mandate to deliver these commitments. We are doing exactly that with the fair representation act.

It is important that these three commitments be taken together. When taken together, the update to the formula allocating House of Commons seats will be fair across the country.

The practical result of Bill C-20 would be that every single Canadian would move closer to representation by population.

First, I will underline the importance of introducing a seat allocation formula that is more responsive to population size and trends.

This legislation would move the House closer to fair representation for Canadians living in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. It would maintain the number of seats for slower growing provinces and ensure Quebec's representation is equal to its population.

The electoral quotient for 2011 readjustment will be set at 111,166, reflecting the average riding population prior to the last seat readjustment in 2001, increased by the simple average of provincial population growth rates.

For the 2021 readjustment and each subsequent readjustment, the electoral quotient will be increased by the simple average of provincial population growth rates since the preceding readjustment.

What is important is that the electoral quotient is not static. Under the status quo formula, the electoral quotient was set and did not move to accommodate population growth. This contributed to the faster growing provinces becoming increasingly and significantly under-represented.

Population growth within those provinces has been even higher in large urban and suburban areas. Canada's new and visible minority population is increasing, largely through immigration. These immigrants tend to settle in fast growing ridings such as mine of Don Valley East.

These three factors, high immigration to fast growing regions of the fastest growing provinces, combine to magnify the representation gap of these areas. This situation inadvertently causes Canadians in large urban centres, new Canadians and visible minorities to be even more under-represented than the average.

It is clear for all to see that this situation undermines the principle of representation by population in our country.

By introducing a seat allocation formula that is more responsive to population size and trends, the fair representation act would move the House closer to representation by population now and in the future. The practical effect is that Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta will be entitled to new seats under the fair representation act.

This is the best formula to move all provinces toward representation by population in a principled manner without creating divisions between regions by increasing representation in high growth areas and by taking it away from Canadians in other parts of the country.

Second, I would note that our government is addressing under-representation in a way that respects the representation of smaller provinces. This is a long-standing commitment of our government and our party. Canadians have given us a strong mandate to deliver in this regard.

Simply shuffling the deck is not as easy as it sounds. Canadians living in smaller provinces currently benefit from two long-standing constitutional provisions guaranteeing their seat counts. Repealing those guarantees, aside from the practical implications, would mean significant seat losses in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

We make no apology for addressing these significant and increasing under-representations of ordinary Canadians, but this should not be done by picking winners and losers or pitting region against region, Canadian against Canadian.

The fair representation act is fair to all Canadians, not just some provinces. In fact, it is a measured investment that brings every Canadian closer to representation by population.

Finally, the fair representation act also provides that the seat allocation formula apply as in the representation rule. If provinces become under-represented as a result of the application of the updated formula, additional seats would be allocated to that province so that its representation would equal its share of the population.

Based on population estimates, Quebec would be the first province to receive new seats in order not to become under-represented by the application of the updated formula. Quebec has 23% of the population and would have 23% of the provincial seats in the House of Commons, though the representation rule is nationally applied and applies to all provinces that enter this scenario.

The representation rule is a principled measure and ensures that smaller and slow growth provinces do not become under-represented in the future, that they will maintain representation that is in line with their share of the population, and this is fair. The serious and increasing under-representation of our faster growing provinces, Ontario among them, is a serious problem that requires an immediate solution.

The Chief Electoral Officer told the procedures and House affairs committee that passing this bill before the new year is the best scenario. That is why we are moving quickly to meet the deadlines we face in the new year to best facilitate the process that will bring these changes into place for Canadians. We will ensure parity for Canadians and it will avoid needless and costly repetition by an independent boundary commission set up to draw these new boundaries.

In conclusion, this bill, the fair representation act, is the best formula to address the under-representation of Canadians living in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario without picking winners and losers, pitting Canadians against Canadians or region against region. It is reasonable, principled, nationally applicable and fair to all Canadians. It would achieve better representation for Canadians living in fast-growing provinces while maintaining representation for smaller and slower growing provinces.

It would bring every Canadian closer to representation by population. It delivers on the government's long-standing commitment to move toward fairer representation in the House of Commons. I note that Parliament has the authority to pass this amendment under section 44 of the Constitution Act of 1982. This was the same authority used to pass the current formula in 1995, which was subsequently upheld as constitutional by the British Columbia Court of Appeal.

The fair representation act is principled, reasonable legislation that needs to be passed as quickly as possible. I encourage the opposition to work with us on this important legislation.

Report stageFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, why would Canada be the only democracy where we say that when we allocate seats according to demography, it is picking losers and winners and it is playing regions against others? Well, that is not what other democracies are saying. They are able to have fixed seats in their houses and to reallocate according to demography, and no one has said that it is unfair and pitting regions against each other.

Not too long ago, the Prime Minister said that the House was too big and that we needed to decrease the size of the House. Was he at that time picking losers and winners? Was he pitting regions against each other? How can he say that today?

Report stageFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure there are many ways of skinning the cat, and this is the one that is being proposed by our government. I believe it is fair to all Canadians. It is not picking winners and losers or pitting Canadians against Canadians.

Report stageFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I almost feel like making a joke to the effect that, if this country was built by two founding peoples, it is simple, it should be 50-50. But no party is suggesting that solution, and I understand why.

My question to the member who just spoke is this:

Does the Quebec nation represent a burden or a crucial asset to Canadian society? If it is a crucial asset, what is the minimum threshold the Canadian government would be willing to guarantee, under which it would never go, regardless of Quebec's demographic representation within Canada?

Report stageFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure there are many ways of looking at how we will distribute the seats. Quebec is well represented with the allocation that is shown for 23% of the population. All of the provinces actually have a big contribution.

Another way of doing the allocation of seats could have been by the contribution by each of the provinces, which I think we would see as completely unfair.

Report stageFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the issue of representation, we generally refer to the number of votes, but the representation of members of Parliament here also relates to the amount of work they do with their constituents. The access that a constituent has to his or her member of Parliament is very important.

For example, the riding of Brampton West has 170,000 people and one member of Parliament. Somewhere down in Winnipeg North, there are 79,000 constituents. There is a huge gap in the amount of access that a constituent has to his or her member of Parliament.

I wonder if my colleague would comment on the workload that members of Parliament with these large ridings like his must have in dealing with immigration, EI concerns and the myriad of issues that a member of Parliament deals with.

Report stageFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, clearly, the bigger ridings have a much bigger workload. In Ontario and in the Toronto riding that I represent with nearly 60% to 70% of first generation Canadians, there is a lot of work in terms of immigration issues, et cetera. To have better representation would mean a more even workload throughout these different ridings.

Port of QuébecPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize that the Port of Québec is of vital importance as a hub of international trade in opening new markets for Canadian business, creating jobs, generating significant economic benefits, particularly in terms of tourism, and ensuring the vitality of small and medium businesses in Quebec City and the surrounding areas; and (b) support key projects for the upgrading of port assets and the development of equipment, taking into account the climatic and environmental challenges of this particular section of the St. Lawrence River.

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in this House today in support of my region and my city. Quebec City is more than just an extraordinary architectural showcase and a culturally vibrant city. It is also a city built along the St. Lawrence River. From the Promenade Samuel-de Champlain to Beauport Bay, the water is an integral part of the city and its people. It is therefore not surprising that in the very heart of the city lies the oldest port in Canada, the Port of Québec.

In the 19th century, it was even one of the largest ports in the world because of the enormous volume of merchandise and passengers that went through there. Marine and port activity played a role in developing the economy of the region, and for more than 150 years, the Port of Québec has been one of the key players in the regional economy.

Today, still, the Port of Québec is a major continental gateway with assets that the other major ports in the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes system as a whole do not have. Its facilities and traffic rank it among the most important ports in the country. In addition to its importance in bulk shipping, the Quebec City site has the distinction of being both a transshipping and destination port. The Quebec City region serves, in a way, as a logistical intermodal platform, from land to water and from river to ocean. This situation is a result of the advantages offered by Quebec City, which include the depth of the river at Quebec City and its location in relation to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic, in addition to its ability to offer a range of services such as transshipping and warehousing, to name but those two.

This means that the Port of Québec has the facilities to handle large ocean-going vessels with very deep drafts that cannot dock elsewhere in Quebec or Ontario. It is well connected, by rail or road, with the industrial heart of Canada and the United States. It is an essential component of the Ontario-Quebec Continental Gateway.

In concrete terms, the Port of Québec generates $786 million in economic fallout annually. For the region, that represents more than 5,000 direct and indirect jobs and $163 million in taxes paid. As well, trade with over 60 countries flows out from the port.

In addition to its economic functions, about 20% of the port facilities have recreational purposes. For example, a number of facilities provide families in the region and tourists with access to the St. Lawrence River. It goes without saying that Quebec’s national capital is the main beneficiary of the economic benefits measured. The operations of stakeholders in the shipping and port industry in Quebec City are heavily concentrated there, not to mention that a number of their suppliers of goods and services are located within the area.

For all these reasons, I am calling on the government today to recognize the Port of Québec as an international trade hub that opens up markets for Canadian businesses, creates jobs, generates significant economic benefits and ensures the vitality of small and medium-sized businesses in the city and surrounding areas. I am also calling on the government to support the plans to upgrade the port’s assets, and ultimately to develop its equipment.

First, why is it important to recognize the Port of Québec as an international trade hub that opens up markets for Canadian businesses? The Ontario-Quebec Continental Gateway accounts for 71% of Canada’s trade with the rest of the world, and that means $600 billion.

The Ontario-Quebec Continental Gateway also accounts for 66 % of trade with Asia and Europe — $138 billion — a majority of which is shipped by water. In addition, nearly $600 billion in trade with our neighbours, the United States, passes through that gateway.

Second, why ask the government to support plans to upgrade the port’s assets and the development of its equipment? The problem of the competitiveness of our businesses in Canada often comes up in this House. We are constantly having to deal with new players on the international markets. In order for us to be competitive, our infrastructure has to be optimized to meet the challenges of tomorrow. The Port of Québec already has strategic advantages, since its handling capacity is very high. That is not enough, however, if the facilities are in poor repair and unusable.

Upgrading the existing facilities calls for investments of $150 million, as estimated by Mario Girard, the CEO of the Port of Québec. The authority does not have the borrowing capacity to undertake work that represents the essential minimum for businesspeople and the public in the Quebec City region. The current letters patent of the Port of Québec limit the authority’s borrowing capacity to $45 million and the authority’s current average annual profit for the last five years has been around $3.6 million. Without assistance, the Port of Québec will struggle along and may start down a road to decline that could easily be avoided by investing in this infrastructure.

This situation is like an albatross around our businesses’ necks and they are seeing their competitiveness undermined by something over which they have little control. The federal government alone is capable of fixing the problem and should support the Port of Québec authority in its facility renovation projects. These are strategic investments to support the Canadian economy. It is very often more beneficial for Canadian businesses to have an effective business platform than tax credits.

We have the opportunity to not only make our businesses more effective, but also to reduce the environmental footprint left by business. The seaway is one of the most reliable methods of transportation. It has low carbon emissions, is regulated and is profitable. Using the seaway more often would be an excellent way of reducing the congestion on our roads.

In the end, what do our businesses need? We must always ask ourselves this question when developing policies. Do they need the money from the taxes they pay or do they need the government to fix simple problems that affect them? I am referring here to productivity gains derived from adapted infrastructure that promotes the development of business in Canada and the development of effective platforms that meet the needs of businesses that must also respect the needs of their clientele.

It is important to understand that supporting this motion means supporting not only the Port of Québec, but thousands of businesses that move products, resources, equipment and even people. Through this support, we are able to help tourism, international trade, domestic trade, logistics, local SMEs that both export and import, as well as all the workers who get quality jobs that are either directly or indirectly tied to the activities of the Port of Québec.

Despite all these excellent reasons to invest in the infrastructure of the Port of Québec, very little money is available to the port authority. I will say it again: there is not enough cash, insufficient borrowing capacity, and no grant program for this important infrastructure.

We are completing several rounds of negotiations with the European Union, which could lead to an increase in our trade. It is crucial, at this time, that we engage the government in an infrastructure investment plan that will be the logical follow-up to the future free trade agreement.

We cannot forsake our business people and leave them saddled with processing and transit facilities that are unable to meet their needs.

It is traditionally the responsibility of the state to support an infrastructure network that facilitates the flow of goods, people and information. Budgetary realism dictates that we do the work immediately to avoid ballooning costs due to inflation, crumbling infrastructure and the disappearance of businesses that do not feel supported in their efforts to break into new markets.

The Port of Québec infrastructure is in urgent need of support as it is in a state of disrepair; the port is currently operating at almost full capacity; the revenue generated is not enough to cover the cost of maintaining the port infrastructure; and the development of new infrastructure is not foreseeable under such circumstances.

Currently, the port is incapable of taking advantage of new opportunities and risks losing existing and potential clients.

The NDP pays particular attention to job creation. We firmly believe that strategic and responsible investments in our infrastructures will generate high-quality jobs. We also believe that modern infrastructures are a platform for Canadian businesses to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We think that offering generous tax credits while our infrastructures are being neglected is irresponsible. It is definitely better to invest in a modern and efficient commercial platform than blindly grant tax credits, particularly considering that 91,000 jobs were lost over the past two months.

It is absolutely critical to support this infrastructure. It is a priority for all my constituents and for all of Canada. The status quo will inevitably result in the decline of the port. The Canadian shipping trade strategy must be viewed as a whole. If the Port of Québec infrastructures are left to deteriorate without taking action, the commercial impact will be felt on Canada's whole shipping trade. All the activities in the Ontario-Quebec Continental Gateway could be weakened. Let us not forget that the marine economy also supports continental economic activities. If we do not take action, the whole supply chain could suffer. Let us face it: in the current economic context, we cannot afford to hurt Canada's distribution and supply chain. Many Canadians depend on these chains. I am thinking, for instance, of the jobs in all processing stages and all commercial activities related to shipping trade. Many Canadian businesses also rely on these chains.

The Port of Québec is currently at a crossroads. If it is to keep its status as a strategic hub for trade, it must be able to restore its port facilities.

In conclusion, it is clear that the port is critical to the economic development of the Quebec City region and is also a major tourist and social attraction. It has been part of the picture for a long time, and its plays a fundamental role. It is an integral part of Quebec City, and we must absolutely take care of it.

Port of QuébecPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou for his speech.

I would like him to speak a bit more about the types of opportunities that might be available to a port such as the Port of Québec. What does the future hold for this port? What could adequate and available funding do for the greater Quebec City area and, more specifically, for the Port of Québec?

Port of QuébecPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the greater Quebec City area for his question.

When my colleague from the riding of Québec and I had the opportunity, we met with the president and CEO of the port, Mario Girard. He told us that the port was used to the max. Our lives are highly dependent on marine transportation for shipping wine, imported cars and other goods. As he told us, the port is already being used to maximum capacity. As I mentioned in my speech, if there is an increase in trade as a result of the EU free trade agreement, the Port of Québec will lose opportunities to other ports in the country and even in the United States.

Port of QuébecPrivate Members' Business

December 6th, 2011 / 5:45 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased today to discuss Motion M–271, which proposes that the government recognize the economic and strategic importance of the Port of Québec and support port infrastructure projects.

I would like to begin my remarks by saying that Canada has 17 port authorities. The Port of Québec is among them and is without a doubt a strategically important port for trade in Canada. It is financially autonomous, has diversified activities and is connected to a main railway line as well as to major roads, which fully complies with the terms of the Canada Marine Act.

The Port of Québec estimates that its port and marine activities not only currently generate economic spinoffs of over $786 million but also help to maintain more than 9,750 jobs Canada-wide, including some 6,500 jobs in Quebec.

I should also add, Mr. Speaker, that I am going to share my time with the hon. member for Ottawa—Orléans, who will present his royal address in the House of Commons.

The employment statistics clearly demonstrate the fundamental importance of the Port of Québec to the economy. The port is a generator of jobs and economic spinoffs not only in Quebec but across Canada.

Port of QuébecPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. I do not mean to interrupt the hon. parliamentary secretary, but on his point in respect of splitting time, if it is his intention to split the usual 10-minute allocation under private members' business, we would need the unanimous consent of the House to permit the hon. parliamentary secretary to split his time with the member for Ottawa—Orléans. Is there consent to allow him to split his time?

Port of QuébecPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Port of QuébecPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

An hon. member

No.

Port of QuébecPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hope that the hon. member across the way will never need unanimous consent for one of his requests in the future. I should also mention that it is a huge loss for the House of Commons, because I am certain that the remarks made by the hon. member for Ottawa—Orléans would have been excellent and made a great contribution.

The Government of Canada recognizes this strategic role, which is why it made the port a Canadian port authority in 1999. This is one of the reasons the government does not support the motion by the member for Beauport—Limoilou, since the importance of the port was established 10 years ago. By supporting this motion, the government could potentially be seen as treating the port authority of Quebec City differently to the way it treats the other 16 Canadian port authorities.

There is another reason—and this is perhaps the main reason why the government does not support Motion M-271—and that is that it flies in the face of the fundamental principles that have made our national ports system the success that we know today. Let me explain.

The national ports network was set up in 1998 in order to be closer to its users. By users I mean shippers, exporters, importers, terminal operators and shipping companies. The goal is to make them less dependent on government subsidies.

The Canadian port network was overloaded and ineffective prior to the change in legislative and strategic direction. It was very costly for Canadian taxpayers. At that time, the government identified the financially autonomous ports essential to Canada's trade and, in 1998, it created the Canadian port authorities under the Canada Marine Act. This legislation introduced criteria for the commercial discipline and financial autonomy these strategic ports required in order to be competitive.

We have a system that meets users' needs and is reliable and effective. This system has greatly benefited Canadian taxpayers, the federal government and the Canadian economy.

For example, over the last 10 years, the market shares of the Canadian port authorities have ranged from 51% to 57% of the total traffic handled in the ports. Operating revenue went from $264 million in 2000 to $390 million in 2009. In 2008, the government introduced targeted changes to the Canada Marine Act, which gave port authorities access to federal funding programs—access that they did not have previously—putting them on an equal footing with the other transportation service providers, such as airports and railways.