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.