Mr. Speaker, my role here is to defend the interests of the people of Longueuil and Boucherville. I am rising to speak to this bill as a resident of Longueuil. Members will understand why I am sensitive to the fact that the Minister of Infrastructure's philosophy, that irrefutable “no toll, no bridge” dogma, was reflected in this massive bill from the Conservatives.
The government's goal is obvious. It wants to shut down debate and pass this bill as quickly as possible, and the bill's 350 pages and 500 clauses hide provisions that include relieving the government of its obligation to consult the public. This is an old tactic that the Conservatives learned from the Liberals. In this case, the student has surpassed the teacher.
I cannot believe that the Conservatives are doing this. If they were in the opposition, if they were in our place, they would be outraged to be faced with this kind of omnibus bill. This is Parliament, not a hot dog eating contest.
However, it is not just Parliament that the Conservatives are showing contempt for, but also Canadians. This is about Canadians who want information and who should be kept informed about the laws that will be imposed on them. It is also about journalists, whose job is to keep an eye on and analyze bills, so that people outside the parliamentary precinct can understand what is at stake in these sometimes complex proposals.
The bill's scope is as broad as it is bad. It contains a wide range of amendments and provisions on issues that are way off topic, that clearly have nothing to do with the budget, when, really, it is supposed to be a budget implementation bill. Furthermore, the issues at stake here are extremely important. It is not a question of simply adding a decimal or removing a semicolon. This is about things like hazardous materials and temporary foreign workers. Basically, the Conservatives are trying to push their agenda through without allowing the public to really scrutinize it.
The people of the south shore can draw some very serious conclusions from the huge bill called Bill C-31. They can see that the Conservatives want to impose tolls, from Ottawa, without any consideration for them, their opinions or those of their elected representatives. They also see, with great consternation, the very troubling changes being made to railway safety regulations. Putting forward this kind of nonsense when the entire population of Boucherville is worried makes absolutely no sense.
My role here is to stand up for the people of Longueuil, the south shore and the greater Montreal area. It is also to be here, with my colleagues, to suggest new solutions for the problems that affect the south shore. A very large gathering of business people, community groups and elected representatives from the south shore got together to do some brainstorming and come up with solutions to challenges related to public transit, particularly regarding how to fund it.
My NDP colleagues from the south shore and I submitted a brief on public transit ahead of the metropolitan land use and development plan, because the federal government has also overlooked the issue of funding for public transit. The government needs to stop neglecting this issue and start doing something substantive about it. It is essential not just for the economic reasons underlying reinvestment in public transit, but also because it is an environmental imperative. Our economy will be of little value if the St. Lawrence basin is engulfed by the rising oceans, something that scientists are projecting will happen.
That is precisely why I got into politics in 2008 with the NDP: for the seriousness of its green agenda. Nonetheless, the environment is not an ideological issue. The state of our planet goes well beyond our jurisdictions and our electoral timetable.
This requires consultation, something the government is completely inept at. Never has that been any clearer than with the outrageous abuse that the government has the nerve to call the “new bridge over the St. Lawrence”, a bridge that will be built on the ruins of the Champlain Bridge that thousands of people continue to use every day to get to work or to transport goods.
Imposing a toll in such an underhanded and hasty manner, in a bill like this, is a unilateral and belligerent move. It is an admission of failure, an admission that the federal government is incapable of or simply disinterested in consulting and listening to the public and working with Quebec and the municipalities. The Government of Quebec represents 8 million people, mayors of cities that, together, constitute the second-largest metropolitan region in Canada.
The federal government is making it perfectly clear that it is completely incapable of engaging in dialogue. It is the government's way or no way. The new Champlain Bridge will have a central place in our lives, but the federal government wants to impose its way of doing things. When it comes to bridges in an urban region, it seems clear to me that the government has to be able to talk with others. Going it alone, creating a piecemeal transit strategy applicable to a single bridge, is unacceptable. Nowhere else in the world is that done.
Deciding in Ottawa on the transit strategy for a bridge between Montreal and the south shore and telling people to like it or lump it does not work. That is obvious to everyone back home.
In Quebec, generally speaking, only brand new infrastructure, such as the highway 30 or highway 25 bridges, is subject to tolls. This is clearly not a new bridge linking these shores.
This bridge is not going to be built because having a second bridge between Brossard and Montreal would make for good feng shui. It is going to be built because the current Champlain Bridge is falling apart from one month to the next and needs to be replaced.
This charade of calling it a new bridge—as though it is a gift from Ottawa or as though it is out of its spirit of generosity that the federal government maintains existing infrastructure and ensures that they are marginally safe—is just as bad as talking about holding a contest to choose a new name while the current bridge is crumbling before our very eyes. That, too, is ridiculous.
I imagine that this sado-monarchist government will not hesitate to give the bridge an epithet that will reinforce that image. How about the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, with 1,812 beams arranged in the shape of the Union Jack? That would definitely put a smile on the faces of the agitators opposite.
It is just too bad, but that is not how this is going to play out. It will not happen that way because we will stand firm and hold the government accountable. The government routinely implies that asking for functional, safe infrastructure is like asking for a favour, particularly when the infrastructure is very important for the country's economy and is a part of everyday life for thousands of Canadians.
The government's “no toll, no bridge” position does not cut it. La Presse city columnist François Cardinal spoke this Saturday about the mess this could create. He said that if Ottawa makes the Champlain Bridge the only toll bridge on the south shore, there will be a domino effect that will bring traffic on the other bridges in the area to a standstill. In order to understand this issue, the federal government needs to work with elected officials, experts and the south shore community rather than making unilateral, irrevocable decisions in a meeting room in Ottawa.
Elected officials in Montreal and on the south shore have shown great solidarity on this issue and have been crystal clear.
The mayors of 82 municipalities in the Montreal metropolitan area are unanimously opposed to the toll the government plans to levy on the Champlain Bridge. The mayor of Longueuil, Caroline St-Hilaire, and the mayor of Montreal, Denis Coderre, are both opposed to this plan.
As for me, I continue to strongly oppose this plan and I would like to point out that the people of Longueuil and Boucherville are generally opposed to this plan and are fed up with Ottawa's contempt for them. All of these elected officials will continue to strongly express their opposition to this plan over the next few weeks, and I will be there to support them.
In much the same way as they are neglecting the environment, which has been their trademark and has tarnished Canada's international reputation, the Conservatives have decided to stubbornly stand alone when a consensus has already been reached.
This government's insolence and narrow-minded attitude is not only counterproductive but is also becoming more and more insulting.
The government's position is reminiscent of that of the former finance minister who said no to all his provincial counterparts when it came to public pension programs. The Conservatives refuse to listen and believe that Ottawa knows best, although they apparently came here to change that way of doing things. However, again today, the Minister of Infrastructure is telling all the mayors of the Montreal metropolitan area that they are wrong. Ottawa is going to decide how to manage our transportation. Ottawa is going to disrupt the municipalities' development plans.
What is all this for? It is important to remember that taxpayers already picked up the tab for the existing Champlain Bridge with their tax money. They will not pay twice. It is unacceptable to make people pay again because of mistakes made as a result of Conservative and Liberal mismanagement over the past 50 years.
It is also a bit disturbing to see just how oddly flexible the Conservatives' ideology is when it comes to families in Quebec, particularly since the Conservatives like to boast that they stand up for taxpayers. The people on the south shore are justifiably outraged. A petition is currently being circulated on the initiative of the south shore's chamber of commerce and industry, which is playing a key role in bringing members of the community together in support of this cause.
I would like to share the wording of this petition, which invites business people and individuals to join the movement:
We will not allow the government to impose a toll without consulting us.
Our tax burden is already heavy enough.
Traffic jams are horrendous, and the federal government's plans will make them even worse.
We cannot remain silent about this decision, which may have a significant negative economic impact on individuals and businesses.
No region or sector in Quebec should tolerate being ignored when its development and future are at stake. That is why we encourage you to sign this petition electronically by filling in this short form.
We support a bridge, but not at just any price! The greater south shore deserves to be consulted about its future!
I signed the petition, as did the mayor of Longueuil, Caroline St-Hilaire, and my south shore colleagues. The people are taking action. On May 3, people will be on the ground to demonstrate against tolls.
What exactly does “No toll, no bridge” mean? Does it mean that if people refuse to be bullied by Ottawa, if municipalities in Quebec refuse to let the Conservative Party interfere with their transportation and development plans, the Champlain Bridge will fall to pieces and stay that way?
The people will not stand for it.