Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak about the Champlain Bridge. This is a very important project for the people of Montreal, Quebec and Canada.
This infrastructure project began in 2007 when Le Journal de Montréal published an article about the need to build a 10-lane bridge across the river. A month later, Novaroute, a private firm, decided to conduct a study in order to publish a story about building a tunnel under the river. At that point, everyone had already known for more than 10 years that the bridge would have to be replaced, but the plan was several years in the making.
The Standing Committee on Public Accounts issued a report in response to the Auditor General's report. The Auditor General found that the Conservatives completely botched the job of ensuring that the bridge would be built in a timely manner and in the best interests of Canadians.
This report shows that the Conservatives mismanaged public funds. The Auditor General's report is astonishing. The report included a number of recommendations directed at the Harper Conservatives, who could have considerably improved their approach.
It is mind-boggling that the Conservatives are bringing these reports back to our attention to discuss them, but I will talk about them.
The reports indicate that, according to the Auditor General, the Conservatives did not even properly plan the bridge's construction. It is absolutely unbelievable that they did not even produce an adequate plan for getting the job done.
On October 6, 2011, the day after the announcement about replacing the bridge, an article reported that it would be a new bridge, not a tunnel, built through a P3, costing a maximum of $5 billion and that it would be ready within 10 years. Both the Office of the Auditor General and a government news release indicate that the decision to use a P3 model was made in 2011, a fact that is also supported by a news article. Deputy Minister Kelly Gillis said that the decision was made in December 2013, because that was when the government announced the accelerated timeline to replace the bridge in 2018, and the analyses carried out in 2012 and 2013 addressed the best way to complete the project quickly.
According to the Office of the Auditor General, the value-for-money analyses were of little use to decision-makers and contained many flaws favouring the P3 model. What is more, the department's analyses indicated savings that were unrealistic.
It was unrealistic. The Conservatives say that they are extremely good at managing the economy and public funds, but according to the OAG, the department's analyses were unrealistic. It took a Liberal government to get this bridge built and to make sure the work was done properly.
I would also note that the Conservatives wanted a toll on this bridge that would have cost every person who crosses the bridge five days a week $2,340 a year. It is unbelievable. That is $2,340 that would have been taken or practically stolen out of taxpayers' pockets. It is terrible when we think about it. Montrealers are lucky we are here now to manage the resources. The bridge is almost finished, and there is no toll. It is a bridge for public use. It is a bridge that everyone will be able to use. The Conservatives wanted this bridge to be used only by their wealthy friends.
The following is another recommendation from the Office of the Auditor General:
After completing the construction of the new Champlain Bridge, Infrastructure Canada should create realistic benchmarks for construction costs, risk evaluation, and efficiency rates in value-for-money analyses, for use in future requests for proposals for infrastructure projects.
This seems to make perfect sense, but former Conservative infrastructure ministers Lawrence Cannon and Denis Lebel did not understand it. They did not know what they were doing. I want to share another quote from the report:
Without obtaining results of durability analyses in advance, Infrastructure Canada could not know whether the proposed bridge designs would meet the expected service life requirement before it signed a contract with the selected bidder. [For instance]...they did not fully assess several deterioration mechanisms—for example, frost damage and the compounding effect of all deterioration mechanisms. As a result, [the OAG] performed comprehensive durability analyses on the designs of key non-replaceable components of the new bridge. In [its] analysis, [it] did not find design problems that would affect the examined components’ ability to meet their expected service life.
I would like to come back to the passage stating that Infrastructure Canada could not know whether the proposed bridge designs met the expected service life requirements. The Conservatives were so inept and incapable of managing public assets that they were not even able to figure out if this bridge would last. The bridge would be built and then perhaps one day collapse. A bridge should last at least 100 years and ideally 125 years.
According to the Auditor General, the Conservatives did not know if it would last because they did not even evaluate this requirement. Ten years ago, several people died in Montreal because of how certain structures were built. It is disgraceful that the Conservatives did not even take the time to evaluate this properly. We are now here to debate this issue. It is disgraceful that the Conservatives continue to put forward the proposals of Stephen Harper, Denis Lebel and Lawrence Cannon. We are pleased that they are no longer in power. We have come out of this decade of decay and poor management of our economy and public assets. They should be ashamed.
Now, I would like to remind members that we are supposed to be debating Bill C-92.
We are supposed to be debating Bill C-92, which is about the children, youth and families of first nations, Inuit and Métis. We are not debating that right now because instead we are doing what the Conservatives want, which is to debate this infrastructure report. This is an infrastructure report that demonstrates the poor management of the Conservative Party when it was in power, regarding the public good in Montreal with respect to the Champlain Bridge. Therefore, we are not debating this very important bill concerning child welfare for our children.
When I gave my maiden speech in the House of Commons three years ago, I spoke about child welfare. The speech was about the 11,000 kids in care in the province of Manitoba.
Since that time, I have had the opportunity in my riding, one of the poorest ridings in the country, to speak with mothers and fathers who have had their children taken, such as Chantelle Hutchison, who drove all the way from Brandon, Manitoba, to see me in Winnipeg to advocate to, somehow, get her child back, her little girl. I keep this photo of the little girl above my stove so that when I am cooking in my apartment here in Ottawa I remember why I was elected. Even though we were not able to help the mother get her child back, I hope if Chantelle is listening right now she knows that this legislation we have here today is because of her hard work advocating not only on behalf of her child but for the thousands of children and families in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and right across the country.
This legislation is so important that I call on the Conservatives to not play games anymore and to stop debate on this report, which I am sure is very important, but this child welfare bill is so important it needs to move forward. It needs to move on through this House and to the Senate. If we spend a lot of time playing these games, this legislation will not become law and we will not effect change. We will continue doing the same things we did with the Indian residential schools.
I will admit that I was mean to the Conservatives. However, I will throw them what I hope is a rose. I was proud when Stephen Harper stood in the House and gave the apology for the Indian residential schools, because it was a defining moment in the history of our nation. We were able to come together in a good way. We had indigenous leaders here. We had all-party support. The apology was made and then we built a stained glass window just outside the old chamber to commemorate it, so that every time we as parliamentarians go through our door, in and out of that chamber, we remember the Indian residential schools. I think this law is like that.
Indian residential schools were about placing children in large institutions. However, back in the sixties we slowly changed how the system worked. We started to place children up for adoption. We call that the sixties scoop, the stolen generation. Then, in the eighties, we stopped using adoption and started placing them with foster families in child welfare. We continue to do that today. It is extremely sad that it continues. We are perpetuating the same mistakes of the past but in a different way. It is more diffused. Instead of concentrating children in one place, we are spreading them around society.
Therefore, I hope we can stop debate on this lovely report. I am sure the committee members worked very hard on it. I can continue hammering away on the Conservatives if they would like. I can do it all in French, with all the costs. However, what I really want to get to is this. I think the legislation, Bill C-92, should go to committee. If we can get it passed at second reading and to committee, we can have the debate, we can hear what indigenous organizations and indigenous peoples want, deal with the legislative amendments from some provincial governments and come to a conclusion.
It was mentioned in the debate about the indigenous languages legislation from last night, which is very important, how over 30 amendments were table dropped. That does not mean the government was just willing to table legislation and not see any changes at all. It means it was willing to consult and listen to people. I think it is important that things are not written in stone when it comes out of the justice department so that improvements can be made through public discussion. That is what needs to happen with this law. It is great to debate and get people on the record here in this chamber, but what we really need is to have this legislation move on to committee, because that is where we will see that change.
I am going to leave the House with a statistic. We know there are 11,000 kids in care. We know that every day in Manitoba a newborn baby is seized, a newborn baby is taken from the mother, sometimes for good reason and sometimes not. In Manitoba, if someone was in the child welfare system and they give birth, there will be a note on their health file and if they give birth in the Manitoba health care system, their child will automatically be taken.
I see men and women come into my office, week after week, trying to get a letter of recommendation, not for immigration purposes, not for a visitor visa, but to say that they are a good parent. I look at the certificates and all the training they have gone through to become good parents and to prove they are good parents. It is strange that they have to get certificates to prove they are good parents. Not everyone else has to do that. I never had to do that. I am sure most of the members here never had to prove that they were a good parent.
However, that is what happens day in and day out in this country for some of the poorest citizens who cannot afford lawyers, who cannot afford to really advocate on their own behalf, who are sometimes only 18 or 19 years old, who got pregnant and who want to love their child.
I know there are people who will say online or will write me to say that there are terrible people who need to have their children taken. The Province of Manitoba, through the Health Sciences Centre research branch published a report looking at child welfare, and 87% of all children taken are taken not because of issues related to abuse but are taken because of issues related to poverty. That leaves 13%. Incredibly enough, that 13% is where we have allegations of abuse. Of that 13%, only 12% are substantiated abuse. This means that in the vast majority of cases, there is no abuse involved. It is just because people are too poor to look after their own children, or for other issues.
That is a travesty of justice in our age. That is why it is important that we have some consensus to stop debating report 51 and move on to Bill C-92, a historic piece of legislation that will affect great change across our nation, which is needed now, before this Parliament ends, while we have the opportunity and the chance.
Do not let this occasion slip through our fingers. Whether members win in this upcoming election or not, every parliamentarian who participates in this debate on Bill C-92, who lets this legislation move forward, will be able to look at themselves in the mirror. When they are at home and wondering why they lost or won that election, they will be able to look themselves in the eye at two o'clock in the morning and know that they made a difference.