Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to address this amendment, secure in the knowledge that the construction of the fixed link is part of the government's program. All that remains is passage of the resolution to amend the terms of the union between P.E.I. and the Dominion of Canada.
I want to thank my colleague, the hon. member for Cape Breton-East Richmond, the minister of public works. He has been a longstanding advocate and promoter of Atlantic Canada and he earned the gratitude of the vast majority of P.E.I. residents with his strong support for the construction of the fixed link. I have been a supporter of the fixed link since day one, having voted for it in the plebiscite in 1988.
For all members present, I would like to clarify a topic which has just been addressed by the hon. member for Roberval and two other members of the House. Prince Edward Island never had a referendum on the fixed link. Prince Edward Island had a plebiscite on the fixed link. There is a distinct difference between the two. A referendum is binding in law. A plebiscite is not binding.
Premier Ghiz wanted to test how the people of Prince Edward Island felt about the construction of a fixed link. Therefore he called for a plebiscite. It was not binding on him to continue no matter what the result was. All he wanted to do was test public opinion to see whether he should go ahead. If the people of Prince Edward Island at that time had said they did not support the fixed link, he was prepared to endorse the voice of islanders and not proceed.
There was never a referendum taken of the people of Prince Edward Island on the fixed link. If any member opposite or on this side believes it was the case, it never was.
Since the House gave approval to the project last June 15 in Bill C-110, my decision to support the link has been reinforced. Even though link construction is really only in its infancy, one can feel a sense of hope and optimism permeating the island community. An official in the construction industry had said that the link is not just an economic boost, it is really the only game in town.
I realize that on P.E.I. support for the link was not, is not and probably never will be unanimous. When the plebiscite was held in 1988 the results were 60 per cent to 40 per cent, approximately. Since then support has grown steadily. Recent estimates indicate that it now ranges in the area of 75 per cent to 80 per cent in favour of the fixed link. Every effort was made to provide forums for legitimate opponents of the project to lay before the legislative committee their reasons for opposition.
During the House of Commons legislative committee hearings last March we went to great lengths to promote a balance in witnesses between the proponents of the fixed link and the opponents of the project.
Over 200 new members in the House did not participate in the debates of the 34th Parliament when we passed Bill C-110 which enabled the project to proceed. When the legislation was enacted here we had already gone through the questions raised by the member for Roberval and other members. They are all in the records, whether in the legislative committee record or in the House debates of last March, May and June. Many of the questions being raised today have already been debated and answered to the best of our ability. If hon. members would like to read what transpired in the House when Bill C-110 dealing with the fixed link went through, they should do so.
Today we are mainly concerned with amending the Constitution. The legislation to build a fixed link has already passed. I can understand the curiosity and the questions hon. members are coming up with today.
As I said earlier, despite local opposition in some quarters support among islanders has continued to grow. We are here today to deal with the final legal obstacle, a court ordered constitutional amendment which would allow a fixed link, a bridge, to replace the steam service guaranteed in P.E.I.'s original terms of union. We were ordered to do this by Madam Justice Reed in a 1992 decision.
I want to remind the House in the strongest possible terms that the Government of Prince Edward Island has already endorsed this amendment and has done so unanimously. The federal government, the Government of Prince Edward Island and the Government of New Brunswick have endorsed the project. In effect it is saying yes to Atlantic Canada.
Because of the inefficiencies of the present ferry system the project will allow the federal government to fulfil its responsibilities to provide an adequate transportation-communication service between P.E.I. and the mainland. The project will allow P.E.I. to share in the transportation vision which opened up other
parts of Canada to growth and development. The project is reflective of the spirit of our federal state.
This is why I am happy to be here today to speak one more time in support of the project. The history of the idea and the development of the concept of a fixed link have been discussed at length and are matters of record. So too are the numerous debates and studies conducted in relation to the particular project. As I said earlier we went through the whole process last spring and early summer.
Since this is the case I want to move to the primary purpose of the debate today, that is to amend P.E.I.'s terms of union, and put on record the original clause. The original terms of union state:
That the Dominion Government shall assume and defray all the charges of the following services-efficient steam service for the conveyance of mails and passengers, to be established and maintained between the island and the mainland of the Dominion, winter and summer, thus placing the island in continuous communication with the Intercolonial Railroad and the railroad system of the Dominion.
Today's amendment will provide a fixed crossing, a bridge, as a replacement for a steam service. As most hon. members know we do not have a railway system in P.E.I. any more. We are basically connecting our car-truck service to the roads and highways of the rest of Canada.
It has taken over 120 years and over 90 studies to bring about a change that is already providing benefit to Atlantic Canada. In 1988 the Government of P.E.I. crystallized the issue by holding a plebiscite. The positive results of the plebiscite provided the stimulus which brought the concept of the link to reality. The numerous studies and actions taken subsequent to the plebiscite have addressed the concerns of the people and the governments involved.
It is time to recognize that the project makes immense good sense. It has united business and labour in Prince Edward Island. It has brought political opponents together in common cause. In the previous Parliament the Conservative government was basically sponsoring the legislation and the Liberal Party at the time joined with the government in supporting it.
The organization, Islanders for a Better Tomorrow, spearheaded support for the link and deserve credit and recognition for its efforts. This group and all other link supporters believe the project is of tremendous importance to the future of P.E.I. and Atlantic Canada. It will provide an opportunity for P.E.I. to establish itself as a key player in a revitalized economy in Atlantic Canada. It will be an opportunity for our province to be recognized for other things than its small size, equalization payments and potatoes.
The naysayers have raised questions about the environment, the fisheries and the ferry workers. The courts have ruled that all reasonable measures have been taken. Any potential adverse environmental effects of the specific bridge proposal were either insignificant or mitigable with known technology. In the fishery an agreement has already been reached which will provide compensation to fishermen for any disruption or loss of access during the construction period.
Discussions for ferry worker compensation are under way. This booklet will tell us exactly what moves we are making toward the ferry workers on retraining, job opportunities, early retirement and so on. That will all be developed over the next number of years to address the concerns of the ferry workers, which is a very important aspect of the whole discussion.
The scales are heavily weighed on the positive pro-link side. Economic activity will grow. It will grow during the construction period and it will grow in the years afterward. The link will generate experience and create jobs. P.E.I. has a desperate need for jobs.
This is the biggest infrastructure program ever undertaken in Atlantic Canada. There will never be an opportunity as great as the one we now have. It is time to get on with it.
In that vein I want to close with a quote from Rob Matthews, business editor of the Halifax Chronicle Herald and the Mail Star , in his column of February 4. In part he said: ``The issues have already been studied sufficiently for elected and appointed officials to decide the crossing was worth while politically, economically and environmentally. There must be an end to discussions at some reasonable point. Sadly valuable projects are often beset by those who want the process to deliver only their solution or, failing that, another process that will. Entrepreneurs and governments have come to understand that someone will object to almost any construction project. These days there is no single body of opinion on anything. It is much the same with public assessments in which the same few voices and personalities vie for the spotlight, unwilling to accept reality or unable to comprehend that action not paralysis brings jobs and development. There are great benefits ahead as a result of the fixed link. The sooner we can attain them the better''.