Mr. Speaker, as this is my first opportunity to speak in the 39th Parliament, I want to thank all of my constituents who have sent me here for five terms.
I also want to reiterate the fact that the best part of this job is probably back in the riding when we get to meet all of the volunteers and get back with family and so on. Mr. Speaker, you I am sure well know what I am talking about.
This past weekend was a good example of what it is like. I got off the plane on Friday and helped a group raise over $96,000 for Kids for Cancer. That evening I attended a Striving for Excellence banquet at which 178 public school system kids received awards for excellence. We heard a speech from a 13 year old girl who has been blind for the last nine years. She told us how she strives for excellence and hopes to get to the Paralympics in horse riding and in a number of other sports. It makes one feel pretty good coming back here knowing what the great volunteers in the area are doing.
On Saturday night I attended a homebuilders banquet. I would like on the record the fact that my constituency is booming. A fly-by-night operator came into our town and built 11 homes that had faulty foundations and no kitchen doors. All of the builders in our community banded together and announced at the banquet that they would be repairing the homes of those 11 people who were unfortunate enough to have been taken for a ride by a bad contractor.
That is my constituency and those are the kinds of volunteers we have. I thank my family and my constituents for sending me here.
I come from central Alberta and we are a long way from any international bridge or tunnel. I could suggest the number of bridges and tunnels, which might help us out, but I do not think we could quite get to the U.S. border. It is important that we talk about how vital bridges and tunnels and the flow of traffic from north to south really is. We have to remember that 80% of our jobs and well over $1.5 billion cross the border and whatever we can do to make that border safe and secure and function better is important to all of us. My riding has seven world scale petrochemical plants and a great deal of their material goes across the border. Many of the jobs and much of the activity that is going on is because of the effective way we handle this.
I also want to bring to the House's attention the fact that when we talk to truckers and various other groups that have come to Ottawa they tell us that one of the most serious issues is infrastructure, how it is deteriorating and how its management is sometimes in question. We have heard about this in some of the other speeches today. I remember one trucker saying that they were driving over bridges that have the year 1938 or 1955 stamped on the concrete. Little has been done since then to make sure that vital means of transportation is upgraded.
We have a lot to do. For 13 years we have heard a lot of talk but seen little action. Two bills have come before this bill but none got through and none of them actually cleared up the problem. We now have a bill that I believe will do that. Our plan is to institute this, get it done and get on with the job. We do not need to have 100 priorities. We have these priorities and let us get them through.
It is my pleasure to talk about Bill C-3, the international bridges and tunnels act. As many of my colleagues have mentioned in the past, many of these bridges and tunnels came into existence with the creation of special acts of Parliament. These acts served to create the company that would ultimately own the bridge or tunnel and be responsible for its construction, set out the company's share capital and other corporate information, and would establish the company's various powers, including borrowing powers and the right to charge tolls.
More important, these special acts set terms and conditions for the construction of the bridge or tunnel, such as the location, the approval of plans and specifications, the time period within which the bridge or tunnel was to be constructed, and finally, how the company could deal with the bridge or tunnel once it was constructed. Federal government approval was therefore given via these special acts.
Government approval for construction of new international bridges or tunnels is therefore not a new concept. The approval process proposed by the new bill will, however, relieve the need to enact a special act of Parliament each time a new bridge or tunnel is constructed.
I have not been here for as many years as you have, Mr. Speaker, but obviously if we had to bring about a special act every time we wanted to do something you know how that could get bogged down. We know how the lobbyists work in this place and just how difficult it is to get any action sometimes. This act would end that problem.
Keeping in mind that these are international bridges and tunnels and that our jurisdiction over these bridges and tunnels ends at the Canadian border, it is interesting to note how our American counterparts deal with the approval of the construction of new international bridges or tunnels on their territory. Since 1968, persons in the United States wishing to build a new international bridge that connects with Canada must first seek permission from the president. This permission is given in the form of a presidential permit, which must be applied for to the Department of State.
In this application, applicants must provide the following information, among other matters: information regarding the proposed bridge, including location, design, proposed construction methods, the safety standards to be applied, copies of the engineering drawings, and the construction schedule; details of any similar facilities in the surrounding area; and traffic information, including projections of international traffic volume and the effect the proposed bridge would have on the traffic volumes of other nearby bridges.
During the election campaign, I was in the riding of Essex working with our member there. I went into Windsor as well. I know that the hon. members from Windsor have been talking about this in committees and in this House for a very long time. They have talked about the great difficulties. There are four bridges there, four crossings, a railway tunnel, and obviously the talk has been going on as long as I have been here, and maybe a lot longer, about the difficulties in that Windsor-Detroit corridor, about how things get slowed down and how ineffective it is. We have all seen television pictures of the long traffic jams. It is to be hoped, and obviously as this goes to committee I am sure it would be made clear, that this kind of problem will be dealt with, that we will get on with it instead of talking about how we are going to solve that problem.
How the project is going to be financed also is very important, including what the toll structure will be. Those are the kinds of things that the public has the right to have discussed and openly talked about.
Also, there is how the proposed construction would impact the environment, including copies of environmental assessments or reports. Members know of my interest in environment. I think it is very easy to make this process go a lot faster. The cooperation among municipalities, provinces and the federal government, where one study in fact accomplishes all of the environmental impact studies, just goes so far.
In my over 30 years of being involved in environmental areas, so often I have seen the turf wars among the three levels of government certainly take a project to the point where, if it is not scuttled, it becomes uneconomic, and the players leave and go on to somewhere else. That should not be the way it is. There is one environment. It does not matter what levels of government are involved; they should cooperatively do the environmental assessment and in fact get on with the project. This should not be used as a delaying tactic. They should be using what is best for the environment and for the people of that area.
In the United States, details of other permits and approvals must be obtained from other U.S. agencies. Again, I would add that sometimes, with their turf wars, those agencies can in fact slow things down a lot too. We really have to start working as a House to get more cooperation in this kind of thing. Hopefully this bill will accomplish that.
The applicant in the U.S. also of course has to work closely with the Canadian government and vice versa. I think it is very important that the relationship between the U.S. and Canada, which is now finally moving forward, will make those negotiations much easier and will allow us to get on with the building of these bridges and tunnels. In fact, I think that cooperative approach I mentioned between provinces and municipalities can be extended to our U.S. counterparts. In the process, the state department, after all its consultation and, certainly from our perspective, our consultation, then moves on to get consultants and look at the best routes and locations. All of that, of course, should be in the public domain.
As mentioned, the new bill would allow the government to establish similar Canadian guidelines so that information is provided when the government is seeking approval for the construction of a new international bridge or tunnel. There is no need to keep reinventing the wheel, as we so often do. Obviously a lot can be learned from other projects and proposals in moving this whole thing forward.
Having said all of this, I note that our guidelines will specifically take into account what is in the best interest of Canadians when it comes to international bridges and tunnels. The approval process, including the information that the applicant will have to provide, will be tailored to respond to Canada's national objectives and this government's priorities to secure our border while at the same time encouraging international trade through the efficient flow of goods and traffic via these borders.
I fully support the bill. I think it clarifies a lot. I look forward to it going on to committee and to speeding up the process of the three bridges that are being proposed now, one in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, one in Fort Erie, Ontario, and one in Windsor, Ontario, as mentioned earlier. I think it will be good to have the oversight of the federal government and to get on with the project, in cooperation with the others.