Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise in this debate. I regret, however, that the conceptual approach to Pacific trade has not been stressed heavily by the two previous opposition speakers.
It is important to recognize what the approach is and not to get bogged down in whether there is a specific rail bridge, or highway crossing or left turn lane for trucks, which is a problem at the present time. Every one of us from western Canada, Ontario, Quebec or the Maritimes could probably come up with quite a long list of things in their ridings for which they would like federal money.
We have to recognize this is a very strategic issue. As we know, Canada was created because of the construction of western rail transportation links to British Columbia. That is why my province came to be in 1871 instead of 1867. However, because there was a considerable length of time, while the railway was being built, there were some doubts as to whether that connection with Canada would remain.
We have created the links and the fastest transportation system from the Orient to Europe. Crossing the Pacific by Canadian Pacific ships, or crossing Canada by Canadian Pacific Railroad or crossing the Atlantic by a number of shipping lines was the closest and fastest connection. We developed extensive trade through the port of Vancouver and eastern ports as well by that means.
This also should be looked at not just from the point of view of Canadian exports and imports, but as something which will allow us to continue that same type of development. This time it would not necessarily be to Europe. Through the United States, we would have the ability to bring goods in from China, South Korea, Japan and other countries of Asia. Then they could be distributed by rail throughout North America, Canada and the United States, and even Mexico as well. This is where we have some real advantages. I know that will be pursued because it has been the approach over time with our development of western transportation.
I had a look at the speeches of the opposition when this was first presented. The major criticism is that this does not do enough, and I believe $4 billion was mentioned as being necessary for transportation improvements in western Canada. Maybe it does not and maybe $4 billion is the correct figure. I am quite sure that if we all got together, we could work that up to about $10 billion or $15 billion quite easily, as we added little things or big things to the list.
We are starting with a more conceptual approach to the whole issue, not just of the port of Vancouver trade, or the port of Prince Rupert trade or the port of Victoria trade, but of the whole Pacific coast and the rest of Canada in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and right through to Ontario. A lot of trade will cross this link through the facilities, about which we have spoken, into Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes as well. As I mentioned a moment ago, they will also cross into the United States. Remember that this is an attempt to take a more strategic look.
The Vancouver airport has similarly attempted to place itself as the gateway. We have been talking about that time after time in the House and outside of it. Those of us who have been involved in public life in British Columbia over the last decade and a half and before have talked about the need to ensure that same concept of making the west coast the gateway for this tremendous development takes place in Asia as well.
I should add that the trade increases in the countries involved are extensive. We should never overlook the importance of Japan. Much of the talk has been about Korea. I gather the Conservative Party's first spokesman on this did not like the levels of trade with Korea. He thinks it is a hazard to us in some respects such as the automobile industry. That is fine. I think we can compete and he does not. That is a point we will see in due course.
Also, we should recognize that there is a tremendous increase in China trade which has taken place. I have had the privilege of seeing that. I also had the privilege of living a good part of my life on the other side of the Pacific in then British crown colony of Hong Kong , now the autonomous region of China. Before me, my father spent some 30 years in Hong Kong. There has been a close family connection with the Pacific transportation link that had the family partly in Hong Kong and partly in Victoria.
There is a tremendous opportunity in China, but we must not overlook the opportunity in Japan. Once again, I would differ with my Conservative friends across the way who have said that somehow to deal with China, we have to link up with Japanese companies. That is not the case. We can compete directly. We can link up with Japanese companies, European companies, American companies or companies from anywhere else in the world. However, there is no need to think that there is any particular country which will be our logical and obvious partner in a general sense for trade with China, any other country other than China itself.
This proposal, as has been pointed out rather frequently, is for a council. The criticism that has been made is that the council has some $30 million or $35 million allocated, under the approach outlined by the hon. the Minister for Multiculturalism when the bill was introduced, and that this is somehow too much or extravagant. Those criticisms may be correct. Time will tell.
However, as I mentioned to my hon. friend from Edmonton who spoke earlier today, my concern is more the issue of duplication of roles. We have the gateway council. It is only advisory to the various governments. Therefore, the representative from the governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan or British Columbia who sits on the gateway council will be unable to negotiate or discuss with any authority to make decisions. That is a weakness at which we will have to look.
It seems to me that frequently we set up councils of this type. Then when they in turn report to the provincial government of British Columbia, the federal Department of Transport, the Alberta minister of overseas trade or the Manitoba minister of agriculture, as the case may be, we start to get a disaggregated voice and we do not have the correct line authority to make decisions.
If the council is to be so important, all governments should consider giving it the authority to make such decisions and giving it a separate budget much greater than $30 million. However, if on the other hand we just want the views of a wide-ranging number of people, I have to admit I kind of wonder why the Government of Canada and Minister of Transport would not pick up the phone to the Alberta minister of trade, or the British Columbia minister of forests responsible for wood exports or something like that. We know what will happen. We know those intergovernmental connections will be made. Therefore, I see the role of the council as being a bit difficult to envisage in the smooth working system of decision making which I think should take place.
That is something we have to watch for, and we certainly will. The costs of it are definitely very important.
I would like to quickly point out however, as a British Columbia member of the House, that there has been strong support for the gateway concept. The Premier of British Columbia, the hon. Gordon Campbell, has been very supportive. He said:
It is critical that we recognize our [transportation] infrastructure reaches beyond the mountains....This Gateway will invite jobs and opportunities into the country, and invite people to come and trade through Canada to provide their goods to North America.
That was a very positive statement. We recognize and thank Premier Campbell for those comments.
Gordon Houston, the president and CEO of the Vancouver Port Authority, called the initiative a “great announcement”. He said:
The federal government's announcement of $600 million in funding for infrastructure and programs to enhance the Pacific Gateway takes British Columbia's ports a giant step closer to realizing the tremendous economic potential of expanding Asia-Pacific trade...
Fred Green, the executive VP of CP Rail, praised the announcement as:
--an encouraging sign to the private sector...The federal initiative helps further strengthen the Pacific Gateway as a key access point for all of North America. It also complements the Province of British Columbia's efforts to reinforce the importance of the gateway.
Bruce Burrows is another very important player in the transportation sector. He is the acting president and CEO of the Railway Association of Canada. He praised the strategy for helping to fast track infrastructure needed to “enhance Canada's role as a preferred trading partner with China”.
Mr. Burrows also said:
--the federal funds to be spent on Canada's international trade routes, coupled with the railways' own operational and capital spending plans, will help them cope with their customers' significant growth in overseas trade.
Many others have added comments.
Kevin Evans, vice-president of the Retail Council of Canada, welcomed the strategy “as strengthening Canada's position as a trading partner with China”. The Canadian Trucking Alliance talked about this. Peter Marshall, vice-president for western Canada for CN Rail, praised it. I will not go on. There is very strong support for this strategy, and I am trying to give a flavour of it.
I come back to where I started this discussion. In debates like this we have to recognize the importance of taking an approach which is beyond simply specifics of political advantage on a day to day basis. We need to spend public money to get good infrastructure. If we do not, the private sector does not have a prayer of taking advantage of economic opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region. I hope this final point is well understood. We have heard it misapplied and misunderstood time after time by the opposition. We need to have public expenditures at a level for a number of--