Madam Speaker, my colleagues have addressed the legal and political implications of the matter before us. I want to step back a little further and consider the basic premise.
Do we really need a 13 kilometre bridge across Northumberland Strait? Why do we want to do this? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Can a near bankrupt Canada afford it? These questions have been debated for 30 years, but in spite of the signing last October as can be seen in this House the debate is by no means over.
Let us start by disposing of the fiction that this will be a privately financed venture. This is a typical government project with the deal structured so that bond holders take no risk and the private operators will repay principal and interest out of the complete 100 per cent subsidy, $42 million a year indexed to inflation for 35 years. This is compared to the current subsidy. I must take issue with the gentleman who spoke a few moments ago when he said that the subsidy was $42 million. The current subsidy is $21.7 million. That is from the public accounts. Therefore, we are talking about a virtual doubling of the subsidy with the alternate program that is being proposed.
The interest on the $662 million initial bond issue is going to be about $700 million, all courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer. The only difference between the deal closed on October 7 and a normal public works tender is that public money will be spent without public accountability.
This gets better. Of the equity 85 per cent is held by subsidiaries of foreign multinationals, Morrison Knutson of the United States and the French GTM International. I do not know what GTM stands for but I suspect it might mean get the money, because get the money they will.
While we are paying off the debt the operators will be able to do whatever they wish with the net revenue from the tolls and that includes shipping the revenue out of the country. I have nothing against foreign investment. In fact I welcome it. However, I strongly object to foreign profit taking without significant investment or risk.
Still it gets better. The consortium has to post a $200 million performance bond, but the premium is being capitalized into the project cost so that the taxpayer is going to pick up the tab as part of the subsidy payments.
If this proposed bridge was between two heavily populated areas or if it was on a major transportation corridor it would be easier to justify. To spend $25,000 per family to make road access marginally more convenient to an enclave of 130,000 people makes no sense at all.
Larger, faster ferries perhaps with better ice capabilities than those now in use could be had for a fraction of the cost. First class ferry service would not be a discriminatory burden on the people of Prince Edward Island.
There are unanswered questions regarding the technical superiority of a high, wind-swept bridge compared to a stable, well designed ferry. The consensus, even among proponents of the bridge, is that any storm severe enough to stop ferry service will also stop traffic from using the bridge. What is worse, even if the winds are not quite strong enough to stop traffic, vehicles will be forced to proceed at a crawl and empty trailers will not be permitted to cross.
If one is coming up from Boston for a load of potatoes and there is no backup ferry, one had better be prepared to park his or her semi until it gets a mite less breezy.
As an engineer I am well aware that almost anything is technically possible if there is a will to do it and if there is no limit to available resources. One takes an idea and just adds money. However, the fact that something can be done does not necessarily mean that it should be done.
Some people may invoke the memory of John Maynard Keynes to justify this massive public expense as a pump-priming exercise to stimulate the economy. Lord Keynes never envisioned a situation in which nearly one-third of a government's revenue is being eaten up to pay interest on its existing debt. If we had faithfully followed his prescription and built up surpluses or at least paid down our debt during the good times I could perhaps agree that more government spending might be of some economic benefit.
Unfortunately during the 1970s and the early 1980s the Government of Canada and most governments in the world piled up debts in good times, not for any lasting benefit but to finance current expenditures. Like spendthrift families, they borrowed money first to pay for the groceries and then to buy champagne and whisky. They stood poor old Keynes on his head and they put us into a financial box where we have no freedom to move about.
Even if one accepts the premise that jobs can be created at the expense of the greater economy, and I certainly do not, but let me play devil's advocate, if spending borrowed money is an effective economic stimulus, surely the same amount of money could be spent on something which would provide greater long-term benefits to more people. Even the people of Prince Edward Island are not united on this question. More than 40 per cent of them clearly indicated they do not want this gift. This is unprecedented. Ordinarily local people in any community will fight tooth and nail for a government project because they have this perception it is free.
Finally, this bridge deal was consummated in the dying days of the Tory government, as was the Pearson airport deal. It has the potential to be another Mirabel or another Olympic dome. Let us slow down and take a cold, hard look at what we are doing.
The last P.E.I. bridge project was further advanced than this one is now when it was axed by the government in 1969. Of course there will be economic penalties to pay to the operator and to the bondholders if we stop, but surely we can still get out of this with our hide intact before the project acquires irresistible momentum.
The one small lever that we have at our disposal in this House is to withhold approval of the proposed constitutional amendment. Let us leave the Constitution alone. Let us provide first class ferry service in perpetuity as promised and forget about completing another monument to Brian Mulroney.