The House resumed from April 11 consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Marine Act, the Canada Transportation Act, the Pilotage Act and other Acts in consequence, be read the third time and passed.
Hon. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-23 today. Before I begin I want to say that our thoughts are with the over 4,000 people who may have died during the tragedy in Burma on the weekend.
On November 16, 2007, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities introduced Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Marine Act, the Canada Transportation Act, the Pilotage Act and other Acts in consequence, in the House of Commons. The bill is very similar in respect to its predecessor, Bill C-61, An Act to amend the Canada Marine Act and other Acts, which was introduced in the House of Commons on June 22, 2005 by the previous Liberal government. The bill died on the order paper with the dissolution of Parliament without having passed first reading.
Just to ensure our critic knows where I stand on this, I am in favour of the bill to modernize and increase the efficiency of our ports. I have a few questions and concerns on certain elements, but they are basically bringing forth the main points that we had in our bill. We are in agreement with the modernization of the ports in this trading world and to do anything that would make it more efficient and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are so critical to my area in the north.
In 1998, during the Liberal government's term in office, the Canadian Marine Act received royal assent. This was the first comprehensive legislation to govern several aspects of Canada's marine legislation. In addition, the act allowed for the establishment of Canada Port Authorities, port facilities and continued divestiture of certain harbour beds.
The Canadian Marine Act assisted in the commercialization of the St. Lawrence Seaway and contained provisions for the further commercialization of federal ferry services.
In 2003, the Canadian Marine Act was subject to a legislative review and, since 2003, Transport Canada has carried out a number of studies from which it was able to compile several recommendations to improve the Canadian Marine Act.
Canada's policy framework of 1995 for federal ports focused on the elimination of overcapacity in the new government structure to support a more commercialized system. Global trading patterns have changed in the context in which federal ports operate. Port modernization is required to ensure that ports have the tools needed to compete in a global trading environment and to support the government's new national policy framework for strategic gateways and trade corridors.
The Canada Port Authorities have locations now in St. John's, Belledune, Halifax, Saint John, Sept-Îles , Saguenay, Trois-Rivières, Montreal, Hamilton, Toronto, Windsor, Thunder Bay, Port Alberni, Nanaimo, Prince Rupert and Vancouver which will be amalgamated with the Fraser River and North Fraser.
Some aspects of the bill are administrative and some are more substantive. Certain administrative aspects were made to increase the clarity and consistency between both language versions. One changes the purpose so it would recognize the significance of marine transportation and its contribution to the Canadian economy.
Our party, in developing this act in the first place, is very supportive of this modernization of the ports. In fact, our leader, the Leader of the Opposition, announced before this past Christmas about a number of new ports in Nunavut, small boat harbours, which is very exciting. Unfortunately, the government has only announced one port, which is one commercial harbour in Nunavut, and we would certainly like a lot more small boat harbours in Nunavut.
The government also announced the enhancement of the military harbour but we have not seen much progress on it to date and we certainly would like to see that initiative related to harbours proceed.
During second reading on this bill, I asked questions as we have had problems relating to consultation with many bills in this Parliament. I was happy to find out that stevedores and longshoremen were consulted. The government had to do some research to find that out but I finally got the answer to that question. The opinions of the pilotage associations are very important. I meet with them usually once a year and they have very important considerations. Of course, also the port authorities, which we know had major input into this bill.
The purpose of the bill, over and above the technical amendments I talked about, is to do a number of things. I will talk about each of these things in more detail and maybe some specific elements of the bill on top of that.
First, the bill would modify the port authorities' access to federal funding.
Second, it would add provisions regarding the power of a port authority to borrow money.
Third, it would provide additional regulatory powers to the Governor in Council.
In some things related to the amalgamation of port authorities, the way in which the directors on the boards of the port authorities' would be pointed would facilitate the processes.
The bill adds provisions regarding port amalgamation, which, in the original times, were not needed because there were so few major ports operating. We now have many more ports to accommodate the huge increase in the world shipping trade. I will list them later on in my speech.
The sixth item related to the bill is that it would modify provisions regarding the boards of directors the port authorities.
Finally, it would add a penalty scheme and streamline certain other provisions.
Before I go into each one of those, I want to state that there are 19 Canadian port authorities right now when we are talking about the amendments related to port authorities. These are located in each of the regions in which gateway and corridor initiatives are being started. I will refer to those later on as well.
One of the areas in which I am interested and hope to hear from the government about is the amendment, as of November 2007, that contribution funding for implementation of security enhancements would no longer be available to Canadian port authorities. I wonder why that has been allowed to expire and why something else was not put in place. I know that is the intent of this bill but, as I will talk about later, I do not want it to detract from money that would be available for other security provisions.
I know a bill was put in place to allow security investments in ports, for instance. I also know that the Canadian Fertilizer Institute approached us for a similar program so it could invest in the very expensive security requirements for fertilizers and dangerous chemical items to make it more competitive in the world markets and more competitive for our agricultural markets.
The bill would give ports the ability to use some of their lands for different purposes, not just for the port itself. In general, I am very strongly supportive of this provision for two reasons. The first reason is that there would be no incentive for a port to expand to cover future contingencies. As we have seen, there have been great increases in shipping in the world and yet some of our ports could not keep up and then, all of a sudden, the land is all gone.
When condos, art centres and other big structures are built on waterfront land that should have been reserved for a port, it becomes very difficult to expropriate them when the land is needed for a port. It would be hard to get public opinion behind it to use that land and it would be very expensive and wasteful.
For long term planning, we need to set aside that land up front, but if it were to be set aside and left vacant, there will be all sorts of public pressure from every group, commercial enterprise, government, other transportation facilities, convention centres and everyone who wants that land for something else.
This bill would allow that land to be used for other purposes and generate revenue for the port authorities, which should be as self-sufficient as possible, of course, until such time as it is needed.
I definitely am in favour of that, with the exception that we must ensure that once again things are not put on the land that would cause the same problem, permanent structures such as condominiums, transportation networks or art centres, something that cannot just be taken down when the land is needed. I think this is a good provision but it needs to be watched carefully to ensure it is used properly.
For Canada, the ports are more important than for many other countries because we are a trading nation. The parliamentary secretary said that in his speech at second reading. In that light, I hope the government will stop closing important consulates around the world because they are just as important for us as a trading nation.
I said earlier that I would talk about the increase in the number of ports and talk about why we need to deal with things like amalgamations in this bill. In British Columbia, where there was originally one major port, it now has one in North Fraser, Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Nanaimo and Port Alberni, all to help the great expansion of trade to Asia. That is why we need coordination, not only with the ports themselves but also with the other types of transportation that feed into the port.
All the investment cannot be in the port land itself, because we also need to invest in the appropriate bridges, roads, parking and customs facilities in a type of corridor strategy. When we did the west coast port corridor we envisioned all of those items. I hope the Conservatives enhance and speed up the investment in that Pacific corridor at the rate that we had envisioned.
A few years ago we missed an opportunity to re-enhance the capacity of the Halifax harbour to handle the giant ships coming into the marketplace. I hope we do not miss that in the future.
When we are talking about the gateways, I want to assure my colleagues in Quebec and Ontario that we are not just talking about the Atlantic and Pacific gateways, which I have mentioned. We also need to ensure there is investment in the St. Lawrence--Great Lakes corridor and the St. Lawrence Seaway. That corridor has good potential because many of those ports would not be in competition with the east or west. They would be taking goods directly inland in a more efficient and economical way. This would help to build efficiencies in Ontario and Quebec in their ports on the Great Lakes and on the St. Lawrence River.
The distance between Montreal and Rotterdam is 5,813 kilometres, while the distance between New York and Rotterdam is 6,154 kilometres. Therefore, there is no reason that we cannot get that faster entry into the heartland of the Americas if we ensure we have just as efficient a system for getting the goods into our ports as opposed to ports like New York.
In spite of increased shipping around the world, Canada's use of that particular route has dropped. The total amount of goods transported via the St. Lawrence dropped from 130 million tonnes in the early 1980s to approximately 100 million tonnes 10 years later, only to have around 105 million tonnes since. Thus, since 1980, the ports on the St. Lawrence have received less merchandise than the 150 million tonnes they received in 2007. It was 25 million tonnes less than what was being transported on the St. Lawrence in the early 1980s.
Over the past 30 years the carriage of goods by ship has grown in the world 600%, while traffic on the St. Lawrence has dropped from 130 million tonnes in the 1980s to the current 105 million tonnes. Even the Mississippi River, which is a competitor to get into the heartland of the St. Lawrence, saw its traffic increase from 450 million tonnes to 700 million tonnes. I want my colleagues in Ontario and Quebec to know we are thinking of them and that our vision of ports includes them in the modernization and investment of their ports.
Those were introductory remarks. I want to now go on to the major components of the bill.
First, I will talk about the borrowing limits. It is certainly important to make sure that ports can make their investments, that they are borrowing efficiently and that everything else as a system is monitored and controlled. It should be done in such a way as to ensure they have secure borrowing and can be able to pay the bills. To date, the government has not had to step in. We would not want a situation where there was excess borrowing where ports could not control themselves.
The next area is access to contribution funding. This is perhaps my biggest concern with the bill. It is related to making ports eligible for funding through existing programs. Of course, we all agree that ports have to have funding, but it is perplexing to me as to why the government, if it believes in that, just does not provide the funding and why it would want to take the money from other federal government programs as opposed to providing a program for the ports. For instance, the ports want funding for infrastructure and security, which of course what we want, but why would the government take that money from other areas?
We have limited infrastructure. The government, fortunately, after extensive lobbying, carried on the infrastructure programs to the tune of $33 billion but changed the conditions. Most of the municipalities across Canada have not heard how much of that they are going to get. I have said time and time again in the House, and I know the Minister of Finance has heard me, that municipalities have to get the same amount of infrastructure money as they did under the previous government, which was $33 billion, and they need to know the rules so they can apply it and it is not distributed all over the place.
The municipalities have not heard for so long, the new rules are not out, and there is worry across the country. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Association of Yukon Communities have been wondering when they are going to hear what the rules are and how much of that money they are going to get. Are they still going to get the same amount of the infrastructure money as they did in the past?
The primary reason these programs were started in the first place was for the municipalities of this country. The Liberal Party will never cease to stand up for the municipalities to ensure they get their fair share of that funding. That is why, when there is a provision in this bill that adds another important need for funding to the same pile money, it is very worrying to me. Everyone will certainly be watching to make sure the ports get their money, but that the municipalities in Canada are not deprived of the funds they so desperately need.
Hon. Larry Bagnell:
Just before I answer the question, Mr. Speaker, I was reminded of an item I did not have time to get in, in my 20 minutes, which dealt with another type of investment important for ports and it is the security investment. We need to do much better monitoring. I know we are doing great work on that, but the ports actually need the money to put in sophisticated equipment, for instance, for scanning containers, et cetera.
In regard to the member's point, I am not sure we have a disagreement because I was basically saying that both entities need the funds: the ports and the municipalities. I am not sure which NDP argument he was referring to because I am not aware of that, but in relation to the ports, I definitely think they need funds for infrastructure and security through these types of investments.
However, when we started all these infrastructure funds, our first need was for the municipalities. I do not treat the municipalities as a corporation. Municipalities are an order of government. There are four orders of government in Canada, and hon. members will notice I am not saying levels of government: federal, provincial and territorial, first nations and municipal. These four orders of government are not stakeholders. They are not interest groups. They are governments. Each government has its needs in balancing its responsibility, as it says in the Constitution of Canada, to provide equal services to Canadians across the country, wherever they are.
The needs of the municipality, as a government, are very important. That is why we came up with that amount of money, which has now been basically morphed into the $33 billion building Canada fund.
I am saying that we should not detract from the amount that municipalities were getting, unless the municipality chooses that a port authority is one of its priorities and that is where it would like its particular money to go. In our area, two waterfronts were very important investments. If that is an investment of a municipality, I have no problem with making a port eligible.
Over the years moneys were promised to municipalities through infrastructure programs: strategic infrastructure, rural infrastructure, border infrastructure, the gas tax rebate, and the GST rebate. However, I do not want to see the moneys needed by municipalities for huge infrastructure all of a sudden develop new terms and conditions, and all of a sudden they have a new player in the field that is eligible for the money, without adding to the pot of money.
That is the point I was trying to make. I hope that is not in conflict with the point that our critic was trying to make because he and I, as I think, we both said that in our speeches. We are big supporters of ports. There are needs for the modernization of ports and there are also needs for increased investments in ports.
The borrowing provisions of the bill will help ports actually invest in themselves. Once they are more efficient, they will have more revenues to help them be self-sufficient in order to pay for these investments.
Ms. Olivia Chow (Trinity—Spadina, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government is misleading the public about the impacts of changes to the Marine Act through Bill C-23.
If anyone opposite wonders why cities are so upset with the Conservative government, they need to look no further than this bill which will further reduce infrastructure funding for cities. Moreover, it changes the governance regulations for port authorities, like the unaccountable, unelected and undemocratic Toronto port authority.
Currently, port authorities are legislated to be self-sustaining. They are not supposed to depend on the federal government for handouts or subsidies.
The government is ramming through a bill and has opposed all of the NDP amendments which would allow the Toronto port authority, and other port authorities, to apply for federal infrastructure funds desperately needed by cities like Toronto and others across Canada. It also would extend the terms of the board of directors, decrease the size of the board, and make the port authorities even less accountable.
The Liberals do not even bat an eyelash. They simply roll over and are letting the Conservatives pass the bill to avoid public scrutiny. They together in fact oppose hearings at committee, hearings that Parliament could conduct across Canada so that we could hear from municipalities and citizens about the bill. That was opposed even though the NDP proposed it during the debate at committee.
It is too bad that the 20 members of the House elected from Toronto in the Liberal Toronto caucus will not listen to the city councillors, the mayor and advocates for our city. They have said that the bill is bad for our ridings, bad for our economy, and will not do anything to fix Toronto or any other city's crumbling infrastructure. It is too bad these MPs are afraid to face the good citizens of Toronto.
The bill is a clear signal that the Conservatives cannot be trusted to give cities what they need to grow and prosper in the 21st century. On the weekend, on both Saturday and Sunday, across Canada and especially in Toronto there were Jane Jacobs walks. Of course, people know that Jane Jacobs is a renowned urban philosopher, a planner, and it is her version of cities that are world renowned.
She urges Canadians and Parliament to close a dangerous Trojan horse down. What she is talking about is of course the Toronto port authority. Why? Because the port authority was imposed by the former government, the Liberals, against the wishes of Torontonians. It was formed through changes in the Marine Act in 2001.
In downtown Toronto we have 100,000 people living at the Toronto waterfront and another 100,000 who will work there when all the developments are finished. The Toronto official website says:
|| Toronto's waterfront is our front porch to the world. With the right kind of investment, the waterfront will become a necklace of green, with pearls of activity; people living, working and enjoying it with pride and passion.
The Toronto port authority vision, on the other hand, is to create an industrial strip dominated by an airport. These two visions are obviously incompatible. Instead of a strip of green with 215 acres of land, we now have an airport and planes flying out creating about 2,865 kilograms of CO2 pollution in the air. It certainly is not the vision of a clean, green waterfront.
Jane Jacobs is not alone. Another very famous Torontonian was Allan Sparrow, who unfortunately passed away from cancer last week. Mr. Sparrow was the founder of a group called Community AIR, with 2,000 members in Toronto. It has been pushing the federal government to put the port authorities back into the hands of the citizens.
As a former Toronto city councillor, Allan Sparrow inspired a generation of reform-minded progressives with his ahead of his time thinking about our environment. He dreamed of a clean and livable city that all could enjoy. His role in shaping the Toronto we know and love today should not be forgotten. His legacy will live on in the movements that he inspired, such as closing the Toronto Island Airport and, of course, promoting a clean and livable waterfront community.
I want to talk about the contrast between the Toronto Port Authority and Allan Sparrow's vision. He said:
|| As for the ongoing battle over the future of the Island Airport lands, some things never change. The privileged and civically disengaged will continue to pollute and degrade Toronto's waterfront with their “save a few minutes at all costs” life style...at the end of the day, the larger community will prevail, but not without struggle.
Why is the Toronto downtown waterfront important? I want to talk about the neighbourhood that surrounds the waterfront. The waterfront communities, through Allan Sparrow, designed the beautiful St. Lawrence neighbourhood as a new, model downtown community at that time. It embraced a mix of affordable and market priced housing, centred on a park and community recreation centre. There were non-profit projects. Whether people are young or old, they enjoy living there. It is the same thing in the Harbourfront area with the Harbourfront Community Centre. This has happened all along the waterfront.
What Mr. Sparrow was particularly good at was that as a businessman he looked at the business case of the Toronto Port Authority and at its financial statements. He was very clear that in 2006, for example, the financial statements of the Toronto Port Authority showed that it made $5 million in revenue but spent $5.2 million to operate. It was obviously a money losing operation.
Mr. Sparrow was a very good business person. He founded a consulting company, Domicity, which in fact helped the federal government quite a few years ago in regard to attracting IT investment to Canada. He led missions to Japan, Korea and the Silicon Valley. We know that he was a person who knew a lot about businesses and a lot about large private and government organizations.
Allan Sparrow very clearly said that the port authority was unsustainable and that the business case it presented would forever lose money. Because of that, he knew that the expansion of the island airport by the port authority would be a disaster for the City of Toronto and its plans to create a clean and green waterfront.
He was also very concerned about the increase in air traffic bringing water and noise pollution to one of the most densely populated parts of the city. In his very focused and deliberate way, Allan Sparrow decided he would do everything in his power to stop it. In 2002 he founded Community AIR and was the group's spokesperson in the formative years of the fight.
As the number of people involved in fighting the port authority grew, more people went to the annual general meetings of the port authority. It became more obvious that these port authorities were not at all accountable. It was noticed that when the port authorities conducted their environmental assessment process, it really was not a clear and open process. This very strong organization, which represented the City of Toronto and the citizens of Toronto, was not given a voice.
I wish that the Toronto Port Authority had people like Jane Jacobs and Allan Sparrow on its board of directors so that the people's voices would actually be heard in these port authorities. What do we have instead under Bill C-23? We have a smaller board of directors whose terms can be extended not just once but twice.
The former Liberal government appointed a lot of its friends to the port authorities, and in the last two or three years the Conservatives have been appointing lobbyists and a former Conservative staffer of the finance minister to the port authority, whereas citizens and the people who represent the users and who really know something about running ports are not appointed. The Jane Jacobses and Allan Sparrows never have a chance to have a say in how the Toronto Port Authority is being run.
It is a disgrace. This bill is a step in the wrong direction. We know that every political movement is built on the shoulders of those who came before, whether it is the Jane Jacobses and the Allan Sparrows of the world or someone else. Their leadership, their personal style and their vision of what great cities and countries are all about have been missed completely in the bill.
We note that if lobbyists or political friends can have a contract or a term renewed twice, we are looking at nine years of them being in a port authority that has absolutely no say from the local cities or citizens or the elected councillors.
We have also noted that the bill has no accountability. Many municipalities are speaking against it. We oppose access to federal funds for the Toronto Port Authority and other port authorities because it would drain the funds from a central pot and the crumbling infrastructure of municipalities would continue to crumble.
We also note that the bill will give the minister authority to expand the borrowing limits of port authorities. If they go bankrupt, guess what? It will be taxpayers who will be left holding the bag or trying to pay off those debts. Or maybe the Toronto Port Authority, as it has done before, will sue everyone. It sued the city of Toronto and the federal government and made off with a lot of money, with millions, in fact.
Another change in Bill C-23 that is a dangerous area is that it licenses landholdings. It would allow port authorities to license landholdings to third parties with absolutely no input and no comment from local municipalities.
In yet another area, Bill C-23 gives no standards for security measures. For the port authority in downtown Toronto, right by the CN Tower and hundreds of thousands of residents of that highly dense area, there are really no standards for security measures.
Bill C-23 also does not give the Auditor General any power to investigate port authorities' financial practices, so the port authority is not accountable financially, and neither is it accountable to local citizens.
For those reasons, the NDP and residents of Toronto will continue to fight and will strive to return the port authorities to the people of Toronto and the citizens of Canada. Bill C-23 concerning Marine Act changes is certainly a step in the wrong direction.
Hon. Joseph Volpe (Eglinton—Lawrence, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate, having worked on the committee to ensure that the bill would provide the detail and implementable advantages that it purported to do when it was first presented. As a member of Parliament one has to assume a certain sense of responsibility. One has to examine the intent of the legislation, question the minister, probe the bureaucracy, and then go out into the field and consult with those who are going to be first and foremost impacted by the legislation. Without undue modesty, I did all three.
As a concession to a new member of the NDP, we asked at the very last meeting dealing with Bill C-23 if we could have more detail for that new member, and I see that the member is paying attention so that is good. That member was invited to bring forward new witnesses with proposed amendments. The only people he was able to come up with were the ones we have talked about, such as people involved with Community Air who came as individuals, and a councillor who came as an individual. As for amendments, I know that listeners cannot see, but when I put my index finger and my thumb together, it forms a zero. There were none. When the member says that there are people who rejected amendments, I am still at a loss to understand which amendments were presented that were rejected. There were none.
I come back to the concept of what the legislation was intended to do.
I have great respect for all members of Parliament who come here to represent the views of their citizens. They come here to address the issues that are germane to the growth of Canada. A parliamentarian of great note thanked his constituents for voting him in as their representative but he also said that he was now a member of the Parliament of Canada.
As a member of the Parliament of Canada, each and every one of the members on that committee looked at all the port authorities to see what they needed in order to become viable commercial entities capable of meeting the challenges of the economies of tomorrow.
As a member of the former government, I said that at least from its intent the legislation was worthy of consideration. We will see if it is worthy of support. I said it and I might have been selfish, but indulge me for a moment. When I was in government with my cabinet colleagues and my caucus colleagues, we fashioned a policy that we thought would enhance the future of Canada and all Canadians. Whether they lived in downtown Toronto, Yukon or Atlantic Canada, it did not matter. The policy was designed to ensure that we would have gateways of access and success in the west, in central Canada and in Atlantic Canada. We thought we were all-encompassing.
We had provisions in place for all of those ports that some might say are northern ports, those which the coastal areas of Atlantic Canada and British Columbia might think of as secondary ports, but they are very important ports. More important for all of Canada, we wanted to position the port authorities such that they would be able to meet the challenges of the economies that were beginning to develop everywhere around the world.
At the very first instance we asked if these ports were commercially viable. Some ports are bigger than others. We divided them into two tiers. It is no secret that the first three are Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax. We put in a cutoff of $25 million. Those ports do that amount of business. They are the ports that will be the fulcrum for transportation around the world.
There are other ports, tier two, which are equally significant,perhaps locally, but they are not the hubs around which spokes will be developed. We recognize that. However, that does not mean they should not be prepared to take advantage of the vagaries of commerce. We could dispense with them, move them over to one side, eliminate them, say they have no value, and then watch as their communities languish while commerce takes a look someplace else. We thought that would not be responsible for Canadians and so we said that we needed to make sure that some of these ports can amalgamate.
Quite frankly, the ports in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia needed to have one authority for efficiency and effectiveness purposes. They needed to be able to make the investments in their infrastructure so that they could receive commerce from the interior of Canada, the interior of the continent, and make sure that it could be expeditiously shipped to those ports and those markets in the Orient and southeast Asia and along the western coast of Canada and down along, I guess we would call it, the eastern Pacific rim.
In order to do that, we had to give those ports the legislative authority to amalgamate; to ensure that they could borrow on the open market commensurate with their commercial ability; and to be like other corporate entities, capable of accessing government advantages through infrastructure programs as an example, or through other programs that would give them the advantage that all Canadians would expect of any of their organizations that would be directed to enhancing the Canadian livelihood, the standard of living and the quality of life. That is what we all intended to do.
We sought witnesses from all sectors of the economy and society, and indeed governments, as my colleague from Yukon said, from all orders of government, one might say from all levels of government, but all governments interested. We sought their advice. We sought the advice of those in the industry and the businesses, the port authorities that came before us. We asked them where the deficiencies were in the legislation, what they needed to do. We invited everyone. It may be that others might not have heeded the call. It is rather unfortunate. But we took that extra step; we went out and sought the advice of those who would be impacted.
It is interesting. For example, the former speaker concentrated everything on Toronto. I am a citizen of Toronto. I have lived all of my life there. I am a specialist. I went there and got all of my education over and over again so that I could say, yes, I am from Toronto. I hold no place higher than anyone else, but I will not take a second position to anyone else about how my city has developed, should develop and what is important for its citizens whom I have been proud to represent for these last almost 20 years. I have learned in those 20 years that somebody can make a distinction between the spin indicated for a particular purpose and good sound public policy.
Here I am as the transport critic for the official opposition supporting a piece of government legislation that has gone through all of the appropriate filters, examinations and critiques. As I indicated, I avowed very early it is because it was generated by the former government of which I was a member.
This is a happy confluence of two different parties, two different governments, recognizing the import of this bill for all of Canada. In fact, even the Bloc Québécois on that committee said that this bill was good for transportation policy, irrespective of the colour of the party in power. Surely that has to be the test of good legislation. I do not think the government can take full credit for it. Nor am I reaching back into the past to say that it is ours and that is why we are doing it. Nor do our colleagues in the Bloc say that it is their legislation and they will put their brand on it.
This is something where, collectively, members of Parliament came from the various regions of the country. As I indicated at the beginning of my discussion, they were elected as representatives of their people, but they came here to become members of Parliament. That meant they assumed the obligation to see everything from the prism of the public good.
Three of the four parties in the House support this legislation, wholeheartedly, after having gone through the appropriate examination and underscoring the fact that we were talking about strengthening the commercial viability, the ability to borrow and the governance models of all these ports. I hearken to point out that each and every one of these ports has representatives from the communities in which they are located, representatives who are suggested and recommended by the municipalities in which they are located.
Yes, they must finally receive the stamp of approval of the then minister of transport, but even in my own city, that port authority has representatives from the municipality, the province and the federal authority. All three orders of government are represented in a port authority, which number one objective must be to ensure that if there are advantages to be gained from commerce to be shipped through the Great Lakes, some of it be resident in the area of Toronto.
One might ask how big a port is it. Despite all the criticisms, it ranks, according to Transport Canada and according to the volume of operating revenue, number eight in the country. It is not bad for a port that is not supposed to be doing anything. Only 10 other significant ports rank below it. What we have seen over the course of this last little while is the ebb and flow of commerce, the value of commodities that are shipped from the interior of our great country to other parts of the world, is making its way through a transportation system in which various ports are key.
For example, I think of the great port of Thunder Bay, which at one time was the second most important inland port in all of Canada, second only to Montreal. It has suffered some decline partly because a lot of the materials, a lot of the commodities, minerals as well as lumber has been shipped out west through the port of Vancouver, now Prince Rupert.
This does not mean that all the investment Canadian governments before us made in building a seaway to ensure all the products were produced in the centre of Canada, my province being most significant in this regard, would come through a St. Lawrence Seaway system, of which the port of Toronto is a very important element. However, it is not the only port in the Great Lakes Seaway system. We have seen more and more investments in the port of Montreal. It has begun to flourish in a way that people had not anticipated.
One can be morose, critical or shortsighted and say that we should forget all those 19 major ports throughout the country because those people in one port city of the country might be interested only in the land development side of the port authority. Therefore, we should forget about the flow of commerce, transportation and goods from the markets, which are particularly Canadian, out to an export environment where they will enhance the standard of living of all Canadians.
Happily, the majority of members of Parliament in the House do not have that same disposition. Happily, members of Parliament recognize their obligation to the Canadian common weal. Happily, we have saner minds in the House that are prepared to take a look at what must be done.
What must be done includes not only those gateways to central and western Canada, but to all those ports that provide the world with an avenue into Canada, coming from the Atlantic ports, of which Halifax is the largest and is the most commercially viable. However, it is not the only one.
We have a tendency to focus on all those that are of great interest to us. I have a particular soft spot in my heart for the port of Halifax. It is the port which received me when I first came to this country. It is a wonderful place. I am surprised we have not made much more of Halifax than it currently is, but it ranks as either the best or the second best. It is among the top three natural ports, natural harbours in the entire world.
The port of Halifax is a gateway for everything that could come from Europe and Africa. The most logical place for all that commerce to come in through is either Halifax or Saint John. In fact, there are others, but Halifax is by far the biggest. Through it, we could build that kind of an infrastructure, that kind of a network, which would enhance the economic viabilities of so many communities throughout all of Canada.
Bill C-23 speaks to the importance of marine ports. The fact is, Mr. Speaker, and you know this better than others because of where you come from, all those marine ports are tied to a road and rail infrastructure that spreads out in a network through the rest of the marketplace, which is North America. There are none that are better positioned to do that, in my view, than Halifax or mainland Vancouver, Nanaimo, Prince Rupert, Fraser River Valley and Montreal.
There are other ports, but those hubs ought to give Canada the advantage that other countries naturally cannot enjoy. Therefore, we have been gifted by the bounty of geography and the good Lord, some might say, and we should take advantage of it.
I come from a city that is one of the most advantaged in the world. I am not anxious to see us lose one of those elements that give us this great advantage, even if, over the course of the last several years, we have allowed it to slip into an inferior position relative to others. However, such is the competition among Canadians that the competition among these port cities and port societies all enhance the livelihood of the citizens they serve. They might serve most directly those with which they are adjacent, but they serve the larger Canadian advantage that all of us share and advocate when we run for office.
Members in the House sometimes might put partisan advantage and partisan diatribe ahead of our obligation as members of Parliament. While I am capable of engaging in that kind of dialogue and would reserve it for fun moments, for serious moments like this one, I call on all members of Parliament to do what I know my caucus will do, and that is support a bill that is absolutely focused on ensuring the Canadian advantage is maintained by giving port authorities good governance and access to loans and an opportunity to enhance the infrastructure for greater commercial viability down the road.
My colleagues on the committee all felt that way. Those who did the work, appreciate this most. Those who appreciate this most, will support it. Those who support it, know that its intent is good. This is what the Liberal Party will do and it will vote for it.