Mr. Brian Jean (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is an absolute pleasure to rise in the House and speak for the third time to Bill C-3, the international bridges and tunnels act. This is a great bill for Canada and for many people throughout Canada. It sets some great standards, which I will go into during my speech. I am sure every TV set in Windsor right now is tuned in to see the bill passed by all parties, which have worked cooperatively to get this done.
This is the third time I have spoken to the bill. As the name suggests, it deals with Canada's international bridges and tunnels. These international bridges and tunnels are found in three provinces, Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec. They link Canada with many states such as New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Maine and Vermont. This is very important legislation because many of these crossings are the busiest between the United States and Canada.
This is the third bill of its kind to be introduced. Former Bill C-44 and its predecessor former Bill C-26 were introduced in Parliament by the previous Liberal government. We are ready to put the bill through the House. The Conservative government gets things done.
The former bills sought to amend the Canada Transportation Act, Canada's framework transportation legislation. They were too large and cumbersome to get through. That is why our government, in trying to get results, took this portion out of it, dealing only with bridges and tunnels along with various other amendments.
The Liberals will try to take credit, as they usually do, but the Conservative government has taken action on the bill and on this important issue to Canadians, especially to the people in Windsor since that crossing is undergoing some re-evaluation at this stage.
Both of the previous Liberal bills died on the order paper, Bill C-44 in November 2005. The provisions dealing with international bridges and tunnels in those former bills were a small part of the overall amendments being proposed. These amendments and provisions have now been introduced in the form of a stand-alone bill that focuses only on international bridges and tunnels.
While Bill C-3 borrows some of the legislative provisions from the previous bills, the actual provisions have been reworked and at least two new provisions have been added because of some deficiencies in the previous bills.
As everyone in the House knows, including most people who are listening today, the sections 92(10) and 91 of the Constitution give exclusive jurisdiction to the federal government for international bridges and tunnels. Despite this exclusive legislative authority, no law in the history of Canada has ever been adopted that applies to all international bridges and tunnels and sets out how the federal government may exercise that authority. That is why Bill C-3 is so important.
Most of today's international bridges and tunnels were brought into existence by individual acts. Each one deals with inconsistencies in the other acts. This will bring some cohesion to the legislation itself and deal with international bridges and tunnels, as should be done, in one piece of legislation that would govern all.
The schedule attached to the bill sets out 53 special acts, that is 53 times the House had to deal with different bridges and tunnels, many of which were adopted shortly after Confederation. These are almost 100 years old. As such, they have other language in them, which does not deal with some of the realities of today. After September 11, 2001, safety and security of our international border crossings, of our trade route and of our citizens has become a very important issue. Now our government is finally acting on it and we will get some results.
In addition to confirming the federal government's jurisdiction with respect to international bridges and tunnels, the bill also proposes to introduce rules that will apply to all existing and future international bridges and tunnels. It will modernize the special bridge and tunnel acts to which it makes reference.
Bill C-3 sets out a formal administrative process for approving the construction of all new international bridges and tunnels and for alterations to existing structures, thereby replacing the need for the government to pass special legislation every time something needs to be done to one of these important crossings.
The bill would also give the government the power to make regulations in areas such as maintenance and repair, safety and security and operation and use of the crossings, with the goal of adopting standards or best practices in these areas. That would be applicable to all international bridges and tunnels no matter where their location or who owned them.
It is important to the people of Windsor that we get this legislation through. Then the maintenance and repair, the safety and security and the operation of tunnels and bridges will be governed by the federal government consistently across the country.
As I indicated before, two provisions were not contained in the previous bill. The first is a technical provision that deals with crossings over the St. Lawrence. It serves to remedy a provision contained in the Navigable Waters Protection Act to allow for approval of the new international bridges and tunnels that cross the St. Lawrence River. Presently there are three international bridges across this river, all of which are in Ontario.
As a new low level bridge is being planned for Cornwall, I can imagine the folks in Cornwall are also looking intently at the screen today as this will greatly simplify an already very complex procedure.
The second new provision deals with transactions that affect the ownership or operation of an international bridge or tunnel. Bill C-3 proposes that these transactions first, be subject to government approval. Second, it sets out an administrative process which deals with the approval of it, similar to that proposed for applying for new construction or alterations. This is an extension of the federal government's jurisdiction in the area of international bridges and tunnels and, more important, its corresponding responsibilities to keep Canadians safe and secure.
For instance, regardless of who the owner is, these structures are relied heavily on by Canadians. In fact, the federal government has a responsibility. Members of all parties have a responsibility to push the legislation through as quickly as possible because we have been without it for so long. Canadians need to be kept safe and secure. It does not matter who owns and operates these bridges. All maintenance, repairs and alterations have to be done in the national interest. That is why the bill is so important.
These are not ordinary assets. The federal government must at all times know who owns and operates these structures and be advised and approve any proposed change in ownership or operation. With so many vehicles and so much trade crossing these bridges, we need to ensure those trade routes remain viable and in the best interests of Canadians.
These are vital links not only for trade, but for tourism as well. The federal government has the responsibility to protect the asset and protect the people who use the asset. If there were ever any doubt of the importance of this, during second reading I gave some impressive statistics, and I would like to share those again with the House.
Over $530 billion in goods are traded annually with the United States. Of that, $1.9 billion per day goes across those bridges. Almost all of that is transported by truck. We also heard the importance of our rail systems, which are responsible also for shipping approximately 270 million tonnes of freight per year and carry many millions of passengers across these international bridges. This rail link goes as far as the Gulf of Mexico, as far south as Mexico, so it is a very important link.
Considering the transportation industry employs over 830,000 Canadians, it is therefore not hard to imagine the financial impact on our economy if these links were put in jeopardy in any way. I would suggest that we in the House would be negligent not to put this legislation through, now that we have the opportunity, especially for the folks in Windsor. It is a danger to leave these vital links unguarded.
It goes without saying that we must promote trade and ensure that our borders are safe and secure. Many of the existing international bridges and tunnels have implemented security measures, but we need consistency along that so there is a certain level and threshold that is kept to ensure Canadians are as safe as possible and that our vital links are kept as safe as possible.
There are some measures also to increase traffic efficiency. These serve as good examples for us, but we need to share these good examples with all international bridges and crossings so we get the best result for Canadians. The proposed bill will enable the government to achieve its goal of securing the borders in a way that will not distract from our trade goals which are so important.
I will quickly summarize the various legislative steps through which Bill C-3 has already passed and explain why it is here today. The bill was introduced on April 24, 2006. It was debated over a two day period at second reading ending on May 1, after which members voted to send the bill for review to the Standing Committee on Transport , Infrastructure and Communities of which I am a member. During the months of May and June the standing committee met to on six separate occasions discuss the bill.
Does that not show government working well? The bill was introduced on April 24 and here we are today trying to push the bill through on the very last day of the spring sitting. This speaks to the great work that the Conservative government is doing.
During this time the committee heard from several witnesses. The committee heard from Transport Canada officials involved in drafting the bill and developing the policies that the bill seeks to define. The committee also heard from Mr. Tom Garlock, the president of the Bridge and Tunnel Operators Association. That association represents over 10 organizations responsible for the largest and the busiest international bridge and tunnel crossings.
The committee also heard directly from one of the members of the Bridge and Tunnel Operators Association, the Canadian Transit Company, the owner and operator of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, which of course is very important, as represented by Mr. Matthew Moroun and Mr. Dan Stamper, its president.
The committee heard from Phil Benson, a lobbyist for Teamsters Canada.
The committee heard from a large gamut of people. It had professionals in to provide an opinion. The main concern expressed by the BTOA was the potential financial impact. That is something private companies would be concerned with. The association wanted to make sure that the government's ability to intervene would not cut into profits. At the same time, the government wished to have a balance. We wanted people to cross as efficiently and effectively as possible, keeping in mind security and safety.
The Prime Minister and this government listened. As a result the government brought forward its own motion to amend the toll provisions to suggest alternative language that would address the government's desire to safeguard against toll increases or decreases that would have a negative effect on traffic. This government listened and acted in the best interests of stakeholders and Canadians. We found a compromise.
The result of this amendment is the new clause 15.1. The issue of consultation was also debated in the committee. In fact, the result of these amendments and debates led to a second government amendment, the addition of subclause 15(2), which would require the government to consult with stakeholders on issues of operation and use, which of course is very important to stakeholders. That this government would listen to them speaks to the quality of the government itself.
On this issue I feel the need to make a few comments. At report stage the member for Windsor West delivered a very passionate speech on this very topic. I feel that, putting aside political rhetoric, it left the public with the impression that this government did not believe in public consultation, which is simply not the case, and that it would not be undertaking any type of consultation in the processes set out in the bill. I have laid out the groundwork for that. We have already consulted with many people in drafting the bill. We have consulted with experts. It is simply not true. The Prime Minister and this government listens. We will do what is in the best interests of the people of Windsor and Canadians all across the country.
The committee referred to the numerous types of consultations that will and must take place under the bill and under other existing legislation by reason of issues raised by the bill. For example, before a new bridge or tunnel is built, a very lengthy and thorough environmental assessment must take place. What could be more important than consulting with the members of a community, the stakeholders and governments on the environmental impact? There is nothing more important as far as the government is concerned. We care about the environment.
Public consultations are an important and integral part of this process. Also, any regulation taken under the bill is subject to the federal regulatory process as set out in the Statutory Instruments Act. Before regulation comes into force, this process requires that consultations with the public be held. Yes, it is already required that consultations with the public be held.
In fact, before Bill C-3 was introduced, Transport Canada consulted with many stakeholders in connection with proposed legislation and their concerns were dealt with when possible. The key is that the government is going to protect Canadians and protect the trade of Canadians.
I understand that similar consultations will be undertaken when it comes time for preparing the regulations under the bill. This government is accountable and transparent to taxpayers. The government is not allowed to run fancy free. We will not do that, as some members opposite suggest. There are constant checks and balances in the system and many opportunities for the public, including all levels of government, to express their concerns.
The issue of the transportation of dangerous goods was also brought forward and we discussed it at length. While this issue did not result in an amendment, I will repeat to the House what I said to my fellow committee members. Transport Canada is reviewing the current regulations to do with dangerous goods transportation to see that this issue is properly addressed because we want to keep Canadians secure. In the meantime, the bill as worded would actually permit the adoption of regulations on this issue.
In addition to this amendment, several minor technical amendments were made to the bill. The details of these amendments are contained in the committee's report to the House.
This brings us to where we are today. I am asking members to support the government on this bill, to support Canadians, to support the people of Windsor, to pass the bill in order to get the job done for Canadians. When it comes time to vote, we need to put party rhetoric aside, put party politicking aside and pass this bill to keep safe and secure the transportation of goods across the borders.
According to our Constitution, international bridges and tunnels are the federal government's responsibility. Obviously, they are the federal government's responsibility because one voice is needed to guarantee the safety and security of Canadians. Currently no legislation exists that sets out the manner and the extent to which the government may be involved in matters relating to international bridges and tunnels. What could be more important? I would suggest at this stage, nothing. This includes important matters such as maintenance, safety and security that are of concern to all Canadians who use these structures.
This is a great bill and I look forward to all parties supporting it. The extent to which the government can get involved will be addressed in the regulations that will be adopted under this legislation. The government will look again to stakeholders, as we always do, and invite their comments with the view to addressing their particular concerns at that time.
I would therefore encourage all members of the House to put aside politics. I would ask them to support the people of Windsor, to support Canadians, and support all people using the international bridges and tunnels. Let us pass the bill so that our colleagues in the Senate can start the process of reviewing it without delay. In that way we will be one step closer in the long process of making this important bill law.
Mr. David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I rise here this morning to speak to the House on Bill C-3, respecting international bridges and tunnels.
As we have already heard, there are currently 24 bridges and tunnels along the 6,400 km of border that separates Canada from the United States. These bridges and tunnels have different owners: 22 are publicly owned, while two others, along with five rail bridges and tunnels, are privately owned.
In order to emphasize for the House just how important this bill is for Canada, let me state again for the record several key points about the subject of this legislation.
First, international bridges and tunnels play an indispensable role in Canada's transportation network. They facilitate a large portion of our vastly successful international trade. As one of the most trade dependent nations on the face of the earth, the role of international bridges and tunnels to our economy can hardly be overstated.
Second, some 13 years after the Liberal government signed onto the North American Free Trade Agreement, trade between Canada and the United States has increased rapidly, year after year. We know that trade increases averaged more than 6% per year over the last decade, thanks, at least in part, to NAFTA and of course the ingenuity and the commitment of the Canadian people.
Third, we also know that the great majority of Canadian exports into the United States go by rail or by truck, particularly in crossings between Ontario, New York and Michigan. This is extraordinarily important when we consider the role, for example, that the auto industry and the auto parts industry play in the context of central Canada's economy. As the jurisdiction that now produces cars more efficiently than any other single nation state in the world, it is extremely important that we ensure that transportation between our two countries remains unimpeded.
The reality of modern business practice now compels most companies to minimize their inventory and, in fact, many companies today track their inventory in live time as it is shipped or delivered. This just in time inventory management practice and system has swept through most economic sectors and has met with success in large part because companies count on seamless, continent-wide transportation and delivery systems.
Fourth, as I mentioned previously, in 2005 our bilateral trade exceeded $580 billion. Every single day trade between the United States and Canada exceeds $1.6 billion. One study rightly suggests that if Canada does not properly operate and maintain its existing stock of international bridges and tunnels and go further and consider developing new such crossings, then Canada might lose up to 70,000 jobs by 2030 and possibly forgo almost $22 billion in production.
To quote my colleague, the hon. member for Outremont, when he was the minister of transport he made it clear that what was needed was to give to federal government, finally, the legislative authority required for effective oversight of these international bridges and tunnels to ensure the interests of Canadians were protected.
The parliamentary secretary was right in reminding the House that this was, in large part, the work of the previous Liberal government. It was our government's work in this area which culminated in an understanding that we must make more coherent our overall approach to these vital structures.
It is no secret that this bill is identical in purpose to legislation that our government brought to the House on two separate and previous occasions. Here is the chronology of what has brought us to the debate this morning. It began with the Canada Transportation Act amendments that were very much along the lines of the current Bill C-3 we are debating. These were tabled as part of Bill C-26 during the second session of the 37th Parliament when our party formed the government.
It is extremely important to remind Canadians that the current Prime Minister and the rest of what was then the Canadian Alliance Party were not interested at all in working for those amendments and they voted against them at second reading. To this day I am unsure as to what the rationale, if any, was at that time.
In the 38th Parliament we tabled Bill C-44, which included the very same amendments, and once again the opposition of the day, now the government, found little, if any, merit in our proposals, as it did with so many good Liberal bills on the order paper at the time, choosing instead to bring down the government with the help of the NDP and the Bloc Québécois and, in effect, for a second consecutive time, kill the legislation.
As we know, outspoken members of the Conservative government are fond of the preposterous and now ridiculous claim that previous Liberal governments did nothing. The introduction of Bill C-3 is a clear statement for Canadians by the current government, in actions rather than words, that the previous Liberal governments were working in the interests of all Canadians.
I want to thank the Minister of Transport for this vote of great confidence. I am sure he and his parliamentary secretary would be willing to give credit where credit is due. At its core, Bill C-3 is the exercising of the federal government's constitutional powers. These are outlined in sections 91(29) and 92(10) of the Constitution Act of 1867.
However, for everyday Canadians who are watching, from Cornwall to Windsor, at every place where there might be such an international crossing, this bill reaffirms our government's investment in the safety and security of this country.
Although at first blush the bill would appear to invest, in an almost unfettered way, authority in the governor in council or the Minister of Transport when it comes to all matters dealing with international bridges and tunnels, but closer examination suggests that it achieves the right balance; a balance between the free movement of people, goods, services and the need for emergency powers, standards for building, owning, financing or operating such a bridge or tunnel but all the while building in safeguards to protect against excessive control and appropriate security standards.
For example, under the bill no one would be able to build, change or alter an international bridge or tunnel without getting approval. Most Canadians would consider that to be more than obvious, but this is a hallmark feature of the previous Liberal government's approach to this issue. I would expect no less from the current government than to cut and then to paste these sections into the new bill.
A transparent and predictable approvals process is set out in Bill C-3, including the need for documentation, giving very wide scope for the imposition of any terms and conditions that the Crown, on behalf of the people, considers appropriate.
When it comes to maintenance or repairs, the Minister of Transport would be authorized to order any action of an owner or operator to ensure that for Canadian businesses and citizens the bridge or tunnel is kept in good condition.
Perhaps of all the parts of the bill I am most supportive of is the work done by our government and taken up by the Conservative government, which is now reflected in the bill, and it deals with the issuance of letters patent for incorporation. In simple terms, this allows for the creation of a new company or corporation which could build or operate an international bridge or tunnel. This is not unimportant going forward with the growth of our economy and the concentration of trade with the United States.
Our government worked very hard to ensure a high degree of specificity around any new company that might get into the business of building a bridge or a tunnel. We went as far as to require approval for the number of directors on a corporate board. The current bill reflects this. We are asking to see their powers and duties. We are demanding that a code of conduct would apply to such directors and officers. Finally, the terms of ownership of the corporation would be spelled out in black and white for all Canadians.
We went further to protect Canadians. It is reflected in the bill that we believed then, as we do now, that the government should be in a position to revoke letters patent of incorporation that had been previously granted. This is a strong power vested in the Crown, but one that we felt at the time, and we still agree, might be necessary in the case of risks associated with the free flow of goods, of people or security. As well, we provided very onerous duty of care provisions for any directors or officers of corporations in the international bridges or tunnels business.
All in all, our foundational work, which underpins the bill, reflects the fact that it is simply appropriate for the federal government to oversee international bridges and tunnels. Other orders of government would expect that their national government would have these powers. Canadians who are watching would assume that their federal government was looking after these matters because they deal with one other country in particular.
To pick up on a comment I made earlier, for all their allegations about a government that apparently did nothing for 13 years, a blame game theme that is wearing thin for most Canadians, it is terribly ironic that the new government continues to take our substantive work for the underpinnings for the bill. This is not the first time that Liberal ideas have been begged, borrowed or stolen, or usually adopted, and neither will this be the last.
Canadians could be forgiven for concluding, from its stance on the bill and so many other actions, that the Conservative government speaks out of both sides of its mouth. It wants Canadians to believe a fundamental falsehood: that the heavy lifting and the substance of our time in government simply did not occur. So it is important, I think, to be very honest about the bill.
As the minister is well aware, and as we have just heard in previous exchanges, there is a lingering debate in the House about the provisions in Bill C-3 that speak to the issue of consultation. That is to say, should the Minister of Transport ultimately authorize, for example, the construction of a new bridge or the expansion of an existing tunnel, what might be the obligations on the minister to consult with other orders of government and any other interested parties such as banks, finance companies, corporations, international owners and national owners?
Some have argued that municipal or provincial governments ought to have some form of veto. I have not heard that yet on the floor of the House, but some do argue that municipalities or provincial governments ought to have some form of veto on pursuing such a project. Others have said that compelling private parties, the proponents of projects to build a bridge or a tunnel, to be consulted by the minister might compromise what those private parties describe as trade secrets. I think it is very unfortunate that the government, in its approach to this debate, has not at all enlightened the House with respect to the specific issue of consultation.
It also did not illuminate the state of the debate when it comes to mandatory or discretionary consultation requirements, but instead has chosen to generate more unproductive heat. In this, I think, the government has failed, and its continuing partnership with the New Democratic Party in particular, a partnership referred to just yesterday by the Prime Minister as one that might keep his government afloat until 2009, appears to not be so amicable today.
That being said, I look forward to supporting Bill C-3. In sum, with this bill I think that our previous government crossed the Rubicon and moved as a government to tie together our social, environmental, trade, economic and security concerns as they relate to our outstanding relationship with our southern neighbours. Bill C-3 is at its heart another example of the Liberal legislation that for 13 years has strengthened the Canadian economy and defended Canadians against threats to their safety, their security and their mobility.
I commend the government for choosing a modest and well-founded work for its second bill this session. Working as a good faith opposition in a minority Parliament, I can assure everyone in this House that we will not play games with what is clearly a bill in Canada's public interest.
Mr. Robert Carrier:
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak today about Bill C-3, an act respecting international bridges and tunnels.
Since this bill incorporates part of Bill C-44, which was introduced during the 38th Parliament and which the Bloc Québécois supported, we naturally support this bill. However, we do have some reservations, which I will explain later.
This is the first time the Government of Canada has put legislation in place to allow it to exercise its authority over international bridges and tunnels. The new government tells us it wants to ensure that the security, safety and efficient movement of people and goods are in accordance with national interests. The events of September 2001, it must be noted, made clear the importance of protecting these vital infrastructures.
The proposed amendments would give the Government of Canada new and broader legislative powers to oversee approvals of international bridges and tunnels. These amendments would give the government power to approve, on the recommendation of the Minister of Transport, the construction or alteration of international bridges and tunnels and to formulate regulations governing the management, maintenance, security, safety and operation of these structures. The bill would also authorize the federal government to approve the sale or transfer of ownership of international bridges and tunnels. Note as well that it would strengthen federal government oversight of all new and existing international bridges and tunnels in order to better protect the public interest and ensure the flexible flow of international trade.
There are currently 24 international vehicular bridges and tunnels and five international railway tunnels linking Canada and the United States. These bridges and tunnels carry the vast majority of international trade between Canada and the United States and play a vital role in Canada's transportation system. Although only one bridge of minor importance is located in Quebec, the Bloc Québécois still recognizes the relevance of this bill. As we have always done in the past, we are making a constructive contribution to the development of government policies that benefit the entire population.
For example, during committee review of the bill we realized the significance of the new law we are discussing today when we learned that the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit, Michigan, in the United States, is privately owned by an American corporation. The current owner is opposed to this bill and we believe that the Canadian government must have oversight and jurisdiction over all international links between the two countries.
What concerns Quebec the most about this bill is a provision affecting international bridges and tunnels on the St. Lawrence River. These provisions correct the legislative anomaly in the Navigable Waters Protection Act which requires a permit for all work affecting navigable waters but which does not authorize the issuance of permits for the St. Lawrence River. This anomaly became apparent when plans for the highway 30 bridge crossing the St. Lawrence south of Montreal were being studied.
The minister declared, in his speech of April 28, that any new crossing over the St. Lawrence would be subject to federal approval. In the past, the federal government has too often demonstrated arrogance toward Quebec and its areas of jurisdiction. We need only think of the choice of Mirabel as the site of the new airport dictated by the federal government against the wishes of the Quebec government at that time.
The Quebec government plans the use of its land and we would not be in favour of the federal government exercising its authority to prevent Quebec from exercising its own powers.
I therefore hope that, in confirming this approval, the federal government takes account of the advice and concerns made known by the government of Quebec, in compliance with the fields of jurisdiction of all the levels of government.
While the bill corrects a legal void in the area of international bridges and tunnels, is designed to make those structures more secure, and has the consent of local stakeholders, it leaves us with certain reservations.
In the context of the international bridges and tunnels regulations, the bill seems to us to grant the government very broad, quasi-police powers, for example, a power to investigate without warrant and a very summary power of seizure.
The government is assigning itself legislative powers, but the financial responsibility lies on other shoulders. Ultimately, we believe that this situation can lead to disputes.
We note that responsibility for international bridges and tunnels lies within the exclusive legislative jurisdiction of the federal government under the British North America Act of 1867.
However, in most cases the Canadian portions of these structures are owned by the provinces. We should therefore ensure that the regulatory and financial implementation of this bill takes place in collaboration and in negotiation with the provinces.
In his speech of April 28, the minister stated that the federal government will be able to ensure that environmental assessments of international bridges and tunnels are conducted in accordance with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, when appropriate.
What does the minister mean in adding “when appropriate” to the end of his sentence?
Once again, it is important to us that the minister take account of the powers of Quebec, that he respect the fact that the environment is a jurisdiction shared between the federal government and the provinces, and that he not necessarily have the last word in this matter.
We have consulted the Bureau d'audiences publiques du Québec, the BAPE. In the wake of those consultations, we note that the agreement between that organization and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is yielding good results and that the fields of jurisdiction of each of the agencies are being respected. Given the declared openness toward Quebec, we would like that respect to continue to be applied to the bill we are studying today at third reading.
The issue of fields of jurisdiction was also raised many times in committee, during the clause-by-clause adoption of the bill that is before us today. We have said that we place our confidence in the minister in certain emergency situations when he would assume exceptional powers in a major crisis.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois will support the bill at third reading, even though it is a very partial solution to the many remaining transportation problems that need to be resolved in Quebec and in Canada.
Mr. Christian Ouellet (Brome—Missisquoi, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois recognizes the federal government’s constitutional jurisdiction over bridges and their modern extensions, such as tunnels. In our view, Bill C-3 fills a legal void in the area of international bridges and tunnels. We think that this bill has an important purpose because it aims to improve the security of these major structures. I should say first of all, though, that there are not a lot of them in Quebec. We will return to this.
In terms of regulating international bridges and tunnels, this legislation will provide what could be called watchdog powers that are a bit like police powers, and we are opposed to that. A government should not only be used, as the federal government proposes, to exercise a power of investigation without a warrant or a power of arbitrary seizure. It seems to us that more complete regulations might be less restrictive and would still make it possible to maintain control over our bridges without having to get involved in such difficult situations.
So the government gives itself very broad authority to legislate but leaves the financial responsibility to others. This could potentially lead to a conflict of interest.
There is only one international bridge in Quebec—that has been said and I mention it again—and that is the Glen Sutton bridge leading to East Richford. It belongs to Quebec and Vermont. It is a metal girder bridge built around 1929. That is not very old, therefore, but its design might be a bit old-fashioned. In view of how long some medieval bridges have lasted, though, it might still be good for quite some time. It crosses a small river, the Missisquoi, and is about 150 feet long. Trucks take it without any apparent problems. So it is in good condition. It could obviously benefit from some renovations. At the present time, though, the municipality of Sutton is responsible primarily for snow removal and sanding in the winter, while the Vermont authorities do the rest.
The bridge is inspected jointly by the owners, that is to say, Quebec and Vermont. When repairs are needed, it is apparently the municipality of Sutton that takes care of them. However, the advice comes from Quebec and we think that it is quite good. Vermont covers 70% and Quebec 30%. The Quebeckers in Sutton are not really very interested in Bill C-3 if it does not include any financial assistance. This is obviously not really the purpose of the bill because in Quebec we have only this little bridge.
In the case of this single bridge we have, it is certainly not necessary to simply be told what to do. That may be more important for Windsor than for us.
Obviously, it is our view that, if any bridges crossing the seaway were to be constructed, the plans and the entire project should be prepared by Quebec and would require nothing more than federal approval. We consider that to be proper.
That is how we see this bill. It would satisfy certain needs that we wanted met when the bill was being drafted. As the parliamentary secretary repeated earlier, we wanted to enhance the security around these bridges, as the terrorist incidents of 2001 have placed certain of these structures in some danger. I see no way in which the bill, in its present form, is going to be able to protect the bridge between Sutton and East Richford.
The exclusive legislative jurisdiction of the federal government includes responsibility for harmonizing international bridges and tunnels, but not necessarily for protecting bridges. It is not necessarily because of the terrorist incidents that this legislation is being developed. It is intended far more to harmonize bridges, particularly the 19 bridges in Ontario.
At present, however, they do not have clearly defined legislative and regulatory authority to administer these crossings. That can be done only with funding. If there are no funds, the problems cannot be resolved.
According to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, there is no process at the moment for approving the construction of new bridges or tunnels or modifying existing ones. In the past, construction of a bridge was always effected through legislation. If a complete plan is presented for a new bridge, we in Quebec would like a response: yes or no. We do not want municipal consultation or consultation with masses of people.
Quebec is capable of managing bridge construction on its own. What we want the federal government to say is yes or no: this bridge is safe or it is not.
This is not at all the case for Glen Sutton and East Richford, where there is a little 150-foot bridge.
The fact remains that it is Quebec that looks after its bridges and will look after other international bridges in the future. The Vermont bridge is maintained in the proportion of 30% by Quebec and 70% by Vermont.
The bill contains novel provisions, one of which is approval of transactions affecting ownership. We have some questions about why land transactions will be at issue even before the project is completed.
We also have changes of operator or control. That can cover a lot of ground. When we start controlling who operates a bridge, all sorts of abuses may follow.
In addition to confirming the role of the federal government in relation to international bridges and tunnels, what we have is the federal government issuing guidelines regarding approval of the construction of a bridge or tunnel or the alteration of existing structures, imposing conditions relating to the maintenance and operation of bridges, approving transactions that change the ownership, operator or control of a bridge, and guaranteeing the security and safety of renovations, and that all adds up to still more centralization in Ottawa.
This brings us to the fact that, according to clause 6, “No person shall construct or alter an international bridge or tunnel without the approval of the Governor in Council”, and that, under subclause 4(4), “approval may”—or may not—“be given ... to the site or plans of an international bridge over the St. Lawrence River”, and that, according to clause 14, the government may make regulations respecting the maintenance and repair, operation and use, and safety and security of international bridges and tunnels.
As well, the government will be given very broad police powers, for example to investigate or simply to seize.
Fortunately, there are positive sides to this bill, because we do not find some parts of it very attractive. We will be voting for this bill because it contains some very valuable clauses, which I will describe.
Clause 17 provides that, “If the Minister is of the opinion that there is an immediate threat to the security or safety of any international bridge or tunnel, the Minister may make directions—”. We are entirely in favour of this clause, which is an excellent one.
The approval of the government is needed for the transfer of the ownership, control or operation of an international bridge or tunnel, under clause 23. We consider this clause to be excellent as well.
A Crown corporation may be established to administer an international bridge or tunnel, under clause 29. In our view, this is another extremely worthwhile clause.
To summarize, we support this bill, because it gives us an opportunity to submit complete projects to the federal government. We are much less impressed by the fact that someone is always going to be checking that our bridges are safe. We are capable of doing that ourselves. We are not at all open to the idea of holding consultations with municipalities; that may work just fine in Windsor, but it does not work in Glen Sutton.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise to speak to Bill C-3, an act to amend the International Bridges and Tunnels Act.
It is important to note that there have been many debates that I have been part of in this House of Commons related to bridges and borders. This one is very important not only to my constituency of Windsor West, the ridings of Windsor--Tecumseh and Essex but also across the country. The New Democratic Party acknowledges that this bill has some very important elements that are coming forward.
It is interesting to note the sense of urgency that has dawned upon this House related to the acts of September 11, 2001. There is no doubt that those events changed our lives forever and require a change in civil society in terms of regulations and how we go about planning our security in Canada. We support all those measures, but it is 2006. Why has this bill not come forward before?
That is important to note because it is a debate that has happened before with regard to the urgency and obstruction. However, at the same time, we as parliamentarians are very interested in having the best bill come forward, and having safety and security measures that actually mean something. For that to happen, this bill has to change because the people on the ground know safety and security in their communities just as well as anybody else here in Ottawa.
It is important to recognize that New Democrats are not calling for a veto. We do not want to be obstructionists whatsoever in this cause and effort. We are calling for prescriptive measures that will allow for a better process, a better bill, and greater safety, security, trade, flow of traffic, and environmental conditions in our communities that will allow all of us to prosper.
If I were to sit silently and not raise these concerns in this House, I would be neglecting the needs, the wishes, and the purpose for which the residents of Windsor West have sent me to this place. I have been involved with this issue as an elected politician since 1997. I can tell members that the things I am suggesting here today are fair, honest and sincere, and they come with elements of compromise on all sides.
There is no doubt that some of the ideas that we had proposed for this legislation could not take place at this point in time, and we withdrew those elements. They were specific amendments that were taken back because the government had good reasons. However, it has no good reason to deny the two changes that New Democrats seek to make a better bill. That is important to acknowledge.
I must take some issue with the idea that we are trying to create an unwieldy process that has no model and no ability to function.
The Detroit River international crossing project partnership is meeting on a regular basis. This is a joint partnership with federal and state partners on the U.S. side and federal and provincial partners on the Canadian side. They have regulatory meetings on a regular basis. They have outreach. They have prescribed timelines. They have community involvement. There is engagement.
I am somewhat critical of some of those elements, but there is a process underway right now that could be a model for these things. That would be part of the regulations. We want the best dialogue possible, and more importantly, trust.
Quite frankly, I am not categorizing the Minister of Transport, saying that we as Canadians cannot trust him and his decision-making ability. I am not personalizing that element whatsoever. I am saying that Bill C-3 is deficient in that it does not provide an obligatory aspect for consultations with organizations, and more importantly, all levels of government that have a vested interest in the health and safety of their communities. That is something that will go on for many years.
What I have learned, and maybe it is the cynic in me, is never to trust people hundreds or thousands of miles away for decisions in one's local community with no guarantee of at least being talked to on a regular basis or of having a vested part of the whole project. That is what is going to make secure, safe and prosperous trade.
It is interesting to note that we have heard a dressing down of other elected officials, whether they be from a school board, or whether they be from a municipality or province. Windsor West, for those who are not aware, has 10,000 international trucks that traverse through this community on a regular basis. Fighting between a Liberal and a Conservative government put a federal highway out in a farmer's field and never connected the several kilometres to the most important border crossing in Canada.
The federal and provincial inter-wrangling at that time left us with a municipal connecting highway, a road, to this crossing. Because of that, we have a series of infrastructure deficiencies that were never adjusted when we signed NAFTA. We watched the trade flow increase significantly year after year and as a city council we raised the alarms. Street after street after street that became clogged, congested and affected received no support from provincial and federal governments to the degree that was necessary to fix the problems. I would be neglectful if I did not fight for those individuals.
All I am asking for in this process, and we have it, is the operational element. It is interesting to note that we have a new clause regarding operational aspects, but if it becomes a road alteration or a change of ownership, we would want to have that operational element.
There are several schools that are affected on one road, a highway, and a couple of other routes that are being proposed for border crossings: Brock, Bellewood, Roseland, Oakwood, Marlborough, St. Francis, St. James, J.E. Benson. These are all primary education facilities. Forester and Assumption are secondary schools. It is interesting to note those two because all I am asking for is that the school board trustees, for example, the school board, at least have a voice, some point of input. Border crossing proposals, be they from the private sector or from the federal and provincial sector, have had significant impacts on the properties of those two high schools.
Once again, all I am asking for are those operational elements.
There is no doubt whatsoever that this bill has some good changes that have merit. Safety and security are issues that are very important.
When I walk out onto my doorstep and look down the street, I see the Detroit River. From my backyard, I can see the Ambassador Bridge. Just a few hundred yards away from me is the CP Rail tunnel. Just down another two kilometres is the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. About five kilometres in the other direction is the Detroit-Windsor ferry. These four crossings account for 42% of the nation's trade in my riding.
Why do I feel so strongly about these clauses and these amendments I have been seeking? I do not want another Canadian community, whether it be in British Columbia or New Brunswick or Quebec to ever have to go through what my constituency is now experiencing. That is important to note because I have seen what it has done.
We literally have studies under way right now with children wearing oxygen and other respiratory measurements when they go to school because of the contaminants and the pollution hazards.
Just today alone, CUPE public safety officers on the bridge filed for a study to be done on breast cancer because of the pollutants and toxins from trucks that are traversing the border and are stationary as they are processed to cross the border.
So, there are significant elements as well as international trade. There is nobody who more sincerely wants to have that trade moved freely, thoroughly and securely than the residents of Windsor where we have our auto industry. Our auto industry provides significant economic benefits not only to our individuals and our community but also to this country.
We want that to prosper, but not at the expense of our children and people in the community. We do not want outsiders imposing things with unilateral decision making processes that do not include us.
Once again, all we are asking for in this bill is consultation. Previously, there was that element with regard to the bill. We understand that things change. We understand that it is comprehensive for all of Canada, but we want to make this better for all.
I do want to talk a bit about the area and some of the failings of this bill that the government has not brought forward in a sense of urgency and that is the public border authority.
Our area in Windsor has four crossings, as I have noted. They are very significant. They involve everything, from the movement of toxic materials and hazardous waste to goods and services and people traversing for employment.
Ironically, we have, for example, people who have credentials that are recognized in the United States, be they doctors, lawyers and other types of technicians for communications industries, who cannot work in Canada on a regular basis. Thousands of nurses go back and forth across the border into the United States on a regular basis.
We understand that we must work together. We are seeking here an overall coordination of the actual infrastructure. It is interesting to note that of the 24 international crossings, as noted earlier, 22 have public ownership in one aspect or another, either on the American side or the Canadian side.
Often they also have border authorities that joint manage them, whether it be in Sarnia, the Blue Water Bridge area, Fort Erie or the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, where the committee heard from Mr. Tom Garlock who brought to attention of the committee an error in the bill. I give the government credit for rectifying it to ensure they could prosper under this new act.
However, at the same time, in Windsor there is private ownership of the most important asset crossing our country. We have private ownership of a hazardous material ferry operation. We have private ownership of a rail tunnel. We have public ownership of the Windsor-Detroit tunnel. However, there is no overall coordination for these elements. The government still has not brought forward anything to ensure we have efficient trade.
That is why we are asking for this consultation. It is important to note, for example, a change of ownership. Why do we think people should be at least consulted? Say the bridge owner has pecuniary interests in certain economic institutions or other types of businesses. Currently the Ambassador Bridge was bought by a business person who is involved in the transportation industry. There is a whole series of competition issues that need to be discussed and resolved. The potentials are out there. I do not suggest that anything has been done wrong right now, but about the future? Why can there not be that consultation with other proponents being a part of that?
Alteration and construction are critical. Local governments are not backwater places where incompetent people fill rooms and do nothing. People on the streets know the roads, know the services and are paid to represent the people to do so in the best interests of those individuals. Often they have the best solutions to move traffic through their communities that people in other jurisdictions do not know. They deserve the right to be heard, and we witnessed this.
The previous government offered to build a Canadian highway on our waterfront. We have fought for years to have this land become a part of our diamond, our park system. I discussed putting this road on the waterfront with a bureaucrat. It is amazing. Those are the things we are looking to avoid.
People in the municipality or the province have some good solutions. We also understand when those roads connect or are under construction, that has an effect. An important part of the mandate and process would be to avoid time lags and overlaps in construction. We know on the American side there will be construction on the Ambassador plaza side. That will reduce I-75 to a one lane entrance exit, which will be significant because it could back up traffic. It will certainly back it up to the plaza. We are glad the Ambassador Bridge has expanded its plaza to a certain degree to accommodate some of that, but it has repercussions on the city of Windsor, especially if we have other problems.
For example, during 9/11, when the bridge was closed in many respects, trucks were lined up down the 401. The government solution of the day was to put out porta-potties for the truckers. There still is no action plan to deal with those situations right now, despite my asking the previous administration a number of times.
We also have upcoming construction on the Windsor-Detroit tunnel plaza. Both of these border crossings are symbiotic. One affects the other, and it affects Sarnia.
When there is alteration and construction, we need to ensure the timelines are there. The city of Windsor is will be doing the construction on the Windsor plaza. It has timelines that require not only budgeting from the province of Ontario and the federal government, but also the municipality. If we do not appropriately plan these things, it will lead to problems.
It is about respect and partnership. Motion No. 3, moved by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and passed, states:
|| That Bill C-3, in Clause 15, be amended by adding after line 25 on page 7 the following:
|| Before recommending that a regulation be made under subsection (1), the Minister shall, if in his opinion such is necessary having regard to all the circumstances, consult with the other levels of government in which an international bridge or tunnel is situated and any person who, in the opinion of the Minister, has a direct interest in the matter.
We do that on operational aspects. That is why I was surprised. Maybe it is coming from the bureaucrats or lawyers, I do not know. I do not understand this. I had discussions with the government and it looked like there was a deal. We had all party consent. The bill could have passed by now and it would be all over. However, it pulled back from the deal not only once but twice.
Items were dropped. The NDP had four report stage motions that night. The government said Motions Nos. 2 and 5 were not good. It gave us some good reasons for it and they were dropped. We have not heard the same reasons for these motions because they are consistent with the motion passed at report stage.
I would like to thank the other opposition parties for supporting it. We could have passed the bill with those amendments and would have been done with this already. Until we have some changes, I cannot sit in this place and feel comfortable as a representative of my community with a bill that does not live up to full measure.
The bill has some very important elements to it. We recognize that. We certainly look forward to working with the government on improving those things. We do not have any intent to make this bill worse. I have talked to lawyers with regard to what we are doing, and I still cannot understand the government's position on this.
Other important matters need to be discussed with regard to the bill. New Democrats want to see other changes on border crossings. We would like to see some real changes in border authorities in the future. We would like to see the introduction of some of the elements from the government. We are hoping to put forth legislation. We are working on some right now. We would like to see that happen and there is sincere interest for this.
Second, we would like to see the creation of community reinvestment funds to ameliorate areas that are affected by border congestion and problems. For a number of years people in my area have been pushing for a community investment fund that would deal with the remediation of environmental and other concerns, from toxins and pollutions to the effects of border crossings in those communities. We believe we can accommodate these things without putting a burdensome element on any sector, including the public, the traverses of those crossings, and the people who manage those facilities.
I want to deal somewhat with current protection elements that are in the process now. I do not disregard what the government has said with regard to environmental assessments. It is important that there will to be a process that allows for some consultation. It is very prescriptive and limited in some respects, but it happens. There can be public discourse and that is not a bad thing. However, it is important to note the restriction on that. It does not allow for the full consultation from the top down, from the minister to the province and, hopefully, the municipal level of governments as well.
I will conclude by saying that is a good example. A Liberal member in committee, I believe the member for Vancouver Island North, introduced a motion that would have allowed the twinning of border crossings without any environmental assessments. That is why we believe consultation should be built into this process so we do not have these circumstances in the future. Even the parliamentary secretary picked up on that right away and did a good job on it. He recognized the risks of that. That is why we believe it should be part of the process.
Therefore, I move the following amendment:
|That Bill C-3, An Act respecting international bridges and tunnels and making a consequential amendment to another Act, be not now read a third time but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities for the purpose of reconsidering clauses 7 and 24 with a view to examine the balance between the rights of the Minister and the needs for consultation with other levels of government and affected communities.
Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I want to pay tribute to the commitment my colleague has to this issue. For the number of years that I have known him he has been a tireless champion of the free movement of goods and services across international borders for trade purposes with special attention to national security issues. No one has been more outspoken on this issue. It is fitting then that when someone with his background and expertise blows the whistle on legislation that may be faulty or have shortcomings we should take note.
We as Parliament should be seized of this issue. I am satisfied, given the arguments that I have heard, that this amendment is justified and that the bill should be sent back to committee for the specific purposes of reconsidering at least clauses 7 and 24 which deal specifically with the duty to consult.
No one denies that Bill C-3 was necessary to complete the work that began as Bill C-44 in the previous Parliament to finally put some regulatory regime to the development of new or the expansion and rehabilitation of existing bridges and tunnels which cross international borders. We welcome this. It is overdue.
However, in our haste we should not ignore the basic principle of natural justice, which is the duty to consult. More learned people than I have pointed out that consultation has legal meaning. It means more than simply telling Canadians what we intend to do to them. It means inviting their views and accommodating some of those views when those views have merit.
We have all seen sham consultations where the touring task force blows into town, rents the local town hall and, with a very fancy power point presentation, announces what the government intends to do to people with their tax dollars. Objections are raised at all the microphones as to why this should be done differently and the bureaucrats pack up their books and their power point presentations and go off to the next town. At the end of the process we read in the newspapers that consultation took place in 33 Canadians communities and therefore they are ramming ahead with the legislation. That is not consultation.
My colleague for Skeena—Bulkley Valley just said, “Just ask first nations about the federal government”. I am not critical so much of the current federal government because it has not been in government long enough, but the past record of federal governments in this country in their dealings with first nations have made an appalling travesty of any semblance of true consultation.
My colleague from Windsor West was talking about consultation. He rose today on an issue of principle. He is not arguing about the merits of the bill so much as with the shortcoming in the bill that he cannot live with. I cannot live with it either based on his recommendation.
If the bill is all about the free movement of goods and services, expanding, accommodating and facilitating trade, it should have no barriers in the way of consultation. I cannot imagine the government allowing such an important issue to be tripped up by the denial of such a basic and fundamental right; the right to consult, the duty to consult and the duty to accommodate in the context of what one has heard.
I do not accept the fearmongering that we heard from the parliamentary secretary, that the duty to consult is so onerous, as contemplated by my colleague's amendment, that it would grind the process to a halt even in the event of national security. He said that in the event of a terrorist threat if the minister were duty bound to consult everybody and their grandmother, the terrorists would be running roughshod over us. That is nonsense.
There are other security measures in Canada where the ministers have broad sweeping powers to take what actions are necessary in the interest of national security. That kind of fearmongering trivializes an important debate and it does not do any of us a service to deviate from the issues of the day with that kind of thing.
I thought that the duty to consult all levels of government or interested parties was the norm in any situation like that. I was surprised by the parliamentary secretary's vehement reaction to that idea. Let us look at the language being proposed here. It would be helpful if we all started from the same base level of information in the debate.
What is being proposed is that, “before recommending that a regulation be made...the minister shall consult with the other levels of government that have jurisdiction over any place where an international bridge or tunnel is situated...”. That is not too onerous. That is just common sense. It continues with, “...and with any person who, in the opinion of a minister, has a direct interest in the matter...”.
What if private property is involved? What if a school or a school board needs to be consulted? With the tools and the bureaucracies at the minister's disposal, surely this level of consultation would not grind things to a halt.
We are not talking about the chamber of commerce. The minister used the example that, for heaven's sake, we will have to consult with everybody and their grandmother and that levels of government could mean chambers of commerce. Chambers of commerce are not governments. They are organizations that are part of civil society. The way this is phrased, “...if, in the opinion of the minister, that individual has a direct interest in the matter...”, the minister may decide that he does not have to consult with the chamber of commerce.
Let us be realistic and honest in our debate. What we are talking about, I think, is a basic fundamental principle and the amendment, to which I am trying to limit my remarks, addresses a concern that I certainly share.
When I was the aboriginal affairs critic for the NDP, I remember when we went through a contentious piece of legislation that would have affected the lives of aboriginal people, first nations. At that time, during our research and demanding that true consultation take place, I looked at some of the Supreme Court rulings that made reference to consultation. That was where I learned that the duty to consult meant far more than just engaging in a dialogue. The duty to consult includes some reasonable accommodation. If the other party makes a valid point and there is no compelling reason to ignore that point, then we are duty bound to accommodate that point if we want to claim there was consultation.
Consultation is often one of the stepping stones to infringing on a person's rights. There are times when it is justified to infringe on a person's rights, whether they are human rights, property rights, et cetera, but the courts have held that in such a situation there are two things that must take place in order to justify infringement of a person's rights, and the first aspect of that is the duty to consult in a thorough and comprehensive manner.
I enjoyed listening to the speech from my colleague from Windsor West because he kept bringing us back to the key salient point of what we are debating on two levels. First, he reminded us that we had an obligation to be thorough, complete and to make good laws. Each day in the House of Commons we begin the day with a prayer that reminds members of Parliament how duty bound we are to take every step possible to make good laws.
In the profound and well-defined conscience of my colleague from Windsor West, we would not be making good laws if we passed into law Bill C-3 without clarification on this duty to consult, without the natural justice associated with the obligation of the minister to consult.
He also reminded us of another worrisome trend. This is a theme, almost a motif that threaded its way throughout the entire Liberal regime of 13 years, that almost every piece of legislation that I have had to deal with since I have been a member of Parliament, most of them introduced by the Liberal government, expanded the discretionary powers of the minister and undermined the powers of Parliament to have the final say and, in this case, the powers of various levels of government.
My colleague from Windsor West has drawn our attention to this in the bill. Again, without this duty to consult being folded in and factored into the bill, the discretionary authority of the minister is enhanced once again, where ultimately it will be the minister who will decide what, when, where and how much to do with any new bridge or tunnel on an international crossing, and there are 24 such sites, or even the expansion, renovation or development of an existing crossing.
That should be worrisome. That is a trend that undermines the authority of Parliament. It gives too much power to the executive and not enough power where it should properly reside, which is with us the elected legislators and the legitimately elected representatives of other levels of government.
I am very surprised that the Bloc did not find fault with this. My colleagues from the Bloc Québécois are usually the first to remind us when a minister oversteps jurisdiction. I have heard a great deal of hue and cry from my colleagues from the Bloc when the federal government puts in place legislation that even hints at the fact it may be able to exercise control over another jurisdiction, in their case a provincial jurisdiction, without even the duty to consult. Surely that offends the sensibilities of my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois. It certainly offends mine.
There are bogus arguments abounding throughout this debate. I do not understand the resistance and reluctance on the part of opposition parties to insist that the bill be the best it can be. I found the official opposition members' arguments so vague and nebulous that they have almost no opinion. They do not have any opinion on Bill C-2, the most earth shattering and life changing piece of legislation in this Parliament surely. They have no opinion on that. They have no opinion on Bill C-3. They do not want to take part in pressing the Minister of the Environment to be a better minister of the environment. I do not know what they are doing to earn their keep lately, but they have an obligation to get involved in the debate as the official opposition. They seem to be willing to leave being the official opposition to the NDP. We do not mind assuming that role, but we would expect a little support from time to time on some of these pressing issues.
I will not dwell on that because I feel strongly about this issue. I have been invigorated and inspired by the speech given by my colleague from Windsor West and his dedication to the issue. He reminded us of the critical importance of international crossings. Until today I was not aware that there are 24 such crossing points.
The one we have heard most about is the Ambassador Bridge going from Windsor to Detroit. A lot of Canadians would probably be surprised to learn that the bridge is privately owned. Given that 40% of Canada's trade with the United States crosses at that very juncture, that the Province of Ontario would be the United States' fourth largest trading partner were it a nation, from a national security and public policy point of view or virtually any way we consider this, it is surprising that the bridge is a privately owned enterprise. We would think the jurisdiction and control and the expansion of it would be of such public importance that we would want it to be a public enterprise. It gets to be a matter of Canadian sovereignty, as my colleague pointed out.
We test the merits of an argument by challenging the argument. We can test the mettle of a piece of legislation by whether it can survive intelligent debate in the House of Commons. All I have heard so far is boosterism for a bill that has a serious, fundamental flaw and has had very little critical analysis. There has been lots of analysis of some of the merits of the bill, with which we do not disagree. There has been lots of analysis of the need for the bill, with which we do not disagree, but no one seems willing to get into an exchange with us, or with my colleague from Windsor West who moved the motions anyway, about the idea of consultation.
Where is the debate in this place? We would think there would be an appetite to have a real exchange on such a fundamental principle as the duty to consult. It is something upon which the Supreme Court has commented on many occasions. I feel duty bound to incorporate those principles into virtually all pieces of legislation that come through here.
There should be a screen through which all pieces of legislation should be viewed, to make sure they pass basic tests of ethics, of fairness, of accommodating basic principles that we as Canadians stipulate ourselves to. We want to be operating at the highest possible standards of ethical practices, of principles of fairness and equity with a duty to consult.
Let us think this through. Taxpayers' dollars can be used to change their atmosphere and environment without an opportunity to have meaningful input as to how that takes place. It is almost taxation without representation. Revolutions have been fought on basic issues like this. Canadians have a right to participate in the way that our tax dollars are being spent, up to and including a bridge being built in their backyard or expanding an existing bridge that is in their backyard.
It is one of those basic things that I would demand as a citizen, the right to full participation. Any government that did not want to listen to my views is not worthy of being my government. That is the way I would view it and I would certainly deal with that at the ballot box the next time around.
Bill C-3 is a component of Bill C-44 which, if we remember from the 38th Parliament, was an omnibus bill that died on the order paper. It was an ambitious omnibus bill that was set out to modernize the entire Canada transportation system really, with a Railway Safety Act and a new Via Rail Canada Act. What we are seeing with Bill C-3 is a hiving off of a section of a complex bill that died because of a lack of support from the rail line companies. It got complex.
The Conservatives opposed Bill C-44. All of these elements of Bill C-3 and others would be in effect today were it not for the Conservatives blocking the previous omnibus bill because they felt that Via Rail should be privatized and not accommodated with its own act. They opposed some of the changes in regard to monopolies and the selling off of rail lines and railcars, et cetera.
When we got Bill C-3 back, it was the most necessary, the most time sensitive component of a much larger and, I would argue, an equally necessary review of the entire Canada transportation strategy. That strategy, we should point out, is incomplete if we do not recognize the east-west dynamic as well as the north-south. I live in Winnipeg where the Red River corridor is a north-south corridor for trade, for the movement of goods and services that we value very much, but we should not value it at the expense of the necessary trade and transportation links, both east and west.
A country that is as geographically challenged as Canada must be seized of the issue of transportation. We would not have opened up the west without that commitment and without enabling the prairie farmers to move their grain with some accommodation by the federal government.
When we heard the member for Windsor West argue passionately for the details of how this affects his riding, I hope Canadians understood the motivation of my colleague. Some of the things he was explaining about the Ambassador Bridge cry out for involvement of other levels of government, of the level of government closest to the people affected.
We do not want to impose change from Ottawa. It fuels resentment of Ottawa when change comes from above without the participation of that local level of government. No one knows the facts on the ground better than the good people who are elected to represent people at the municipal and provincial levels in that area.
There are such complicating circumstances associated with the Ambassador Bridge, with 10,000 trucks per day lined up, idling, belching pollutants all over the school grounds, et cetera. How can we say that we would not consult with the local school board, or bypass that level of government, when some of the very air quality problems that are created by the inadequate Ambassador Bridge affect school children? How can we be so callous as to ignore those legitimately elected representatives?
Mr. Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise in the House today to add a few comments on this important debate about an issue that has been championed so energetically, so well and so intelligently by the member for Windsor West. I know of the passion he has for this, his understanding of the issue and the commitment he has made, and I am impressed.
The first question that people watching this might be asking is this one: what is the big deal?
Why is it that we are driving this piece of work here this morning? This is a rather important bill before the House that is going to change the way we manage and govern some very important pieces of infrastructure involving our connectedness with our neighbours to the south. Why are we focused on this little piece at the end of the day, which in some people's minds may not make such a big difference? I have to say that in fact it does make a big difference and it really is important.
As we look at the way our economy is evolving today and the need for us to be connected in some very real and meaningful ways to the world, to the global economy, and most particularly to our neighbours to the south, we begin to understand how important the minutia, the details, are when we discuss and are involved in making plans about and determining the nature of our connectedness with the United States of America. Our bridges and tunnels are ways of getting back and forth across the border. They are really very important and are actually the key to any economic success we will have going forward.
This is actually a chance for us. I thank the government for bringing this bill forward. This needed to be done. We needed to look at the way we manage our bridges and tunnels. Until now, it has been complicated and a bit of a patchwork. Some tunnels and bridges are owned by the private sector. Some have commissions that are locally based. Some are governed by the federal government. There is no real consistency and no real thought-out pattern involved in the way the bridges and tunnels have been managed.
They are too important for us not to be doing this. The bridges and tunnels are too important for us not to be asking the important questions that the member for Windsor West has been asking in committee and in the House since this bill was tabled a few months ago. He and his cohort, his partner from Windsor, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, have been unrelenting in their pursuit of this piece of important interaction for the federal government as it decides what these bridges and tunnels will look like, whether they will expand or not, whether they will be repaired or not, and how it will deal with and respond to some of the very real issues that come up time and time again in communities where bridges, tunnels and ferries exist.
These issues do come up. The level of traffic back and forth between Canada and the United States over the last 20 or so years has risen exponentially. It has caused some of the problems that we are experiencing today, which is actually why we in the House are debating this bill. We in the New Democratic Party caucus are insisting that when decisions are made going forward, flowing out of this bill concerning these important pieces of infrastructure, municipal and local governments be consulted, because everything that happens in relation to bridges has a serious impact on the communities.
To give an example of how important the issue of the border crossings is, in the last Parliament and again in this one, an all party caucus of Parliament was formed. Members of every party and every caucus in this place gather on a regular basis to talk about the issues, to consult with each other, to hear from each other, and to be helpful to each other in how we give advice not only to our government but to the American government on how we manage, take care of and run our bridges and tunnels, the means of getting back and forth between the two countries. We bring in guest speakers. In the last Parliament, we had Ambassador Cellucci come and talk to us about the issue of security at the bridges and the tunnels.
Security is a very important issue. Again, this is why it is important that the federal government take on this responsibility. It is also, I think, why it is very important that the government consult with the local communities. Where issues of security are concerned, there has to be cooperation among the federal, provincial and local authorities if we are going to be effective in dealing with challenges that might present themselves at those institutions.
It is actually rather telling that a large number of members of Parliament gathered here over a year ago to meet, to talk with and to hear from Ambassador Cellucci in terms of some of his perceptions and understandings, and to share with him what ours were and get a good dialogue going. Significant numbers of members of Parliament now have actually travelled to Washington to be in consultation with some of the officials in the United States, and again, to talk about the border, how we manage this border that is common both to us, and how we put in place facilities and structures that will be most convenient for everybody concerned.
Again, we have to start, I believe, and this is what the member for Windsor West is saying every time he gets up on his feet in this place to talk to us, challenge us, inform and enlighten us and educate us about this issue. He is saying that we cannot do this effectively, that we cannot hope to be successful in the initiatives we take on, the investments we make and the developments we work with, if we are not talking directly with local government, if we do not have some method or way of getting input and consulting with local government.
As the member said so eloquently this morning in his comments, it is at the local level that we know best. We are closest to the action at the local level. Local politicians live, eat and breathe these issues on a daily basis. They watch the trucks go over. They watch the long lineups. They see the impact it has on local neighbourhoods as those trucks go through and as they stop to get serviced or whatever. The local level needs to be consulted.
I just have to look at my own community of Sault Ste. Marie, where we have a very important bridge that connects Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario with Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. It has become, in many ways, a central piece in the further economic development of not only our city but our whole region. What happens to that bridge is critical. The expansion of that bridge, hopefully, the development of the infrastructure at both ends of the bridge where we deal with people coming and going, and the mall that needs to be put up so we can increase commerce with that piece of infrastructure, this is all critical. It is a really important part of the economic development planned strategy that we have going forward in Sault Ste. Marie.
We have begun to think about, work on and make significant investments as a local community in the possibility of a multi-modal transportation hub in Sault Ste. Marie. If members look at Sault Ste. Marie on the map they will see that it is dead centre in the middle of Canada. Not only that, if we expand the map further, it is dead centre in the middle of North America.
An hon. member: Come on.
Mr. Tony Martin: Yes, it is. The member for Winnipeg Centre probably thinks Winnipeg is, but I would argue with him that in fact if he looks at the map more carefully and takes the bigger view that is there, he will see that Sault Ste. Marie actually is at the centre of North America. It is a very important hub and we are trying to take advantage of that.
In the context of today's discussion on this government bill to have the federal government manage those pieces of infrastructure, it is absolutely essential that it be in conversation on a regular basis with the local authorities. It must be in regular conversation with those people who on a daily basis are putting together plans, developing thoughts and ideas, working with other levels of government such as the provincial government and other municipalities in order to take full advantage of the strategic location in Sault Ste. Marie.
We are at the hub of the Great Lakes. Sault Ste. Marie connects Lake Superior with Lake Huron with Lake Michigan, three of the biggest Great Lakes. The bridge is the one piece of infrastructure that links them in a meaningful way and allows traffic to go back and forth between our two countries and those three Great Lakes.
The federal government is mistaken if it thinks for a second that it can unilaterally in all of its splendour and position of authority make decisions about that bridge without consulting the people of Sault Ste. Marie. The people of Sault Ste. Marie see themselves as an important part of this country and they send their member of Parliament here to speak on their behalf. If the government thinks it can go ahead and make decisions about that piece of infrastructure without consulting those folks, it is wrong.
I am hoping that with this debate today, with the back and forth and the very respectful nature of that discussion, the government might come to its senses. There is time. We still have a significant bit of time this afternoon before we get to question period. I am hoping the government will sit down with the member for Windsor West, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh and others from every party in the House who are involved in this really important discussion. I am hoping for a satisfactory agreement that we who speak on behalf of the people we represent at the local level will be engaged in a meaningful way in any decisions that are made.
When I was the member for Sault Ste. Marie in the provincial parliament I had the privilege to take part in organizing a trade delegation from our area to Ireland and Finland. We were selling the opportunity to come to Sault Ste. Marie, make investments, set up shop, bring what they do or the product they produce to our part of North America and from there to transport it easily across the border into the midwest United States of America where there is a market of millions and millions of people.
In discussions with those people they asked how they would get their goods or services from Sault Ste. Marie into that very lucrative and exciting market. I would mention almost immediately the bridge, knowing in the back of mind that the bridge needs work, particularly if we are going to take advantage of the potential that is there. If we are going to become a multimodal hub to attract investment from Europe into Canada, into our region of northern Ontario so that from there people can sell into the midwest United States, we need to focus, invest and work very hard to develop the potential for traffic to move more quickly across that bridge than it is moving now. The bridge needs to be expanded. It needs more resources in order to build up the facilities. It needs more personnel.
The government needs to be in consultation with the city of Sault Ste. Marie and its economic development arm and to be willing to partner. There is nothing we do in any community in Canada where economic development is concerned where partnership is not required. The community invests the money it gets from its own citizens. With that it tries to lever money from the provincial government. Then it goes to the federal government and says there is money in the pot from the municipal sector, from the provincial sector and the private sector has an interest because the private sector sees it as possibly enhancing its opportunities.
Communities ask the federal government for some investment and in turn the federal government rightly asks what the project is. The project my community is focused on is that transportation hub and how we get our products into the market south of the border. My community is focused on the bridge.
I have written letters to the Minister of Transport both in the last Parliament and during this Parliament to share some of the wonderful opportunities that exist in Sault Ste. Marie. I have told the minister of some of the challenges we are facing if we want to make this happen. I have suggested that the government needs to be generous. It needs to be willing to come to the table and be a partner. It needs to see the potential.
In the context of this bill and the request that is being made by the member for Windsor West, there needs to be consultation. We want the federal government to be involved directly and intimately in running, managing and taking care of the bridge that connects Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario with Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
We have a role to play. We have things to say. We have thoughts and ideas that are important and valuable. If the government works with us and the partners we have already brought to the table, we could make investments that would produce positive and exciting results. The government needs to contribute in a more generous way to the further economic development of our area.
A cookie cutter approach does not work. It does not work for any level of government to take something off the shelf and apply it to another circumstance. It does not always fit. Trying to fit a square peg into a round hole does not work. We have to be thoughtful, intelligent and understanding of the contributions people bring to the table and in this instance, the contribution that people from local jurisdictions brought to the table.
This debate is important and valuable. I asked what was the big deal; after a fairly lengthy committee process and time in the House, I wondered why the member for Windsor West was insisting that the amendment be made. I have said over the last 20 minutes that the amendment is needed because we have to understand the valuable contributions people at the local level make to further develop these pieces of infrastructure. This is not only about traffic or security measures. It is about the future of our communities. It is about the future of our regions. It is about the future of our country.
In the last hours before we break for the summer and we go back to work in our communities with our constituents, I would ask that the government in its wisdom see a way to adopt the amendment put forward by the member for Windsor West. In the spirit of good relations in the House this morning, I ask that the government sit down with him and find a way to honour the deep commitment and passion and sense of importance that he brings to this discussion and move this amendment forward so we can pass this bill today.