Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to present to the House today a proposal that will support a more commercial operating environment for Canada Port Authorities.
This proposal is a two-pronged strategy. It includes amendments to the Canada Marine Act, which is of course the legislative framework that governs ports, in combination with several policy measures. It is an approach that is responsive to industry concerns. It recognizes the importance of promoting strategic investment and productivity improvements, yet protects port lands for future transportation needs.
In relation to the Canada Port Authorities, the national marine policy of 1995 emphasized the elimination of overcapacity, promoted cost recovery, mandated self-sufficiency, and instituted a consistent governance structure for all major ports.
I am pleased to report that those objectives of the national marine policy relative to ports have largely been met through the Canada Marine Act, the legislation that introduced a commercial approach to managing the national ports system and marine infrastructure. CPAs have undertaken their management responsibilities in a sound and fiscally responsible manner and ports are well managed today as a result of that.
Budget 2007 positioned modern transportation infrastructure as a core element of our agenda. We have launched a national gateway and corridor approach which recognizes that transportation systems that enable us to move goods and people with world class efficiency are absolutely essential to our future prosperity.
Specific initiatives, such as the Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor initiative, the Ontario-Quebec continental gateway and trade corridor, and the Atlantic gateway initiatives are tailored to geographic and transportation opportunities in specific regions.
These initiatives recognize that transportation infrastructure investment requires the cooperation of many parties. That is right: this government works in cooperation with many parties across the country to get what Canadians want: better results.
These include Canada Port Authorities, representatives from all modes, all levels of government, and private investors. Each of these initiatives will provide concrete measures to contribute to a more productive economy and a stronger competitive position for Canada in international trade. Let us face it, we are a trading nation, and trade is very important to our future.
There are 19 Canada Port Authorities in the national port system. These CPAs are located in each of the regions in which gateway and corridor initiatives are being developed.
Efficient marine transportation and modern port infrastructure are key elements in reaching our government's goals. Indeed, Canada's ability to compete on the world stage is highly dependent on the efficiency of our ports and the availability of port infrastructure. This is particularly true for our gateway ports that are of specific strategic importance to this country.
While the national policy and the legislative framework governing ports are sound and have met their intended objectives overall, these instruments need to be modernized to ensure that our ports can respond and take advantage of the significant opportunities in the current global markets. We have all heard the stories of Asia and the emerging markets in that area. Canadians need to take advantage of that in order to continue to have the best quality of life in the world.
We must make sure that the Canada Marine Act is not a barrier either for ports or for the federal government. Instead, we must make sure that the Canada Marine Act supports the government's ability to make funding decisions in the public interest and to position Canada advantageously within changing global supply chains.
We are responsible for determining the role of the federal government and identifying gaps where other levels of government or private investors cannot provide the level of investment required to support these projects, and projects that are in the national interest and so important to Canadians.
The landscape has changed. The new context calls for an updated policy framework, as I said, for national ports through a combination of legislative amendments and targeted policy initiatives. The proposed legislative amendments are wide-ranging. They focus on the following areas.
First is financial flexibility, which is so important even in private business.
Second is port access to infrastructure funding, which is important for the future.
Third is environmental sustainability, which is the cornerstone of this government's policy and is on every Canadian's mind.
Fourth is access to security funding. We want to keep Canadians safe, because without that we will not enjoy any future.
Fifth is a commercially-based borrowing regime for larger ports.
Sixth is supporting amalgamations and governance at ports if required and if in Canadians' best interests.
This means targeted policy initiatives focused on a modernized national marine policy as it relates to ports, a streamlined mechanism for borrowing, and flexibility in the management of port lands for the future.
Today we face unprecedented growth in trade with Asia-Pacific countries, as I mentioned. This is resulting in tremendous pressures on the west coast. These pressures are starting to be felt in other areas of Canada, for instance in the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway system and on the east coast, where we recently announced an Atlantic gateway initiative.
Our challenge is to find ways to promote new investment in the marine sector while encouraging it to behave as commercially as possible in the best interests of Canadians. Some of the larger Canada Port Authorities have made extensive infrastructure investments to address capacity constraints but cite barriers such as their current ineligibility for most federal funding as an impediment to further growth.
We are proposing to amend the CMA to provide these Canada Port Authorities with access to federal contributions for, first, capital costs for infrastructure, which is so important for the future; second, environmental sustainability; and third, security projects.
This is great news for Canadians. This approach would put CPAs on an equal footing with other transportation modes that have access to contribution funding. It would make them competitive.
We are not proposing the creation of a new funding program. Instead, we are proposing the establishment of a framework to allow CPAs to apply to contribution programs related to infrastructure, environmental sustainability and security projects.
Do members see a theme here? That is right. These programs that either currently exist or future contribution programs that may be developed in the future are the key.
In all cases, the ports would have to present a strong business case that fits specific criteria and that ultimately is in the public interest to warrant receiving public moneys. We are going to make sure that they remain accountable.
For example, these amendments could facilitate access to funds for the exploration of ways to address environmental concerns through new technologies to improve emission controls. They would also ensure the continued access of CPAs to any available security contribution funding.
Without this amendment, as of the end of November 2007 contribution funding for the implementation of security enhancements will no longer be available to CPAs. That is why this is so important.
We are also proposing that Transport Canada work in close collaboration with the Department of Finance and the Treasury Board Secretariat to implement a two-tier approach to borrowing that would provide for a commercially based borrowing regime, with accountabilities for larger ports with gross annual revenue generation above $25 million-- just for the big guys--at the same time streamlining the process for the smaller ports seeking changes to their borrowing limits. We want to make sure they remain accountable, but we want to make sure as well that they remain competitive.
There are other concerns related to the use of port lands. Some key ports are now facing encroaching residential developments and capacity limitations, an added pressure on the preservation of critical transportation lands in urban areas.
At the moment, there is little incentive for ports to retain lands for future transportation corridors. It is important to find the right mechanism to maintain ports as important economic generators for national, regional and local economies, as it is so important on the ground in these local communities that have these ports.
It is absolutely critical that we find ways to encourage our ports to invest in land holdings for long term port development. We are not talking about next year. We are talking about 100 years or 200 years down the road, but we need to be ready today for that growth that we expect and know is coming.
To promote the preservation of transportation lands, these opportunities would be given to CPAs by way of new policies implemented through supplementary letters patent. This would expand allowable uses for land that CPAs lease or license to third parties and assist CPAs in increasing revenues generated on those lands until such time as that port is ready to develop the property for port purposes.
However, Canada Port Authorities are not proposing to be less vigilant in regard to these lands, and all permitted activities will need to be compatible with port operations. For instance, we would not allow condos to be built on those particular lands. They have to be ready for the future.
Other amendments that will further benefit the Canada Port Authorities are those associated with future amalgamations, similar to the one under way in the lower mainland of British Columbia. We are proposing to incorporate provisions that would put in place a consistent approach, which is so important for certainty, to facilitate potential future amalgamations.
We want to work toward what is in the best interests of Canadians and at the same time make this a good governing instrument to do so. Some key governance amendments are proposed that would be more responsive to Canada Port Authorities' needs and would promote a more sustainable, more stable and more long term management framework.
There is also a complementary set of amendments being proposed that are more technical in nature and which clarify the wording of the act and harmonize certain provisions with other pieces of legislation. This is an important piece of legislation, but it does have to work with other pieces of legislation in the government regime.
Finally, with these changes in place, we propose to modernize the national marine policy as it relates to ports to ensure that the policy context for future decision making takes into account the emerging trade and the global business environment and that we remain competitive with it.
In developing this package we have attempted to strike what we consider to be a very reasonable balance between encouraging fully commercial behaviour on the part of ports and leaving the door open for them to compete for contribution funds under general programs like our new building Canada initiative, which again is great news for Canadians on the realm of infrastructure.
Ports in the United States and overseas are competition. They are focusing more effort on and are receiving more government funding for infrastructure, security and environmental initiatives. Long term access to federal contribution funding to spur growth in the new gateways or to implement security enhancements is consistent with the high priority we are placing on security and trade in this government. Two very important issues for Canadians are their safety and their jobs. What could be more important?
Canadian ports compete with international counterparts that receive security funding essentially for reassuring international trading partners. Associations representing the marine sector have requested that the government provide the same level of access to funding for Canada Port Authorities as exists for other transportation entities.
Other stakeholders we have consulted have strongly supported access to infrastructure funding for ports. That is important to this government as well. We have considered several different options to determine which one would provide the highest return for our stakeholders and for the Canadian economy, because this government is going to get the best return on investment for Canadian taxpayers.
We are proposing these changes in order to provide a balanced approach, as I mentioned, one that combines legislative amendments with targeted policy initiatives that will have the highest positive impact on the marine community and the Canadian economy. Yet at the same time, it will continue to require a small payment of rent to the Crown and puts reasonable safeguards around borrowing practices.
On the question of access to government funding programs, we are proposing to put ports and port authorities on the same level playing field as other players in the transportation sector. However, the government also recognizes that the right checks and balances for accountability to the Canadian taxpayer will need to be implemented to make sure that accountability continues. As such, funds provided through contribution programs with clear accountabilities and program criteria would provide excellent controls and reflect the government's current approach to the provision of funding under certain conditions.
We believe the proposed amendments in Bill are the right thing to do for our ports. They are an important part of the government's overall policies and framework supporting transportation and trade throughout Canada from coast to coast to coast. It is the right time to make these changes for the Canadian economy. This is the best thing for Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to join in this debate, especially since the parliamentary secretary invited us to reflect upon credibility and leadership on the international front. Leadership and credibility is generated by not just some of the actions that are presented to us today for digestion, but by some of the consequences of other things that we do or do not do in life.
I want to refer back to that and take advantage of the fact that he is accompanied today by the . The is here as well. Perhaps they will want to listen to what I say a little later on and reflect on it by way of a response.
I would like to continue in the other official language. Today, we have focused on the fact that there are bills and programs that are very important for Canada, for the entire nation. I was pleased and privileged to be a member of the government which introduced these programs and bills.
Perhaps other parties in this House, who today are complaining about the Conservative government, regret that we accomplished something important for Canadians.
I too am disappointed that my party is not in power. However, when we were in power, we accomplished things that are enabling this government to establish a much broader program.
What should the government be doing? I want to indicate from our side that we too feel that transportation issues are basic to the principles of country building, of nation building. I say that because we take this issue seriously. We have taken it seriously. We laid the groundwork to ensure we would have a network of transportation, of infrastructure that would permit this fabulous country to realize its fullest economic potential.
Those are not just words as the parliamentary secretary indicates. They are the basis upon which one builds programs. Ports, marine ports in particular, because that is what is being addressed by the legislation, are fundamental to an outreach that we must establish to the world everywhere if we are to develop trade that will enhance the opportunity of every Canadian man and woman to access the bounty that is resident in our natural resources and then to move that bounty across borders and oceans to markets that can utilize them for value added or indeed for direct consumption. They are basic to the infrastructure of Canada's economy.
What did we do? Members will be surprised. Being a veteran of this House as I am, you will recall, Mr. Speaker, that in 1995 we began to establish a coordination of all of the assets that we had in marine ports. In 1998 that resulted with the establishment of a Canadian network of marine ports and the legislation to mandate their establishment, to coordinate these sometimes divergent and sometimes even counterproductive divergencies in our marine ports.
That was followed up with a review in 2003 of that legislation to see how it worked. All good things need some time in order to jell. We know what happened. After 2003 there was a series of studies. I thank the parliamentary secretary for recognizing that these studies were done by the department at the behest of the government. It was not his government, but I thank him for acknowledging that nonetheless.
The thrust of those reviews was designed to ensure that we could make all these ports economically competitive and efficient in an environment that would see the global market changing literally on a daily basis. When we undertook the initial study, the concept of gateways, Pacific gateway, Atlantic gateway, central continental gateway in the Great Lakes, were things that were not even part of the language of the day. Also not a part of the language of the day was the absolutely booming business taking place on the west coast.
We had one port that was doing some business and others were not or not that much. Now we are talking about ports resident in British Columbia, whether they be in the North Fraser, Vancouver or Prince Rupert, or Nanaimo, or Port Alberni. All these ports are very much a key to the economies of the Orient, whether it is Southeast Asia or Northeast Asia. We have to ensure those economies ship all their goods into North America through our ports and to generate an economy through the infrastructure that feeds into those ports to make it much more efficient and capable for all those provinces that sit in the middle of our continent to get their goods and commodities out to market.
The same principles apply to the marine ports in Atlantic Canada. The government of the day, through its studies, assumed and deduced that we needed to make a greater investment in the coordination of these ports. The Liberals came up with something called Bill . This is a resurrection of Bill C-61. I am pleased to witness the revival of all good things. The parliamentary secretary may see us supporting a bill that highlights those very important issues.
As I said, we need to reinforce those principles upon which good, sound transportation policy is built; that is, the movement of goods and people efficiently, swiftly and economically around the country and abroad.
We wanted to create, and I imagine that this bill proposes to do the same, a common purpose and to permit the development of a plan or of a vision for growth in this country. I did not hear the parliamentary secretary say that, but I am assuming that was his intention because that would certainly be the reason why we would support this bill.
We need it to establish an infrastructure that is cohesive and coherent. Too often that infrastructure is seen as localized to a particular port. However, we need to think in terms of the avenues of building, whether it be rail, whether it be air, or whether it be roads, that feed into all of these ports that are the final terminus for the movement of many of those goods that need to be advanced outward, and that speak of Canada and the productivity of its citizens. That is what this bill was supposed to do.
And so, we see in it, as the parliamentary secretary has indicated, portions that talk about governance because we want to have continuity. We want to have, on the board of governors of these port authorities, personnel who are experienced and expert in the local economy, but still consistent and at one with the national objectives of a federal government that is dedicated, that should be dedicated, to ensuring that these ports fulfill the needs of Canadians everywhere.
The governing structure is extremely important. However, it is important as well to ensure that those port authorities go beyond simply being able to draw revenues from the movement of goods. They must be an economic entity on their own and they need to have the authority to ensure that the assets which they manage are part and parcel of the governance structure of these port authorities. And that could be in land, it could be the improvements on the land, or it could be any of the other factors, for example, leases, whether they be short term or long term.
If anybody wanted to have some umbrage or some difference with the government on any of these, we would eliminate it right away if that were not included in the bill.
However, more important, it is the issue of having an understanding, that we wanted to bring forward, of giving port authorities the opportunity to access government programs that give those ports the opportunity to have some of the funds that are available either for the development of some security issues that have developed since 9/11 or indeed for any of the infrastructure programs that this current government has continued. They were introduced by the former Liberal government, again as I said, of which I was privileged to be a part, to ensure that these port authorities would be seen as a continuity, a continuum of the infrastructure of our country's economic asset and the network that brings people together and that brings goods to market.
The parliamentary secretary will probably wonder where we go on a question of credibility and leadership. The question of credibility is seen on what we do to enhance these. He talked about trade and international relations. Those things are not all done simply by the work that we do at each one of these ports, but by some of the other things that we do with respect to the way that we deal with people who come within our territories.
This is not a deviation from that principle, and I am glad that the parliamentary secretary introduced it. We have had the misfortune of witnessing various tragedies in this country over the course of the last several months. I think by now most people are familiar with the case of the tasering of the young man at Vancouver airport and how we missed an opportunity to be decisive, and to act swiftly to ensure that any injustices be immediately remedied.
Now we have a situation where the Government of Canada's image worldwide has suffered, so much so that the government of Poland has asked for an inquiry. These are part and parcel of the kind of infrastructure that draws people to our shores and drops people into our midst.
As a matter of fact, as I said, thank heavens for the representatives of the other ministries. Earlier today, the government of Italy called in Canada's ambassador to speak about a similar situation that took place on September 20 when an Italian citizen died in a jail in Quebec City. So far there has been no response from Quebec government nor the Quebec police but, worse, nor response from the Canadian government.
All that people want is an opportunity to be able to access continuity, to understand what happens when people deal with Canadians on a question of strong international leadership, but let our actions speak at least as loudly as our words. Let us at least give people a response.
Until recently, we hid behind the fact, for example, that there was no hard, fiscal infrastructure on ports and then we hid on the soft issues, that is to say, where we were not dealing with bricks and mortar, on the fact that there were competing jurisdictions. How do we deal with countries that want a response from us?
We could always say that it is not our problem, that it is the problem of other provinces, that it falls within others' jurisdiction. If we have the political will to put in place a bill such as the current Bill , we must also have the same political will to do other things.
I would like to say a few words in Italian, if my colleagues are agreeable to it.
[Member spoke in Italian.]
I will repeat it in English.
It is inconceivable that we would not give an answer to a foreign government that asks us why one of its citizens met with such a fate here on Canadian territory. For example, the young gentleman who died on September 20, Castagnetta, did he or did he not suffer his fate at the hands of police that were using tasers? There was an autopsy done and there are no results yet. Why not?
Let us talk about leadership not only on the international front, not only on the transportation side, but a comprehensive leadership that understands where the government should be taking this country. Where it should be taking it is in the place that says that goods and people are moving efficiently and effectively in a competitive environment, but everyone is accorded the dignity that is accorded all human beings who come here and call this place home. Even visitors would have access to Canadian law and due process. It is inconceivable that a family would have to wait, so far, two and a half months for a response. It is incredible.
The government is not doing anything. Maybe it will act more swiftly on hard infrastructure issues like this one. I can tell the as the official spokesman for the party on this side of the House that Liberals are prepared to support these kinds of initiatives in Bill , just as we are prepared to provide the kind of support that the government needs to project a positive image of our country abroad. Without that, all of us are working at cross purposes and that should not be the intention of any member of Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about Bill .
I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill in principle. Obviously, we will have the opportunity to improve it in committee and to call witnesses. We hope—and I am choosing my words carefully here—that this bill will increase the competitiveness of the St. Lawrence by maintaining and improving the port infrastructure required to develop the St. Lawrence—Great Lakes trade corridor, which will also promote intermodal transportation and benefit the environment.
Why do I say that this is what we hope? Because at first glance, we have to be careful. Our Liberal colleague mentioned that when the Liberals were in power, they promoted the Pacific Gateway. The Conservatives, in the person of the parliamentary secretary, said earlier that they have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Pacific Gateway. They are preparing to announce a major investment in the Atlantic Gateway and Halifax. Yet we never heard any mention of the St. Lawrence—Great Lakes trade corridor in the speeches given by the parliamentary secretary and the Liberal member.
That is why I say that the Bloc Québécois hopes that the bill before us will lead to the development of the St. Lawrence—Great Lakes trade corridor, which is as important as the Mississippi is to the United States. This waterway, which flows directly into the heart of the Americas, must be taken into consideration. We hope that this bill will address part of this problem.
The primary goal of Bill is to amend the current borrowing system. Those who are watching us and are not familiar with this should know that currently port authorities are entities, independent corporations that have charters allowing them to borrow money up to a certain limit. As the parliamentary secretary was saying, the goal is to increase or eliminate the borrowing limit for large ports with a view to allowing them to develop.
I will give the example of the port of Montreal. It has become less important under the Liberals as well as since the Conservatives came to power, but it is nonetheless considered one of Canada's major ports. The port of Montreal does not do any borrowing at all. Introducing a bill to increase the borrowing capacity of the port of Montreal when it already does not borrow anything, is not going to help it develop.
As far as access to funding is concerned, it is true that port authorities currently are not able to receive subsidies. Just like airport authorities, they have to pay their own way and bill their clientele for expenses. Marine companies obviously have to pay fees to use ports. That is how ports generate revenues. They can contract loans in order to finance improvements made to the ports. That is the current situation.
Now, this bill would allow them access to funding. That is well and good, but I want this to be fair for all ports across Canada. When we talk about the Conservative government's investment in the Pacific gateway, we have to realize it was not for infrastructure within the confines of the ports, since this was not permitted by law. It was funding for improvements to railway lines and access points so that they could provide as many services as possible, to ship and receive merchandise outside the port limits.
Personally, I would like them to receive subsidies today. But if all the money always goes directly to the Pacific ports and there is nothing for the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes trade corridor, this bill will just create an even greater imbalance.
To date, the Pacific gateway program implemented by the Liberals and maintained by the Conservatives still has no equivalent in the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes corridor.
The Conservatives announced that the Atlantic gateway would be in Halifax, but once again, there is nothing for the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes corridor, which is, I repeat, the largest and most beautiful gateway in the Americas. That was the goal when it was created, but I will talk about the history later on. If the Bloc Québécois members are not vigilant, if all the money goes to the west and the Maritimes and there is nothing for the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes corridor, this bill will not have achieved its goal.
I will repeat some of the reasons. The port of Montreal does not borrow any money. Obviously, it is not money that it needs. All the investments should be made outside the limits or boundaries to facilitate intermodal and other types of transportation. However, if we do not end up seeing any of that investment and if the goal of this bill is to help the Pacific and Halifax ports, we will have failed.
I would like to clarify certain aspects of governance. Obviously, there is a need to review how port authorities and corporations are administered—and I think this is good for everyone. For the Bloc Québécois, it is also important that these investments be evenly distributed to all regions of Canada and that, among others, the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes trade corridor receive its fair share for once. This was not the case under the Liberals and has not yet been the case under the Conservatives, as we have seen.
We want to make something clear in this House: the St. Lawrence River has always been a major asset to Quebec's development and closely linked to the economic development of all its regions. Eighty percent of Quebec's population lives on the shores of the St. Lawrence and over 75% of its industry is found there. The strategic location of industries in relation to the St. Lawrence River means it can be used for nearly all international trade outside the United States.
I will repeat this, because it is important to understand. When considering the St. Lawrence Seaway in the North American context, the importance of its economic impact becomes even more obvious. Indeed, the St. Lawrence River provides privileged access to the heart of North America. It not only allows access to 90 million inhabitants and the industrial heartland of the United States, Canada and Quebec, but it also provides a shorter route for major European carriers. The distance between Montreal and Rotterdam is 5,813 km while the distance between New York and Rotterdam is 6,154 km.
This corridor allows faster entry into the heartland of the Americas. The St. Lawrence Seaway is underutilized, however. The total amount of goods transported via the St. Lawrence dropped from 130 million tonnes in the early 1980s to approximately 100 million tonnes 10 years later, only to hover around 105 million tonnes since. Thus, since 1980, the ports of the St. Lawrence have received less merchandise than the 150 million tonnes they are currently receiving in 2007. It was 25 million tonnes less than what was being transported on the St. Lawrence in the early 1980s.
Once again, while some ports have seen increased traffic, neither investments nor Canada's management of the ports file have allowed this important development tool to be used to full advantage. We do not want to hear that this tool is the same everywhere or that it underutilizes goods transportation. For example, over the past 30 years, carriage of goods by ship has grown by 600% worldwide. While traffic on the St. Lawrence dropped from 130 million tonnes in the 1980s to 105 million tonnes, maritime shipping increased by 600% internationally. Closer to home, the Mississippi River system, which competes directly with the St. Lawrence, saw traffic increase from 450 million to 700 million tonnes. Seaports on the east coast of the U.S. have also seen steady increases in traffic.
This is why I have just as much trouble understanding my Liberal colleague's point as I do the message we are getting from the parliamentary secretary who talked about economic activity, China and that fact that they are the ones asking for it.
Even so, I would emphasize that the east coast of the U.S. has seen a major increase in shipping, which did not happen on the St. Lawrence. What does that mean? It means that Canada has not paid attention to one of the most important trade corridors, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway, which borders Quebec, Ontario and the United States.
A similar trend is affecting traffic going through the St. Lawrence Seaway. After reaching a high of 70 million tonnes, the quantity of goods being transported via the seaway stabilized around 50 million tonnes per year. Once again, the seaway leads to the Great Lakes. As I said earlier, the shipping trade dropped from 130 million tonnes to 105 million tonnes on the St. Lawrence, and on the seaway that leads to the Great Lakes, it dropped from 70 million tonnes in the early 1980s to 50 million tonnes. Once again, this is due mainly to the fact that the St. Lawrence Seaway is not competitive, and this is because of Ottawa's failure to pay attention to marine infrastructure in Quebec, particularly along the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence trade corridor. That is the harsh reality of it.
When the Liberals were in power, they decided to put all their eggs in one basket, the basket known as the Pacific Gateway, and neglected the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence trade corridor. The Conservatives are making the same mistake. They added the extra money needed for the Pacific Gateway and decided to establish an Atlantic gateway in Halifax. The money will go to Halifax and, once again, there will be nothing for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence trade corridor.
This bill, which allows the ports to borrow more money, will not solve the problem. All of the money invested in the Pacific Gateway is going outside the port areas per se in order to improve the flow of goods by rail and road.
The same should be done for the ports along the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes. The same treatment, the same energy should be given to all these gateways by making the same kind of investment in them. What is being permitted today is investment within the area governed by each port authority. They are told that they can borrow more and that, henceforth, the government may provide direct subsidies.
Given that monies for gateways were given only to the Pacific Gateway—and now to the Atlantic Gateway in Halifax—there is nothing for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor. If that is the purpose of this bill as well, then they have missed the mark.
That is why the only party to raise this in the House is the Bloc Québécois. We are proud to live in Quebec and proud of the St. Lawrence, which has always been the backbone of all Quebec and Canadian industries. We cannot help but notice the major retreat by the Government of Canada from making investments along the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor.
I would like to give a brief overview of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor. The concept of the corridor is based on an obvious fact. The ports along the St. Lawrence must establish a common strategy for facilitating the most efficient transport of goods possible amongst themselves and towards the destination markets. It is also based on a second obvious fact. The competition is no longer among Montreal, Quebec City, Sept-Îles or the other St. Lawrence ports, or even those on the Great Lakes, for their share of global marine traffic. They are competing against the American ports, and that is the competition they must face.
The message I want to send is that we are not in competition with the east coast, the west coast, Halifax or Vancouver. As I was saying earlier about distances, it is shorter to get from Rotterdam to Montreal than from Rotterdam to New York. That means we have an obvious advantage: we are able to serve the heart of North America, the United States among others, Quebec and Ontario too. We are able to do so with this corridor if we work together, just a little, and if all the ports along the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes work together.
Merchandise should be transported as quickly and efficiently as possible. If there need to be transfers by road or by rail, the same service being provided in the Vancouver area should be provided in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor. These same advantages have to be given to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor so that the world's entire marine transportation market can benefit all the regions of Canada, which still includes Quebec.
We cannot help but notice that both the Liberals and the Conservatives have completely forgotten this large-scale corridor, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence trade corridor.
I do not want to keep repeating myself, but the bill introduced here in this House would provide the port authorities an advantage by giving them borrowing powers or allowing the government to give them direct subsidies, which was not allowed before. Again, there is the example of the port of Montreal. It does not borrow money and it does not have any debt. So, it is not the port of Montreal that asked for this. However, if there are subsidies, it wants to benefit from that as much as all the other ports in Canada.
It is very important that the government understand that because the stated goal is to give direct subsidies within the perimeter administered by the port corporations, namely the western gateway and the Pacific gateway, in the Vancouver area. The Maritimes gateway in Halifax will probably get subsidies as well. In any case, this money has to be allocated in a balanced way across Canada. I am not convinced that is the government's intention.
The Bloc Québécois will be in favour of this bill because it believes that the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes trade corridor is one of the most under-used marine corridors, considering its proximity and ability to serve Quebec, Ontario and the central United States. We believe that the corridor is under-used, that previous successive governments here in Ottawa were negligent and did not make the required efforts or investments to promote this development. Moreover, this St. Lawrence-Great Lakes corridor will also enable intermodal transportation, or more specifically cabotage, which is probably the greatest strength of the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes corridor right now.
We hope to be able to develop cabotage and intermodal transportation. We would like to be able to cover the short distance between Montreal and the Great Lakes and between Montreal and Sept-Îles. We would like to be able to use this vast corridor, as the Americans use the Mississippi, and ensure that all the required government investments will make it possible for all the infrastructure and ports along the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes to be able to fully develop intermodal transportation.
If that is not the government's intention, the Bloc Québécois will have the chance to ask questions of the government and the minister. It is all well and good to introduce a bill, but if it was done simply to develop the Pacific gateway, they should say so. They should be honest and say if there is a lack of money, if the ports of Vancouver and the Pacific can no longer borrow money, if they require direct investments and subsidies. They must say so because there will be an imbalance between the Pacific and Atlantic ports. We are creating our own competition, and there is nothing worse than that.
This is not the first time the Liberals and the Conservatives have made a mistake on this file. They adopt policies on the fly and they try to fix problems in the short term by putting one fire out and lighting another two. The Bloc Québécois wants to avoid doing that. We agree that ports should be allowed to change their borrowing regimes, which would enable large ports to borrow money in order to support their own development. We agree that there should be some funding now, which was not allowed before, and subsidies via infrastructure programs to help port authorities if they are in too much debt. All the same, we want to be fair to the west coast, the east coast and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor.
If we do not say that in this House, that is what the Conservative Party will do. That is what the Liberal Party started to do by investing in the Pacific gateway. In the end the Liberals did nothing. The Conservatives are feeling a little uncomfortable and seem to want to invest. They announced funding for the Pacific gateway, but they did not give anything to Atlantic ports or Halifax.
That means zero minus zero plus zero for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor. Absolutely nothing. Obviously, that will be very bad for Quebec's economy, as well as Ontario's, and it will also limit what we can do to develop trade with the United States.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill . In a way, we have been waiting for this bill for a long time, and we hope the wait will have been worthwhile.
This bill is about ports across the country, from Vancouver to Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax and Saint John, New Brunswick. This is of particular interest to me because a port development is under way in northeastern New Brunswick, and this is of critical importance to people in the region.
As everyone knows, my riding, , in northeastern New Brunswick, may have the highest unemployment rate around. How many times have people in the House said that the member for should talk about something other than employment insurance? Well, this is one way to invest in a very important port that has been ignored all along compared to all of the other ports in Canada. The Bloc Québécois member said that we must not forget the port of Montreal. But it has no debt and plenty of money, so it is not a problem.
But in our case, it is quite the opposite; we are talking about developing a port. For example, Belledune just outside my riding of , right at the end of Chaleur Bay. If people bother to look at a map, they will see that Chaleur Bay is in a direct line with Europe. The water there is deep and there is no ice. There is no need for icebreakers to let the ships pass in the winter and no cost involved. Even so, the government bills us for an icebreaker, just as it bills the other ports. Yet we do not need one at the port of Belledune. This really hampers the economic development of the region and this port.
When Canada was a new country, the Atlantic was prosperous. Then prosperity spread west of the Atlantic, to Quebec, Montreal and Toronto. Then it spread to all the Great Lakes, where it is warm, and it went on from there. But Canada was really formed in the Atlantic region. It is important to remember that the Acadians were the first people to come to Canada from Europe. We celebrated our 400th anniversary two years ago. That proves that we were the first.
In our discussions today, It is sad to see that the Atlantic has now been forgotten, especially northeastern New Brunswick. There is a port in Saint John and one in Halifax. The port in Belledune is a new port with incredible potential.
As I said, Europe is in a straight line from Chaleur Bay, and at the end of that bay is Belledune. Looking at the map, it is not difficult to imagine that shipping could continue on to the United States, for example, if there was a good road to get there. Why should ships make a huge detour to get to the United States when the port of Belledune in northeastern New Brunswick is in a direct line with Europe and the United States?
Bill also permits ports to take out loans. That is welcome news. But I believe that the committee should study the bill to do whatever it can to help them as much as possible.
In the past, the government decided to turn the ports over to the port authorities.
The ports were transferred to the communities and the Liberal government, which was in charge at the time, backed away from them. It did not provide the money needed to keep the ports in good shape. It was not just the port of Vancouver or the big ports where goods are brought in and shipped out. It also involved the ports for the fishery, all the small ports. The government did nothing for years and years.
Last year we were arguing about a job that needed to be done at the Miller Brook port in my riding. It had a drought this year and the boats had to be dragged into port because there was not enough water. The dredging was not even done. It was unbelievable. I am telling the truth when I say that the boats had to be dragged in the sand to bring them inside the port.
It has created a situation where the people are afraid when they see a storm. What would they do if they were outside the port and at any time during the night wanted to come in but could not because the tide would be out?
The port has been forgotten for many years. Today it has become a big cost to the community and to the fishermen. It is like having a house. If the owner does not look after it, in no time it is no good anymore. Repairs need to be done as we go along and we need to keep it in good shape.
Looking at our small fishing ports, one might imagine that the government had not made them a priority. It transferred the ports to the communities, but now the ports are in such a state they can be wiped out by the least storm that blows through.
I will give an example. A few years ago, a storm hit Petit-Rocher. The port had been in need of additional protection. Those responsible argued with governments to add protection from the wind and from November's huge fall tides so as not to lose our wharves. The governments refused. The storm was quite big. A 30-foot wave crashed in and shifted the Petit-Rocher wharf over by one foot. The repairs cost $550,000, or the whole wharf would have been lost. The fishers could not fish. They had to set up rocks to prevent the water from hitting the wharf again and breaking it. That doubled the cost. Repairs need to be done as they come up and not put off until disaster strikes.
The same is true when it comes to appointing people to the port authorities. The government wants to reduce the number of people. The danger is that local people will not be there to make the necessary recommendations. This is not the only concern. It also involves making decisions locally for the general population. These people are, after all, very familiar with the problems. They are the ones who should be making the decisions and making recommendations to the government concerning repairing our ports, such as making extensions, rebuilding or doing a better job in terms of economic development. This was the point I was making earlier about the port of Belledune.
I would like to talk about my riding and how this relates to my own backyard. There are some ports in bad shape in my riding. I can list several off the top of my head. The wharf in Pointe Verte is in such bad condition that boats cannot even enter into the port. The same is true for the wharves in Maisonnette, Anse-Bleue and Saint-Raphaël-sur-mer.
That is also the case for Le Goulet. I was speaking to the mayor of Le Goulet and he told me that the government absolutely had to intervene and help them. These are not large communities. Earlier, the Bloc Québécois member said that the port of Montreal does not have any debts, that it has no such problems and that it would like to be treated fairly.
We have catching up to do. We have to start reinvesting in order to ensure a certain level of economic development at these ports and also to ensure the safety of citizens. At present, ports are not safe. In Grande-Anse, fishermen stay outside the port because when the tide is low they cannot get back in. It is not safe. No one can enter the ports of Miller Brook or L'Anse-Bleue as they are not safe.
The government has responsibilities. It washed its hands of them by transferring them to citizens. When it transferred its responsibilities to the communities, it guaranteed that it would be there to help them maintain the ports in good condition. It wanted the citizens to help but then abandoned them. That is regrettable.
In closing, we will support Bill if amended. I am certain that we will hear more from the member for . He will be presenting some good ideas in committee in order to obtain our support for Bill C-23.