Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It is always a pleasure and an honour to be here.
First I would like to congratulate you, Mr. Chair, for your election as chair of this committee, and all committee members for their appointments. I've already had the pleasure of working with many of you on this committee in the past, and I'm looking forward to working with all of you in the coming months.
Today my officials and I are here to discuss the 2013-14 supplementary estimates (B) for the infrastructure, communities and intergovernmental affairs portfolio, and for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.
Joining me today from Infrastructure Canada I have the deputy minister, Louis Lévesque; the assistant deputy minister, program operations, Natasha Rascanin, and the assistant deputy minister, corporate services, Su Dazé.
Today I will provide you with an update of the work that has been done in my portfolio since the introduction of economic action plan 2013, and our plans for the coming months.
As you know, economic action plan 2013 delivered on our government's commitment to establish a new long-term infrastructure plan beyond the current Building Canada plan, which has been an enormously successful infrastructure program. Since 2006, our government has supported over 43,000 infrastructure projects in Canada, always working as a strong partner with the provinces, territories, and municipalities, and always respecting their jurisdiction. This project has created jobs, generated economic growth, and contributed to a higher quality of life for all Canadians.
No other government in Canadian history has invested more in Canada's infrastructure than our Conservative government, and I am very proud of the results.
As a direct result of our significant and sustained increases in federal infrastructure investments since we took office, the average age of public infrastructure in Canada has declined from a peak of 17 years in 2004 to 14.4 years in 2011. The average age of Canada's core public infrastructure is now lower than the average of 15.4 years over the period from 1961 to 2011.
This demonstrates that our infrastructure investments are making a real difference in communities across Canada.
We are continuing to do more. The economic action plan of 2013 announced that our government will continue making record investments in Canada's infrastructure. We will invest a total of $70 billion over the next ten years in federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal infrastructure across Canada. This is the longest and largest federal investment in job-creating infrastructure in Canadian history.
The largest portion of this investment is the $53 billion new Building Canada plan, which will support provincial, territorial, and municipal infrastructure through three funds: the community improvement fund, which includes an indexed gas tax fund, and the GST rebate for municipalities. Together this initiative represents $32.2 billion for municipalities over ten years.
The new Building Canada fund will provide $14 billion over ten years through two components. The first is the national infrastructure component, a $4 billion merit-based envelope, and the second is a provincial-territorial infrastructure component, which will provide $10 billion in allocated funding for each province and territory in our federation.
Finally, the P3 Canada fund has been renewed with $1.25 billion over five years. This fund will continue to be administered by PPP Canada.
The new Building Canada plan reflects what we heard through extensive consultations with our partners, the provinces, territories, municipalities and industry, as we built this historic infrastructure plan. Close to 700 partners and stakeholders provided input through round tables, meetings and written submissions.
As we work on developing the outstanding parameters for the new Building Canada Fund, our existing programs will continue to provide funding to infrastructure projects across the country. This represents $6 billion that will continue to flow to projects beyond 2014-15. I am talking about projects such as the following: the St. Catharines Art Centre in Ontario; the Toronto-York-Spadina Subway Extension; the upgrades to drinking water plans in Lévis, Quebec; and the construction of a truck bypass on Highway 39 in Estevan, Saskatchewan.
Work is also underway to sign new agreements with the provinces and territories to renew the now-permanent gas tax fund. These agreements are ready for signature now and will ensure that the $2 billion in funding scheduled for 2014-15 can be transferred to municipalities, so they can continue to use this predictable funding for their local infrastructure priorities.
I would like to remind the committee members that it's our Conservative government that has extended, doubled, indexed, and legislated the gas tax fund as a permanent program. This significant improvement will see Canada's gas tax fund grow by 2% per year going forward, which means an additional $1.8 billion for municipalities over the next decade.
We are also adding more flexibility for municipalities under the renewed gas tax fund by expanding the number of eligible project categories. In addition to the current eligible categories, which are public transit, waste water, water and solid waste infrastructure, community energy systems, local roads and bridges, and capacity building, starting in 2014 there will be new eligible categories: highways, local and regional airports, short-line rail, short-sea shipping, disaster mitigation, broadband and connectivity, brownfield redevelopment, culture, tourism, and sport and recreation. This means significant new flexibility for municipalities to use their federal gas tax fund allocations to invest in their local priorities.
I have said on several occasions, and will repeat again today, that provinces, territories, and municipalities can start planning for new projects now. We have always worked closely with provinces, territories, and municipalities to support their infrastructure priorities and we will continue to do so.
The new Building Canada plan will continue to provide meaningful benefits for Canadians in every region of the country. As I said in the House, the parameters for the new Building Canada fund are currently under development. We will have the new plan in place to ensure that we do not miss a construction season next year.
Since I am here with you today, I would like to take this opportunity to review the commitment and the effort made by our government to build the new bridge over the St. Lawrence and, of course, the maintenance of the Champlain Bridge. As you know, the Champlain Bridge is one of the busiest bridges in Canada. Over and above its role as a major commercial corridor, it is part of the daily commute for thousands of users.
I don't want to dwell on the past, but one fact must be faced. The reason we are now in the situation where the bridge must be replaced without delay is that the previous government was extremely negligent with regard to the funding and maintenance required to preserve the Champlain Bridge. Although a number of ministers from the former government came from the Montreal region, oddly enough, a former mayor from Roberval is now working on this file.
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to erase past mistakes, but our government is pulling out all the stops in terms of the effort and budget required to remedy the situation as quickly as possible.
At last Friday's press conference, we categorically stated that we would accelerate the commissioning of the new bridge and that a new schedule would be published within the next few weeks. We also held a press conference, on October 2, to launch the construction process of the Nuns' Island causeway. We disseminate information regularly.
The safety of users is a key priority for our government. Therefore, we should keep in mind all the efforts made to maintain the Champlain Bridge. We have invested $380 million for the maintenance of the structure, In addition, we have already announced we will make the necessary additional funding available to the Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated organization to carry out the work recommended in the Buckland & Taylor report, which was received in late September.
As I often say, a project of this size calls for team work. That is why we are working closely with our partners. Since the start of the project, we have been looking at ways to shorten the original time frame, and we are reaching this objective. You may rest assured that our government is determined to deliver a new, reliable and safe bridge as quickly as possible.
I would also like to take a few minutes to speak about the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. Our advisors provide direct assistance through our 12 business offices to SMEs, economic development stakeholders and organizations by offering them guidance and financial support. Announced in Budget 2012, the Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund, or CIIF, is another fine example of a national initiative launched by our government across Canada. The fund, with a budget of $150 million, supports the rehabilitation and improvement—including the expansion—of existing community infrastructure, such as community centres, sports fields, recreational trails, and so on.
Across the country, this program was a great success with over 6,500 applications, totalling more than $1 billion in requested funding. As of September 18, over $150 million has been approved for 1,800 projects. In Quebec, there are 311 approved projects for potential funding totalling $33.5 million.
Last June, we launched the Canadian Initiative for the Economic Diversification of Communities Reliant on Chrysotile. I want to remind you that the current Quebec government said that it would no longer provide support for the chrysotile asbestos industry. That is when we announced the creation of an initiative that allocates up to $50 million over seven years to support the economic transition of the Appalaches and Les Sources RCMs affected by the decline of the chrysotile asbestos industry. We are working with economic stakeholders to ensure delivery of this initiative. To date, numerous meetings have already taken place to discuss concrete projects.
Seventeen days after the Lac-Mégantic catastrophe, given the lack of programs for that sector—as that was not a natural catastrophe—we announced $60 million in funding in aid of the assistance and rehabilitation efforts in Lac-Mégantic. Of course, our thoughts and prayers are with the families that lost loved ones to this tragic accident. The Conservative government will be there to help the people of Lac-Mégantic, as we have always said. We are currently working on an agreement with the Marois government for aid beyond the first $60 million.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, I would like to thank you for offering me the opportunity to speak to you about the important work that Infrastructure Canada, Transport Canada, and the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec are doing for the country. Thank you for your time. My officials and I will be happy to answer your questions.
Thank you very much.
Public transportation comes under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Government of Quebec. Consequently, the province will be responsible for any delays in the light rail project. I am not saying there will be any delays, but we will see. This is Quebec's file. The province is responsible for carrying out the project.
To us, it is clear that, without a toll, there will be no bridge.
It's important to remember that that's the only place in the province where the country owns the bridge.
We own interprovincial bridges in other parts of the country.
Between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and between Gatineau and Ottawa, between two provinces—those are the only places in the country.
We own 100% of the Jacques Cartier and Champlain bridges, and we own 50% of the Mercier Bridge, with the other half belonging to the Government of Quebec.
At the same time, we are carrying out another project—the Windsor-Detroit bridge. That bridge will also have a toll. As in the greater Montreal region, the users will have to pay to use the new bridge. We think that is necessary. We also have to work on reducing the costs for Canadian taxpayers, who will pay for part of the bridge through the application of the user-pay principle. The Prime Minister reiterated this on Friday.
As for the ARUP firm, I must first point out that the contract was awarded to it by Public Works and Government Services Canada because the firm was already working on the business plan of the project for the new bridge on the St. Lawrence. You talked about studies on tolls. I am talking about ARUP because I want to discuss the business plan. The next important stage for us in the new bridge on the St. Lawrence file is receiving the business plan, which will lay out various toll scenarios. That means that 13 different architecture scenarios for the bridge will have been analyzed. Once we receive the business plan, the studies on tolls will be analyzed, and we will be able to decide how to work going forward.
The ARUP firm, which has been hired, is a partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is developing the business plan. The firm has been working on this file with PricewaterhouseCoopers from the beginning. It was also involved in Quebec's Highway 30 project, which was a success and cost over $1 billion. People are claiming that ARUP was hired without any experience. However, the firm did work on a road project worth over $1 billion. This is a company with a strong international reputation for its work on bridges around the world. It is incorrect to say that the firm is not familiar with bridges.
Mr. Chair, thank you very much for inviting me today to meet with you and your committee members. I'm looking forward to your counsel and support as committee members as I deliver my duties in my new portfolio.
It is the first time that I am before you as the Minister of Transport today. I'm really happy to be here to speak to our department's supplementary estimates (B). We are seeking $12.9 million in new funding for Transport Canada. My officials and I will be happy to go into detail on that matter later, explaining the reasons for this request and outlining how the tax dollars will be put to work for the benefit of Canadians.
But while I've come to talk about budget matters, my real mission today is to reinforce the necessity of and my personal commitment to, and of course our government's unwavering commitment to, safe transportation in the country. A good example of our commitment to this is Bill C-3, which is called the Safeguarding Canada's Seas and Skies Act, tabled in Parliament last month as part of our government's comprehensive measures to establish a world-class tanker safety system here in Canada. As a trading nation, Mr. Chair, Canada depends heavily on marine shipping for economic growth, for jobs and long-term prosperity. The safe navigation of oil tankers is a critical element in our efforts to increase trade, because that generates jobs and that generates growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians. The Safeguarding Canada's Seas and Skies Act reinforces this commitment to protecting Canada's coast and shores by ensuring the safe and reliable transport of Canada's natural resources. Bill C-3 amends existing acts and introduces one new piece of legislation.
The proposed amendments to the Marine Liability Act will actually help fill a critical gap in the current liability and compensation regime. They would implement into Canadian law a new international convention that covers incidents involving the release of hazardous and noxious substances from ships. This can include substances like chemicals, refined oil products, liquefied natural gas—those things that are carried in bulk or in containers in the marine transport system. The convention would make shipowners strictly liable for damages, including any impacts of pollution incidents, and would create a new international compensation fund. The total compensation would be up to approximately $400 million for any single incident. Canada has actually been instrumental in the development of this convention at the International Maritime Organization.
Related changes to the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, would strengthen the current requirements for spill prevention and preparedness at oil handling facilities. They would also increase Transport Canada's oversight and enforcement capacity, as well as enhance Canada's response to oil spill incidents. Among other things, the changes would extend the use of administrative monetary penalties for pollution prevention and response. This is an additional enforcement and compliance tool that actually allows marine inspectors, who are the ones on the front lines, to issue fines in cases where the Canada Shipping Act is violated.
Mr. Chair, I can assure you that safe navigation of oil tankers is our priority. Preventing spills through strict regulation and enforcement and being prepared for spills will ensure that we are on the right path. We've implemented new safety measures for pipelines and tankers and tough new rules to punish polluters. I would remind committee members that last March our government announced that we are boosting the number of inspections of all foreign tankers. We're increasing the funding for the national aerial surveillance program to keep a watchful eye on tankers moving through Canadian waters. We've also expanded scientific research on non-conventional petroleum products. We've also ensured that a system of aids to navigation be installed and maintained. These are buoys, lights, markers—devices that actually warn of obstructions and mark the location of the preferred shipping routes.
Additionally, Mr. Chair, our government announced the creation of a tanker safety expert panel to review Canada's current tanker safety system. The panel met with more than 70 stakeholders to discuss tanker safety, and I thank the committee for all its work. Pursuant to its mandate, which was announced in March, I have received the report as of November 15 and officials are reviewing it. When the report has been translated into both official languages, we will release it publicly.
Since I became minister in July, I have personally met with first nations and municipalities as well to discuss our government's actions on tanker safety.
If you take all of these together, with meetings and measures we will help to make oil tanker passage safe, environmentally responsible, and, more importantly, world class.
Mr. Chair, if I may, the other issue I want to touch on before taking questions from the committee is the action we've taken on the transportation of dangerous goods and rail safety. We're going to take a similar approach to that of world-class tanker safety initiatives on the marine side, developing and focusing on prevention, response, and liability. As the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic and other recent derailments have made clear, there is no higher priority than ensuring the safety of Canadian citizens, and that's a responsibility I know we in this room all take very seriously.
In the immediate aftermath of Lac-Mégantic, I issued an emergency directive to railway companies under the Railway Safety Act, with six mandatory actions. More importantly, we also issued a ministerial order obligating rail companies to develop rules that comply with these requirements on a permanent basis. As well, I directed Transport Canada officials to accelerate the development and implementation of regulations that reflect our recent amendments to the Railway Safety Act. But, Mr. Chair, we're not stopping there. We recognize and we know that the growth in the volume of dangerous goods moving by rail across the country shows that it's imperative that we strengthen the safety culture in Canada's rail transportation system. And that's what we pledged to do in the Speech from the Throne. We're going to wait for the results of the investigation into Lac-Mégantic and the other incidents, but we are taking targeted action to further increase the safety of the transportation of dangerous goods.
In October I announced a protective direction requiring parties importing crude oil or offering it for transport to have conducted, or have to conduct, classification testing of crude oil. They need to make these test results available to Transport Canada upon request, and they have to update their safety data sheets and immediately provide them to the department's Canadian Transport Emergency Centre.
The Speech from the Throne also signalled that we will require shippers and railway companies to carry additional insurance. As efforts to clean up and rebuild Lac-Mégantic demonstrate, railway companies and shippers have to be capable of bearing the costs of their accidents. This is why the government will require shippers and railways to carry sufficient insurance so they can be held accountable.
Last month I met with the Advisory Council on Railway Safety to underscore the importance of industry and government working together to ensure a safe rail transportation system. In a few days I'll also be meeting with the Transportation of Dangerous Goods General Policy Advisory Council, seeking its input into actions that we can take to improve public safety when dangerous goods are being transported.
As I heard at the September meeting of the Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation, municipal and provincial governments are calling for even stronger rail safety measures. They also want improved information sharing with communities and local first responders, and we're examining whether additional steps can be taken to address their concerns right now.
But today, Mr. Chairman, I am turning to your committee and I'm looking for help. I'm hoping I can count on this committee to undertake a safety review of Canada's transportation system. I'm most interested in the transportation of dangerous goods, or TDG for short, in all major parts of Canada's transportation system. It doesn't matter whether commodities are being moved on the ground, in the air, or on the high seas; we want to make sure that these things are moved safely.
I welcome the advice of your members about what more we should be doing, whether issuing regular progress reports on our targeted actions, strengthening regulations, or imposing stricter penalties for failure to meet high safety standards. Specifically, I'm seeking answers to the following question: what additional measures could be taken to strengthen the transportation of dangerous goods safety across all modes of transportation?
Mr. Chair, I'd also welcome your committee's advice regarding stronger safety management systems across all transportation modes. Our government is committed to safe and secure transportation, and a safe and secure transportation system is vital to the well-being of our citizens. It's equally essential to ensuring the success and continued growth of these crucial sectors of the Canadian economy.
Over the past decade, Transport Canada has introduced safety management systems precisely to advance these goals. I would like your members to examine the progress being made by answering the following questions: What is the current state of SMS implementation in all modes of transportation? Has the implementation of SMS improved the safety of our transportation regime? As well, what additional measures could be taken to increase the adoption and improve the integration of SMS in air, marine, and rail transportation?
I do recommend that to answer these questions fully you meet with industry and government stakeholders to get their perspectives and their advice. I encourage you to look at all sides of the issue and to reassure Canadians that their health and safety is of utmost importance.
I would hope that your study could provide an interim report to me by the summer of 2014.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, each of these targeted actions, coupled with the legislative improvements I have highlighted, demonstrate that our government recognizes the importance of a safe and a responsible transportation system. We know that it's crucial to the welfare of citizens and communities across the country and to Canada's economic well-being, and we're committed to ensuring that all responsible parties understand and abide by their responsibilities for the transportation of dangerous goods at every step in the process, from origin to destination and every point in between.
The areas I've outlined today underscore our government's commitment to protecting the public while supporting long-term economic growth, jobs, and prosperity. They also reinforce the necessity of adequate funding to advance this ambitious agenda, the topic of today's discussions.
I welcome your questions or comments about any aspect of my presentation. Thank you very much for your attention.
Those are two separate questions.
On the DOT-111 tank cars, as you're probably aware, the Association of American Railroads made a recommendation last week to the American regulators with respect to how they think we could move forward with respect to the DOT-111s, both in the case of not only retrofitting but what they think the specs should be.
In September I met with Secretary Foxx, who is the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. We spoke on the phone in July. We know this is a North American issue, so we have to work with our official counterparts in the United States, and we'll continue to do so. The AAR took a step last week with their letter and their proposal. This is the first step, but it's not in isolation; the railways don't own these tank cars, the shippers own them, and that's why we're also meeting with those involved in the chemical industry, for example, and those who are involved in the transport of oil.
There is no question that we need to make sure we take a serious look at these issues of the DOT-111 tank cars. We've already indicated as well that going forward from 2012 we would have the new design of the DOT-111 tank cars here in Canada. That's being implemented, and the new cars that roll off are doing so in that sense.
But there are 70,000 cars in North America and the majority of them are American. You have to work with counterparts in the United States because it's an integrated North American market. We'll continue to do so, and we'll continue to make sure we get to the right place.
With respect to the other issue on positive traction, the Via Rail incident in Burlington, in the GTA...one of the recommendations from the Transportation Safety Board was that we take a look at a physical restraint system. I wrote back to the Transportation Safety Board in September of this year that we would have a study group under the advisory council take a look at the issue, working with industry, the unions, and people who understand the issues, and report back to me by April 30, 2014, with their recommendations to deal with this.
Again, the Transportation Safety Board is looking for action, and we are certainly sending the message that we anticipate we'll hear recommendations and comments from this committee. I expect they'll be reporting to me on April 30 next year.
Thank you, Minister, for being here.
Minister, I want to make a few comments and get your reaction, if I might.
As I understand it, in the last fiscal year, 2012-13, your department spent approximately $34 million on rail safety. I think the number was $34.25 million.
There are conflicting views as to whether or not Transport Canada is spending all of its allocated resources actually on rail safety, but I wanted to raise this on behalf of all Canadians in the wake of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy and what are clearly now massive increases in the transportation of fossil fuels by rail. There are longer and longer trains carrying more and more material combined with heavier and heavier cargo. There are no signs of this slowing down. We know for a fact, Minister, that even if all current pipeline projects are approved in Canada, in 10 years from now national oil production will exceed pipeline capacity by one million barrels a day. There's going to be a lot of pressure on the rail system to carry more and more oil, if indeed we see a doubling of the exploitation of the Alberta oil sands. This is further compounded by the Bakken field in North Dakota, where the only way to get that oil out economically is by rail.
I want to review a few things with you.
First of all, we also know from the public accounts that marine safety has been cut by 25%, from 2011-12 to 2012-13, and road safety has been cut 5.5% over the same years. Aviation safety has been cut 11% over the same years. I think we've seen a very small increase in rail safety funding over those same two fiscal years, but just to put that in context, given the risks inherent in what we're seeing in rail safety in this sector, your government spends more money every year on economic action plan advertising than it does on rail safety. Your government is now averaging $40 million a year on economic action plan—let's be honest—propaganda ads.
Mr. Chair, for gosh sake, the government has even gone as far as to shrink-wrap GO Transit trains in downtown Toronto with EAP shrink-wrapped plastic for advertising. It's never been seen before; we're even advertising skills training programs, Mr. Chair, that don't exist.
I just want to ask, on behalf of Canadians, how is it possible that we've seen cuts in marine, road, and aviation safety, and very small increases in funding for rail safety, but your government has found $670 million for advertising since it arrived seven years ago, including $120 million on economic action plan advertising?
Minister, can you help us explain this to Canadians?
Thank you very much for that.
In the days post-Lac-Mégantic, after our visit, I can tell you that I did meet with the mayors in the area. I'm glad you brought it up, because the resilience of the communities.... Although they definitely felt what the effect was, they knew that they still wanted to have rail service through their communities; they wanted it to be as safe as possible.
The deputy and I, with officials, went to Montreal. We met with the mayors in the surrounding areas to hear from them.
That dialogue is extremely important. It's more than just talk. It's about getting on the table the real issues of the people. One issue we heard was their concern about knowing what's going through their communities. That indeed has been brought up a lot. We've been working with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' working group and we've been working with rail, with CN and CP, to get to an agreement for the parties in terms of what kind of disclosure will happen between the company and the municipality so that the first responders, so that the fire department, can have the information in a timely fashion and we don't have difficulties.
I anticipate and I fully expect that these two parties will have an agreement with respect to what makes sense in terms of information sharing. I hope we'll be able to talk about that in the coming days.
First and foremost, in terms of vision, you don't want this to happen again. You want to do everything you can as a government, and I think as a Parliament, to ensure that we have the many steps in place to make sure that we prevent this from happening.
There's another thing to note from Mégantic. It was an incredible loss of life, and it was also an economic loss to the community because of what happened with the devastation of the business community, but it was also an environmental loss. One of the realizations was the fact that the railway company did not carry sufficient insurance to cover off the liabilities.
That's why in the Speech from the Throne...and why I said in my speech earlier as well that we're going to require shippers and railways to carry additional insurance. First and foremost, you don't want an accident to happen, but if something, God forbid, does happen, you want to make sure there's enough accountability there for it.
That's in a broad sense, I guess, the best way to put the big issues.