Mr. Speaker, I pleased to stand today in support of Bill C-3, the international bridges and tunnels act. This is a very important bill. I think the very fact that it has not been brought into effect until this time, especially after 9/11, speaks volumes to the negligence of the previous government.
It fills a long-standing gap in our legislation and finally gives Canadians the ability to protect critical infrastructure, to protect our international bridges and our tunnels. What could be more important than protecting our citizens, the safety of our citizens, the safety of Canadians, the safety of our economy through trade, to protect our friends and relatives traveling to work, live and play every day?
This bill will create Canadian jobs. It will grow Canada's economy and strengthen our international relationships, especially and of course those with the United States. Most important, as I said, this bill will safeguard Canadians and Canadian interests.
Canada's border with the United States is some 6,400 kilometres of land and water. It is the longest undefended and unguarded border in the world. Unfortunately, this border is only as secure as its most unsafe and weakest part. There are 24 vehicle bridges and tunnels, 5 railroad bridges and tunnels and also 130 border crossings. All of these are very difficult to protect.
Over $1.9 billion worth of goods is transported across the border each and every day. This means that 11 million trucks cross the border every year. That means 30,000 trucks a day or one truck every three seconds. In fact, since I stood up, over 100 trucks and $5 million in products have crossed the border. It is incredible.
In fact, the four busiest international bridges alone handle over 50% of this volume. This represents 33% of all of Canada's trade with the United States. These are very important crossings, and we need to protect them not only for the safety of citizens but for our trade. Let us face it, before September 11, 2001, we took these bridges and tunnels for granted. They are both publicly and privately owned, and no one really expected security on this border to be such a critical issue, especially in catching people, and also critical to our economy. Now we understand how critical these bridges and tunnels are to our economy. We need to protect those assets. We need to keep traffic flowing, as it is so vital to our economy.
As government and as members of Parliament, we have an obligation to ensure that our citizens and those assets are protected. This legislation will indeed protect them. It will go toward ensuring that we have an interrupted flow of goods and people across the border. It will ensure that the manner in which these bridges and tunnels are managed and maintained keeps security and safety as job number one for the government. Finally, as I have said, it will protect our national interests on an ongoing basis.
After 9/11 we recognized the need to conduct threat and risk assessments and to improve the overall security of our perimeter all over the country. After 9/11, Transport Canada launched a process in cooperation with the Bridge and Tunnel Operators Association. Their study proved that we need to conduct security reviews and threat and risk assessments for all of our international crossings. The results and recommendations of this study include everything from specific engineering analysis to general operational security analysis.
One of the reasons this legislation is so important is that currently each bridge is owned, operated and managed differently. Some are privately owned. Some are federally controlled. Indeed, some are controlled by provinces and states jointly or by each independently. All of these parties currently have different regulations, rules and standards and, quite frankly, different expectations of what they want out of the bridge or international tunnel. This legislation will create one standard for all bridge and tunnel crossings, a standard that is in the best interests of Canadians and guarantees the safety of Canadians on an ongoing basis.
Job number one for the government is to keep Canadians safe. Canada does and always has had constitutional authority over international bridges and tunnels, surprising as it may be. We may ask why this particular legislation has taken so long to come in, especially after 9/11. It is shocking that nothing has been done but under the vision of the Prime Minister and the Conservative government, this is one of the first pieces of legislation that we have put forward because of its importance to Canadians. What could be more important to Canada than our safety and our economy?
The legislation would work toward the security, the safety and the economy of all of our border crossings. Even U.S. agencies have identified these crossings as potential targets for terrorists. They have even identified them as choke points. They have said that the terrorists' objectives could decimate these crossings and our economy and our safety.
The bill would give the governor in council the authority to make regulations for the safety and the security of international bridges and tunnels. For example, this may include setting the minimum security standards for bridge and tunnel operators. It may include provisions to prepare and submit regular threat assessments and vulnerability assessments for particular bridges or for all of them. It may include the development and implementation of an emergency response. We do not even have an emergency response system set up to know what we will do in cases of dire emergencies in this country for international crossings.
The very lack of this legislation currently being alive in this country was a glaring and obvious gap. I cannot believe that for five years, since 9/11, the previous Liberal government could not find the initiative and motive to protect Canadians and to push this legislation through. It is a priority and we will work toward getting this through with the other parties. The safety and security of Canadians is a real priority. We know the Prime Minister and the government will work with the United States and Mexico to set up systems to protect our critical transportation infrastructure, which is so important for us as a trading nation.
The government will be working on a transportation security action plan. The government will get expert analyses from governments, industry and international partners on how to keep Canadians safe. As I said, that is the government's number one priority and we will work toward that.
The bill is a first step only. It would give the federal government the ability to keep our international bridges and tunnels secure. We believe that nothing could be more important than this bill and we are asking for all party support on getting the bill passed as quickly as possible. I fully support the bill and I urge my colleagues on all sides of the House today to join me in keeping Canadians safe and secure.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to rise to speak to Bill . Since it incorporates part of Bill C-44, which the Bloc Québécois supported, we must support this bill, but with certain reservations, as 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.
The provisions of this new bill are almost identical to those of the defunct Bill C-44, which was tabled by the former government and died on the order paper when the election was called. That bill,, was tabled in the House of Commons on March 24, 2005 by the former Minister of Transport. Bill C-44 was itself similar in many respects to the previous Bill C-26, which bore the same title and was tabled in the House of Commons on February 23, 2003. Those two bills each died on the order paper upon the prorogation of Parliament. As you can see, the Parliament of Canada needs a lot of time to get its bills passed.
What affects us in Quebec most closely in this bill is a provision concerning the international bridges and tunnels that cross the St. Lawrence River. This provision corrects a legislative anomaly in the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which requires that a permit be issued for all work that has repercussions on navigable waters but which does not authorize the issuing of permits with regard to the St. Lawrence River. That anomaly had become evident during review of the proposed highway 30 bridges crossing the St. Lawrence Seaway. Those bridges have yet to be built, as you know, and these projects have been making very slow progress for many years.
In his speech last Friday, the minister said that any new crossing over the St. Lawrence would be subject to federal approval. I would like to know to what extent that sort of approach has the approval of the Quebec government, as it is likely to infringe upon its fields of jurisdiction.
Although the bill fills a legal void in the area of international bridges and tunnels, is designed to improve the safety of the infrastructures in that area, and has the consent of local stakeholders, we still have certain reservations. In the context of the regulation of international bridges and tunnels, the bill gives us the impression that the government is being conferred some very extensive, quasi-police powers, for example, a power to investigate without a warrant and a very authoritarian power of seizure.
The government has the power to legislate, but the financial responsibility rests on other shoulders. The Bloc Québécois believes this situation can lead to conflicts. What disappoints us the most is that a number of important measures that were in Bill C-44 were dropped from the current bill. It is important to point that out because we were told that this bill included the measures already outlined in Bill C-44, but only a small number of them are left.
Some parts of Bill C-44 were very important for the Bloc Québécois and for now they are being dropped. I am talking about the requirement that airline advertising be more transparent. The former bill would have required airlines to change their advertising methods. They would have been required to list the total price of the flight including related fees. This measure was much demanded by the consumer associations.
The bill would have improved the conflict resolution process for sharing the rail lines between passenger transportation companies and freight companies.
Bill C-44 included a section under which a railway company wishing to sell a rail line would first offer it to any interested urban transit authorities before offering it to municipal governments. A number of residents in my riding and in other regions of Quebec are concerned about this issue. Bill C-44 promoted setting up commuter trains across the country.
Our constituents are increasingly aware of the importance of developing public transit as a solution to traffic congestion problems and greenhouse gas emissions.
The bill also included a provision on Via Rail. It gave Via Rail more power to make its own decisions with a view to improving the rail service. Rail transit is a good alternative to road transportation, which currently is about the only option.
Clause 32 of Bill C-44 gave the Canadian Transportation Agency the power to investigate complaints concerning noise caused by trains. It required railways to implement certain measures to prevent unnecessary noise, particularly at rail yards. The noise issue is causing a lot of controversy in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.
According to the British North America Act of 1867, the responsibility for international bridges and tunnels falls exclusively within federal jurisdiction. But in most cases, the Canadian portion of these structures is owned by the provinces. We must ensure that the regulatory and financial application of this act is negotiated and occurs in collaboration with the provinces.
In his speech last Friday, 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 did the minister mean by adding the word “appropriate”? I believe the minister was implying that jurisdiction over the environment is shared between federal and provincial governments, and that he does not necessarily have the final say in the matter.
I again ask the minister if he held negotiations with the Government of Quebec concerning sharing jurisdictions. Given its declaration of good will toward Quebec, it would be desirable for the new government to demonstrate its good intentions with respect to Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois will support the second reading of the bill, despite the fact that it only partially resolves the many transportation problems that still exist in Quebec and Canada.
Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have risen in this Parliament to deliver a speech. I made a statement previously, but since my time was limited then, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your very important role in the 39th Parliament.
I also take this opportunity to thank the constituents of Sarnia—Lambton who made it possible for me to be a member of this august body. Their support and faith in me is gratifying and extremely humbling. I will certainly do my utmost to represent all constituents in my riding.
I give a special thanks to my family, who has always supported me 100%: my husband, Bill, our son, my mom and my sisters and brothers. None of us get here on our own, and I am pleased to be able to acknowledge all those who helped and supported in so many ways.
I am pleased today to add my full support to the international bridges and tunnels act, not only because I feel it will be an important piece of legislation, but because one of Canada's most important international crossings, the Blue Water Bridge, is located in my riding. For those who have not had the opportunity to visit the village of Point Edward, which is surrounded on three sides by the city of Sarnia, Ontario, and on the fourth side by the St. Clair River, let me say a bit about the Blue Water Bridge.
The crossing is a major traffic and economic link between Ontario and Michigan, and serves as a critical component in our trade corridor linking Canada, the United States and Mexico. The bridges connect Highway 402 in Ontario to Interstates 94 and 69 in Michigan, which provides southerly access to Detroit, Indianapolis, St. Louis and the entire gulf coast, extending down through Florida to New Orleans and Mexico.
To better handle the volume of traffic, the Blue Water Bridge was twinned in 1997 with the addition of a second span. We now have the distinction of having the only twin international bridge crossing in Canada. My riding is also home to an international rail tunnel and an international ferry crossing.
The Blue Water Bridge currently ranks as the fourth busiest Canada-U.S. border crossing. In 2005, 5.5 million vehicles crossed the Blue Water Bridge. It is the second busiest crossing for the number of commercial vehicle crossings. Approximately 5,000 commercial vehicles cross the bridge daily. On busy days, this count exceeds 7,500 trucks. In 2005, 3.7 million commercial vehicles crossed the bridge, carrying Canadian exports south and bringing foreign products to Canadians. The bridge handles 12% of Canada's total trade with the United States and is the fastest growing truck crossing on the Canada-U.S. border. It is interesting to note that the Blue Water Bridge is the busiest live animal port of entry on the Canadian border. This critical piece of our transportation infrastructure is essential to maintaining our current economic stature.
We have heard that special acts of Parliament created most of our international bridges and tunnels quite some time ago. This is the situation with the Blue Water Bridge. An act to incorporate the St. Clair Transit Company was passed by Parliament on June 11, 1928, and authorized the construction, operation and maintenance of an international bridge. There were subsequent acts and amendments related to the bridge passed in 1930, 1934, 1940, 1964, 1970, 1972, 1979, 1981, 1988 and 2001.
It would seem to me that this practice of continually debating and passing special acts of Parliament is an ineffectual way for the federal government to exercise its jurisdiction over international bridges and tunnels. I therefore support the approach taken by Bill C-3 of having governor in council consider and approve aspects related to these crossings, rather than take valuable House time for the same purpose.
I gave the House some statistics relating to commercial crossings at the Blue Water Bridge. This international crossing is also very important for the tourism industry. In 2005 there were 1.8 million passenger vehicles that crossed the Blue Water Bridge. Obviously this link is vitally important to this sector of our economy as well.
The international bridges and tunnels bill contains provisions to ensure that these facilities are safe and secure. The Blue Water Bridge Authority takes safety and security very seriously. Following the tragic events of September 11, 2001 the authority was very proactive and on its own undertook a security threat assessment. It was one of the first international bridges to implement increased security measures. It has also been very cooperative in sharing its lessons learned with its sister members of the Bridge and Tunnel Operators Association. There is no doubt in my mind that the Blue Water Bridge continues to be actively concerned with safety and security measures and will continue to be vigilant in carrying out its responsibilities.
Many security improvements have been implemented over the past three years. One of the objectives is to further develop and maintain policies and procedures for emergency response, threat assessment and disaster recovery. Three security assessments have been completed and all high priority recommendations have been implemented. The bridge is also a member of the Chemical Valley Emergency Coordinating Organization.
I am concerned, however, that not all international bridges and crossings might be taking security as seriously as does the Blue Water Bridge Authority. It is for this reason that I support the provisions in Bill C-3 that would permit the federal government to pass regulations concerning safety and security measures. What good would it do Canada if not every bridge or tunnel took security as seriously as the Blue Water Bridge? A terrorist would simply target the weakest facility. That is why we need to establish a minimum level of security that every bridge would need to respect. A bridge or tunnel could exceed this standard, but at least there would be a minimum standard which all bridges would be required to attain.
The Blue Water Bridge has been able to strike a healthy balance between traffic efficiency and security. Security and medical alerts, customs contract negotiations and a general lack of capacity on the American plaza during peak traffic demand has at times created traffic congestion in Canada. With the introduction of NEXUS and the FAST program, some of this volume pressure has been relieved. The bridge authority has taken a lead role in coordinating a focus group including the Ontario Provincial Police, the Sarnia Police Service, the Ontario Trucking Association and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation to implement short and long term solutions to traffic matters. The authority's master plan will reduce the potential for congestion and accidents in the long term while short term solutions such as reducing speed limits, better signage and increased police presence have had positive results.
In December 2004 the U.S. and Canadian governments consulted border operators on how to improve transit times for cars and trucks by 25% by the end of 2005. This challenge was directed at easing border congestion. The Blue Water Bridge quickly completed and implemented a traffic management system which achieved the 25% improvement for traffic coming into Canada.
Considering the importance of international bridges and tunnels to Canadian trade and tourism, it is remarkable that no law has ever been adopted that uniformly applies to all international bridges and tunnels and sets out the manner in which the federal government can exercise its jurisdiction with respect to these structures. Bill C-3 would rectify this vacuum in federal legislation.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak today to Bill C-3, a significant bill relating to bridges and tunnels that connect our country with the United States. Bill C-3 is actually a part of a former bill, Bill C-44, which was a package of three other elements that have been left behind at the moment to deal with this significant and important issue. I give the government credit for doing so. It is important that we recognize that this bill has a high priority.
I would like to note that I will be splitting my time with the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, who is also affected by this issue. Windsor West, Windsor—Tecumseh and Essex County have significant border infrastructure issues that have affected not only our community but the county and even the country.
In fact, 40% of the trade with the United States happens along two kilometres of the Detroit River on a daily basis. There are four border crossings in the Windsor West corridor that are involved in the transport of goods, services and people on a regular basis. They have significant impacts not only on the health and vibrancy of the constituents in my riding but also on this country's ability to trade with the United States.
I am pleased that there are many elements in this bill coming forward. It will be important to add some accountability at the border that is not there at this point in time. In fact, there are 24 international bridges and tunnels that connect the United States and Canada. There is really just organized chaos in terms of the way they are actually run and administered right now. A few have some very good best practices. I would point to Niagara Falls and the Fort Erie-Buffalo region that have border commissions and actually have oversight, operation and public ownership, which is critical to the oversight and governance.
Members of the public who are watching this debate today and others across Canada may not realize how at risk we are in terms of the corridor in my riding and the influence of 40% plus of trade that is done on a daily basis. In the Windsor-Detroit corridor there are currently four different border crossings and there is no oversight whatsoever. There is a complete void in the aspects of safety, security, best practices, and has actually put the community at risk.
Currently, a fifth border crossing is under examination. The first of the four others is an international tunnel owned by the city of Detroit and the city of Windsor. The city of Detroit has decided on a long term lease on its side of the tunnel. The city of Windsor actually owns and operates the tunnel after it was in the private sector for so many years. It was rundown and the municipality had to fight to get it back.
Since that time, we have kept fares low, put investment back into public infrastructure and increased the safety aspect of it which we did not have previous knowledge of because it was once again private infrastructure. Without Bill C-3, there are very little safety regulations, inspections, and empowerment from the federal government to look after those jurisdictional items that are so important to infrastructure.
The Ambassador Bridge is the second crossing. In terms of transport trucks and cars, this is the busiest bridge in North America and processes the most trucks in the world on a regular basis. Almost 40,000 vehicles traverse the corridor. The vast majority, I think 34%, use the Ambassador Bridge.
In that capacity, a private American citizen actually owns the Ambassador Bridge. The most important infrastructure, which is 75 years plus, is owned by a private American, and has the highest fares in the region by far and the least amount of accountability because there are no laws of governance. Lastly, I would argue, it has caused considerable grief in the community because of a lack of planning and oversight, not only in terms of the operation of the site itself but also the previous government not increasing trade corridor expansion.
The third is a rail tunnel operated by CP Rail. This is a significantly old infrastructure. I believe it is close to 100 years old. It has two rail tubes. There is a proposal for regeneration, which is beneficial for the rail aspect, but at the same time there is a private proponent that is looking to expand border capacity called the DRTP, which is the city is universally opposed to.
The fourth and last is a ferry operator that transports hazardous waste materials. I am going to use that as an example of the lack of oversight we have in terms of the border and more importantly some of the things that have been happening that this legislation is going to address.
One of them is in regard to a newspaper article. I have asked for an investigation from the government. I have yet to receive a response from the minister's office. The office called back asking for a second copy of the letter I sent but it has not actually dealt with it yet. It is a very serious issue. It is about chemicals and hazardous materials that are crossing the Ambassador Bridge and that is not supposed to be happening.
The Ambassador Bridge goes across the Detroit River which is connected to the Great Lakes ecosystem. From the legislation on the United States side, which is different from the Canadian side, certain chemical materials are not supposed to be traversing over the Ambassador Bridge. They are supposed to go to a ferry operator operated by Gregg Ward, which is down river by about two kilometres. His company has received grants and awards from the Homeland Security Department because of the types of operations it has on site to ensure the goods and materials cross safely.
There has been a public spat between the Ambassador Bridge and some of its operators. The headline of a Windsor Star article reads: “Bridge OKs risky cargo: Letter of permission given to chemical company”. The article then states:
|| The Ambassador Bridge is telling its toll collectors to wave through trucks carrying hazardous cargo in violation of a U.S. ban, according to a document obtained by The Star.
It goes on to say:
|| Bridge spokesman Skip McMahon claimed last week he was unaware of any such shipments.
|| But a representative of another firm, Harold Marcus Ltd., a Bothwell-based transportation company, said it uses the crossing almost daily to import alum.
|| The representative said the company did so with the bridge's blessing and said other companies are also granted permission to haul hazardous cargo across the bridge. The Windsor West MP is calling on the federal Public Safety Minister to investigate the reports.
We are yet to hear about that. That is on a daily basis. We know that there is no accountability on this aspect of the file and we have to sit and wait.
This has significant implications because if there were a spill or accident, there would be very little that could be done. That is why we agree that Bill C-3 must have some regulations and oversight to ensure that federal officials can examine and do best practices. Not only could an accident just happen but we do not have the capacity to respond to it. We know our fire department has very limited operations in terms of going onto the Ambassador Bridge and the hazardous material would then go into the Detroit River and contaminate it.
It is also not reducing some of the chemical exposures that we have through our corridor. This is why Bill C-3 is very important. It is one of the elements that we believe should go forward.
I would also like to note some of the failings in Bill C-3. We are concerned right now that the ministerial powers on connecting infrastructure seem to be very dominant in the bill. That is one of the things that we would like to examine, ways that we can actually have some type of involvement from a municipal aspect, so the infrastructure relationship in the corridor can be softened.
I know that in my municipality of Windsor West there may be an imposed solution in terms of connecting the Ambassador Bridge to the 401 because ironically it was a provincial Conservative government and a Liberal federal government that ended construction of the 401 in a farmer's field because they were fighting. It is about eight miles short of the Ambassador Bridge crossing, so we actually have the 401 in the busiest part of this corridor stop in a farmer's field and then it connects to a city linking road because those two governments could not get along. As a result of that we still have backups. There are a number of different problems related to schools, churches, businesses and institutions that have built up along there. They will need compensation if there is going to be any type of shift in the type of landscape.
In summary, we support the bill as an important step forward. There are many aspects that I would like to get into but I cannot. I wanted to highlight the need of this to the general public of Canada. There is such a significant degree of infrastructure problems in Windsor West. There are risks associated as well with having a private infrastructure connecting Canada and the United States as a business conduit as opposed to what it should be, and that is a social, economic conduit between our two countries.
Instead of raking in profits between these two transportation link elements, we should have a high degree of accountability, security and scrutiny with the lowest cost possible for the free flow of goods, services and people. That can only be done with public infrastructure oversight. The government is tabling a piece of legislation that will have some benefits. We are cautious on a few elements and we are looking forward to working on those in committee.
Mr. Speaker, this is the first opportunity I have had to give a speech since the 39th Parliament started, although I have been up on my feet on a few other occasions. I want to acknowledge and thank the constituents of Windsor--Tecumseh for their support. It is extremely humbling. I pledge to them, as I have each time, to do my very best to represent them here in Ottawa.
The bill is one that is way overdue. It is interesting to hear the Liberal side taking credit for this, but the reality is that we did not get the bill from them. We did not get the provisions of the bill that have been badly needed in my community, in the city of Windsor and the county of Essex, for a very long period of time. This became extremely accentuated after 9/11. When 9/11 occurred, we sat for the first 24 to 36 hours with literally kilometres of delays at our borders. Part of this was that we did not have a legislative infrastructure. The federal government could have moved much more effectively had it had that legislative infrastructure to control the problems that we were confronted with on that occasion.
That has now been repeated over the last four to four and a half years, repeatedly, and it is a problem that our city and our province of Ontario are suffering from, but so is the federal government in terms of tax revenue, efficient administration of our border crossings and our relationship at the international level with the United States.
The provisions in the bill are fairly general. It will be attempting to provide a legislative framework and then follow that with what I hope and expect, for my riding and my constituents, will be a very detailed regulatory body of rules that will in effect allow for an efficient, proper administration at our border crossings.
We in our city and county have the distinction of having more trade and more passengers, both vehicular and rail, than any other place in the country. We are the key crossing, as the House heard earlier from the member for Windsor West. Almost 40% of all the trade between Canada and the United States occurs in one of those four crossings in the Windsor area, through rail, ferry, the tunnel for passenger cars and some trucks, and the bridge.
As most members of the House know, at least the members who were here in the last Parliament, we have been struggling for a good number of years to reach a final consensus on a new crossing, on where it should be located, how it will be funded and how it will be owned and managed. This bill would have helped significantly had it been law, with the regulations along with it, to expedite that process.
It is actually interesting to watch on the U.S. side how on several occasions their authorities, both at the state level and the federal level, were able to intervene and speed up the process. We did not have the ability to do that. At the federal level well over 10 years ago, if not closer to 20, the U.S. changed its legislative framework to make it possible to effectively and efficiently deal with border crossing issues. This legislation would accomplish that assuming the regulatory framework is put in place.
It will deal, as the encompassing legislation allows for, with the regulation with regard to the management and operation of crossings and the roads and streets running up to those crossings, which is a fairly important feature in the bill because it is not a provision within our existing law at all. What is also very important is that it will, for the first time, significantly control the ownership and change in ownership of border crossings.
We have a major problem in our area in that the Ambassador Bridge, which is by far the single busiest crossing in this country, is owned by an American business person who runs it obviously in his interest and not in the interest of the communities on either side of the border. That is a major problem. The ownership issue is going to be very crucial as we reach the final decisions on how this new crossing is owned and managed.
I have had a fair amount of involvement on the whole issue of public security, which is one of my critic responsibilities for my party, and I just want to point out a number of incidents we have had happen that, again, a proper regulatory function would assist us with.
We have a major air quality problem, particularly at the Ambassador Bridge but also at the tunnel, because of the number of vehicles that are crossing in a confined space, oftentimes with significant delays. We know that the health of the people who work at those structures is being imperilled, as is the health of the people who live in the immediate areas.
There is a major problem at our border crossings with illegal trafficking in weapons, drugs and humans. I know, from having had extensive discussions with police forces on both sides of the border, that we need to significantly augment our coordination and cooperation. They attempt to do it and I want to give them credit for that, but an overall streamlined framework on the Canadian side would significantly improve our ability to deal with those problems.
Quite frankly, we have problems with protocols. We have had two really quite significant incidents of police forces on the U.S. side crossing over without permission. On one occasion it was a chase through the tunnel that occurred in the downtown core of both Detroit and Windsor. They were coming across with guns in hand and apprehending alleged drug dealers on the Canadian side. It was done in the presence of a large number of regular passengers moving through that tunnel, and staff were present with no protection. This is a clear breach of the protocol. We think we have now cleared up the problem, but we cannot help but think that if we had had the proper regulatory framework it would not have happened in the first place.
There was another incident with a police officer who realized at the last minute that he was carrying his gun. He attempted to take it out as he was coming across the bridge and, I suppose, hide it somewhere in the vehicle, and he shot himself in the foot. That occurred as he was in the line approaching customs. His gun very easily could have discharged and injured other people. Again, the ability to regulate and to some degree publicize in the United States the need for them to keep their guns on that side of the border could be, I believe, much more efficiently handled with the type of regulatory framework that I envision coming out of this legislation.
The House has already heard of the problem that we are having with hazardous materials. We know, and I say this with some degree of confidence, that hazardous materials are being taken across the bridge. That is illegal. Hazardous materials are supposed to cross on the barge ferry. It is not happening and we do not have the ability to enforce this. Again, it is because of the lack of coordination and the streamlining that is required, which should come out of this legislation.
All of this is a major concern for us in the Windsor-Essex County area.
The NDP is in support of this legislation. We do have some concerns, some of which will be fine-tuning of the legislation. The one major concern we do have is the ministerial discretion that is encompassed in part of the legislation. I can advise the government that our members at committee will be pressing hard to tighten up how that discretion can be exercised, so that the concerns of the local community will continue to be protected. We are hearing quite clearly from the local community members that it is a concern on their part.
Mr. Speaker, I take this opportunity to thank my constituents for showing their faith in re-electing me as their member of Parliament. Your riding is very close to mine. The good people of Stormont--Dundas--South Glengarry chose to re-elect me to be their Conservative member of Parliament, and I cannot say how proud I am.
As I was driving to the Hill this morning, I heard the results a poll, which involved about 4,000 people, to assess how well the government of the day and the Prime Minister were doing after 100 days in office. It gave me a great amount of pride when the results showed that 92% of the respondents felt the Prime Minister was doing an incredibly good job and only 8% felt he was not. To get re-elected and to form a government that gets those kinds of results after 100 days, I can only thank the constituents of Stormont--Dundas--South Glengarry. They made the right choice in choosing a Conservative government and, hopefully, we will earn their respect and their loyalty.
Addressing Bill C-3, I add my support to the international bridges and tunnels act. It is obvious to me that this bill will fill a void that currently exists with respect to how the federal government can exercise its jurisdiction over international crossings.
The Seaway International Bridge, which is in my riding, is the most easterly of the 14 international bridge and tunnel crossings between Ontario and the United States. The closest border crossing is the Ogdensburg-Prescott bridge, which is located 70 kilometres to the west.
Spanning the St. Lawrence River from Cornwall to the Mohawk territory of Akwesasne, and on to Roosevelt, New York, the Seaway International Bridge is a series of two high-level structures and a connecting roadway that opened to traffic in 1962. I am very proud to tell the House that as a young student, I worked on the construction of this bridge for summer employment and I did have a little part in the construction of that wonderful structure.
The bridge has served us very well for 44 years. We have crossed that bridge many times, with Canadians going to the United States and to Akwesasne, the Akwesasne natives coming to Canada or the United States and the Americans visiting Canada. It has allowed us to build relationships. That is what bridges do, do they not? They build relationships between two diverse countries and two diverse cultures.
I am particularly proud to give a personal example of one of those relationships. I have the honour of being the chair of the Cornwall Canada Day committee. On July 1, when we celebrate Canada's birthday, we have a huge fireworks display. We cooperate with the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne to have the fireworks displayed on Cornwall Island so all residents of Cornwall can see the them over the water.
That does two things. It allows the residents of Akwesasne to enjoy the fireworks along with our American neighbours as well as the Canadians. We are celebrating Canada's birthday, and three cultures are involved in the celebration. It gives me great pride to be part of that process. That is a result of the relationship we have been able to build because of the Seaway International Bridge.
Over 2.5 million vehicles cross the bridge each year. A lot of it is truck traffic, making it one of the most important trade links between Canada and the United States. The Seaway International Bridge carries 49% of the total traffic across the St. Lawrence River between Ontario and New York, but only 18% of the truck traffic. The other two St. Lawrence River crossings, the Thousand Islands Bridge carries 67% while the Ogdensburg-Prescott Bridge only carries 14% of the trucks crossing the river.
The international bridge is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Federal Bridge Corporation Limited, a federal crown corporation, listed in schedule III, part I of the Financial Administration Act. As a crown corporation subsidiary, it reports directly to Parliament via the Federal Bridge Corporation Limited. On an annual basis, we receive a summary of its corporate plan and its annual report. We therefore have the ability to review these documents and ensure ourselves that the bridge is safe, secure and operated in a manner to ensure the efficient flow of traffic and of trade.
In addition, the Treasury Board receives and approves the corporation's business plan. It is in the context of these approval mechanisms that the federal government can draw on its legal authority regarding the Seaway International Bridge. The situation is the same with the Blue Water Bridge, which is also a crown corporation.
The rest of our international bridges and tunnels are owned and operated in a variety of other manners, provincially owned and operated, municipally owned and operated or privately owned and operated like the Ambassador Bridge and the Fort Frances-International Falls bridge. The same level of transparency is not available at these crossings.
Bill C-3 would provide the federal government with much of the information we already get from the Seaway and Blue Water Bridges and from the non-crown corporation international bridges and tunnels. Bill C-3 would ensure that not only would we be kept current with respect to the safety and security conditions of these facilities, but also we would have the ability to intervene should a bridge or tunnel not adhere to current standards.
Speaking of safety, the House may be interested to know that the environmental assessment for the replacement of the north channel span of the Seaway International Bridge is nearing completion. This bridge span was constructed in 1959 and connects Cornwall and Cornwall Island. The bridge was constructed as a high-level crossing over the north channel of the St. Lawrence River and the old Cornwall canal to accommodate a plan for an all Canadian seaway that unfortunately was never built. On May 5, 2000, the Government of Canada announced that there was no longer a requirement to maintain an option for an all Canadian seaway.
The St. Lawrence Seaway Authority spends considerable amounts annually on bridge maintenance, and costs will increase significantly over the coming years. Considerable sums will have to be invested to replace the bridge deck and to repaint the structure.
Preliminary studies have indicated that the costs of replacing the deck and painting the structure will be higher than the cost of building a new, lower bridge.
Following the May 5, 2000, announcement, the option of replacing the high bridge, which is quite costly, with a lower bridge at less cost is more viable.
Over the years this bridge has experienced extensive and advancing deterioration of the concrete bridge deck and widespread deterioration of the structural steel coating. The bridge deck curb-to-curb distance does not meet the current standards and the current bridge railings are not likely to meet current crash test requirements and are deficient in height. For these reasons, the Seaway International Bridge Corporation has decided to build a new low-level bridge and tear down the existing high-level one. The residents of Cornwall, Akwesasne and New York State are anxiously anticipating the structure of the new low-level bridge.
The federal environmental assessment for this initiative was undertaken in full cooperation with our neighbours of Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and a harmonized environmental assessment report was produced. Since members of the Akwesasne community are the major users of the crossing and the bridge touches down on Akwesasne, it was imperative to take their concerns into consideration. The new bridge will significantly reduce trip times between Cornwall and Akwesasne and offer new opportunities for vehicular, cyclist and pedestrian movements and will potentially result in increased business on both Cornwall Island and in the city of Cornwall. We are looking forward to that enhanced economic activity.
Negotiations have been ongoing between the corporation, Transport Canada and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne to arrive at a consensus on the design, the work schedule, contracting arrangements and other details to ensure a smooth atmosphere during and after construction.
I have spoken about the Seaway International Bridge which is located in my riding, but I would like to add a few comments on the Ogdensburg-Prescott bridge and the Thousand Islands Bridge, both of which are located close by in the riding of Leeds—Grenville.
The Ogdensburg-Prescott bridge is the only international bridge between Canada and the United States that is completely owned and operated by a U.S. public benefit corporation. All seven members of the board of directors are appointed by the governor of New York State. Ownership of the bridge will revert to the Canadian federal government and the State of New York when the construction debt has been paid off. However, there is no deadline for this payoff and estimates have placed it far into the future.
I am told the bridge is well managed. However, without the powers that will be granted it with the passage of Bill C-3, the federal government has very little information on the operation of this bridge.
Public Works and Government Services Canada receives inspection reports on the safety and security of the bridge, but the federal government has very little authority over it.
The Thousand Islands Bridge, which is located in Leeds—Grenville, was opened in 1938 by former Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The bridge is operated under an agreement between the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, a U.S. authority, and the Federal Bridge Corporation Limited, a federal crown corporation. This arrangement has proven to be an effective model of true partnership between Canada and the United States of America.
All three of the bridges across the St. Lawrence River are currently well managed and well operated. With the passage of Bill C-3, Parliament can rest assured that this situation will continue and that the Canadian people can feel completely safe and secure as they cross these structures, and that the goods and services that cross these bridges every day will continue uninterrupted.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address the subject of Bill C-3. At first glance, this bill seems to stir up passions in this House. We are on our third bill and already we get the feeling that the pressure is starting to rise seriously.
This is also an opportunity for me to mention that today, May 1, is International Workers’ Day. I wish all workers a happy May Day.
This is also an opportunity to point out that this , addresses a regulatory vacuum concerning the bridges and tunnels linking Canada to the U.S.
There are 24 international road bridges and tunnels. Of these 24 bridges, 14 are located in Ontario, nine are located in New Brunswick, and one is located in Quebec. I will come back to this one, since this bridge, the Glen Sutton bridge, is in poor condition. There are also five railway bridges and tunnels in Ontario, and only five of these bridges belong to the federal government. We must recall, on this May 1, that all these infrastructures were made possible thanks to the contributions of our workers. Unfortunately, many of them lost their lives on the job. Last week we had a day to remember all those who have been victims of work accidents. Once again, a happy May Day to everyone!
Back to Bill C-3. We know (several of my colleagues have already mentioned it) that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill, in principle. As I indicated earlier, there was actually a regulatory vacuum concerning international bridges and tunnels. We also know that, since September 11, there has been concern about the security of these structures, which play a strategic role in trade between Canada, Quebec and the U.S. So we cannot be opposed to a bill that aims to improve the security of these infrastructures.
By the way, I wish to underscore something. As I mentioned, these infrastructures are obviously extremely important for trade and the circulation of people between Canada, Quebec and the United States. Eighty per cent of our exports go to the U.S., a good part of which, or perhaps even all, transit through these important structures.
According to the Department of Transport, local stakeholders are mainly in favour of the provisions of this bill. This remains to be verified, however, and I am counting a lot on the assistance of my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel to confirm this opinion from the Department of Transport among those concerned. We have heard that the Government of Quebec has some misgivings. By the time this is discussed in committee, I am sure that my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel will have consulted local stakeholders, if he has not already done so, to make sure that the bill addresses most of their concerns.
Such are the essential points and the most positive points of Bill C-3. Some points, however, seem, questionable or outright negative.
The first thing is found in clause 39, for example. I seems to us that the federal government is being given virtual police powers in relation to regulating international bridges and tunnels: for example, the very authoritarian power to investigate without warrant and power of seizure. We will have to be shown what purpose these exceptional powers of investigation and powers of seizure serve.
I would note that the federal government gives itself powers to legislate, but the financial responsibility is placed on other shoulders. In the case of the Sutton bridge, for example, the municipality is responsible for a large portion of the maintenance of the bridge. It is always easy for the federal government to set the bar very high when it comes to some of the rules relating to the safety and security of these bridges and tunnels.
This is somewhat related to the commitment made by the Prime Minister. This power to legislate should therefore be better circumscribed, so that we can be sure that if the federal government makes decisions resulting in costs that go beyond day-to-day infrastructure maintenance operations, it will contribute to those costs.
This again reminds me of the Canada Health Act. For several years, the government patted itself on the back about the criteria set out in the Canada Health Act and threatened the provinces, which in its opinion were in violation of those five criteria—I believe that was it. However, in 1993-94, the federal government started making unilateral cuts to its transfers, which were significantly reduced. Everyone seems to agree on the fiscal imbalance. The idea is even catching on among the Liberals.
So on the one hand, we have some lovely requirements in the bill to enable the federal government to make this its trademark, to make it a component of its visibility strategy, and on the other hand we have the provinces, the municipalities or both, absorbing all of the costs of these lovely and very generous speeches. I am very concerned.
Obviously, you will tell me that at the end of their reign the federal Liberals reinvested in transfers to the provinces. I would note that Quebec is still missing $5.5 billion. Once again, I appeal to the Minister of Finance. I hope that he will begin to provide us with some solutions in his speech tomorrow. It is quite clear that this cannot be fixed in a single day or a single speech. As we know on this side, the problem is profound. However, we have to hope that tomorrow’s speech will contain some elements of a solution to the fiscal imbalance.
Even if transfers to Quebec were restored to their level before the Liberals’ unilateral cuts, to 1993-94 levels, there would still be $5.5 billion missing, as I said. Thus it would not completely solve the problem of the fiscal imbalance. According to the Conference Board, $3.9 billion would still be needed in order to truly restore the balance between the revenue available to Quebec and the revenue it needs to meet its responsibilities.
You will therefore understand that seeing provisions of this nature in a bill relating to bridges and tunnels is a matter of great concern to us.
The member for Repentigny pointed out quite rightly that some items from Bill C-44 are missing from Bill C-3, for example, more transparent advertising of the sale of airline tickets. We know very well in this House what a difference there is between the advertised price of plane tickets and what they actually cost in the end. A number of somewhat random items are added with the result that the price is always substantially higher or even doubled. So it is a question of transparency. All the consumers’ associations have been asking for this for a long time. What explanation can there be that these provisions, which seemed very good to us, have simply been changed, forgotten, or deleted in Bill C-3?
As I just mentioned, I think that in the work done in committee, my colleague for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel will have an opportunity to reintroduce these points.
Another point in Bill C-44 seemed very good to us. That is the mechanism for resolving disputes over the sharing of rail lines between passenger carriers and freight carriers. As my colleagues and I have mentioned, railway transportation looks very attractive insofar as the objectives of the Kyoto protocol are concerned. It is an environmentally friendly method of transportation. However, the rails need to be available to carry passengers.
I am not an expert. Still, until shown proof to the contrary, I have the impression that priority is always given to freight trains and this hardly encourages people to take the train when travelling among major centres in Quebec and Canada. My colleague for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel can probably give me an answer after I have spoken. In view of all this, such arbitration will be very important over the next few years.
The member for Repentigny picked up on a certain aspect of the issue. I am returning to it as well because we are both from the Lanaudière region. If a train goes through Repentigny and Mascouche, the chances are very good that it will go to Joliette eventually. I will support him therefore, as well as Ms. Deschamps and all the people who are trying to get this commuter train.
In addition, when a railway company decides not to use certain lines any more, we must ensure that they are not automatically torn up. Rail lines that have been abandoned and torn up in the past could have helped meet our current need for commuter trains.
Bill C-44 provided that the local administrations would be offered an opportunity to buy the rail lines before they were torn up. We should draw an important lesson from the lack of foresight shown in regard to our entire road infrastructure. For a long time people said that there was no future in rail and we should rely on roads and trucks. Now the Americans have rediscovered rail, and in a few years, Canadians will rediscover it as well. We have already started to understand the importance of rail for transportation around big cities such as Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Quebec.
However, there has been an enormous lack of foresight, of clear-sightedness. So we must avoid committing the mistakes of the past over again. Bill C-44 contained a provision in this regard. It also provided for a new VIA Rail Act which would have given that corporation more autonomy in making its own decisions on improving rail transportation. As I was saying, this is one of the solutions that would allow us to meet our Kyoto protocol targets.
I want to mention one final negative element. Clause 32 of Bill C-44 granted the Canadian Transportation Agency the power to examine complaints of unreasonable noise caused by trains, so as to oblige railway companies to find the best possible solutions to this pollution. This is not greenhouse gas emissions, but it is extremely annoying pollution all the same.
I myself have been in contact with VIA Rail regarding a poorly set railway track. Unfortunately, the track was located a few feet from a seniors’ residence. Seniors sleep light. So we filed a complaint. Fortunately, a VIA Rail official, Mr. Daniel Lacoste, was extremely attentive, and I would like to thank him for that. He is a resident of Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, in the lovely riding of Joliette. Things were resolved because all of us acted with good will.
Unfortunately that is not always the case. Sometimes the problem does not originate only in the marshalling yards. I am very familiar with the problem at the Outremont yard. As I was saying, tracks are sometimes poorly set, and that causes noise. It is a problem which can easily be corrected with proper welding.
That is the review I wished to offer of Bill C-3. It is a first step toward filling a legal void, something which can only be our common desire. All the same, it is not enough. Clearly there are corrections to it that we will have to make.
I would like to return to the questions concerning the most important clauses of this bill. Clause 2 defines the terms of the bill. This is its definition of an international bridge or tunnel: “a bridge or tunnel, or any part of it, that connects any place in Canada to any place outside Canada, and includes the approaches and facilities related to the bridge or tunnel”. As I was saying earlier, most of these infrastructures are not the property of the federal government. So far as I know, even though the bridges and tunnels lie within exclusive federal jurisdiction, relatively few of them are owned by the federal government. As I said when I began, I have counted five of these. So it will be extremely important to clarify the powers of the federal government in this regard.
Clause 6 states that “no person shall construct or alter an international bridge or tunnel” without the government’s approval. That is self-evident.
But, as I said, who will pay when the federal government has requirements that go beyond the proposals made by those responsible for maintaining these structures?
According to clause 4(4), “approval may be given...to the site or plans of an international bridge over the St. Lawrence River”. We have a great deal of concern about this. We do not know whether there are any projects in the works. In my opinion, this will have to be much clearer. There is certainly a need for such a structure, but it is still surprising to see a clause reserved for something that is to come, a project that, to my knowledge, does not even exist yet.
According to clauses 14, 15 and 16, the government may make regulations respecting the maintenance and repair, operation and use, and security and safety of international bridges and tunnels. This takes us back to the comment I made about clause 6. It is all well and good to talk in broad terms and have high standards, but who is going to pay for these infrastructures? Perhaps the Minister of Finance will announce a new infrastructure program in his budget tomorrow, with a specific component on international bridges and tunnels. In any event, I am convinced that that would reassure a lot of people.
According to clause 17, “the Minister” of Transport “may make directions” if “the Minister is of the opinion that there is an immediate threat to the security or safety of any international bridge or tunnel”. Logically, everyone should agree with this, but once again, who will pay the costs associated with these directions made by the federal government?
According to clause 23, “the approval of the Governor in Council” is required for any change of ownership, operator or control of an international bridge or tunnel. This goes without saying, although it reminds me of a debate we had about satellites that take pictures. In the case of the Telesat remote sensing satellite, if I recall correctly, the Bloc Québécois had a great deal of difficulty understanding how the Canadian Space Agency could give up ownership when the taxpayers of Canada and Quebec had paid for all the research. It likely would have been simpler to keep ownership of the satellite.
In the Telesat bill, whose number I have forgotten, there was no provision for a company that might become a foreign company. So, when the Canadian Space Agency transferred or gave the satellite to this company, for a few months, the company in question belonged to some Americans. It would have been pretty extraordinary if a technology developed with income tax and taxes paid by all Canadians and Quebeckers had been given to a foreign company. We were assured that all sorts of provisions of the act prevented that. Nevertheless I prefer an explicit mention, as in Bill C-3, because of significant strategic elements pertaining to both security and international trade.
According to clause 29, it is possible to create a crown corporation to administer a bridge or a tunnel. This is credible, to my mind. If we have a new structure on the St. Lawrence River, it seems to me that this should be public property. So clause 29 provides for this possibility.
I said earlier that clause 39, whereby the government is given very extensive police powers, such as searches without a warrant and a very authoritarian power of seizure. It seems to us that there are some things to be corrected in this area.
I wanted to end quite simply by pointing out the state of the Glen Sutton bridge, the only one in Quebec linking Quebec, which is still politically part of Canada, to the U.S. It is a metal bridge built about 1929. It will probably go from being a strategic axis of communication to being a museum artifact, where finally people will go to see it. It is relatively long, covering 50 metres. It spans a gorge. It is a magnificent sight. It is also used by trucks. According to our information, it is in a fairly pitiful state. I mentioned, though, that ownership of the bridge is shared between the state of Vermont and the municipality of Sutton. If there are, in connection with Bill C-3, instructions from the federal government with a view to improving safety and security, who will actually pay?
Will the municipality of Sutton be asked to pay these costs? It seems to me that this would be irresponsible. I hope that, when Bill C-3 goes to committee, an infrastructure fund will be created that is dedicated specifically to international bridges and tunnels.
Mr. Speaker, as this is my first opportunity to speak in the 39th Parliament, I want to thank all of my constituents who have sent me here for five terms.
I also want to reiterate the fact that the best part of this job is probably back in the riding when we get to meet all of the volunteers and get back with family and so on. Mr. Speaker, you I am sure well know what I am talking about.
This past weekend was a good example of what it is like. I got off the plane on Friday and helped a group raise over $96,000 for Kids for Cancer. That evening I attended a Striving for Excellence banquet at which 178 public school system kids received awards for excellence. We heard a speech from a 13 year old girl who has been blind for the last nine years. She told us how she strives for excellence and hopes to get to the Paralympics in horse riding and in a number of other sports. It makes one feel pretty good coming back here knowing what the great volunteers in the area are doing.
On Saturday night I attended a homebuilders banquet. I would like on the record the fact that my constituency is booming. A fly-by-night operator came into our town and built 11 homes that had faulty foundations and no kitchen doors. All of the builders in our community banded together and announced at the banquet that they would be repairing the homes of those 11 people who were unfortunate enough to have been taken for a ride by a bad contractor.
That is my constituency and those are the kinds of volunteers we have. I thank my family and my constituents for sending me here.
I come from central Alberta and we are a long way from any international bridge or tunnel. I could suggest the number of bridges and tunnels, which might help us out, but I do not think we could quite get to the U.S. border. It is important that we talk about how vital bridges and tunnels and the flow of traffic from north to south really is. We have to remember that 80% of our jobs and well over $1.5 billion cross the border and whatever we can do to make that border safe and secure and function better is important to all of us. My riding has seven world scale petrochemical plants and a great deal of their material goes across the border. Many of the jobs and much of the activity that is going on is because of the effective way we handle this.
I also want to bring to the House's attention the fact that when we talk to truckers and various other groups that have come to Ottawa they tell us that one of the most serious issues is infrastructure, how it is deteriorating and how its management is sometimes in question. We have heard about this in some of the other speeches today. I remember one trucker saying that they were driving over bridges that have the year 1938 or 1955 stamped on the concrete. Little has been done since then to make sure that vital means of transportation is upgraded.
We have a lot to do. For 13 years we have heard a lot of talk but seen little action. Two bills have come before this bill but none got through and none of them actually cleared up the problem. We now have a bill that I believe will do that. Our plan is to institute this, get it done and get on with the job. We do not need to have 100 priorities. We have these priorities and let us get them through.
It is my pleasure to talk about Bill C-3, the international bridges and tunnels act. As many of my colleagues have mentioned in the past, many of these bridges and tunnels came into existence with the creation of special acts of Parliament. These acts served to create the company that would ultimately own the bridge or tunnel and be responsible for its construction, set out the company's share capital and other corporate information, and would establish the company's various powers, including borrowing powers and the right to charge tolls.
More important, these special acts set terms and conditions for the construction of the bridge or tunnel, such as the location, the approval of plans and specifications, the time period within which the bridge or tunnel was to be constructed, and finally, how the company could deal with the bridge or tunnel once it was constructed. Federal government approval was therefore given via these special acts.
Government approval for construction of new international bridges or tunnels is therefore not a new concept. The approval process proposed by the new bill will, however, relieve the need to enact a special act of Parliament each time a new bridge or tunnel is constructed.
I have not been here for as many years as you have, Mr. Speaker, but obviously if we had to bring about a special act every time we wanted to do something you know how that could get bogged down. We know how the lobbyists work in this place and just how difficult it is to get any action sometimes. This act would end that problem.
Keeping in mind that these are international bridges and tunnels and that our jurisdiction over these bridges and tunnels ends at the Canadian border, it is interesting to note how our American counterparts deal with the approval of the construction of new international bridges or tunnels on their territory. Since 1968, persons in the United States wishing to build a new international bridge that connects with Canada must first seek permission from the president. This permission is given in the form of a presidential permit, which must be applied for to the Department of State.
In this application, applicants must provide the following information, among other matters: information regarding the proposed bridge, including location, design, proposed construction methods, the safety standards to be applied, copies of the engineering drawings, and the construction schedule; details of any similar facilities in the surrounding area; and traffic information, including projections of international traffic volume and the effect the proposed bridge would have on the traffic volumes of other nearby bridges.
During the election campaign, I was in the riding of Essex working with our member there. I went into Windsor as well. I know that the hon. members from Windsor have been talking about this in committees and in this House for a very long time. They have talked about the great difficulties. There are four bridges there, four crossings, a railway tunnel, and obviously the talk has been going on as long as I have been here, and maybe a lot longer, about the difficulties in that Windsor-Detroit corridor, about how things get slowed down and how ineffective it is. We have all seen television pictures of the long traffic jams. It is to be hoped, and obviously as this goes to committee I am sure it would be made clear, that this kind of problem will be dealt with, that we will get on with it instead of talking about how we are going to solve that problem.
How the project is going to be financed also is very important, including what the toll structure will be. Those are the kinds of things that the public has the right to have discussed and openly talked about.
Also, there is how the proposed construction would impact the environment, including copies of environmental assessments or reports. Members know of my interest in environment. I think it is very easy to make this process go a lot faster. The cooperation among municipalities, provinces and the federal government, where one study in fact accomplishes all of the environmental impact studies, just goes so far.
In my over 30 years of being involved in environmental areas, so often I have seen the turf wars among the three levels of government certainly take a project to the point where, if it is not scuttled, it becomes uneconomic, and the players leave and go on to somewhere else. That should not be the way it is. There is one environment. It does not matter what levels of government are involved; they should cooperatively do the environmental assessment and in fact get on with the project. This should not be used as a delaying tactic. They should be using what is best for the environment and for the people of that area.
In the United States, details of other permits and approvals must be obtained from other U.S. agencies. Again, I would add that sometimes, with their turf wars, those agencies can in fact slow things down a lot too. We really have to start working as a House to get more cooperation in this kind of thing. Hopefully this bill will accomplish that.
The applicant in the U.S. also of course has to work closely with the Canadian government and vice versa. I think it is very important that the relationship between the U.S. and Canada, which is now finally moving forward, will make those negotiations much easier and will allow us to get on with the building of these bridges and tunnels. In fact, I think that cooperative approach I mentioned between provinces and municipalities can be extended to our U.S. counterparts. In the process, the state department, after all its consultation and, certainly from our perspective, our consultation, then moves on to get consultants and look at the best routes and locations. All of that, of course, should be in the public domain.
As mentioned, the new bill would allow the government to establish similar Canadian guidelines so that information is provided when the government is seeking approval for the construction of a new international bridge or tunnel. There is no need to keep reinventing the wheel, as we so often do. Obviously a lot can be learned from other projects and proposals in moving this whole thing forward.
Having said all of this, I note that our guidelines will specifically take into account what is in the best interest of Canadians when it comes to international bridges and tunnels. The approval process, including the information that the applicant will have to provide, will be tailored to respond to Canada's national objectives and this government's priorities to secure our border while at the same time encouraging international trade through the efficient flow of goods and traffic via these borders.
I fully support the bill. I think it clarifies a lot. I look forward to it going on to committee and to speeding up the process of the three bridges that are being proposed now, one in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, one in Fort Erie, Ontario, and one in Windsor, Ontario, as mentioned earlier. I think it will be good to have the oversight of the federal government and to get on with the project, in cooperation with the others.
Mr. Speaker, I believe the hon. member for Red Deer is uniquely qualified to talk about gas.
Returning to my riding, it became poignantly clear that Canadians were hearing much of the disparaging and demeaning attacks on the previous government. Canadians know of the tremendous record of achievement in the G-7 and all of the other things, but I am going to use my time to talk about the actual act before us.
By way of background, my riding is composed of 27 communities, 16 municipalities and 11 first nations. It is a seven and a half hour drive covering two time zones. In the issue at hand, we are talking about a bridge between International Falls, Minnesota and Fort Frances, Ontario. We want to make this act work, not only for Fort Frances, from which this bridge connects to an area larger than many countries in the world in addition to the other two border crossings at Pigeon River and Rainy River. If we use this time wisely, I believe we can come up with some legislation that is effective and productive for all those concerned.
Right now many of us are deeply concerned about the passport issue and security itself and how it relates to these border crossings and tunnels. For my area in particular, commercial traffic and the vitality of the forest industry are of prime concern.
As we know, the tourist trade in Canada has been diminishing. We have to do everything possible to make it easier for tourists to be attracted to Ontario in particular, Canada in general and northwestern Ontario specifically, which depends very highly on the Midwest of the United States.
The concerns of the communities in the Rainy River district are very much justified as to who controls and owns this bridge. Recently private holdings have put this bridge up for proposal and offered it for sale, after many decades of being in private hands. This bill gives one of the first opportunities to investigate public ownership in this case specifically. We have the support of the municipalities on both sides of the border and the councils of which have passed resolutions encouraging the governments of Minnesota, Ontario, Canada and the United States to adopt some form of public ownership. This is the first opportunity, and the bill is timely in allowing us to come forward with this.
When we think about what we can do on a national basis, this is a step by step process in which we can reclaim jurisdictional, operational and physical control of these facilities. Many may ask why the government would want to incur another expense or more ownership and maintenance issues, but this should be viewed as an opportunity. I will get into that in a few moments.
MPs and interest groups representing the council and business interests of Fort Frances have attempted to have meetings with the minister. As of yet, they have not taken place. I hope that a plea in the House for some personal attention to this matter will fall upon the right ears.
The bill should accommodate such situations about which we have talked. Funding for borders in terms of purchasing and restoring Canadian control would be a wise move. Tomorrow's budget should accommodate this and any future opportunities. I believe this is a chance for us to regain some of the composure in our national security issues.
Having done a considerable amount of research of the bridge crossings of Canada, it is interesting to see the many variations of theme, how many different combinations of ownership exist from public, private, provincial, independent or national. When we look at one bridge in isolation, it will take some meshing over a long period of time. I am well aware of that and I trust that the public service is also aware of it. When we ask for one-time funding or to make a special case, I understand the difficulty of this because of the precedents that it will set.
However, we should all take some consolation in knowing that this is a way to make things better. A national strategy or a national policy on access to our best neighbours, trading partners and friends should clear up uncertainty and turn it into an opportunity. As a case in point, the tolls at Fort Frances are among the highest in the country. Although there are packet rates for people who work or have frequent business across both sides of the border, it still can be viewed as a deterrent. Any chance to lower those would be an encouragement of trade and tourism. Those are the types of issues we would look at if the government would take this step.
As I alluded to earlier, Northwestern Ontario is extremely concerned about the rollover on the passport issue. Unanimously, people are very upset about the acquiescence to President Bush on this. Many individuals and organizations such as the Northwestern Ontario Tourist Association, led by Jerry Fisher, the Northwestern Ontario Association of Chambers of Commerce and the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association were making significant progress in gaining allies in the United States, particularly American legislators who also understood the detrimental impact of destroying two-way traffic.
The town of Fort Francis came up with a great idea to have a conference of border communities. Leadership from coast to coast could get together and impress upon their respective governments the need to deal with this issue. The potential for extra parliamentary support could have turned this issue around. Rolling over to President Bush was a much too rapid and vapid turnaround.
The concerns of infrastructure in general and the draining off of infrastructure support through other funding has also been discussed in this debate. I hope that will not be the case, and I wanted to go on record on that. I believe this would be something the bill could accommodate, separate from existing community infrastructure and planned border infrastructure funding. We want to ensure that the funding is focused, not defused, and that it gets the attention it deserves. The community movement in the Rainy River district has said that it has witnessed this over years. It sees this as an opportunity in terms of economic development.
I believe the bill can accommodate such proposals, which I believe the minister will soon acknowledge. I am not saying he has not yet, but these are probably on his desk and he is looking at them. I would think we should view these as opportunities, as chances for regions of the country to benefit. This area extends from the Manitoba border to Lake Superior. We are talking about the entire northern section of Minnesota. Not many people can say their riding covers one whole state. I am pleased to say I do.
When we look at these access points, in particular the opportunity for the town of Fort Frances and the entire region, which goes up to James Bay and Hudson's Bay, we can look at something that will do a tremendous amount of good. I am asking the government to consider this in the bill and I will be making presentations to committee as it comes forward.