Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for the invitation to meet with your committee today to provide an update on the transport, infrastructure, and communities portfolio and to speak to our supplementary estimates.
I'm pleased to be joined by my colleague the Honourable Steven Fletcher.
I am also pleased to introduce Louis Lévesque, the new Deputy Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Also joining us are Anita Biguzs, Associate Deputy Minister for Transport Canada, and Marie Lemay, Associate Deputy Minister for Infrastructure Canada.
I will first address our priorities in transportation and infrastructure, and then Minister Fletcher will speak to two crown corporations in our portfolio.
This has been a busy year for transportation issues and related legislation. I look forward to continuing our work to support Canada's transportation system to ensure our economic prosperity. Transportation is critical to economic growth, job creation, and Canada's competitiveness in the world. The funding we seek through the supplementary estimates will help to achieve those goals.
As you know, the government places great importance on the role that trade plays in fuelling our economy, creating jobs and improving our quality of life. Transportation, in turn, helps to drive trade and requires coordination between many players across all modes so that supply chains can move goods efficiently, safely and securely.
This is why we developed Canada's gateway and trade corridor approach, which established the Asia-Pacific, Continental and Atlantic Gateways as a way to ensure our competitiveness and future prosperity.
A key principle of this approach was partnership. It required that the federal government work with other government and private sector partners to develop projects that would strengthen both our transportation systems and Canada's international trade links.
Supporting our trade and gateway agenda involves many initiatives. One is the need to build bridges, quite literally, to improve our transportation corridors. Accordingly, since 2009, the federal government has invested nearly $380 million to maintain the safety and the structures of the existing Champlain Bridge corridor.
In October 2011, I announced the construction of a new bridge for the St. Lawrence in Montreal to replace the Champlain Bridge. Developing a new crossing in this corridor remains a priority for our government. Not only are these structures vital transportation links for people and goods in the region, but they also provide a valuable trade corridor that is responsible for some $20 billion worth of commerce.
The environmental assessment for the project was launched last January and will be completed by 2014. While the current structures continue to be safe, we are taking action to ensure they remain in safe operating condition. We will continue to work with key stakeholders throughout the duration of this project.
Another project that will greatly contribute to Canada's competitiveness and long-term prosperity is the Detroit River international crossing, which is the new bridge between Windsor and Detroit. This new publicly owned bridge is critical to the economic security of both Canada and the United States. Let me make a few points to put this in better context.
The vast majority of our trade crosses the border by truck, much of it at Windsor-Detroit. With more than 8,000 trucks a day,
—again, that's 8,000 trucks per day—,
it is the busiest Canada-U.S. border crossing. To give you an example, Chrysler alone makes 1,200 crossings a day. In 2011, Canada-U.S. trade reached $689 billion.
This project will advance Canada's economic action plan and will provide much-needed border crossing capacity to handle the anticipated growth in commercial and traveller traffic for many years to come. Not only will it create 10,000 to 15,000 construction jobs in Michigan and Ontario, it will also generate new trade-related jobs and investment opportunities along the Quebec City and Windsor corridor. This, in turn, will make the North American manufacturing sector even more competitive.
Understandably, then, a new bridge is a very high priority for shippers and manufacturers. To expedite construction, we have introduced the Bridge to Strengthen Trade Act to ensure the successful and timely construction of this bridge. Canada will recoup this investment over time from toll revenues; the same in Montreal.
The Windsor-Detroit crossing is only one of many initiatives Transport Canada has pursued with the United States, in support of the economic action plan.
Our two countries also cooperate closely in the marine mode. This past September, we announced that we would join the United States Coast Guard in a new pilot project to inspect vessels in the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway. These inspections will focus on improving vessel safety, security and pollution prevention.
In addition, we are aligning Canadian and American regulatory requirements more closely under the Regulatory Cooperation Council. This will make the system more efficient while also reducing impediments to trade for Canadian and American businesses, while also increasing marine safety and security.
Mr. Chair, the Government of Canada is also committed to ensuring that our rail system continues to be safe and secure for Canadians.
I am proud to note that, on May 17, 2012, Bill S-4, the , received royal assent. Bill S-4 significantly modernizes the current Railway Safety Act, in order to reflect changes in the industry and to strengthen Transport Canada's oversight and enforcement capacity in Canada.
According to the transport safety board, train accidents have decreased by 23%, and passenger train accidents have decreased by 19%, since we launched the Railway Safety Act review in 2007.
On the topic of rail transport, Mr. Chair, I shall note that we are also taking steps to make the rail-freight supply chain more efficient and reliable. Earlier this year, we completed a facilitation process with shippers and railways to develop a template service agreement and a dispute resolution process. This past June we released the facilitator's final report of his findings. The process will provide useful tools for both shippers and railways to use in their commercial negotiations.
I remain firmly committed to tabling legislation this fall to amend the Canada Transportation Act, and our government is committed. These amendments will give shippers the right to service agreements with the railways. They will also provide a process to establish such agreements should commercial negotiations fail.
Mr. Chair, from rail safety and efficiency, I now turn to other actions taken by the Government of Canada to maintain an efficient and safe transportation system.
The purpose of the Navigable Waters Protection Act is to balance the efficient movement of marine traffic with the need to construct works that might interfere with navigation.
This has been the case for more than 130 years and will not change. However, over time, the scope and application of this law has expanded to the point where it now applies to brooks, streams
and culverts. These are very, very small waterways.
The time spent on navigation assessments for works that have little or no impact on navigation has created huge backlogs for important projects, such as bridges and other works that might interfere with navigation.
In fact, 80 separate navigation assessments were done for ducks on a single lake near Edmonton. These applications took as long as a year and a half to approve, even though each one was essentially the same. It was a waste of time and tax dollars. That is why we're essentially proposing amendments aimed at refocusing the act on its original intent to protect navigation while supporting economic development.
These proposed amendments introduce a streamlined approach to balance the need to ensure safe and efficient navigation with the need to construct projects that support economic growth.
They also focus on the regulating works of the busiest waterways and relying on common law to protect navigation in other navigable waters.
And I would like to add that all environmental protection processes will continue to be enforced. Nothing in this Act in any way compromises either federal or provincial environmental laws. This includes the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012.
Mr. Chair, investing in Canada's infrastructure is a key element of the Government of Canada's plan to create jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity for Canadians.
Our government is strengthening the economy by investing in infrastructure projects that help to support both trade and the safe, secure, and efficient movement of goods and people while sustaining our environment.
These investments involve partnerships. So, over the past year, we have worked with provinces, territories, municipalities and other stakeholders to develop a new long-term plan for public infrastructure.
During the summer, we held 14 round tables across the country, meeting with more than 200 stakeholders. They reinforced both the need for strong and sustained federal support for infrastructure and the practice of building partnerships to develop these projects.
We will take this input into consideration and, looking ahead, will establish a new long-term infrastructure plan to build on our successes and contribute to provide lasting benefits for Canadians. This plan will help to leverage new investments in infrastructure, while continuing to respect the capacity of Canadian taxpayers.
Mr. Chair, I am proud of the government's actions to strengthen Canada's transportation systems, support our commitment to trade and fuel the future prosperity of our country.
I can speak for hours about what we have done, Mr. Chair, with all this marvellous team behind me.
A voice: Please do.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Hon. Denis Lebel: But I'm pretty sure you have a lot of questions to ask us.
That concludes my remarks. I will now invite Minister Fletcher to speak to you on two of our portfolio's crown corporations.
Thank you very much.
I'll start by saying that everything the minister said is absolutely correct.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Hon. Steven Fletcher: I am pleased to be here today.
Our government is obviously committed to making sure that Canadians have security and safety when they travel and to helping Canadian businesses transport their products efficiently so that they are competitive, they grow, and they create new jobs. We are making strategic investments and continuing to look at ways we can improve services for Canadians.
I'm here to discuss investments related to two of the crown corporations in our portfolio. That's because those are the two that supplementary estimates (B) touch on.
Before I do that, I would like to take an opportunity to highlight the important work of all the crown corporations in the portfolio, such as Canada Post, Marine Atlantic, CATSA, Ridley Terminals, Blue Water Bridge, and the whole set. We are fortunate to have them work more or less very well and serve Canadians.
I have certainly enjoyed my opportunity to work alongside to oversee the management of these files, of which each contribute a great deal to the prosperity and competitiveness of Canada. The funding of these organizations will continue to deliver important services to Canadians.
Now, let me start by speaking about VIA Rail. Transportation has been identified with opportunity in Canada. Via Rail connects, or transportation in general connects, workers with jobs, travellers with destinations, products with markets. For over a century, that opportunity has moved across this country on thousands of kilometres of steel rails. The building of Canada's railroads contributed greatly to shaping our country, developing our economy, and bringing us together as Canadians.
Today VIA Rail continues this proud tradition of connecting people across the country. Our government is proud to contribute to providing Canadians with a safe, reliable, sustainable passenger rail service. That is why since 2007 our government has committed nearly $1 billion to improve VIA Rail's passenger rail service and the stations and tracks over which VIA operates. Nearly half of that funding was funded through Canada's economic action plan.
More recently, in the economic action plan 2012, our government announced $105 million for this fiscal year. This will support VIA operations and further capital investments in track signalling systems, track components, station repairs, and IT.
Overall, these projects will enhance the safety and efficiency of VIA Rail passenger service and create jobs in local communities throughout Canada. By investing in VIA, we ensure that rail continues to play an important part in moving people and providing safe, efficient, and reliable alternative transportation.
I'll just give you a sense of some of the things we've invested in. VIA recently opened a new station in Windsor, near the riding of one of your committee members, in an important part of the network. The new facilities can also be found at Smiths Falls, Belleville, Cobourg, Oshawa, and Ottawa. This will include new walkways, platforms, and other services to improve rail travel experiences for passengers.
In April we restored VIA's wonderful heritage station in Vancouver, and in May we announced some pretty awesome changes to Winnipeg's Union Station. There are also major track improvements under way in the Ottawa-Toronto-Montreal corridor, which will be completed shortly and make rail travel safer and faster.
These investments in VIA are about the future, a future in which passenger rail will continue to play an important role in Canada's transportation system. As with all important transportation projects in this country, progress for our rail system would not be possible without strong partnerships. I would also like to recognize the various governments, businesses, and community representatives who have worked along with us to maintain a modern and viable system.
Mr. Chair, just before I close, I want to touch on one other corporation. Minister Lebel has made note of the investments our government has made in the bridges in Montreal and Windsor. I'd also like to mention the work we're undertaking in Cornwall, Ontario. The Seaway International crossing at Cornwall is an important link between Canada and the United States. This project involves constructing a new bridge connecting the city of Cornwall and Cornwall Island. This includes demolishing the deteriorating north channel span of the Seaway International Bridge crossing as well as ramps that connect to the existing roadway.
While this bridge remains safe for the public, the new bridge will ensure the long-term viability of this important border crossing. Through this initiative, our government is creating jobs and supporting the future economic growth of the region. Construction of the new bridge is scheduled for completion in late summer 2013, and the final approach changes are to be completed in 2015-16.
Mr. Chairman, these crown corporations, and the others, report to Parliament through the , and they do provide an essential service to Canadians. Our government is committed to ensuring they have the resources they need to carry out their mandates.
May I say, just on the VIA front, I had the good opportunity to take the VIA train from Windsor to Ottawa about two weekends ago. It's a very civilized way to travel, perhaps the best way to travel if you're travelling in the corridor between Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. So, go VIA.
Thank you for the question.
During the summer, Mr. Fletcher and I held 14 round tables to meet the Canadian population—businessmen and women, mayors, ministers of provinces and territories from all over the country—and we received very well their message.
First of all, they were very, very happy about all we'd done in the past. We have to begin with that. They proposed to us, for sure, a lot of different things, but different parties have different approaches. For us, we have lowered taxes on income 140 times since we've been in government. Other parties want higher taxes; create $56 billion in new expenses; $21 billion of carbon tax—it's easier to transfer money at that time; they promise something on one hand, and they catch more in the other one.
That's not what we want to do in our own government. We want to continue to manage the economy of this country very well, and that's why we will depose a good infrastructure plan for the future of this country, respecting the capacity of the taxpayers.
It is very important for us to have a plan that respects the capacity of Canadian taxpayers and to continue doing good things.
As well, Mr. Chair, we have to respect jurisdictions. The Gardiner Expressway is municipal. I know this member was a municipal councillor in the city, and probably she knows the issues of her own city very well. But that's not a federal matter; that's a municipal matter. We'll never decide on behalf of municipal councils what is good for them. We will always let them decide on their own priorities.
The same for transit. Since we've been in government we have invested more than $5 billion in transit in this country, and we will continue to support transit, but we will not decide here in Ottawa what is good for Montreal, Laval, or Toronto, or any other city in the country. We respect that.
Thank you for the question.
At the beginning, I can tell you that over 90% of applications received for navigable...or under this bill never posed any threat to the navigation. Any small project for a pier, wharf, or personal dock at your summer house or cottage has to go through this process, for absolutely nothing. And that's a Transport issue. Environment Canada is doing its job. Fisheries and Oceans will do their job too. Us, we have to manage the navigation of this country. We can see
a little stream or a little river
and say that it's about navigation, but any of these projects had to go through this process before we made these changes. We don't think this is a responsible use for taxpayers, and shows just how we have to change this act.
We will focus now on navigation. For sure the list has been built by science. It's not politicians who have done that, it's the department. They looked at where it was more navigation than in other waterways. The list was created after a rigorous process, using up-to-date statistics including nautical charts, freight movement, historical data, and applications of local knowledge. All the lists have been built.... It's not because I'm coming from Lac Saint-Jean that I add Lac Saint-Jean to the list. That would be nonsense. But we have to respect the mandate we have and that's about navigation. That's what we have done and we will continue to do so.
Going forward on the list of waters, for sure we will have some discussion about how it will go. But the regulations have to keep pace with changing traffic patterns and must meet one of the conditions of economic interests, public interest, and requests by local authorities, and at that time this will be seen through the regulations. But that's the science we talked about. That we want to change the channel and to...[Inaudible--Editor]...about environment, that's not the truth. We only want to manage in the best way we can the navigation in this country to support the economy of this country.
Some projects are important for municipalities. Here I have letters of support from provinces and territories and they have asked that of us. Our department consulted all provinces and territories before we launched the process.
We created the process and now we are sure we are doing the right thing. None of the provinces and territories had concerns with the list. That's where we are now. We are going to continue to improve that, to work very well to make better navigation in the country. It's about safety, and about the economy. That's very important for the future of our country. We know we have many economic developments to come in our country so it's important to manage our navigation well.
I want to thank the witnesses for being here today. Thanks for taking the time to be here.
A number of you, I believe, have question period that you want to....
The meeting is still going on. We have a motion to deal with the budget.
We have a motion to deal with the estimates, if somebody wishes to move it.
Can I have some order, please?
In regard to the supplementary estimates, I have a number of questions, some under Transport.
Shall vote 60b under Foreign Affairs and International Trade carry?
FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE
National Capital Commission
Vote 60b—Payments to the National Capital Commission for capital expenditures..........$1
(Vote 60b agreed to)
The Chair: Shall votes 1b, 5b, 30b, 45b, 50b and 60b, under Transport, carry?
Vote 1b—Operating expenditures..........$1
Vote 5b—Capital expenditures..........$1
The Federal Bridge Corporation Limited
Vote 30b—Payments to The Federal Bridge Corporation Limited..........$11,241,693
Office of Infrastructure of Canada
The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Inc.
Vote 50b—Payments to The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Inc...........$40,475,000
Vote 60b—Payments to VIA Rail Canada Inc...........$79,661,000
(Votes 1b, 5b, 30b, 45b, 50b, and 60b agreed to)
The Chair: Shall the chair report the supplementary estimates (B) 2012-13 to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you. That's all I need.
The meeting is adjourned.