I'm calling to order the meeting of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
Good afternoon, everyone. We gather today to study the subject matter of supplementary estimates (C), 2017-18: vote 1c under Department of Transport and vote 1c under the Federal Bridge Corporation Limited. We will also study the subject matter of interim estimates, 2018-19: vote 1 under Canadian Air Transport Security Authority; vote 1 under Canadian Transportation Agency; votes 1, 5, 10, 15, and 20 under Department of Transport; vote 1 under Marine Atlantic Incorporated; and vote 1 under The Federal Bridge Corporation Limited.
We are delighted to welcome back the Honourable Marc Garneau, the Minister of Transport, as well as his officials: Mr. Michael Keenan, deputy minister; Mr. André Lapointe, assistant deputy minister for corporate services and chief financial officer; and Mr. Pierre-Marc Mongeau, assistant deputy minister, programs.
From the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, we have Mr. Neil Parry, vice-president, service delivery, and Ms. Nancy Fitchett, acting vice-president for corporate affairs and chief financial officer.
From the Canadian Transportation Agency, we have Mr. Scott Streiner, chair and chief executive officer, and Ms. Carole Girard, executive director, internal services.
From Marine Atlantic Incorporated, we have Mr. Paul Griffin, president and chief executive officer.
From the Federal Bridge Corporation Limited, we have Ms. Natalie Kinloch, chief financial and operating officer.
Finally, on behalf of VIA Rail, we have Mr. Jacques Fauteux, director, government and community relations; Ms. Patricia Jasmin, chief financial officer; and Mr. Pierre Le Fèvre, senior advisor to the president and chief executive officer, strategic planning.
We welcome everyone. We certainly have a full house here today. Welcome to the committee.
Mr. Garneau, I will turn it over to you.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Since you have made all the introductions, I can skip over the first part of my statement.
Innovation and modernization present important challenges for the transportation sector. The funds we are seeking would help support modernization that is important to the success of our economy, and to the safety and security of Canadians. Canada must have the infrastructure and services in place to move goods and people to where they need to go, for years to come.
As was outlined in Transportation 2030, my long-term strategy for transportation in Canada, our legislation and regulations must aligned with global standards, and with rapid and complex changes taking place in the transportation sector.
Changes in the transportation sector must be implemented safely—without endangering Canadians or harming our environment—while supporting and strengthening our economy. We must be in step with the sector's fast-moving evolution, or—even better—a step or two ahead.
That means fostering research and innovation, in partnership with stakeholders, other governments, indigenous peoples, academia and others. Adapting to change is not easy, but everyone at Transport Canada, and the crown corporations in my portfolio, embraces the challenges before us.
We have taken already some important steps toward the future. This includes Bill , the transportation modernization act, which is the first major step on the Transportation 2030 path.
The transportation modernization act would amend the Canada Transportation Act and other legislation governing the air, rail, and marine sectors, helping to modernize Canada's transportation system. Through the oceans protection plan, the largest-ever investment to protect Canada's coasts and waterways, we are building a world-leading marine safety system while preserving ecosystems, forging stronger partnerships with indigenous peoples, and engaging coastal communities, industry, and other stakeholders—all with a view to learning more about our oceans.
The proposed Canadian navigable waters act includes robust powers to enforce safeguards and protect the public's right to navigation. The Canadian navigable waters act would provide extra oversight where it's needed most, on navigable waters of greatest importance to Canadians and to indigenous peoples. It would provide more transparency for projects such as dams, mines, and bridges. We welcome the challenges before us and we look forward to the exciting changes the future promises.
In the supplementary estimates before you today, Transport Canada is requesting $755,900 in new funding and $122,400 in statutory forecasts for employee benefits plan costs.
However, most of that is offset by transfers to other government departments, for a small net increase of $175,700. The majority of that offset is a transfer to the Federal Bridge Corporation Limited, which is seeking an increase of $698,500 through these supplementary estimates, to conduct a feasibility and design study for the Cornwall port of entry in Cornwall, Ontario.
In the interim estimates before you today, Transport Canada is seeking $322.8 million in interim supply, to continue providing a safe and secure, efficient and environmentally responsible transportation system.
The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority is seeking $244.2 million to continue protecting the public through effective and efficient screening of air travellers and their baggage.
VIA Rail is seeking $134.5 million to continue providing safe, reliable and efficient passenger rail service.
Marine Atlantic is seeking $37.8 million to continue providing safe, environmentally responsible, and reliable ferry services.
The Federal Bridge Corporation Limited is seeking $900,000 to upgrade the roadway connecting the north and south channel Seaway International Bridges at Cornwall.
The Canadian Transportation Agency is seeking $9.4 million to continue its work as an economic regulator that administers relevant transportation legislation.
Madam Chair, Transport Canada, the crown corporations in my portfolio, and I are committed to sound fiscal management and stewardship of government resources on behalf of Canadian taxpayers. The financial resources sought through these supplementary and interim estimates would help ensure our transportation system continues to serve Canadian needs, as I mentioned earlier, to move goods and people to where they need to go safely and securely for years to come.
I'd be very happy now to answer any questions.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I would like to thank the minister for joining us today, as well as all of the departmental officials. I know you do very good work on behalf of Canadians and I appreciate your joining us today. My question, obviously, will be for the minister.
For weeks, Minister Garneau, farmers and the Province of Saskatchewan have all been asking you to support an order in council to force the railways to clear the rail backlog that has plagued Canada's rail system this winter, yet you have refused to do so.
To be clear, this is not the first time you have refused to act in the interests of our farmers and shippers. When you introduced Bill , Conservative members requested that the bill be split so that the rail measures in the bill could be studied in an expeditious manner. When you refused, we then called upon you to extend Bill to ensure that there would be no legislative gap, and again you refused. Finally, when the opposition members proposed reasonable technical amendments to Bill C-49 to address the concerns raised by numerous witnesses, again the Liberal members did not support them.
My question to you, sir, is this: how much more funding would the Department of Transport have needed to request in the supplementary estimates (C) in order to draft, execute, and implement an order in council as requested by numerous farm organizations and provincial governments?
I'll start by thanking this committee for looking at Bill so expeditiously last fall. That was very much appreciated. Now I am hoping that this bill will get through the Senate in the most expeditious manner possible.
I would also remind my colleague that despite everything she has said about Bill , she and her party actually voted against Bill C-49 when it came for third reading, which is still a surprise to me.
With respect to the movement of grain, I have been in touch with the railways. I did so at the beginning of the month. This was just after a conversation I had with the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Transportation from Saskatchewan, the two of them together. I'm very much aware of the situation, which I follow on a weekly basis, and now on a daily basis.
I told both CN and CP that the movement of grain was unacceptably slow in this very busy season. Notwithstanding a very difficult February because of weather, the movement of grain was not at an acceptable level. In fact, they have come back with a plan. I told them that I wanted to see a plan by March 15, which they both provided. They have significantly increased the resources, both in terms of equipment—I'm talking about hopper cars and more locomotives—and more personnel, as well as prioritizing the movement of grain.
I am now seeing an accelerated movement of grain, which, by the way is about 25% above the levels that existed in 2013-14 when we had that very bad season under the previous government. It is moving very efficiently at this point. I will make sure that it continues to move efficiently, because there is a very large backlog and I want to get western farmers' grain to market as quickly as possible.
Excellent. Thank you very much, Minister and officials, for being with us today. Hopefully I'll get in two questions in the limited time we have. I'll get right to them.
The national trade corridors fund is an important economic strategic fund to erase bottlenecks. In the Atlantic region, there's a specific project at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport, which is an economic enabler of strategic importance to the entire region. Right now, our seafood industry has the potential for enormous growth, particularly in light of some opportunities we've been working on from an international trade perspective, with Europe, of course, through CETA, and some efforts being made at the provincial level with the Chinese government as well.
One of the bottlenecks we have right now is that the facility cannot handle the cargo. We are losing business to American airports to get our cargo to market, which again helps boost the price. Under the national trade corridors fund, it's my understanding that the Halifax project to expand a logistics facility to get more product to market has been made. I don't want you to prejudge the outcome of an independent process, but I wonder if you can comment on the eligibility of projects of this kind and the importance of getting our products to market to help not just big traders and our biggest financial centres, but people on the ground in small communities throughout Atlantic Canada.
Thank you very much for your question.
As you point out, the national trade corridors fund—which, by the way, is in the final stages of making decisions on which programs will be funded in this first round—is intended to ensure that we have greater efficiency in the movement of goods and people through our trade and passenger corridors. We're looking at it from that point of view.
We're looking at well over 100 projects, I will say, and we have to make the decision about which ones will go ahead in the first round. I'm certainly aware of the one in Halifax, because I was in Seoul, South Korea, last November, and in fact at the airport there, where they had water pens that were filled with Nova Scotia lobster. They were arriving by cargo plane from Halifax. In Seoul, South Korea, there's a great demand for them, and some of them are being flown on to China. I understand this particular corridor for moving some of Nova Scotia's finest products.
Should you find yourself in Nova Scotia again this summer, I'll take you down to the wharf. Perhaps you can sample a bite yourself.
There's another issue I wanted to tackle. On Bill , you're right: we did come back early and as a committee found quite a bit of common ground on a number of issues. One of the issues we tackled was the air passenger bill of rights. In my mind, we landed on a bill that is going to enhance the passenger experience without compromising the efficiency of the transportation sector.
One of the great frustrations I have, being new to politics, is that sometimes when we get outside of the parliamentary bubble, we're dealing in a post-fact world. I've seen some news stories floating around suggesting that the bill is actually going to double the amount of time that passengers have to wait on the tarmac. The understanding I had when our committee dealt with this was that some airlines have a voluntary program to ensure that passengers don't wait beyond 90 minutes, but that there are many ways for airlines to get out of that voluntary obligation, so to speak.
Can you commit to us that the intention and the effect of this legislation will not double the amount of time that passengers are going to be waiting on the tarmac, but ensure they have a remedy when they are there for an unacceptable period of time?
They were on the tarmac. It continues and says that “the Carrier must allow the passengers to deplane....”
Let me read the Air Canada one. The Air Canada one says that it “will not permit an aircraft to remain on the tarmac at a Canadian or US airport for more than four (4) hours”.
These are the tariffs that are published by those two particular airlines. That's their decision to do it. If, for example, after we put out a three-hour tarmac delay, one of those airlines decides it still wants to keep 90 minutes at the gate, they're perfectly free to do it, but if it's out on the tarmac, our three hours will actually be better than the four hours most people are required to wait. Also, within that three hours, there will be a requirement to provide refreshments, information, air conditioning, and bathroom services—all of those things—during that period of time.
Yes, I can confirm that.
I announced in January that we would conclude that agreement by July 6, as you pointed out, which will mark the fifth anniversary of that tragic event. We will announce funding for a bypass in Lac-Mégantic, as we promised in January. Right now, we are in discussions with the Government of Quebec because the costs will be shared.
We are waiting for the mayor of Lac-Mégantic, Julie Morin, to conclude her talks with her two colleagues representing the towns of Nantes and Frontenac. They are engaged in discussions to complete the final route of that bypass, so that it would be acceptable for everyone. We expect that to be done over the next few weeks. We will make the announcement by July 6.
A Global News report revealed that, when proficiency checks of pilots are performed by the companies themselves, half as many failures were reported as when the checks were performed by a Transport Canada inspector. However, the majority of checks, or 15,000 per year, are performed by industry pilots. Only 300 checks are performed by Transport Canada inspectors.
Given that data, with a reduced aviation safety program, why should we trust checks performed by the industry, whose interests are at stake, instead of those performed by your own department's inspectors?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Minister, I wanted to talk a bit more about the trade corridor funding. There was an item, I believe in one of the Vancouver papers, that decisions on the funding are eagerly awaited out on the west coast. Your department provided a list of some 40 bottlenecks that are in the way of a smooth flow of trade through what is a very complex region, in transportation terms, both between the domestic flow of goods, services, and people, and of course trade in and out of the two major ports.
On what basis are you going to make decisions, then, regarding which projects to support with the funding?
That's a very good question, and it allows me to link back to the movement of grain, which was brought up by Ms. Block at the beginning and is very important. Most western grain goes to the west coast. There's some that goes to Thunder Bay, and some goes to the United States, but the vast majority goes to Vancouver and up to Prince Rupert.
As you know, the port of Vancouver is the largest port in Canada, and there are some bottlenecks in the Lower Mainland. One of the things that will help with the movement of grain, ultimately, will be to reduce the number of bottlenecks. It's not just grain, of course; it's also potash, forestry products, mineral products, and containers. It's a variety of products that we move. About $200 billion moves through the port of Vancouver every year.
We're looking at it from the point of view of how we get the best bang for our buck—if I can put it that way—in terms of addressing specific bottlenecks. We can't address everything because we don't have enough money to do that, but we want to focus on those that will make the movement of all those goods the most fluid possible. We're spending a great deal of time trying to come up with the right ones so that when products move to the west coast, they move as efficiently as possible with the least amount of delay.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister and team, for being here today.
I have to congratulate you, Minister. You've put a lot of legislation through in the past year, as well as what your vision is now. It is long overdue.
I want to touch on and speak about some of the topics that Mr. Hardie brought forward as they relate to trade corridors.
Can you give us some information and an update on your vision with respect to the different layers that you've established when it comes to the national transportation strategy—trade corridors, modernization of ports, infrastructure investments—and working with our municipal, private sector, regional, provincial, and territorial partners? I heard in your opening remarks about innovation and modernization. I heard economic enhancement. I heard strategy integration and, once again, infrastructure investments. Obviously they will allow us to perform much better on a global economic stage.
Can you comment on that and where you see us going in 2018, 2019, and beyond?
I will try to encapsulate what Transportation 2030 is, which is the document that guides us. There are a number of objectives with respect to our transportation system. I've said many times that I regard our transportation systems in this country as absolutely crucial for the economy. In fact, I regard transport as an economic portfolio.
How efficiently we move our goods determines ultimately in part the economic prosperity of the country. We're a trading nation. The people we market to across the world have other choices. Among other things, the quality of our products and our trade agreements are important, but unless we get the goods to them in an efficient way, they're going to go look elsewhere. It is very important. It's also important to move people efficiently, and that's why the national trade corridors fund is an example of trying to make the system more efficient.
Second, from an environmental point of view, we live in a world today where we have to recognize that 24% of the greenhouse gases produced in Canada come from transportation. The majority do come from cars and trucks, about 80%, but railways, airplanes, and ships also provide their contributions, if I can put it that way. Trying to move towards cleaner transportation modes is part of our agenda as well.
The third is innovation. Innovation is important not only in terms of.... It helps in a host of manners if we're talking about any mode of transport. If you're moving towards more innovative modes of transport, they probably will be more efficient in terms of fuel economy. They'll probably be cleaner. Those are also important.
Another element that I would like to mention about our coasts and our northern territories and the Arctic, of course, is a focus on marine safety, a focus on trying to ensure that those coastal areas and the Arctic remain places that are attractive for people, not only as tourists but as people who live by the sea and from the sea. We are trying to satisfy our coastal first nations on the west coast and our Inuit in the north in such a manner that they can continue with the quality of life that they expect.
Those are, overall, the general guiding principles behind the Transportation 2030 vision.
Many people don't know this, but the Government of Canada subsidizes VIA Rail in this country. When you buy a ticket, if you are in the corridor between Quebec and Windsor, where there is 94% of the travel, there is a certain amount of federal subsidization. If you're in other parts of the country, the subsidization is in the hundreds of dollars per ticket.
One of the reasons we want to go to a new fleet in the Windsor-Quebec corridor is that it will be more efficient and hopefully will cost less.
The concept of high-frequency rail, which we're looking at, has the potential, if we can satisfy ourselves that many more people will take the train, of making VIA Rail more self-sustaining so that less money will be required from the federal government by VIA Rail.
We know that passenger service is important to Canadians, but we would like to make it as competitive as possible. We would like to get, if possible, to the point where we can diminish the federal subsidies. We're not there yet.
Let me just finish my point.
The other thing I can't understand is why your government and you in particular granted a permit to Manny Moroun to build a second bridge, taking the capacities of bridge crossings at Windsor-Detroit from four lanes to 12 or possibly 16 lanes in an era when cross-border traffic at that border crossing has plummeted by some 40% over the last decade, putting at risk the very financial viability of the Gordie Howe bridge and essentially forcing the people of southwestern Ontario to pay much higher tolls in order to compensate for this drop in traffic in order to ensure that this bridge can be paid off.
I don't understand why you granted that permit last September. I didn't think the answer that you gave to our committee last time was satisfactory. Your government has denied permits for large infrastructure projects in this country, such as Enbridge's northern gateway project, a $7.9-billion project that was in Canada's interests, yet your government and you in particular have granted a permit to an American who has for 40 years worked against Canada's interests at that border crossing, putting our trade at risk.
I don't understand why you granted that permit when your government has denied permits for other large major infrastructure projects in this country.
First, on the Champlain Bridge, we announced our policy in the 2015 election. We said we would not toll the bridge. Our policy is if it's a replacement bridge, we don't toll it. It's replacing the existing bridge, as opposed to being a brand new bridge. Of course, the Gordie Howe bridge is a brand new bridge and will be an extremely important artery for the movement of goods between Canada and the United States. Our projections are that we do need two bridges. We've said that right from the beginning.
Again, for the benefit of everyone, we will be allowing the current Ambassador Bridge to be replaced by a new bridge under very specific conditions with respect to what changes need to be made where the bridge lands on the Windsor side and also with respect to the fact that the existing bridge will have to be closed before the new bridge opens.
Thank you for your question.
According to what I've been told, over the past four years, VIA Rail's number of passengers has increased, slowly, but in the right direction. People are starting to pick the train more often. We hope that will continue, as it provides an important comfortable alternative. We studied that when we looked into the high-frequency train concept.
As for the $134 million, we think the money will help VIA Rail continue to provide the same level of service. However, as you know, we have decided to start replacing the fleet as of 2022. About a year will be needed to select the contractor. After that, the company that wins the contract to build passenger cars and locomotives will start manufacturing them, so that the first cars would be available in 2022 and so that we would have an entirely new fleet by 2024.
First, it will be more reliable because new equipment will be used.
Second, it will be more accessible. Currently, one place on a train is reserved for someone in a wheelchair. According to the contract, the mandate is to have three spaces for those individuals, in addition to having a small elevator that will enable someone in a wheelchair to get on the train, more accessible washrooms and devices to enable people with hearing problems to get safety instructions visually. So we are emphasizing accessibility.
In addition, the new locomotives will help reduce the smog they cause by 85% and reduce greenhouse gases by 5%. There are other important considerations, such as the fact that locomotives will be bidirectional. That way, when a train arrives from a location and wants to return there, it will not have to be turned around. That will help save time, in addition to potentially having dual-mode locomotives—which would use diesel and electrical power—in case the railway system gets electrification later on.
—so.... I appreciate that, Madam Chair.
I want to go back to the general bridge policy of the government, since you're also asking for money for The Federal Bridge Corporation Limited.
In the argument you've given to us that the Champlain Bridge toll is not going to be applied because it's not a new bridge could arguably be applied to the Confederation Bridge that crosses the Northumberland Strait from the mainland to Prince Edward Island. Residents there have to pay $46.50 to cross that bridge, and that is arguably not a new bridge. The deal in Confederation was that P.E.I. would have a permanent link to the mainland. That was constitutionally guaranteed. It was part of the deal that brought Prince Edward Island into Confederation post-1867. Therefore, arguably, that "new" link, that Confederation Bridge, is not a new link. It just replaces an older link, which was the ferry service.
The argument the government makes that we're going to waive tolls on one bridge that we own in this country but not on other bridges that we own—others that cost billions of dollars a year—to me sounds like pure politics.
It's not fair to the people of the region that I live in, the people of Wellington County and the people of Halton Region, who depend heavily on a manufacturing industry that has supply chains that are closely linked with manufacturing sectors in the American northeast. Why do we have to pay tolls on our bridges, or why do Prince Edward Islanders have to pay a toll on their bridge, yet people living in another part of the country don't? It doesn't seem fair to me.
I think the concept of equity and fairness for all Canadians, particularly in a country so regionalized, is incredibly important. I'd like a better answer or at least maybe an indication that the government is going to reconsider their bridge policies in respect of the waiving of the tolls on the Champlain Bridge.
I would also note that the Champlain Bridge actually was tolled well into the seventies or eighties, and those tolls helped pay for the original construction of that bridge. It was only when the bridge had been largely paid for that the federal government decided to lift those tolls. There was a principle at play here, and I don't believe it's being followed by the current government.
I call the meeting of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure, and Communities back to order.
We will now continue with our study of the subject matter of interim estimates 2018-2019: votes 1, 5, and 10 under Office of Infrastructure of Canada; vote 1 under the Jacques-Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated; and vote 1 under the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority.
We are delighted to welcome the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities. Minister Sohi is accompanied by his officials: Ms. Darlene Boileau, assistant deputy minister for corporate services and chief financial officer, as well as Ms. Kelly Gillis, deputy minister for infrastructure and communities.
For the Jacques-Cartier and Champlain Bridges, we have Mr. Claude Lachance, senior director, administration.
For the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, we have Ms. Linda Hurdle, chief operating office, as well as André Juneau, interim chief executive officer.
Welcome, everyone, to our committee. We appreciate your being here.
Mr. Sohi, please begin your opening remarks.
Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me and our staff to speak with you today about Infrastructure Canada's interim estimates.
I want to start by talking to you about what my department is doing to build and support strong and inclusive communities where everyone has access to the opportunities they need to thrive. You have already introduced my staff members, so I won't do that.
The government has been working closely with our provincial, territorial, and municipal partners to deliver on our commitments to make historic investments in infrastructure. As you know, we are investing more than $180 billion in infrastructure projects across the country through the investing in Canada plan. Our plan aims to help grow the economy; support the middle class; build inclusive, accessible communities; and support low-carbon, green, and sustainable investments.
The first phase of our plan was focused on rehabilitation and upgrades to existing infrastructure. It supported the design and planning stages of new large-scale light rail projects in British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta.
Through these early investments we made, cities like Halifax are benefiting from the 29 new buses they bought using investments from the public transit infrastructure fund. These new buses are fully accessible, meaning that all residents of Halifax can benefit from them. In Manitoba, communities are benefiting from 23 water projects, such as the construction of a new reservoir and pumphouse in the Rural Municipality of West St. Paul. These projects are keeping Manitoba's waterways clean and the communities healthier and livable.
Over the past two years, my department has approved over 4,100 projects for a combined investment of over $35 billion across all of our programs. Based on the information that our partners have provided us, more than 90% of these projects are under way.
We have also made considerable progress on the new Champlain Bridge project. This new bridge is one of the largest infrastructure projects in North America. It will have a lifespan of 125 years once it is completed. Construction of the new bridge is now more than 65% complete. We continue to work closely with our private partner, Signature on the Saint Lawrence, with the objective of opening the bridge this December.
We have also significantly advanced the Gordie Howe International Bridge project in Windsor-Detroit, which will allow for a vital and more efficient trade corridor for Canada and our biggest trading partner, the United States. To date, we have completed significant preparatory work. The proponent will be announced in June. I'm pleased to say that the construction of the bridge will start this fall.
We are moving forward with the smart cities challenge. It was launched in November of last year and is now under way, with communities across the country submitting their applications. Finalists will be announced this summer.
Overall, we have made great progress on some key immediate infrastructure needs, and now we are focusing on the long-term, transformational aspect of our plan. We are working with our partners on their long-term investments in key priority areas such as public transit; green infrastructure; community, culture, and recreation infrastructure; and rural and northern communities infrastructure.
I am currently working closely with our provincial and territorial partners to reach new bilateral agreements that will see more than $35 billion in federal funding invested across Canada over the next 10 years. I'm pleased to note that, to date, we have signed bilateral agreements with the Northwest Territories, Ontario, and New Brunswick. I have confidence that we will finalize the majority of the remaining agreements in the coming weeks. The budget also provided the updated funding profiles for our programs, which reflect the interim estimates we are discussing today.
I want to be clear: all of the funding in our plan remains available for the projects and programs to which it is allocated. We have committed to more than doubling our infrastructure investments, and that commitment stands. Our programs are designed to flow funds only when claims are submitted to the department by our partners. The budget provides an update on the forecast for when we expect to receive and reimburse those claims.
Thank you so much for having me here today.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister Sohi, for appearing in front of us today.
I first have a comment about your infrastructure plan, and second I have a few questions about the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority and federal bridge policy in general.
My comment on infrastructure is that during the last election you promised, among other things, three things in particular for infrastructure. The first was that you would run deficits of no more than $10 billion a year in order to fund historic investments in infrastructure, which was the second commitment, and the third was that any unspent money, any lapsed money, would be transferred into the gas tax fund to top it up.
Instead, what I see here in the estimates and also in the most recent budget is that your deficits are much larger than $10 billion a year and that you're not spending the money that you promised on infrastructure. In fact, last week the Parliamentary Budget Officer said approximately one-quarter, 25%, of the money promised is not being spent. That money, in the government's language, has lapsed and is being reprofiled for future years—much of it after the next election, I would note—so two of these commitments are not being met.
The third commitment is also not being met. While there was some modest transfer in the last while into the gas tax fund of lapsed, unspent money, you're not fulfilling your commitment to transfer everything that was lapsed, everything that was unspent, into the gas tax fund to be transferred to municipalities across this country. I just make note of that, because I think Canadians clearly voted for that in the last election. They elected a majority government, but this commitment, these three commitments, are not being lived up to.
I have a few questions about the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority. Thank you for the information that the proponent is going to be selected shortly and that construction will begin in the fall of this year. That's good news.
I have a few questions, though, regarding the general policy of the government with respect to the tolling of federal crown corporation bridges.
We built, some years ago, a bridge crossing the Northumberland Strait to Prince Edward Island, which cost in excess of $1 billion. That bridge was in part to uphold our constitutional obligation to P.E.I.'s entry into Confederation to provide a year-round link to the mainland. The people who use that bridge have to pay $46.50 to cross it. I've actually used it a number of times, and it's expensive. It's not cheap to cross. You pay the toll one way, but it's still an expensive toll to pay.
We have a proposed toll, which is yet to be announced, on the Gordie Howe bridge, which is going to be quite high, I think, because the costs are now estimated to be upwards of four and a half billion dollars.
Then we have a third bridge that is also owned by a federal crown corporation. It crosses the St. Lawrence River, connecting the south shore of Montreal to the Island of Montreal, and that bridge was once tolled. That toll paid for the construction of the original bridge. We're now building a replacement bridge, but there's no toll on that bridge.
I don't see how that's fair to the people that I represent in Wellington County, Halton region, and southwestern Ontario, who are being asked now to pay the toll for the most important bridge crossing in this country by far, the Windsor-Detroit bridge crossing. I don't see how it's fair to the people of Prince Edward Island, who have to pay this toll of $46.50 to cross to the mainland when in another region of the country there is no toll because the government made a decision that makes no sense to waive the toll just for the residents of that particular region.
I'd like the minister to explain the rationale behind federal bridge policy and tolling.
We are proud that we are building the Champlain Bridge and that we are making it toll free. The decision to impose a toll was made without any consultation with the City of Montreal or with regional municipalities or with the business community or with the people who will be using this bridge.
This is a replacement bridge. The Champlain Bridge is not a new bridge. People in Montreal use the existing bridge without paying for it. That's the reason this bridge will not have a toll.
Gordie Howe International Bridge is a new crossing. There is nothing that is owned by the federal government. It's a private bridge that people pay to use.
The distinction we make is this: when we are replacing existing infrastructure for which Canadians are not paying, we do not charge a toll. We charge a toll where we're building something new, and there's a price to that.
On gas tax funding, let me make it clear that when we got into government, there was close to $1 billion unspent, unallocated, from the previous government, and we gave one year to all the proponents to give us the projects to be funded through those dollars. I'm proud to say the majority of those dollars are now attached to the funding. There was some funding that remained, and we transferred that to the gas tax.
I respectfully disagree with my colleague that we are not delivering infrastructure. I'm proud that we have given approval to so many projects in the last two years—4,100 projects with a combined investment of $35 billion. Almost 90%, or more than that, based on the information we have, are under way. Those are projects creating jobs in communities. I have given examples of some projects. Close to 2,000 new buses are being bought with those investments. Water systems are being replaced. Cultural recreational facilities are being upgraded.
We're delivering on all of the commitments we made.
First of all, congratulations on the funding. That $338 million will leverage close to $1 billion in investment in public transit in Mississauga. We are proud of that.
That's a very good question you're asking. We appreciate and acknowledge the report from the PBO, because this is a challenge we have faced. This is not a new challenge. It's the same practice that previous governments have followed—namely, once we approve a project, there's funding attached to that project, but it takes a number of years for the project to actually be completed. We have to wait until the project is completed. Then the project proponents, which are sometimes provinces and municipalities, have to wait until we get the invoices to pay out the funding, the federal share of that commitment, at the project's completion.
For example, we have approved a large project for the City of Calgary, the southwest ring road. The construction is happening, jobs are being created, work is being done, and the funding we have attached to that project has not been paid out yet. The reason is that we will have to wait until the project is completed before we get the invoices. What we have to do is continue to reprofile that funding into future years. That's the challenge we have, and we are trying to figure out the solutions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for being here today, as well as members of your team.
It was mentioned by the opposite side, by the Conservatives, that the recommendation is to bring some of the infrastructure funding into the gas tax. I want to go to that, because I'm sure there's a reason for it. In my former life as a mayor, I recognized how valuable the gas tax was, but at the same time, I recognized how valuable this sustainable funding envelope, the $186 billion that you've announced, is and will be moving forward. Could you explain the difference?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but the gas tax contribution is 100% federally funded, whereas the $186 billion can be equated to or equalled up to $558 billion when you factor in the ability to leverage with the provinces, the territories, and the municipalities. It's sometimes even more if you include the private sector.
If you could elaborate on the benefits of that strategy versus simply having the 100%-funded gas tax, I would appreciate it.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to say hello to the minister and those who are accompanying him.
It will be my pleasure to ask you questions soon.
That said, Madam Chair, I would first like to table a notice of motion presented by my colleague Robert Aubin, member for Trois-Rivières, on Friday, March 16. I will read it.
That the Committee undertake an emergency study of no less than three meetings on:
- the measures that the government intends to take in order to prevent any future delays in the implementation of infrastructure projects;
- the details on the progress of infrastructure projects to date; and
- a full update on the government's plan to spend $186.7 billion on infrastructure;
and that the Committee make recommendations and report to the House by June 2018.
Madam Chair, I hope you will find unanimous consent among my committee colleagues for undertaking this urgent study.
We will begin with the Infrastructure Bank of Canada, Mr. Minister.
What specific measures have you put in place to guarantee that both the managers and administrators of the Infrastructure Bank will not be in a conflict of interest when it comes to the bank's investment projects?
I will tell you concretely why I am asking that question. Ms. Jane Bird is a senior business adviser in the Bennett Jones LLP law firm in Vancouver, an important Canadian law firm, where she provides advice to public and private sector clients about issues related to the development and execution of various infrastructure projects.
Can you confirm to us beyond any doubt that the administrators' businesses will not profit from the Infrastructure Bank's investments?
Thank you, Madam Chair. I'll be sharing my time with my colleague Mr. Hardie.
Minister Sohi, thank you for being here.
As you know and have been keen to discuss with me before, I primarily represent small towns and rural communities. When it comes to infrastructure funding, there are some historical challenges that the communities I represent have faced. The smaller they are, the bigger the challenge, it seems. The primary challenge is that historically there has been a requirement that these smaller communities chip in maybe a third of the cost of a project, for example. One of the things this leads to is that rural communities often miss out on having any presence of the federal government in their community, which particularly compounds the social problem of young people leaving our communities because they're less vibrant and they don't have access to the same resources that others do.
Our rural caucus has been advocating for a change in the way we do things, to have a carve-out for small towns and rural communities and to change the share that small communities are required to contribute in order to access federal infrastructure funding. What's your plan to make sure that small communities like the ones that I represent in Pictou County and Antigonish on the eastern shore aren't left behind when it comes to federal infrastructure dollars?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Minister, I have to say it is refreshing that at this level of government we're seeing a shift to a culture that takes partnership into consideration and takes into consideration being more of an enabler for our partners, the public, and the private sector to meet their strategic goals and therefore their outcomes.
What I've heard today that you've been doing that by integrating investment for better returns on investments in environmental, economic, social, and cultural projects. They're very proactive projects.
I too, as Mr. Sikand has alluded to, received $81 million for transit in Niagara, which was actually leveraged—once again, leveraged—to $148 million. That is the largest transit investment in the history of the Niagara region. We're very appreciative of that.
My point is this, Minister: we're seeing a lot of these investments and, as I said earlier, there is a culture shift with respect to investments being made by taking into consideration all the different priorities of all the different ministries.
We spoke with Minister earlier. We talked about the national transportation strategy. We talked about trade corridors. We talked about the ports modernization project. We talked about infrastructure investments attached to those recommendations that will satisfy the financial requirements. We talked about municipal strategic planning and private sector leveraging.
In your words, how do you see everything coming together and meeting those four priorities, which are economic, social, environment, and cultural?
Minister, you and I represent the same people, Albertans. If you aren't hearing it, I certainly am, and that is unhappiness in our province over equalization. We can't do much about that because there's a formula. I think there has been real hope in Alberta over the past couple of years that one way of levelling the playing field would be that Alberta could get some significant infrastructure dollars to put people back to work.
You keep talking about approved projects. I don't expect you as a minister to know all of the projects specifically, but you are an Alberta member of Parliament. I'd like you to talk a little about some of the specific projects that are happening in Alberta, not the approved ones. Where are people working?
You've been in office for two and a half years now. Where are people working in Alberta on projects that have come out of this deficit funding for infrastructure? Don't tell me about the ring road; that was money that was put into the pot before the last election. The Calgary ring road announcement of funding came with the Conservatives, so don't talk about the ring road.
I'd like you to spend some time talking to my constituents, as an Albertan, and all of our constituents, about some of these major infrastructure projects in Alberta.
We have it before us. You've asked that we deal with this now.
Is there unanimous consent to deal with Madame Sansoucy's motion in open session?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: We're all right with that.
Minister, you're free to leave. Excuse us while we try to deal with this.
Madame Sansoucy has already moved the motion. Is there any discussion or comment?
We have Mr. Fraser, Mr. Badawey, then Mr. Chong.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I guess we're on the amendment to the motion.
I'm comfortable with the amendment. I understand the amendment is to strike the word “emergency” and to simply have it read “That the committee undertake a study of no less than three meetings.” I'm comfortable with that amendment, whenever we vote on it.
I strongly support the motion, whether it's amended or not. I think it's important that we study this issue. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has pronounced on this twice. There was a study last fall, and one last week, and I think it's clear that we need more information, in particular because the Parliamentary Budget Officer has indicated so. I think it's pretty important that we undertake this study and do it some time before we adjourn for the summer.
Okay. We have to vote on the amendment first.
All those in favour of the amendment?
(Amendment agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
(Motion as amended agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: You indicated that next week we will do the two meetings on automated and connected vehicles.
We're still in the open session, so we're going to do what we're doing. With respect to the ocean war graves, our analyst has suggested that if I were to write to Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard in regard to the ocean war graves, we might be able to solicit a bit more information for their report.
Do I have the permission of the committee to send letters out seeking that information?
I've suggested to the analysts that they have until we come back from Vancouver, if the trip is approved, to do that report, so they're not under pressure.
Have I missed anything?
If we go until April 29, that would give us five meetings on infrastructure. Would that be satisfactory to everybody? That's a lot of meetings on infrastructure. Is that all right?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Okay, that's fine.