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View Steven Fletcher Profile
Mr. Chair, I am pleased to be here today.
Mr. Lebel, thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for the opportunity to speak about the main estimates requested of the three crown corporations in our portfolio.
I will focus on VIA Rail, Marine Atlantic, and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, and I welcome the opportunity to explain how these organizations are evolving and how they continue to best serve the interests of all Canadians.
Let's start with VIA. Passenger rail service plays an integral part in our country's economy and transportation system, and our government remains committed to providing Canadians with safe, reliable, and sustainable passenger rail service. We have invested close to $1 billion in VIA to renovate trains, improve accessibility, upgrade tracks, and upgrade stations. Some of those projects have ended, which is reflected in the decreased funding in the main estimates.
These estimates have addressed urgent infrastructure needs. They've helped to improve VIA stations and equipment and to provide faster, more reliable service for travellers across the country.
We have supported improvements in the Quebec-Windsor corridor, and we have contributed to projects that improve the facilities and preserve the heritage features of both Pacific Central Station in Vancouver and Union Station in Winnipeg.
Beyond upgrading the infrastructure, VIA has also introduced innovative new services. Just weeks ago they launched a project that will provide free Canadian entertainment from the CBC and the National Film Board on VIA trains.
As well, we are supporting VIA programs to renew its equipment. In December VIA announced the launch of upgrades to its fleet of F40 locomotives, which are essentially the workhorses of the service. The new engines promise to be both environmentally sustainable and cost-effective, important factors in our transportation system.
VIA is meeting customer demand in the Ottawa-Toronto-Quebec corridor by introducing four new trains per weekday and four more on weekends, for a total of 28 new departures per week. In addition to these changes, there's a direct service between Quebec City and Ottawa to encourage more travel between the two capitals. This new service, which began this past December, could possibly attract 200,000 new passengers annually.
Moving from rail to sea, let's look at Marine Atlantic, which provides the constitutionally mandated ferry service between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Given this company's value to Atlantic Canada and the role a strong infrastructure in transportation plays in the region, it is absolutely critical, and our government continues to invest in it. In fact, I took both routes on Marine Atlantic not this summer but the summer past, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip on some huge ships. I heard nothing but praise, especially when people compare the new ships with the old ships and the docking, the new infrastructure at the ports versus the old infrastructure. So that's good.
Since 2007 we have supplied funds to support its programs, renew its fleet, and improve its services and facilities. As a result, as I've already mentioned, Marine Atlantic is receiving positive feedback from customers, complimenting both its staff and improved facilities.
With continued support from the federal government, we are confident that Marine Atlantic will continue to improve its efficiency and improve the experience for its customers. This will in turn support growth, job creation, and prosperity in the region.
Just before I conclude, I will talk briefly about the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority. CATSA is responsible for screening air passengers and baggage and for controlling access to restricted areas in our airports. In doing so, it's always looking at ways to improve its service.
This past January, I travelled to Regina to announce a new initiative that is taking place there and in other airports. It will allow those who have NEXUS cards, or people who have joined the NEXUS program for trusted travellers, to pass through air security screening faster and more conveniently. This initiative demonstrates how CATSA and its partners are working to ensure that Canada maintains, as Minister Lebel has already eloquently noted, one of the safest and most secure transportation systems in the world.
Mr. Chair, the three crown corporations I've noted all provide essential services to Canadians and support our world-class transportation system. We are committed to ensuring that they continue to carry out their mandates, and we have taken measures to ensure that core services remain properly funded and aligned with departmental priorities.
We support the efforts they're making, along with the government, to support growth, create jobs, and promote prosperity for all Canadians.
I'd be happy to take any questions.
View Steven Fletcher Profile
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 Minister Lebel 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 Minister of Transport, 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.
View Steven Fletcher Profile
There is an expectation that VIA run as economically as possible. They are at arm's length from government and they do have the flexibility to adjust their schedules to meet demand and also to utilize their assets to the maximum.
While there have been reductions in that area, there have been increases in the frequency of the number of VIA trains travelling from Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal. We're also adding another line directly from Ottawa to Quebec City. That's going to be announced on Monday. So we are adding routes as well.
Now, many of these trains, particularly in the winter, have been running empty. So that is not good.
View Steven Fletcher Profile
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Minister Lebel.
Members of the committee, it is a pleasure to speak to you today about the funding requests in the main estimates for some of the crown corporations in our portfolio. I welcome the opportunity to explain why these funds are necessary so that we can continue to provide essential services to Canadians.
In the interest of time, I'll only talk about a few of our crowns to give you guys the maximum amount of time to ask questions.
I'll start with VIA Rail and I'll talk about Marine Atlantic and Canada Post, which are certainly all critical to our competitiveness and economy. But there are other crowns you can feel free to ask questions about.
With VIA Rail, rail service is not only part of our Canadian heritage, we are investing to enhance passenger rail service and experience in Canada. Since 2007 we've announced significant investments for improvements to VIA stations, equipment, and infrastructure to provide faster and more reliable passenger service across the country. Nearly half of this funding was stimulus funding under the economic action plan.
In November I helped mark the completion of a major track improvement to part of VIA's Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto line. These upgrades improved the Smiths Falls-Brockville line, as we first announced in March 2010. They also include projects from Brockville to Ottawa alongside VIA's Montreal line to Côteau, Quebec.
Due to the completion of these projects VIA was able to launch a new Ottawa-Toronto express train that connects the two cities in less than four hours—three hours and 57 minutes, to be exact.
Moving from rail to sea, let's talk about Marine Atlantic. The ferry service the federal government provides between Nova Scotia and the Island of Newfoundland is a constitutionally mandated service and our government understands how important this service is to Canadians. That's why we have made significant investments to improve it. Since 2007 we have provided significant investment in Marine Atlantic to make it possible for the crown corporation to renew its fleet by chartering the MV Atlantic Vision in 2009. We also were able to acquire several other assets to make the Marine Atlantic experience more enjoyable, more efficient, and so on.
Budget 2010 included even more investments for fleet renewal and improved service to Atlantic Canadians and their families. These included a new terminal building in North Sydney and an upgrade at Port aux Basques and Argentia terminals. In fact, if I may, I actually went on this trip this past summer. In North Sydney I took the ferry across to Argentia, drove across Newfoundland, and went back from Port aux Basques to North Sydney. It must be one of the great road trips in the world. I highly encourage anyone to utilize that service on a recreational basis if you have the opportunity.
These investments reinforce the idea that the economic growth of Atlantic Canada is a key priority for our government. We understand that building a strong transportation infrastructure is an important part of the region's future prosperity. I can assure the committee that these investments are making a difference.
In November I helped dedicate the latest addition to the ferry fleet, the MV Highlanders, which joins her sister ship, the MV Blue Puttees . These are very spectacular vessels.
The new vessels have substantially improved Marine Atlantic's ability to provide on-time, reliable service, and Marine Atlantic has introduced initiatives to increase efficiencies while ensuring customers continue to receive good value for their money. The introduction of new fleet in 2011 and the replacement of a significant amount of shore infrastructure and equipment will allow Marine Atlantic to manage its operations more efficiently. Savings will begin to be realized in 2013, once the organization gains more experience with these new vessels. The balanced approach will boost our efforts to achieve a sustainable, prosperous recovery and preserve the Canadian economy's advantages now and in the future.
Finally, I'll go to Canada Post. As Canadian communities--large, small, urban, rural--all across Canada will attest, Canada Post provides a vital service. And good service is what Canadians expect. Because all Canadians deserve reliable postal service, we specifically made postal service to rural communities an integral part of Canada Post's universal service. We also maintain a moratorium on the closing of rural post offices.
In 2010 Canada Post began a $2.1 billion modernization initiative, which will make major investments in equipment, technology, and processes. This will allow Canada Post to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and we will continue to support Canada Post's efforts to ensure that all Canadians have the postal service they need and deserve. I'll note that the chair of this committee has brought forward a private member's bill that will help us improve the service to Canadians as well.
Mr. Chairman, these three crown corporations provide central services to Canadians. Our government is committed to ensuring that they have the resources they need to carry out the mandates. Securing the funding outlined in the main estimates is key to making this happen.
I'll stop there.
Shoot away.
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