Brian Masse Speaks on Bill C-3 - The Bridges and Tunnels Act

Mr. Brian Masse:
Mr. Speaker, the member's excellent question brings forward the point that the amendments we are dealing with are more technical in nature. They are ones to which I do not have any objection. At the same time, I know that in the Senate process there were extra questions and concerns raised. In fact there were misunderstandings about what the bill was about, whether it was ownership and a few other things.

What is important is that we are going to move further past this process. Bill C-3 is just the start of cleaning up our borders in Canada. We must understand that right now we have no regulations, control or ability to have an influence on those things. This is starting from there. We need to do the same thing with border authorities, community investment funds and also infrastructure funds for the areas around them.

Mr. Joe Comartin (Windsor—Tecumseh, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the bill, particularly following my colleague, the hon. member for Windsor West, who has in many respects spearheaded a number of the issues that are addressed in the bill and a number that are not addressed in it, as we just heard from him. I will repeat a couple of those points.

For us in the Windsor-Essex county area, the legislation is crucial in terms of the need to have this for a lot of the time that has gone by. Issues that we have confronted at the local community level badly needed to be confronted at the national level but were not because we did not have the legislative infrastructure, which the bill will go partially toward addressing.

It is important to set in context the impact that the trade agreements have had not only on communities like Windsor and Essex country, but on the country as a whole in terms of the huge increase in truck traffic in particular and visitors, with passenger vehicles going back and forth across our borders not only in the Windsor area, although it is clearly by far the busiest one in the country, but in other places as well, such as the Montreal area and the Seattle, Washington to Vancouver area on the Pacific coast.

To use some examples of how significant it is, if we go back 20, 25 years before the trade agreements, on average 2,000 to 3,000 trucks would cross our borders in the Windsor area on a daily basis. That figure now, and there is some dispute between the people who follow it, is at least 11,000 a day. There are certainly days, particularly in the summer months, that figure will go up over 13,000 a day. Those are just trucks. Passenger cars are in addition to that.

This has caused horrendous problems from an environmental standpoint in the corridor that runs from the Trans-Canada Highway, the 401 in Ontario, through to the Detroit, Michigan side. It has caused a great deal of safety concerns.

Again, referring to our local newspaper, an article this week talked about a lawsuit settlement to a women who was killed by truck traffic as she was trying to cross. She left a young family. We have had a large number of accidents, so it is both an environmental and a personal safety issue for us in our community.

Although they have been identified, those conditions have continued for at least a decade, if not more like 15 years. With the trade agreement, we knew the impact in terms of that increased traffic. We heard my colleague, the hon. member for Windsor West, say that just within the auto sector, because of the trade that goes on and the parts that move back and forth across the border, one part may cross the border five or six times before it is actually put into a motor vehicle. That traffic is a constant problem for our communities. It has spilled over into the streets of Windsor. It is not just the main thoroughfares, but our side streets, our residential streets, as well. It is a huge problem, one that has existed for quite some time. It has not been addressed anywhere near satisfactorily to the city council of Windsor, to the county council and to the residents of our communities.

When we think about it, both our major tunnel and our major bridge were built just before the depression. They were finished in the late 1920s, early 1930s. We have had them all that time. We could say the same thing about a number of other crossings across the country. There are 24 international crossings between Canada and the United States: 14 in Ontario, 9 in New Brunswick and 1 in Quebec. Of those 24, only five of them are owned directly by the federal government through Crown corporations. For the other ones we would pass, on an ad hoc basis, legislation that would authorize the construction of that crossing, not a satisfactory mechanism to provide controlled regulation of those crossings.

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That became quite clear to the United States, and we followed a somewhat similar pattern in its history. A good number of years ago it went to national legislation, so it had that infrastructure. Even to this day we do no have that, but hopefully this legislation will go through in the next few days, on to the Senate for final confirmation and then go into force. It is a totally unsatisfactory situation, so it is quite important that the legislation go through.

Again I refer some of the points that my friend, the hon. member for Windsor West, made. This is not the be all and the end all. It will address some of the issues we have confronted in the Windsor area, as we have dealt with the proposals to construct a new crossing between Canada and the state of Michigan. It will go some distance I think, and I am hopeful, to addressing the major concerns that not only the automobile industry in particular has but also commercial interests generally have with regard to the problems we are experiencing at our border crossings in moving product in a speedy, efficient manner. That has been a major problem for us since 9/11 and it continues to be a major problem for us.

Those of us who are in leadership positions in our communities know that there is almost a freeze on investment, particularly in the auto sector, in our communities right now, waiting to see if there is the political will to address the problems and correct them. The major way we will do that is to construct a new crossing and do so in a brief period of time given all the issues that surround the problems of building a crossing that is internationally run, in dealing with four different levels of government on both sides of the border.

The bill will indicate that the federal Government of Canada is serious about addressing some of the issues. Hopefully we will see additional legislation or policies at the very least come forward to address some of the other issues.

One of the roles of the federal government is to provide its country and citizenry, including commercial interests, with a secure working environment. We do not have that in our area at the present time. As I have already said, there are issues from environmental, personal safety and commercial standpoints that are not being adequately addressed.

There is a great fear in the Windsor-Essex County area of the political will on the Canadian side of the border to build an additional crossing. The process is underway. It is ongoing. It seems to be very slow. To some degree, this type of legislation answers the question of whether we are serious about addressing these problems.

I want to take a few minutes to talk about what is not addressed, in particular the role that the local community needs to play in the management regulation of border crossings. From some of the incidents that have taken place since we began discussing a new crossing some seven or eight years ago, we know about the perspective of the provincial government and the federal government and how significant it is to have local input and decision making to some degree on how a new crossing will be determined, constructed and then operated.

The attitude has been overwhelmingly one of arrogance on the part of upper levels of government toward local municipal councillors and mayor, one of “we know best”, in spite of all, let us say, the negligent decision making that has gone on. For instance, in the 1950s we decided we would stop the cross-Canada highway on the outskirts of the city of Windsor and would run some 10 or 12 kilometres to the international crossing through city streets. That decision was made by upper levels of government.

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I can repeat many times that kind of ignorance and that kind of lack of vision in decisions that were made.

With regard to our community, it has always been a band-aid approach, a piecemeal approach, as opposed to looking at it as being the most significant crossing in our country by far. Thirty per cent to thirty-five per cent of all trade between Canada and the United States goes through the Windsor-Detroit border crossing. It is still being treated as if it is a backwater. This attitude still exists to a significant degree both here in Ottawa and in Queen's Park in Toronto.

The legislation to some degree says this attitude is no longer satisfactory. It goes a long way in recognizing how significant these crossings are, not just in the Windsor area but in areas right across the country, and doing something about them. A significant change in attitude has to occur.

To recognize the significance on the local community of these crossings, we need to have a local border authority. We heard from my colleague that we have them elsewhere such as in Sarnia, which is some 50 miles away, and in Niagara, Sault Ste. Marie and further.

From my perspective, this is not just a question of the nuts and bolts of how vehicles are moved over the crossing, although that is certainly very significant. This is also about national security. I know from talking to our local police, fire service personnel, our emergency personnel and some of our intelligence services at the border crossings, that the lack of coordination is appalling. It is a level of negligence that is simply not acceptable in light of 9/11 and in light of our responsibility to provide protection and security to our populace. The border authority would go some distance toward providing coordination.

We have a hard time communicating between ourselves and the security services on the U.S. side of the border. This is not only our fault; it is also their fault to some degree. However, we are moving ahead. If in fact we are serious, then we go with the border authority. We have to provide our local law enforcement community with some real authority to deal with these issues. The border authority would deal with a number of crossing issues such as getting vehicles across in an efficient way as well as dealing with security issues.

We would liked to have seen how much it costs to cross the border at the present time and how much it will cost in the future. We may still see this to some degree in the regulations. There is a dramatic difference in fees between some of our crossings just between the major motor vehicle tunnel and the bridge. When we compare these fees elsewhere in the province, there does not seem to be any logical pattern as to why some tolls are higher than others. This issue needs to be addressed.

We would like to see either policy or outright legislation requiring the upper levels of government to provide local communities with specified funds to, in effect, mitigate the impact on new border crossings in particular and existing ones as well.

Our community suffers major environmental consequences as a result of the number of trucks going through it because the trucks are left idling and are not efficient as they move across the border. An idling truck will increase the amount of pollutants in the air by as much as 80%. This condition is being imposed on my community, on the city and the county. It is causing health problems across the populace. It could be corrected by the proper infrastructure, both physical and from a policy standpoint.

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My colleague from Windsor West made the point about what we see occurring on the U.S. side of the border. I am not at all suggesting that we mimic that but we need to be in a position, from an administrative standpoint, where we have the infrastructure in place to say that this is proper and that this is the way we should proceed.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer):
The hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh will have five minutes left at the end of question period to finish his speech.

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