MASSE CATCHES TRANSPORT MINISTER IN CONTRADICTION ON P3 FOR WINDSOR’S NEXT BORDER CROSSING

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 13, 2007

MASSE CATCHES TRANSPORT MINISTER IN CONTRADICTION
ON P3 FOR WINDSOR’S NEXT BORDER CROSSING

OTTAWA, ON – NDP Transport Critic Brian Masse caught the Minister of Transport, Lawrence Cannon, making contradictory statements in the House of Commons Standing Committee of Transport today on the federal government’s commitment to a Public Private Partnership (P3) for Windsor’s next border crossing and that there is no study to date by the Department to suggest that a P3 would be the best option for this crossing.

Masse questioned the Minister repeatedly asking, “Mr. Minister. You’ve been out there advocating for a P3 for the Windsor-Detroit border… Twice you’ve been out at the meeting for the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, you’ve been out basically hoisting Windsor as an example there. But in your remarks today you say specifically “Gateways and Border Crossings Fund” and not whether a P3 is actually feasible. I guess my concern is how you come to the conclusion that this should be a P3 project, but yet, today, you say that there’s going to be a process to determine whether it’s feasible.”

In response, Cannon could not produce a study or report by the department about P3’s being the best or intended option for the Windsor-Detroit crossing, or any information that the Department had gathered as the stepping stone for this P3 project proposal. Mr. Masse further clarified that the Minister’s most recent press release had, in fact, said that the Department was beginning to look for partners on a P3 for this crossing.

At the same time, Masse did get the Minister on record stating that the Department of Transport is only in the preliminary stages of looking at potential options for this crossing and, “…if, at the end of the day, it’s determined that it [P3 option] isn’t in the public interest or it’s not something that’s going to fly correctly, I can assure you that we are not going to go forward with a process that is not a good process.”

Masse is concerned that because there has been no study or review done as of yet, there might be further delays in the actual implementation of construction of this vital infrastructure. “This new crossing was needed years ago. Now we find out that nothing has been done to study the impact of the P3 option at our crossing, no office has been established yet, no work on this file at all. Instead we have heard announcement after announcement, without any evidence of the impact that this will have on our community, residents and the future crossing. “

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For further information: Brian Masse 613-996-1541


(Hansrad Blues of Transport Committee)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Minister, for being here.

Mr. Minister, when will the office of P3 be up and running?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon: I would suspect in a couple of weeks or, if not, probably in the new year, in the beginning of the new year.

Mr. Brian Masse: When will it be evaluating projects?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon: They should be doing it at that period of time, on--

Mr. Brian Masse: They'll actually be able to, within the first week, start evaluating P3 projects?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon: Yes, hopefully.
Just a second now. The first quarter of the new year.

Mr. Brian Masse: Okay, that's fair. Mr. Minister, you'll be surprised that I want to ask a question about the Windsor-Detroit border, shocking as that might be. You've been out for two years peddling the Windsor-Detroit border as a public-private partnership. What study have you done or has your department done on a P3 specific to this most important border crossing? And would you be willing to table that study if there is one?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon: I'll let the deputy minister respond to that. He's been more active in that file.

Mr. Brian Masse: With all due respect, I'd prefer to have you respond to that. That's very specific.

Hon. Lawrence Cannon: No, but in terms of the study, Mr. Masse, so it will take a second because it's a long process.

Mr. Brian Masse: Okay, thank you.

Mr. Louis Ranger (Deputy Minister, Deputy Head, Infrastructure Canada, Department of Transport): It's all part of the environmental assessment process. We've been conducting--

Mr. Brian Masse: I'm not asking about the environmental assessment. Have you studied a P3, a specific study for this, yes or no?

Mr. Louis Ranger: Definitely, most definitely.

Mr. Brian Masse: Okay. Would you be willing to table that study so that Parliament could see that study?

Mr. Louis Ranger: We could share with you the various components of what we would bring to the table as a P3 in the form of an environmental assessment, in the form of geo-technical studies, in the form of what we bring in terms of land assembly--

Hon. Lawrence Cannon: Mr. Masse, I guess within the new year we'll be seeking information, correct, Deputy?

Mr. Louis Ranger: That's right.

Hon. Lawrence Cannon: And on the basis of that information that we'll be seeking, there will be information that will be there and I'll make that public.

Mr. Brian Masse: I appreciate that and I'll be looking for it.

Here's my concern, Mr. Minister. You've been out there advocating a P3 for the Windsor-Detroit border, which is different than the Sarnia experience, where there's special legislation, where taxpayers don't have to come with funds, they do it through a cooperative bi-national process. And it's different than Fort Erie, it's different than Niagara Fall, it's different than everything historically, for the most part in Canada, with our international borders and crossings.

Twice you've been out at the meeting for the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnership, you've been out basically hoisting Windsor as an example there. But in your remarks today you say specifically “Gateways and Border Crossings Fund consider whether a P3 option is feasible”. I guess my concern is how you come to the conclusion that this should be a P3 project, but yet, today, you say that there's going to be a process to determine whether it's feasible, but you've already determined that it's going to be a P3.

Hon. Lawrence Cannon: No, the process is a little more elaborate than that. We will be, in the early new year, because we are gathering the information and we will be going to requests for interests. Then we'll be able to make, I would suspect, Deputy, a final determination. But from the indications that we have up to now, Mr. Masse, it's an interesting avenue to pursue and we want to be able to pursue it. But, if at the end of the day, it's determined that it isn't in the public interest or it's not something that's going to fly correctly, I can assure you that we are not going to go forward with a process that is not a good process.

It' our belief, up to now, from the information that's been gathered and the indications that we're getting from everybody, that that's the case. But there will be, at a given stage in time, a go-no go. We're going to get to that.

Mr. Brian Masse:
Why have you departed from, for example, the Blue Water experience? Maybe you can provide that.

Why is it that you have decided to depart from that historical, successful venture, for example, which hasn't cost public taxpayers? It's reduced lower fares than many other spots. Why are you departing from that? Is it based upon ideology? Is it based upon serious research? What is the reason you're departing from a practice historic to Canada?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon: I'll let the deputy take that.

Mr. Louis Ranger: All the conditions converge to a P3. It's a structure where you can control access. The volume is there.

Three weeks ago there was a conference in Toronto where we held a session for two hours with the best minds in Canada, who are experts in P3, and everybody agrees that all the conditions are met.

Mr. Brian Masse: Thank you. But would be willing to table who was at that meeting?

Mr. Louis Ranger: This was at the annual meeting of the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships. There was a session for two hours. I can share the--

Mr. Brian Masse: With all due respect, you're going to the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships. Of course they're going to have a big hoorah for you.

My concern is whether or not this government has done its due diligence to study whether or not the most important border crossing, which you've been hoisting up on the P3 platform for the last two years, prior and counter to the minister's statements here today saying there would be a due diligence process to see whether it's viable or not. You've been putting that out there.

So what's driving this? Has there been hard research done to determine whether this crossing, the most important one for our economy, is actually going to be more successful, have lower toll rates, and will be more accountable as a private entity because that's not the case with the current private operator that basically holds much of the economy right now at risk.

Hon. Lawrence Cannon: I'll tell you, we're looking at this process because the preliminary indications that we have are to the effect that, because of the volume, because of the size and the scope, because of what we believe to be not only a passing interest but a much more tangible interest, we are going down that route.

We will be--and I will share with you--the information that we have when we get to the requests of interest. We want to see who is going to be interested in doing something there because the P3 process, as I mentioned, is a process. It's not something where the deputy gets up in the morning and says, “Okay, fine, I woke up this morning at 6:30 and I believe this is the way we're going to go”. It is a process that step by step will lead us to a final determination.

If we're down that route today and we're in that process it's because we do have sufficient information that leads us to believe that is the right course of action to take, at the very least to analyze, to be able to look at, and to be able to make a determination.
We feel--

Mr. Brian Masse: In fact, your press release says that you're--

Hon. Lawrence Cannon: I know, Mr. Masse, but we feel that in this process...and I'm more than willing to table a process which will indicate step a through step z, what has to be done to be able to determine it.

Mr. Brian Masse: And I sincerely appreciate that and I take that. But your press release says that you were in Toronto today to seek a partnership with the private sector in the building of a new Windsor border crossing. So your press release indicates that you are actually out seeking that, yet your comments today say it's going to be going through some vetted process. So I'm concerned about that contradiction.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Masse.