MASSE IN THE HOUSE: Speaking on Budget Bill C-60 and Border Concerns

    Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on Bill C-60 here today. I know that you have been in the House a number of times when I had a chance to talk about the border, and you will hear more about that as the previous member did mention what is taking place on the Windsor-Detroit corridor with a new public border crossing being created.

     There have been some positive steps that have taken place, which have been supported by all parties in this House for the most part, but there are some decisions that need to be made for the future. Unfortunately, the Conservative government is exposing the new border crossing to some potential issues.

    We all know that there has been a challenge with Matty Moroun, who is the owner of the Ambassador Bridge. He has private American ownership. Basically, there are around 25 international bridges and tunnels between Canada and the United States, and only two are held in the private sector, which are the Ambassador Bridge and the AbitibiBowater Bridge in Fort Francis and International Falls.

    Why is this important for the Windsor-Detroit corridor?

    For those who do not know, in the riding that I represent there are four crossings that span around two miles which represent approximately 40% of the daily trade to the Untied States. However, with 34 states having Canada as their number one trading partner, this key system of infrastructure has yet to be addressed with the border authority. A border authority would help with the efficiency of our trade. It would allow goods and services to travel more freely and in a better organized fashion.

    From the far west, we have the Hazmat Truck Ferry. There is the Ambassador bridge, which takes just over 30% of the daily trade. There is the Detroit-Windsor rail tunnel, which is an aging piece of infrastructure, but hopefully a new one will be coming. However, I am not sure we will have support for that right now from the government. We are waiting to see the decision on that, and if the application process will still go forward. Lastly, we have the Windsor-Detroit tunnel which has mostly vehicles that go through it, and some trucks do make use of it as well.

    The reason I mention this is because the Conservative government is embarking on a public-private partnership for the border. However, the government is not going with the bonding agreement that is normally used for infrastructure improvements on other bridges and crossings, which is needed to exercise leveraged borrowing through public bonds, such as they do in the U.S. This is one of the ways in which the Americans have gone about their process for twinning infrastructure pieces in the past and look to that for future developments. The Peace Bridge and the Blue Water Bridge are two examples of that. Those areas also have a border authority.

     However, we have yet to see the details of the management of our new border crossing, but the public-private partnership the Conservatives are proposing could be fraught with issues, which I have raised. We will have to use a carrot-stick approach and see whether someone from the private sector will bid on it.

     It will be a very ambitious project because the bridge will have to span across the Detroit River, yet it has to have enough carriage space underneath to allow transport freighters go through. This is one of the busiest waterways in the world for freighters and private boats. It is very important that the proposal does not touch the Detroit water, that it is a different type of bridge from one that has footings in the water, otherwise the IGC is triggered and it will take much longer.

    The reason I bring all that up is, again, the public-private partnership, which is a challenge with regard to our process because it is not vetted. We have gone through this before for our border crossing and I am really concerned that we will need major incentives which would raise the tolls, and the tolls are an additional tax on citizens.

    There is a difference between a public and private partnership. Recently, the city of Windsor successfully sued for its portion of the tunnel. We were in a relationship there, but the operator and owner of the tunnel kept it past the 50-year date line that they were supposed to, and kept the proceeds as well. When I was on city council, the mayor, Mike Hurst, successfully sued. We found a document showing that the owner had to return the tunnel to the public. However, we found the state of the tunnel in such disrepair that we had to put millions of dollars into it right away just for it to be safe. The private sector had a different model, which was basically to sponge every nickel out of the thing. The result was that they did not put the maintenance money into it.

Now successfully operating under the City of Windsor, it provides a revenue stream to the city for infrastructure and other projects, and it has been fixed up and repaired. Interestingly, the private sector on the other side that owns the lease agreements from the City of Detroit actually charges more money for crossing than what we charge on the Canadian side, because again it is going to squeeze everything it can. In fact, it does not even have parity in terms of money, despite the dollar being relatively similar over the number of years that we have had being close to parity with the United States. That is one of the issues that I want to touch on a bit later. I will leave it at that for the border, but we are a far way from being done and the public–private partnership that we have is a big exposure because the finances are not allocated right at this particular time.

    As New Democrats, we have been raising the process that has taken place for this budget bill, and what has happened. It is important that I lay out a bit about why we believe that the process is so broken, and it is one of the reasons that the Conservatives are going back to fix things that they tried to fix in the last budget bills.

    A number of years ago, it was the Paul Martin administration under the Liberals that started to add components of legislation in the budget bill. “Omnibus bills” is what they are specifically known as, and they have a number of different things that are travelling with the bill that would normally have an independent process. That is important because this is similar to what in the Americans call “riders”, where they attach all kinds of unusual things as they cut deals to try to get the budget passed, so all kinds of pet projects and things will go through.

    The issues that we are dealing with in this budget bill are very serious. We have the Immigration Act, the Department of Foreign Affairs trade and development act, the Investment Canada Act, to say a few, that are through the budget bill as opposed to having a full vetting at committee systems. Committee systems are important because at a committee we have a number of different individuals who will be invited to come forward, provide their testimony and then from there we get experts and we really hash it out. Sometimes there is actually support for legislation and for changes or we find mistakes in bills that were put forth accidentally. Not every piece of legislation is drafted in a foreseen manner and will pass the test of metal, so it requires amendments. Amendments will be made, voted on and then returned here to this chamber. That is the normal process, and usually it takes a bit longer, but at the same time it makes for better legislation. Unfortunately, we have all these different things that have been put in front.

     The committees that the budget bill has gone to have been the finance committee, the industry committee, the citizenship and immigration committee, the human resources and skills development committee, veterans affairs committee, foreign affairs committee and international development committee. Through that process, despite looking at spending billions of dollars here, there were thirty-three amendments by the New Democrats, eight by the Liberals and zero from the Conservatives. Therefore, what we see here is a budget bill that is going to go through with very little debate and very little expertise review.

    I would just make one other point with regard to the finances in the budget. The budget continues on a reckless path of cutting revenues without increasing the access to supports that we need to be able to pay for some of them. This is what I am referring to with regard to corporate tax cuts that continue. We are borrowing money and we will pay interest on those corporate tax cuts because we do not have a surplus right now. Therefore, we are taking resources out of our system and paying a premium for them at a time when we should not be doing that.

     That is how the HST was brought in. I commissioned an independent paper that looked at the HST when we had to borrow $6 billion to do so, and if we got back to a surplus and paid it off in 10 years, as an independent paper estimated, we would spend around $8 billion to bring it in. Therefore, when we are going to pay a premium for something, we had better get something of value out of it, and I do not think we are.

    This budget would continue subsidies for the oil and gas industry. It supports tax reductions for banks, insurance companies and others that certainly are making a profit right now.

    We need to make better decisions.