Masse on C-3 and Windsor Border
June 19th, 2006 - 8:13pm
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak on this matter in the House of Commons and the amendments that have been proposed here tonight. I thank the parliamentary secretary for his work as well as members opposite. I enjoyed working on the transport committee and I thank those members too.
I am going to spend a few minutes correcting some misinformation. First of all, the notion of consulting municipalities and local governments was brought forth originally in a discussion in this chamber. We strongly objected to the fact that this was not part of the bill. Anyone can look up our objections in Hansard. This was raised continually in committee.
The parliamentary secretary is suggesting that this is a government amendment, but I would remind him that this amendment is standing in a government member's name only. An original amendment was put forth by the NDP which was debated extensively and there was agreement in principle. What we were looking for tonight were some additional amendments that would actually have provided consistency.
We have the situation where the operational elements of border crossings at an international bridge or tunnel have some vested partner input in the area, but the same situation does not apply for the sale, alteration or construction of the areas that affect border crossings, and these can be quite significant.
For the parliamentary secretary to give the impression here tonight that we are actually throwing something at the government is irresponsible, and I say that with all due respect. These amendments were tabled in this House of Commons on June 13. Despite the original discussion that we had over a month ago, despite the information that we traded at committee, and despite the fact that these amendments have been on the order paper since that time, the government is obviously not really interested in moving forward on due consultation with vested partners.
I think it is important to paint the reasons why as New Democrats we believe that this should move forward. There was an agreement between all parties here. I thank the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois for supporting a motion to move these amendments tonight. We have the power and the ability to do so, but the government has chosen not to at this moment. That is the reality.
The government has chosen to shut the door. It is shutting the door to other levels of government. It is shutting the door to the provinces. It is shutting the door on the people affected by these border crossings. People's lives are being affected.
Why is this important? It is important because border communities like Windsor, Fort Erie or places in Quebec have bottleneck problems with transportation. Often heavy-handed solutions are imposed on us. However, nobody wants the cars and trucks to move more freely through our municipalities than the people who live in these municipalities. They are choking on smog and pollution. They also have to face the heavy traffic congestion.
That is why these amendments are important and that is why they were put forward in this House. They were put forward to put consistency in the bill.
We are debating government Motion No. 3. It calls for the minister to consult with other levels of government that have jurisdiction over any place where an international bridge or tunnel is situated and with any person who has a direct interest in the matter. Why is this important? It is important because 24 international bridges and tunnels connect Canada with the United States. Of those 24, two are privately owned. There are no regulations or authority over them.
This is why we are looking at changing this bill in terms of having some accountability, which is so important as previous speakers have articulated. The daily transportation value between our two countries amounts to $1.5 billion a day. About 42% of the nation's trade travels on a regular basis through my community alone.
I have seen what has happened in the past and this is why I believe in these amendments. The government should change its position and listen for a change because it is in a minority position. The government needs to be reminded of that fact quite often. This is a minority Parliament. Canadians need to understand that we need to keep the government on a short leash. If we do not do that, it will use its heavy-handed nature. It is important that the Conservative government be kept on a short leash.
We have had a situation over a number of decades in Windsor. Thousands of trucks per day rumble through the city streets and there is no solution. A proposal was finally made to remedy this situation.
There were two phases. The first phase was signed with every single level of government participating. There were projects to create a pedestrian crosswalk. We actually have a high school where mothers have been killed.
The member for Essex is now saying that people do not use it. That is not true. The member for Essex should remember what is most important, that students should have a right to have a safe crossing to get to their high school. That should be a right. The member for Essex should remember that. That project had full consent. We actually have a pedestrian crosswalk now that crosses at Huron Church Road.
There are other projects that are very beneficial. The Walker Road rail separation has been held up, but there is consent and it is moving slowly forward. This is a rail separation grade that will be very important for the nation's trade, next to the most successful manufacturing plant since World War II, which is the minivan Chrysler plant. We will have a separation grade in the future.
Other highway updates for safety such as LED signage and a whole series of things were all signed, together with consultation. The projects are moving very slowly, but they are moving together.
Phase two is a different situation. Phase two was an imposed solution on the municipality by the provincial and federal governments of the day. Phase two has met resistance. It has met bureaucracy. It has met a whole series of problems because people are offside. All this amendment is calling for and all we are asking for is consultation. Consultation is so important.
For example, if the Ambassador Bridge were to be sold in the future, it is important to have that consultation, not only with the municipality, the local government, and the province, but other businesses because they would be affected as the Ambassador Bridge is owned by a private American citizen. There is a series of connections of businesses that literally monopolize the crossing. That is a very important fact to remember.
Who will own that crossing in the future? We do not know if it is going to be the government. We still do not have any commitment from the government that the new crossing to be built between Windsor and Detroit is to be publicly owned and operated. We still cannot get that far as it has not been put to paper. If it is sold in the future, there will be an onus to discuss the situation with the local people and the local partners.
I know there is a concern being expressed. I do not diminish the potential of lawsuits with this type of consultation process. That is why, if we use due diligence, we will see a consultation process that will carry its weight at the end of the day and we will discourage any attempt to stonewall things and prevent them from moving forward.
However, we must have the best possible legislation. At the end of the day, is this the best possible legislation? No, not without these clauses and amendments.
It is important to recognize one of the amendments that deals with construction on both sides of a border crossing. It is very important to ensure that we have coordination. As things currently stand, on the Ambassador Bridge side, there will be construction on the American side for a plaza. Right now there are scheduling conflicts on the Canadian side at the Windsor-Detroit tunnel because there will actually be construction there.
We can have projects overlapping and construction to fix facilities to move traffic which will slow traffic. We end up having a clogging of the arteries without the due process.
I do not think the minister would have any ill will and would not want to consult with people in local jurisdictions. I do not assume that as a premise, but as a witness, as a member in the House, there has not been, with due respect, a consultation process.
Coming from my municipal roots and seeing what the traffic, the pollution, and the congestion has done, and the lack of investment, we need to ensure that border crossings across this country are done efficiently, in terms of the process of consultation. They must be done effectively, so that they are managed on a regular basis. Finally, they must be supported by good, grounded legislation. The bill is failing in that department at this time.
Mr. Brian Masse:
Mr. Speaker, what had happened is that there was an agreement to actually unanimously move the NDP motions. There were four on the order paper that were tabled as early as June 13. We voluntarily withdrew two of those amendments because the government came up with logical reasons as to why Motion No. 2 and Motion No. 5 were not consistent with what the policy should be. I agreed with that decision.
From there, we were to work forward and get unanimous consent on amending Motions Nos. 1 and 4. That was agreed to by the government at that time. It was going to bring forward changes. What the government did at the last minute is withdraw that, and not only once, because the government withdrew that and our party tried a second time. We were told it was going to move forward and again the government withdrew it.
I know the government is concerned about lawsuits, but let us think of the lawsuits against the government with regard to changing civil marriage, for example. Let us think about the lawsuits on a whole series of things. If the government is going to be afraid of things and put out the lawsuit issue, that is not sufficient.
The amendments that were being proposed obviously would not lead to that situation. Everyone has seen them before. These amendments have been in the House before. If the government were serious about consultation, it would have actually come back to me at some point in time before tonight; it is not only ourselves. This is due process in this chamber. Everything that has been talked about is due process.
Mr. Brian Masse:
Mr. Speaker, first of all, no, absolutely not. That is why “levels of government” is part of the motion. Obviously the province is very much a part of this process. The mere fact that municipalities are creatures of the province is significant because that is bound by legislation itself. That covers this off fairly consistently.
In terms of other parties, of banks and whatnot potentially having an upset, then yes, if the government is not going to follow a fair due process and it is going to show favouritism to particular parties or interest groups or people it supports or has some connections to, as we have seen in the past, then they will bring on those lawsuits. This is calling for a greater scrutiny upfront for due consultation and due process. I think that is going to make a better bill and avoid lawsuits because those things will be scripted out very consistently.
What I think is important to remember is that it will be at the front end. The expectations will be there. That will alleviate the problem in itself. I believe in prevention. I think these clauses speak to an element of prevention that is very significant.