Brian and Joe on Bill C-3
Now our freshly re-elected NDPers, without having control of the balance of power this time, are out there again telling their tales about the border and hurting Windsor in the process.
I have already pointed out some of what Jeff Watson had to say on the border. I thought it best to set out both of our Windsor MPs' speeches on Bill C-3 along with my comments to let you decide on your own, dear reader, how helpful they are to us on this vital issue!
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak today to Bill C-3, a significant bill relating to bridges and tunnels that connect our country with the United States. Bill C-3 is actually a part of a former bill, Bill C-44, which was a package of three other elements that have been left behind at the moment to deal with this significant and important issue. I give the government credit for doing so. It is important that we recognize that this bill has a high priority.
I would like to note that I will be splitting my time with the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, who is also affected by this issue. Windsor West, Windsor—Tecumseh and Essex County have significant border infrastructure issues that have affected not only our community but the county and even the country.
In fact, 40% of the trade with the United States happens along two kilometres of the Detroit River on a daily basis. There are four border crossings in the Windsor West corridor that are involved in the transport of goods, services and people on a regular basis. They have significant impacts not only on the health and vibrancy of the constituents in my riding but also on this country's ability to trade with the United States.
I am pleased that there are many elements in this bill coming forward. It will be important to add some accountability at the border that is not there at this point in time. In fact, there are 24 international bridges and tunnels that connect the United States and Canada. There is really just organized chaos in terms of the way they are actually run and administered right now. A few have some very good best practices. I would point to Niagara Falls and the Fort Erie-Buffalo region that have border commissions and actually have oversight, operation and public ownership, which is critical to the oversight and governance. [Brian oh Brian, you can keep spreading the myth but saying it does not make it so. Your business model should have been the Ambassador Bridge. "at the Ambassador Bridge, the buffer index for inbound truck traffic was just over 65 percent, reflecting a 95th percentile time of 33.9 minutes during the average travel time of 20.4 minutes. This indicates that, even with its substantial volume of traffic, operators of the Ambassador Bridge sustained movement across the bridge without imposing lengthy increases in delay times. Contrasting markedly with this was the inbound buffer index at the Peace Bridge of 266 percent, where the 95th percentile time (83.4 minutes) far exceeded the calculated average crossing time (23.3 minutes)."]
Members of the public who are watching this debate today and others across Canada may not realize how at risk we are in terms of the corridor in my riding and the influence of 40% plus of trade that is done on a daily basis. In the Windsor-Detroit corridor there are currently four different border crossings and there is no oversight whatsoever. There is a complete void in the aspects of safety, security, best practices, and has actually put the community at risk.
Currently, a fifth border crossing is under examination. The first of the four others is an international tunnel owned by the city of Detroit and the city of Windsor. The city of Detroit has decided on a long term lease on its side of the tunnel. The city of Windsor actually owns and operates the tunnel after it was in the private sector for so many years. It was rundown and the municipality had to fight to get it back. [Actually, the Windsor side is run by DCTC, not the City, under contract.]
Since that time, we have kept fares low, [The combined passenger car fare to cross the border at he Cities-owned tunnel, is higher than at the private Ambassador Bridge.] put investment back into public infrastructure and increased the safety aspect of it [Does Brian know that the "public," Windsor City-owned Tunnel exhausts non-cleaned air from the Tunnel into the City?] which we did not have previous knowledge of because it was once again private infrastructure. Without Bill C-3, there are very little safety regulations, inspections, and empowerment from the federal government to look after those jurisdictional items that are so important to infrastructure.
The Ambassador Bridge is the second crossing. In terms of transport trucks and cars, this is the busiest bridge in North America and processes the most trucks in the world on a regular basis. Almost 40,000 vehicles traverse the corridor. The vast majority, I think 34%, use the Ambassador Bridge. [I wonder why so many use that crossing. Perhaps because of its excellent border operation management?]
In that capacity, a private American citizen actually owns the Ambassador Bridge. [Oh my, foreigners also own the Big Three auto companies in Windsor that have caused so much prosperity as well to the area. He bought it fairly didn't he? It was not illegal for him to do so was it? Didn't the Canadian Government have the opportunity to buy it years ago but did not?] The most important infrastructure, which is 75 years plus, [Bridges around North America are older and carry more traffic and still function well] is owned by a private American, and has the highest fares in the region by far [not true see above] and the least amount of accountability because there are no laws of governance. [If there is NO accountabilty at all, why is the Bridge the worst. And you know that there are inspections that go on!] Lastly, I would argue, it has caused considerable grief in the community because of a lack of planning and oversight, not only in terms of the operation of the site itself but also the previous government not increasing trade corridor expansion. [Geez Brian, they and not the Canadian Government, fought the US to get four new customs booths opened and staffed to clear up the truck back-ups on Huron Church Road and then built them. Remember that they succeeded too to the point that the Windsor Star Editor now complains of trucks moving too quickly on that road now and not about backups! How can they be responsible for the Government not increasing capacity? Many on the US side are questioning the need for a new border crossing now]
The third is a rail tunnel operated by CP Rail. This is a significantly old infrastructure. I believe it is close to 100 years old. It has two rail tubes. There is a proposal for regeneration, which is beneficial for the rail aspect, but at the same time there is a private proponent that is looking to expand border capacity called the DRTP, which is the city is universally opposed to. [And DRIC too.]
The fourth and last is a ferry operator that transports hazardous waste materials. I am going to use that as an example of the lack of oversight we have in terms of the border and more importantly some of the things that have been happening that this legislation is going to address. [I wonder if you should mention that, at one time, an NDP member and others were opposed to the truck ferry and an environmentalist asked why hazardous goods were not being carried across the Ambassadro Bridge. Nawwww don't do that; it hurts your argument]
One of them is in regard to a newspaper article. I have asked for an investigation from the government. I have yet to receive a response from the minister's office. The office called back asking for a second copy of the letter I sent but it has not actually dealt with it yet. It is a very serious issue. It is about chemicals and hazardous materials that are crossing the Ambassador Bridge and that is not supposed to be happening. [The "hazardous" chemical, as you know since you receive my Blog had the pH value (measure of acidity) somewhere between a Pepsi Cola and lemon juice." Nawwwww don't tell anyone that; it hurts your argument. It is not my fault if the Star did not report that too.]
The Ambassador Bridge goes across the Detroit River which is connected to the Great Lakes ecosystem. From the legislation on the United States side, which is different from the Canadian side, certain chemical materials are not supposed to be traversing over the Ambassador Bridge. They are supposed to go to a ferry operator operated by Gregg Ward, which is down river by about two kilometres. His company has received grants and awards from the Homeland Security Department because of the types of operations it has on site to ensure the goods and materials cross safely.
There has been a public spat between the Ambassador Bridge and some of its operators. The headline of a Windsor Star article reads: "Bridge OKs risky cargo: Letter of permission given to chemical company". The article then states:
The Ambassador Bridge is telling its toll collectors to wave through trucks carrying hazardous cargo in violation of a U.S. ban, according to a document obtained by The Star.
It goes on to say:
Bridge spokesman Skip McMahon claimed last week he was unaware of any such shipments.
But a representative of another firm, Harold Marcus Ltd., a Bothwell-based transportation company, said it uses the crossing almost daily to import alum.
The representative said the company did so with the bridge's blessing and said other companies are also granted permission to haul hazardous cargo across the bridge. The Windsor West MP is calling on the federal Public Safety Minister to investigate the reports.
We are yet to hear about that. That is on a daily basis. We know that there is no accountability on this aspect of the file and we have to sit and wait. [You did hear about it Brian from my BLOG. The Star story appears to contain incorrect information but why let that little detail trouble you]
This has significant implications because if there were a spill or accident, there would be very little that could be done. [Of course something could be done...the Lemon Pepsi could be wiped up!] That is why we agree that Bill C-3 must have some regulations and oversight to ensure that federal officials can examine and do best practices. Not only could an accident just happen but we do not have the capacity to respond to it. We know our fire department has very limited operations in terms of going onto the Ambassador Bridge and the hazardous material would then go into the Detroit River and contaminate it. [What does this mean---"limited operations?" And what would happen if the ferry had a major accident resulting in a spill ]
It is also not reducing some of the chemical exposures that we have through our corridor. This is why Bill C-3 is very important. It is one of the elements that we believe should go forward.
I would also like to note some of the failings in Bill C-3. We are concerned right now that the ministerial powers on connecting infrastructure seem to be very dominant in the bill. That is one of the things that we would like to examine, ways that we can actually have some type of involvement from a municipal aspect, so the infrastructure relationship in the corridor can be softened. [We had that Brian until your friend, Eddie, caused Windsorites major problems. Tell your colleagues about the Snub as an example!]
I know that in my municipality of Windsor West there may be an imposed solution in terms of connecting the Ambassador Bridge to the 401 because ironically it was a provincial Conservative government and a Liberal federal government that ended construction of the 401 in a farmer's field because they were fighting. It is about eight miles short of the Ambassador Bridge crossing, so we actually have the 401 in the busiest part of this corridor stop in a farmer's field and then it connects to a city linking road because those two governments could not get along. As a result of that we still have backups. [Oh Brian, the back-ups are OVER. YOUR misinformation is killing our economy] There are a number of different problems related to schools, churches, businesses and institutions that have built up along there. They will need compensation if there is going to be any type of shift in the type of landscape. [That will be required for any corridor, be fair]
In summary, we support the bill as an important step forward. There are many aspects that I would like to get into but I cannot. I wanted to highlight the need of this to the general public of Canada. There is such a significant degree of infrastructure problems in Windsor West. There are risks associated as well with having a private infrastructure connecting Canada and the United States as a business conduit as opposed to what it should be, and that is a social, economic conduit between our two countries. [You have not yet identified any especially since the private operator seems to be the leading border crossing operator along our border!]
Instead of raking in profits between these two transportation link elements, we should have a high degree of accountability, security and scrutiny with the lowest cost possible for the free flow of goods, services and people. [This is laughable when we read the stories from other members about their bridges lacking maintenance because of lack of money from artificially low tolls. Now we have major infrastucture issues across Canada costing huge amounts because of political interference in the past!] That can only be done with public infrastructure oversight. The government is tabling a piece of legislation that will have some benefits. We are cautious on a few elements and we are looking forward to working on those in committee. [Perhaps there, the Bridge Co. can clear up the misinformation and disinformation spread by others]
Mr. Joe Comartin (Windsor—Tecumseh, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, this is the first opportunity I have had to give a speech since the 39th Parliament started, although I have been up on my feet on a few other occasions. I want to acknowledge and thank the constituents of Windsor--Tecumseh for their support. It is extremely humbling. I pledge to them, as I have each time, to do my very best to represent them here in Ottawa.
The bill is one that is way overdue. It is interesting to hear the Liberal side taking credit for this, but the reality is that we did not get the bill from them. We did not get the provisions of the bill that have been badly needed in my community, in the city of Windsor and the county of Essex, for a very long period of time. This became extremely accentuated after 9/11. When 9/11 occurred, we sat for the first 24 to 36 hours with literally kilometres of delays at our borders. Part of this was that we did not have a legislative infrastructure. The federal government could have moved much more effectively had it had that legislative infrastructure to control the problems that we were confronted with on that occasion. [Be real...there were problems at all of the border points, including the public ones, because this kind of event had never happened before!]
That has now been repeated over the last four to four and a half years, repeatedly, [Oh you are spreading the same misinformation about truck back-ups in Windsor too?] and it is a problem that our city and our province of Ontario are suffering from, but so is the federal government in terms of tax revenue, efficient administration of our border crossings and our relationship at the international level with the United States.
The provisions in the bill are fairly general. It will be attempting to provide a legislative framework and then follow that with what I hope and expect, for my riding and my constituents, will be a very detailed regulatory body of rules that will in effect allow for an efficient, proper administration at our border crossings.
We in our city and county have the distinction of having more trade and more passengers, both vehicular and rail, than any other place in the country. We are the key crossing, as the House heard earlier from the member for Windsor West. Almost 40% of all the trade between Canada and the United States occurs in one of those four crossings in the Windsor area, through rail, ferry, the tunnel for passenger cars and some trucks, and the bridge.
As most members of the House know, at least the members who were here in the last Parliament, we have been struggling for a good number of years to reach a final consensus on a new crossing, on where it should be located, how it will be funded and how it will be owned and managed. This bill would have helped significantly had it been law, with the regulations along with it, to expedite that process. [Frankly, I believe that the process would have been very similar to DRIC!]
It is actually interesting to watch on the U.S. side how on several occasions their authorities, both at the state level and the federal level, were able to intervene and speed up the process. We did not have the ability to do that. [They did that NOT because of any legislation but because of political will, a commodity that seems to be lacking in Caanda.] At the federal level well over 10 years ago, if not closer to 20, the U.S. changed its legislative framework to make it possible to effectively and efficiently deal with border crossing issues. This legislation would accomplish that assuming the regulatory framework is put in place.
It will deal, as the encompassing legislation allows for, with the regulation with regard to the management and operation of crossings and the roads and streets running up to those crossings, which is a fairly important feature in the bill because it is not a provision within our existing law at all. [Eddie and David Estrin will not like you saying that. You just showed how their threatened lawsuit against the Senior Levels will be of no effect!] What is also very important is that it will, for the first time, significantly control the ownership and change in ownership of border crossings.
We have a major problem in our area in that the Ambassador Bridge, which is by far the single busiest crossing in this country, is owned by an American business person who runs it obviously in his interest and not in the interest of the communities on either side of the border. That is a major problem. [Again the anti-Americanism. It is so easy isn't it? Frankly, if the Bridge Co. is the best operator in North America, then let us have more of private enterprise running the borders! I wonder if the Bridge Co. can act as consultant to the Government on this to help improve the poor operations at public crossings. I repeat again--who fought for, opened and paid for the booths that solved the truck back-up problem in windsor. A hint---it was NOT the Government.] . The ownership issue is going to be very crucial as we reach the final decisions on how this new crossing is owned and managed.
I have had a fair amount of involvement on the whole issue of public security, which is one of my critic responsibilities for my party, and I just want to point out a number of incidents we have had happen that, again, a proper regulatory function would assist us with.
We have a major air quality problem, particularly at the Ambassador Bridge but also at the tunnel, because of the number of vehicles that are crossing in a confined space, oftentimes with significant delays. We know that the health of the people who work at those structures is being imperilled, as is the health of the people who live in the immediate areas.
There is a major problem at our border crossings with illegal trafficking in weapons, drugs and humans. I know, from having had extensive discussions with police forces on both sides of the border, that we need to significantly augment our coordination and cooperation. They attempt to do it and I want to give them credit for that, but an overall streamlined framework on the Canadian side would significantly improve our ability to deal with those problems.
Quite frankly, we have problems with protocols. We have had two really quite significant incidents of police forces on the U.S. side crossing over without permission. On one occasion it was a chase through the tunnel that occurred in the downtown core of both Detroit and Windsor. They were coming across with guns in hand and apprehending alleged drug dealers on the Canadian side. It was done in the presence of a large number of regular passengers moving through that tunnel, and staff were present with no protection. This is a clear breach of the protocol. We think we have now cleared up the problem, but we cannot help but think that if we had had the proper regulatory framework it would not have happened in the first place.
There was another incident with a police officer who realized at the last minute that he was carrying his gun. He attempted to take it out as he was coming across the bridge and, I suppose, hide it somewhere in the vehicle, and he shot himself in the foot. That occurred as he was in the line approaching customs. His gun very easily could have discharged and injured other people. Again, the ability to regulate and to some degree publicize in the United States the need for them to keep their guns on that side of the border could be, I believe, much more efficiently handled with the type of regulatory framework that I envision coming out of this legislation.
The House has already heard of the problem that we are having with hazardous materials. We know, and I say this with some degree of confidence, that hazardous materials are being taken across the bridge. That is illegal. Hazardous materials are supposed to cross on the barge ferry. It is not happening and we do not have the ability to enforce this. Again, it is because of the lack of coordination and the streamlining that is required, which should come out of this legislation.
All of this is a major concern for us in the Windsor-Essex County area.
The NDP is in support of this legislation. We do have some concerns, some of which will be fine-tuning of the legislation. The one major concern we do have is the ministerial discretion that is encompassed in part of the legislation. I can advise the government that our members at committee will be pressing hard to tighten up how that discretion can be exercised, so that the concerns of the local community will continue to be protected. We are hearing quite clearly from the local community members that it is a concern on their part.