Why Canada Needs The Senate (Part II)
Look especially at what the Government has committed to do as demanded by the Senators!
Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
1st Session, 39th Parliament,
Volume 143, Issue 60
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker
International Bridges and Tunnels Bill
Report of Committee Adopted
On the Order:
The Senate proceeded to consideration of the sixth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications (Bill C-3, An Act respecting international bridges and tunnels and making a consequential amendment to another Act, with amendments and observations), presented in the Senate earlier this day.
Hon. Lise Bacon moved the adoption of the report.
She said: Honourable senators, the amendments adopted by the committee are technical and they do not change the substance of the bill. In the English version, subsection 7(1.1) and 24(1.1) have been amended. The terminology used in these provisions was not consistent with the terminology found elsewhere in the bill.
In subsection 7(1.1) and 24(1.1) in the bill, as amended by the House of Commons, there is a reference to levels of governments that have authority. The problem is that the terminology used elsewhere in the bill is not consistent with the term "authority," and the term "jurisdiction" is used instead.
In order to ensure that no element of uncertainty is introduced in the meaning of the provisions by the presence of the two distinct terms, the proposed amendments are necessary.
The French version also has a legal problem having to do with the terminology. The municipalities are not covered in the current wording of subsections 7(1.1) and 24(1.1) of the bill. There is a reference to levels of government that have authority. It is well established in Canadian terminology, in the French language, that there are only two levels of government in Canada: the federal government and the provincial governments. Furthermore, we cannot talk about the federal minister consulting with the other levels of government because notwithstanding the federal government, there is only one other level of government. It is therefore impossible to use the plural in this sentence.
Finally, in section 15(2), in French, the expression "l'administration municipale" is replaced with "la municipalité". This is a correction to the translation.
Hon. Terry M. Mercer: Honourable senators, my speech says I am pleased to rise, but I am not overly excited about rising to debate this bill, as it presently exists. However, I am happy to talk on Bill C-3, the international bridges and tunnels act.
I would like to make it clear at the outset that I am not opposed to the premise or the content of this bill. However, I am dismayed by the quickness with which we are passing it through the Senate.
My colleagues will suggest we have already studied this bill in detail both here and in the other place. While that may be true, that does not necessarily mean that it is a reason to push the bill through the process.
Let us review what has happened thus far. Several amendments were made in the other place to improve upon some aspects of the bill, which included, for example, the concerns of municipalities. While in the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, we heard from stakeholders, including the Minister of Transport.
In the other place, and here in the Senate and in committee, much concern was expressed over the Windsor-Detroit corridor, as well as the other crossings in Canada. The Windsor crossing was mentioned several times, not only by the bridge operators but also by the Mayor of Windsor himself. This is not surprising as this is the most important passage of trade goods between Canada and the United States.
Traffic concerns were discussed and, most importantly, security matters in this era of heightened diligence post-9/11. That being said, you may wonder why I seem to be impeding the passage of this important piece of legislation. I do not think I am.
Honourable senators, as far as I am aware, the existing legislation has served us well. Special acts of Parliament are approved currently to build a bridge or tunnel. During the process, regulations are and have to be followed, including but not limited to addressing security concerns and monitoring environmental impacts on the region.
My overall concern with this bill is the processes that are currently being completed. If we pass this new legislation, what is to happen to those processes? Significant amounts of money and time have already been invested by government and by the private sector.
As an aside, honourable senators, I find it interesting that I, a very left-leaning Liberal, will be giving a speech defending private enterprise in Windsor, Ontario, while the government members, who are the free enterprise party, are pushing this and want to get this through the Senate very quickly. I look at myself in the mirror as I debate this motion and wonder what has gone wrong.
With respect to the people who are proposing new things in Windsor, in particular, do they have to endure the process again, the very processes that were already followed to the letter and in concurrence with existing statutes?
Our own briefings in committee on this topic stated that there are currently a number of proposals under consideration for the construction or alteration of new and existing facilities. We heard from one, the Ambassador Bridge. Why did we not hear from the others?
Honourable senators, let me be clear; I am not opposed to anyone, any private company or our own government to follow the rule of the law. My concern is that we are doubling our efforts and impeding the process already in place. As well, are we standing in the way of free enterprise and private sector investment? Are we also increasing government spending at this point in time when we do not need to, when private enterprise is willing to do it for us?
The purpose of this bill, to my understanding, is to streamline the process. However, we cannot forget that many are already following the very processes the bill proposes to outline.
Honourable senators, I am also concerned that funding for the Windsor corridor and for many of the crossings in Canada previously announced may be in trouble. We have seen decreases in numbers of crossings at various places, including the tunnel from Windsor to Detroit. By the way, the committee that oversees that tunnel is chaired by guess who? The Mayor of Windsor. I would suggest perhaps the Mayor of Windsor may have a conflict as he debates how other people see this.
In September of 2002, $300 million was approved over five years as part of an overall federal-provincial plan for border crossings, signed by Premier Eves of Ontario and by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien on behalf of the Government of Canada. This deal will end in 2007. Has the funding been spent? If not, is it in trouble of being withheld if we pass this bill?
Some of my colleagues suggest that has nothing to do with the bill; I respectfully disagree. While no bill before us will be perfect and no bill will resolve our problems, I am concerned this bill may impede certain aspects of regulatory authority already working well. That is why I proposed an amendment in committee to section 57 to clarify that the current process be allowed to continue and be approved, using the current process. Then the law emanating from Bill C-3 would apply to all proposals. That was to remove the part of the bill that was retroactive. Most of us do not feel comfortable passing retroactive laws. This seems reasonable and fair.
However, this amendment was not approved by the committee and, therefore, I will not impose the same amendment on the chamber. Since it did not pass the committee, I suspect it would not pass the chamber. However, I ask that honourable senators review what has happened with this bill and think about what I have said when you vote at report stage and at third reading of this bill.
Honourable senators, this seems to be a very straightforward bill but, quite frankly, it is a bill designed to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to impede the process of a private company in the Windsor-Detroit corridor and to allow the Government of Canada in conjunction with the City of Windsor to get involved in the profitable business of border crossings at the busiest border crossing in our country.
Hon. David Tkachuk: Honourable senators, I want to thank the members of the committee, who were very diligent in studying this bill. We spent some seven meetings on it. It is a fairly simple bill and has been before us in one form or another twice before.
We did not always agree on certain aspects of the bill and some of the issues were contentious. However, at the end of the day, the committee agreed that the bill only merited a few technical amendments, which were left over from amendments, as the chairman of the committee has mentioned, from the House of Commons. We also added observations to the bill, on which we all agreed. I think that will help the government as it moves to implement the legislation, which reflected some of the concerns that some members had about certain aspects of the bill.
I want to especially thank Senator Bacon, the chair of the committee, who sets a standard for this chamber in reasonableness and common sense. We worked together on the observations, and they were passed unanimously.
Having said that, I also want to add that the Minister of Transport has asked me to convey to the Senate that upon passage of Bill C-3 the government will undertake to move as quickly as possible to ease congestion at all of Canada's bridge and tunnel crossings with the United States, particularly at Windsor and Fort Erie.
Hon. Jerahmiel S. Grafstein: Honourable senators, I do not mean to impede the passage of this bill, but I am in a bit of a quandary, having heard Senator Mercer and the sponsor of this bill, Senator Tkachuk.
As honourable senators know, a key issue for productivity in this country is bridge crossings. Sixty-seven per cent of all goods by traffic flow through two border points: Windsor-Detroit and Buffalo-Niagara. These border points have not been expanded — I do not use the word "modernization" — in over 70 years. While our trade is racing ahead by leaps and bounds, these are still two choke points on the ground.
We have several situations, as Senator Mercer pointed out. The bridge is in private hands; the tunnel in Windsor is in city hands; and the other bridge is in other hands.
The report was interesting in that it is somewhat contradictory of the public interest. I am not clear because I did not sit on the committee and have not had a chance to read all the testimony. I am looking to the comments in the report, and it reads:
On the question of the federal government's potential involvement in future international crossing projects, your Committee heard suggestions that the provisions in the bill that allow the Minister of Transport to recommend to the Governor in Council whether or not to approve a project would lead to a substantial conflict of interest for the Minister. On this point, officials noted that Transport Canada currently does not own or operate a single international bridge or tunnel. The existing federal structures belong to Crown corporations, which are autonomous even if the Minister of Transport is responsible for them. To quote an official, "the Minister has absolutely no authority over the day-to-day activities of these organizations, including those dealing with safety and security." Therefore, given the autonomous ownership and operational arrangements established for existing federal structures, your Committee is confident that the Minister of Transport will not be in a position of conflict of interest in the future. However, the Minister of Transport should be particularly sensitive to any situation where the federal government is in a situation where there is the appearance of conflict, especially when the interests of a private enterprise are at stake.
I am respectful of all of that, but, again, it is a clash here between the private interest and the national interest. The national interest demands that there be expansion of these two bridges. I am delighted to receive Senator Tkachuk's statement from the minister. However, I ask him this: Would the sponsor of the bill give the Senate of Canada assurance that the Government of Canada is committed to a speedy expansion of border crossings at the Windsor-Detroit and Buffalo-Niagara regions, which would be in the great interest of Canada's productivity and economy?
Senator Tkachuk: Yes.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is there further debate?
Are honourable senators ready for the question?
Hon. Senators: Question!
The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Motion agreed to and report adopted.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the third time?
On motion of Senator Eyton, bill, as amended, placed on the Orders of the Day for third reading at the next sitting of the Senate.
Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
1st Session, 39th Parliament,
Volume 143, Issue 61
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker
International Bridges and Tunnels Bill
Hon. J. Trevor Eyton moved third reading of Bill C-3, An Act respecting international bridges and tunnels and making a consequential amendment to another Act, as amended.
He said: Honourable senators, I am pleased to rise during third reading debate of Bill C-3, an act respecting international bridges and tunnels.
We heard something of the act yesterday when that well-known free enterpriser, Senator Mercer, as well as Senator Tkachuk commented on the bill. I will try not to repeat their remarks.
As you have heard, the Transport and Communications Committee met seven times to study this bill, starting November 8, 2006, when they heard testimony from Minister Cannon and Transport Canada officials. The committee also heard from core stakeholders: the Bridge and Tunnel Operators Association, an association that groups 11 of Ontario's busiest crossings; the City of Windsor; the Canadian Transit Company, owner and operator of the Ambassador Bridge; and the Teamsters Union. These are the same stakeholders that made representations to the House Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities. These stakeholders have in common, a direct interest with Windsor and Windsor border issues. Much of the discussion in committee, therefore, focused on Windsor, its current traffic problems, the need for additional border security, initiatives led by governments on both sides of the border and by private entrepreneurs to build the next border crossing, issues about how this new crossing will be financed and who will ultimately own it.
Honourable senators, committee members listened to the particular concerns expressed by each of these stakeholders. The committee heard the City of Windsor's desire to be consulted in connection with all decisions made by the federal government with respect to any international bridges and tunnels either new or existing in its territory. Committee members heard of the city's fear that Bill C-3 would allow the federal government to extend its jurisdiction over international bridges and tunnels to municipal roads leading to those structures. The owners of the Ambassador Bridge fear that the federal government will use Bill C-3 as a means to build a new crossing that will compete and ultimately run the existing bridge out of business. The Teamsters' concerns are for the safety, security and privacy of its workers currently employed by these structures. All of these concerns are legitimate.
The Windsor region supports much of Canada's and Ontario's trade with the United States, our largest trading partner. Canada's economy would definitely suffer without the international bridges and tunnels that facilitate that trade.
That being said, Bill C-3 does not only apply to the international bridges and tunnels in the Windsor area. It applies to all of Canada's international bridges and tunnels, totalling 24. Some are new and existing; some are privately and publicly owned. That is why we must keep the bigger picture in mind.
The existing international bridges and tunnels were built in a different age. While they continue to serve us well, they require ongoing maintenance and will need to be updated, if not replaced.
The issue of aging infrastructure and how to pay for the renewal of this infrastructure is not only a concern to Canada, but also an issue that plagues all developed countries. A simplified approval process for new construction and alteration, as Bill C-3 suggests, will facilitate the infrastructure renewal.
On the same note, the requirement that the federal government approve new international bridges and tunnels is not new. Every international bridge and tunnel that exists today needed permission from the federal government to be built. That permission was traditionally granted in the form of a special act of Parliament. That fact is reflected in the approximately 50 special acts listed in the schedule to the bill.
Bill C-3 does not change the fact that government permission must still be obtained. It does modify the manner in which the permission is to be given, replacing the need to ask Parliament for a special act with an administrative approval process similar to the presidential permit process that has been in place in the United States since the 1970s.
In committee, we learned that the U.S. presidential permit process is also going through changes. Presidential permits now must be obtained for all substantial modification to these structures and changes in their ownership and operation. The policy underlying Bill C-3 will be more consistent with what our American friends are doing on their side of the border. The department officials further informed us that the process Bill C-3 proposes will also serve to coordinate the various approvals and permits that must be obtained for any new construction, as is the case in the U.S. This new approval process will provide a more streamlined and efficient way to obtain these approvals, an added bonus for regions where the structures are urgently needed.
One of the main differences between Bill C-3 and its predecessor bills, Bill C-26 and Bill C-44, which the Senate did not have the opportunity to review, is the requirement that all transactions and resulting changes to the ownership or operation of the structures are now subject to government approval. It only makes sense that if we are increasing federal oversight powers with respect to maintenance, operation, safety and security of international bridges or tunnels, the federal government should also approve who owns and operates these structures. Under many original special acts, government approval is already needed for sales and transfers. These structures, whether they are owned publicly or privately, serve a public purpose. That is why the federal government should be involved in this aspect, as well as to ensure that they are owned by persons who do not pose security risks, or that do not have the long-term operation of these structures in mind.
Bill C-3 also speaks to the fact that the original legislation does not address modern-day concerns such as safety and security. My committee colleagues will agree with me that no stakeholder expressed concerns with government intervention in this regard. The application of consistent safety and security standards and best practices, as well as the sharing of related information between the international bridges and tunnels and the federal government, will further help protect against safety risks and security threats.
Honourable senators, I will end by saying that any time the government is given powers to intervene in an otherwise unregulated sector, we expect some negative reaction, in particular from those who have been operating without the burden of regulation. It becomes important to review whether those powers are reasonable in the circumstances, and whether they achieve the stated goals so as to be in the best interests of Canadians. In my opinion, Bill C-3 achieves a decent balance taking those factors into account.
Honourable senators, thank you for devoting the time to consider this bill. I encourage senators to pass it.
Senator Oliver: Hear, hear!
Hon. Norman K. Atkins: Would the Honourable Senator Eyton, take a question?
Senator Prud'homme: Of course. Two gentlemen.
Senator Atkins: Does this bill provide the mechanism that will speed up new construction between Windsor and Detroit, or does it slow it down?
Senator Eyton: The bill itself does not provide for acceleration of any particular project, but the process itself should allow for speedier consideration and approval of projects. A number of them are at hand right now.
Hon. Terry M. Mercer: Would Senator Eyton not agree that the retroactivity clause in this bill takes the Ambassador Bridge proposal for a second bridge and makes it now go through this new process, as opposed to just completing the process that they were almost through until this bill was drafted?
Senator Eyton: There is a section in the bill that tries to avoid retroactivity. It excuses any bridge or tunnel that is now operating from the full application of the act.
It is also true that those projects coming on will need to go through the approval process. The committee, in studying the matter, commented on that point in the observations, and will encourage speedy consideration so that the new projects can proceed as quickly as possible.
Senator Mercer: Would Senator Eyton not agree that the witnesses we heard provided some interesting testimony? The mayor of the City of Windsor came to us as the Mayor of Windsor, but as we talked to him, we discovered that he is not just the Mayor of Windsor but is also the chairman of a tunnel and bridge corporation that is publicly owned. Therefore, there was a conflict, because there is competition between the privately and publicly owned bridges.
I wonder whether the honourable senator did not find that testimony sort of curious?
Senator Eyton: That concern was expressed, but I have always taken the view that conflict revealed and transparent avoids much of the problem.
There is a process here. Obviously, it is not just the one individual who will be making the decisions. There is a concerted public interest in ensuring that we have not only the existing structures in place and working, but also new ones in place to provide redundancy and real competition.
All of us are on the same side. The conflict that the honourable senator has identified can be handled.
Hon. Jerahmiel S. Grafstein: Senator Eyton, this may save the Senate time so that I will not have to speak on third reading. I would like to refer to the Senate debates of yesterday. Our learned friend Senator Tkachuk said the following, and I am reading from Hansard at page 1522:
... I also want to add that the Minister of Transport has asked me to convey to the Senate that upon passage of Bill C-3 the government will undertake to move as quickly as possible to ease congestion at all of Canada's bridge and tunnel crossings with the United States, particularly at Windsor and Fort Erie.
Later on, I requested an undertaking of him.
This appears on page 1523 of yesterday's Hansard. This is directed toward my honourable friend Senator Tkachuk:
Would the sponsor of the bill give the Senate of Canada assurance that the Government of Canada is committed to a speedy expansion of border crossings at the Windsor-Detroit and Buffalo-Niagara regions, which would be in the great interest of Canada's productivity and economy?
I ask the honourable senator if he is prepared to repeat those commitments on behalf of the government.
Senator Eyton: The question was posed to me, Senator Grafstein. Senator Tkachuk's answer yesterday was the one word, "Yes." I suppose I can repeat it by saying, "Yes." I also observe there are a number of projects going on now.
The honourable senator's concern is legitimate. I think the government had made the commitment given those projects need to proceed.
Senator Grafstein: In light of those commitments, I understand the complexity of the bill, but I want to reiterate one more time for the government that it is in our national interest to have those two major points expanded as quickly as possible. I understand the private interests. I understand the complex interests. I understand the quandary Senator Mercer has raised. However, in the national interest, it is in our interest to make sure those border points are expanded as quickly as possible.
In light of the government's commitment to do that, which I hope will bind subsequent governments as well, I am prepared to support this bill.
The Hon. the Speaker: Are honourable senators ready for the question?
Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Motion agreed to and bill read third time and passed.