Mr. Todd Russell (Labrador, Lib.)
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should work co-operatively with the governments of the territories and of the seven provinces which constitute the Provincial North, and with Aboriginal and local governments in these regions, to develop a strategy to improve transportation and other vital public infrastructure.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to move Motion No. 298, which calls on the federal government to work with the territories and the provinces which make up the provincial north as well as local and aboriginal governments to come up with a common strategy for infrastructure in northern regions of Canada.
I am especially pleased as a member whose riding is in a geographically northern region but outside the territories which are most commonly thought of as the north to include the provincial north within the scope of this motion.
The definition of provincial north is open to different definitions. Perhaps the best and most thorough work on the concept of northerness or nordicity has been done by geographer and scholar Louis-Edmond Hamelin at Laval University.
The north that I am asking members of this House to think about today is the region of Canada which includes the three territories but also the northern portions of seven provinces, from the Stikine and Peace River regions of B.C., across the northern prairies, across the three provinces which ring Hudson's and James Bay through to Labrador.
These regions share many of the geographical challenges of the territories, such as scattered populations, areas with few or no roads, and reliance on air transportation or seasonal modes of transport, such as ice roads or shipping in the ice-free period of the year. They share many economic similarities, especially the importance of natural resource industries from traditional hunting, fishing and trapping through to modern industrial forestry, mining and petroleum exploration and development.
There are many cultural similarities, communities which share a deep attachment to the land, an understanding of isolation and a strong sense of place. There are social and demographic similarities, including many small communities with large service centres serving outlying populations.
The territories and the provincial north, as well, have large populations of Inuit, Métis and first nations people. For this reason my motion calls for their inclusion in the development of a northern infrastructure strategy. At a time when Canada and the entire world face economic uncertainty, all governments have been looking toward infrastructure investment as a way to stimulate the economy. This is another unstated purpose behind the motion I am proposing today.
I can well appreciate that members from southern and urban ridings look to projects such as transit and urban renewal as economic stimulus in the form of infrastructure. Without taking anything away from those equally legitimate needs, it is important that Canadians in other regions, in other kinds of communities also share in infrastructure development and modernization.
My home community of Williams Harbour on an island off the coast of Labrador does not need a subway, however, we do need a new wharf to replace one that was destroyed by fire a few years ago. It is a project that is overdue and which I hope has not been held up by any jurisdictional squabbles between provincial and federal governments.
My current hometown of Happy Valley Goose Bay does not need light rail transit, but we do need a new airport terminal and improved highway connections to the rest of Labrador, the rest of the province, and to Quebec and the rest of Canada.
This motion is about co-operation and coordination and respects the jurisdictions of all governments. There is to be no intrusion by the federal government on provincial, municipal or aboriginal government powers. In fact, I am calling on the federal government to exercise its own powers, operate its own programs, and provide its own services as they relate to infrastructure but in co-operation with the provinces, the territories and local governments.
Intergovernmental co-operation on infrastructure is vitally important throughout the northern parts of Canada. In northern Quebec, I would draw to the attention of hon. members the agreement by the federal government and the government of Quebec to extend the runway at Puvirnituq in Nunavik. I would also point to the construction of the highway to Natashquan, completed in the 1990s through a Canada-Quebec accord and through the Quebec government's attempts to secure federal funding for route 389, which also connects to Labrador.
This is not a matter of intrusion on provincial jurisdiction but rather co-operation. We have seen the same need for co-operation in my own riding of Labrador. Over the years the federal government has played an important role in infrastructure development in our region.
The coastal airstrips were built in the 1970s and 1980s through federal contributions. Without that involvement by the federal government, Labrador's coastal communities would likely still depend on float planes and ice runways with long interruptions in service between freeze-up and break-up.
Federal funding was instrumental in the construction of roll on/roll off wharves which modernized marine transportation in coastal Labrador. Federal funding has been critical for the development of our highway transportation system.
Whether it was the construction of the Labrador Straits highway more than 30 years ago or the construction of the Trans-Labrador Highway, it has been the federal government which has in fact paid the largest share of highway construction in Labrador.
In fact, at times it has been the provincial government which has failed to put its fair share back into Labrador. I would hope that that era is over and that Labrador can expect a return on its contribution to the public purse. All levels must step up to the plate. There can be no laggards.
At the same time, with so many infrastructure projects competing for funding, political priority and public attention, it is more important than ever that governments work together instead of a cross purposes or ignoring the need all together.
I appreciate the recent federal contribution toward the Trans-Labrador Highway which continues the work that was truly made possible by the 1997 Labrador transportation initiative; an injection of over $340 million in federal funding which allowed the Trans-Labrador Highway to reach the state of completion it has today.
By the end of this year it should be possible for the first time in our history to drive an unbroken highway from Labrador City to L'Anse au Clair. This will be a historic moment for Labrador and one that is only possible because the federal and provincial governments worked together.
I hope that federal-provincial disputes will not preclude further work in our region, including much needed upgrades such as resurfacing, and the widening and paving of the full Trans-Labrador Highway, phases I, II and III, and new road connections.
The Nunatsiavut government, which represents Labrador Inuit, has also expressed an interest in studying the possibility of tying northern Labrador into the highway system. I would hope that the provincial and federal governments would work with Nunatsiavut on this study. This is a perfect example of the type of federal, provincial or territorial and aboriginal government cooperation which I have in mind in proposing this motion.
This kind of cooperation is also a vital means of exercising Canadian power and jurisdiction in our Arctic and sub-Arctic regions.
There is something to be said for the exercise of military, police, coast guard and other shows of hard power or force by way of proving Canadian jurisdiction in the north. I remind the government that Goose Bay which has commanded the northeastern air routes from Canada and North America since the 1940s still seeks a renewed role in Canada's military and security interests in the north.
The defence minister made specific promises and we have not forgotten. However, while recognizing our security interests, I would question the assumptions behind the Prime Minister's repeated assertions that when it comes to the north Canada has to use it or lose it.
In fact, aboriginal Canadians, Inuit, Inuvialuit, first nations and Métis, have been using the Arctic and the north for countless generations. It is narrow-minded and somewhat ethnocentric to suggest that we risk losing the north because we have not been using it.
The real political risk in our northern regions is not so much that other countries could threaten us with military force or incursions into our jurisdiction. The real risk comes from political alienation, when northerners, from the territories and the often forgotten provincial north, fail to feel included. The real risk is a rise of cleavages or divisions when northern people are neglected even as their lands and resources are highly prized. Northern people in the territories and the provinces, aboriginal and all others who call northern Canada home have to be brought more fully into the Canadian family.
That happens when our governments work together to improve the basics: the roads, airports and harbours that link the northern and southern economies. It includes the vital infrastructure of modern life, such as water treatment, sewage disposal and energy and communications infrastructure.
Those are the kinds of developments which will constitute Canada using the north and those are the kinds of projects, especially now that infrastructure is such a hot topic and economic stimulus such an important goal, that northerners need. The north and south alike will benefit when all orders of government work together to improve the basic public infrastructure in the Arctic and sub-arctic regions of our country.
That means improved access to markets for northern goods and improved access to northern resources for the economy in the south. It means increased access to southern services by people in the north and easier access to the north by tourists and other visitors. It means improving living standards for aboriginal and all northern residents. It means improved health care, more doctors, more nurses and vital social infrastructure.
It means the preservation of our culture, our way of life and sharing with one another. When it comes to sharing, it means building, not diminishing institutions like the CBC. It means environmental protection and proper regulatory regimes. It means respect for aboriginal people.
This motion calls for a vision. It says that we do not only pay attention to the north at election time or for one-off announcements, or for the north to feel valued only when someone somewhere else wants something for their own purposes.
The motion calls on government to work with us to make Canada more complete, more whole. The strength of a nation lies in its people. When the people feel stronger, the nation is stronger. The motion is about home for myself and hundreds of thousands of other northern Canadians who know in our hearts and minds that true, integral, sincere efforts will yield positive outcomes.
A strategy and implementation of that strategy is what the motion calls for. It is about honouring our commitment to the north and it is needed now as much as any time in our history.