Hon. Elmer M. MacKay (Minister of Public Works) moved
that Bill C-110, an act respecting the Northumberland Strait Crossing, be read the third time and passed.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is time to get on with the job of building a bridge to Prince Edward Island. Bill C-110, an important part of that process, is being considered for third reading. I am very proud to speak in support of the legislation.
Some members will recall perhaps not directly that about 30 years ago there was an important initiative to build a link to Prince Edward Island. In fact certain preparatory work was done. At that time, to put things in perspective, it was decided by the then government to trade off the funds and instead indulge in or promote a comprehensive economic development plan for the island province.
This economic development plan has done a lot of good. Perhaps at this time the very growth it engendered makes it even more important we proceed with this link in order to take advantage of the potential for economic development that exists.
This is the most far-reaching and important project I believe Public Works has been associated with in many years. As a resident of Atlantic Canada I am very proud to be part of the project which will benefit Atlantic Canadians, people from Prince Edward Island and indeed all Canadians long after those of us who are in the House have passed from the scene and have been forgotten.
This project has the support of a clear majority of people from Prince Edward Island. Polls indicate that. A recent CBC poll taken earlier this year showed 63 per cent in favour. I suggest that any government in the democratic world that had that kind of popular support would think itself very fortunate.
This project initiated by the private sector and by our government has the continuing and constructive support of both past and present Governments of Prince Edward
Island, the Government of New Brunswick and the Government of Nova Scotia. The Northumberland bridge project stands as a prime example of how governments in the country can work together for the greater public good.
Business organizations and most Atlantic unions have been very vocal in support of the project. Other voices that have been raised in opposition in the House have been quite muted, perhaps not in volume but in number, and mostly confined to members of the NDP.
This party, it is worth noting for the record, has never elected a member in Prince Edward Island, ever, and probably never will. It enjoys the support of about 3 per cent or 4 per cent of the electorate, to the point where even the leader of the NDP of Prince Edward Island has found it necessary to take a summer job to save his party money, he says, but unfortunately it comes from the UI fund. This is not a good example, I would suggest, of some of the financial savings they keep urging on the people of Canada at the expense of the link.
These naysayers have suggested the government will inherit a rusting and decaying structure at the end of 35 years. In fact the bridge will have a design life of 100 years without a major refit. During the 35-year concession period, annual independent inspections of the bridge will have to confirm the necessary maintenance and repairs have been carried out before the developer can receive toll revenues. This is a very strong incentive, all members will agree, for the developers to build it right and to maintain it in good working order during the period of their stewardship.
The NDP has said that the proposed $42 million annual subsidy was too high. In fact its own witness at the all-party legislative committee examining the bill admitted the figure which was carefully worked out by Transport Canada was "fairly credible, given that the ferries are going to have to be replaced". Several of the ferries will have to be replaced. It is evident today the cost of replacing a modem ferry is going to be several hundreds of millions of dollars. Somehow this is never brought into the equation by the members from British Columbia who are speaking on behalf of the NDP.
My good friend from Skeena, and he is a good friend, in some of the more lofty flights of rhetoric he indulged in when speaking on the bill, said the following on February 8 when talking about what they do in British
Columbia. Isn't this terrific? He said: "There we try to make tourists and passengers happy while they are waiting for the ferry. We sell them a hot dog, give them a cup of coffee, let them buy some local goods, have a few people playing guitars, give them newspapers and have a little fun". I like this.
I invite my friend from Skeena some cold, rainy day to come to Prince Edward Island to see a bunch of outraged truckers and business people waiting to get across to do business. He will see how many will be made happy by some hot dog purveying, guitar strumming coffee merchants. He can tell them this is what they should be happy for instead of having a bridge.
My good friend, and he is also a good friend, from Annapolis Valley-Hants gave a speech the other day. He indicated that he thought it would be more to the point to connect Vancouver Island to the mainland than Prince Edward Island to Canada. I am not against that. If the private sector can come along with a good scheme that would not cost the taxpayers money, I would applaud it, but I remind my good friend there is no constitutional obligation, unfortunately perhaps, to make sure that Vancouver Island is put in the same position as Prince Edward Island. He knows that.
For those who argue that this is a risk-free enterprise for the developer under the agreement, that is not true. The developer will assume most of the risk for the project, including financial, design, construction, maintenance and cost overruns.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: NORTHUMBERLAND STRAIT CROSSING ACT