Hon. Percy E. Downe:
A question for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.
Senator Harder, every December, Islanders are hit with another increase on the Confederation Bridge toll which is currently $47. It will be two years next January since the Prime Minister, in response to a question on those very high tolls compared to the Champlain Bridge, which is also owned by the Government of Canada, paid for by the Government of Canada and which the Prime Minister announced in the 2015 election would not have tolls, indicated in response to that question on the tolls on the Confederation Bridge that he would work to ensure that Canadians would travel at modest cost across Canada.
Prince Edward Islanders took great hope from that statement. Can you give us an update on how that is going?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): Again, I thank the honourable senator for his vigilance on these issues. These are questions that he has asked before and I have answered in reminding him of the policy of the Government of Canada with respect to where tolls are placed and where they are not. He will know that the policy of the Government of Canada with respect to the Confederation Bridge and the replacement bridge that is being put in place in Montreal are different. One is a replacement and the other is a de novo bridge for which there was a contract for both building and for rights for fees.
Senator Downe: I will try to disagree without being disagreeable, but the comparisons don’t work at all. The original Champlain Bridge had a toll. The Government of Canada had a long-time infrastructure user-pay policy.
The new bridge the Government of Canada is constructing in Windsor will have a toll. The Confederation Bridge has a toll. The Champlain Bridge does not have a toll. All three bridges are owned by the Government of Canada.
The question Prince Edward Islanders and other Canadians are asking is this: Why the difference in policy? Why are all Canadians having to pay the full construction and the ongoing maintenance costs of the Champlain Bridge but other Canadians have to pay a toll for transportation infrastructure?
The Confederation Bridge is a replacement bridge for the ferry service that were terms of the conditions of Prince Edward Island joining Canada. We had to debate a constitutional amendment in this chamber to allow tolls when the bridge was constructed because that was the policy at the time. Prime Minister Trudeau changed the policy in 2015. Islanders and other Canadians expect equal treatment. The Prime Minister said in January 2017 he would look at this issue in terms of modest costs. He also acknowledged in that same meeting that the toll was too high.
My question is: Given what the Prime Minister said, when can we expect action on his comments for modest costs for Canadians to travel for transportation in this country? No one considers $47 modest.
An Hon. Senator: Hear, hear.
Senator Harder: I thank the honourable senator for his question. I first want to assure him he is not being disagreeable but we are having a disagreement. Let me assure him that I will bring his concerns to the attention of the highest levels of this government to ensure that attention is drawn to the policy statements and commitments that he is referencing.