Canada's Original Think Tank

Message from Commons on Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and other Acts respecting transportation and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts; That the S

Message from Commons on Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and other Acts respecting transportation and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts; That the S

Message from Commons on Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and other Acts respecting transportation and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts; That the S

Hon. Percy E. Downe:

I want to say a few words. I didn’t intend to, but I get so excited when anybody talks about Confederation Bridge tolls I can’t help myself. Earlier, I mentioned the CN toll. I meant VIA, of course. VIA runs passenger service.

I want to speak about this for a moment. I started to talk about it. Colleagues have heard it before. Some of the newer senators, obviously, have not, but let me explain briefly. The Confederation Bridge is the condition of Prince Edward Island joining Canada. We end up with the yearly ferry subsidy for 35 years, plus the toll going to the company that constructed the Confederation Bridge. That toll is currently $47. Then, we have a situation where none of us really complained about the toll on the Confederation Bridge because we’re very happy to have the bridge on Prince Edward Island. It’s a tremendous addition, rather than ferry service that sometimes worked. Ferries broke down. They got stuck in the ice. None of that happens now. We’re very grateful for the bridge.

But what happened was that, in 2015, the now Prime Minister promised that the new Champlain Bridge in Montreal would have no toll. Then the government announced that they’re building a new bridge from Windsor to Detroit that would cost almost as much as the Champlain Bridge, if not more. But that will have a toll. So we have a situation where we have three bridges, all owned by the Government of Canada. The Confederation Bridge has a 35-year contract with a private company, but it’s owned by the Government of Canada. The Champlain Bridge is owned by the Government of Canada. The Windsor bridge will be owned by the Government of Canada. Two of them have tolls, but the third does not. It goes back to Senator Griffin, Senator Duffy, Senator MacDonald and others talking about the unfairness of the treatment and the aggravations Atlantic Canadians feel about this unfairness. Then we look at the VIA Rail service. We heard earlier that Newfoundland and Labrador has no rail service. Your Honour, you would know that well, coming from there. Prince Edward Island lost theirs because of de-marketing, where it was just ruined over time. People said it was terrible service, and CN said, “We will take it away.”

Then we look at the 2017 passenger report from VIA Rail, where, in their public report, they indicate that the subsidy on the train service between Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto is $36.97 per passenger. From Quebec, Montreal and Ottawa, the subsidy is $32.73. There is a good reason for the subsidies. It is good to get cars off the road. It’s good to get people into trains. It’s better for the environment. But why are we paying $47 to cross the bloody bridge, when people are subsidized by the Government of Canada to take the train when we don’t have that option? It’s grossly unfair.

Then we have the subsidy — and if you live in this area, senators, you have really hit the jackpot — the Toronto-Niagara route of VIA Rail is subsidized, per passenger, $128.42. The reason the government does that does not make economic sense, but there is a good public policy reason to do it. I support that, but where is the lack of public policy that we have to pay $47 to cross the bridge? Prince Edward Islanders, for example, have no passport office, the only province in Canada without a passport office. A couple of years ago, I went to the local grocery store. The guy said, “Would you sign the form?” He was going back to Lebanon for the summer. I signed the form. He rushed over to Halifax on short notice. Somebody was sick. He was going back. He left to come back to P.E.I. and got a phone call, “Oh, there was a mistake in the form.” Back he went. Another $47, plus the gas, the wear and tear on the car and so on. Totally unequal treatment.

I must say that I changed my mind today because of the debate and the input I heard from other senators. This bill is a reflection of that attitude, that there is a double standard in this country. It’s unacceptable. The bridge toll is unacceptable. When we see these subsidies to rail passengers in Central Canada, good for them, but it should also be good for us.

(1600)

If the Government of Canada isn’t going to put a toll on the Champlain Bridge, they shouldn’t have a toll on the one to Prince Edward Island. Alternatively, put a toll on the Champlain Bridge, and we’ll be quiet again, as we were before.

We’re not saying there shouldn’t be a toll. Also, the toll to Montreal would be smaller, because they get more traffic. I appreciate and understand that. Go ahead and put the toll on, and we’ll bite the bullet on the $47, but this unequal treatment is totally unacceptable. Because of that, I’ve changed my position on the bill, and I will be supporting the amendment.