Statement by Senator Percy Downe on the Confederation Bridge Tolls IssuePublished on 15 May 2017 News & Photos by Senator Percy Downe
Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi confirmed to me last week (copy attached) that the new Gordie Howe Bridge in Windsor, Ontario, currently estimated in media reports to cost up to $4.8 billion, will have a toll. We now have a situation in this country where two major multi-billion dollar bridge projects are underway, the Gordie Howe Bridge and the replacement Champlain Bridge which will also cost over $4 billion. But while the Gordie Howe Bridge will charge a toll, the Champlain Bridge in Montreal will be toll-free. Meanwhile, Prince Edward Islanders continue to pay a toll of $46.50 to use Confederation Bridge, which cost slightly over $1 billion to construct.
All three bridges are owned by the Government of Canada. So why are taxpayers paying the full construction and maintenance cost of the Champlain Bridge, while users of the other two bridges must pay a toll to cover the construction and maintenance expenses?
In response to my question, Minister Sohi said that the government plans to structure the tolls on the Gordie Howe Bridge in such a way that “there’s not too much burden on immediate users.” This is similar to the sentiment expressed by Prime Minister Trudeau (copy attached) at a Town Hall in Peterborough, Ontario, when in response to a question from a student from Prince Edward Island, he acknowledged that Confederation Bridge is “an expensive bridge to build and it’s an expensive bridge to cross”. Moreover, Trudeau concluded, “I will make sure that I pass along my concerns to — your concerns — to our Islander MPs, and we will look at what can be done to make sure that people are able to travel freely, travel efficiently, and openly across this country at modest costs.”
Saturday marked five months since the prime minister made his public commitment. Prince Edward Islanders look forward to Prime Minister Trudeau’s announcement of what he is doing to ensure that they may travel, in the prime minister’s own words, “at modest costs” over Confederation Bridge.
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Debates of the Senate
1st Session, 42nd Parliament,
Volume 150, Issue 118
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker
Hon. Percy E. Downe: Minister, welcome back to the Senate of Canada.
Canada recently approved an additional $2.5 billion for the Gordie Howe Bridge in Windsor, where the cost will be now up to $4.8 billion. Could you tell us what cost recovery you have for that significant expenditure of taxpayers’ dollars and how long it will take you?
Hon. Amarjeet Sohi, P.C., M.P., Minister of Infrastructure and Communities: The total cost of the Gordie Howe International Bridge is not known yet because we are in the process of selecting the final contractor who will build that bridge. But the structure is designed in a way that all the cost will be recovered through tolls, the user fees that people will pay who are going to use the new bridge. Only one exists now, which is privately owned. So the cost recovery model is to recover the cost. It will take a lot of time, because you want to structure it in a way where there’s not too much burden on immediate users, you spread the cost over decades, that all the users pay for the use of the bridge. But at the end of the day, it will be cost-neutral to the government.
PRIME MINISTER’S CROSS-COUNTRY TOUR:
TOWN HALL IN PETERBOROUGH, ONTARIO
QUESTION ABOUT P.E.I’S CONFEDERATION BRIDGE
JANUARY 13, 2017
QUESTION: Hello. So I am actually a student here at Trent. I’m 22 years old and graduating hopefully next year. I come from Prince Edward Island, and this has been brought to your attention recently in the House of Commons — just on the extreme fees to leave Prince Edward Island. I know most people here might not have been there. It costs us either $72 to go to Nova Scotia and only costs to leave Prince Edward Island, or it costs us almost $50 to leave on the bridge to New Brunswick. My family lives mostly in New Brunswick, and when my grandfather fell ill, my dad was going over two to three times a week. There’s no discount or anything on the bridge for people who go a lot. So it puts an extra burden on my family. Most people in Prince Edward Island also are working class and work in farming industries.
So I guess my question is: is there anything that the federal government can do — especially since the bridge that was the most expensive in Montreal that just went through — to help alleviate the cost for Islanders?
RT. HON. JUSTIN TRUDEAU: You made a reference to the Montreal Champlain Bridge. The Confederation Bridge in Prince Edward Island has been an essential… essential link both for the Islanders’ economy and for tourists, and for locals. And you’re right, it is an expensive bridge. It was an expensive bridge to build and it’s an expensive bridge to cross.
The Champlain Bridge is a replacement bridge. There’s an existing bridge that doesn’t have a toll on it, and it is a federal responsibility because it’s over the St. Lawrence Seaway. If Montreal had its way it would build a bridge exactly 10 metres across… high from the water, and every ship coming to the Great Lakes would have to stop and unload in Montreal, and it’d be great for Montreal. I’m kidding of course, but that’s why the federal government has the responsibility for making sure that that bridge is high enough that of course the St. Lawrence Seaway is fully active and successful.
So the comparison doesn’t quite work on this, but I absolutely understand your preoccupation with, you know, being able to be there for sick family members, being able to support your family. And I appreciate the challenges you’re facing, and certainly I will make sure that I pass along my concerns to — your concerns — to our Islander MPs, and we will look at what can be done to make sure that people are able to travel freely, travel efficiently, and openly across this country at modest costs.