Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Transport and Communications

Issue 6 - Evidence, May 6, 2014


OTTAWA, Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications met this day at 9:31 a.m. to study the subject- matter of those elements contained in Divisions 15, 16 and 28 of Part 6 of Bill C-31, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 11, 2014 and other measures.

TOPIC: Part 6 — Division 15 — Regulatory Cooperation

Senator Dennis Dawson (Chair) in the chair.

[Translation]

The Chair: Honourable senators, today we begin our study of Bill C-31, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 11, 2014 and other measures.

The committee has been asked to conduct a pre-study of divisions 15, 16 and 28.

In the first part of this meeting we will examine Division 15, which repeals the following acts: the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, the Railway Safety Act, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, and the Safe Food for Canadians Act.

[English]

The witnesses for our first panel are from Transport Canada. We have: Donald Roussel, Director General, Marine Safety; Kash Ram, Director General, Road Safety and Motor Vehicle Regulation; and Michel Leclerc, Director, Regulatory Coordination.

I invite the witnesses to make their presentation.

Donald Roussel, Director General, Marine Safety, Transport Canada: Thank you, Mr. Chair and distinguished senators.

[Translation]

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address you today to discuss three acts that Transport Canada proposes to amend pursuant to the budget implementation act.

[English]

With me today, as you mentioned, is Mr. Kash Ram, Director General, Road Safety and Motor Vehicle Regulation. We have, as support, Ms. Kim Benjamin, Director, Road Safety Program; and Mr. Michel Leclerc, Director, Regulatory Affairs Coordination.

[Translation]

These proposed amendments come from commitments made at the Regulatory Cooperation Council in December 2011. Of the 29 original initiatives proposed by the Council and set in the context of a joint Canada-USA action plan, 11 had transportation as a theme. Legislative amendments had to be made in order to finalize the implementation of the action plans on motor vehicle safety, the transportation of dangerous goods, and railway safety.

[English]

As members of this committee know, the Regulatory Cooperation Council's long-term objective is to develop systemic mechanisms that eliminate regulatory obstacles between Canada and the United States.

[Translation]

Inconsistencies in regulations cost money, regardless of which side of the border one is on, because the need to comply with two sets of regulations represents a loss of efficiency for economies that are as integrated as those of Canada and the United States. The standards are often identical, but they are expressed as if they were different criteria, and manufacturing and distribution costs are passed on to consumers.

[English]

Synchronizing the policy development and enactment phase of our respective regulatory processes will lead to mutually supportive and beneficial regulatory frameworks and promote economic growth, job creation and benefits to consumers and businesses.

Canadian and U.S. stakeholders, consulted in the fall of 2013, expressed overwhelmingly positive support for the Regulatory Cooperation Council initiative. They were particularly supportive of efforts to institutionalize cooperation and remove impediments to speedy alignment when widespread consensus existed.

Accordingly, these legislative amendments are being proposed. First, the Motor Vehicle Safety Act:

[Translation]

The motor vehicle safety program in Canada is based on the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, and its associated regulations and standards. That legislation is the sole arbiter of the manufacture and import of motor vehicles, new tires and devices designed to protect children and persons with disabilities in a vehicle.

In addition to the objective's overall initiative, the proposed amendments to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act directly support two aspects of the Regulatory Cooperation Council's work plan. The goals of the amendments are to eliminate obstacles and to align regulatory motor vehicle safety regimes in Canada and the United States to the extent possible.

Other goals are to lessen the administrative burden and to increase efficiency, while enhancing safety for Canadians.

[English]

These amendments fall into four categories: rule making; importation safety, which deals with compliance and enforcement; and information gathering.

With respect to rule making, modified regulation-making provisions will facilitate more efficient ongoing alignment with the U.S. and other international safety standards in those instances where the Government of Canada determines that it is appropriate. These proposed changes will allow Canada's motor vehicle safety regime to keep pace with emerging technologies in a more efficient manner.

Changes to the importation provisions will allow the importation of vehicles and equipment where it is deemed that the U.S. safety standards achieve the safety outcome required in Canada. They also remove other importation irritants, while continuing to protect public safety.

[Translation]

The amendments to the conformity and implementation provisions of the act and its regulations will allow the Canadian and American programs to be closely harmonized, while still protecting and serving Canadians better.

[English]

By improving the ability of Transport Canada to obtain and distribute information related to vehicle safety, it will help keep Canadians informed of issues related to vehicle safety and enable the government to make better-informed policy and regulatory decisions.

[Translation]

The proposed amendments to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act will ensure the safety of vehicles sold to Canadians in a way that recognizes the integrated nature of the North American motor vehicle market. The consistency in the amendments will reduce the burden on the industry as needed and will meet the public's expectations in terms of similar safety oversight programs.

Let us now move on to the Railway Safety Act and the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992.

The amendments to the Railway Safety Act and the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992, are identical. They are designed to modernize the legislative provisions that go back to the beginning of the 1980s, even before the Government of Canada adopted its very first policy of federal regulation in 1986.

[English]

Members will know that the current version of the 1986 policy, the Cabinet Directive on Regulatory Management, still requires that notice be given of proposed regulations in the Canada Gazette, Part I, before they are finally enacted, even in cases where the enabling legislation is silent on the matter. In light of this, it makes sense to apply the same cabinet directive standards as those applied to most other federal regulations with respect to prepublication.

Thank you. We would be happy to answer your questions.

[Translation]

The Chair: No additional comments from your colleagues?

[English]

I have one concerning the congressional hearings held in the U.S. concerning GM. How would the information be shared between the American authorities responsible for vehicle security and the Canadian authorities at Transport Canada?

Kash Ram, Director General, Road Safety and Motor Vehicle Regulation, Transport Canada: With regard to the relationship between the U.S. authorities and Transport Canada, we have a very good relationship, especially with regard to issues and concerns raised by the general public on both sides of the border. We pool this information together and share it between the two countries in order to determine trends and potential latent safety-related defects in vehicles.

That allows us to engage with the respective companies, and you mentioned GM. There is GM U.S. and GM Canada. We regulate GM Canada. We have engaged with GM Canada, taking to them the information from the issues raised by the Canadian public, and that has informed their views as well.

With regard to the actions of the U.S. legislature, they are examining GM's actions. I should point out that GM Canada, being a wholly owned subsidiary of GM U.S.A., is pretty much dependent on the decision-making at headquarters at GM U.S.A. So we got issued the recall with regard to the ignition switch defects at the same time in both countries, as did all other GMs worldwide, so there was no difference in the timing of those recalls.

The Chair: Thank you. We will begin senators' questions.

Senator Eggleton: Does the implementation of these changes for motor vehicles occur much the same way in Canada and the United States; do we facilitate it in much the same way as they do?

Mr. Ram: They are similar in the sense that there is an act. In the U.S., it's the Motor Vehicle Act; here it's the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Our act is patterned on theirs. Ours is from 1971 and theirs is from 1965. There was a decision in 1971 that paralleling the U.S. experience would be beneficial.

Over the successive decades, both countries have put in place numerous regulations to allow the establishment of mandatory safety standards in both countries. You'll find that our standards more or less parallel the U.S. standards and, to a certain extent, European standards as well. There are some areas in which the U.S. has standards for which we did not see the evidence in support of applying in Canada, and vice versa: There are some standards in Canada that the U.S. does not have in the way of improving motor vehicle safety.

Senator Eggleton: But there's no advantage or disadvantage on either side of the border in terms of regulatory regime? Isn't it the purpose of the Regulatory Cooperation Council to make sure that it is a market that is treated fairly and equitably on both sides of the border? Would you say that happens?

Mr. Ram: That is the intent. On the front end, in terms developing regulations, we want to remove red tape and to be as aligned as possible where it makes sense with the U.S. regulations so that it's easier for Canadian industry and manufacturers to build the same vehicle to both standards of both countries. That's reducing red tape, and the auto industry is a major employer in this country. That is the front end.

The back end is the enforcement and compliance requirements, which are effectively holding industry to account. There, we have adapted some of the tools that the U.S. has and they're bringing it into our legislation as presented to you to protect the consumer.

It's a balanced approach — both the front end and the back end, if you will.

Senator Eggleton: On the question of the Railway Safety Act, you don't think it's necessary to eliminate the statutory requirement to pre-publish proposed regulations and orders under these acts. In fact, you're following suit with what is done in other cases. But the minister does have — it's' a very sensitive area, obviously, particularly of late. It does have emergency authorities; emergency orders can be issued.

In view of that, why is it necessary really to do this, other than to say you're following suit with everybody else?

Michel Leclerc, Director, Regulatory Affairs Coordination, Transport Canada: What happens with these provisions — and it's the same case in both the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act and the Railway Safety Act — is that these provisions were actually placed into legislation a long time before the federal regulatory policy was first initiated in 1986. It covered what was then a gap, but today under the Cabinet Directive on Regulatory Management, there is a requirement to pre-publish. We feel that it makes little sense to have prepublication when an RCC process would have involved stakeholders on both sides of the border — regulators in Canada and the U.S. — having reached consensus to give notice if we didn't have to.

Mind you, the decision to pre-publish would be left to cabinet's discretion, so after all that, even if there was general consensus, cabinet could direct prepublication. In fact, our minister could recommend it as well.

The problem is —

Senator Eggleton: What's the point of removing it, then?

Mr. Leclerc: It makes it mandatory and it extends the regulatory process when everybody is already in agreement with the approach. That's the thing that people want to avoid: to align the regulatory systems —

Senator Eggleton: This would be a more minor kind of amendment; there are regulations as opposed to some of the more controversial issues.

Mr. Leclerc: It is very minor. We call this a modernization of the legislation rather than a significant departure from current federal practice.

Senator Plett: I'm reading in our notes that exempting Transport Canada inspectors from being required to testify in civil suits is going to be there. Is Transport Canada now required to testify in civil suits? If they are, why do we want to remove that? And if they're not, why are we writing about it?

Mr. Ram: We generally comply with a request to testify in civil suits between two litigants where there is no public policy benefit or safety issue that would be served. The requesters tend to be strident and elevate the need for Transport Canada's assistance as a technical free-of-charge resource. That has been a bit of a challenge for us in that it is a time- sink and a resource-user.

By making it clear that it would be at the minister's behest as to whether or not we testified, we believe we could point to that in the legislation when we are approached by litigants, thereby giving them a little bit of sober second thought, and maybe they will withdraw.

In certain circumstances, it's rather defensible that we would testify, such as where it is in the public interest and where there's a general safety issue, as opposed to what we see more often, which is people alleging misuse or behaviour that resulted in a collision and the other party saying, ``No, it's the vehicle.'' That's where we would hope to dissuade misuse of Transport Canada employees as free witnesses.

Senator Plett: So what I'm understanding is that you would be able to make a choice; you're not compelled to testify, but you would be able to testify. Who makes that decision? Obviously, if I'm suing, I would believe that it would be extremely important, possibly, for you to testify, and if I'm being sued, I might not want you to testify. So who makes the decision?

Mr. Ram: It is made within the department; we try to comply where possible. Maybe I can direct that question to our counsel.

Senator Plett: Please. Mr. Ram said that the department would make a decision in a civil suit as to whether or not Transport Canada would testify, and he said it was made within the department. Who makes the decision and why would you differentiate whether or not you should go and testify? There might be instances where I believe you should, and the company I'm suing, GM, says, ``Well, it's not good if Transport Canada testifies.''

Linda Wilson, Counsel, Legal Services, Transport Canada: First of all, if there is a subpoena to appear, which is something that a judge orders, this provision wouldn't apply. The subpoena would take precedence.

If there's no subpoena, whether the department would allow an inspector to testify is a policy decision. The reasoning behind this provision is to limit the use of free expert witnesses, because there are many experts out there who can provide the same testimony. My understanding was the department didn't feel that civil servants should be in a position of providing free expert testimony in civil matters between two individual parties.

If we're talking prosecution, that's a completely different issue. But if one entity is suing another, there may be other ways to obtain the same information. Whether or not those exist would inform part of the decision as to whether the inspector will testify. If it's something that the inspector is uniquely placed to provide information on, and there's a public policy reason for providing that testimony, then presumably the decision would be more in favour of testifying. If it's something very generic that anyone can give, and it's merely a way for a litigant to reduce their costs, then there's less of a public policy interest in the inspector testifying. If there is a subpoena, then the inspector must attend.

Senator Plett: That's very important information, and much clearer than I expected to get.

The Chair: Mr. Leclerc, Mr. Roussel, Mr. Ram and Ms. Wilson, thank you for your presentation.

[Translation]

The Chair: Honourable senators, we are continuing our study of Bill C-31, an Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 11, 2014 and other measures. The committee has been asked to conduct a pre-study of Divisions 15, 16 and 28.

In the second part of this meeting, we will be studying division 28, which contains the New Bridge for the St. Lawrence Act, and deals with the construction and operation of a new bridge in Montreal to replace the Champlain Bridge and the Nuns' Island Bridge.

[English]

Our witnesses are also from Transport Canada: Thao Pham, Assistant Deputy Minister, Federal Montreal Bridges; and Isabelle Jacques, General Counsel and Associate Head.

[Translation]

Thao Pham, Assistant Deputy Minister, Federal Montreal Bridges, Transport Canada: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and good morning, senators.

[English]

I would like to give you an overview this morning on the proposed new bridge for the St. Lawrence act.

Based on an engineering expert report that was produced in 2010, the existing Champlain Bridge in Montreal has been found to be at the end of its useful life. Following the recommendations of a pre-feasibility study done in 2011, the Government of Canada announced that it will replace the Champlain Bridge.

In December 2013, the Government of Canada announced that the construction of the new bridge for the St. Lawrence will be accelerated and be in service in 2018.

The Government of Canada announced that the bridge will be built through a public-private partnership. A business case was developed, and it demonstrated that the public-private partnership approach will deliver better value for money for taxpayers, on the one hand, but it will also guarantee that the project is delivered on time and within budget.

Given the context of the accelerated timeline, the new bridge for the St. Lawrence will ensure that authorities required for the implementation of all aspects of the building of the new bridge are in place.

[Translation]

The New Bridge for the St. Lawrence Act will provide as much certainty as possible in order to avoid delays due to different legal interpretations or the potential charging of premiums by bidders to account for areas of uncertainties.

[English]

The key legislative provisions of these acts include the following: The first item is that the proposed new Bridges Act will designate the minister appointed by the Governor-in-Council to be responsible for the administration of the act. Essentially, the minister appointed by the Governor-in-Council is the project authority.

The proposed legislation for the new bridge will also declare the bridge for the St. Lawrence to be for the general advantage of Canada, thereby making it a federal structure.

Given the fact that the new bridge for the St. Lawrence is an interprovincial bridge, and it is the only bridge in Canada that belongs to the federal government that is located within a province, this project will be considered provincial work. This clause is, therefore, included to ensure that the Government of Canada has the jurisdiction and control over the bridge, as opposed to the province, which would otherwise have control over provincial work.

The act will authorize the minister responsible to enter into any agreement related to the bridge or related work in preparation to the bridge. For example, the minister will have the authority to sign agreements with the Government of Quebec and also with Quebec municipalities on such things as information exchange and relocation of public utilities. These agreements are not part of the agreement that would be signed by the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada with respect to the P3 agreement with the private partner.

The proposed new bridge for the St. Lawrence act will provide the minister responsible with the authority to affix tolls and collect tolls on the new bridge through regulations.

With respect to the contract with the P3 partner as the operator, the act will provide the Minister of Public Works and Government Services with the authority to enter into such an agreement. The Minister of Public Works and Government Services is, therefore, the contracting authority.

Moreover, the proposed legislation will provide the Governor-in-Council authority to exempt the project from some federal permits, licences or approvals if it is deemed in the public interest. The intention, of course, is for the federal government to obtain all of the permits and approvals required, but if it is deemed in the public interest and for safety and security reasons, if we have to accelerate, then there is this provision.

Finally, the proposed legislation exempts the project from the application of two pieces of existing legislation. The first one is the Bridges Act, and the second is the User Fees Act.

With respect to the Bridges Act, given the fact that the P3 agreement will contain very specific clauses with respect to expectations for safety inspections and the commission of the bridge, the Bridges Act will not apply in this case to avoid, again, any potential overlap or confusion in terms of interpretation.

With respect to the User Fees Act, given the specific nature of this project, the tolls will be set through regulations, again to avoid any duplication in terms of interpreting existing legislation versus the special act for the project.

That gives you an overview of the special act, Mr. Chairman, and I am open to questions.

Senator Plett: Some of the questions were answered at the tail end of your presentation; I appreciate that. My questions were based around the public-private partnership.

The P3, to have that clear, is federal, provincial and private; is that correct?

Ms. Pham: No. It is going to be an agreement that will be signed by the federal government with the private sector.

Senator Plett: It will be the private sector, then, that will be paying for the construction of the bridge, and the federal government will not be participating in supplying funds for the bridge?

Ms. Pham: That is right. In the business case that was developed and presented, the decision was to go ahead with the design, build, operation and financing. Therefore, yes, the private sector, the winning bidder, will provide the funding, and then the federal government will enter into a contract with the private partner and, therefore, will have different milestone payments, for example, over the period of the agreement.

Senator Plett: So the tolls that are being set, at least the federal government will take part in the negotiations for the tolls?

Ms. Pham: The federal government will regulate the toll rates through regulations, as I indicated. Therefore, there is no negotiation per se with respect to the private partner, because that decision is a decision that belongs to the federal government.

[Translation]

Senator Verner: I would just like to get a better understanding of this file. Last November, we discussed Bill C-4 here; it dealt with the management of and funding for federal bridges, except those in Quebec.

Given the debate that was already going on about the new Champlain Bridge, I asked your colleagues if the federal government already had the statutory and regulatory powers it needed to establish and collect tolls using private partners.

There were a few vague references, but your colleagues undertook to provide us with the answer in writing. My staff checked with the clerk of the committee and nothing has been received to date. Does that mean that you do not currently have the powers needed to set tolls for the new bridge? Is my understanding correct?

Ms. Pham: On your first question, I will follow up with the department and get back to you with an answer, or at least an update. On your second question, the minister's authority to establish tolls on the new St. Lawrence bridge is one of the provisions proposed in the bill you are studying.

Senator Verner: So he did not have it beforehand. The bill we are studying will correct that?

Ms. Pham: It gives him that authority, yes.

Senator Demers: Minister Lebel has been very specific and very clear that it will be a toll bridge. There are two levels of administration: federal and provincial. The provincial administration does not want tolls. Even Mayor Denis Coderre has said that there is no question of tolls.

At the end of the day, however, it is the taxpayers who are going to be paying an exorbitant price for this bridge. Will tolls reduce their taxes? How do you see that? This is not just pigheadedness; it is to prevent taxpayers from being forced to pay for the bridge for 20 or 30 years.

Ms. Pham: According to a previous public announcement, the construction costs for the new bridge are estimated to be between $3 billion and $5 billion and that the tolls will contribute to part of the bridge's construction and maintenance costs. There will also be a federal contribution to the construction and operation of the project.

I think that is the answer I can provide. There is a federal government contribution, but revenue from the tolls will clearly contribute to the construction costs.

Senator Demers: At some point, who is going to make the decision and say, yes, you have to pay three dollars? We have to make sure that it does not cost the people using the bridge a fortune. Sometimes we hear yes, sometimes we hear no. I would like to know, when the exact time comes for the final decision, who makes it?

Ms. Pham: Given that it has always been said that there will be tolls on the bridge, the department is presently evaluating toll rates around the greater Montreal area, such as on Autoroutes 25 and 30.

We are also looking at the forecasts and models for how many vehicles will use the new bridge. The rates will then be proposed using the regulations in the framework of the bill. Then we will go through a process of consultation about the rates. That is how it will be done.

Senator Demers: So have those who are still fighting to prevent tolls lost already? Some people are still fighting and saying that they do not want tolls on the bridge. We hear that regularly.

Ms. Pham: The bill gives the minister the authority to build the bridge and to make regulations to set tolls.

Senator Demers: Thank you.

[English]

Senator Eggleton: Who will own the bridge?

Ms. Pham: The ownership will belong to the federal government.

Senator Eggleton: And the private sector is paying for most of it or all of it?

Ms. Pham: That will be part of the proposals that the bidders will put forward. Therefore, they will have to come up with the financing scenarios. Ultimately, the federal government will own the bridge and then will pay the private partner based on the agreement for the building but also for the maintenance and operation over 30 years.

Senator Eggleton: That is where the tolls come into play. The tolls will be how the private sector recovers its investment in this?

Ms. Pham: The revenues generated by tolls will be collected by the private partner, however remitted to the federal government. Therefore, the toll revenues will belong to the federal government. With that revenue and also with the federal contribution, the federal government will make several payments to the private partner for the building and operation of the bridge over a long period of time, over 30 years.

Senator Eggleton: This bridge is totally within the province of Quebec. What is the provincial government's involvement in this?

Ms. Pham: As you probably know, in the media, there are ongoing discussions, but, for the time being, of course, this bridge belongs to the federal government. Given the safety and security of the users, the federal government will go ahead with the construction of the new bridge.

Senator Eggleton: There is no financial involvement by the provincial government foreseen at this time?

Ms. Pham: No, there isn't.

Senator Eggleton: What is the justification for the federal government building this bridge?

Ms. Pham: As you know, the Champlain Bridge was found to be at a critical stage and there —

Senator Eggleton: No, I know that. What is the justification for the federal government paying the money out to build a bridge that's totally within a province? Does it do this in any other province?

Ms. Pham: No, this is a unique situation where the federal government owns a bridge within a province but, given the fact that we have to replace the Champlain Bridge because of safety reasons, we have to go ahead with the construction.

Senator Eggleton: What is the justification for the Champlain Bridge, then, in the first place? What is the justification for the federal government building a bridge within a province?

Ms. Pham: Because of historical reasons, for example —

Senator Eggleton: What are the historical reasons?

Ms. Pham: The construction of the seaway, and also for the Jacques Cartier Bridge and part of the Mercier Bridge as well, so it was very much around the construction of the seaway.

Senator Eggleton: But it doesn't do this in any other province?

Ms. Pham: No, it doesn't.

Senator Eggleton: Thank you.

Senator MacDonald: Picking up on what Senator Eggleton said, I would suggest that it has been done with regard to the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island. That is where my question comes from. Back in the 1980s, I was in the Ministry of Public Works office when we commissioned the bridge to Prince Edward Island. I am curious, was that model used or looked at in terms of the construction of the model for building the new bridge over the St. Lawrence?

Ms. Pham: I think the first element to clarify is that the Confederation Bridge is interprovincial.

Senator MacDonald: Yes, it is. The point I was making is that it is not an international bridge.

Isabelle Jacques, General Counsel and Associate Head, Transport Canada: Yes, it falls with the federal jurisdiction.

Ms. Pham: With respect to whether or not the model that was used for the Confederation Bridge was looked at, I have to get back to you in terms of what we have learned from that project.

Senator Eggleton: That was totally within the province.

Senator MacDonald: Right, I realize that. I am familiar with the geography of the country.

I am curious, though, why there have been provisions made for the oversight of the construction of the bridge to be allocated to a separate minister as opposed to the Minister of Public Works. I am curious about the rationalization for that and perhaps what ministry was chosen and why.

Ms. Pham: In this proposed legislation, we clarify the authorities of each of the respective ministers. We want to make sure that it is clear that the project authority is the minister who will be appointed by the Governor-in-Council, whereas for Public Works it is the minister who will be responsible for all contractual aspects of it. That is the reason for the clarification of authorities.

Senator Housakos: My question is a technical one. I come from the city of Montreal. Obviously the Champlain Bridge is of vital importance to our city. It is the busiest bridge in the country. It is vital for the economic development of the city and the region.

Maybe you can speak to a concern that I have. We have two major bridges in the Montreal region. We have Jacques Cartier and we have Pont Champlain. Jacques Cartier was built many decades before Champlain, and it is still good. Experts seem to believe it will be good for another 100 years. We have spent far less money maintaining the Cartier Bridge than we have the Champlain Bridge. Can you explain to us why that would be? Why is a bridge that we built only 50 or 60 years ago falling down and a bridge we built over 100 years ago solid as steel?

Ms. Pham: Several studies were done in the last couple of years. Part of the answer to your question is because of the design of the bridge, on the one hand, but also the material that was used. When the Champlain Bridge was built in, I think, 1962, there was not supposed to be a lot of de-icing salt to be used. I think that has certainly accelerated the deterioration. The simple answer to your question, senator, is the design but also the material that was used.

Senator Housakos: In this round of replacing the bridge, I assume that measures have been taken to make sure that the long-term effectiveness of this bridge will be taken into consideration, which clearly wasn't the case in 1962.

Ms. Pham: For the new bridge for the St. Lawrence, we are talking about having a life span of 125 years. All over the world right now, with the technology and the material that we have, we can expect bridges to have 100 years of life expectancy. However, for this one, we really want to extend that as well and go for the best building design and the building construction, so we are aiming for 125.

Senator Housakos: I apologize for coming in late, and maybe this question has already been asked, but it seems to me that we have announced and re-announced this building of a new bridge on a number of occasions. From what I have been reading in the media, we have been spending in the last few years and will in the next couple of years hundreds of millions of dollars on essential maintenance on the current bridge to keep it afloat, so to speak. Why the delay? It seems we are already spending, from different figures I have read in different newspaper articles, close to half a billion dollars over the last few years and the next couple of years just in maintaining it and keeping it going. Why is it taking so long to get going on the new bridge?

Ms. Pham: For the new bridge, as soon as December 2013, it was announced that the timeline would be accelerated. Initially, the new bridge was to be in operation in 2021 but, given the situation with the Champlain Bridge, we worked with our experts, our engineers, to look at ways to accelerate the timeline, so that timeline has been moved until 2018. In 2018, the bridge will be in operation.

The project is progressing as we have been planning, and there is a procurement process that is under way. As you can imagine, this is one of the largest infrastructure projects in North America currently, so we have launched a procurement process.

It is a two-stage approach. The first one is a request for qualifications. That work is under way. It will close on May 7, which is tomorrow. We will have respondents submitting their proposals, and then we will select the top three and move on to the next stage, which is in July, for a request for proposals. Absolutely, we are moving ahead with the building of the new bridge.

With respect to the Champlain Bridge, it is one of the busiest bridges, including the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Therefore, we have to keep it in operation. All of the maintenance and inspection work, everything that can be done, is being done right now to ensure that the bridge is safe and continues to be in operation until the new bridge is open.

Senator Housakos: My last question has to do with the tender process itself. Have provisions been made to ensure that there would be an advantage given to Canadian consortia or Canadian bidders for the work? Are there companies right now in Canada that can build this bridge, or will we rely uniquely on international bidders?

Ms. Pham: Given the fact that we don't build a bridge of this scope and this magnitude frequently and the fact that we want to have the most durable bridge possible, we have decided to open the process internationally, including Canadian firms. We are aiming for the best constructors, the best bridge builders in the world. We organized, on March 31, an information session for all of the international and Canadian builders on bridges and on highways, and we had approximately 400 participants attending, including Canadian companies.

During that session, we also organized an industry day where all of the big consortia, the big builders, can also have a business-to-business meeting with local, regional and provincial small and medium-sized enterprises so that they can be part of the process as well. That is how we can promote provincial and Canadian expertise.

Senator Plett: Again, you may have answered, in part, my question. If I missed it, I am sorry.

The Champlain Bridge will remain open while the new bridge is being constructed. Where is the new bridge being constructed? Did I miss that? Is it simply beside it, so there will just be a detour of some form? So it is actually at the same place?

Ms. Pham: Its will be on the north side of the Champlain Bridge, so it will be right next to it. As you can imagine, at the exit of the bridge, there is Autoroute 10 coming from the Eastern Townships and Autoroute 15. The new bridge will be right next to the Champlain Bridge, on the north side, so it will be on the side of the Victoria Bridge because we want to be able to reconnect with Autoroute 10 and Autoroute 15.

I should also mention that we talk a lot about the bridge, but this project is actually a corridor. In building the new bridge, we will also widen Autoroute 15 and have maintenance for Autoroute Bonaventure. We are talking about approximately eight kilometres of infrastructure. The bridge is a main piece of that, but we are also talking about the corridor. It will be right next to it.

Senator Plett: Thank you for that.

I have spent my life in construction, though, obviously, nothing of this magnitude. I was in China — I have been a number of times over the last years — and I travelled on their pier across the water to probably one of the largest container ports in the world in Shanghai. They built a road across the ocean. I believe it is 32 kilometres long, and they did this in a year and a half. I don't think Canada has a reputation of being able to go that quickly with their construction.

Originally, the plan was to open in 2021, and now you are saying it has been accelerated to 2018. That is quite easy to do on a piece of paper, but what have you done to be able to accelerate something by three years when this has to be one of the largest projects that has been undertaken in quite some time? All of a sudden, we say that we will shave three years off of that. Not wanting to rain on the parade here, but I have a feeling that, in 2018, we will say that we are three years behind on the project.

Ms. Pham: Certainly, that is not an option. I can certainly tell you that since the announcement that the project will be carried out as a public-private partnership we have met every milestone along the way. We have a dedicated team, with experts from Transport Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada, Justice Canada, and PPP Canada. We have brought together an interdepartmental team to really be working on this project.

We also work closely with our expert consultants, the engineering firm Arup. Their expertise has made a huge difference in terms of us being able to move at this pace. Up until now, we have met every milestone, and there is no room for slippage. The interdepartmental team, with our consultants, are working extremely hard, as you can imagine, almost 24/7. We have access to the most experienced engineers in the world with our consultants, so the people who build bridges in Hong Kong, for example, and in other parts of the world are contributing to this exercise and this project.

Senator Plett: I certainly want to encourage and to hope that will happen.

Senator Housakos asked about Canadian firms being involved. The name of the consultant that you mentioned was Arup?

Ms. Pham: That's right.

Senator Plett: Where are they from?

Ms. Pham: It is an international firm, but they have a great presence in Canada. They have offices in Toronto and in Montreal as well. I think that, according to the last number that I saw, they have brought together 100 people from their firm working from all over the world, including Canadian-based experts, to contribute to this project.

Senator Plett: Thank you.

Senator MacDonald: Once the construction of the new bridge is complete, am I safe to assume that there is a timeline set in place for the cessation of traffic over the Champlain Bridge? Is it also safe to assume that the only future for the Champlain Bridge is that it will be broken down and deconstructed?

Ms. Pham: Once the new bridge is in operation, the traffic will be diverted to the new bridge, and then the Champlain Bridge will be closed and demolished at that time. That will be another project that we will undertake at that time, but we won't leave it up because it will not be in service anymore.

Senator MacDonald: The Champlain Bridge will be a stranded federal asset once the new bridge is complete. I would assume that the deconstruction of that bridge will be a very expensive proposition. Who will provide the funding for that? Is the funding for that going to come from the revenue from the new bridge?

Ms. Pham: As you know, the Champlain Bridge is now under the responsibility of the Jacques Cartier/Champlain Bridge Corporation. There is a lot of material and concrete in the existing bridge. In deconstructing, there is also an opportunity to sell the material in the bridge currently, but that discussion has to be undertaken with the corporation.

Senator MacDonald: Do we have an estimate of how much it will cost to break that bridge down?

Ms. Pham: I do not have that information right now, but, if it is the will of the committee, I will try to get that information for you.

The Chair: We would appreciate it if you could.

Senator MacDonald: Anyway, it is user pay, and I like that. That's great.

Senator Housakos: My last question in the second round has to do with the financing component of the tender process. This is clearly one of the largest public works projects that this country has gotten into, and it will go into the many billions of dollars. There's a huge component of the deal that has to do with the financing of it. There aren't many Canadian institutions I know from my business background that have the wherewithal to engage in a project of this magnitude alone.

Have you guys done enough strategic studies that assure us that the net beneficiaries of this project won't be uniquely external and international financial institutions? I believe Arup is a Spanish-based engineering firm that is international in magnitude, and their institutions and Chinese institutions and American ones are the leaders when it comes to multi-billion dollar international projects of this nature.

At the end of the day, it's the Canadian government that's the guarantor of this project being so palatable to so many companies all over the world to come here. What have we done to assure ourselves that there will be a major Canadian component in the financing aspect of this project?

Ms. Pham: The financing component of this project is a very important one in terms of how we're going to assess the winning bidders. As you can imagine, for this project, we don't think there is going to be any single company that will be able to bring together all of the expertise or the funding. There are consortiums, including funding partners, that are discussing right now to come up with a proposal that will include the best capacity in terms of financing, including Canadian institutions, but also in terms of building highways and bridges. That work is under way right now.

Senator Housakos: Are we doing anything special to make sure this will be palatable to Canadian institutions and that they will have an advantage compared to international financial institutions?

Ms. Pham: We don't have any criteria that would put Canadian companies or institutions at an advantage because, as part of the P3, we really want this project to be the best-built project and also value-for-money for Canadians. However, given the scope and the magnitude of this project, there will be economic benefits for Canadian companies — we are certain of that — on many areas, either in the construction sector or the financial component of it.

The Chair: I have a few questions and maybe a comment on what Senator Plett said about your optimism for 2018. I was on this committee eight years ago when we started talking about the Ambassador Bridge being built — and I think it is open this week. But as you know, it's still in the newspapers this morning, because we haven't agreed with the Americans on how it's going to be built. They're actually asking us to pay for their own customs services, so they've got a good deal going here.

All the money is being put forward by the federal government, and the bridge is not any closer to being built today than when I first started sitting on this committee as a member, much less as the chair. I was chair when Minister of Transport Cannon came to the committee and promised us the Ambassador Bridge before he was supposed to leave.

So I'm a little bit like Senator Plett in that I'm a bit pessimistic about your objective, but I wish you well.

I have two questions, one being the effect on the other bridges; namely, the fact that there will be tolls — it seems that this legislation will be making that clear. There was a newspaper report this morning that it would divert automobile circulation across the St. Lawrence to other bridges and that, depending on how much the tolls are, will affect how much people have to use the other bridges. Two of the three other bridges are ours, and they'll have an effect on the usage of those bridges. The cost will not be done by the tolls; it will be assumed by the federal government owning Jacques Cartier Bridge. Regarding that affect, I haven't seen any answer saying it's being taken into consideration for the cost that will be spent by the federal government on the other bridges.

My second question is one that wasn't brought up this morning but that has been the subject of major negotiations, I hear, with the Quebec government: the tramway. The Quebec government wants mass transportation capabilities on that bridge, and they want the possibility of having a tramway that would cross from the south shore to the north shore. Do you have any information on that?

Ms. Pham: Yes, we have been working very closely with Quebec officials on the light-rail train. The bridge will have three corridors: one going to Montreal, another will go from Montreal to the south shore, and the middle corridor will be dedicated to public transit.

In our discussion with the Quebec officials right now, they have asked that a corridor be built to accommodate a light-rail train. So we have been working with them very closely, because we have to plan that very early on, as you can imagine. That work is under way, absolutely.

The Chair: Are there discussions with your colleagues at the Detroit bridge organization to see if you can improve on their process? According to their process, it was supposed to be a little bit faster than had been promised. Since lessons learned are always better than trying to learn by yourself, are there discussions with them on how you can improve the process so the same thing will not happen to you?

Ms. Pham: Certainly. I would say that, given the fact that we now have an accelerated timeline for the new bridge for the St. Lawrence — and the procurement process is under way — it has been launched officially already, so there is no turning back for us. What we do on the new bridge for the St. Lawrence is also followed very closely by our colleagues working on the Detroit River International Crossing, because they will have to go through the same process as well.

The Chair: Senator Eggleton, there was another bridge — a Quebec City bridge — that used to belong to the federal government. However, that's also in the courts, because it was transferred to CN, the province and the city, and the governments are suing each other. So it's not a precedent that we have that bridge. It's probably a coincidence they were all in Quebec and they were all probably built following a campaign.

Thank you for being here, Ms. Pham.

[Translation]

Tomorrow, we will deal with division 16 on roaming fees for mobile telecommunications. We will hear from officials from the CRTC and from Industry Canada.

[English]

I'd like the steering committee members to stay; we will have a short meeting after we adjourn.

(The committee continued in camera.)


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