British Columbia's Transportation Future
By James Moore, MP
Port Moody – Coquitlam – Port Coquitlam
Speech to the B.C. Transportation Congress
Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to address
For most of us, and by ‘us’ I mean Canadians, transportation
is something we take for granted. Just as we took clean water for granted
before the Walkerton crisis, many of us have an under-appreciation of
the importance of transportation.
Most Canadians know that by land area Canada is the second largest country
in the world, but I want to put that into another perspective. Our 3.8
million square miles is roughly 52% bigger than the Roman Empire was at
its peak in 120 A.D. The Romans knew that to maintain effective control
over such a vast territory an efficient transportation system was necessary
to facilitate the movement of people, goods and armies. The road system
they built still inspires, 19 centuries later.
This lesson was not lost on the fathers of our confederation. That’s
why article 11 of B.C.’s Terms of Union in 1871 required the federal
government (not the B.C. government or the private sector, but the federal
government) to construct a railway “to connect the seaboard of British
Columbia with the railway system of Canada . . . within 10 years from
the date of the Union.”
The crucial federal role in inter-provincial transportation is easy to
understand. Canada has twice the population of the Netherlands and spans
a landmass larger than China. Thus, its fitting that Transport Canada
says: “In Canada, what is divided by geography is united by transportation.”
In essence, Transport Canada concedes its responsibility to make it easier
to get around our territory.
Today, Canadians and their goods travel principally by air and by road,
so I’ll focus my comments on airports, airlines and highways from
a British Columbia perspective.
On the subject of airports; its past time the government looked at airports
as a crucial part of national infrastructure and nation building, and
not as a source of revenue.
Several immediate examples come to mind.
Most will know that when the airports were privatized, that the new Local
Airport Authorities paid “rent” to Ottawa. What is less well
known is that of the $593 million received in net airport rent revenue
by Ottawa, some $342 million, or roughly 57.6% of the national total came
from just one airport, the Vancouver International Airport. To even the
most casual observer, this hardly seems fair, particularly since Pearson
Airport is by far Canada’s largest.
Equally unfair is an experience some of you in this room have experienced,
which is the charging of the $24 air security tax to people not receiving
any- let alone improved- air security. This is the unfortunate reality
at the South Terminal of Vancouver Airport where British Columbians are
paying a tax for a service they don’t receive.
This situation gets worse in northern regions of Canada and B.C. There,
as elsewhere, Transport Canada transferred airports to many local authorities
in 1993, and then, after the Air Canada RJ crash at Fredricton in 1998,
Civil Aviation Regulation 308 set a new 5-minute response standard for
emergency crews at airports. For those small airports that don’t
have an on-site fire department and can’t afford them, the new standard
meant increased costs or closure.
Think about that. The federal government would have had to pay the increased
costs if they were still the operator. They transferred the emergency
readiness responsibility as an unfunded liability to the locals; then
small airports and communities were hurt further by having a $24 tax imposed
for security measures that they don’t receive.
And we can’t minimize the importance of this. The $24 air tax helped
influence Air Canada this week to drop all air service to St. Leonard,
New Brunswick, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and Stephenville, Newfoundland. The
airport at Miramichi, New Brunswick is dead, and routes to small communities
are being cut across the Maritimes.
If the federal government does not help small communities meet these new
emergency response times, or introduce more flexible regulations, or constructively
dedicate revenues of the $24 tax to these needs, small communities here
in B.C. could very well lose their airports or air service.
Then there is the issue of airline competition, or perhaps the lack thereof.
Now I do not advocate re-regulating the airline industry with regard to
capacity or prices, but as a general rule, I believe that if market forces
are instituted properly, we wouldn’t experience the disparities
we now see.
As an example, consider the following three routes from Vancouver,
to Mexico City;
to Taipei; and
I visited Travelocity.ca, the search engine that travel agents use, to
compare Air Canada’s fares on all three routes and planned a fictitious
4-day trip leaving next Monday, September 16th, and coming back next Friday,
Under those conditions, and booking over a week in advance, Air Canada’s
lowest fare to Mexico City was $1194, to Taipei $2635, and to Montreal
Now I am not an airline economist, but I do not believe that it should
ever cost $700 per passenger more to travel to Montreal than to Asia,
nor should it cost nearly 3-times as much to visit Montreal as Mexico
City, given that Mexico City is 300 km further away from Vancouver than
Montreal, and in a different country.
Think about this within the context of national unity and transportation
historically as being a tool for nation building in Canada as I mentioned.
If we want Canada to stay together as a country we need to get more Quebecois
to visit British Columbia and visa versa. It’s hard to imagine standing
at the top of Grouse Mountain, looking out over the Chilcotin plateau,
watching a sunset in Tofino, or strolling through Stanley Park and not
wanting to be a proud Canadian. However, it is usually cheaper to visit
Latin America and France from Montreal than it is to visit either Vancouver
or Calgary. Most of the ardent young Quebec separatists have never seen
Western Canada, and they literally don’t know what they’re
wishing to separate from.
Also, I want to talk about highways. Many of you may remember the slogan
“Finish the drive by ‘65”, 1965, by which time the 7,300-kilometre
Trans Canada Highway was to be completed. Like the railway before it,
the Trans Canada Highway was an exercise in nation building. When the
highway was finished, there were 6.7 million cars on the road. Traffic
jams and tolls were virtually unknown and the federal government, a full
decade before federal gas taxes were ever introduced, was a true 50% partner
in building our nations highways.
Today there are 2.65 million cars on B.C.’s roads alone. The federal
government has collected roughly $4.7 billion in fuel taxes from B.C.
motorists in the last decade, but of the $12.6 billion spent by the B.C.
government on roads and highways in the same time frame, a mere $30 million,
or 0.2% of the total spent, has come from Ottawa.
Today we are painfully aware of the need to improve the often dangerous
Trans Canada highway between Salmon Arm and the Alberta border, and the
federal government should be just as active in funding this as it was
in funding the original project in 1965. But it can’t end there.
Yesterday the federal and B.C. governments announced the jointly-funded
expansion of the Cottonwood River Bridge on Highway 97. This is a positive
development, and I note that there are calls to have Highway 97, which
is part of the Alaska Highway, considered part of our National Highway
System from Monte Creek to Osoyoos.
But more important than any such designation is a true commitment by Ottawa
to work hand-in-hand with Victoria in funding the roads which are a high
priority for British Columbians. Those roads may also include the Sea-to-Sky
highway, or the Lougheed Highway, or perhaps better links to Richmond
or North Vancouver from downtown.
Also, those of us who care deeply about the environment know that it is
far from good environmental policy to have thousands of engines idling
every day in traffic.
If we are actually serious about meeting the emission targets of the Kyoto
Protocol, Ottawa could start by funding a relief to the highway congestion
in Vancouver, which might include an increase in passenger rail capacity.
It is also vital to improve the infrastructure at the Port of Vancouver.
It won’t matter how efficiently the Port manages itself, or how
effectively it markets itself internationally; if arriving and departing
trucks are caught in deadlocked traffic. And what is bad for the Port
of Vancouver is bad for British Columbians, which in turn hurts Canada’s
overall international competitiveness and the standard of living for Canadians.
Finally, the infrastructure at our borders needs to be improved. I am
pleased that the Canadian and U.S. governments are working together to
strengthen our border relationship for both our citizens, and for trade.
But much work is still ahead.
Yesterday, when the Prime Minister met with President Bush in Windosr,
at the largest border crossing between our nations, it was noted that
a Canadian can take a truck loaded with goods from Toronto to Miami, and
en route, you’ll go through 15 stop lights. But 14 of those stoplights
are in Windsor.
Border efficiencies are a concern to British Columbians as well, and I
look forward to hearing new ideas to have our concerns addressed so we
can be infrastructurally prepared for the trade opportunities of the future.
In recent years Transport Canada has privatized ports, airports, and air
traffic control. It is in fact, if you look at it, a shadow of its former
self. I would like to take this opportunity today to remind the Minister
of Transport, and all federal representatives across party lines, of the
tremendous Constitutional responsibility, and opportunity, to build and
strengthen our nation. I urge the Minister to seek the cooperation of
his Cabinet colleagues in giving Canada the transportation system of which
our forefathers dreamed and which British Columbians greatly deserve.
Thank you very much.