Senator Downe criticizes federal government's policies on bridge tolls

A P.E.I. senator says the federal Liberal government is inconsistent with its policies when it comes to tolls on bridges.

Federal minister says no tolls on Champlain Bridge because it's a replacement

The government of Canada owns three bridges says Senator Percy Downe. He wants to know why 'two of them have tolls and one doesn't.' (CBC)

A P.E.I. senator says the federal Liberal government is inconsistent with its policies when it comes to tolls on bridges. 

Senator Percy Downe said he confirmed with federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi that tolls will be charged on the new Gordie Howe Bridge between Windsor, Ont. and Detroit, as it does with the Confederation Bridge. 

But the new Champlain Bridge in Montreal will not have a toll, a promise made by the Liberals during the last federal election campaign. 

"That's exactly right. They promised in the heat of the campaign in an effort to win seats but the public policy question is, is it fair to treat Canadians in different parts of the country differently?"

Replace existing bridge

When asked by a reporter why the Champlain Bridge won't have a toll, while the other two bridges will, Sohi responded that the new Champlain Bridge will have no tolls because it is replacing an existing federal crossing that had no tolls on it.

"Because this is a replacement bridge, we felt that there should not be a toll," he said. "As far as the Gordie Howe is concerned, it's a new bridge, it's a new crossing."

The Champlain Bridge did have a toll when it opened in 1962, which was abolished in 1990.

"In the case of the Confederation Bridge, that was also new structure," said Sohi. "There was no bridge there before, and at that time, the decision was made to charge a tolling fee and that the decision stands."

Sohi also added, "The Confederation Bridge is not part of Infrastructure Canada's portfolio. Both the Champlain Bridge and Gordie Howe are." 

Senator Percy Downe says P.E.I. is not asking for any special treatment by lifting the tolls on Confederation Bridge. (CBC)

The amount of the toll on the new Gordie Howe Bridge has not been announced. The current bridge, the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor and Detroit is a privately owned toll bridge. 

"All Canadians should be treated the same when it comes to federal infrastructure," said Downe. "All three bridges are owned by the government of Canada. But two of them have tolls and one doesn't." 

Downe said he is also wondering what became of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's commitment to an Islander's concerns raised at a town hall meeting in Peterborough, Ont. in January to explore what can be done to make sure people are able to travel freely and openly across this country at modest cost. 

With files from Laura Chapin