House of Commons Hansard #129 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was transportation.

Topics

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson Burnaby—Kingsway, BC

With respect to applications for Canada pension plan disability benefits and considering the time presently required between the submission of an application and when benefits are received, or the application is definitely rejected, can the Minister of Human Resources Development indicate: ( a ) the mean time, ( b ) the median time and ( c ) the maximum time for each quintile of applicants and what measures are being taken to reduce these delays?

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Papineau—Saint-Michel
Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Minister of Human Resources Development

As part of a major redesign of income security programs intended to streamline and modernize our delivery systems, the Canada pension plan, CPP, disability program was decentralized during 1996. This included the regionalization of

operations and brought decision making for CPP disability applications and reconsiderations closer to our clients throughout Canada.

Roll out of the regional functions occurred on a schedule from November 1995 to June 1996.

As a result, all applications for Canada pension plan disability benefits, except those for Quebec and Prince Edward Island, are received and processed in the regions.

From January to the end of December 1996, Canada pension plan reveived 79,778 applications for disability benefits.

It is a massive undertaking to move files, functions, technology and some staff from headquarters to 10 regions, and to train local personnel who will be performing new duties, all this while continuing to receive and process applications of the magnitude received by CPP on a daily basis. Delays are inevitable during a breaking-in period. We are in that period now.

This adjustment period and the loss of some economies of scale subsequent to decentralization and the underestimation of resources have resulted in backlogs in some regions in the adjudication of disability applications.

a) Presently, the average national time to process a disability application in the region is 59 working days. In some instances further information is required from medical specialists. These cases require additional time beyond the national average. The following reflects the time elapsed from receipt of the application to the time a decision to grant or deny benefits is made. By region, it is as follows:

Newfoundland: 41 Nova Scotia: 35 New Brunswick: 60 Ontario: 49 Manitoba/Saskatchewan: 43 Alberta: 68 British Columbia: 117

b, c) A major redesign of the systems supporting the Canada pension plan disability process is under way. When it is in place in 1998 it is expected that the average processing time for a disability application will drop to 30 days. This will also give us the means to gather, manipulate and analyse in a variety of sophisticated ways data regarding various aspects of our service delivery approaches.

Until then it is not possible to provide the response time in terms of the median time and the maximum time for each quintile of applicants.

Plans are under way to redirect as of March 1, 1997 some regional files to headquarters where the efforts of some 30 adjudication staff will be redirected from the reassessment program to the processing of regional disability applications. Decreasing the backlog in British Columbia as well as Ontario where the volumes are greatest will be the first priority.

All regions are presently implementing an action plan that will decrease response time to an acceptable level by the end of May 1997. This will include hiring and training additional staff, the use of overtime and further streamlining of work processes.

A national committee has been established to develop an improved method of forecasting resources required for the disability program.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Zed Fundy Royal, NB

I ask, Mr. Speaker, that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Supply
Government Orders

February 13th, 1997 / 10:15 a.m.

Reform

Jim Gouk Kootenay West—Revelstoke, BC

moved:

That this House condemn the government for its approach to federal transportation policies, and in particular, the cancellation of the Pearson Airport deal, the continued neglect of Canada's national highway system, costly inefficiencies in the grain transportation system, and the on-going subsidization of VIA Rail at the expense of taxpayers and private-sector passenger rail and bus operators.

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on the Reform supply day motion. There are four specific items named in the motion but of course others may choose to expand beyond them. I will speak on three of the four items highlighted in the motion, leaving the grain question to be handled by my colleagues from the agricultural sector.

I open with a few comments on the Pearson airport contract. Yesterday Reform exposed some of the myths projected by the Liberal Party dealing with its finances. It seems unfair that the finance department alone should be singled out.

Let us take a look at the Pearson airport deal. It is a myth that this is a payoff for Tory businessmen. The fact is that there are more known ties to the Liberal Party in the make-up of the Pearson contract holders.

Another myth is: "We had to cancel the deal because it was too rich". The fact is that secret government documents have revealed it was a good deal for the government. What is more, the government is now in court arguing that the contract holders would not have made any money at all.

The true facts of this scandalous, mishandled political blunder are as follows. During the election campaign the Liberals stated that they thought the Pearson deal was bad and that a Liberal government would investigate and would cancel the contract if it found wrongdoing.

I have no problem with that. To be honest, I felt the same way. At this point the public was ready to believe anything about Mulroney's old party. The problem was that when they got elected and investigated the contract, the Liberals could not find anything wrong with it. Further, studies in the possession of the Liberals clearly indicated that it was a good deal for the government and thus for the Canadian taxpayer.

Without one shred of real evidence the Liberal government slanderously attacked the Pearson contract holders using no evidence whatsoever and using only political rhetoric. To protect themselves the Liberals then introduced the most undemocratic piece of legislation the House has ever seen, Bill C-28.

What should they have done? After the investigation did not actually turn up any evidence of wrongdoing and armed with studies that pointed out the value of the contract of the government, the Liberals should have stated that the contract was not quite as bad as they thought it might have been and that they would try to make some changes that would make it acceptable. I am sure if they had gone to the contract holders they could have arranged a few face saving changes to the contract and then pronounced it okay to proceed with the changes that the Liberal Party had made.

What did members of the public get instead? Right now they have a legal bill that is over $13 million to date and still growing. They have a lawsuit with a potential settlement of hundreds of millions of dollars, a lawsuit that the Liberals had been warned about in those same secret documents in their position before they proceeded.

Terminals 1 and 2 at Pearson airport would have been substantially rebuilt instead of being in the deplorable condition they are in to this day. They have no plans for the needed rebuilding of those terminals and they have no money in the bank. It will be interesting to see how the upcoming budget addresses that particular problem.

Finally, there were enormous job and tax revenue losses for metro Toronto. The loss of direct and indirect jobs from the cancellation of the contract has cost the Toronto area tens of thousands of jobs and business activity. If there is any honour among the Liberals they would pay the cost of their politically motivated mistake from their own party account. We know this will not happen because that honour is not there.

With regard to the recently released report on the national highway system renewal, there is nothing in it that deals with a solution to our deteriorating national highway. There is nothing there to get excited about. It is again filled with Liberal rhetoric.

I should mention that the press release put out by the chair of the Standing Committee on Transport has a neat little trick in it. It says: "Not only are we excited about this but the official opposition has signed on and we are all singing together". Maybe the official opposition did but the national opposition party certainly did not.

The report is full of Liberal rhetoric and when it comes to real solutions there are not any there. There are three fundamental problems. A huge majority of the witnesses who came before the committee asked for some portion of the federal fuel tax revenues to be dedicated specifically to dealing with the national highway system. It should be noted that the government collects about $5 billion a year in highway fuel taxes and spends a mere $200 million.

In a highly manipulated move the chair decided to hold a one-day invitation only round table discussion which he used to override the testimony of four months of witnesses. Virtually all the recommendations in the report arise out of that one-day meeting instead of the four months of testimony.

The report states that the government should commit long term stable funding for highway rebuilding but refuses to do this through a dedicated account because then it would have to live up to that commitment, which is something it will not likely do.

The second area where the report errs is by suggesting that shadow tolling is a funding source. Shadow tolling involves the checking of traffic and making a payment based on the traffic to the operator of the highway. It is a method used to repay a private contractor for building or rebuilding a bridge, highway or some other portion of highway infrastructure, but the payment still has to be made by the government. Shadow tolling and public-private partnerships are valid cost saving efficiencies but they are not funding sources. Unless the government is planning to rebuild our national highway system by the introduction of massive vehicle tolls, this section of the report is deliberately misleading.

The final and most important area of the report is relying on the private sector through public private partnerships to deal with much of the highway problem.

This in itself has much potential but only if there is confidence in the private sector that the government is honourable in its dealings, and there is much evidence that this honour does not exist. The government handling of the Pearson contract was only the smallest tip of the iceberg.

In 1989 the government went to the private sector and asked it to take over the money losing VIA Rail Rocky Mountaineer. The

private sector responded. The Rocky Mountaineer was purchased by a company known as the Great Canadian Railtour Company.

Although it was losing money at the time of its purchase, the Great Canadian Railtour Company spent millions of dollars building and advertising the Rocky Mountaineer. Today it is an overwhelming success story. It has increased its business by 30 per cent per year on an ongoing and constant basis.

When it was taken over there were 5,000 passengers utilizing that system. In 1996, 42,000 people travelled on the Rocky Mountaineer. Also in 1996 they announced their expansion plans for 1997. They then went to VIA Rail and purchased the coaches necessary for this expanded service and sent them to Kamloops in British Columbia to be refurbished and to bring them up to the high standard Rocky Mountaineer insists on. Three months later VIA Rail, knowing the expansion plans of the Rocky Mountaineer and having sold it the cars that Rocky Mountaineer was using for this expansion, announced that it wanted back in. That is unacceptable.

What is even more unacceptable is that the Minister of Transport is actually considering allowing it. He is not only considering it but actually we believe he is at the point of announcing it. This is not only unacceptable to me but it is unacceptable to a great list of other people.

I have a copy of a letter that was delivered to the Minister of Transport from the organization the government is now relying on to bail it out of the highway system problem it has got itself into. The letter is from the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships. It states:

In the case of VIA Rail's Rocky Mountaineer service the government correctly got out of a money losing activity. If the government wants to re-enter the business now that an entrepreneurial private sector operator has made it profitable, this will deter future private sector companies from bidding on future government privatization opportunities. The example of the government exiting and re-entering a business will send a bad signal to entrepreneurs who are looking to establish these types of public-private partnerships.

So much for the government's great plan to rebuild our national highway system. It first has to get the private sector's trust. Even as the government says it wants it, it is throwing this in the private sector's face.

If the minister thinks that allowing VIA to proceed is good for tourism, why have the Council on Tourism Associations of British Columbia and the Tourism Alliance of Western and Northern Canada emphatically stated their opposition to it?

How can the minister think allowing VIA to proceed is good for B.C. when every passenger VIA takes from the Great Canadian Railtour Company means another person staying and eating on a subsidized VIA Rail train instead of staying in B.C. hotels and eating in B.C. restaurants?

If the minister raises the support of the Canadian Tourism Commission, is the minister not aware that his crown corporation has been subsidized to the tune of over $7 billion through VIA that it gives in terms of CTC dollars every year? Should he not reconsider that its input is biased? This is especially true if we consider that the vice-president of the Canadian Tourism Commission is a former VIA employee who was unsuccessful in his bid to acquire the Rocky Mountaineer and who ended up in litigation with the Great Canadian Railtour Company.

The chair of the Canadian Tourism Commission marketing committee is vice-president of marketing at VIA Rail and was also involved in the unsuccessful bid for the Rocky Mountaineer. According to the Liberal government there is no bias I am sure.

What public need is served by allowing a crown corporation that is subsidized hundreds of millions of dollars to compete against a private sector taxpaying company that has done everything the government asked it to do when it sold the route in the first place?

I have a few interesting quotes: "If the government does not need to run something, it should not, and in the future it will not". That was said by the Liberal Minister of Finance. The mayor of Kamloops said: "VIA Rail's plan to increase passenger traffic would have a devastating impact on the Great Canadian Railtour Company and the Kamloops economy".

Here is another dandy. I trust the parliamentary secretary is taking this one in: "I cannot emphasize too much that we are not in the business of putting at risk anyone who has taken on risk in the private sector trying to help us out in the railway industry". Who is that one from? The then Minister of Transport who is now the defence minister for that same Liberal government.

What did the public have to say through organizations like the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation? "Forget the Vancouver-Jasper decision, Mr. Anderson. Put VIA Rail on the selling block, a 1990s version of the Last Spike that is long overdue".

What is even more disturbing to me is the matter of honour with the Liberal government. In December the chair of the Standing Committee on Transport announced to me that he wanted to hold a round table discussion in Ottawa during the recess of Parliament in January. I told him I was not in favour of this because there was no possible way I could attend. This is not a break, as it is euphemistically called, but is in fact a required time to work in our constituencies.

Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Stan Keyes Hamilton West, ON

Not required-optional.

Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Reform

Jim Gouk Kootenay West—Revelstoke, BC

It is an option for Liberals. Only Reformers actually work in their constituencies.

"I really want your approval for this and I am willing to make some kind of a deal with you. What do you want?" I said:

"What I need is a statement from the committee that it is the wrong signal from the government to allow VIA Rail to get back into competition with the company it sold to the private sector and that it is sending that signal out at a time when you are counting in the private sector to bail you out". He agreed to that in writing. He then proceeded to hold the round table which is being used to override four months of testimony. Then they reneged on the written commitment that was made.

There is no honour on that side of the House. There is no honour in the Liberal Party. There is no reason for the private sector to trust the government as it now goes around saying: "Help us, we have made a mess of the national highway system and now we need you to bail us out". The private sector is capable of bailing out the Liberals, but it had better be awfully careful when it enters into a deal with the current Government of Canada, the Liberal Party.

Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Hamilton West
Ontario

Liberal

Stan Keyes Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I have just two points for the hon. member opposite who is a longstanding member of the transport committee, of which I have had the honour to be a part since my election in 1988.

The member should know that a committee of the House of Commons is the master of its own destiny. If the member could possibly understand, a committee makes its decisions to proceed in the best way possible in order to glean all the information it can to make the decisions at the end of the day.

Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Reform

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

How can you keep a straight face?

Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Stan Keyes Hamilton West, ON

Unfortunately the hon. member opposite would sooner spend his time, as he said he did, back in his riding holding what he called politically oriented meetings, et cetera, rather than doing the job that his constituents sent him here to Ottawa to do.

We were working very hard on a triple T study, as we call it, a trade, transportation and tourism study. We heard a bevy of witnesses on the subject.

To the credit of the chairman of that committee, he pulled together 22 players, who either came to the committee at one time or made written interventions to the committee, to sit at one table. It worked wonderfully. Unfortunately, the hon. member missed it. Not one member of the Reform Party was present. However, the government and the official opposition were there.

Twenty-two people were sitting around the table. Instead of the usual way a committee works, hearing witness after another, unconnected, and only hearing one side of the story, we had all these witnesses sitting around the table discussing the idea of finding new options, exploring new ways of helping to finance a national highways project. One person would say something and another person would argue sensibly, quietly and diligently why we may not be able to do something.

It was the most fruitful meeting I have been at in the nine years I have been sitting on committees. There was interaction at the table between the private sector, the public sector and members of Parliament who represent their constituencies. At the end of the day, there was a consensus among all the players. Even more important than pulling in witnesses and trying to come to some consensus as individual witnesses, it was a table that came together as a consensus. It was marvellous.

The consensus was to move toward a model. We would take an example of a structured road somewhere in Canada and apply the strategic thinking that went on at that committee to the model to see how to crunch the numbers, to see the options of payment, and to see where the government and the Canadian taxpayers would be taking a lower risk on a particular venture. These are the great ideas that came out of that meeting. Unfortunately, the member opposite was not at it.

On the subject of the Pearson airport deal, I have to ask myself about the hon. member of the Reform Party. Let us remind ourselves that he belongs to a party that prides itself on being the party of constituent consensus. Let us look at constituent consensus. What did constituency consensus state? In the Toronto Star , for example, on December 4, 1993, it stated: ``Prime Minister's Chrétien's decision to cancel the privatization deal of Pearson International Airport is a breath of fresh air that cleans the stench left behind by the shady deal worked out by the Tory lobbyists for friends of the previous government''.

"Friends of the previous government". After hearing the intervention of the Reform Party member opposite, I have to think that he could not be a friend of the taxpayers. He is a friend of these lobbyists, of the company run by a guy by the name of Don Matthews, a gentleman who was a chief Tory fundraiser and past president of the Conservative Party. He came forward with this deal. There is not even an option or opportunity for the not for profit corporation, the GTAA, Greater Toronto Airport Authority, to get into the bidding process. It was not allowed to bid on the project and the deal went to Paxport.

At the end of the day Paxport, the company that won the deal, did not have the resources to follow through with what it wanted to do. What did it have to do? It had to reach out and pull in someone in order to meet the deal that it had promised the Conservatives. Therefore, it reached out to the owners of terminal 3, Claridge.

Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Reform

Jim Gouk Kootenay West—Revelstoke, BC

Liberals.

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10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Stan Keyes Hamilton West, ON

Yes, Liberals, because Claridge wanted to make the airport work properly. However, I have to ask the hon. member:

Who is he standing up for? Is he standing up for the consortium that wants $600 million for itself, never having put a shovel in the ground, or is he standing up for the Canadian taxpayer who says: "Government, you do what you have to do. You take these people to court. You make sure that you try to achieve a goal that says we are not going to give another penny over what is deserving, somewhere between $30 million and $60 million, not $600 million as demanded, to pay for things that were not done for the lobbyists and for the friends of Brian Mulroney?" Where does the hon. member stand for the Canadian taxpayer?

Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Reform

Jim Gouk Kootenay West—Revelstoke, BC

Mr. Speaker, I hope I have enough time left to respond to the comments made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport.

First, I will deal with the last part of his tirade on the Pearson airport. He refers to the Toronto Star as his constituency. We know the Liberals play to the newspapers and we now have proof, right out of the mouth of the parliamentary secretary.

He keeps talking about the fact that this is a pay-off for the Tory supporters, but in fact, by his own admission, the principal group involved at the time of signing is the Claridge group which is made up of Liberals.

As far as the settlement is concerned, we do not want a specific settlement, we want the rule of law to apply like anyone else. The Liberals cannot screw up, which is what they did with the Pearson cancellation, and then write legislation to protect their own hides.

With respect to the highway study that he mentioned, he is the person who continually says that the committee is the master of its own destiny. I believe the chair of the committee is an honourable person, but he got orders from on high to disregard the commitments he made to me.

The suggestion was made by the hon. member that I would rather be in my riding than down here doing my work. There is a parliamentary schedule. There is a schedule to be here; there is a schedule to be in the constituency. While he was dithering around doing who knows what, I was in my riding conferring with my real constituents, the taxpayers of this country, not the Toronto Star . I held 18 town hall meetings during the January recess period and the parliamentary secretary knows that.

He says that they pulled in all these wonderful people. The principal leader was Moya Greene, who came right out of the transport department. He made a mistake. I asked for a certain report and they faxed it to me. In the report which they faxed to me were handwritten notes made by Moya Greene. They goofed again.

The more the Liberals try to twist the facts, the more trouble they get into. They heard four months of testimony from witnesses and on a one day, by invitation only, round table, they brought in their own special people to manipulate this thing. They overruled four months of testimony and wrote a report based on one day.

If that is what they intended to do, why did they waste hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars travelling from one end of the country to the other? Time, money and effort were expended by all those witnesses who thought they were getting democracy, when the Liberals intended to hold a one day meeting and override the whole thing.

Honour and democracy are alien words to that side of the House. Instead of buying a new red book they should buy a dictionary.

Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Hamilton West
Ontario

Liberal

Stan Keyes Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to the remarks made by the hon. member and the Reform motion before the House which condemns the government for its approach to federal transportation policies.

First, I would like to address the concluding remarks of the member opposite. He said that his constituents are somehow different than the constituents of the Toronto Star . I have spent some 16 years in television news-