House of Commons Hansard #73 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was transportation.

Topics

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from March 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-26, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act, to enact the VIA Rail Canada Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Transportation Amendment Act
Government Orders

March 19th, 2003 / 3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak on Bill C-26, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act and to enact the VIA Rail Canada act. It was tabled in the House on February 25 at the same time as the document called, “Straight Ahead--A Vision for Transportation in Canada” was tabled.

The press release that came with the “Straight Ahead” package said:

This document provides the vision, the policy framework and principles that will guide the Government of Canada's decisions in the years ahead in key areas such as marketplace policies, strategic infrastructure investments and initiatives in support of the broader government agenda on competitive cities and healthy communities, climate change and innovation and skills.

Straight Ahead is the culmination of extensive consultations that began in June 2000 with the Minister's Millennium Conference on Transportation and continued with roundtable discussions across the country headed by the Minister of Transport. It includes responses to many of the recommendations of the Canada Transportation Act Review Panel and of the Independent Transition Observer on Airline Restructuring.

In initiating the second reading of Bill C-26 yesterday, the Minister of Transport told the House:

In our policy document, “Straight Ahead”, we talk of the culmination of an initiative that began in 2001 to review the transportation policy for the next 10 years and beyond. “Straight Ahead” proposes a vision to guide the continued development of a sustainable transportation system for the country. It also conveys the government's response to the 2001 report of the Canada Transportation Act review panel.

The amendments to the CTA that are introduced in this bill are an important step in moving the vision forward. “Straight Ahead”...

In the eyes of the minister, Bill C-26 is the implementation in part of the “Straight Ahead” document and that in turn is the government's response to the 2001 report of the Canada Transportation Act review panel. It is therefore helpful to have read the 2001 report of the Canada Transportation Act review panel.

On page 191 of that report, one finds a discussion of fuel taxes, something that is important in the country now, certainly with regard to the ongoing crisis in Iraq and the labour crisis that existed in Venezuela as well.

It is dealt with in the report on page 191 but the government does not deal with it here. The panel states:

Federal fuel taxes stand out as having no evident justification in the eyes of road users.

The Panel's proposal is that federal fuel taxes be recognized as part of the price paid for the use of road infrastructure.

The CTA review panel proposed that federal fuel taxes be recognized as part of the price paid for the use of road infrastructure. It recommended various ways that the federal fuel taxes could be used to fund Canada's highway infrastructure. Yet while the future actions section of the infrastructure chapter in “Straight Ahead” talks of making strategic investments in trade and passenger corridors, such as the national highway system, the talk is truly hollow when one looks at Bill C-26, or the recent federal budget.

It is important to understand the timing. We know the federal budget was tabled on February 18 and that prebudget consultations had been going on for months before that. We are also told that the “Straight Ahead” document is the culmination of extensive consultations that began in June 2000. If we assume that the Ministers of Finance and Transport are in contact with each other, it is a virtual certainty that the idea of dedicating a percentage of the federal fuel tax to building, maintaining and expanding our national highway infrastructure was discussed at some point around the cabinet table and lead up to the current budget.

Nonetheless, when the budget was tabled, it contained only an additional $300 million in annual funding for Canada's infrastructure, including highways and roadways. The $300 million seems like an impressive amount until we actually do the math. Statistics Canada estimates that there were 31,485,623 people living inside Canada in October 2002. This year the generous Liberals will spend a grand total of $9.53 per person next year on infrastructure and about two-thirds of that, or about $6.38 per person, will go into highways and roads.

While the government is spending some $6.38 per person on roads and highways next year, if gas stays around 85¢ per litre for Canadians, the Liberals will collect $4.8 billion in federal fuel taxes plus another $2.2 billion in GST on the gasoline and taxes as well. That is $7 billion this year, or roughly $222 for every man, woman and child in Canada.

Let me repeat those numbers so it sinks in on the Liberal side over there. The Liberals will collect roughly $222 in federal fuel taxes and GST on those taxes on fuel from every man, woman and child in Canada. At the same time, they will strategically invest, as is their code word, roughly $6.38 per person into roads and highways. If we wonder where the $215, the difference between the $222 they collected and the $6.38 they spend on roads, perhaps the statement contained on page 91 of the 2001 report of the Canada Transportation Act review panel will help us out. It states, “Federal fuel taxes stand out as having no evident jurisdiction in the eyes of road users”.

The biggest problem with the “Straight Ahead” document is that it proposes a vision to guide the continued development of a sustainable transportation system for the country without suggesting a funding formula for something as basic as roads. In my mind that is not a vision, it is fog.

To the extent that Bill C-26 is inspired by this “Straight Ahead” document, it is essentially empty rhetoric by the Minister of Transport.

I would like to turn my attention now to the specifics of Bill C-16. I have already dealt with what is absent, the commitment of highway funding, but now I would like to address what is in the bill.

Bill C-26 deals with two main themes: airlines and railways. In each case it is a mishmash of missed opportunities and dangerous initiatives.

On the aviation side, it is philosophically inconsistent. On one hand, we find several clauses arguing for a greater role for competition and market forces. Clause 3 recognizes that competition and market forces are the prime agents in providing viable and effective service in the air industry. That is a good start rhetorically, but then it starts to get confusing for those who read the bill.

In both clauses 18 and 24 we see the concept that under certain circumstances a non-Canadian company might offer domestic air service for “any period of time”. It is as though the minister is recognizing the idea that in certain situations foreign carriers might be seen as a last resort to spur competition. However at the very same time there is nothing in the bill that raises the limit on the number of shares of a Canadian carrier that a foreign airline might acquire. Thus the same type of problems that foiled the Onyx takeover of Air Canada remain and are part of the Liberal vision for the future of Canada's airline industry.

At the same time, Bill C-26 proposes a massive re-regulation of the domestic airline industry. For example, clause 11 gives the Minister of Transport new powers to review mergers even though the competition commissioner is already involved in the process. It also gives the Canadian Transportation Agency the power to ensure that merged corporation is “Canadian”. Right there, instead of one person examining the competitive implications of any proposed merger, we now have two. Bigger bureaucracy and slower service, that is the Liberal vision, and also having someone in the process who perhaps has no expertise whatsoever in the very issue that the minister may be dealing with.

We also see in clause 16 that it requires airlines to revise advertising to include all non-governmental fees and prices and to not advertise one-way tickets where a person needs to buy a round trip to get the exact price that is being advertised. However let us not forget that the Air Transport Association of Canada voluntarily agreed to this before Christmas, and that the sticking point is not the Canadian airlines industry but the need to get both Canadian and U.S. carriers to adopt similar advertising strategies for tickets on transborder routes. Clause 16 is essentially harmless but it is an attempt by the Liberals to take credit for something that the airline industry has already done voluntarily and has already done through the powers of market forces.

Clause 20 of the bill is just downright dangerous. It would give the Canadian Transportation Agency the power to review and even set airline fares in cases where there was not true competition on a route. The concept of having a government agency tell a private for profit company that it has to provide service between two points on terms and conditions that the government decides is simply frightening.

Clause 26 of the bill goes further, mandating that carriers accept domestic interlining code shares and permit access by their competitors to their frequent flyer programs. This type of policy is a real re-regulation and is driven by a genuine anti-competitive spirit on the Liberal side.

The Minister of Transport keeps telling the House about WestJet, Jetsgo, CanJet and Air Transat, but I can tell him that none of them in fact will want to be in Aeroplan, Air Canada's program, and none of them want to be forced to interline with anyone else.

If one looks at Ryanair, an Irish airline similar to WestJet, a low cost service provider, it actually states that it is a point to point airline and, therefore, does not offer and cannot facilitate the transfer of passengers or their baggage to other airlines. That is a management decision by a private sector company called Ryanair, and it makes it on its own.

Under Bill C-26 it could be illegal for Jetsco, CanJet, WestJet, Air Transat and Air Canada to adopt a similar policy.

If the government wants to regulate the airline industry, it should nationalize Air Canada, turn it into a crown corporation and abandon any pretext of private sector competition that it claims exists in Canada. Otherwise, it should truly respect that competition in the market forces is the prime agent of providing a viable and effective transportation service and do what it can to promote it, as a government.

One way it may start doing that is to have the people who book civil service travel make sure that airlines, beyond Air Canada, are considered from time to time as potential service providers. If the government truly wants to stimulate competition, it could start by buying airline tickets on some competitive fare basis rather than just going straight to Air Canada, as it consistently and persistently does.

Speaking of crown corporations, I want to turn my attention now to VIA Rail.

Yesterday in the House, on this very bill, Bill C-26, the Minister of Transport said “Unlike the majority of other crown corporations, VIA Rail did not have its own legislation”.

In order for us to understand the impact of that statement, one has to understand the different legal structures that the government uses to deliver various services.

The first is a line government department, such as Transport Canada, that used to manage airports and provide air traffic services. There was no crown corporation. The government department played a direct role in managing airports and air traffic services.

The second is a crown corporation, such as Canada Post, where the company can borrow with government backing and the government owns all the shares, names the directors and has full control.

The third is a private company, incorporated under the Canada Business Corporations Act, where the shares are traded on the stock exchange and the company follows free market rules, but the government owns a minority of the shares and names some of the directors. Petro-Canada is in this situation today and so is VIA Rail.

What the government wants to do in clause 67 of Bill C-26 is to take the private corporation known as VIA Rail and flip it over into a crown corporation.

It is important for us to understand what is happening here. VIA Rail, like Petro-Canada, is essentially operating as a private company right now. All the government needs to do to privatize it is to begin selling the company's shares on the stock market. Rather than doing this, the Liberals want to make VIA Rail a crown corporation, admitting, in effect, that it cannot compete without massive taxpayer subsidies. Let us not forget that this too is part of the Liberal vision for the future of rail travel in Canada.

Bill C-26 was sold as the implementation of a transportation blueprint, a blueprint that is not clear on competition in the airline sector, that proposes to make VIA Rail a crown corporation, and that is silent on the biggest transportation concern of western farmers who were rhetorically told that it would be in the bill. However, that concern of western farmers with regard to grain transportation, running rights and so on, is not in this whatsoever.

Therefore, rather than providing a real vision for Canada's transportation future, as the rhetoric of the package that was tabled by the finance minister says, the bill, which twins along with that, would not in fact accomplish that whatsoever.

I want to talk very briefly on another issue because of the reality of the situation in Iraq. Yesterday in his speech as well, the Minister of Transport talked about the issue of port security. I want to use an example of where I come from, in my riding of Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, which is half an hour or 45 minutes east of the city of Vancouver.

Prior to the Liberal government's reckless activities with regard to national security, Canada had the Canada ports police. The ports police in the City of Vancouver did a tremendous job and put tremendous effort forward in terms of securing our borders, helping with cargo freights, helping to stop people who basically sell people into indentured servitude in Canada in exchange for getting them here on rusty cargo ships.

Canada had a ports police that helped the police against those things and the ports police did an effective job. There was some debate on whether they were effective enough, large enough or it was cost effective.

However, the Liberal government, rather than addressing some of those concerns, rather than making some of the difficult decisions of raising the hood on the Canada ports police situation, looking at the engine and making sure that it was running properly, it decided to end the ports police.

Now we have a situation of drugs getting on shore in my riding in the City of Port Moody, which is part of the port of Vancouver that extends all the way from Delta in the south up to Indian Arm and Burrard Inlet in the north. It is a huge area for the port authorities to cover.

Since we have had the scrapping and elimination of the ports police, the City of Port Moody is now responsible for securing the port of Port Moody. It sounds good on paper but the problem is that the City of Port Moody and the Port Moody police do not own a boat. It is awfully hard to have drug interdiction, to stop smuggling into the cities and do an effective job of securing port security when the government turns over port security to the City of Port Moody and the Port Moody police and they do not own a boat in order to get those things done. The government offers nothing, no financing whatsoever, to help the City of Port Moody and other cities like it to combat smuggling.

The government brags about the fact that it is spending $172 million on port security but not a single dime of that federal Liberal money will go into my riding in the City of Port Moody to help it buy a boat in order to ensure security.

If the Liberal government took security seriously, it would re-establish the ports police, reorganize it so it was an effective mechanism to ensure that they could have an impact on drug interdiction and prevent the selling of human beings into indentured servitude, which is what is happening with the people smuggling on the west coast of British Columbia. They could establish a port security system that really works.

The scrapping of the ports police in the City of Vancouver was a tremendous mistake by the government, and there is nothing in Bill C-26 and nothing in the response to the realities of September 11, and nothing in the budget that we have been debating. There is nothing that takes real port security measures seriously.

The Liberals seem to think that the current infrastructure is fine. As long as some new technology is put in place and more money is put in place, this will work out all right. However, it will not be that way.

The City of Port Moody is hurting. It has had the keys to security turned over to it but it does not have a boat to put the keys in and get it started. Those kinds of examples are happening all over Canada, on the east coast, west coast, up and down the St. Lawrence where communities are being forced to take over the security responsibilities.

In closing let us not forget that the first responsibility of the government, above all else, is to secure citizens and make national security its top priority. It is Abraham Maslow's “hierarchy of needs”; the first thing is to protect citizens; second is to ensure their safety into the future with the basic provisions of life, and then build an economy on top of that.

The government's number one responsibility above all is to ensure the security of its citizens and yet it scrapped the ports police. The Liberal government's decision to scrap the ports police was a tremendous mistake and it has put a huge burden on the City of Port Moody, a burden that it should not have to bear. It is a disgrace that the government made that choice.

Transportation Amendment Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Bonwick Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Having consulted with my colleagues in the various opposition parties, I believe if you seek it you would find unanimous consent to have my bill, an act to establish Merchant Navy Veterans Day, at second reading and in turn referred to committee at the next available sitting day.

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3:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The House has heard the terms of the motion of the hon. member. Is there unanimous consent?

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3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Matapédia—Matane, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened to the hon. member for Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, who just spoke.

I just got back from a tour during which I took a look at transportation in my region. I toured the Gaspé Peninsula. I know that the hon. member represents a riding located in the Vancouver area, so perhaps he is not experiencing this problem. However, even though we support the bill now before us, this does not in any way solve the issue of transportation in remote areas.

I would like to tell the hon. member that, as regards air transportation, the situation has become a catastrophe at home. Service in our region used to be provided by an Air Canada subsidiary, but that company is about to cut service completely.

As for rail transportation—the train used to belong to CN and VIA Rail—currently, a train leaves Gaspé only once or twice a week, depending on the circumstances. This is getting utterly ridiculous.

There is also the other rumour regarding a request by certain companies for the deregulation of transportation by bus, which is more or less the only mode of transportation that we have left in our region. Right now, it is practically the only mode of public transportation. Air transportation, with its exorbitant costs, is also bound to disappear, despite the Quebec government's efforts to prevent that from happening.

I believe that the cause of all this is the deregulation of transportation. Air Canada finally eliminated its competitor, Inter-Canadien, by reducing prices, which left it alone. Today, Air Canada is not profitable and is on the brink of bankruptcy. Therefore, because of deregulation, we will lose access to air transportation.

I would like to give my colleague an example regarding transportation by bus, which is regulated. We have an excellent service. What were bus carriers offered so they would provide service to remote areas? They were offered protected routes, that is profitable routes where they have no competition, which enables them to provide good service to remote areas like ours.

I am convinced that, without such regulation of transportation by bus, people who live in northern British Columbia would face the same situation as we do. The same goes for people in northern Ontario and in all of western Canada, who are spread out over a vast territory.

That being said, I would ask my colleague the following question. I would like to know if he would be in favour of a new form of regulation that would give an air carrier protected and profitable routes to enable it to provide service to regions such as mine, namely the Gaspé Peninsula and the lower St. Lawrence area.

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3:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, the answer is no. The hon. member has raised a lot of issues here, but I do not agree with him on the last thing he mentioned.

It should not come as a surprise that the Canadian Alliance is against big government and unnecessary regulation. In his question, the hon. member pointed out that if airlines were guaranteed profitable routes, then we should expect regulations to ensure that these communities have access to permanent services.

But the philosophical problem is that if any of the routes that is granted to Air Canada or any other airline turns a profit, then, we do not need regulations. We need regulations for the routes where there is no competition.

We believe that the ability to travel throughout our country by car, plane, train, ship or any other means of transportation is not a right. It is not an absolute right to be able to travel throughout our country by whatever means of transportation we choose just because the government can regulate an industry and levy taxes to offer us that option.

It is not up to the government. It is not a right of all Canadians to have all means of transportation guaranteed permanently by legislation. It is really impossible for the government to have such a principle, that is to pass legislation and pay for it today and indefinitely. In my opinion, the hon. member is proposing something that is impossible.

If he does want to do this, however, he needs to be honest. If he wants to do so, he needs to be frank with the people in his riding, and tell them it will cost a lot more to pay for these various services. Government will have to be expanded, new taxes levied. In my opinion, the people in his own riding will not be very thrilled with that.

There is one more important point, however, on which I agree with my Bloc colleague. Bill C-26 is really nothing at all, and not because it is poorly drafted.

It was introduced by the Minister of Transport a week after the budget. He says he has carried out all his consultations in order to present a major document on transportation. That he has spoken with everybody and obtained all the recommendations relating to all potential avenues for the transportation industry. What he has done, however, is taken all these recommendations, combined them into one fat document, and handed them to us a week after the federal budget.

Had it been a month before, we could have obtained support on its specific recommendations. Then perhaps we might have obtained money in the budget to implement his proposals. There could have been a debate on regulating the airline industry, highways and so on.

But the Minister of Transport has not met his own responsibilities. He has really reneged on what he was supposed to do, which is to offer us new ideas on transportation, and then to obtain support in the budget for the various projects so they could be implemented, as I have said, without any new taxes. This goes for the proposals made by the member from the Bloc Quebecois.

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3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Madam Speaker, I must admit that I have not gone through this transportation bill in the detail that my colleague has, but it seems to me that it fails to have any kind of vision for the future. It does not deal with the Kyoto issue of CO

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and how transportation and transportation deliverers might deal with that subject. It certainly has not considered farmers and the problems they now have with getting their grain to market because branch lines have closed. It does not deal with the long term problems the airline industry faces. The bill does not deal with the airline industry or the tourist industry, which I had a part of in another life. It also does not deal with policing, security or the tax that we have all been paying for over a year and for which no one has seen much change in terms of real security.

It seems like this is just another little piece of legislation that really is rather meaningless. It does not address those major problems in this huge country we call Canada and which the government always says it is trying to deal with. I would like to have the member's opinion on that.

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3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, I agree. If one were to enumerate the things that are not in the bill but could be in the bill, one would have a very long list indeed: no elimination of the air tax; no mandating of gas taxes to roads; the increasing subsidization of Via Rail, which is not sustainable over a long period of time; no scrapping of the Air Canada Public Participation Act, which is something that makes complete sense; and no commitment to this Windsor-Quebec City corridor. We keep hearing of that corridor as a proposal or a theory from the Minister of Transport, but he never seems to put meat on the bones so that we can actually debate whether or not this theory has any kind of practical usage whatsoever.

As well, there is no mention whatsoever of Kyoto. In fact, as for the new jet train concept, the train that is built by Bombardier that would be on the Windsor to Quebec City corridor, that train uses the same jet engines that are used in the planes it is supposed to replace, so there is a net no benefit at all to the environment in terms of CO

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emissions.

There is nothing in Bill C-26 in terms of port security. There is nothing in it in terms of airport management.

I am speculating here, of course, but this could very well be the final transport bill from this transport minister and again, after years of being transport minister, he has completely failed to outline with meat, bones and cash a real transportation infrastructure program for Canada. He has failed again.

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4 p.m.

York West
Ontario

Liberal

Judy Sgro Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-26 and the importance of this legislation for the country.

Moving people and goods efficiently, safely, securely and in an environmentally respectful way is vital to our economy. As Canada's national passenger rail service, VIA Rail has an important role to play: providing safe, high quality, efficient passenger service to Canadians.

Moving people out of their cars and onto trains is one solution to the problem of congestion, which we see each and every day in and around our cities and on our major highways and was an issue frequently mentioned as we did our work on the Prime Minister's task force on urban issues. Not only is congestion a personal frustration, but it also slows down our business.

Passenger rail also gives Canadians a convenient and economical choice, whether they are travelling for business or pleasure. Many Canadians do not have the means to travel by air.

For many Canadians in northern and remote parts of the country, rail provides an invaluable lifeline, especially where no other transportation options are available.

The Government of Canada is dedicated to passenger rail and its revitalization, not only as a viable transportation option that is central to our identity as Canadians but also as one that makes good economic and environmental sense.

A strong passenger rail system also contributes to building stronger communities. Passenger rail provides a vital link for the movement of people, encouraging business development and growth. VIA Rail connects some 450 communities with services that run across the country.

More Canadians are using the train today than ever before. In 2001, VIA Rail carried 70,000 more passengers than the previous year. In fact, passenger revenues have grown steadily over the past decade while VIA Rail has steadily improved the cost effectiveness of its services. VIA Rail now carries over 400,000 more passengers and operates 153 million more passenger miles than a decade ago. It has reduced government funding from 45.6¢ to 17.2¢ per passenger mile. VIA Rail's operating subsidy is now fixed at $170 million per year compared to $410 million in 1990.

With this demonstrated growth and improved cost effectiveness, we are pleased that we are making a commitment to passenger rail in legislation.

Up to now, VIA Rail has been operating as a crown corporation subject to the Financial Administration Act but governed by the Canada Business Corporations Act. But most crown corporations and other enterprises created by government are governed by special acts of Parliament. That is because they were created for specific purposes. Pilotage authorities are governed by the Pilotage Act. The port authorities are governed by the Canada Marine Act. Canada Post is governed by the Canada Post Corporation Act. It is time for VIA Rail to be governed by its own act of Parliament.

Bill C-26 sets VIA Rail's mandate in legislation, a mandate that calls for VIA to manage and provide a safe and efficient passenger rail service in Canada. This mandate is consistent with VIA's mission statement, which is to offer safe, high quality, efficient passenger rail service. This mandate means that VIA Rail will continue to provide its current passenger rail services across Canada.

From the perspective of the travelling public and taxpayers, there will be no changes to VIA Rail as a result of this new legislation. Trains will continue to run on the corridors and across the continent. VIA Rail will continue to receive appropriations from the government and the Minister of Transport will remain accountable for VIA Rail.

There are many who expected the legislation to specifically allow VIA Rail to finance its capital needs from the private sector so as to reduce government funding. Let me make it very clear that VIA Rail already has and will continue to have the legal power to borrow money to finance its capital needs, so we do not need to give the corporation special powers. However, it is subject to the Financial Administration Act, which sets out the control and accountability regime for crown corporations.

For VIA Rail to borrow money from the private sector, two approvals are needed. The governor in council must approve the corporation's five year strategic plan. This plan must set out the operating and capital budgets and any borrowing plan. The Minister of Finance must also approve the terms and conditions of the borrowing. To date, the government has prudently decided that private sector borrowings are not an appropriate source of funds for VIA Rail.

VIA Rail is an appropriation-dependent crown corporation. This means that VIA Rail relies on government funding for its operations as well as its capital needs. Also, the government is liable for VIA Rail's debts. As such, it makes more sense for the government to provide the capital funds as well as the operating funds.

Over the past few years, there have been a number of studies considering the privatization of VIA Rail or other public-private partnerships. There are some who expected that this legislation would allow for more private sector participation in the provision of inner city passenger services currently provided by VIA Rail.

The earlier studies confirmed that the timing was not right for such direction. The results of the last study show that passenger rail needed to be revitalized so that the private sector investment would be more attractive. To this end, the government announced in April 2002 that it would provide VIA Rail with an additional $401 million in capital funding over the next five years to allow the company to address urgent capital requirements and to undertake a modest expansion.

Once the revitalization initiative launched in 2000 has been implemented fully, I expect the government will consider the next steps, but as members might expect, capital improvements to take some time to bear fruit.

VIA has already made improvements as a result of this funding. The company purchased 139 new passenger cars and began operating 21 new high speed locomotives in December 2001. It has also completed the refurbishment of several stations across the country and equipped the corridor fleet with waste retention systems.

However, the government recognizes that major investments are still required to maintain the integrity of Canada's rail passenger network and to ensure its viability in the long run.

VIA has been directed to review its long term capital requirements and to develop a capital investment plan for the government's consideration. This plan is to address the need to replace existing equipment and make additional track upgrades to improve rail services that are key to the corporation's future viability. In this context, it may be some years before the government can consider privatizing VIA Rail.

This legislation does not materially change anything for passengers, taxpayers or the corporation.

So what does this legislation do? It demonstrates the government's commitment to passenger rail in Canada. It sets out the government's objectives by requiring that VIA Rail provide safe and efficient passenger rail services. However, it recognizes that VIA operates in a commercial environment and therefore provides VIA with the flexibility to deal with the demands of the marketplace. It means that VIA can add capacity if there is sufficient demand or reduce capacity if there is insufficient demand.

This legislation would also allow VIA to use its excess capacity for purposes other than its mandate so as to reduce the need for government funding.

In setting the mandate for VIA Rail, the government also makes a commitment to ensure that VIA Rail has the resources to fulfill its mandate. The government made an initial commitment in 2000 by guaranteeing stable, annual operating funding of $170 million and investing $401 million to begin the revitalization of passenger rail.

With this new legislation, we make a commitment to continue improving passenger rail service to meet the needs of Canada across the country.

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4:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, my colleague from York West was here for the latter part of my talk at which time I raised some points that I had in a letter. Perhaps she can respond to that.

The singular biggest criticism that I have of this bill and, in fact, the blueprint itself was that it was tabled a week after the federal budget. A responsible, more effective approach by the transport minister, if he was really interested in doing something about transport--as there is going to be a really big push in mid-term between two election campaigns--was to have tabled his blueprint earlier. We know it was ready. He could have tabled the blueprint three months ago and then travelled around the country, talked to stakeholders, mayors, MPs, MLAs, and talked to everyone he could talk to. He could have talked to all the stakeholders across Canada and gathered support for some specific initiatives in that blueprint, then he could have taken it to cabinet and won some fights in the federal budget in order to obtain money for some specific proposals.

That is the way one moves the transportation ball forward. Instead, he delivered it a week after the budget when, even if he won some policy fights, it was only going to be regulatory stuff and there was not going to be any money, particularly when one thinks about things like the air tax, the gas tax, financing highways and ports, and so on. I think it is a failure on the part of the Minister of Transport that he did not table this before the budget to gather support and obtain a commitment in the budget for some of the ideas in the blueprint because as it stands now there is nothing in the blueprint that is going to get done.

I ask the parliamentary secretary to perhaps defend the approach of doing this because it seems to me, and to virtually every stakeholder I have seen, to be a completely ineffective way of getting the transportation interests of this country moved forward.

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4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Madam Speaker, one of the recommendations that we made in our task force report to the Prime Minister was that Canada needed to have a national transportation transit strategy. The blueprint that the Minister of Transport laid out clearly starts us in that direction. There is much consultation and work to be done to ensure that the strategy that we want to see in the future will be the one that Canadians want to see and that we do a proper job. I think over the next nine months to a year of consultation we will attempt to move forward on this issue with something that all Canadians will support.