Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity today to speak on Bill C-52. Perhaps I may mention that during my 14 years as a municipal councillor in Baie-Comeau, I was Chairman of the Public Works Commission.
The responsibilities of a municipal councillor are similar to those of a member in this House. A councillor is expected to administer taxpayers' money, and the same applies in the federal government. Members of this House have to make sure that government revenues raised through taxes are properly administered, in the name of openness.
Increasingly, politicians are losing their credibility, and they are finding it harder to field questions from their constituents about contracting out, privatization, transparency and a host of similar questions.
In my speech I intend to discuss Bill C-52, but mainly as it concerns contracting out, privatization and how the government should take advantage of this opportunity. Bill C-52 is an Act to establish the Department of Public Works and Government Services, which will also include communications and translation.
In fact, this legislation goes back to the 1870s, and it does not give the government or the minister any additional powers. However, we in the Bloc Quebecois would have expected this bill to give the minister additional monitoring and administrative powers, and that the Liberal government, as it promised in the red book, should at least have tried to provide some transparency in this bill by legislating structured parameters for administration and control, thus enabling it to make future decisions based on the principle of openness and a clear knowledge of the facts.
As the old saying goes, if you want something done, you are better off doing it yourself. I wish the government would tell us how much it saves by contracting out, and by privatizing federal services. If the past is any indication, I think there is some cause for concern about the future, when we consider the disgusting case of Pearson Airport, the only profitable federal airport in Canada.
Of course, the federal government wants to get rid of some of its facilities that no longer make a profit, mainly in Quebec. However, if the federal government cannot turn a profit with them, it is doubtful whether municipalities, regional municipalities or regional economic partners would be more successful.
There are plenty of federal facilities in my riding. We have airports in Baie-Comeau, Forestville and Charlevoix. There are about 20 federal wharfs in my riding. Some wharfs are still operational, but many have been declared redundant by Fisheries and Oceans, Transport Canada and Public Works.
I am also concerned about contracting out, and by the Department of Transport's plans for privatizing railway and marine transportation, as well as airport facilities. In my riding, there is a company called Sopor, that carries goods for Reynolds and Quno to the South Shore. Sopor plays an important role in the region's economic development and is particularly useful as a carrier, shipping Reynolds aluminum products and Quno newsprint throughout the world.
Also, in the transportation industry, contracting out or privatization means we are not in a position to develop the railway line between Quebec and Pointe-au-Pic, because the line will be transferred very shortly to the private sector. It is taking forever to settle this matter. Furthermore, we are still waiting for the tourist train from the central station in Quebec City to the Casino in Charlevoix to come through.
Contracting out should mean better quality and better services at a better price. I am not saying I am against contracting out, but what I want from the government, the department and the committee is some proof that contracting out or privatization is cost-effective for the government.
As you know, the government is obliged to call public tenders for all contracts exceeding $25,000. In the case of contracts between $2,500 and $25,000, the department can award contracts, even by invitation. Of course, within the departments there is some flexibility for contracts up to $2,500.
In this House, the Bloc Quebecois has been blasted regularly by various ministers, who have claimed that it often criticizes but never proposes solutions. I can tell you that, in the context of Bill C-52, the Bloc does offer very substantial alternatives, so that greater control can be exercised and the government can demonstrate more transparency.
To ignore the solutions put forward by the Bloc Quebecois is to prevent reductions in program expenditures and the deficit as well as prevent finding ways of providing services to the Canadian public in an cost-effective and efficient fashion.
At a recent meeting of the government operations committee, I asked the minister responsible: "Do you undertake, before this committee, to identify clearly the needs for a department, develop solid specifications and estimates, launch a fair public tendering process, call for public tenders and have a bidders report produced, evaluate tenders openly, receive a recommendation through the deputy minister and, following this process, accept the lowest bid that complies with the specifications established by the department?" And the answer I got was "no".
How can a department or a minister claim to be transparent while refusing to accept the lowest bid, that meets all requirements? The minister is setting himself up to be criticized, sometime down the road, for favouring a friend of the government or a person who attended at some point in time a dinner at $1,000 a setting.
The issue of transparency was raised in the government's red book and during the election campaign. Transparency must be more than just part of a campaign platform. It must last throughout the government's mandate. Every department is very interested in good management. Our job, as politicians, as members of this House, is to demonstrate our willingness to earn as much credibility as possible from our constituents in each of our ridings.
Does the current contracting-out policy save us money? If so, how much do we save and how are these savings achieved? What are the major pros and cons of contracting out? Some drawbacks, such as poor quality, have been revealed. Increasingly, there are concerns about the protection of the confidentiality of certain documents.
Other questions come to mind. What constitutes acceptable justification for contracting out? How many civil servants have
been put on a shelf? Will their numbers keep growing? In short, many questions remain unanswered.
It seems to us that contracting out is expensive. More and more contracts are let, while no one has been laid off in the Public Service. Job safety in the Public Service, the case of this Communications Canada Group that used up funds left over at the end of the year so that its budget would no be cut the following year, the privatization of Pearson International Airport, these are cases that should convince the government to support the amendment put forward by the Bloc Quebecois and to vote against the bill, if that amendment were not adopted.
In the National Capital Region, 79 per cent of federal government services are provided by temporary personnel. It is reported that, in the NCR alone, $64.4 million were devoted to temporary assistance in 1993, while thousands of full-time employees were declared surplus. This is a ridiculous approach as well as an exercise in squandering public funds.
In 1992-93, a full-time government secretary made $24,000 plus benefits, while a temporary personnel agency charges the government $36,000 per year or $20 an hour for secretarial services.
I wish to give a few examples of what the federal government used to pay versus today's contracting-out costs.
A government mechanic made $16 an hour, while the agency charges the government $26 an hour. A plumber working in maintenance for the federal government earned $18 an hour, while an agency charges $26 an hour. A carpenter working in maintenance for the federal government made $17 an hour, while an agency charges $25 an hour for the same services.
It is not true that contracting out saves on space and equipment. In the national capital, hundreds of contractors work in federal government offices and use the equipment and facilities paid for by Canadian and Quebec taxpayers.
It is time to stop this waste. In 1991, contracting out in the public service cost $5 billion. Between 1984 and 1985 and from 1992 to 1993, these costs rose by 7.5 per cent on average compared with 5.3 per cent for other government operating expenditures.
According to a recent report, contracting-out costs amounting to $2.9 billion in 1984-85 rose to $5 billion in 1992-93, about twice as much. I will resume my speech after Question Period.