House of Commons Hansard #70 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.


Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague opposite commented on the views of student associations, of the Canadian Federation of Students. However, as a member of the human resources committee, I observed that the views of this federation differed widely from those held by, for example, student associations in Quebec.

The hon. member may not be aware that one of the concerns expressed by students in Quebec is very close to the heart of the official opposition, and that is its concern for upholding the Constitution as it pertains to education, a field which comes under exclusive provincial jurisdiction.

Therefore, I would like to hear my colleague's views on this point and find out, first of all, whether he is aware of the demands made by student associations in Quebec. I would be interested in his comments because there is a growing awareness that there are two separate countries within Canada. There are those who tolerate, and even want, federal assistance in educational matters. However, there is another reality in Quebec, one which believes that for reasons of culture and identity, the Quebec government should be solely responsible for education.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Rey D. Pagtakhan Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am aware of some of the concerns of Quebec students. I was listening earlier this morning to the debate of the hon. member. I recall he indicated that one of the many concerns was withdrawal of the federal government from the educational programs.

Withdrawal in what way-to the point a which funds are not given to Quebec students like they are to any other Canadian? Of course the government stands opposed to that because it is committed to helping every student in the country wherever a student may be. Whether students reside in Quebec, in my home province of Manitoba or in my home city of Winnipeg they are entitled to help from the federal government.

In terms of the administration of the program, I realize that education is an exclusive provincial jurisdiction. There is provision in the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act for opting out and alternative payments will be given. There is the flexibility in the bill that I indicated during debate to respect provincial jurisdiction, to respect regional interest, but to ensure at all times that students wherever they are in the country will be treated equally by the federal government.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Brant-Via Rail; the hon. member for Bourassa-Integration of Immigrants; the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Handguns; the hon. member for Mercier-Unem- ployment Insurance; the hon. member for Lotbinière-Inter-governmental Affairs.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, those who hoped that by launching wide consultations on the reform of social programs, not only in the papers he published himself but also in the comments he made here, including student assistance programs, the Minister of Human Resources Development would initiate a real reform have been disappointed. How can the minister, before the consultations, before submitting an action plan that would trigger reactions, come up with a project that, instead of the hope repeatedly promised and announced in a passionate tone of voice, only offers to young people the possibility of getting deeper into debt?

Except for a few scholarships and a possible rebate for those who have reached the maximum debt level, the only hope is for getting into debt. This bill only offers the hope of getting into debt while ensuring a real and effective centralization, as I will try to demonstrate.

First of all, let us keep in mind that young people do not start out with the same advantages, whether they are born male or female, rich or poor, to a family that stresses education or one that has too many problems to give it the importance it should have. There is a great injustice right from the beginning of life. That is why some countries choose to work to make education if not completely at least widely available to all young people as long as they have the necessary abilities.

We know that hope in life, the hope to find a job, despite their scarcity-we will come back to that later-, depends to a large extent on the capacity to study and get a degree. In some countries, France for example, education is completely free. Others offer scholarships or loans. In Canada, depending on what each province wants, both scholarships and loans are sometimes available. In Quebec, which has a loans and bursaries program, students have been complaining since the 1980s that bursaries are being reduced while loans have increased.

For a long time, the federal government has subsidized education; this is a fact, and we cannot rewrite history. But in the previous Student Loans Act, at least it respected the provinces' wishes.

To begin with, I would like to emphasize that the federal government subsidizes education in two ways. First, by way of EPF, a program created many years ago, it transfers funds collected from taxpayers to provinces for education. These funds have diminished. I will give you an example taken from the budget. In 1992-93, the funds amounted to $2.8 billion, but for 1994-95, they will total $2.119 billion. And this is at a time when the number of students is rising and when the market is growing for graduates from expensive fields of study.

One the one hand, the central government's help is decreasing, but, on the other, student assistance is also decreasing. What the government is doing here is decreasing this aid, which is not direct aid but a loan to be repaid by the students. It is replacing a grant it no longer gives by another way for students to get into debt. That is the bill's real aim.

So, it is more debt and more centralization. Students' indebtedness, as my colleague said before, is always increasing. This bill, according to the department's figures, provides that the funds available for loans will rise from $1.8 billion to $5 billion. Students will have access to higher education, but they will have to get into debt to do it. What is the context?

First of all, the cost of education has risen because federal contributions have been dropping. Education costs three times more now than in 1984. In Quebec, a similar increase took place in the last three years. Because of high unemployment, students have a hard time finding a summer job to pay for their education the way they did in the past. To get by, when I was a student, I used to work during the summer like many other students did. What are the students doing now? More and more, they are studying part-time and combining school and work.

Some may think this is excellent because students will know how much their education costs. Let me refer to the experience of all university and college students and teachers in the world. Of course one could understand when students studied and had part-time jobs on the weekend. However, the students' need to work, whether they are in college or in university, has been constantly increasing, to the point where schedules in these institutions are now influenced by the reality of part-time work.

But that is not all. In recent years, I worked as a lecturer at UQUAM and at the Université de Montréal. I noticed how strong the pressure created by this part-time work was on students, teachers and, ultimately, the education system as a whole. This is true not only in Quebec but also elsewhere.

So, we will be penalized when our students later become professionals or scientists and have to compete against their peers from other countries who will have had the opportunity to dedicate all their time and energy to studying. A commitment to studying is not only an individual commitment; it is also a collective one. Consequently, to feel good about the fact that, in the end, students make it by working part-time and getting deeper into debt is to bury one's head in the sand.

The greater incidence of part-time work has a disastrous effect on the quality of education and the ability of students, during this privileged time of their life, to passionately dedicate themselves to the pleasures of research. If students do not have this opportunity at this particular time, they certainly will not have it later on. Some who have had to work part-time know how hard it is not to be able to fully dedicate oneself to one's studies.

I should add that getting into debt does not have the same meaning for a student in arts or literature. We all hope that, in the future, many will continue to take law, engineering, medicine, teaching, or simply improve their knowledge, in the hope to find a career.

I am not overly bothered by the fact that a medical student can incur debts of $30,000. However, I read this morning that Bernard Lamarre, President of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec, said that 4,500 to 5,000 engineers in Quebec are currently unemployed. Now even an engineer cannot be sure that he will be able easily, or just plain able, to repay a debt that can be as high as $12,000 or even $15,000, on average. The bill provides a possible reduction if it is over $16,000.

Who will recommend that a student going into teaching-we do not know if he will find work-or many other fields where jobs are scarce should go up to his neck in debt? Let me say that this is an unsolved problem of my generation, which we share with others here. It is a miserable failure because instead of preparing for the year 2000, 2010 and 2020, we find ourselves in an even more difficult situation. Although we may be satisfied with the number of students, in fact, when we look at the whole system, this issue of funding is extremely difficult and it is our generation's failure. It is a failure for which we will pay dearly.

I also want to talk about the centralization which this bill represents. I will only take a few points, in particular, the definition of appropriate authority.

In the old law-I should say in the current law-the appropriate authority is a person, body or other authority designated as such by the lieutenant governor in council of the province for the purposes of this Act. So the authority is designated by the province concerned.

The bill says: "Appropriate Authorities: 3.(1) For the purposes of this Act, the minister-of course, the minister who is a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada-may, by order, designate for a province-again, it is the minister who

has this power-an appropriate authority, which authority may designate as designated educational institutions any institutions of learning in Canada that offer courses at a post-secondary school level, or any class of such institutions".

In the existing legislation, a designated educational institution in or outside Canada was also designated by the Lieutenant-Governor. In this bill, the same authority designated by the minister or another authority also designated by the minister will decide which educational institutions will be designated in or outside Canada. It is obvious that these two provisions clearly transfer control of the student financial assistance program from the provinces to the minister.

In some cases, the provinces do not mind losing that power. Nevertheless, according to our Constitution, education comes under provincial jurisdiction. I think the federal government is going too far by saying in this bill that it is the minister who will designate the appropriate authority for a province, especially in this context of broad consultations about a social reform that is supposed to give hope to Canadians.

It seems to me that the minister should listen to our criticisms regarding centralization and indebtedness, that they should encourage him to wait. There are a few incentives for students in this bill, although I do not have enough time to talk about all of them. For instance, the federal government does dangle the prospect of bursaries in front of them. But this is centralisation, because these bursaries would come directly from the central government. The government could give these incentives without having to overhaul the current legislation and define new relationships between the Minister of Human Resources Development and the provinces.

There are other signs of centralization. Certificates of eligibility refer to the determination of the assistance needed by persons eligible for loans. In the bill, the appropriate authority may issue or cause to be issued for a period of studies a certificate of eligibility to a qualifying student whom that authority considers-there are two conditions specified in the legislation-( a ) to have attained a satisfactory scholastic standard; and ( b ) to be in need of a loan for that period. But this is determined by the appropriate authority designated for the province.

Here, it is specified: "Subject to the regulations". Do we know what the regulations are? No. "Subject to the regulations, the appropriate authority designated by the same Minister may, on application, issue or cause to be issued to a qualifying student a certificate of eligibility, in the prescribed form, for a period of studies at a designated educational institution-we saw how it was designated, in Canada, by the appropriate authority designated by the Minister, or outside Canada, by the appropriate authority designated by the Minister. So, both characteristics are the same, but subject to the regulations, and the regulations are determined by the Minister.

Suffice it to say, in conclusion, that this bill stigmatizes the failure of our generation, the generation now in power in this government, to give effectively and for good an opportunity, if not equal at least less unequal, to young people, no matter what their origin is, but subject of course to their ability and their will to study.

This is a bill that gives absolutely no indication about what can be expected in this country and, as a spokesperson for the Official Opposition, and in spite of my convictions, which are well known, I say that no matter what hopes one might have for that reform, I think that this bill destroys them. This bill is cause for concern because it was not intended in the first place to help the students since it only allows them to go into debt, and they are not even sure of finding a job when they graduate. As for centralization, it is consistent with a commitment by a federal government which decides alone in Ottawa on what is good for everybody.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Jim Abbott Reform Kootenay East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was very interested in the member's speech. I happen to be the father of three children who are now in their 20s and who ended up coming through the education process with a tremendous debt load.

I wonder if the member would agree that perhaps a constructive way to handle that situation would be to take a look at an income contingent repayment plan so that if they are in a very low paying job such as in a social working kind of situation or, as has been suggested, perhaps from an arts perspective versus someone who is on the higher end after a few years as a lawyer or a doctor, there is some real possibility of being able to overcome that by tying the repayment of the loan to the income that the student would have at the time.

Would she see this as a way of getting away from the number of defaults on student loans we are presently saddled with?

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, research has been done by students and those who are concerned by this issue of student grants.

I think there is hope in that regard. But students have warned us and rightly so against the temptation to make the future generations bear alone the weight of education, which is a tool for our community development. I am very sensitive to this argument. It would be too easy in the end to say that they have only to study now and pay later. In fact, now is the time to share. That is why I am very disappointed with this bill. The minister had promised to introduce an innovative bill which would deal with the real problems. It seems to me he failed completely.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Mercier spoke as usual very passionately, but also with considerable knowledge of the subject at hand.

I would like to ask her-since she did not have the opportunity to touch on this point-if indeed the real problem is the shortage of jobs for students when they complete their studies. This bill is part of a strategy which the Minister of Human Resources Development has called the Youth Employment and Learning Strategy. We have looked closely, but have not been able to find any concrete measures, aside from precarious jobs such as those associated with Youth Service Canada, or low-paying jobs. This presents a problem. I would like to hear the hon. member's views on this matter.

If time permits, I would like to hear what she thinks about the transfer of responsibility to banking institutions. What was up until now the responsibility of the government will now be transferred to banking institutions.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are not accustomed to leading questions on this side of the House. However, my colleague has given me the opportunity to focus on one of the major problems that young people face. My colleague spoke about how people of my generation-I am 53 years old-were able to find work quite easily upon graduating from university. This was likely also true for some people who are younger than me and certainly for those who are older. Finding a job is the issue uppermost in the minds of young people. There is no possible way it can be argued that this bill is part of an overall employment strategy.

Regarding my hon. colleague's second question, I am concerned about the new role that banks are being called upon to play. I am concerned because we are told that as things now stand, the banks have no incentive to ask students to repay the money they owe and that as a result, the government is left to contend with loan defaulters. I note that the minister has given banks a great deal of latitude to negotiate. Is it not a little absurd that the additional money to be spent will be used to help banks put more pressure on students to repay their loans?

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore Ontario


Jean Augustine LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join in the discussion and debate because for too long in Canada we have been living in the context in which the future seems to be a dead end for our young people and for people who want to pursue post-secondary studies.

Many young people are wondering what awaits them when they get out of school, college or even university. They are wondering whether they will be able to find a job that corresponds to their skills. They are wondering if there is a place for them in the labour market.

We must do much more than wring our hands about the often drastic situation of our young people while remaining indifferent to their plight. We can get into debates about issues around centralization. We could make passionate arguments about indebtedness but it is important to note that the program proposed today is a model of administrative delegation with the federal government providing for the financing of student loans through private sector lenders and provinces undertaking certain responsibilities in respect of assessing student needs and awarding aid under the program.

We must give back to our country and to its citizens the confidence and optimism that are needed to create a strong, dynamic economy which is so necessary in the context of market globalization.

In light of this need, the government recently launched, and the minister again spoke of it today, on the youth employment and learning strategy in order to give our young people in particular and Canadians in general the means and the opportunities of taking on this new economic challenge.

Under the proposed reforms provinces are expected to play a central role in the administration of the programs. In fact the proposals to reform the program have been developed through close consultation with provinces and interest groups over the past two years. Many of the changes reflect criteria in place under provincial student assistance programs. I am referring to measures which emphasize results in learning as well initiatives to ease student indebtedness on completion of their studies.

Far from limiting provincial flexibility, the bill continues to provide for jurisdictions choosing to offer their own student assistance programs to opt out of the federal scheme and receive appropriate compensation. The formula for compensation has been expanded to include the enhancements offered under the federal program. In this way students in opted out jurisdictions will also benefit from the changes being recommended by the government.

What are those changes? The student bill amends the Canada Student Loans Act in order to ensure that it truly meets the objectives for which it was designed 30 years ago to enable our young people to pursue their education in accordances with their talents, their interest and ambitions.

Women pursuing post-secondary education face great challenges. The United Nations has identified unequal access to education as one of the impediments to women's full participation in society. Women still face many of the challenges confronted by women in the fifties and in the sixties. They face segregation by occupation, low wages, insufficient child care and a heavy burden of family responsibilities which can impede access to education.

These facts influence the ability of women to obtain teaching jobs at universities and colleges and to advance through the professorate. At the college level 15,000 full time teachers are men, compared with 10,000 women. At the university level there are 30,000 men who are full time faculty and only 8,000 women. Furthermore, women are concentrated at the lower ranks of full time university faculty. They account for less than 8 per cent of full professors, 20 per cent of associate professors and 33 per cent of assistant professors. Because women at all levels below full professor are less likely than their male counterparts to have earned a doctorate, their career prospects are significantly hindered.

Despite rapid improvements in the participation of women at the undergraduate level, we know they are still greatly under represented in areas such as engineering, applied sciences, mathematics and the physical sciences.

Right now about one-third of doctoral students are women. Female doctoral students receiving Canada student loans tend to have greater assessed needs and higher debt loads than their male counterparts, which makes studying more difficult for them and repaying their loans more onerous.

The proposed amendments are designed to eliminate this barrier which is faced by women who are pursuing post-secondary studies or who have decided to return to college or university. Female doctoral students may be eligible to access up to $3,000 in any given year for up to three years of study to help them meet the costs associated with studies at the doctoral level.

As I previously mentioned, the amount of loans and allocations has not changed in 10 years. Currently the maximum amount of loans provided to students under the program is $3,600 a year. The average cost of one year of studies, however, is estimated at $9,500 for a single student enrolled in university who does not live with his or her parents.

Furthermore, students who have one or more dependents or who are the head of a single parent family and persons with disabilities have additional financial difficulties for which no specific measures are provided under the program. The program in its current form is not always equitable. There is no guarantee that students in comparable circumstances will receive fair, uniform treatment from one province to the next. In addition, the amounts provided are determined by provincial authorities without taking into account the province or region in which the educational institution attended by the applicant is located.

Under the new program the maximum annual loan limit will increase to $5,600 per school year for full time students, and $4,000 for part time students. This will ensure that those persons with the greatest need can count on reasonable financial assistance while they complete their studies. I would point out that these amounts represent an increase of almost 60 per cent.

In addition, special opportunity grants which will be awarded to students with the greatest financial need will help re-establish equality of opportunity for higher education.

Expanding eligibility for the interest relief plan to low income persons with low wage or part time jobs will grant them relief they had previously been denied.

This will enable us to provide support to those students who are truly determined to succeed, while at the same time making good use of taxpayers' money. With the new legislation we will be able to establish new funding terms so that all eligible students will have access to loans, to develop repayment formulas that take incomes into account, and to benefit taxpayers by reducing the costs of the program.

For a system of financial assistance to be fair and equitable for all Canadians from coast to coast it must be consistent while obviously reflecting the particular economic conditions of each region.

The federal government therefore intends to work more closely with the provinces with a view to standardizing the operation of the program and to exploring the potential for greater harmonization of federal and provincial student assistance programs.

This bill respects provincial jurisdiction over education. These reforms are about creating opportunities and providing hope to Canadians who might not otherwise pursue post-secondary learning without financial assistance.

The bill is intended to provide the necessary enabling authority so that the government's announced reforms to the program can proceed.

Contrary to what we have heard in the House, the government has been very clear about its intention to overhaul the Canada student loans program. Specifically, our intention was announced to increase the loan limits for full time and part time students. The government will shortly be providing an overview of the regulations to the committee examining the bill in specific ways.

These regulations will be subject to the normal regulatory approval process. They will be prepublished for the purpose of pursuing the widest possible consultation on their content. Prior to finalizing those regulations they will be reviewed in light of those comments for consideration and approval by the governor in council.

The Government of Canada has long provided funding for post-secondary education. In 1993-94, $15.6 billion was spent on post-secondary education. The total federal support reached $8 billion, representing over 50 per cent of total support.

Federal EPF transfers to Quebec for post-secondary education are expected to reach $1.5 billion in 1994 and 1995, representing an increase of over $12 million over last year.

It is in this same spirit of federal-provincial co-operation and in order to provide the greatest possible opportunity that I join in this debate and I support the minister responsible.

We have before us an innovative project aimed at giving the people of Canada, both young and old, the chance to reach their objectives in the area of education, training and equal opportunities for doing so.

Therefore we must not hesitate to take bold steps to restore the faith of our fellow citizens in the future. We must let them know that we wish to strengthen our economy and make Canada a strong and competitive country on the international scene. This is a primary objective of the youth employment and learning strategy.

We have here a complete initiative, a concrete initiative that is part of a national strategy whose value I am convinced is recognized by all Canadians. I am also convinced that all of my fellow members of Parliament are becoming increasingly aware of the merits and the necessity of this initiative after today's discussions. I therefore call on every member to demonstrate and give their support to this bill.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to salute the hon. member and since we are both on the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and she is well informed of the social program reform, I take this opportunity to ask her a question on that subject.

Today, we are studying the student loans program in the context of a particular strategy directed at youth, but fundamentally, that program should be part of social program reform throughout Canada. The Committee on Human Resources Development has been asked to engage in a consultation process following the action plan that had been announced earlier by the Minister of Human Resources Development, who will table his overall plan of action within the next few weeks. The comprehensive reform proposed in this action plan was supposed to cover, in a coherent manner, all aspects of social and income security programs, including student financial assistance.

What have we observed? As with unemployment insurance, we can see that, in this case, the minister has decided not to wait for the outcome of the consultation process on social reform.

Since she is a member of that committee, I would like to ask my colleague to explain why it is so urgent to proceed with these changes before the outcome of the reflection process which we have undertaken together is known.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Jean Augustine Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

I thank my colleague for his question and also for his concern as to the progress of the work we are presently embarking upon.

I am aware that my colleague knows that we have heard from hundreds of Canadians who have come before our standing committee. My colleague is aware of the situation that faces the young people in this country and that we need to provide them with opportunities for jobs. It is important that our young people at the end of the school year can see where their future is heading in the upcoming year. In the process that is before us there is a tie-in of course with the work and the reform that is going to take place. It is also important to note that we are here to govern, to take the leadership and to ensure that we meet the needs of Canadians especially our young people at this very crucial time of the year and also at this very crucial point in the economic situation that faces our young people.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, a number of members on this side of the House would dearly love to support this bill although we do not feel that it goes far enough in some areas. We are quite concerned about the affirmative action portion of it in which women doctoral students would be given grants.

We are concerned that we are handing out privileges based on gender in this country and that it would be done with the authorization of the government.

We are wondering why extending student loans to women as they are extended to everybody is not enough for those women in the doctoral studies programs.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Jean Augustine Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about equity in this country. I think that the member across the way should recognize that there are some inequities and there should be some opportunities to ensure that in every institution and every place in our society that women are there in equal numbers and that their skills are recognized.

There are 15,000 male full time teachers in our system compared with 10,000 women. We know that the opportunities are not there for women. This is an opportunity provided for women to find themselves on the same level as men and to

ensure that in all of our teaching facilities there are the same qualifications and an equal balance of sexes in our professions.

It is important that a role model be there. It is important that we give strong messages to our young people that regardless of their sex, opportunities are there for them. This is an opportunity that is being provided at this time for women who would like to continue their studies at the doctoral level to do so.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Francis Leblanc Liberal Cape Breton Highlands—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to follow my colleague and to speak on this legislation in support of this initiative by the government.

I am going to make my remarks in three capacities this afternoon. The first capacity is as one who has benefited from the Canada student loans program in the past.

The second is in the capacity of someone who represented in my first term as an opposition member and continues to represent here as a government member the countless cases of students and families that have run up against the deficiencies in the current program.

The third is in my capacity as the chair of the human resources development committee which would be expected to study this legislation more thoroughly.

In my first capacity, if it had not been for the student loans program, I would probably not have been able to pursue university studies through the BA, MA and PhD levels because my family did not have the resources. My family was not of the means to be able to support my entry into university.

As the oldest of eight children in Margaree Forks, Nova Scotia, my father's income was barely above the poverty line. He did his best to provide for his family. If there had been no opportunity for me to receive student loans and student bursaries through the federal government in the early 1970s, chances are I would have done like many others and ended my education at the high school level. Happily that was not the case. I had the opportunity to achieve the benefits of a university education.

I do not think there is anybody in this House who would question the importance now more than ever of young people having access to higher education as a means for being fully productive members in our society and in the Canadian economy.

In my career as a member of Parliament I have represented many young people who have found the existing limits, the existing regulations and the existing red tape associated with the student loans program, the national requirements and in the case of Nova Scotia some of the provincial restrictions, make it absolutely imperative and urgent that something be done to loosen up the criterion, to expand the accessibility of the program and to make the kinds of changes the government is proposing in this legislation.

One of the issues that provided the most work for myself and my constituency staff was of students in Cape Breton Highlands-Canso who were unable to attend university or who had to drop out because the amount of assistance they were able to receive was insufficient to allow them to go to university. There were those whose parents were unable to meet the requirements that the regulations called for in order to supplement what they could get through the student loans program. Because of various forms of red tape they did not receive an answer until it was too late for them to continue. They had to drop out of the program and very often had to go on unemployment or perhaps even welfare.

Time and time again I had these situations in the last four years. As a result, we realized that something had to be done to open the loan limits. It fell on deaf ears when we brought it before the previous government. I am happy that the minister and the government are taking the initiative to review and to enhance the support that the Canadian government provides in conjunction with the various provinces to assist young people in pursuing higher education.

The bill before us delivers on a commitment made by the government in its youth and learning strategy to improve student assistance to better serve the needs of present and future generations of students. The proposed legislation sets the stage for the modernization of the Canada student loans program which has not been fundamentally changed for 30 years. Student loans were frozen by the last government at 1984 levels. The government is increasing the loan limits for students by 57 per cent to reflect the growth in education costs borne by students over the intervening years.

Just to give an example of those increases, in Nova Scotia tuition fees are among the highest in Canada. They rose dramatically over the period when the Conservative government was in power in Canada from an average in 1985-86 of $1,478 per student to $2,415 in 1992-93.

As a result of those increases in tuition fees and the freezing of student loan limits, a growing number of students were unable to pursue higher education. Add to that the fact that jobs for students were not able to keep up with the demand created a crisis situation and some say a lost generation among our young people. I certainly hope that is not the case.

It is urgent that the government act. I believe that in introducing legislation such as this at this time and in preparation for the next school year this government is acting as soon as it is responsibly possible to do so to begin to address that urgent need.

Over the next five years the value of aid for students will be $6 billion, an increase of $2.5 billion compared with the previous five years. This is an addition over the next five years over what would have been made available to students for the financing of secondary education. There is opting out with compensation as there has been in the past to allow provinces such as Quebec to deal with their own programs. In addition the formula for compensation to Quebec and to the Northwest Territories will be expanded to include the new program elements which are made available as a result of this legislation.

Assistance would be enhanced as a result of this legislation and targeted to those in need by increasing the low limits for full and part time students, providing special opportunity grants to meet with the exceptional education costs of students with disabilities, high need part time students and women in doctoral studies and establishing an objective regionally sensitive approach to assessing student need.

The legislation also facilitates the transition from school to work which is another important requirement of our work and labour market environment at the present time. It does this by creating a national program of deferred grants to reduce the debt load of high need students on graduation and by expanding interest relief to low income borrowers.

These are some of the features that are contained in Bill C-28. I am encouraged that the government has moved so quickly in order to introduce this legislation.

I know that I will be asked as the chairman of the human resources committee, perhaps by my colleague from Lévis or my colleague from Medicine Hat, why this legislation is being introduced in advance of the government's program for social security reform and whether this in a sense undermines the social security reform process.

To that anticipated question I would say that nothing in this bill precludes the broader assessment of the needs of post-secondary students and the dealing with these needs as part of an overall social security reform process. In the same way the changes that have been introduced in the recent budget to the unemployment insurance program of course do not mean that the unemployment insurance program is not part and parcel of the social security review process which is part of the exercise that we will be involved with as a government and as a committee. An important point to bear in mind is the reason the legislation in a sense precedes the very important exercise of social security reform which the government is carrying out. Hopefully we will deal with the legislation in an expeditious fashion. If passed it would make it possible for students in the new academic year to take advantage of the new benefits. The social security reform process will take longer.

For that reason alone I would say the government is to be commended for anticipating a trend, which I am sure all members of the House support, toward greater support for the achievement of higher education by our young people.

The House resumed from May 12 consideration of the motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

It being 5.30 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 45(5)(a) the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred division on the motion.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

SupplyGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I declare the motion negatived.

The House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed, from April 13, 1994, consideration of the motion:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should immediately take the required measures to authorize the construction of a high-speed train (HST) linking the cities of Windsor and Quebec City, as well as the necessary infrastructure.

High-Speed TrainPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Paul Mercier Bloc Blainville—Deux-Montagnes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity afforded by the motion standing in the name of the hon. member for Joliette to repeat what I said in this House on March 22. To emerge from its economic doldrums, our country needs a large-scale collective project, one that will generate our enthusiasm and mobilize us.

Such a project exists. I am referring to the HST, the high-speed train between Quebec City and Windsor, which could also be run on a loop connecting Mirabel and Dorval. Several studies have already concluded that this project would be economically viable.

A high-speed train running through a densely populated corridor with high ridership potential answers a need. The train, as other countries have already realized, is not a relic of the past. In its modern version, when certain distances must be covered and the ridership is there, it is the way of the future.

According to a study conducted by Bombardier, HST per capita transportation costs will be competitive with those of other competing modes. Furthermore, the benefits of control and speed are obvious.

I may add that the HST would be a welcome solution to the problem of transportation to and from Mirabel and Dorval. It would be necessary to add to the main line a loop where the train would run only at certain times. It would take 18 minutes to get from airport to airport, and in the airports would also be linked directly by rail to Quebec and Ontario.

Another point is that trains are more environmentally friendly than any other means of transportation. Running at a speed of 300 kilometres per hour, the HST uses half as much energy per passenger as a car and one-quarter as much as a plane. Pollution has a price, a financial cost which we tend to forget in our calculations and which should be added when comparing various transportation modes with highway and air transportation.

Electrification, which is the rule in Europe, would have the double advantage of being environmentally acceptable, since there would be no emissions into the atmosphere, and of consuming energy that is abundant in Ontario as well as Quebec, a province that is trying to export surplus energy.

And now for the burning issue of unemployment. Construction on the HST would create 80,000 jobs annually. In addition, 40,000 jobs would be created in sectors related to the project, plus 1,250 permanent jobs in maintenance and management of the network. The HST would ideally take up the slack and hire workers who might be laid off following the merger between CN and CP.

Yes, but look at the cost! According to the proposed investment strategy, and if we take the average strategy of 300 kilometres per hour, it would cost $7.1 billion in 1990 dollars. According to this hypothesis, during the construction period tax revenues would be generated totalling $1.8 billion. For the government, the HST is an investment rather than an expenditure.

However, these advantages are better understood abroad than in this country. Several of the most developed countries in the world now have one or more HSTs in service. Canada is lagging behind.

Bombardier, a domestic company, has more customers abroad for its railway products than it does here. In this area as in so many others, the government's lack of vision is overwhelming.

Does our low population density preclude this kind of project? That would be a poor argument. Some of the countries that already have HSTs or are planning to put one into service are not more densely populated than the Quebec City-Windsor corridor.

In this high-tech sector, we could be leaders instead of followers and be the first ones to develop an exportable expertise that could help improve our balance of payments. Yet, while our competition is taking action, we are examining the umpteenth report on the subject.

If our governments act now, we still have a chance to find our opportunity window on the high speed train market. The time lost so far can be caught up, we are told, but we must act now.

The late lamented Jean de La Fontaine wrote a delightful little story our minister of transport may find useful and inspiring to read every day. You guessed right, I am referring to the tale of "The Tortoise and the Hare".

In closing, Mr. Speaker, tomorrow, in their history books, will our children be taught that in terms of collective achievements commanding their admiration, the last decade of the 20th century was marked in their country by the so-called infrastructure project, that is to say a plan to fill in wholes with asphalt from the West coast to the East coast?

Is our ambition limited to leaving our children-apart from a huge debt of course-roads with fewer wholes in them and sewers with fewer leaks? Certainly not. Such a vision is not worthy of Canadians and Quebecers.

Our children-I hope and it depends on this government-will be able to say proudly that besides carrying out this infrastructure work, we, their parents, made sure, as the 21st century drew nearer, that we remained leaders among innovative nations.

So, with the HST, we will prove to them that our creative potential and capacity of having daring ideas is intact; in a word, we are not in a decline and want to provide them, to face the challenges of the 3rd millennium, a new building tool that reflects our ambitions for their future as well as our own past achievements.

High-Speed TrainPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, Motion No. 112 asks the federal government to authorize the construction of a high speed rail link between Windsor and Quebec City. The Bloc motion actually reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should immediately take the required measures to authorize the construction of a high speed train linking the cities of Windsor and Quebec City, as well as the necessary infrastructure.

The motion could be interpreted in a couple of different ways. If the motion is asking only for authorization to proceed using 100 per cent private funding then there would be no real reason for us to stand in the way of construction of such a project.

Alarm bells are ringing for me and I have a reputation to defend. I managed to get to third place on the list of scrooges on Parliament Hill, proof that I am exceptionally careful with taxpayers' dollars. I will have to apologize to my constituents for not making it to number one position, but I will try to do better next year.

I have a reputation to defend, as I said, and alarm bells are going off all over the place in connection with the motion. I see a sink hole, a black hole for taxpayers' dollars into which we could throw billions of dollars without ever creating a self-sustaining transportation system between Windsor and Quebec City.

If the second interpretation of the motion is that we are being asked to authorize taxpayers' money to be spent on this project then I say absolutely not. I quote from a colleague who has

earlier spoken to the motion: "Considering that the political elites of Ottawa have not had the competence to turn an annual budgetary surplus since the early 1970s, I would certainly be surprised if any viable industry would want to enter into a working partnership with the federal government".

What then could possibly be the justification for government participation in a high speed rail proposal? In short the crux of the issue is very simple: if the rail line is a financially viable project then the federal government should give its full legislative backing to such a plan, providing there is no fiscal component involved. If it is not proven to be fiscally viable then why would the government sink any of its non-existent money into such a plan anyway? It certainly would be nice for us to be the North American pioneers of high speed rail transportation but if the logic is not there then neither should the taxpayers' money be there.

The possibility of the public and private sector splitting the cost on this project has been discussed. This means the government would still be asked to pay nearly $3 billion toward something that sounds great but may not work.

Where is the government going to get such a large amount of money? Not only is the availability of $3 billion in question but also I wonder if that amount will rise as more costs are discovered, either costs that were not figured into the original project or costs that were underestimated, as is often the case with government projects. While costs may rise astronomically there is no guarantee a profit would be made at the end of the project anyway.

There is also the question of whether private industry would indeed want to enter a partnership with the federal government as I mentioned earlier. If there are huge profits to be earned then the private sector should tackle this project on its own.

I am not condemning or encouraging the idea of a high speed rail link per se. Rather I am saying the government should not be involved in any way other than legislating to make the project possible, if legislation is indeed needed.

I cannot justify putting $3 billion worth of taxpayers' money into such an uncertain project. I believe the building of such a railway should be left up to the private sector to finance if it feels the need for it.

If there is no interest in this project from private industry then it must feel there is not enough financial stability in the investment to undertake it. If it feels the risk is too great for itself, it is not the place of the government to override the people's decision and spend their money on a project they would not support themselves.

I know this is a revolutionary thought for many members on the government side, the thought that they would not do something that the people wanted them to do.

In my riding of North Vancouver there is a private company which runs tourist rail traffic through the Rocky Mountains. This company, Rocky Mountain Rail Tours, is in its fifth season and receives absolutely no taxpayer subsidies. It creates a significant number of private sector jobs and has generated more than $5 million in taxes for all levels of government. While there were losses for the first five years of operation the company stuck it out and made a six-figure profit in 1993.

That is evidence that such a system can be built and run without government interference. The only threat to this company at present is the possibility of a government run railway receiving extraordinary amounts in subsidies as its competition.

Though it took a few years to get off the ground, Rocky Mountain Rail Tours is now doing very well and the company is forecasting more and more passenger traffic all the time. As I mentioned, the only threat that exists right now is the possibility that cabinet may authorize VIA Rail to begin running again on those same tracks.

Even if the government had wads of money spilling out of its treasury, which it certainly does not, there would be no logical sense in undertaking a high speed rail link between Windsor and Quebec City at this time. That is because one-third of the track would be located in Quebec and as long as the separatist threat continues to loom over the economic and political well-being of the country there is no point in proceeding with such a project.

I want to retain at least number three position on the Hill Times list of Scrooges on Parliament Hill, so I cannot risk supporting this motion that is on the table from the Bloc.

High-Speed TrainPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, support for the high speed train connection in the Quebec-Windsor corridor has been received from people who held very different views, people like Mr. Marc Lefrançois, president of VIA Rail who said: "In terms of plans that stir people into action, it is difficult to find a better one". It also promotes the expertise of a company like Bombardier which is a domestic company and holds rights to the technology required to carry out this project.

The HST project also received support from the Young Liberal Federation in Quebec who, while not being known as sovereigntists nonetheless saw in this project an opportunity to stimulate job creation for young people, whether engineers and

technicians or linemen. In other words, this is a job-creation project.

At Bombardier, they are not a bunch of incompetent people. They are the ones who manufactured in La Pocatière, in my riding, the railway cars now in service in the tunnel across the Channel between England and France, two sovereign nations that nonetheless saw fit to be linked by such a means of communication. The British did not refuse to contribute because the French were going to benefit from the tunnel. They asked themselves: "Will we benefit from this?" And came to the conclusion that they would.

I think that, whatever the constitutional context, Quebec and Canada stand to benefit from developing this link, particularly since it would be the first of the sort in North America and the technology could be applied in 19 other sites over the continent. You go nowhere with a rule like: no government money shall be invested in this project; we must wait for the private sector to take on the project. If that rule had been applied strictly, we would still ride on gravel roads and we would not have the transportation network we enjoy today.

I think we must have a modern-day attitude and the HST is definitely modern. In fact, it is the most environmentally friendly mode of transportation of all. It is a lot less polluting than cars or planes.

The question we have to ask ourselves is this: is it going to be cost-effective to build a high-speed train in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor? In fact, as Mr. Rémy Bujolt, chairman of the GPC Consortium and consultant for VIA Rail on this matter, was saying: "To succeed, we will have to attract as many passengers as possible; if not this project will become a money pit. For this project to be cost-effective, the high-speed train must capture 40 per cent of the market between Montreal and Toronto compared to 13 per cent today".

But the answer to this question is in the efficiency of the high-speed train. This train would link Quebec City and Montreal in 85 minutes; Montreal and Ottawa in 45 minutes and Montreal and Toronto in 140 minutes, at 50 per cent of the cost of a plane ticket. It would also serve Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, Belleville, Toronto, London and Windsor.

Do you not think that with such a fare, the HST will easily replace many air carriers? That probably explains in part why the project is stalling so inexplicably. Is the airline lobby holding up the project? With all the support it received, there is no reason why anyone should oppose it.

I discovered this afternoon there might be a new reason: it might be the fear of displeasing the Reform Party because they see no advantage in that project since it encourages development on a north to south axis in North America; that in itself is not a bad thing and there would certainly be similar projects to be developed in the west.

We believe the HST project is highly mobilizing and job creating since it would generate 80,000 direct jobs and 120,000 indirect ones. Compared to other projects, it would be much cheaper because of the taxes that governments would collect on the income of a whole generation that would be put to work. Right now in Quebec, there are 4,000 engineers without work. Don't you think that such a project would be welcomed by those people who are looking for jobs, who studied at university and who have nothing because no interesting development project is proposed to them.

Therefore, the high-speed train project appears to be an interesting way of developing the economy of the Quebec-Windsor corridor, but it is also very interesting for the Bombardier company. For instance, in La Pocatière, in my riding, Bombardier has a plant that built the cars used to cross the English Channel and those of the New York subway. The economic cycle in that plant is often the reverse of the cycle of the whole economy. While the economy is taking off again, employment declines in the plant. Conversely, in an economic downturn, more jobs are created at the plant.

Such a project could perhaps balance production and increase employability to ensure that the region does not experience ups and downs like going from 1,000 to 250 or 300 jobs. Such a project could stabilize job creation in the region and ensure that expertise stays where it is.

Now, every time the economic cycle hurts our businesses, technicians and engineers go elsewhere. They must move on to other jobs, so that our businesses lose this expertise and have to start from scratch every time.

A project such as the high-speed train would create jobs to put young people to work and help build a corridor between Quebec City and Windsor which, in the end, would benefit all elements of society between Quebec and Ontario and towards the United States. And, if the decision is made quickly enough in case Quebec City is chosen to host the 2002 Winter Olympics, it would certainly be a very interesting means of transportation for which we would have planned in time, for once.

I think we have all the elements we need to succeed. I was a little disappointed when the Prime Minister, replying in jest to a question from the Leader of the Opposition, asked whether the high-speed train should be stopped at the border between Quebec and Ontario. I think that it is much more important than that and that it deserves serious answers dealing with the substantive issue.

Studies have already been carried out. What is needed now is the political courage to go ahead with the project. The economic conditions are such that we are sure the high-speed train is not another Hibernia project. If we could take the money that Quebec has thrown away with Hibernia and stop the Hibernia project and put that money into the high-speed train, we could

contribute Quebec's share directly to this project and maximize job creation in doing the work.

Creating a new rail line creates jobs that will make good use of skilled workers and line workers, namely people with high-school education who can do all kinds of support work to install the line; at the same time, it takes technological expertise that would surely make Quebec and Canada leaders in this field.

We can bet that in 15 or 20 years, there will be maybe 10 or 15 high-speed rail lines in North America. Then we will know if we have missed the train or if we seized our opportunity to be leaders in such projects and to make Canada and Quebec experts in developing this kind of transportation link which is what we need in a continent like North America.

High-Speed TrainPrivate Members' Business

May 24th, 1994 / 6:25 p.m.


Jim Abbott Reform Kootenay East, BC

Mr. Speaker, this debate has been quite interesting. I suppose many of us come to this Chamber with somewhat different points of view.

I listened to the first speaker from the Bloc. He was talking about combating uncertainty with this project. With a wide open cheque book and having absolutely no idea how many cheques we are going to have to write, to say that this would be a project which would combat uncertainty is probably 180 degrees from the reality. I do not see this project as being a solution to combating uncertainty whatsoever.

The member spoke of it in terms of economic viability. As my colleague from North Vancouver has said, if it truly is economically viable why is private industry not stepping up to bat? Why are they not the people who are asking for the okay from the people of Canada?

In doing a little research for this I came across a presentation made in writing from the TGV Canada consortium which is led by Bombardier and GEC Alsthom. They are the people who are attempting to pull this together, at least the concept, for Canadians to buy into. It sounds absolutely terrific.

On page 17 of their report they say:

The TGV is the job creation project for the 1990s. For the construction phase alone, TGV Canada will provide a major boost to job creation in all parts of Canada.

They go on about the fact that we are going to have engineering, construction equipment, construction, cement and concrete products, metal products, steel rails, structural steel, transportation equipment, rolling stock, electrical and electronic industries, signalling and communications. It goes on and on. It just sounds wonderful.

Who is going to pay for it? Who is going to pay for all of these wonderful things in this project?

One of the other members in his speech mentioned the channel tunnel. To the best of my knowledge, according to the information I have received, the tunnel underneath the English Channel will never be paid for. It will never pay for itself because it went double its budget.

I suggest with the greatest of respect to our friends in the civil service that because there is not a profit motive involved in the kind of work they do, without that discipline that is exactly what would happen on this project.

In additional research, I took a look at what the member for Québec-Est said in Hansard on December 11, 1991, March 12, 1992, March 19, 1992, and what the member for Drummond said on March 20, 1992. It goes on and on. This project has been a favourite of people from that area and I can understand why.

If we had any experience where private enterprise had come in and done something like this on a massive scale without government support, without getting their hands in the pockets of ordinary Canadians, certainly the majority of people in this Chamber would be in favour of it.

I see a statement under Standing Order 31 on March 20, 1992 by the former member for Drummond where it states in part:

In addition to the many industrial benefits, the socioeconomic advantages, and the potential for exports, setting up a high-speed railway line could very well make Canada a centre of excellence for high-speed railway transportation.

He goes on:

Mr. Speaker, building a high-speed line at an estimated cost of $5 billion to $8 billion-

That seems to me not necessarily knowing what a million is. With a billion being a thousand of those and the spread being between $5 billion to $8 billion, well it is only taxpayers' money.

-will represent the biggest private investment this country has ever known. This genuine revolution in transportation could generate the construction of 23 corridors in North America, with economic spin-offs and investments totalling $200 billion.

That scares me a lot. It really scares me when we have people like myself, not an engineer, not a financier-I would suspect that the former member was probably like myself, not necessarily even understanding what $1 billion is-throwing out figures, saying it will cost $5 billion or it will cost $8 billion and it will spin off $200 billion. These are not crackers we are throwing out. These are billions and billions of Canadian taxpayers' dollars.

We have so many unknowns with it as well. We have not tried a smaller high speed line as a test. We do not know it will operate in our climate, in our specific situation. I have travelled by railway in Switzerland with its concrete ties and the whole business and while I know that much of its climate is like ours, we have not done a small enough test in Canada to even know if we have the technology and the technological ability to be able to do this at this point.

With the first speaker this afternoon talking about leaving the people of Canada something, I suggest with the greatest respect that what we would be leaving them would be a sinkhole of public debt. That is what we would be leaving them with in this project. The timing is wrong.

I would further suggest, again with the greatest respect, that if we really want to combat uncertainty, we have to get down to the business of working out a united Canada. We need to get away from this business of blowing this country up and separating it and pulling it apart. If we want real certainty in Canada, we have to focus on solving problems together. That is what is going to make Canada great, not some mythical fantasy land high speed rail line between Windsor and Quebec.

High-Speed TrainPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this debate initiated by the hon. member for Joliette, whom I want to congratulate for raising what is, and will be, a major issue for Quebec. I am very enthusiastic about this project, and this for two reasons. First, because of its technical nature and, second, because of the regional development which might result from it.

As regards the technical aspect, I want to go back briefly to the election campaign, when members opposite put forward the idea of cancelling the helicopter building project. At that time, the Liberals received the support of the Bloc Quebecois on the condition that the cancellation of this contract be compensated, in terms of the financial and human resources involved, by the implementation of another major project. At the time, the current opposition leader had already suggested that this major project be the construction of a high-speed train line which, given its magnitude, could replace the helicopter project, in terms of the budgets involved and the skilled manpower required.

Unfortunately, the government only remembered the first part of the Bloc's position and simply cancelled the helicopter project without providing any alternative. This is a tragic decision, considering that this whole issue is related to the industrial conversion or, rather, the lack of industrial conversion which, in the last five years, has resulted in the loss of 11,000 high-tech jobs in Quebec alone.

In that context, the high-speed train project would, given its technical nature, give a real boost to the economy of Quebec and Canada.

In terms of regional development, the magnitude of the project makes it very appealing for all the regions along the Quebec-Windsor corridor. Indeed, because of its magnitude, the project, which would involve costs of $8.5 billion, would also create 127,000 jobs for ten years. Considering all the claims made by the members opposite and their slogan about jobs, jobs and jobs, and considering that they have so far only proposed infrastructure projects, they should seize this opportunity, especially since they already know that the opposition will support the creation of real jobs which will have a real impact, unlike a lot of the jobs related to the infrastructure program, which merely maintain employment levels or are only temporary in nature.

Especially since 70 per cent of the project would be privately financed, with only 30 per cent being funded by three governments for a total of roughly $2.5 billion. According to all projections, 50 per cent of this amount would be recovered as soon as the construction was completed, with $1.8 billion in spin-offs and fiscal revenues generated during the actual construction.

So, we are talking about very important regional spin-offs, economically as well as socially. It is estimated that the French city of Lille has enjoyed $1 billion in regional spin-offs from hotels, office towers, convention centres, restaurants, and so forth.

One must also realize that such a project targets a potential North American market which could be worth $200 billion over the next twenty years.

We must, therefore, act quickly because the Americans are poised to jump into the fray. In the United States, 18 to 20 high speed train projects are now being considered and should become a reality. This shows how important it is for Canada and Quebec to position themselves to carry out this project without delay, relying on the help of our small and medium-sized businesses, each of which will develop a certain expertise. This expertise can, in turn, be subsequently exported, if we act quickly.

As the member for Trois-Rivières, I have a special interest in this project, not only because I hope it will get the go ahead, but also because I hope that it will extend to the Saint-Lawrence North Shore and that a station will be built in my riding, the city of Trois-Rivières, which also happens to be the regional capital of the Mauricie area.

The Mauricie region has a population of 300,000 and extends from La Tuque in the north to Bécancour and Nicolet in the south. It is comprised of a number of relatively well-known municipalities such as La Tuque, Saint-Tite, Shawinigan, Grand-Mère, Shawinigan-South, Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Trois-Rivières-West and Louiseville in the west and Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade in the east. Right in the middle is the city of Trois-Rivières, the regional capital, where you will find a

rather flourishing university and many cegeps and private schools, as well as important companies, multinational and national corporations, like Kruger, Tripap which was just launched by the Fonds de solidarité, Reynolds in Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Alcan in Shawinigan, Belgo in Shawinigan, the Cartonneries Saint-Laurent, the former PFCP in La Tuque, the Aluminerie of Bécancour in Bécancour, Norsk Hydro, SKW, CIL and Didier, the last few are all companies based in the Bécancour industrial park, which need an efficient and adequate transportation system to grow.

In fact, one could claim that some measures have already been taken and that, consequently, we need to go ahead with the high-speed train project. For example, the train no longer stops in Trois-Rivières. The former government, in its wisdom, decided to eliminate the Montreal-Quebec City run on the North Shore. Despite this decision, however, $2 million was spent on the intermodal terminal in Trois-Rivières. The bridge which had collapsed at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade was rebuilt at a cost of $7 million and the Gare du Palais in Quebec City was refurbished at a cost of $60 million. All of this work would facilitate the eventual development of a high speed train.

I want to take this opportunity to request the co-operation of all stakeholders in my region. I want them to know that they can count on my support and, I am confident, the support of all my colleagues from the Mauricie region. I hope that the mayors and all the associations and lobby groups seize this opportunity and realize the importance of this project and its potential impact on Trois-Rivières. I hope that all of our region joins in so that if ever the HST becomes a reality, it stops in Trois-Rivières.

The HST must become a reality. When the opposition discusses the project, it deals in facts. Already, the mayors of all of the principal cities involved have held a meeting. We have here before us the former mayor of Toronto, now the President of the Treasury Board, who co-signed an important brief which was submitted to the government. We have the former mayor of Quebec City, a close friend of the Prime Minister and his chief of staff, who also co-signed the brief along with the mayors of the four other cities involved.

The HST project must come to fruition. All stakeholders directly concerned are unanimous on this point. Moreover, in the opinion of the chairman of the board of directors of VIA Rail who has been studying this matter for the past ten years, this is not an improvised project. In my view, the federal government would not have to make any new outlays of money and would only need to maintain the subsidy currently paid every year to VIA Rail for the upkeep of the Quebec City-Windsor corridor. It would not have to come up with any new money and would only have to continue providing the subsidy for 25 years. Therefore, no additional financial effort would be required on the part of the federal government.

Another reality mentioned by the chairman of VIA Rail is the fact that the rolling stock used on this section will have to be renewed over the next ten years. This will carry a tremendous cost and, rather than changing for equipment already obsolete, why not embark on a modern project which would fulfil the new needs of our societies.

There are other advantages to such a program that I should not forget to mention. There is naturally the improvement of passenger rail service as such, then there are reductions in air pollution, in road traffic, in airport congestion, and there is finally, as I already said, the promotion of regional development all along the corridor, whether it is in manufacturing or trade.

To conclude, I only wish that like France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan and shortly Korea and Great Britain, we had a HST between Quebec City and Windsor which would use the North shore and stop in Trois-Rivières. This project would be a joint venture between the governments of Canada, Ontario and Quebec, notwithstanding the comment by my colleague from the Reform Party who said that, given the risk that Quebec might become sovereign, we should perhaps delay or rethink such a project.

I do not think that such words are worthy of a chamber like this one, given the attitude of the Official Opposition with regard to the bridge to Prince Edward Island, which the Bloc approved right away; or given the money that Quebec contributes to a project like Hibernia, as mentioned by my colleague from Témiscouata. I also doubt the appropriateness of remarks like the one made by the Prime Minister when he said there would be a border between Quebec and Ontario. We told him in the House that there is no border when we go from Montreal to New York with Amtrak, so why should there be one between Quebec City and Windsor. We should not fall for that kind of argument. This project is so important, so promising, that only public interest should be taken into consideration.

High-Speed TrainPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Is the House ready for the question?