Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in response to the minister's speech on National Transportation Week.
Transportation affects Canadians economically, socially and culturally. It provides Canadians with links to one another and to the outside world. Increasingly these links are under pressure through high taxation and outdated practices which are slow to change.
Canada more than ever must adapt its transportation system to the needs of Canadians and to the rest of the world. It is no longer acceptable that every province have different trucking standards for instance or that railways pay for Canada's highways through fuel taxes.
Changes must be the theme of this new government.
The minister has outlined efficiency, reliability, safety and affordability as the keys to his mandate as the minister of transportation. Thus far commercialization is one of his focuses. Commercialization is a noble notion which deserves support. It is not however going to solve all the problems that Canadian transportation companies and their customers face.
For too long governments have put up too many obstacles to transportation and their customers while trying to move them in directions that are contrary to the best interest of all people in Canada.
More than anything, this government should be addressing transportation problems with an eye toward reducing regulation and taxation. This applies at both the federal and provincial levels.
The failure of federal-provincial co-ordination manifests itself in the different transportation standards, subsidies and taxation structures among provinces and the federal government.
Canada still has time to improve its transportation links through federal-provincial co-ordination. However, the government is slow to address this problem. It is no longer adequate to blame one another for failure to achieve agreement.
It is important to note that the minister did not mention highways once throughout his speech. Canada's highways are for the most part in disrepair. They are in disrepair because of the failure of government to recognize three things. First, the federal government's co-operation is the key to an integrated Canadian transportation system. Second, users must pay for the services they receive. Third, the private sector is more efficient at providing transportation services.
Canada's economic deficiency in large part is directly tied to its efficiency in transporting goods and people. A clear example of this is when Canada entered into trade agreements without making the necessary improvements to our transportation system to compete with the Americans, the Mexicans and the rest of the world.
How can Canada compete if it is unable to transport its goods and its people to markets which are looking for the services? Now is the time to make the necessary changes to improve our transportation links and the barriers which stifle growth. We cannot wait any longer.
The government made some changes toward these goals. It has entered into agreements with Mexico to improve transportation links between the two countries. This process must contin-
ue. The first step toward this goal is the re-opening of the open skies negotiations with the United States, an agreement that is of vital importance to my constituency.
The minister must realize that the 1974 federal-provincial bilateral air agreement with the United States is inadequate and must be updated. The efficiency of Canada's air transportation system is dependent upon it. If airline customers demand a direct flight from Ottawa to Washington why is it not provided?
The Association of Canadian Airport Communities estimates that an open skies agreement costs as much as $10 billion in annual economic benefits and would create as many as 250,000 new jobs. The announcement earlier regarding the 90,000 government-created infrastructure jobs in my opinion pales by comparison.
The government's failure to move forward on an open skies agreement is very costly to Canadians.
It is not unusual that the minister makes reference to the need for an efficient and reliable transportation system. Ministers of Transport have been using that line for a long time but we have seen very little action to bring about such a transportation network. In particular the movement of grain has proven to be inefficient and unreliable. A strike at the west coast, ever-increasing demurrage charges and a shortage of hopper cars has shaken what little faith Canadian farmers had in the grain transportation system.
The Grain Transportation Agency which falls squarely within the purview of the Minister of Transport and handles the allocations of grain cars was shown to be completely incompetent before joint committees of agriculture and transport. Indeed the committee recommended that in the short term the GTA be scrapped in favour of a single person working to allocate grain cars.
The minister has taken no action with respect to the GTA and it is now this minister working toward an efficient and reliable transportation system. Is this how he plans to accomplish it? Far be it from me to question the $14.7 million budget of the GTA.
The present inaction of this sector of transportation is damaging to our global reputation as a leading and reliable exporter of grain.
I would also like to take issue with the minister's remarks regarding the department's assurance that it will uphold safe transportation standards, rules and regulations. The Transportation Safety Board is a major player in formulating and revising transportation safety regulations. However, two months ago a review of the TSB found its operations to be less than adequate. Indeed, the review suggested that serious flaws were evident as a result of internal bureaucracy, excessive secrecy, and a reluctance to question government regulations.
By way of example the review found that in 1992 a ferry loading accident and a CN derailment both should have gone to a public review. Further, on May 18, 1994, the TSB recommended the wearing of flotation devices in float planes during all phases of take-off and landing, a recommendation described by industry officials as futile, unenforceable and even dangerous to the occupants of the float planes.
Evidence continues to mount that the Transportation Safety Board established to help ensure the safety of travellers is actually unable to carry out its most important mandate.
This government has yet to overhaul the Transportation Safety Board. How many more Canadian travellers will have to be put at risk before this government establishes reforms to the Transportation Safety Board? Reform should be forthcoming if this minister is serious about his responsibility to safe and secure transportation standards, rules and regulations.
The challenges are formidable and the changes needed are numerous. Transportation in Canada has done well in spite of the barriers and taxation levels of the federal and provincial governments. Canada must find new ways to adapt to a competitive world and transportation will lead the way.