Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity today to speak to Bill C-89 which, as we know, will have the effect of privatizing Canadian National.
This bill will also determine the mechanism that will be used by the government to implement the process. As soon as the legislation is passed, CN will no longer be a crown corporation. It will become a business corporation.
When I began to examine this bill, I soon realized that some of its clauses were cause for concern.
Clause 6 of the bill allows the transfer of CN property to the government. Under this clause, the government will be able to take possession of CN affiliates and real estate not directly related to the railway sector.
We also know that the minister made it clear he wanted CN to keep only those assets directly related to rail transport. Assets related to other sectors will be privatized separately.
I would like to take as an example the intermodal station in the riding of Jonquière, next door to my own riding. If the station is closed, all freight will be transferred to Quebec's highway network, more specifically the highway through the Parc des Laurentides wildlife reserve.
We know the Minister of Transport has no long term policy for the road network, which means that the entire road network in Quebec will be penalized. Safety will be a casualty as well. People will have to cope with larger numbers of heavy trucks on our roads.
To me, this clause rang some alarm bells. We know that CN affiliates include businesses that are not in very good financial shape but still manage to do the job thanks to CN.
One wonders whether these businesses will be viable without CN and whether they will maintain the same employment levels. Will these levels be maintained? I think this is a very important question.
Eighteen months ago, throughout the election campaign, the Prime Minister's main platform was creating jobs for the people of this country. Eighteen months later, we see this promise was not kept. Even worse, in the last budget the Minister of Finance failed to include measures for direct job creation. I would even
go so far as to say that the budget's impact will be the reverse of what was promised in the red book.
In my riding, things are very bad, with over 30 per cent of the population on unemployment insurance or welfare. Of this group, a number of people have decided to give up looking for jobs. They have stopped looking for jobs because there are none. We are gradually killing off an entire generation.
Jobs in CN affiliates must be guaranteed so that we do not get thousands more unemployed people looking for jobs. This is particularly crucial when we realize that this government is doing little or nothing to deal with this problem.
The Prime Minister seems to have forgotten the golden rule which says that when you are the boss, never take on a task your assistant will not be able to do. Let me explain. Clearly, neither the Minister of Labour nor the Minister of Finance are in a position to keep the government's promise that it would put people back to work and provide for economic recovery.
CN itself has concerns about this bill. I will take the specific example of AMF Technotransport Inc. of Montreal, which employs 1,300 people but, on its own, without the support of CN, it may get into financial difficulty, which will add to the unemployment statistics of the province.
Again, this bill does not contain any provision to protect jobs in subsidiaries. This could be very dangerous, leading to jobs cuts, layoffs and perhaps even businesses closing down. We cannot afford this kind of luxury.
Another clause that would require further consideration is clause 8. My colleagues mentioned it earlier, but I would like to address it anyway, particularly as regards paragraph 5, which, as it stands, authorizes a foreign group of corporations which are associates to acquire majority control of CN.
The only thing that stands in the way of an effective takeover in such circumstances under this clause is the judgment of the CN board of directors, which they have shown in negotiations, and collective bargaining in particular, with employees at every level. Collective agreements were signed that were considered generous at the time, but then the company only tried to take these hard won rights away from the workers later on. They tried to do so by seeking legislation like the bills that were brought before this House a few months ago. Knowing how much common sense the CN directors responsible for determining whether the corporations in the owners group are complying with their statutory declaration not to act in concert really have, I doubt this can be achieved.
Everybody knows that corporations are guided first and foremost by the interests of their shareholders, and that is absolutely normal. So, if the corporations that own CN all have the same shareholders, they do not need to act in concert to act along the same lines. It is therefore essential that clause 8 be amended.
Need I remind you that this railway system was built with money provided by the taxpayers of Canada and Quebec? It would be unacceptable for control over a railway in which billions of dollars of public money were invested to be lost to Canadians and that CN traffic be redirected toward U.S. rail systems.
Finally, at a time when the provinces are asking the federal government to give them more flexibility and to withdraw more and more from certain jurisdictions, clause 16 authorizes the federal government to interfere in a wide variety of provincial jurisdictions through short-line railways.
In closing I would like to add that these entities should be protected so that they can be sold to private sector enterprises, but enterprises truly owned by Canadians and Quebecers.