Mr. Speaker, when I made my first speech in the House I stated I was not here to oppose for opposition sake. If the government brought forward good legislation I would be the first to congratulate it. I also stated if I thought the legislation was not good I would offer constructive alternatives as to how the legislation could be made better. Bill C-89 covers both of these situations.
There is no denying the primary concept of the bill, to privatize CN Rail, is a good move. It is something the Reform Party has been pushing for since before the election. I spoke strongly in favour of privatization during transport committee hearings with the NEWCO concept and again when I made a presentation to the all Liberal task force on CN Rail.
The tone of the discussions by the members of the all Liberal task force raised the concern with me they might not be working toward the privatization of CN Rail. I am very pleased to see the government finally got around to doing the right thing. It is certainly better late than never.
In keeping with the first part of my maiden speech, I congratulate the government for accepting yet another Reform policy. However, as it seems to be a constant pattern with the Liberals as they adopt Reform ideas and policies, they lose most of the common sense in our ideas when they put their own stamp on them. This brings me to the second part of my first speech, constructive alternatives needed to make a badly worded concept a viable reality.
The Reform Party will support Bill C-89 at first reading so it can be sent to committee where I hope the government will be as receptive to amendments necessary to make this legislation work sensibly and fairly as it was in following our idea on the concept. In supporting the bill at first reading, I can assure the House it is the concept and not the content we are in favour of.
With regard to the content, there are many problems I will be addressing at committee. Areas of concern include the minister's unrestricted power to reduce or even eliminate CN Rail's debt. In this there is a potential for disaster for both the Canadian taxpayer and the rail transportation industry. If the minister plans only to do what is reasonable then he should not mind restrictions in the bill to confirm this. If he plans to go further than is reasonable then he must be stopped.
In the same area of concern is the question of the real estate assets of CN Rail being separated from the rail operation to be sold. The sale of these assets should be the primary method of debt reduction of loans carried by CN Rail. That sale should go to the private sector, not from the taxpayer owned corporation to a department of the government using the taxpayers' money to buy their own assets from themselves. This action would bring us to a new height of creative accounting.
There seems to be some confusion between government departments, the Liberal dominated Standing Committee on Transport and the minister as to what is really planned. The Reform Party is quite prepared to help them sort that out in committee.
I am also concerned about the section which limits the share of purchases to a maximum of 15 per cent of the total shares. In marketing the shares of CN Rail to the public there are only two types of investors who would look at such an offer. One is the common investor made up of individuals, companies or investment groups. This type of investor buys shares primarily for a return on investment. CN Rail's track record does not provide a very rosy picture for this sort of investor unless they feel a new private sector operator can run the company much more efficiently than it has been run in the past.
This brings us to the second type of investor: a company or a group of individuals who believe they can operate the rail company much more efficiently than in the past, thus raising the value of their investment. Such an investor would be far less likely to invest if they felt they could not purchase a large enough portion of the company to ensure that the needed new operating efficiencies would be implemented. Let us not kid ourselves, the general investors are not going to be lining up to purchase a company with such a losing track record as CN Rail has had.
Two provisions contained in the legislation that would create restrictions on a new company when formed are neither common to their competitors nor necessary. These two restrictions are the requirement to maintain the corporate headquarters in Montreal forever and the requirement to maintain the current official language policy of the government. It makes no sense to require a company to maintain its headquarters in any one city, nor to require it to follow any other restrictions that are not followed by the rest of their industry. As I said earlier, this company is going to be hard enough to market without placing a bunch of ill-conceived restrictions in the way of the sale.
Other concerns involve items that are not contained in the legislation. These include some measure of protection for Canadian investors, including individual workers and unions in the company. The rail industry in Canada has occupied a special part in the building of this country. Many Canadians may want to try to be part of the revitalization of one of our national rail companies and certainly should be given every opportunity to participate. One way to ensure they would have this opportunity would be to restrict the sale of shares upon introduction to Canadian individuals and companies before opening it up to the international market. I know that it will likely take an international market to sell off all the shares of CN Rail, but what is wrong with offering a little benefit to the Canadian people who we are here to represent in the process?
Another area to be considered is the suggestion I made in my presentation to the all Liberal task force last year. That idea involves the consideration of selling only the rolling stock and buildings of CN Rail and retaining the track infrastructure to form a common rail system that would be open to all railway operators on a cost recovery basis. This would include revenue from diesel fuel taxes paid by the rail companies. To be successful this would have to incorporate CP Rail's track as well, but it would not have to be government owned. It could be set up as an industry and user operated system, just the same as we are in the process of doing in the aviation sector with air navigation services. This would open up the track to any rail operator, which would greatly enhance the potential for short line operators.
These are some of the concerns I will be bringing to the committee stage of the legislation. The government has shown good sense in accepting the concept of Reform policies on this issue. I hope the good sense will continue, so that they can also accept the amendments necessary to change this from a good concept to good legislation.