Mr. Speaker, it is about time a Liberal government realized the private sector can operate and manage a commercial enterprise far better than government can. I have been waiting a long time to hear that.
We on this side of the House support ending government involvment in the financial sinkhole of political policy that operated CN Rail. We do, however, have some concerns about the manner in which this government is turning the former government operated financial sinkhole into a commercial operation.
As members know, when government sold off the money losing Air Canada to private interests government also wrote off Air Canada debt, which caused other Canadian airlines grievous harm. The question to be asked is whether this government will have the political courage to rid taxpayers of the money losing CN without causing unjustified harm to Canadian Pacific. Will this Liberal government act fairly, or will it continue government intervention into private industry? I fear that on both counts the answer if no.
This Liberal government has already written into this legislation interventions that will severely harm CP Rail and place manacles on the new owners, if any, of CN. This government, in its usual haste to appear to do something, has allowed the taxpayers to once again bail out previous government errors.
Instead of ending government involvement in CN, this Liberal government divorced one sector of CN holdings from the other. Instead of having taxpayers bail out debt, why is this government not selling off CN real estate assets and using that money to pay down the debt? Why is government holding on to the assets instead of sparing taxpayers further pain?
This Liberal government is asking taxpayers to forgive debt that is rightly payable by CN. They ask taxpayers to once again pay for governemnt mismanagement. This governent is also asking anyone who purchases CN to be bound by rules and regulations that will hamstring its future owners.
Why is this Liberal government making as a condition of sale that the head office for future CN owners must remain in Montreal? If this condition does not or will not make good business sense, must the future owners be shackled with another political decision? If CN is to be privatized, let the new owners be free to decide what is best for the railway and its customers.
Why does the Liberal government always preach freedom of enterprise and freedom for private business to operate in the marketplace yet always place restrictions upon private enterprise? That is anything but free. This governemnt states that private industry can operate better than governemnt in the marketplace, but then this government places cost consuming measures, such as maintaining an official languages policy, on prospective purchasers. Again, we have this government stating one goal while doing everything in its power to prevent accomplishment of that goal.
Why can this government never get it right? Why can this government not understand that intervention in the freedom of the marketplace or in constituents' lives will not encourage growth and prosperity? We on this side of the House understand fully that private initiative is the best means to economic growth and wealth and that private initiative reacting to a free market-
place will create opportunity for Canadians. Unfortunately, this government cannot or will not believe that independent Canadians know what is best for a continuation of prosperity.
The members opposite continue to believe that private property owned by free citizens must have government interference to be viable. With that in mind, why is this Liberal government restricting ownership by any one sector to 15 per cent of outstanding shares? What if western grain producers and operators can afford to and wish to purchase as much of CN as they can to maintain a say in what prices will be charged to move their grain to market? What if western interests want to make certain CN will charge the price that is necessary to move the grain and make a profit but prevent outside interests from arbitrarily setting extremely high rates to ship their grain? What if these Canadian interests wish to purchase more than 15 per cent? Why can they not?
Why does this Liberal government continue to talk free enterprise but always intervene in the free market? Why does the government always put up barriers to the free movement of goods, services, and enterprise? Can it not understand that its outdated measures are holding back the future growth and the competitiveness that are required to make Canada an effective force in the world market?
Several ideas have been forthcoming that would allow hard-pressed taxpayers to recover some of their investment in CN. One idea is rationalizing the CN operation for public sale based solely on offering rolling stock, trucking, and real estate for public tender and having government retain ownership of the iron highway. Taxpayers have purchased the asphalt highways in this land. Why not allow taxpayers to keep the iron highways they have purchased?
Just as government levies a fee to use the open road, a realistic fee could be charged to all users of the iron highway. This measure will allow taxpayers to receive some return on the investment that opened this land from sea to sea. This measure has been tried and found to be viable in Great Britain. Granted, some may shout that government has no place in the iron highway, and some may point out that there are wrongs to this plan, but why does this government not allow discussion on this point? This government is quick to shout that it has consulted on many items in the agenda. Why is this government afraid to consult on this measure in the House?
Do not misunderstand my criticism, Mr. Speaker. I am a firm supporter of privatization, a firm believer that private industry can operate an enterprise far more effectively and efficiently than any government. I am a firm believer that private industry can create jobs and economic wealth far better than any government. However, there are several issues in this legislation that do not offer the best value for the dollar to Canada's hard pressed taxpayers. Make no mistake, it was tax dollars that created the CN this government now wants to pass to private ownership. I have no problem with that decision. I only have a problem with the manner in which this initiative takes place.
Taxpayers deserve maximum return for their investment. Taxpayers deserve liquidation of CN real estate assets to pay down the CN debt, which may make this sale unattractive to some purchasers. Taxpayers do not deserve to have their hard earned dollars used to rid this company of one cent of debt while any asset remains.
Taxpayers do not deserve to have a hidden agenda set by this Liberal government, such as head office location or official languages requirement, which other private enterprises can forgo, to hinder the sale to and the profitability of future owners.
I believe I have raised several issues that require answers. I believe I have pointed out to taxpayers why this government is not giving them the best value for their dollar. It is now up to the government to answer those concerns, and I challenge them to do so.