Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-89, which seeks to privatize CN. First, it should be remembered that the Canadian National was always a symbol of unity, with its lines crossing the country from east to west and going deep into remote regions. However, that symbol is disintegrating, just like federalism, and no longer meets the aspirations and needs of Canadians.
I agree with the Minister of Transport when he says that, given its current structure, CN is not a profitable venture. And CN must remain competitive. Maintaining our national railway in the long term implies government ownership in the short term.
For reasons of profitability, and in an effort to find solutions to eliminate CN's growing deficit, the government must ensure the maintenance of an adequate service, particularly in remote areas which are not served by any other public means of transportation.
Let me give you some figures. My riding of Champlain is served by two CN-operated railroad lines, Montreal-Senneterre and Montreal-Jonquière. According to a 1992 Via Rail survey on the origin and destination of travellers, 56 per cent of passengers on the Montreal-Senneterre line were either going to or coming from a remote destination. Twenty two per cent of the respondents said that their point of departure or their destination was otherwise only accessible by bush roads. In the early nineties, Transport Canada found that 38,000 trips were made on that line, with over 60 per cent of them originating or ending in remote communities or places otherwise only accessible by bush roads.
The same survey showed that 26 per cent of all passengers on the Montreal-Jonquière line were going to or coming from a remote community. Seven per cent of respondents said that bush roads were the only alternative. In 1992, Transport Canada found that close to 20,000 trips were made on the Montreal-Jonquière line, with over 26 per cent of them originating or ending in remote communities or places otherwise only accessible by bush roads.
It should be noted that, after a decrease in the number of users in 1990, there has been a significant increase, in the last two years, in the number of travellers on these two lines, in spite of a lack of marketing and poorer services, a well-known fact. Just think of the environmental disaster resulting from the derailment in the Tawachiche ZEC, close to the municipality of Sainte-Thècle, in my riding of Champlain.
Of course, the railway service in the southern part of these two lines has to compete with other means of transportation. Given the length of the trip, the unaccommodating schedules, their infrequency and our individualized travelling habits, the train in its current incarnation is not competitive.
However, it does contribute to the autonomy of residents of remote areas, it is an efficient evacuation method in case of natural disaster and it could be at the heart of economic development or promote tourism, if it were more enthusiastically supported and its publicity campaigns better targeted.
After reading Bill C-89, one has to wonder how the privatization of Canadian National will affect the maintenance of infrastructures in remote areas and one has to ask oneself if the Minister of Transport can guarantee these people access to public transportation where roads are not adequate?
This question is even more pertinent, since clause 16 of the bill before us gives the federal government the right to meddle with the property of short line railways. It is particularly unacceptable and even economically inefficient and unjustifiable for the federal government to take over all or even some of these small operations.
One of the main reasons that these short line railways can make a profit operating short lines is that they are not heavily regulated by the federal government. These operations need the flexibility which they enjoy under the jurisdiction of the provinces. This federal initiative could discourage the creation of short line railways and limit their numbers. We must not forget that each of these operations saves a railway line from abandonment.
If the government impedes the development of these small operations, an increasing number of kilometres of track in Quebec and in Canada will be abandoned.
Another aspect of Bill C-89 which makes me fear for the future of remote areas is the lack of controls regarding foreign takeovers of CN holdings.
The aim of the Minister of Transport in presenting this bill is highly praiseworthy, but his prime obligation is to ensure that all Quebecers and Canadians, who paid the cost of building and operating the national railway, continue to have the service available to them. One way for this to happen would be to limit ownership of CN to Canadian interests.
Clause 8(5) is unacceptable in its present form, because it allows a foreign group of associated businesses to acquire a majority of CN shares. The only thing blocking an effective takeover in such a situation is the decision by CN directors that the companies in the owner consortium will stand by their statutory declaration to not act jointly. A company acts first and foremost in its own interest and in the interest of its shareholders. If the companies owning CN's shares have common shareholders, they would not need to act jointly in order to achieve the same end.
Therefore, clause 8(5) must be deleted in order to limit ownership of CN to Canadian groups.
In closing, I would remind the Minister of Transport that he is responsible for keeping control of Canadian National within Canada, because it was built with the tax money of Quebecers and Canadians. With billions of dollars of public money already poured into this rail system, it would be intolerable if it were now to be taken out of the hands of Quebecers and Canadians. Furthermore, if we are to keep CN rail traffic from heading south to the American rail systems, it is vital that CN remain under Canadian control.
In the past two quarters, CN has recorded profits of over $200 million. Now that it is beginning to make money, we sell it. CN must be well managed, serving the needs of its clientele and of the remote regions.