Motion No. 17
That Bill C-76 be amended by deleting Clause 21.
Motion No. 18
That Bill C-76 be amended by deleting Clause 22.
Motion No. 19
That Bill C-76 be amended by deleting Clause 23.
Motion No. 74
That Bill C-76 be amended by deleting Schedule I, on pages 39 to 45.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table this series of amendments to Bill C-76, more specifically to the part of the bill which repeals the Western Grain Transportation Act and which transfers, at least as regards that part of Bill C-76, the railway line regulations to the National Transportation Act, 1987.
These amendments are tabled for a simple reason. We feel it is unfair to apply a double standard when it comes to streamlining railway operations in western and in eastern Canada.
Indeed, several sections of Bill C-76 seek to maintain western lines used for grain transportation, for reasons of public interest. In other words, under Bill C-76, a western line will be maintained if it is deemed to be of public interest, even if it is not cost effective, as long as it is used to transport grain.
However, the rules are different in eastern Canada, and that is why we speak of a double standard. Indeed, at least until the Minister of Transport tables appropriate legislation, some branch lines and main lines are being closed in the east, particularly in Quebec, based only on cost effectiveness. This is why we say there is a double standard. In the west, railway lines are being protected.
But the east is passed over because it is not cost effective. Just look at the double standard regarding the west: a huge compensation package, literally huge, will be paid to western producers to offset the decision to abolish the Western Grain Transportation Act.
And when the federal government commits to paying $1.6 billion in tax-free compensation over the next three years to prairie farmers because it is going to phase out the Crow rate, a preferential rate, over a period of six years, that $1.6 billion tax-free is really worth $2.2 billion.
The federal government did not compensate Quebec industrial milk producers when it reduced dairy subsidies. Neither did it compensate them when it announced, after GATT negotiations, that it will be opening up our borders more and more to foreign competitors. Quebec farmers were not compensated when federal subsidies were cut here and there. They were told: "We are cutting, so deal with it".
The federal government is asking all Canadians, all Quebecers, to tighten their belts while it hacks away at the unemployment insurance fund, social assistance transfers to the provinces, post-secondary education and health, tax benefits for seniors. For example, when the Minister of Finance's first budget abolished the old age tax credit, it took $500 million out of seniors' pockets. There is also the threat of cuts to old age security. But, at the same time, the federal government' old double standard comes into play: it is greasing the palms of western producers, the "cattlemen", to the tune of a $2.2 billion package to compensate for the gradual phasing-out of the preferential rate for western grain transportation, which was already loathsome in itself. There was no uproar from Reform members regarding that move.
When subsidies are paid to their constituents, there are no shouts of protest. Not a peep from the hon. member for Capilano-Howe Sound, who merrily keeps hitting at the neediest in our society, day in, day out, and who even suggested abolishing all social programs in Canada. There were no protests from him when it was about subsidizing the people in western Canada, the people he represents. It is perfectly proper to pay billions of dollars to grain producers in the Prairies.
Yes, a double standard, because by getting rid of the Crow rate and paying a subsidy of $2.2 billion, the government is upsetting the balance achieved at the end of the last century, in 1897, when this rate structure was introduced. It upsets the competitive balance that developed over time between western grain producers and eastern producers who are mainly involved in meat and dairy production.
Although the gradual phasing out of the Crow rate destroys this balance, there is no mention of compensation for eastern producers. Not a word about compensation for farm producers in Quebec. However, destroying this competitive balance will
result in losses estimated at from 24 to 40 million dollars annually, losses that Quebec farm producers will have to absorb. The federal government, which has always applied a double standard in the case of eastern farm producers and farm producers in Quebec is not providing any compensation for Quebec producers.
Negotiations between the federal government and Quebec producers have just ended. Last week, I was told that what the federal government offered was peanuts, a small amount that might be paid at some time in the future, provided Quebec producers keep quiet and do not condemn the inequities of this system.
A double standard, because abolishing the Crow rate means that local grain prices in western Canada will go down-not the international price but the local price. This provides an incentive for animal production.
As the preferential rate is phased out and ultimately abolished in 2001, western beef and pork producers are being given a considerable competitive edge over Quebec producers. And on top of this, as I said before, they are getting $2.2 billion in federal funds, part of which, in fact 23.8 per cent, is paid for by Quebec taxpayers.
And so federal subsidies are being given to western farmers, subsidies paid for in part by Quebecers' taxes, enabling western pork and beef producers to come and compete with Quebec producers in their own market.
If this is fair federalism, what can unfair federalism be like? If flexible federalism means looking only at the collapse of a balance in the west and not looking at the other part of the country, which is affected by a decision such as the one to eliminate the WGTA and then compensate western farmers, there is a serious problem here.
We would have preferred, and this is the thrust of our amendments, first, that the Crow's Nest rate, the preferential Crow's Nest rate, be eliminated immediately and not over the next six years. The debate on this issue has been going on in Canada since 1978. I was present at the first, the second and the third debate, in different positions. Quebec's position has remained unchanged: if the preferential Crow's Nest rate, which has no equivalent in the east, is to be abolished, let us get on with it. As for the producers, and here I agree with the Reform Party on certain points, when they talk about areas other than those they serve, they should be made competitive right away.
Why gradually reduce the Crow's Nest subsidy and why gradually get around to increasing railway transport rates, when, according to the Reform Party, all of the west should operate as a free market system, efficiency driven and subsidy free?
They are engaging in double talk. When it suits them, they oppose subsidies. When it does not suit them, because the pressure in their ridings is too great, they say nothing. Look at them. They have no amendment to eliminate the $2.2 million in compensation to western grain farmers.
We in the official opposition would have preferred this rate structure and the compensation to be dropped immediately, because Quebecers and Canadians everywhere else are being asked to tighten their belts. They are not getting any compensation. There is no transition.
When the Minister of Finance decided to withdraw $2.5 billion from the unemployment insurance fund, he did so in one shot, all at once. He said nothing about transition. He said nothing about transition for the poorest families either, for those who are the most disadvantaged whom we have deprived of their only way out, through public housing, for example. He made no mention of transition, the Minister of Finance. There was no talk of spreading these decisions over five or six years.
It is outrageous that, for election purposes, the Liberals, who, as we know, are not strong in the west, are offering gifts to western voters and forgetting about voters in Quebec and the rest of Canada in general.
I find this double talk, this talk of the extreme right, from those beside us really distasteful in the context of subsidies to the most disadvantaged to ease their misery. The Reform Party's attitude toward our society's most disadvantaged is of the extreme right, but when it comes to paying out $2.2 billion to western producers, it becomes most conciliatory, nearly socialist.
The thrust of our amendments is: let us get rid of the Crow rate.