Madam Speaker, since I represent the riding of Lévis, where 500 people work for CN in Charny, and since one of the main assets to be privatized under Bill C-89 is the Pont de Québec, one of whose supporting structures is located in my riding, it is quite easy to understand why I wish to participate in the third reading debate on this bill to privatize CN.
When this bill was tabled in the House, my first reaction was to consult with my constituents, with workers and their families, with the people who live with CN workers in Charny, to find out what they thought. The first comment I heard took me by surprise. These people were not against privatizing CN for the following reason: They thought it could not be any worse than the way CN has been managed in the last 10 years. Although they were not enthusiastic about privatization, they almost preferred this option to the way CN has been managed, especially in recent months.
In this context, the House will remember Bill C-77, which forced CN, VIA Rail and CP employees back to work, and the three unprecedented steps taken to cut off debate on this bill in the House, while Ogilvie workers have been waiting for two years for an anti-scab law that could speed up settlement of their dispute.
The reason why workers faced with a bludgeon law, with several years of mismanagement at CN, with CN management's failure to listen to them, are not against privatization is obviously because they figure that purgatory is better than hell.
I would also like to recall a point which was not emphasized much here. After the unprecedented promotional effort by CN's president, Paul Tellier, during the last election campaign, which took him to the U.S. for the World Congress of Railway Companies held in Louisiana, a colour picture was published in Le Soleil . I will never forget this, for Tellier had been advocating selling CN at reduced price and at any cost. He was telling everyone that the company was for sale because-what a great selling feature-of lack of productivity and the fact that the business was not doing well. It was so terrible; CN was unprofitable. He said it carried losses of about $80 million a year, adding that it was unacceptable and that CN should be sold as soon as possible.
That was during the election campaign and, at the time, the Liberals never said a word about privatizing CN. There is no mention of this in their red book.
In this context, a few weeks after Bill C-77 was passed "full steam ahead"-I am using this expression deliberately since we are dealing with railways-Bill C-89 was introduced. And this morning, as we get ready to vote in third reading on Bill C-89, there is a transport bill, whose number I do not know because I think it has not been given one yet.
What does this piece of legislation say in essence? Having attended the briefing session the officials delegated by the minister gave while he was tabling his bill in this House, I can tell you what it says. It says basically one thing: deregulation. In the neo-Liberal mind, this means eliminate as many regulations as possible and make things as easy as possible for the public sector.
However, my review of the history of Canada and Quebec shows that Canadian railways were almost at the origin of the Canadian Confederation. We all recall the fine speeches made by key political figures of the time, by Sir John A. Macdonald in particular, who insisted that the vast country of Canada should
have a public railway system linking every region and that railways were almost sacrosanct to this country.
So what is Bill C-89 doing? It is taking away this sacred value by privatizing the railway system. CN will become a private company like any other. However, the purpose of Bill C-89, and particularly that of the new transport legislation which was before the House this morning, is to make life for private companies even easier than was the case for Crown corporations. Let me relate something quite pertinent.
When CN was a public corporation, under the 1987 and 1902 acts, all agreed that the legislation was limiting, that it was harsh. However, we had a crown corporation under the control of the Minister of Transport, and we had some influence in that we could democratically express our dissatisfaction whenever an election was held.
But now, at the same time as the decision to sell CN is made, the government tables a bill to deregulate. Why? It is to be able to face U.S. competition by allowing CN's new shareholders and managers to compete with Americans.
At first glance, that decision may seem to make sense, but there is a danger. Indeed, the Bloc Quebecois feels, as the Reform Party pointed out, that Bill C-89 is dangerous because, while the government is deregulating in American fashion, in a free trade context, it leaves a former public corporation totally in the hands of the private sector. Moreover, the government gives Americans an opportunity to control that corporation. If the Americans have that possibility, they will look after their own interests, which is perfectly normal. This concerns us.
This is why, even using the approach proposed by the Reform Party, Canadians from all regions, including Quebecers, should have been given priority in terms of buying at least a majority of the shares. But no, the Liberal argues that there is not enough money, not enough assets, not enough people in the Canadian private sector who are interested in buying the corporation and that, consequently, it has to open the door to foreign investors.
We are told that the assets total some $2.5 billion. We are also told by a company hired by CN to evaluate these assets that Canadians represent a potential of only $750 million. So, the government privatizes, but admits from the outset that the former public corporation, which was set up to serve Canada's economic interests from east to west at the time the Canadian confederation was established, will now be under foreign control.
Quite frankly, I find it very hard to get enthusiastic about this change. Although I am a sovereignist, I cannot stand by and let the rest of Canada be dispossessed of one of its main legacies, the railways.
I cannot help but notice that Liberal members across the way are giving up their turns and becoming strangely silent on the subject of Canada's main railway company, which they want to privatize and risk leaving in American or foreign hands.
Although their silence may be due to discomfort, I get the impression that it is more likely caused by their desire to go on holiday as soon as possible and by this government's carelessness and lack of vision.
As I said at the beginning and as I reminded the House, the Bloc Quebecois is not necessarily against the principle of privatizing CN, but not under these conditions, which may lead to possible majority control by foreigners. We were against this. We expressed our position by tabling our amendment.
We also said that CN is evading its responsibilities by not giving adequate guarantees to CN employees, who have faced repeated cuts in recent years. These employees live in a climate of insecurity in which the top manager, Paul Tellier, was paid a huge salary-$345,000 per year, a home for which he received a no-interest loan, and handsome perks-to travel around the world promoting CN, although "depromoting" or demoting-if I may use these words-would be more adequate terms since he explained how terrible this company was.
As far as Bill C-77 is concerned, we listen to and watch the advertising, we read the CN report with its nice colours, and everything seems to be fine. Although we cannot show it, it is red but has nothing to do with the red book. It refers to a shift in policy.
The 1994 CN report, which I saw this morning at the briefing, says that everything is hunky-dory at CN. In a few months, we made $279 million in profits. That is quite something. Yet, CN must be sold as quickly as possible.
Can you imagine the effect of such an announcement on employees, on Canadians, on Quebecers? It took the incredible Mr. Tellier a year to accomplish the feat of making this supposedly money-losing company profitable. But he wants to sell it any way. I am trying to draw a parallel, in order to understand.
When the Liberals came to office, the Conservatives had decided to privatize Pearson airport in Toronto. The Liberals, with the Prime Minister in the lead, said that they would not stand for that. Why? For one thing, Pearson airport was said to be one of the only, if not the only airport in Canada to turn a profit. Not only was the main airport in terms of traffic, but it was also profitable. Why privatize this airport then if it can bring in revenue for the government?
In his report, Mr. Tellier says that CN is now a profitable business. After four or five years of making losses, now that the company is making a profit, it should be sold. Let us look to the future. This company must be sold at all costs as soon as possible; so, let us pass a bludgeon bill.
Under the terms of the mediator's report released on June 14 or 15, CN employees have to accept the conditions set, indirectly, by the government. There is this urgent need to sell CN before the fall regardless of the profits that can be made. I must confess that the Liberal government's logic eludes me at times. It is hard to see.
At the same time, we must look at something else. Small airports like the one in Sainte-Foy, Quebec, which while being called international apparently are not profitable, are also to be privatized. Unless the municipalities and regions take it over-I took this example and, in this particular case, activities would be commercialized without ownership being affected-but there is also Rimouski, Mont-Joli, Baie Comeau, all those are not turning profits.
The Minister of Transport is asking local communities to take over the operation of these airports, otherwise, after a while, they will be closed down. Where is the logic in that? You do not turn a profit, we close you down. CN is turning a profit, yet it is being sold. Why? It does not make any sense to me.
I am no expert in transport, but people ask me why this change in policy, why sell CN now that business is good after several bad years. They cannot understand this change, especially after the Chrétien government prevented the privatization of Pearson airport.
I do not know if I have much time remaining. Two minutes. That is just enough time to tell you about the two pillars of the Pont de Québec.
The other night, between 1.30 and 2 a.m., the hon. member for Louis-Hébert and myself raised the issue of the Pont de Québec to try to influence the government regarding the privatization of CN's assets. After all, this is a majority government and it can make any decision it wants. We mentioned the fact that Canadian railway companies are true symbols. The old Pont de Québec is also a symbol of federalism in our region.
However, the bridge is falling into decay, just like federalism, at least in the Quebec City region. The bridge is falling into ruins. On a more serious note, Madam Speaker, do you think that a private company will be interested in investing $40 million to restore the old bridge? Or will that company say: the federal government built the bridge, so it is its responsibility; if it wants us to repair it in the medium term, then it has to give us the $40 million required.
We tabled in this House an amendment which essentially said: we will support privatization, but will the government guarantee that the $40 million will be paid to CN, so that work on the bridge can start within a year? The government never gave us an answer. No answer. In that context, and given the social conditions of the employees, as well as the lack of respect shown for Canada's railway heritage, the official opposition will oppose this bill.