Mr. Speaker, it is for me a pleasure to rise at third reading on Bill C-89, an act to privatize the Canadian National. We all know that transportation is essential to the economic prosperity and quality of life of Quebecers and Canadians.
Transportation networks are the lifeblood of industry in Quebec and Canada. The existence of a transportation infrastructure often is a critical factor in the prosperity of a region and, as such, can be viewed as the foundation of all regional economic development.
So in that context I am happy to rise this afternoon, since Canadian National has been, if we remember our Canadian history, a decisive factor in the development of this country, which is called Canada, from coast to coast.
The analogy of the lifeblood I just used can be applied as well to any means of transportation, by air, rail or water. Any infrastructure, whether it be a port, an airport or a railroad, must be considered first of all as a means of regional economic development.
Obviously, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that a serious shift in our rail policy is needed. The Canadian government has had for too long a narrow vision of the country's rail system and has sought no alternative to the abandonment of short lines. Large railway companies are not well equipped to operate short lines and do not possess the necessary flexibility to do so in a cost effective way.
The Bloc Quebecois believes that many short lines can be operated on a cost effective basis by local interest railroads which are called CFIL in Quebec and short lines by our English speaking colleagues.
The review of the railway regulations, as tabled this morning by the Minister of Transport, should contain measures which will pave the way for short line railroads to take over line portions that large railway companies no longer want to operate. The government should take measures to help the development of short line railroads, such as giving loan guarantees, to save as much as possible of Canadian railways, particularly in the regions.
It is easy to understand that, once CN is privatized, the whole matter may be called into question and the delicate balance that had been reached in Canada and Quebec could also be destroyed because a privatised CN would not have the same priorities in terms of regional economic development as a crown corporation. We know that in our capitalist system, the first priority is money; corporations must make profits. This is why I am not convinced that the new CN shareholders would be as responsive to social needs. I am not saying that they will not have any sensitivity, but you know what I mean. When a corporation is run by the state, its corporate mission is to promote regional economic development, whereas a private company is not in business to promote regional development, but to make profits. That is what the Americans call return on investment.
The Bloc Quebecois agrees in principle with privatizing the CN. However, it considers that it should remain under Canadian control, since this company was built with the Canadian taxpayers' money. Moreover, the Bloc Quebecois believes that the government is responsible for ensuring that CN subsidiaries, that are not directly related to railway transportation and that will be privatized, will be able to survive. To that effect, some measures should have been provided to ease their transition. Unfortunately, Bill C-89 does not respond to these expectations.
Our party submitted in committee a list of amendments that were unfortunately-of course, this is the game of democracy-defeated by the Liberal majority. Obviously, we would have liked our amendments to be accepted. We remain convinced that they were realistic, logical and not made with the sole purpose of annoying the government or getting on its nerves.
We believed and are still deeply convinced, this afternoon, just before the passing of this bill, that our amendments were reasonable and serious. In the time that I have left, I would like to look briefly at some of the amendments that were tabled and, of course, defeated by the Liberal majority in front of us.
At the same time, I will look back on some amendments that were moved by my colleague from Kootenay-West-Revelstoke, because some of them are very reasonable. I think they illustrate very well his concern with respect for democracy. However, as a Quebecer, there are some amendments there that I find totally absurd and, once again, this is a demonstration of what we call Quebec bashing on the part of some of our colleagues in the Reform Party.
I enjoy making comments like this, because it livens up the House a little. I was under the impression that, after lunch, my colleagues in front of me or beside me were sleeping. Deep down, I must be a troublemaker. Under clause 8, the government will leave the privatized CN's head office in the Montreal Urban Community. Once again, just to show that I am open-minded, I recognize that this is a good clause which reflects the strong presence of the rail industry in Montreal for over a century. This clause corresponds to other bills' provisions. For example, when Air Canada was privatized, in 1988, its head office was to remain in the Montreal Urban Community.
It is therefore unfortunate that my colleague from the Reform Party, in his Motion No. 2, proposed to limit the effect of this clause to five years, after which the matter could be re-examined. I was anxious to make that comment to the House about the Reform Party's amendment. We also proposed Motion No. 4, stating that subsidiaries not directly related to the railway sector, for example, CanCar, an engineering firm, could continue to operate. This amendment mainly concerned AMF Technotransport, a company located in Pointe-Saint-Charles, in Montreal. There are 1,300 jobs involved. We wanted the federal government to continue to assume its responsibilities, and to take sensible measures so that the subsidiary could keep operating for a while, long enough to recover its profitability and financial viability. Unfortunately, this amendment has also been defeated.
I also wanted to speak to amendment No. 8, proposed by my colleague for Blainville-Deux-Montagnes, and requiring the minister to obtain the House's agreement before arrangements are entered into in order to reduce CN's debt. As you know, there were increasingly persistent rumours that the minister would buy CN assets like the CN Tower or some other assets at a higher price than their real market value, in order to help CN bring its debt down to $1.5 billion. Obviously the Bloc Quebecois opposed such a buyout, which would amount to a subsidy to those buying CN.
In addition to Motion No. 8, dealing with operations concerning the debt, Motion No. 9, also put forward by my colleague for Blainville-Deux-Montagnes, dealt with operations concerning assets. In fact, with the latter amendment, we were asking that operations concerning CN assets be approved by the House.
As long as the government remains a majority shareholder in CN, any transfer to the government of CN assets with a value exceeding $1 million and any transaction between CN and a private party with a value exceeding $10 million must be approved by the House. This amendment would allow the House to assess the validity of the transaction and determine whether it is to the benefit of taxpayers.
It is first and foremost a matter of democracy. Unlike the members of the other place who are political appointees-I do not want to comment on people appointed by the previous government to the other House-we have been elected democratically and we do not have anything to learn from any member of the other place. Since ours is a democratic assembly, we are asking that the rules of democracy be adhered to and that the government come before the elected members to have its decision approved.
Another motion in amendment put forward by my colleague for Blainville-Deux-Montagnes, Motion No. 10, is an alternate motion to Motion No. 9. It would require that transactions with respect to assets be referred to the auditor general, and that his report be tabled in the House.
Once again, the purpose of this amendment is not to annoy or irritate anybody, but to have openness prevail, so that everything can be above board and out in the open. That is why we suggested that the Auditor General of Canada be involved, because he is a trustworthy official whose mandate is to protect public moneys, and because his credibility has never been questioned.
Another of my amendments, Motion No. 11, was meant to protect the CN employees' pension plan. Regrettably, Bill C-89 still does not contain provisions to prevent any changes in the CN pension plan after privatization.
Our party has already shown its commitment to workers at the time of the rail strike, when we sat over the weekend. We were the only ones in this House who fought for the rights of the workers. Therefore, it was important and crucial for us that CN employees get assurances concerning their pension plan. What will happen with this plan? Unfortunately, our amendment was defeated. The government did not see fit to accept our suggestion.
We also moved another amendment, Motion No. 14, concerning the Pont de Québec, an issue which is very important for me and my colleagues in the Quebec City area. Again, as I said the other evening, during the second reading stage, it is a shame that the Liberal members on the Standing Committee on Transport made light of the whole issue of the Pont de Québec. They really made it sound trivial.
I do not want to seem chauvinistic or presumptuous, but I am convinced that the hon. members who have visited the magnificent region of Quebec City and the surrounding area were able to realize that the Pont de Québec is really a world heritage jewel.
When the bridge was inaugurated by Sir Wilfrid Laurier, it was obvious in the mind of Laurier that this fine example of architectural engineering should be preserved so that future generations would be able to admire it.
It is unfortunate that, because of CN's carelessness, this world-class jewel of architectural engineering is deteriorating. It is unfortunate that, in order to maintain this infrastructure in a safe and aesthetically pleasing manner, we need to invest between $41 million and $45 million. The Liberal members of the transport committee, as I said, made light of the whole issue. Here are some examples of the comments they made during the committee's hearings: "As the federal government, we will not start preserving just any old bridge at the end of some concession, in some village in Canada. We will not start preserving just any short line railway. We will not start preserving every old rail station about to fall down". We are talking about the privatization of CN.
In making this comment, I do not mean to insult Canadians and Quebecers who happen to have an old bridge at the end of their concession road, but I do want to put things in perspective. To compare the Pont de Québec to any part of a railroad line that is no longer in use is to show a lack of knowledge of this architectural jewel. What can I say? The bridge is located in Quebec City and spans the St. Lawrence River. I know that, for some people elsewhere in Canada, just thinking that this bridge is located in Quebec City sets their teeth on edge, but there is nothing we can do about it.
I see that my time is running out. I would just like to say that this coalition to save the Pont de Québec has many members. In other words, the member of the Bloc Quebecois is not the only defender of the bridge. There is also that member's regional caucus, the city of Quebec, the city of Sainte-Foy, the Fédération des caisses populaires, RCMs, the Chambers of Commerce, the Auto Club, and many more.
In conclusion, we are disappointed that Bill C-89 will be adopted in its present form even though we have put forward very realistic and feasible amendments.