Madam Speaker, what is the point of this debate? Why are we here? I have been sitting here day after day. Are we wasting our time?
I have listened to the debate and the speeches which have been made on both sides of the House. I know a heat wave is hitting the country. I wonder if it has been caused by the intense debate we have heard over the last week or so. I am not sure. Is the only thing we are accomplishing the generation of a lot of hot air?
Last week I took a break and went down the hall to the other place which is known as the Senate. I sat in there for a while and listened to the debate. I heard some very good speeches on euthanasia and other topics. I thought to myself, nobody is listening to these speeches. Nobody in the country is looking at what is happening here. These people have gone to a lot of work and nobody is listening. Suggestions are being made and nobody is listening.
Then I came back to this place. I thought to myself, it is no different here. Nobody is listening. Nobody is paying attention.
The Reform Party has made suggestions. It has worked with the government to fine tune the legislation to ensure it is acceptable to all Canadians. We find that, by and large, our efforts are useless. The speeches we make are falling on deaf ears. Nobody is listening. What is the point of the debate?
During the election campaign my strongest opponent was the NDP candidate who is now running for the leadership of that party. He made a big point of the Senate being unelected and unaccountable. He said that because it is appointed, the people in the other place are not very effective, the balance which it should provide between the regions is not there.
However, my hon. opponent in the election forgot to mention that this place could really use some fixing. This place is not democratic. This place is not doing what it should be doing. The debate here is often very meaningless. The suggestions which are made in good faith are completely disregarded. My feelings about the other place are also the feelings I have toward this place.
People are frustrated because Parliament is not doing its job. I want to use this bill to illustrate what I mean.
I have been here for almost two years now and that time has shown me that this place is guilty of many of the same problems of which we accuse the Senate. What is changing because of the debate we are having here? This debate is coming to a close. In fact, this session of Parliament will soon be over. We have been debating day after day. I wonder if it is accomplishing anything and whether the work we put into our speeches is really effective.
For those who are watching on the parliamentary channel and may not be aware of how legislation is created, very simply the legislation is introduced in the House, generally by the government, but there are private members' bills. It is introduced and receives first reading. It goes through second reading, goes to committee, is reported back to the House and then goes through third reading. That does not mean it becomes law. Then it goes to the Senate and it goes through the same process. Then if the legislation has passed, it becomes law.
As we go through all of these processes, as we work in committees, there should be amendments proposed. There should be open and free discussion. That has frustrated me. A lot of what we do is hidden. It is behind the scenes. It is in the committees. A lot of the work, the research, that is done and the proposals that are made, Canadians are not aware of.
In order for democracy to work that process should be open. Every member of Parliament should have input. By and large that is not happening. The agenda is driven by only a few elected people in the House of Commons. That is unfortunate.
When the debate on Bill C-89 first began, I suggested four things. I was one of the first speakers on the bill. If we are going to produce good laws these suggestions should have been dealt with but by and large they have not. I have heard several reasons why they have not.
If we look at the reasons we begin to realize that they do not hold water. They are not acceptable. First I said that prohibiting the government from arbitrarily cancelling all or part of CN's debts prior to privatization should not take place. I also mentioned that removing the requirement to leave CN's headquarters in Montreal is something that the government should take a serious second look at. We proposed amendments for that. We thought perhaps a lot of politics was involved. What I have seen today probably underscores that fact. I do not think it is a wise business decision.
Another suggestion I made was to remove the requirement that CN comply with the government's policy on official bilingualism. It was pure politics. My hon. colleague has pointed that out very well. I also said remove the 15 per cent ownership restriction.
I heard the members arguing that we do not want to destabilize the company. Any owners who would take over would not want to do that. The arguments which have been presented on the other side are superficial. They do not hold water.
That is why we have to do more in this place than simply generate a lot of hot air. We have to begin to listen to each other and do the fine tuning of legislation that would make it good legislation.
We agree with the privatization of CN. It is a good thing. The government has an opportunity to make it a great thing. I want to suggest that the government use this, its first major attempt at privatization, as a testing ground for the privatization of other crown corporations.
Reformers do not want a lot of unnecessary regulations that restrict companies in keeping down their costs. We do not want that. Yet the government is tying their hands somewhat.
When Reformers ask why tie the hands of the new owners of CN by stipulating that the headquarters remain in Montreal, the Liberals answered and that they wanted to provide a level of certainty that potential costs from relocation of the headquarters will not ensue. Think about the absurdity of that answer. A company would not relocate its headquarters if it would result in some financial disadvantage.
On the other hand, what if there was an advantage financially to moving the headquarters to Winnipeg or some other western place or to the east? What if there was an advantage in doing that because it might be more central to the bulk of the business? Why should they not be allowed to do that? Would they make decisions that were not wise for the company? They would not. That is why the answer that I have heard to to this question is absurd. Seventy per cent of CN's business is done in western Canada. Why put in the stipulation that the CN headquarters must stay in Montreal?
The Bloc says that we are Quebec bashing. We are not Quebec bashing. Where is the consistency in the government's reasoning? When the ancestor to Air Canada moved its headquarters from Winnipeg to the east, westerners argued that this was a Winnipeg based company. The government in its big bubble here in Ottawa said "Oh, no, most of the airline's business is in the east, so we should move the headquarters to Montreal". When the shoe is on the other foot and CN's business is mostly in the west, it has a completely different argument. There is no consistency in what the government is saying. By using the government's own reasoning, it should allow the company, if it wishes, to move the headquarters out of Montreal.
When history and tradition fail the west the Liberals say it does not matter. However, when history and tradition favour the east they write it into the law. Something is wrong. Why run a company 2,000 miles away from its main operation?
In 1987 Madsen Pirie, who was president of the Adam Smith Institution in London and a world renowned expert on privatization, spoke at a Canadian symposium on privatization organized by the Fraser Institute. He had this to say about the fundamentals of privatizing a crown corporation:
When government engages in an activity such as privatization, it is speaking to several audiences. Among the audiences the government speaks to are the managers of the Crown corporations, the workers who are employed in them, the members of the general public who are customers of the Crown corporations, the general public who are taxpayers and who pay the subsidies to support the losses of those corporations, potential investors who might buy shares in those corporations, the financial and business community which takes an interest in their performance, and the media commentators who observe this process and comment on the results and declare it to be a success or a failure. Every act of privatization speaks to all of these audiences and every act should be tailor-made to maximize the support of each of these different groups.
When we review this bill we should test against Dr. Pirie's list of vested interests or audiences, or stakeholders as the government likes to call them. Bill C-89 must address each of the groups affected by the privatization: the managers, the workers, the customers, the taxpayers, and the investors. If Bill C-89 does not specifically address each of the needs and interests of these groups, then amendments will be necessary. That is what we proposed.
This is what frustrates me as we come to the end of this debate. I do not think one thing we have said here today is going to change the government's mind. We are generating a lot of hot air in the midst of a Canadian heat wave and it is doing us no good.
Dr. Pirie also outlined three key principles of privatization. His first principle was never cancel a benefit. If people are deriving a benefit from the public activity of a crown corporation, never cancel it, no matter how unjust it is. In his second principle he said to make friends out of your enemies: "Find out who the people are who might lose on the privatization process and structure the policy to make sure they gain instead". The third principle he gave was disarm the opposition: "Identify all possible objections to privatization and tailor the policies so that every single one of those objections are dealt with in advance".
Has the government done this? I brought this up months ago, and nothing has been done. That is why I still maintain that a lot of the debate here is not really effective. Has the government done this? I doubt it. The government should ensure that it has considered each of Dr. Pirie's three principles in planning for this privatization.
Has the government explored the idea that came from one of my constituents and which I presented to this government that we could have two or more government objectives rolled into one? For example, the government is giving landowners in the west a one-time payout for the elimination of the WGTA subsidy for the railways, which is commonly known as the Crow rate. Would it be possible, I asked, to give western farmers the choice to have their Crow rate buyout in the form of shares rather than cash? It could be made fairly attractive and then farmers would have a direct financial interest in the economic performance of CN.
I heard one of the Liberal members opposite several hours ago argue that we could never raise the capital in Canada to even have someone grab hold of the major amount of shares in CN. That is ridiculous. Does the member not realize that the crown payout of approximately $1.6 billion is equal to the price the government is asking for CN? What does he mean the capital is not available? Right there is the capital. The main users of the railway are the grain producers in this country, and they could use it. It would give them the benefit. It would meet some of the negative aspects that often come with privatization.
That is why I am saying the government should have been listening. As this idea is being picked up they could have floated the idea. Maybe this is a bad idea, but they should have looked at it. This idea comes from some of the constituents in my area, and it should be dealt with.
Look at the recommendations of previous studies. The government spends million and millions of dollars on royal commissions and studies. One of the recommendations made was that rolling stock could be privatized but the government could continue to maintain the rail beds, maybe as a private corporation eventually. They could maintain the rail beds just as they do the highways in the country. It would allow small entrepreneurs that do not have the capital resources to buy a huge railroad to at least use the efficiency of the rail beds in transporting their products.
The Economic Council of Canada published a report called "Minding the Public's Business". In chapter five, entitled "Government Enterprise and Business", the Economic Council made the following recommendation: "Entry into rail carriage could be promoted in different ways. The provisions of the proposed legislation could be expanded to make running rights more easily available and to open entry into rail carriage to anyone who can meet the basic requirements related to safety and liability coverage. Instead of regulating the activities of CN and CP in their capacity as providers of the rail bed, the management of all track could be assigned to a new publicly
owned track authority. This would require the nationalization of CP's roadbed and the separation of CN's track from the other components of its operation. Alternatively, a public track authority could be created based exclusively on the infrastructure of CN."
We have put this to the government. It seems to ignore it. I do not know why. Why does the government spend all these millions on commission and studies? They come forth with some sensible recommendations and the government promptly dismisses them. This is an idea whose time has finally come and the government should give serious consideration to establishing a public track authority that would operate similarly to our highway system. This would eliminate the tax disadvantage placed on rail companies.
Rail companies are at a tax disadvantage. They pay fuel taxes and they also have to maintain their rail beds. That is not fair. On the other hand, trucks pay fuel taxes, but the highways, their road bed, are maintained at public expense.
A public track authority could charge user fees to rail companies based on the use they make of the tracks. As a result, they would be self-financing. At some point in the future the public track authority could even be privatized.
The Chamber of Commerce supports a fully user pay rail infrastructure and had this to say in their 1994 submission to the special joint committee reviewing Canada's foreign policy: "Canadian businesses are increasingly pointing to an unlevel playing field between the Canadian and U.S. commercial environments. One tangible example among many can be found in the Canadian transportation industry. Rail, for example, provides the most economic mode of transportation for a large part of Canada's freight and for many shippers is the only cost effective mode. It is fundamental to Canada's trade, moving 40 per cent of Canada's exports, and provides a fully user pay infrastructure not liable to ongoing public funding."
Finally, I want to return to a point I have made repeatedly in speeches before the House for the last couple of years. I would like to comment on the importance of the port of Churchill to the farmers of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. When I said that the government should be looking at more than one initiative, this is another thing it should have looked at.
The privatization of CN should be seen as an opportunity to privatize, expand markets, modernize, increase exports and imports through the port of Churchill. This will take more than just the privatization of CN. It would take the cooperation and likely the privatization of both VIA Rail and Ports Canada at Churchill. It will take the cooperation of the federal government, the government of the province of Manitoba, the cooperation and support of every community and producer whose future will be improved by taking advantage of the most cost effective shipping route for bulk commodities to our customers in Europe, Africa, and South America.
I respectfully ask the government not to look at the Churchill line and the port of Churchill as a liability but as an opportunity requiring creative thinking and a cooperative and creative privatization strategy. I have worked on this quite a bit, and that is why I say one government department must work together with the other one.
One of the main obstacles to making the Hudson Bay route and the port of Churchill viable is the Canadian Wheat Board. Unless the Canadian Wheat Board becomes more open and accountable to grain producers, prairie producers will continue to be routed through costly eastern ports.
Yoy cannot just look at the railroad in isolation. You have to see how it all connects. Why is it that we have this problem? Because the railroads and eastern interests benefit in having the grain go through the traditional route rather than through the port of Churchill.
Farmers are asking important questions that will not be answered until the process of grain sales in routing is opened up.