House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was promise.


Bell Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the speech by my colleague from the Liberal Party. He announced all those great things the public will soon benefit from.

I would like to ask him a question. Since the unemployment level is close to 23, 24 and even 25 per cent, since the unemployed have trouble making ends meet, since the monthly telephone bill increases by $2 each year and another $1.11 will soon be added to that, how does he think that these people, one in four in Canada now, will be able to afford the range of services he just described? As a government, is the Liberal Party not creating a two tier society, one for those who have money and one for those who will have to do without services whenever there is not enough money? I would like an answer to that question.

Bell Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Maurizio Bevilacqua Liberal York North, ON

Madam Speaker, first I would like to thank the hon. member opposite who said that he was paying attention to what I was saying. Based on the question that he asked, it is obvious to me that he must have either just entered the House or was not paying attention to the TV screen in the back lobby.

This bill actually opens up competition for cable and telephone companies. Competition usually results in better service and a wider array of services for Canadians at a lower cost.

As a member of Parliament who has travelled the country extensively from coast to coast to coast, on the issue of unemployment and the related fields of social security and youth, I can say that there is a great call in Canada, including in the province of Quebec, to create the type of information network and infrastructure to help people with the issue, for example, of distance education.

The 21st century is only a few years away. For anyone to attempt to block legislation such as that which the government has put before the House would clearly indicate to me that the hon. member is not looking to the 21st century with a great deal of enthusiasm, nor is he looking for ways to help the 1.4 million

Canadians who are unemployed or others who are on social assistance.

Let us remember that any industrial strategy that an industrialized country like Canada undertakes will include a very effective infrastructure, not simply bridges and roads, but also the type of infrastructure which is required in the field of telecommunications.

It is high time that members understand that our country's future economic capacity will largely be increased by the type of investment it makes in telecommunications, in computer networks and in those sorts of things which speak to building a global economy.

This bill will allow many things to occur. Above and beyond that, it will allow for the sort of competition that speaks to innovation and creativity in Canada's marketplace. That will generate jobs. It will give hope to those individuals who the hon. member professes he wants to help.

One of the things of which I am aware is that people, the unemployed in particular, are moving away from the concept of income support just for the sake of income support. Unemployed Canadians want income support plus the tools required to re-enter the workforce. We cannot do that using old fashioned rules and old fashioned approaches.

The hon. member is bringing in unemployment as it relates to this bill. If he was a bit of a futurist, if he understood how the world is changing, then he would know that these are the types of bills which he should be supporting.

If he looks at the issue of distance education and the interaction between teachers or professors and an individual Canadian at home, I am sure he will understand that this bill is improving the chances of those unemployed people to which he referred.

The government is on the right track. I am sure it will stay the course. At the macro level the deficit has been lowered and that has resulted in lower interest rates. We are also getting our fiscal house in order. On the other side, which is equally important, is the type of investment we are making in people and the type of investment we are making in the information network which exists and which needs to be improved. When we continue to invest in people we are speaking about prosperity, of giving the tools required for people to take on the challenges of the 21st century.

Knowing that the hon. member understands all these things that are occurring in the world, I am quite surprised he would limit himself to what I would consider a pretty empty question.

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12:55 p.m.


Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech of my colleague, both on the monitors and here in the House. I must say that affordability and accessibility of services are not empty questions.

There is a real possibility we will end up with a two tier society if we do nothing to prevent it. There will be those who can afford the services and those who cannot. There will be those who will know how to use the tools and those who will not. If we are not careful about this, we could create information ghettos which would be hard to escape.

I am surprised that my colleague across the way is singing the praises of technology. I have been working with information systems since 1968, for 28 years now, and I understand quite well, probably better than anybody in this House, what is at stake in this situation. As I have experienced how difficult it is for companies and individuals to adapt to technological changes, I must caution the Liberal government not to make such changes unless it is very sensitive to the needs of society as a whole and most of all to the needs of the neediest in our society.

This is not an insignificant issue, it is the fundamental purpose of a society to go forward, but we must do so all together as we want to do in Quebec and as we want to do in Canada, I hope.

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12:55 p.m.


Maurizio Bevilacqua Liberal York North, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member is picking on the wrong member of Parliament. This is the same member, through his youth initiatives, who has been able to talk to and recommend to the minister that we should have technology youth initiatives for at risk youth. I understand that polarization of classes in this society is going to occur between those individuals of technological know-how and the have nots. It is a known fact.

People have to understand that for governments it is not a question of either/or and we do understand that in this House. We always think that only one policy direction can be taken and it is exclusive.

Policy directions and choices do not have to be mutually exclusive. Both can be done. If there are people in this society, who through no fault of their own cannot access certain technological instruments, does not mean that you deny everybody else. What you do is work hard at making sure those individuals also have access to those technological improvements that our society can offer.

The point the hon. member made is well taken but he should only look at the Minister of Industry's program of computers in the schools to find out that the Liberal Party has already responded to his question.

Bell Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the second reading of Bill C-57, an act to issue a broadcasting licence to Bell Canada to allow it to compete in the cable industry.

What is at stake here with the bill is not the principle of deregulation as such, but the results obtained as opposed to the results expected by the minister responsible for the communications sector.

You will recall that, when the Liberals formed the federal government in 1993, they promised to pursue the deregulation objective in the telephone industry and the communications sector. They promised especially that, with this deregulation, consumers in Quebec and Canada as a whole would end up benefiting from reduced rates. However, since this deregulation objective has been set into motion, the effects have been totally the opposite.

Far from arriving at a reduction of these rates, we were confronted with rate increases, even in the sector where they had promised the most reductions in communications rates, that is long distance rates.

Data have been checked out. Since 1992, most residential subscribers, mainly those of Stentor, which is a partner of Bell Canada, have not seen one cent of reduction in the long distance rates. Not one cent of reduction since 1992, while they were promised, especially in the long distance market, a substantial reduction of these rates.

The only ones whose long distance bills went down are the major consumers, most of which are large corporations concentrated in major urban centres such as Montreal and Toronto.

Everywhere else, all regular customers in Quebec, all the people who voted for this government in Canada and for the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec did not see a penny in reduction in long distance rates. As for local rates, the situation is almost disastrous. Not only has there been no reduction in rates but, by deregulating left and right and promising just about anything, they compromised the basic principle of cross-subsidizing telephone services.

Under the cross-subsidization principle, operating surpluses generated in major urban centres, especially for long distance, were used to subsidize local service, which, in some small communities throughout Canada, costs more than in major centres.

The cross-subsidization principle was replaced by that of rate rebalancing. What was the result of this rate rebalancing? Since 1994, basic telephone service rates have risen by $2 per month, per year, over three years. In other words, in three years, the monthly bills of consumers in Quebec and Canada will be $6 higher than if the principle of cross-subsidization had been maintained.

The most outrageous in all of this is that Bell Canada is taking advantage of these CRTC rulings, which Bell Canada itself contributes to since it provides documentation to the CRTC. Bell has a range of experts who do not carry as much weight as consumers or their representatives. But, instead of using these higher revenues taken from the pockets of consumers to remain competitive or modernize, Bell uses them to increase its stockholders' rate of return.

Mr. McLennan, the president of Bell Canada, made no bones about it. He was quoted in the December 21, 1995 edition of Le Devoir as saying as that the rate increases approved by the CRTC would result in a 1 per cent increase in the rate of return of stockholders' equity for the year 1996.

This is not modernization. Bell Canada is taking advantage of increases authorized by the CRTC to dig into the pockets of consumers and increase the return on investment of its shareholders. In fact, a spokesperson for the Fédération nationale des associations de consommateurs had this to say at the time: "Canadian households will have to pay more than $1 billion in increases over the next three years for the telephone companies to achieve the level of profits they are hoping for".

In other words, deregulation, CRTC decisions, what the minister says, his policies and directions, all that is not designed to serve consumers, as he claimed, nor to reduce long distance rates for the average consumer or local rates, but to increase all these rates and take out of the pockets of consumers the money Bell Canada needs to sweeten the package offered to its shareholders.

I find that absolutely despicable. Especially given that Mr. McLennan was going around this year forecasting $700 million in net profits for Bell Canada, or a 40 per cent increase over last year's profits.

Now, they have the gall to ask for more rate increases to be approved, so that they can fill their pockets even more, with the blessing of the minister, who keeps talking about abstract and vague concepts and does not bother to monitor the impact of his decisions and directions.

When you are looking to deregulate and ensure that communications systems meet the needs of the 1990s, into the next century, as my hon. colleague so aptly pointed out, you must ensure at the same time that a procedure is in place to follow up and monitor what is going on in terms of price increases. Soon, with such increases for basic telephone services, andother services too, communications will become a luxury item. Average families will no longer be able to afford these services.

Bell Canada and its competition offer an incredible range of services. But, as the hon. member for Portneuf said, who will be able to use these services?

This issue raises a lot of questions. Here is another example of rate increase based on deregulation without monitoring, as applied by by the minister responsible for communications: Last spring, Bell Canada asked the CRTC to increase the rates of its business clients located in small rural communities.

Some small businesses, referred to as VSBs or very small businesses, located in rural communities saw their basic rate jump from $44 to $54 per month, a $10 increase. This puts small businesses located in rural communities at a further competitive disadvantage, since the increase in densely populated areas, that is in major urban centres, was only $5. The increase imposed on small businesses located in rural communities is more than twice that of their competition in major urban centres.

This is not normal, particularly from a government that claims to support small rural communities and regional development. The government is killing entrepreneurship by playing a part in such decisions.

This is a serious matter. The Quebec vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Mr. Cléroux, condemned this decision made last spring regarding small businesses in rural communities. He said the situation of a number of these businesses is precarious, adding that such an increase would adversely affect their performance and could even threaten their survival. Such are the effects of this government's deregulation, a process which does not involve any monitoring and which is irresponsible.

When the industry asks the government to support deregulation, as we do, the government must monitor the situation and provide a framework. It must not let the situation turn into a free for all. It must not let anarchy set in. More importantly, it must not let the shareholders of Bell Canada, Stentor and all the others raid the pockets of consumers in Quebec and Canada. That is not the purpose of deregulation. The purpose is to have better service, service that is competitive and is more concerned with what consumers can afford than with making money for the richest shareholders in Bell Canada. It is not right.

Finally, last September 6, and I tell you this because it is a matter of great importance to me, Bell Canada had good news for us. I said to myself that any good news in the matter of deregulation brings with it news that is not so good, and I was right. Last September 6, Bell Canada announced that it was modernizing all its telephone and communication facilities in small municipalities in Quebec and Ontario.

I believe some 500 or 550 municipalities, including 300 in Quebec, were involved. This was good news, excellent news, because for years, municipalities and economic development corporations, as well as the federal government, have been pushing Bell Canada to modernize its exchanges. Why? You would be surprised.

At a time when the focus is on telecommunications, the very latest in service, the information highway, all these ultramodern services, you would be surprised to learn that over 300 municipalities in Quebec and over 200 in Ontario do not even have 9-1-1 service.

The networks are so antiquated that they do not have 9-1-1, and conference calls are not possible. The vast array of services offered by Bell Canada is not to be found in these municipalities. But the advertising is.

It is frustrating for people to receive advertising on a range of services with a 30 per cent discount on 10 ultramodern communications services offered by Bell Canada and to be told by head office that they are not entitled to these services, that they may not take advantage of the 30, 40, 50 and 70 per cent discounts because their system is completely behind the times, ready for the junk heap.

We were happy last September 6 at the marvellous news that Bell Canada was going to modernize its networks. At last, no more lives will be at risk. It is a serious matter when you do not have access to 9-1-1 service in communities. Situations can arise where citizens' lives are in danger and Bell Canada is doing nothing.

They are happy, except that there is a hitch, and it is this: Bell Canada will be passing on to these small communities the cost of modernizing the network in the form of a major hike in rates for local service. In other words, three municipalities elsewhere in Quebec, as in Ontario, located in urban or semi-urban areas, had their modernization paid for by all Bell customers, but those remaining, small rural communities, will have to cover the cost themselves. This is no small matter.

If I look at my riding, where two municipalities and parishes have these outmoded communications systems, monthly rates will increase by approximately $4. In addition to this $4, there are the increases already planned by Bell. I would remind you that they are talking of a $2 hike in 1996, $2 in 1997, $2 in 1998, which makes $6 more on local rates. Now another $4. Do you realize what this means over 25 months for telephone service charges? A rise of close to 100 per cent.

Is such a situation normal, when everywhere else with a high population density systems were modernized from the funding of the entire client base? Now they will be demanding a rate increase on a case by case basis to meet the costs of such modernization.

Small rural communities are required to be cost-effective, to fit in with the movement toward market globalization, to compete with major centres, as well as internationally, and so we end up with situations of discrimination such as this.

About a year and a half ago, a coalition for the modernization of Bell Canada service was formed in my riding. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the hard work of that coalition, which may have prompted Bell Canada's decision to speed up modernization. No rate increases were called for, mind you.

Today, I would like to single out the following for their excellent work: the mayor of Saint-Hyacinthe, Claude Bernier, who is also reeve of the regional county municipality and one the key players in the coalition; Jean Messier, Mayor of Saint-Damase; Mr. Guillet, Mayor of the Parish of Saint-Damase; Mr. Adam, Mayor of the Village of Saint-Pie; Rosaire Martin, Mayor of the Parish of Saint-Pie. I salute, as well, Mario de Telly, Director of the Saint-Hyacinthe economic development corporation. I am grateful for their support and the strong stands they have taken in this matter for the greater good of their fellow citizens.

As I have said, this coalition had only one purpose: to obtain for a population marginalized by Bell Canada the broad range of modern services which technological advances have now made available.

Bell was not, however, ever asked to increase rates inordinately, as it did in the plan it submitted to the CRTC this past September.

We are calling for the government to get a little more involved in this situation, not only for the sake of Saint-Pie and Saint-Damase, but also for the other 300 Quebec and 250 Ontario municipalities. In the name of its deregulation policy, in the name of its communications policy, the government must require the CRTC not to allow any anomalies such as there are in Saint-Pie and Saint-Damase in my region, and in more than 300 other municipalities in Quebec and Ontario.

The government has to act responsibly, because you cannot treat people in rural areas like second class citizens. They have the same rights as everybody else, and they are entitled to the basic service provided by Bell Canada and other telephone companies. And they also have the same right as anyone else to the services provided by Bell Canada.

I was astonished to see Mr. McLennan announce at a press conference that Bell Canada would make a profit of $712 million this year and probably even more next year, which will mean more money for the shareholders. Meanwhile, after announcing this increase in profits and increased dividends for shareholders, he announced that in the course of the next 25 months, basic service rates in small rural municipalities would go up by 100 per cent.

Here we do not find compassion nor any concern for dealing fairly with the various regions in this country.

Sure, we want Bell Canada to modernize its equipment. Sure, we want deregulation which, if the minister does his job and if this government does its job, might improve rates for the consumer, but at the same time, we do not want small municipalities which are already at a disadvantage because of their location, compared with more centrally located areas, to be charged more by a big corporation that is federally regulated.

We hope the CRTC will respond to appeals from the coalition in my riding, and I mentioned some prominent members of the coalition earlier, and that it will require Bell Canada to use part of its $700 million in profits to modernize its equipment without gouging the consumer. I also speak on behalf of Quebec's 300 rural municipalities which are in the same boat as the municipalities of Saint-Pie et Saint-Damase in my region, since the UMRCQ, at its last convention, voted almost unanimously to pass a resolution along the lines of the coalition founded in Saint-Hyacinthe against rate increases to pay for updating facilities.

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1:15 p.m.


Philip Mayfield Reform Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his intervention. It is interesting. There are some points that I would like to comment on and perhaps ask questions of.

The Bloc Quebecois has been at pains to point out the difficulties that change brings on people. There is an element of truth in what it says.

However, it seems to me that unless we open the field that these big companies have dominated for so long and allow new technologies to have their place, to have new entries into the marketplace make their play, then we are simply going to be bound by the status quo.

I have heard my hon. colleague mention the number of communities he has in his constituency. I share many of the same concerns that he has. I have rural communities that do not have telephone service or they have the old telephone service that they cannot use for fax communication and for Internet communication. These people are waiting for the lines to bring in the technology that is available to people on modern telecommunications systems and they do not have them. This is not a matter that I am unfamiliar with.

It seems to me, however, that the means for dealing with this is not simply to maintain the status quo, that it must be opened up to the new technologies, that it is not going to be for a very long time that the most distant and most remote parts of our country have the benefit of a land line, a telephone company putting in polls,

stringing wires and doing all the things we have seen done for the last 50 years. That is not going to happen. What we have to do is open up the marketplace so that the new technologies can bring the modern services that will put these points in communication with the rest of the world.

I also listened to the member speak about the difficulties with people not having 911 numbers. This too must be available for people in the same way with the communication means that are possible.

I would like to ask the member if he does not see the new technology and new avenues of competition as really being a blessing that will bring to people in the remote frontiers of our country the means of communication that they have not had in the past? If he does not see that, how does he intend to see these people who are without communication means get them under the present system?


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1:20 p.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I welcome my Reform colleague's comments and questions. We must set the record straight: we are not against deregulation, except when it has such perverse effects, when, instead of the promised rate reductions, we end up facing rate increases. Another perverse effect is that-to get back to my Reform colleague's remark-competition benefits major centres and big consumers.

However, in rural and semi-rural regions, Bell and its competitors are not so eager to provide good services to their customers. That is why deregulation should be followed up to determine its impact on local communities. I can tell you that the deregulation of telephone services has not been good to rural communities so far.

It is up to the minister responsible for communications to ensure that rural communities can benefit from the positive impact of competition in the area of telephone and communications services-and there is indeed a positive impact. Under the current policy, there are now two types of citizens: the people living in densely populated areas, who receive good communications services, and those who live farther away from major centres, who are poorly served by communications companies.

There is no need to go very far. Saint-Pie and Saint-Damase are only about 50 kilometres away from Montreal and some 10 or 15 kilometres from Saint-Hyacinthe. But just because of this short distance, telephone companies are not so eager to provide good services to the population, and that is not normal.

I agree that deregulation can bear fruit, but the fruit has started to rot even before the tree has reached maturity. This is the minister's fault. We are asking the minister to remedy the perverse effects of deregulation and ensure that Bell Canada and its competitors provide the same high quality services to all citizens, whether they live in cities or in rural communities. That is not the case today.

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1:20 p.m.


Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my hon. colleague's remarks on this important issue and I would like to get his view on the fact that, at present, technological advances-and we are all for technology and we believe in it-are not accessible and apparently cannot be made equally accessible to all consumers.

Precisely because large urban centres are profitable for telephone companies, that is where the competition is and, naturally, urban consumers will have access to excellent services at a presumably reasonable price. But in rural areas, Bell Canada remains the only provider. The competition does not reach there; it would cost them too much.

Bell Canada, which used to be able to derive part of its revenue from urban centres to make up for the higher cost of providing service to rural areas, can no longer do that and, as a result, people living in rural areas will not enjoy the same grade of service or good prices as their urban counterparts.

Does my hon. colleague not think that our friends from the Reform Party should take up the position of the Bloc Quebecois to ensure that technological advances and deregulation benefit all citizens and demand that the Minister of Industry take steps to ensure we achieve this desirable end.

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1:25 p.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague from Portneuf has taken the words right out of my mouth. I had written, to conclude my response to our colleague from the Reform Party, that the Reformers might consider joining us in our pursuit to ensure that all our fellow citizens may enjoy the benefits of the deregulation process as soon as possible and have their rates cut.

I am reaching out to the Reform Party. If ever you experience in your rural communities the same unfair situation my fellow citizens of Saint-Pie and Saint-Damaze are facing following Bell Canada's recent decisions, I urge you to join forces with us, and I will be pleased to join with you on this issue.

On other issues, it may be a different story, but on this one, I must say that we think alike and that is a good thing. The purpose of this coalition was to get the minister to yield, so that there will not be first-class and second-class citizens in Quebec and Canada, but only one class of citizens served by these large corporations and also by medium sized communications companies.

Your analysis, which you shared with us earlier, hon. colleague from the Reform Party, is exactly along the same lines as our analyses and those of the Bloc member for Portneuf. If our parties can, for this once, join forces in the interest of our fellow citizens, we will do so.

In the meantime, let me tell you that, over the next few weeks, the CRTC will be hearing representations from various groups on the application for rate increase presented by Bell Canada on September 6. I urge you to do as some of us have done and write the CRTC, asking that the system be modernized without rates being raised.

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1:25 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise to address Bill C-57, an act to amend the Bell Canada Act.

This bill seeks to allow Bell Canada to hold a broadcasting licence or to operate a broadcasting undertaking which, until now, the company was prohibited from doing.

This legislation is part of the regulatory changes undertaken by the government to allow competition among the various players in the communications sector. Telephone companies will now be allowed to operate in the broadcasting and cable broadcasting sectors, while cable companies will be able to use their networks to sell telephone services and to provide access to the information highway.

We agree with the objective to promote competition and convergence, and we support the bill. However, this legislation only solves Bell Canada's case. The government must still grant the same privilege to other companies providing telephone services, including Quebec Telephone and BC Tel.

Let us not forget that, with the support and the co-operation of the public, the Bloc Quebecois worked very hard to show to the government the major role played by Quebec Telephone in eastern Quebec's economy.

The Bloc Quebecois asked that Quebec Telephone also be allowed to provide broadcasting services. The government recognized the soundness of the official opposition's arguments and, on August 6, when it launched its policy, it also announced that Quebec Telephone and BC Tel would be allowed to access the new convergence market, and that an order in council would be made to this effect.

We are concerned that this bill was tabled without any order being made regarding Quebec Telephone and BC Tel. Madam Speaker, I ask you to remind the government that it would be greatly appreciated if the order was made before the final vote on this bill, so as to give equal treatment to all telephone companies.

We cannot talk about a bill on Bell Canada without mentioning the recent telephone rate increases approved by the federal government. The new competitive environment was supposed to result in a lowering of the rates, including for long distance services. In fact, prices went down only for major users and companies.

As for Bell Canada's clients, they will have to put up with two successive increases of two dollars, in 1996 and in 1997, and with an undetermined one in 1998. The government overturned CRTC decisions that would have give residence customers and small and medium size businesses a rebate on long distance calls.

In the end, the government's attitude towards the industry means that it would be up to the consumers instead of investors and phone company shareholders to pay for the development of communications networks and for their adaptation to the information highway.

For the industry, getting assistance from the government means that the companies do not have to take any risk or invest any money. They make the consumers pay for their investments, make huge profits which are, for the most part, tax deductible, not to mention the deduction they might get for their contribution to the party.

Several companies are not at all interested in developing networks in rural areas, because it is less profitable than developing networks in urban areas. Ever since the government has introduced competition at the local service level, it has become obvious that regions will be adversely affected.

Putting an end to cross subsidization between the rural areas and the cities will be devastating, since it will result in an increase in rates and reduced access to services.

First, the rates will go up, as of July 1997, businesses in rural areas will pay $5 to $10 more than businesses in urban areas.

Also, residence customers will face an 87 per cent increase over a period of a little more than two years, if you add to the rate increases the cost of modernizing telephone exchanges.

These increases are occurring as the chairman of Bell Canada announces that his company expects its net income to grow by 40 per cent and to generate $712 million in profits.

Even if it talks about accessibility, the government has not promised to set up any kind of system to provide universal access to telecommunications, as was proposed by the Fédération nationale des associations de consommateurs du Québec, and has not found it necessary to ask the CRTC to examine this issue.

Therefore, in the communications area, there is a huge risk to see the gap widen between the urban areas and the regions, between the people who have easy access to and those who are starved of information.

This gap will only emphasize the cultural isolation of the regions, deny the local economies the tools they need to make up for their geographical isolation and to fully take part in the market globalization.

The fact that the opposition supports the federal initiative set out in this bill in no way means that we agree with all the government policies concerning the communications industry, far from it.

While the government has thoroughly addressed issues such as competition, deregulation and markets with regard to the information highway, it seems to have neglected to look at what will be offered to the public.

These technological innovations open the door to promising changes. However, society must take the time to adapt to these changes and to find the best way to benefit from them.

These new communication technologies have been dubbed "information highway" because, just like highways, they allow people to communicate more rapidly. But even if one likes to drive, highways are only useful if they lead to interesting places.

An information highway without any interesting content, whether educational, artistic, scientific or other, would be as useless and boring as a highway that would stretch over hundreds of kilometers without any exit, without beautiful scenery, and that would bring us right back to our starting point.

Yet, this is exactly what the government is doing. It wants to give our country an information highway but has no plan to develop meaningful Canadian products in both official languages.

I am talking about products developed here by our own creators, that would reflect the culture and the interests of our society and that would be accessible to the public. These products would also represent us in the global forum which the information highway is becoming more and more everyday.

Of course, the minister is even less concerned with the importance of developing French language products that would allow Quebecers, Acadians and other French-speaking communities in Canada to benefit fully from the opportunities offered by these new communication technologies.

The government is talking about recognizing Quebec as a distinct society, but its actions do not match its words. In this case, it should ensure a French content in all communications-related areas.

The industry minister is so obsessed with the economic aspect, the competition issue and building infrastructures that he is even forgetting the price-quality ratio and seems to be stuck on the word price.

Forgetting the word quality is forgetting the millions of taxpayers and consumers who pay high taxes and high telephone and cable bills and who want to have more for their money.

Recently, the government has shown again its lack of commitment to protect Canada's and Quebec's cultures when it authorized two American audio programming service companies, Power DirecTv and DMX, to broadcast in Canada without having to comply with CTRC rules on minimum Canadian and French language content.

Of course, the minister wanted to reassure Canadians and, in all the information she gave, she forgot to mention that DMX will broadcast 17 American channels that are not authorized by the CRTC.

These American services will be competing with the services of Canadian companies, which do meet CRTC requirements and which invest here in the production of Canadian content, which employ our own technicians, artists and creators.

Canada negotiated a "cultural exemption" clause in NAFTA so that it could protect Canadian cultural industries. The Liberal government has given up enforcing this clause, and, bit by bit, is opening the door ever wider to Americans. The Liberal Party's job creation promises will thus come true, but largely in the United States, as far as culture is concerned.

Another case where the government has opened the door to American products is that of satellite television. The government was unable to help set up a Canadian direct to home satellite broadcasting service.

Some 400,000 Canadians, 80,000 of them in Quebec, living largely in rural areas without access to cable services, subscribed to satellite services originating in the United States. This represents millions of dollars lost to Canadian industry.

There will be important changes in the near future in satellite television technology. Consumers who spent a lot of money on satellite dishes may well find themselves with equipment that is no longer compatible with the new technology.

The government is refusing to conduct advertising campaigns to inform the public about these changes. It is refusing to protect the public by requiring that dishes be leased until equipment adapted to the new technologies is available, in order to save consumers the expense of these changes.

By thus allowing retailers to continue to sell satellite dishes that will soon be useless because they are based on old technology, the federal government is completely neglecting its responsibility to protect consumers. Yet, section 5 of the Act to establish the Department of Industry, which requires the minister to promote science and technology in Canada, also stipulates, and I quote: "-the minister shall exercise the powers and perform the duties and functions-in a manner that will promote the interests and protection of Canadian consumers".

There is still time for the minister to redeem himself. First of all, people who have purchased satellite dishes since January 1, 1995 ought to be compensated when they are required to make changes to accommodate the new technology.

This would affect close to 400,000 Canadians, 80,000 of them Quebecers, who have been the ones taken for a ride. It has been known since 1994 that dish technology is going to become obsolete, now that CBC and all stations have gone digital. That was known when the dishes were sold.

They are still being sold in Canada, and purchasers are not even being warned by a government label or some other means stating "these antennas are purchased at your own risk. This is an outmoded technology, so you cannot come after us claiming compensation later on." The government has a responsibility concerning these companies, which are selling obsolete technology without any scruples.

Second, the minister ought to warn consumers not to invest in outdated technology. The government ought to carry out a serious information campaign, even going so far as to ban sales of this satellite technology during the transition period, and to allow only short-term leasing, so as to protect the public against unscrupulous vendors.

In conclusion, the Bloc Quebecois has demanded, still demands, and will continue to demand unrelentingly that the government take consumer interests and regional interests into greater consideration, where price and quality as well as content and services are concerned.

We will be closely monitoring how much expression the government will allow francophones, how much funding it will give them to permit full, quality expression in French. We will continue to criticize the federal government's lack of vision with respect to culture and consumer goods.

Since the Bloc Quebecois was elected to the House of Commons, we have seen time and time again how the government has no compunction about selling off Canadian culture, bit by bit. Not a day goes by in this House without a government member rising to say we want to destroy Canada, but I accuse the Liberal government of wanting to destroy this country by selling Canadian culture off bit by bit, day after day, month after month. And that is the truth.

When the day comes when a country has no more culture, when Canadian culture has become American, do not ask Quebec to save you again. You took from us the name of our country and our national anthem, but we will make ourselves a country where we have our own culture, where we can develop our potential. Meanwhile, we will support this bill, provided the case of Québec Téléphone and B.C. Tel is settled before we are asked to vote on third reading. Enough is enough.

We are now backing down from promises made to B.C. Tel and Québec Téléphone. You can be sure we will vote against this bill if B.C. Tel and Québec Téléphone do not get a fair deal from this government.

Bell Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is the House ready for the question?

Bell Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Some hon. members


Bell Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt this motion?

Bell Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Some hon. members


Bell Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Therefore, this bill is referred to the Standing Committee on Industry.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee.)

The House resumed from October 22, consideration of the motion that Bill C-49, an act to authorize remedial and disciplinary measures in relation to members of certain administrative tribunals, to reorganize and dissolve certain federal agencies and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee; and of the amendment.

Administrative Tribunals (Remedial And Disciplinary Measures) ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Val Meredith Reform Surrey—White Rock—South Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak on Bill C-49 which came out originally as a housekeeping bill.

The bill deals with the administrative changes to boards, agencies and tribunals. For the most part it makes fairly minor changes, or what would appear to be minor changes. What it does not do in all of these boards is improve the accountability. It does not improve the competence of the people who are appointed or the quality of the appointees.

It was the hope of the Reform Party that the government would follow through with some of its promises in the red book to bring greater accountability to these politically appointed boards and commissions. The red book promised:

A Liberal government will take a series of initiatives to restore confidence in the institutions of government-and make competence and diversity the criteria for federal appointments. Open government will be the watchword of the Liberal program.

A Liberal government will examine the size and relevance of existing boards and commissions to achieve cost savings by shrinking some boards and commissions and eliminating those that no longer play a useful role. To fill the vacancies that remain, a

Liberal government will review the appointment process to ensure that necessary appointments are made on the basis of competence.

I would like to focus on a specific area of Bill C-49 that relates to the Immigration and Refugee Board. First of all, Bill C-49 has not been passed by Parliament and already the Immigration and Refugee Board has implemented the changes. It would appear that the IRB has little respect for the parliamentary process as it has not waited for legislative debate and passage before implementing this new process. This just reinforces the Liberals' arrogance and total disregard for the parliamentary process.

Prior to this amendment the refugee division was required to have a minimum of two members to hear every refugee claim. If both members hearing a claim differed on the final determination, the negative decision was always overruled. This bill now changes the minimum requirement to one member so that if the member rules that the claim is not valid, their decision will now stand.

At first glance I could favour this amendment. It would appear that it would be quickly processing or allowing double the work to be done in half the time. However since this change is already in effect at the IRB, I have learned that the majority of cases are still being heard by panels of two members due to pressure and interference by refugee lawyers.

These lawyers can choose whether they want one member or two members to hear their case, depending on who the member is. If the lawyer does not like the single member, then they request a panel of two members to increase their chances that their client's claim will be accepted. This certainly puts into question the arm's length approach that is intended.

I have also learned that members are being pressured into increasing the number of positive decisions, something the IRB has assured me time and time again does not happen but I keep hearing about it from people within the system. How can someone make an unbiased and objective decision with pressure from the board like that placed on them?

I ask: Where has this process become more efficient and cost effective? The IRB is costing taxpayers about $77 million a year. Members of the board have been and continue to be patronage appointments comprised of former refugee lawyers and advocates that depend on refugee claims for their livelihood. How objective would you be if your bread was buttered by the very people that are now appearing before you?

The entire purpose of the IRB has to be questioned. Guidelines are issued to IRB members that really put the entire process into question. For example, a woman arrives, claims to be single with children, claims to have been abandoned by her husband and now fears persecution in her country. The guidelines pertaining to gender related claims indicate that a member is in great difficulty to deny this woman refugee status even if her claim is questionable because the IRB is non-adversarial. The IRB member cannot investigate the woman's allegation because it may put the woman at risk. The woman is then given the benefit of the doubt.

This guideline is very well known to immigration lawyers and is often used as a tactic to ensure that their client remains in Canada. After the woman is allowed to stay in Canada, she sponsors her husband who she originally claimed abandoned her. This is a case of blatant abuse of the refugee determination process. What is the purpose of hearing cases like this one when we know full well that the outcome is predetermined by the IRB guidelines?

One of the purposes of the Immigration Act is to provide protection to genuine refugees fearing persecution. I fail to see where this is addressed in a guideline such as the one I just mentioned.

What have the Liberals done to deter this type of abuse? Nothing. Something has to be done to ensure that genuine refugees are granted the protection they need and that bogus refugees do not use this avenue as a means of curtailing the normal immigration process.

The abusers of the system are causing genuine refugees to be left fearing for their lives while these abusers jump the immigration queue and benefit from Canada's social and health programs. This is unfair to those who rely on this system as a genuine and legitimate way of finding protection and safety.

The IRB thinks it is doing its job by providing statistics to the minister every year showing how many cases have been processed and how many refugees are now in Canada. However, what it fails to mention is the large volume of backlog cases that leave genuine refugees in limbo for an unacceptable length of time. This cannot continue. The IRB must now face the fact that it has failed the immigration system by allowing the backlog of refugee claims and by way of this bill it has made it worse.

There are qualified public servants within the Department of Citizenship and Immigration who could assume the responsibilities of the Immigration and Refugee Board and would process the refugee claims in a more objective and cost effective manner. I see no purpose in giving political appointees a place to sit for $86,000 a year when there are qualified people already in place to do the job.

Another improvement in the immigration system would be for officials at the ports of entry to be granted more responsibility in the initial determination of refugee claims made upon arrival. They are the ones on the front line who see firsthand what documents are not present. They are in a position to ask questions before the applicant can be coached by lawyers on what to say. Right now all a person has to do upon arrival in Canada is claim to be a refugee and they are allowed to stay and have their claim heard, even if the

immigration official knows that they used fraudulent means to get here and are not genuine refugees.

There are few if any options open to the immigration officers at the ports of entry. Therefore, what is the purpose of having immigration officers at the ports of entry if we are not going to allow them to do their job and make decisions? What have the Liberals done to improve this? Nothing.

The Reform Party is committed to and relies on a grassroots approach to its policies. This government needs to take lessons from the Reform Party. Rely on the front line people. They are the people who can make a difference and can provide real insight into what needs to be done to improve our immigration system.

This government is not meeting Canada's humanitarian obligations by allowing illegal refugee claimants to stay in Canada.

What have the Liberals done so far? Nothing. A positive move on the part of Liberals would be to amend the Immigration Act by eliminating the IRB altogether and returning this responsibility to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. Then again that would save Canadian taxpayers millions of dollars a year-

Administrative Tribunals (Remedial And Disciplinary Measures) ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

My colleague, I am going to give you the floor again right after question period. It being 2 p.m., we will now proceed to Statements by Members.

Hillowe'En IiiStatements By Members

October 29th, 1996 / 1:55 p.m.


Jim Peterson Liberal Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the attention of the House is riveted today on a momentous event, a history making occasion and an occurrence that will affect every member. I am referring of course to the third annual confectionery caucus Hillowe'en party.

One hundred and forty members participated in Hillowe'en II last year. Hillowe'en III will be even bigger.

Canada's value added confectionery manufacturers will display their products and will help raise awareness about this century old Canadian industry's contribution to our economy. Members, their staff and their children can come together in this non-partisan gathering in the best tradition of the Hill.

As a member of the confectionery caucus, I am proud to be associated with an industry that supports the employment of over 7,000 Canadians and generates over $1.6 billion in factory sales.

I invite all members, their staff and children to join the confectionery caucus and the CMAC tonight in Room 200, West Block from 5.30 to 7.30 for great glorious gobs of goodies.

Hillowe'En IiiStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

That sounds like a sweet message.

PovertyStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I recently participated in the fast organized in my riding of Quebec by a coalition of organizations to express their rejection of poverty.

This 13-day relay fast allowed hundreds of men and women to express their basic demands aimed at reducing poverty among women, children and the most disadvantaged in Canadian society.

I therefore urge this government to stop reducing the deficit on the backs of the poor and give the UI money back to the people.

In 1993, the Liberals condemned the fact that there were 4.2 million poor people in Canada. There are now 4.9 million poor Canadians, an increase of 700,000, and yet no one on the other side of the House is raising the alarm. This silence is disturbing. If I were cynical, I would say to the government that the time has come for them to take concrete actions so they will look good to the voters.

Top Gun Fighter CompetitionStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Deborah Grey Reform Beaver River, AB

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of all members of the House and all Canadians, I congratulate the outstanding performance of Canada's air force team who last week defeated six U.S. competitors and won the world renowned top gun fighter competition in Florida.

This was a real team effort by pilots, maintenance and other ground support personnel from Canadian forces bases right across Canada. The fighter pilots are based at 4 Wing Cold Lake in the riding of Beaver River.

I congratulate Captain Ross Granley of Red Deer, Captain Brian Murray of Markham, Captain Dave Mercer of Montreal and Captain Steve Nierlich of Toronto who won the best individual score in aerial combat competition.

Nothing else inspires wide eyed, heart thumping excitement quite like the flash and thunder of fighter jets streaking across our skies. I experience this thrill often when I am home in Beaver River as they race overhead.

The Canadian men and women who equip, fly and maintain these marvellous machines for training, active duty or international skill competitions have our deepest admiration and appreciation. Way to go, top guns.

BeauceStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Gilles Bernier Independent Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, the Beauce region is leading the way. Three levels of education-high school, college and university-and the private sector worked together on a joint project: the business innovation and technological transfer service or SITTE in French, which is supported by the federal government and whose mission is to help businesses design or modify equipment or prototypes and analyze manufacturing processes.

I want to stress the significance of this co-operation among the private, education and parapublic sectors in our region. Achievements like this can make the difference between regional development and the international competitiveness of local businesses.

I salute the initiative of the Beauce community. This is a first in Quebec.

To supplement government funds, $263,000 was raised in a drive among businesses in the Beauce region. The committee was chaired by Marcel Dutil of the Canam-Manac group. The SITTE is a great project that looks to the future of the Beauce region.

Women's History MonthStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Dianne Brushett Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to recognize October as Women's History Month. It is imperative that all Canadians recognize the historical contributions made and the diverse roles that women play in today's society.

The theme for this year's celebration is women and the arts. Women in Canada have left a cultural legacy in the arts and their achievements are an integral part of our national history and identity. Women have been active and successful in every arena of the arts, writing, sculpture, carving, painting, pottery, photography, theatre, television and film, to name a few.

This month we also have the honour to commemorate Persons Day, the day that Canadian women were first recognized as persons before the law. We have a lot to celebrate and I am certain that all members join with me in congratulating women from coast to coast to coast on their past, their present and their future achievements.

Elvira SaadiStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Janko Peric Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, the federal government has designated the month of October Women's History Month. There is no better way to celebrate women in our communities than to highlight their contributions and achievements.

I wish to congratulate Elvira Saadi, a two time Olympian and head coach of Canada's gymnastic team at the Atlanta Summer Olympics, for her work as a coach and teacher. A member of the Cambridge Kips Gymnastic Club, Elvira Saadi was named the 1995 Coach of the Year by the Canadian Gymnastic Federation.

On behalf of the people of Cambridge, I congratulate Elvira for the care and effort she has put into the training of young Canadian gymnastic athletes.