Madam Speaker, last week when I rose in my place to ask a question about the future of Canada's national parks and historic sites, I was very concerned about what the Liberal government seemed to be doing. I was aware that the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the minister responsible for the national parks and historic sites system, was about to implement a plan developed by the bean counters in Treasury Board called the employee takeover program.
I was convinced that anyone who had had any experience in our national parks or at our national historic sites would never have agreed to proceed with this foolhardy program which called for one-half of the existing staff of Parks Canada to either quit their jobs or wait to be fired and then if they wanted, to form a business company, come back and bid on the contracts which would be let out on their old jobs.
There are of course numerous problems with this proposal, not the least of which is the threat this privatization makes to the entire parks and national historic sites system throughout Canada.
This scheme came to our attention during committee study of the government's spending estimates. There the members of the committee learned that the Department of Canadian Heritage wanted to reduce its workforce to 2,000 employees from 4,000 and remove roughly 24 per cent of its budget. The employee takeover plan was the scheme to achieve both goals.
Obviously people who worked in the parks system knew that this 24 per cent saving, or roughly $98 million over four years, was going to come at their expense. When they looked at the services they were providing to the public, they justifiably pointed out that the system would also result in lost services to the public.
Since then the dedicated people who work for Parks Canada have reviewed what little information is available to them. Almost unanimously from all parts of Canada they have reacted very negatively to the minister's proposal. In addition, neighbouring communities, their businesses and their leaders have commented negatively on the impact such activity would have on them.
I had said previously, and my words were coming back to me from these communities, that this scheme would result in increased costs, reduced service, lower wages and lost jobs for hundreds of dedicated long term employees of Parks Canada.
I had also said in a letter to the minister that similar situations were in existence in parts of British Columbia and the United States and except for the odd success story the overwhelming result of these existing experiences was failure.
I was concerned that should this scheme fail, which I was sure it would, there would be very little that could be done to correct the mistakes and that our parks and national historic sites were much too important to leave to chance. I asked the minister to postpone the plan to implement this scheme as of July 1 of this year and study much more carefully the implications of its failure.
I was pleased that the minister, who has a good understanding of the parks system thanks to her term as Minister of the Environment, said the program would be slowed down to look at other options. At the same time I remain concerned that the bottom line for the minister and the government appears to be the reduction in spending rather than the provision of services in a section of our economy that does not have much ability to generate its own revenue.
I appreciate the fact that the department will take some additional time to examine options other than the employee takeover program, which does nothing to address the circumstances in the parks.
I urge the minister to review the mandate of the parks system, establish a clearly understood plan to ensure the ongoing operational and development success of the parks and national historic sites and to put in place the type of funding that is necessary to secure the long term protection of our historic and environmental heritage.