That this House condemn the government for its approach to federal transportation policies, and in particular, the cancellation of the Pearson Airport deal, the continued neglect of Canada's national highway system, costly inefficiencies in the grain transportation system, and the on-going subsidization of VIA Rail at the expense of taxpayers and private-sector passenger rail and bus operators.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on the Reform supply day motion. There are four specific items named in the motion but of course others may choose to expand beyond them. I will speak on three of the four items highlighted in the motion, leaving the grain question to be handled by my colleagues from the agricultural sector.
I open with a few comments on the Pearson airport contract. Yesterday Reform exposed some of the myths projected by the Liberal Party dealing with its finances. It seems unfair that the finance department alone should be singled out.
Let us take a look at the Pearson airport deal. It is a myth that this is a payoff for Tory businessmen. The fact is that there are more known ties to the Liberal Party in the make-up of the Pearson contract holders.
Another myth is: "We had to cancel the deal because it was too rich". The fact is that secret government documents have revealed it was a good deal for the government. What is more, the government is now in court arguing that the contract holders would not have made any money at all.
The true facts of this scandalous, mishandled political blunder are as follows. During the election campaign the Liberals stated that they thought the Pearson deal was bad and that a Liberal government would investigate and would cancel the contract if it found wrongdoing.
I have no problem with that. To be honest, I felt the same way. At this point the public was ready to believe anything about Mulroney's old party. The problem was that when they got elected and investigated the contract, the Liberals could not find anything wrong with it. Further, studies in the possession of the Liberals clearly indicated that it was a good deal for the government and thus for the Canadian taxpayer.
Without one shred of real evidence the Liberal government slanderously attacked the Pearson contract holders using no evidence whatsoever and using only political rhetoric. To protect themselves the Liberals then introduced the most undemocratic piece of legislation the House has ever seen, Bill C-28.
What should they have done? After the investigation did not actually turn up any evidence of wrongdoing and armed with studies that pointed out the value of the contract of the government, the Liberals should have stated that the contract was not quite as bad as they thought it might have been and that they would try to make some changes that would make it acceptable. I am sure if they had gone to the contract holders they could have arranged a few face saving changes to the contract and then pronounced it okay to proceed with the changes that the Liberal Party had made.
What did members of the public get instead? Right now they have a legal bill that is over $13 million to date and still growing. They have a lawsuit with a potential settlement of hundreds of millions of dollars, a lawsuit that the Liberals had been warned about in those same secret documents in their position before they proceeded.
Terminals 1 and 2 at Pearson airport would have been substantially rebuilt instead of being in the deplorable condition they are in to this day. They have no plans for the needed rebuilding of those terminals and they have no money in the bank. It will be interesting to see how the upcoming budget addresses that particular problem.
Finally, there were enormous job and tax revenue losses for metro Toronto. The loss of direct and indirect jobs from the cancellation of the contract has cost the Toronto area tens of thousands of jobs and business activity. If there is any honour among the Liberals they would pay the cost of their politically motivated mistake from their own party account. We know this will not happen because that honour is not there.
With regard to the recently released report on the national highway system renewal, there is nothing in it that deals with a solution to our deteriorating national highway. There is nothing there to get excited about. It is again filled with Liberal rhetoric.
I should mention that the press release put out by the chair of the Standing Committee on Transport has a neat little trick in it. It says: "Not only are we excited about this but the official opposition has signed on and we are all singing together". Maybe the official opposition did but the national opposition party certainly did not.
The report is full of Liberal rhetoric and when it comes to real solutions there are not any there. There are three fundamental problems. A huge majority of the witnesses who came before the committee asked for some portion of the federal fuel tax revenues to be dedicated specifically to dealing with the national highway system. It should be noted that the government collects about $5 billion a year in highway fuel taxes and spends a mere $200 million.
In a highly manipulated move the chair decided to hold a one-day invitation only round table discussion which he used to override the testimony of four months of witnesses. Virtually all the recommendations in the report arise out of that one-day meeting instead of the four months of testimony.
The report states that the government should commit long term stable funding for highway rebuilding but refuses to do this through a dedicated account because then it would have to live up to that commitment, which is something it will not likely do.
The second area where the report errs is by suggesting that shadow tolling is a funding source. Shadow tolling involves the checking of traffic and making a payment based on the traffic to the operator of the highway. It is a method used to repay a private contractor for building or rebuilding a bridge, highway or some other portion of highway infrastructure, but the payment still has to be made by the government. Shadow tolling and public-private partnerships are valid cost saving efficiencies but they are not funding sources. Unless the government is planning to rebuild our national highway system by the introduction of massive vehicle tolls, this section of the report is deliberately misleading.
The final and most important area of the report is relying on the private sector through public private partnerships to deal with much of the highway problem.
This in itself has much potential but only if there is confidence in the private sector that the government is honourable in its dealings, and there is much evidence that this honour does not exist. The government handling of the Pearson contract was only the smallest tip of the iceberg.
In 1989 the government went to the private sector and asked it to take over the money losing VIA Rail Rocky Mountaineer. The
private sector responded. The Rocky Mountaineer was purchased by a company known as the Great Canadian Railtour Company.
Although it was losing money at the time of its purchase, the Great Canadian Railtour Company spent millions of dollars building and advertising the Rocky Mountaineer. Today it is an overwhelming success story. It has increased its business by 30 per cent per year on an ongoing and constant basis.
When it was taken over there were 5,000 passengers utilizing that system. In 1996, 42,000 people travelled on the Rocky Mountaineer. Also in 1996 they announced their expansion plans for 1997. They then went to VIA Rail and purchased the coaches necessary for this expanded service and sent them to Kamloops in British Columbia to be refurbished and to bring them up to the high standard Rocky Mountaineer insists on. Three months later VIA Rail, knowing the expansion plans of the Rocky Mountaineer and having sold it the cars that Rocky Mountaineer was using for this expansion, announced that it wanted back in. That is unacceptable.
What is even more unacceptable is that the Minister of Transport is actually considering allowing it. He is not only considering it but actually we believe he is at the point of announcing it. This is not only unacceptable to me but it is unacceptable to a great list of other people.
I have a copy of a letter that was delivered to the Minister of Transport from the organization the government is now relying on to bail it out of the highway system problem it has got itself into. The letter is from the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships. It states:
In the case of VIA Rail's Rocky Mountaineer service the government correctly got out of a money losing activity. If the government wants to re-enter the business now that an entrepreneurial private sector operator has made it profitable, this will deter future private sector companies from bidding on future government privatization opportunities. The example of the government exiting and re-entering a business will send a bad signal to entrepreneurs who are looking to establish these types of public-private partnerships.
So much for the government's great plan to rebuild our national highway system. It first has to get the private sector's trust. Even as the government says it wants it, it is throwing this in the private sector's face.
If the minister thinks that allowing VIA to proceed is good for tourism, why have the Council on Tourism Associations of British Columbia and the Tourism Alliance of Western and Northern Canada emphatically stated their opposition to it?
How can the minister think allowing VIA to proceed is good for B.C. when every passenger VIA takes from the Great Canadian Railtour Company means another person staying and eating on a subsidized VIA Rail train instead of staying in B.C. hotels and eating in B.C. restaurants?
If the minister raises the support of the Canadian Tourism Commission, is the minister not aware that his crown corporation has been subsidized to the tune of over $7 billion through VIA that it gives in terms of CTC dollars every year? Should he not reconsider that its input is biased? This is especially true if we consider that the vice-president of the Canadian Tourism Commission is a former VIA employee who was unsuccessful in his bid to acquire the Rocky Mountaineer and who ended up in litigation with the Great Canadian Railtour Company.
The chair of the Canadian Tourism Commission marketing committee is vice-president of marketing at VIA Rail and was also involved in the unsuccessful bid for the Rocky Mountaineer. According to the Liberal government there is no bias I am sure.
What public need is served by allowing a crown corporation that is subsidized hundreds of millions of dollars to compete against a private sector taxpaying company that has done everything the government asked it to do when it sold the route in the first place?
I have a few interesting quotes: "If the government does not need to run something, it should not, and in the future it will not". That was said by the Liberal Minister of Finance. The mayor of Kamloops said: "VIA Rail's plan to increase passenger traffic would have a devastating impact on the Great Canadian Railtour Company and the Kamloops economy".
Here is another dandy. I trust the parliamentary secretary is taking this one in: "I cannot emphasize too much that we are not in the business of putting at risk anyone who has taken on risk in the private sector trying to help us out in the railway industry". Who is that one from? The then Minister of Transport who is now the defence minister for that same Liberal government.
What did the public have to say through organizations like the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation? "Forget the Vancouver-Jasper decision, Mr. Anderson. Put VIA Rail on the selling block, a 1990s version of the Last Spike that is long overdue".
What is even more disturbing to me is the matter of honour with the Liberal government. In December the chair of the Standing Committee on Transport announced to me that he wanted to hold a round table discussion in Ottawa during the recess of Parliament in January. I told him I was not in favour of this because there was no possible way I could attend. This is not a break, as it is euphemistically called, but is in fact a required time to work in our constituencies.