I am pleased to speak today on this Reform Party motion condemning the government for its approach to various federal transportation policies. The Reform Party has opted to focus on the partisan choices made by the present government. They are entitled to do so, and this may be one aspect that is particularly striking.
I wish in particular to draw the attention of the House to the present government's inefficiency in the area of transportation. At the present time, there is a fairly impressive number of examples of the federal government's shirking its responsibilities and therefore costing Quebec and Canadian taxpayers considerable amounts of money.
The first example is the Pearson airport. The former government decided to privatize the airport, and this one made a campaign promise to cancel that privatization. To that end, it tabled a bill which the hon. members on this side of the House rejected on the grounds that it was inadequate, inconsistent and unrealistic. It was even defeated by the Liberal majority in the Senate.
The government has had eight months now, since June 1996, to find a solution with the promoters of Pearson airport to settle the dispute without costing Canadians an arm and a leg.
We are still waiting. Will the federal government introduce a new bill in an attempt to get out of this mess, which is going to cost, who knows, maybe $85 million to $100 million if there is an out-of-court settlement? If there is a decision-the case is currently before the courts-the suit is for some $600 million.
The federal government is being illogical in defending the privatization of Pearson airport, after the Prime Minister himself said while campaigning: "This privatization must be cancelled, because there will be outrageous profits, $200 million".
Now the government lawyers are saying in court: "No, no, the profits will not be that high. So they do not deserve any significant compensation". The government needs to get its act Together, face its responsibilities, and take a stand.
Unfortunately, as far as transportation is concerned, for the past three years the government seems to have been on automatic pilot. It has deregulated and privatized, but it also stopped doing something that was not necessarily undesirable in all sectors. It stopped monitoring the effects of these policies.
We had an example this fall. In 1996, there was a dramatic increase in railway accidents. There was an increase in the number of deaths and accidents as a result of safety problems on the railway network. We had an aging network on which the lines were not always maintained. The government decided to privatize the system, which was not necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, the government had no right to look the other way and cease to fulfil the mandate it still has, privatization or no privatization, to ensure the safety of our railways.
The motion presented by the Reform Party today concerns the partisan approach of the federal government to its transportation policies. However, I think the biggest mistake, the most obvious weakness in the government's approach is the fact that it is incapable of taking a position, making decisions and acting responsibly.
I gave the example of Pearson airport. There is worse yet. Yesterday, a judgment by a judge of the Quebec Superior Court stated that the federal government had failed to act responsibly in the matter of changing the roles of Montreal's airports at Dorval and Mirabel.
Today, we have a situation where everyone is back to square one. There are regions whose economies have been hard hit by this decision. The judge made the decision on the basis of the case before him. For the past six months at least, the Bloc Quebecois has suggested two things the minister should do. First, conduct public hearings on the question. And second, act responsibly as the lessee of the facilities at Mirabel airport and Dorval.
These recommendations by the Bloc are exactly the same recommendations that were made in the judgment by Judge Viau.
So it is not just an opposition party speaking out. Now we have a judge who made a ruling. The federal government, which has been dithering for six months, will now have to pull up its socks and act responsibly. This is one more example of the federal government's lack of effectiveness in the transportation sector. This department, which for years had been huge and very slow to act, is now having trouble monitoring the reforms that have been introduced and ensuring they will be implemented.
A third example is Canadian Airlines International. For many years the federal government has been artificially supporting this lame duck. According to its vision, we absolutely needed two national carriers in Canada. Well, one of them has been on life support for a number of years: it was given grants, even a tax holiday and compensatory funding. A precedent was set when the government intervened in labour relations to allow Canadian to survive.
This is irresponsible, coming from a government that sees itself as an advocate of free competition. When it formulated this principle, it should have abided by it and let the companies do the same. Air Canada has already done a lot of house cleaning. It had to make some very difficult decisions in the past: lay-offs of pilots and other staff. Today, it is a profitable company. It operates well and is aggressive on international markets. It would be prepared to expand if the Canadian government was not paralysing it by limiting its international routes.
Here we have three examples of federal government inefficiency, lack of decision making ability and inflexibility. They are Pearson airport, the Montreal airports and Canadian international. So we can see how the federal government has problems being effective in its transport policy, with examples such as these. One tends to wonder about the upcoming reforms.
In December 1995, the government tabled a reform of Canadian ports policy. In the meantime, it tabled Bill C-44. In December, we considered it clause by clause, but we have heard nothing since then. The bill has not reappeared in the House, and communities are quite anxious about how their port facilities will be returned to them.
Will there be enough money to return the ports to the communities in a reasonable state? Is the current figure of $125 million sufficient? Will they take into consideration our recommendation that commercial ports like Cacouna, in my riding, for example, be treated differently from ferry ports like Saint-Siméon and Rivière-du-Loup, which is also in my riding?
This sort of facility must be treated differently. The government's intention to maintain ferry services and port facilities, so long as the ferries continue to run, must be absolutely clear. We need clarity, because the longer decisions are put off, the greater the impact on the decision of business to settle in a region.
Eastern Quebec, as you know, was hit very hard by the employment insurance reform. So the federal government must hasten to establish clear guidelines and make choices in order to let people know the conditions under which the port of Cacouna will become the property of the port development corporation, so that business wishing to set up in our region may do so in full knowledge of the facts.
When a business makes a choice and says: "I will set up a plant in a given sector", this is not a short term vision. It is looking 5, 10, 15 and 20 years down the road. However, we are in a period of very rapid choices. Without adequate answers in these matters, businesses that may have been considering settling in our region could decide to go elsewhere, in New England or some other part of the U.S. eastern seaboard, where they will know where they stand.
I urge the federal government to take a position in this matter as soon as possible.
Another example of the federal government's inefficiency and lack of foresight is last year's reform of the line conveyance procedures. Up till then, before a line could be closed, public hearings had to be held, and if the stakeholders' could find sufficient justification, the line was maintained.
The legislation introduced by the federal, which it got through the House but which we rejected, now allows the companies simply to put the line up for sale again. If the company can find a buyer, the line is sold. Otherwise, the line is abandoned. But they forgot to be specific enough in the legislation.
Let me give you a very concrete example. On the Matapédia-Chandler-Gaspé line, in the Gaspé, runs the Chaleur, a train administered by VIA Rail. The legislation should have included a safeguard whereby the government could prevent private companies from dismantling their lines without any regard for the existing passenger transport networks when there is only one operational line, especially during winter, to ensure that this only line is maintained.
The absence of such a safeguard in the legislation led to the current nonsense. CN is selling the portion of the line between Matapédia and Chandler. They have a buyer, the Société des chemins de fer nationaux du Québec, for that portion because it is used not only for passenger transport but also for freight transport. There is no buyer, however, for the other line between Chandler and Gaspé, which is the continuation, because it is used only by VIA.
VIA Rail passengers are therefore being held to ransom following the company's decision, and the federal government has
absolutely no say in all this. It can only try to see, through a feasibility study, how the economic future of that line could be ensured. Again, we can see that the federal government lacks a sense of planning in its actions.
The government should implement major changes. It should take concrete action as soon as possible, especially as regards the Railway Act, so as to avoid the sale of railway lines. These lines would probably be better managed if they were run by local administrations. At the same time, however, we must not create situations where railway users, including passengers for whom the train is the only mode of transportation, see that mode disappear because of the inefficiency of the applicable legislation.
This is another example which shows that the representations we made were not taken into account by the federal government. In this case, as in the others which I mentioned, the government displays a blatant inefficiency and it should make appropriate changes as quickly as possible, in order to improve the situation.
Now that the federal government has gone ahead with deregulation, it must watch for the impact of this change in every sector. Let me give you an example. The government recently established Nav Canada, a corporation that will manage Canada's air navigation system. In this area, as with railway accidents, there must be an adequate follow-up as regards safety, otherwise in six months, a year or two years, we will notice an increase in the number of accidents in that sector, and we will only be able to deplore some situations when it is too late. I am asking the federal government to make sure it will allocate adequate resources for this initiative.
The Reform Party says it condemns the partisan approach to transportation policies. The government will have an opportunity over the coming weeks and months to prove that its approach is not partisan, when it makes a decision with respect to implementing a partnership between the private and public sectors for the purpose of upgrading Canada's national highway system.
A recommendation has been made by the Standing Committee on Transport, which has seen some truly impressive co-operation, with the Bloc Quebecois working with the government to ensure that, over the coming years, there will be significant investment in the national highway system, because it is an essential development tool in the context of North American free trade. In the future, our highway system must become increasingly efficient.
The report suggested pilot projects, and this will be the test of whether the government is capable of a non-partisan approach. Various areas in Canada have development needs in this regard. These needs could be in major urban centres not equipped with the necessary road system, but still part of the Trans-Canada. Or they could be in areas like my riding, where one of the highways running between Rivière-du-Loup and New Brunswick has seen a huge increase in traffic over the last 20 years. We are very pleased with this increase, because it contributes to economic activity, but today the highway no longer really meets the needs of the traffic using it.
The federal government will have to make some choices. The committee chairman made representations to the Prime Minister. His advice was that the government should go ahead with this huge investment, and that this new model of funding a private and public partnership should be tried out, allowing the government to shift the investment risk to the private sector and thus making it possible to start up projects two, three, four or five years earlier.
Will the federal government be capable of analyzing proposals on the basis of objective needs criteria? Will it see there are safety problems, like those on the 185 through Témiscouata in my riding? At Saint-Antonin, Saint-Honoré, and Ville Dégelis, accidents occur simply because the road, which is part of the Trans-Canada, can no longer keep up with increased traffic.
I hope the federal government will do something and that a few months from now I will be able to say: "Yes, they did a good job in that area. No partisan decisions. Objective decisions that made it possible to start the work and thus help regional development."
The federal government must not forget it has a lot to answer for in regions with a high percentage of seasonal workers. We were hit on the head with employment insurance reform, and this is still going on, since we have found this reform systematically penalizes seasonal workers.
The Minister of Human Resources Development seems be waking up to this. He is finding ways to change the situation. However, what is needed is measures to diversify the economy and one of the main tools is management of the transportation sector in Canada.
For many decades, Quebec realized how penalized it was by the fact that it did not control its means of development. Since Quebec runs north-south, its development is linked to New England and the American markets. For a long time, Quebec was penalized as a result of a Canadian decision to promote east-west development.
Now that we have opted for free trade, the government's decisions should allow for these circumstances and let our regions develop their potential. Remember that at the end of the nineteenth century, the maritimes were an autonomous region that sold as many goods as it purchased and generated enough jobs to support its population.
However, the policies of the Trudeau years were to create large reserves in the regions. The message was: "We will let the market create jobs in the large urban centres and then we will distribute the wealth." Today, we realize that this does not work because we are
penalizing the people who work in seasonal industries. We are waiting for the federal government to do the right thing and use transportation as a tool in this respect.
We have every reason to be sceptical. Federal action in the transportation sector has not been a success during the past decades. There was quite a commotion at one point. A few years ago, reforms were introduced, but we must ensure that the government-and the opposition will play a watchdog role in this respect-really has an integrated policy for the development of transportation, whether we are talking about the railways, air transportation, shipping or highway transportation. That is not the case at the present time.
The government is being very ad hoc. It is trying to pacify the Pearson developers, but now they will have to manage another crisis involving Aéroports de Montréal. And the same applies to Canadian. My conclusion is that the federal government should drop its piecemeal approach, adopt an integrated transportation strategy and avoid partisanship. If it does, this will benefit the economies of Quebec and Canada.
Let us hope that today's opposition day will make the government aware of its responsibilities and the need to act quickly to provide clear guidelines.