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House of Commons Hansard #129 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was via.

Topics

Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick

Liberal

Paul Zed LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's responses to 36 petitions.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick

Liberal

Paul Zed LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the 54th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs concerning the associate membership of the Standing Committee on Finance.

With leave of the House, I move that the 54th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House earlier this day, be concurred in.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Does the hon. parliamentary secretary have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to.)

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Roseanne Skoke Liberal Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present to this hon. House today. Pursuant to Standing Order 36, I present a petition from my constituents who pray and call on Parliament to support the immediate initiation and conclusion by the year 2000 of an international convention which will set out a binding timetable for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Roseanne Skoke Liberal Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I present a second petition with 320 signatures of constituents in my riding.

The petitioners urge all levels of government to demonstrate their commitment to education and literacy by eliminating sales tax on reading materials. They ask Parliament to zero rate books, magazines and newspapers under GST. They ask Parliament and provincial governments to zero rate reading materials under the proposed harmonized sales tax.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions to present this morning. The first is from Mr. Bob Pollock of North Vancouver and 35 others. The petitioners mention that 52 per cent of the price of gasoline is composed of taxes and the Canadian Automobile Association reports that the federal excise tax on gasoline has already increased by 566 per cent over the last decade.

Therefore the petitioners request Parliament not to increase the federal excise tax on gasoline.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is from Joyce Mulligan of North Vancouver and 57 others.

In this petition these residents of Canada draw the attention of the House to the fact that 38 per cent of the national highway system is substandard, that Mexico and the United States are upgrading their national highway systems and that the national highway policy study identified job creation, economic development, national unity, saving lives and avoiding injuries, lower congestion, lower vehicle operating costs and better international competitiveness as benefits of the proposed national highway program.

The petitioners call on the federal government to join with provincial governments to make the national highway system upgrading possible.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, the last petition is from Margaret Wheeler of North Vancouver and 47 others.

The petitioners point out that approximately 52 per cent of the cost of a litre of gasoline is in the form of government taxes, that the excise tax on gasoline has risen by 566 per cent over the last decade, and they request that Parliament not increase the federal excise tax on gasoline in the next federal budget.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Osvaldo Nunez Bloc Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table a petition signed by 214 voters from my riding of Bourassa and from elsewhere in Quebec.

These people are asking Parliament to intervene to ensure that the provision of the Citizenship Act concerning the automatic granting of citizenship to any child born in Canada not be dropped. This petition is in response to the federal government's intention to amend the existing legislation.

In support of their request, the petitioners maintain that such an amendment will create stateless children. Canada would then be in the position of not respecting its international commitments in this regard. They therefore ask that the legislation be left as is.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions pursuant to Standing Order 36. The first one is from approximately 50 petitioners who point out that phase 2 of the national AIDS strategy will expire in March 1988.

The petitioners urge Parliament to ensure that a dedicated AIDS funding approach beyond that March 1988 deadline be put in place and to ensure that a sufficient AIDS strategy be continued by the government.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is presented by approximately 50 petitioners from east metro and metro Toronto and parts of southern Ontario.

The petitioners point out the previous and continuing involvement of the federal government in the area of disabilities for Canadians. They call upon Parliament to urge the government to continue to be responsible for disability issues and to ensure that all Canadians are treated equally.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

February 13th, 1997 / 10:15 a.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick

Liberal

Paul Zed LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the following questions will be answered today: Nos. 91 and 103.

Question No. 91-

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

What were the personnel costs of the Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill in 1995, and what costs were incurred by federal government departments or agencies, other than the National Capital Commission, in respect of the said show?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick

Liberal

Paul Zed LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

I am informed by the National Capital Commission and the Department of Public Works and Government Services as follows: The National Capital Commission, NCC, personnel costs for the 1995 Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill were $35,400.

In 1995, total expenditures in the amount of $103,407 were incurred by Public Works and Governments Services Canada, PWGSC, in respect to the NCC Sound and Light Show.

This was a one-time contribution, consisting primarily of a $100,000 payment to the NCC for the purchase by the NCC of a projector for the Sound and Light Show which was necessary for the adaptation of the show due to the restoration work being carried out on the Centre Block south facade.

An additional $3,407 was incurred for the design, supply and installation of new stainless steel lighting brackets on the north wall of the Peace Tower. The old brackets which were of ordinary steel were corroding and damaging the stone.

Personnel costs cannot be identified as this work, the replacement of lighting brackets, was included in the Peace Tower project.

PWGSC, as custodian of the Parliament Buildings, is responsible for assets occupied by tenants and is also responsible for grounds.

Other departments and agencies have no information on this subject.

Question No. 103-

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Kingsway, BC

With respect to applications for Canada pension plan disability benefits and considering the time presently required between the submission of an application and when benefits are received, or the application is definitely rejected, can the Minister of Human Resources Development indicate: ( a ) the mean time, ( b ) the median time and ( c ) the maximum time for each quintile of applicants and what measures are being taken to reduce these delays?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Papineau—Saint-Michel Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

As part of a major redesign of income security programs intended to streamline and modernize our delivery systems, the Canada pension plan, CPP, disability program was decentralized during 1996. This included the regionalization of

operations and brought decision making for CPP disability applications and reconsiderations closer to our clients throughout Canada.

Roll out of the regional functions occurred on a schedule from November 1995 to June 1996.

As a result, all applications for Canada pension plan disability benefits, except those for Quebec and Prince Edward Island, are received and processed in the regions.

From January to the end of December 1996, Canada pension plan reveived 79,778 applications for disability benefits.

It is a massive undertaking to move files, functions, technology and some staff from headquarters to 10 regions, and to train local personnel who will be performing new duties, all this while continuing to receive and process applications of the magnitude received by CPP on a daily basis. Delays are inevitable during a breaking-in period. We are in that period now.

This adjustment period and the loss of some economies of scale subsequent to decentralization and the underestimation of resources have resulted in backlogs in some regions in the adjudication of disability applications.

a) Presently, the average national time to process a disability application in the region is 59 working days. In some instances further information is required from medical specialists. These cases require additional time beyond the national average. The following reflects the time elapsed from receipt of the application to the time a decision to grant or deny benefits is made. By region, it is as follows:

Newfoundland: 41 Nova Scotia: 35 New Brunswick: 60 Ontario: 49 Manitoba/Saskatchewan: 43 Alberta: 68 British Columbia: 117

b, c) A major redesign of the systems supporting the Canada pension plan disability process is under way. When it is in place in 1998 it is expected that the average processing time for a disability application will drop to 30 days. This will also give us the means to gather, manipulate and analyse in a variety of sophisticated ways data regarding various aspects of our service delivery approaches.

Until then it is not possible to provide the response time in terms of the median time and the maximum time for each quintile of applicants.

Plans are under way to redirect as of March 1, 1997 some regional files to headquarters where the efforts of some 30 adjudication staff will be redirected from the reassessment program to the processing of regional disability applications. Decreasing the backlog in British Columbia as well as Ontario where the volumes are greatest will be the first priority.

All regions are presently implementing an action plan that will decrease response time to an acceptable level by the end of May 1997. This will include hiring and training additional staff, the use of overtime and further streamlining of work processes.

A national committee has been established to develop an improved method of forecasting resources required for the disability program.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Zed Liberal Fundy Royal, NB

I ask, Mr. Speaker, that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Reform

Jim Gouk Reform Kootenay West—Revelstoke, BC

moved:

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.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Stan Keyes Liberal Hamilton West, ON

Not required-optional.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Reform

Jim Gouk Reform Kootenay West—Revelstoke, BC

It is an option for Liberals. Only Reformers actually work in their constituencies.

"I really want your approval for this and I am willing to make some kind of a deal with you. What do you want?" I said:

"What I need is a statement from the committee that it is the wrong signal from the government to allow VIA Rail to get back into competition with the company it sold to the private sector and that it is sending that signal out at a time when you are counting in the private sector to bail you out". He agreed to that in writing. He then proceeded to hold the round table which is being used to override four months of testimony. Then they reneged on the written commitment that was made.

There is no honour on that side of the House. There is no honour in the Liberal Party. There is no reason for the private sector to trust the government as it now goes around saying: "Help us, we have made a mess of the national highway system and now we need you to bail us out". The private sector is capable of bailing out the Liberals, but it had better be awfully careful when it enters into a deal with the current Government of Canada, the Liberal Party.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Hamilton West Ontario

Liberal

Stan Keyes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I have just two points for the hon. member opposite who is a longstanding member of the transport committee, of which I have had the honour to be a part since my election in 1988.

The member should know that a committee of the House of Commons is the master of its own destiny. If the member could possibly understand, a committee makes its decisions to proceed in the best way possible in order to glean all the information it can to make the decisions at the end of the day.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Reform

Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

How can you keep a straight face?