Mr. Speaker, I certainly could never be as eloquent and as knowledgeable as the previous speaker, my colleague from the Okanagan, who has gone on at great length about the technicalities and the intricacies of this new technological world we live in.
I caught his point that technology is only applied to the new stuff that arrives. This is not new technology to young kids; this is how the world works. They have never seen a different world than the one we are in today. It is truly amazing to see how they have embraced the new technology as we call it, this electronic world, this wired world we are in.
We of the older generation have a hard time catching up and keeping up with the young folks. At the same time this government has a hard time keeping up with the changing world we live in. The changing world is a competitive world which is the thing this government still has not come to terms with.
Competition provides the best check and balance to any service. Competition in the private sector ensures that it does not matter what product or service you are selling, it ensures that you have the best quality and the best service at the best price. If you cannot do that, somebody else will come along, steal your market and you are gone.
However, the government is hanging on to the CRTC, the regulatory body that looks back to the rules that were created back in the seventies and says that the market has to be apportioned to this player, that player and the next player. It is not just the CRTC; we have seen it in so many other industries.
The opportunities of competition must be allowed. Bill C-57 is a small first step, and I emphasize small. What does Bill C-57 say in its entirety? It says that section 7 of the Bell Canada Act is repealed. That is it. That is the entire bill. One short simple sentence is the entire bill. Therefore, allow me to say that this a very very small step forward. However, we have to congratulate the government in that it is allowing a little bit of competition for Bell to enter into the competitive world. Surely it could have done a lot more thinking and had a lot more initiative to allow the electronic industry to get into the competitive world.
An example is telephone company in the province of Alberta, AGT, Alberta Government Telephones. It was owned by the Government of Alberta, regulated by the Government of Alberta. It had a monopoly. It was told how much it was allowed to charge. Of course, because it was a monopoly it was strictly on a cost-plus basis: this is how much it cost to operate the service, this is how much profit it made; divide that by the amount of subscribers which equalled the charges it would collect. That was the regulated system.
A few years ago Alberta Government Telephones when it was a department of the government had over 12,000 employees. Today we have competition in Alberta and AGT is providing better service today with half the number of employees. I wonder what happened to the other 6,000 whose jobs are no longer relevant because AGT now has to live in a competitive world.
Prices have come down dramatically. I mentioned service. Several years ago AGT sent a bill every month. If it was not paid, the service was cut off. That is simple. It was regulated and had a legal right to do that.
Last week I got a telephone call from AGT's successor, Telus. They phoned me not to say that my bill was overdue but to say: "Let me tell you about our latest offering on how we can save you money on your telephone bill. If you subscribe to this particular package of services, we feel that we can reduce your bill by about 35 per cent every month. The cost of overseas calls is going to drop dramatically. It does not matter what time of the day or night or what day of the week you call because the prices are coming down". Whereas before when it was regulated if someone wanted to call during business hours, nine to five Monday to Friday, they charged an arm and a leg. No sales, no discounts, nothing for high volume, nothing for customer service, nothing to respect the consumer, nothing to respect the person who is paying their salaries. The government allowed them to squeeze it out of the consumer.
Now when there is competition, they are phoning me to offer me a better deal because they know the competition may contact me and do something even better, so they have to be on their toes. I now have a choice. Choice is what ensures that we get value for our money.
Think of the airline industry some years ago when the airline industry was deregulated in the United States. It was said that the planes were going to fall out of the sky, prices were going to go sky high, and the airlines were going to gouge the consumer because with deregulation they could charge what they wanted. But prices dropped like a stone. And I am glad to say that last night I was reading the Economist on the airplane. There was an article on airline safety which said that safety has not been jeopardized in any way, shape or form because airlines have been deregulated.
We have the best of both worlds. Safety has not been compromised. Prices have come down dramatically. Service has been improved. The consumer gets a better deal because the government gets out of his hair.
That again is repeated all through many industries. We just saw the softwood lumber deal the Minister for International Trade struck with the United States. Now we are into the regulation of softwood lumber. Now every mill has its quota and can ship according to last year's shipments. They cannot go out there and say: "Boy, I can reduce my prices. I can do this more efficiently. I
can do a better job than my competitor. I can get some market share". No. Government regulations say they can ship what they shipped last year but they cannot ship any more. There is no incentive for competitive efficiencies.
As we enter into the technological world where competition worldwide is beating down our door, we must be able to respond with high tech research development and be the leader in the world. That is why I find that the responsibility of this government in the last few years we have been here is absolutely appalling.
A few weeks ago we had the mini series on television about the Avro Arrow and how in 1957 Canada was at the forefront of aeronautical technology.
We were at the forefront and the Prime Minister of the day said enough of that, we do not want to lead the world, and we scrapped the Avro Arrow.
The previous government had signed a $5 billion program to buy helicopters. Yes, I know it was expensive, but it was going to put Canada at the front of research and development, at the front of the technology frontier on helicopters in the world. Through that $5 billion investment we were going to be competitive in the high tech industries in the world. Then along came the Liberal government which said "enough of that, we would not want to have that". So we scrapped the $5 billion program at a cost of $700 million. We are going to get nothing for our $700 million other than some cancelled contracts; no research and development, no leading edge technology. Now we are buying some helicopters from abroad so that we lag behind rather than lead the rest of the world. This is a shameful record indeed.
The point I am trying to make is that government has to be accountable. Government has to set the playing field. A government must allow competitive forces to play the game otherwise we will never, ever be able to compete in this world. I can assure members that if we are to maintain our prosperity in this country, if we are to maintain our standard of living in this country we have to be at the leading of technological innovation.
When we look at the developing world it is learning very fast how to build build products on production lines and to send imports into this country that are cheaper and better in many cases than what we can produce. However, we have the advantage of education and if we use that advantage of education to develop our technology, to develop our research, to ensure we are at the forefront, we will have something to sell around the world. We will have something which will provide high paying jobs. We will have something which will give people exciting and challenging careers for the rest of their lives.
Those are the types of opportunities that we should be out there selling rather than an infrastructure program of jobs, jobs, jobs that failed miserably the last time around. These types of opportunities should be grasped, not just with a simple one line bill that states that Bell Canada can now compete in the television industry as well as the telephone industry.
I urge the government to take note that time is rapidly passing it by. The door of opportunity is closing fast. If we are to stay ahead of the world, to lead the world and maintain our standard of living, the high tech industry is something that we must embrace and we can embrace it only through competitive advantage. If we think that some bureaucratic regulator has the key and the knowledge in order to keep Canada at the forefront, this government is wrong. That is why we need to open the doors to more and more competition.