Mr. Speaker, there are so many erroneous assertions and false assumptions being made that I am pleased to rise in this debate.
I listened with amazement to the criticisms from my colleagues opposite. I believe this motion has it all wrong. When the facts are looked at, and I hope to put those facts rather succinctly in the next few minutes, I think I will have demonstrated that we do have a transportation policy which addresses the needs of Canadians from coast to coast. The government has demonstrated strong leadership in the transportation sector. As a result, perhaps even the Conservatives could rethink their motion and work with all of us tonight to defeat it when it comes to a vote.
The fact is the many reforms the government has put in place in the transportation sector since 1993 have followed a pattern and a philosophy that work today.
First of all, as the hon. member knows, we came into power in 1993 with a $41 billion annual deficit courtesy of the Mulroney Tories. We came here with no money having been spent on airports and infrastructure for nine years. While the Tories wantonly raised taxes to the highest levels in Canadian history, they never invested a nickel except some highway money in the transportation sector. We had to look at every single component.
We looked at airports. We had to get an investment of $8 billion or $9 billion into airports within a short period of time. How were we to do that? Transport Canada was taken out of the day to day management of the airports and local airport authorities were put in place. Those local airport authorities do not constitute privatization. We followed the Canadian model and the crown and the people of Canada still own the airports. They will be ours forever.
We have entered into 60 year management agreements with local airport authorities whose members come from the surrounding communities and understand their communities. I am speaking of people such as those the hon. member for Saint John knows who know all about the specific needs of her community. They are running the airport authority. They are coming forward with plans for new terminals and new infrastructure. This is working at the larger airports in the country. I grant that at smaller airports we have to keep an eye open especially given the airline restructuring. We have to keep an eye open to what has happened and we are monitoring the situation.
We are also looking at the larger airport authorities and reviewing all the leases. We want to see whether there are inequities. The Tories came into power and gave one deal to Vancouver, one deal to Calgary, one deal to Edmonton and another deal to Montreal. There was no consistency like all the other programs they put in place during those nine years. There was no consistency to the local airport authorities. We did some amending and we will be doing more.
When we came into power we brought in an airport policy which standardized the rules across the country. In this lease review we want to bring all of the airports under the ambit of the Canadian airport authority so there is transparency, accountability and a proper management regime which all Canadians can be proud of. A bill will be brought in later this year to effect these particular changes.
That is one example of where we took the lead. We have put the financing of these airports to the users, financed through charges, new rents and new revenues that come from the airports. That is much better than what Transport Canada was doing.
Let us look at the railways. There is the Canadian National Railways, an amalgam of bankrupt railways. To the credit of the Tories they came up with a good idea. It was either the government of Arthur Meighen or R.B. Bennett, one of those two shortlived Tory governments back in the nether part of the last century. They put the railways together under Canadian National Railways and the government invested heavily over the years. That railway was fat. It was inefficient. It was improperly managed. As a result we privatized Canadian National Railways and it has been a success story.
There are aspects of the Canadian National privatization which I am uncomfortable with but we cannot cry over spilled milk. We have to look at the success. The fact is it is a company that has pared down its labour force, opened new markets, forged new alliances in the United States and is truly becoming a North American railway and an institution of which we can be proud.
It wants to go even further with a consolidation with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation. That is a subject of controversy. The U.S. service transportation board has said it wants time to think about it. It has put a moratorium on such discussions, although CN is appealing it in the U.S. courts. CN knows and hon. members know that I have asked the transport committee to look at that merger to see if it is in the best interests of Canada. The fact is this was a bold move that worked.
Air Canada was privatized by the Tories. That party loves privatization. Some people say that maybe we should have commercialized it and kept the ownership but they privatized it and got rid of the whole thing. Not only did they privatize Air Canada in 1988, the year before, they deregulated the domestic airline system. Part of the problem we have had with Canadian airlines over the last 10 years is that the Tories truly mucked up. They privatized a national carrier which was heavily invested in by the state. At the same time they deregulated and put Air Canada at an incredible advantage to all those other private companies that were then consolidating.
Remember in the 1970s and the 1980s Canadian Pacific, EPA, Transair and PWA were making money and even Québecair made money. What happened was the Tories came along and deregulated it. They would deregulate their uncles, brothers, everybody just out of ideology. And they privatized at the same time. This created an incredible problem for them and for us. Quite frankly, we should have moved to effect the private sector reorganization of the airline industry earlier in our mandate but we had so much on our plate we could not do it. We did it last year and I think it has worked extremely well. I will come back to that a little later.
We also commercialized the air navigation services. We were the first country to do so. Other countries around the world are emulating us. This has caused a great reorganization and investment in new capital equipment for air navigation. Now Canada has the best air navigation system certainly in North America if not the world.
The poor U.S. cannot cope. It has an explosion of flights and passengers. The air navigation services in the United States are creaking under the strain. Hopefully this will not cause a safety problem. In Canada we took a bold move. We have new systems and new equipment coming in. We will continue to have the safest and the best air navigation system in the world.
We commercialized ferry operations. We commercialized the St. Lawrence Seaway. We deregulated the trucking industry. Forget about the reorganization, we liberalized the air market and recently the charter market.
Charters almost have the ability to operate both as charters and scheduled carriers. There are no stopoff provisions and prepayments have been waived. The charter companies have responded. How have they responded? They responded by putting in new orders for equipment: Canada 3000, four A319s; Royal Air, another 757; Air Transat, a new A330; and so on. The charters are responding and filling the void that needs to be filled.
The CTA, the Canada Transportation Act, was brought in in 1996. It has had some success, but there have been some criticisms. Those criticisms can be examined in the debate that will follow in the next year.
However, there is no denying that under the Canada Transportation Act, of all of the railway lines that are up for abandonment, 80% are still being operated by short line railways, operating under provincial charters, responding to local needs, such as the Essex Terminal Railway in Windsor, which is operating on small trackage, Omnitrax to Churchill, and RailTex. These railways are there, they are making money, they are providing a service and they have allowed CN and CP to concentrate on their core activities.
The Canada Transportation Act is up for review as of July 1. Very shortly I will be appointing prominent individuals to conduct that review. That review will be very important. If the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester does not think we have a transportation policy, this review will give him and his party the chance to say “Let's have a national transportation policy that we, the Tories, can live with”, because the whole act will be up for review. It will take one year. We can look at every single aspect of the act.
If members from the west are not happy about the abandonment of track, we can look at that. With regard to urban Canada, I am meeting with my friend from Vancouver Quadra this afternoon about the Arbutus Corridor, a freight line that goes to downtown Vancouver which should be saved for a link to the airport. CP wants to sell it for $100 million. Is it right that the railways have the latitude, unfettered, to get rid of these rail lines in urban corridors? That is a matter that we should be looking at in the CTA review.
Parallel to that the committee will be looking at the BN-CN merger to see whether it is in the best interest of public transportation policy.
Not only is there a transportation policy, not only has it worked, we now have a vehicle, the CTA review starting in July, where for the next year we will be able to embellish that policy and change it however hon. members would wish to improve the entire transportation system in the country.
All of the things we have done in the last seven years have contributed to the prosperity of Canada and have resulted in reduced transportation costs. In fact, if we had not brought in the reforms of the last seven years transportation costs would be $8 billion higher today.
Because of the intense competition brought about by deregulation and all of the changes, most of the gains, which amount to $8.1 billion, have been transferred to consumers and shippers in the form of lower prices. Because transportation is part of everything that we buy, import or export, these gains have contributed to making the Canadian economy more competitive and to improving the standard of living for all Canadians.
I am not supposed to talk about what goes on in cabinet, but we had a good briefing from my colleague, the Minister of Industry, about the various productivity in industrial sectors in the country. Do you know, Mr. Speaker, what the most productive sector was in the last seven years? It was transport. Do you know why it was transport? Because of the policies of this government. I am saying we got it right. We can refine some of our policies, we can deal with airport leases, and we can even look at the rents. We will do that because we are not dogmatic. We are flexible. We can build on all of these successes and improve the transportation policy.
I want to say a few words about my time in this portfolio. Let us look at the accomplishments: Bill C-9, the Canada Marine Act. Two of my predecessors worked on that bill. We were not able to get it through the Senate. We got that bill through the House with the co-operation of colleagues on either side and in the other place. That bill allowed the 18 biggest ports to be commercialized, which has been a success that is working well. Great ports like Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax are doing even better because of those reforms that we brought in, as well as all of the smaller ports across the country.
Secondly, there was the airline rationalization. I gave my views the other week at third reading of Bill C-26, but somebody from outer space could only come to the conclusion that the government did not do the right thing. We have taken the largest airline in the country, the second largest airline in the country, 41,000 employees, 350 aircraft, serving hundreds of destinations, and have merged them in an almost seamless fashion across the country, without a nickel from the taxpayer by way of subsidy or bailout, with no job losses, with no communities disturbed. In fact, Charlo and Miramichi have had their air services restored. No one has lost their air service.
Air Canada can compete with the biggest and the best in the world. That will be good for overseas pricing because it will take on British Airways, Alitalia and Cathay Pacific. Before the merger we had 55% of the transborder routes between Air Canada and Canadian Airlines, and now it will grow even higher. We have beaten the Americans at their own game. That has been done by Canadian air carriers and we will improve their ability to compete even further with the Americans.
I will grant that we have a problem in domestic competition. As I have said in the House before, we will not open up the skies and let the Yanks come in with their huge fleets. United Airlines has 1,100 planes. It wants to merge with U.S. Air, which has 500 planes. Mr. Speaker, do you know what they could do? I know they are part of the Air Canada lines, but let us take American Airlines and let us take Delta Airlines. They would come in here like vacuum cleaners. They would not be interested in serving Churchill. My NDP friend from Churchill, our colleague from Yukon and my friend from Saskatchewan would not be served. Those airlines would not want those smaller communities. They would want to gobble up all the big bucks between Toronto and Vancouver or Montreal and Calgary.
It is like the old argument to privatize the post office. Remember all those people, those flat earth people, who said we should privatize the post office. We know what would happen if we privatized the post office. All of the FedExes, the Purolators and the UPSs would have their trucks whipping around between Toronto and Montreal on Highway 401, and they would be charging a premium. Who would give mail service to Iqaluit, to Amherst, Nova Scotia, to Medicine Hat, to Churchill or to any of those small communities? The good old muggins, the Government of Canada, the taxpayers would have to do that. We would have to subsidize it. We will not let the U.S. carriers in because I believe and this government believes that Canadian entrepreneurs can do the job.
I read all of the editorials and columns by all of the so-called experts. I do not want to debate with them on every point, but what a pathetic lot. They say “We cannot compete. We let the Americans in. They are the only ones who can do it”. If that is where the Canadian journalistic elite is going today, this country is in sad shape. They have no faith in Canada and no faith in Canadian entrepreneurs. All they have to do is look at the charter airlines. Look at the WestJets. Look at the smaller carriers. Look at First Air, which is owned by aboriginal Canadians. These carriers make money. These are Canadian entrepreneurs and we will give them time to fill the slack and give us the competition. It is happening.
Ken Rowe from Halifax has six 737 aircraft, plus he has his feeders. He is starting on August 1 and he will take on Air Canada in Halifax. He will take them on in Toronto, in Montreal, in Ottawa and in Winnipeg. I say more power to him. He is from Nova Scotia, a great province with entrepreneurs. Why do we need Americans when we have people from Nova Scotia, western Canada and elsewhere to do these jobs?
Before I finish I want to say a little about VIA Rail. That is an accomplishment. All the cuts the Tories made cut the lifeblood out of the passenger rail system. For the first time a government said “No more. We are committed to passenger rail. We will give you the subsidy for 10 years. More than that, we will give you $401 million for capital expenditures”. It has not been done before in Canada. This is a seminal mark in our history. The Government of Canada is committed to passenger rail.
The hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester says we are just throwing good money after bad. He should tell that to his constituents because VIA Rail goes through his constituency. We just restored the tourist train up to Cape Breton and we want to do more. Is he going to tell the people of Nova Scotia that $400 million should not be spent because it is throwing good money after bad? I dare him to say that to his constituents.
My last point, before I get totally wound up, is on grain transportation. This was a tough file. As a guy coming from Toronto, I had doubts sometimes about whether we could get a deal. We consulted stakeholders. We had two of the finest minds in the country, Mr. Estey and Mr. Kroeger, who came forward with reports. We spoke with everyone: the railways, the grain companies and the producers. Not all producers are happy about it. Some are opposed.
We studied this to death. We had tough arguments in our own caucus. I talked to opposition members. We got a compromise which starts us on the path to true commercialization in grain transportation.
I apologize for the fact that it comes so late. I will come back at 12 o'clock, after I go back to cabinet and get authorization for the bill, and introduce it. I cannot believe that anyone in the House would want to delay the grain bill and stop $178 million from going into the pockets of Canadian producers.