Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to resume debate on the throne speech. I would like members to think about all the pussyfooting, and the comments made by our great journalists and editorial writers. They said the throne speech was supposed to be the Prime Minister's legacy after 40 years of political life. They were partly right. The Prime Minister did not deny it. He was proud of his throne speech. It is the legacy he wanted to leave to Canadians and Quebeckers.
Today, I will talk about the legacy the Prime Minister, “the little guy from Shawinigan”, left to Quebec in his 40 years of political life, a legacy that is not mentioned in the throne speech, but should have been. I will talk about Mirabel airport, the biggest mistake ever made by the federal government in Quebec.
During his 40 years in politics, the Prime Minister was a member of the Liberal cabinet for a number of years. Of the 37 years of the Mirabel Airport saga, the Liberals were in power for 26. The present Prime Minister was in one or another portfolio for most of those 26 years. He was one of the cabinet members making decisions and recommendations on Mirabel airport.
This, I should point out, is in my opinion the only true legacy the Prime Minister has left in Quebec. The white elephant of Mirabel is all too typical of him. Discussions on Mirabel began back in 1966 under Lester B. Pearson. It was a major decision. There was Expo 67 and all that. Paris and New York City were building second airports. Montreal was, of course, the air entry point for Canada at that time. It was said that Dorval would no longer be able to accommodate the demand after 1985. The decision was made therefore to build a new airport. This was a political choice made by the Liberal government of the day.
Discussions were held, and a variety of concepts proposed. Would it be built on the north shore or the south? Finally, on March 27, 1969, federal minister Paul Hellyer put an end to the suspense and announced the expropriation of 100,000 acres in the Sainte-Scolastique sector, which has now become the city of Mirabel. At the time, this was bigger than the city of Laval, 10 times larger than other major world airports and 27 times larger than Dorval. More than 3,000 property owners were expropriated or moved. It was often described as the greatest population displacement in the history of Quebec, the greatest population displacement since the deportation of the Acadians.
That same day, on the way to church, Jean Marchand promised that 100,000 jobs would be created in the Mirabel sector. It must be kept in mind, of course, that in 1969 Montreal was still the aviation port of entry into Canada. After much discussion, Mirabel Airport was inaugurated on October 4, 1975. The announcement was made by then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Everyone was of course delighted; there were 100,000 acres of land and predictions of major industrial development.
The development plan provided for completion of highways 15 and 50. A rapid train was to reach the airport. Once the work was completed there was going to be--and there still is--a place where trains would arrive. The work was done, in the sense that the airport terminal was built to accommodate trains. Plans were to go ahead and everybody was going to pitch in. The federal government was supposed to invest over $500 million plus another $300 million to complete highways 15 and 50. It was supposed to look after building the necessary infrastructure for the rapid train to arrive directly in the airport terminal.
This is not what happened. Over 25 years later, the reality is quite different. The Liberal government--I will remind members that the Liberals were in power for 26 of the 37 years the Mirabel saga lasted--was being pressured by the establishment, which is mostly controlled by Ontario. Toronto, just like English Canada, has never accepted that Montreal should remain the gateway to Canada for air travel.
What happened between 1975 when the airport was opened and 2002? We have witnessed a shift in air travel, and Toronto is now the gateway to Canada. This is what the Liberal Party establishment of the time wanted, with the support of the Montreal's West Island establishment, which has obviously never accepted that economic development might be exported outside of Montreal's West Island. That is what happened. That is not what history books will say, but it is the political reality. Those decisions were made by the cabinet of the time, of which the current Prime Minister was a member for most of the time the Liberal Party was in power.
Since the airport opened in 1975, there have been various developments, including the creation of ADM in 1996, when one independent airport administration was created to manage both Dorval and Mirabel airports. However, it is important to remember that on December 4, 1986, the federal government decided to keep both airports. Then there was the saga from 1975 to 1986, the period when Canada's gateway shifted from Montreal to Toronto. The Liberal government and representatives at that time, with the complicity of the Conservative government as well, took advantage of the situation, redistributing traffic and redirecting air traffic to Dorval.
So in the end, we have the situation that exists today, where Mirabel is but a shadow of its former self. As far as I am concerned, no matter how you read the Speech from the Throne, in English, in French, backwards or upside down, there is absolutely no mention of the development that could have been achieved with the whole Mirabel airport area.
This is an area that has experienced land grabs over the years. One hundred thousand acres of land were expropriated, and it soon became apparent that the federal Liberal government did not have the will to finish the project according to original plans. Land was returned to those who had been expropriated. In the end, more than 80,000 acres of the 100,000 that had been expropriated were returned.
Today, Mirabel airport covers some 5,000 acres. Another 11,000 acres are rented to the former owners or to new farmers. There is the potential for a further 16,000 acres to be developed, and this could very well have been mentioned in the Speech from the Throne.
While Mirabel has had an increase in job creation lately, it is not solely due to industries in the aviation and aerospace sectors like Bombardier. There is also Technicolor and other businesses that can benefit from moving to industrial parks near airports around the world.
The Government of Quebec decided to create the Mirabel international trade zone, to grant tax credits to attract businesses that would not have settled in Quebec, but that would nonetheless have set up shop near other airports around the world. These tax credits have led to the creation of 2,500 jobs since the international trade zone was created by the Parti Quebecois government.
The Speech from the Throne would have been a good opportunity for the federal government to correct the terrible mistake made with Mirabel, by giving the same tax credits in the international trade zone. The federal government could have done what the Quebec government did, and this would have given us a true duty free zone in Canada, not to compete with businesses in the rest of Canada, but with multinationals that open facilities close to airports all over the world. But we do not have such zones, whether it is in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal.
There is nothing in the throne speech to help those who were part of the largest displacement of people on Canadian ground since the deportation of the Acadians. Mirabel Airport is the largest tract of federal lands in Quebec. Stop dreaming and thinking that there are some in your region. The largest tract of federal lands is the 100,000 acres the federal government expropriated, and that is located in Quebec. Mirabel Airport was the largest federal property in Quebec.
Now, it has become a white elephant. The Château de l'aéroport, a federally-owned hotel, closed its doors in August 2002. When we travel along highway 50 and drive by Mirabel Airport—we are told that there will still be chartered flights until next spring—we see a hotel, which is closed and whichbelongs to the federal government. ADM, the authority that manages the airport, is not looking for new tenants and is actually suing the previous tenant.
This is a saga. ADM has already been ordered to pay $17 million to the former owner for loss of revenue, because ADM deliberately reduced the number of flights at the airport. Of course, this resulted in a reduction of the number of clients at the hotel. The court sided with the owner. ADM has decided to appeal the ruling.
In the meantime, this federal property, this hotel located alongside the highway, could still attract potential clients, and the owner wanted to discuss a resumption of operations, because there will still be chartered flights and potential clients, at least until spring. But nothing is happening, because ADM is not accountable to the public, and because the federal government, through the Minister of Transport and the Prime Minister, is taking cover behind this independent authority, which is accountable to no one, except itself.
Talk to all the journalists who are trying to reach ADM for whatever reason; it does not even return its calls.
This is a federal asset which is managed by an independent authority, and that suits the present federal government just fine. I would like to quote from a statement by the Prime Minister. I think this is the worst thing that could be disclosed today:
On February 9, 1996, Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister of Canada, said he will not be sorry when one of these airports closes down, if it seems that one of them is not needed.
He knew very well what was going on. His establishment was protecting Montreal's West Island and Mirabel Airport. So he will not be sorry when Mirabel Airport closes down next spring. He will have contributed to that. During the 40 years he has been a member of Parliament, the “little guy from Shawinigan” has been a minister. During the last 37 years of the Mirabel saga, he was a member of cabinet during most of the 26 years when the Liberal Party was in power. Obviously, he had his say in the decisions made, and he contributed to the fact that the gateway to Canada for air transportation was Montreal in 1966 and has been Toronto since 1985. The Liberal government had a major role to play in the transfer of the gateway from Montreal to Toronto.
It is a real tragedy. More than 500 million dollars was invested in Mirabel Airport and the infrastructure needed for its development has not been built yet. The best way to kill the project was to make an announcement and not follow through by completing highways 15 and 50 and building the infrastructure required for the high speed rail system to get to the terminal that has already been built for it. The train could arrive at the terminal, which exists, but the tracks have not been laid and the investments required to ensure that the train reaches the airport have never been made.
This is what is happening now; this is the dream that has been kept alive among the whole population of Quebec by the Liberal government, by the ministers, by the current Prime Minister among others. It is a dream that will end next spring. As far as I am concerned, Mirabel Airport could have been the legacy of the Prime Minister, “the little guy from Shawinigan”.
I hope that every time he drives by this airport, he will think about it, because he was directly involved, with his cabinet colleagues, including the member for LaSalle—Émard, in the decisions. This member's father was a member of cabinet, and he also had a say in the decisions to close Mirabel Airport and to transfer the Canadian airline gateway from Montreal to Toronto. This is what the Liberal government did.
Ontario is probably grateful for this. Still, there is a harsh reality: we are left with a $500 million plus facility that was left unfinished, and with Dorval Airport, one of the worst airports in the developed world.
My colleagues in the House of Commons should pop in to Dorval to check the condition of that airport. It is the worst in all industrialized countries, and attempts are being made to fix it. Since 1996, over $800 million was poured into Dorval Airport, and another $500 million—for a total in excess of $1 billion—will be required to bring this airport up to modern standards. Why? Because, to do a real good job, the airport should have been shut down for five years, completely torn down and rebuilt from scratch.
Instead, the old building is being renovated, but it dates back to the 1940s. This does nothing for development. The proof is in the figures: a small increase in air traffic; a large one in Toronto, but none in Montreal. All this because the Liberal government put an independent authority, namely ADM, in charge of managing the airports, following in the footsteps of the Conservatives.
Just today, I received a letter the Minister of Transport sent me at the end of September, saying “There is nothing we can do for the Château de l'aéroport, because ADM is in charge and we trust them. They are supposed to manage in the interests of the Government of Canada”. That is not true, ADM is not managing in the interests of the Government of Canada.
At present, ADM is trying as best it can to safe face. The chairman and members of the board are replaced every three years, again, in an attempt to force bad decisions on them. The bad decision was made by the Liberal Party, which was in office during 26 of the 37 years that the Mirabel saga has been going on. For most of this 26-year period, the current Prime Minister was an influential member of cabinet.
I see that there is nothing in the throne speech about de development of the airport at Mirabel. There is every indication that the statement made by the Prime Minister in 1996, when he said that it did not bother him to see an airport close down in Quebec, will translate into reality and actually be his monument, his legacy to the Quebec government: a white elephant, like himself.