Madam Speaker, I rise to speak on Bill C-26, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act and to enact the VIA Rail Canada act. It was tabled in the House on February 25 at the same time as the document called, “Straight Ahead--A Vision for Transportation in Canada” was tabled.
The press release that came with the “Straight Ahead” package said:
This document provides the vision, the policy framework and principles that will guide the Government of Canada's decisions in the years ahead in key areas such as marketplace policies, strategic infrastructure investments and initiatives in support of the broader government agenda on competitive cities and healthy communities, climate change and innovation and skills.
Straight Ahead is the culmination of extensive consultations that began in June 2000 with the Minister's Millennium Conference on Transportation and continued with roundtable discussions across the country headed by the Minister of Transport. It includes responses to many of the recommendations of the Canada Transportation Act Review Panel and of the Independent Transition Observer on Airline Restructuring.
In initiating the second reading of Bill C-26 yesterday, the Minister of Transport told the House:
In our policy document, “Straight Ahead”, we talk of the culmination of an initiative that began in 2001 to review the transportation policy for the next 10 years and beyond. “Straight Ahead” proposes a vision to guide the continued development of a sustainable transportation system for the country. It also conveys the government's response to the 2001 report of the Canada Transportation Act review panel.
The amendments to the CTA that are introduced in this bill are an important step in moving the vision forward. “Straight Ahead”...
In the eyes of the minister, Bill C-26 is the implementation in part of the “Straight Ahead” document and that in turn is the government's response to the 2001 report of the Canada Transportation Act review panel. It is therefore helpful to have read the 2001 report of the Canada Transportation Act review panel.
On page 191 of that report, one finds a discussion of fuel taxes, something that is important in the country now, certainly with regard to the ongoing crisis in Iraq and the labour crisis that existed in Venezuela as well.
It is dealt with in the report on page 191 but the government does not deal with it here. The panel states:
Federal fuel taxes stand out as having no evident justification in the eyes of road users.
The Panel's proposal is that federal fuel taxes be recognized as part of the price paid for the use of road infrastructure.
The CTA review panel proposed that federal fuel taxes be recognized as part of the price paid for the use of road infrastructure. It recommended various ways that the federal fuel taxes could be used to fund Canada's highway infrastructure. Yet while the future actions section of the infrastructure chapter in “Straight Ahead” talks of making strategic investments in trade and passenger corridors, such as the national highway system, the talk is truly hollow when one looks at Bill C-26, or the recent federal budget.
It is important to understand the timing. We know the federal budget was tabled on February 18 and that prebudget consultations had been going on for months before that. We are also told that the “Straight Ahead” document is the culmination of extensive consultations that began in June 2000. If we assume that the Ministers of Finance and Transport are in contact with each other, it is a virtual certainty that the idea of dedicating a percentage of the federal fuel tax to building, maintaining and expanding our national highway infrastructure was discussed at some point around the cabinet table and lead up to the current budget.
Nonetheless, when the budget was tabled, it contained only an additional $300 million in annual funding for Canada's infrastructure, including highways and roadways. The $300 million seems like an impressive amount until we actually do the math. Statistics Canada estimates that there were 31,485,623 people living inside Canada in October 2002. This year the generous Liberals will spend a grand total of $9.53 per person next year on infrastructure and about two-thirds of that, or about $6.38 per person, will go into highways and roads.
While the government is spending some $6.38 per person on roads and highways next year, if gas stays around 85¢ per litre for Canadians, the Liberals will collect $4.8 billion in federal fuel taxes plus another $2.2 billion in GST on the gasoline and taxes as well. That is $7 billion this year, or roughly $222 for every man, woman and child in Canada.
Let me repeat those numbers so it sinks in on the Liberal side over there. The Liberals will collect roughly $222 in federal fuel taxes and GST on those taxes on fuel from every man, woman and child in Canada. At the same time, they will strategically invest, as is their code word, roughly $6.38 per person into roads and highways. If we wonder where the $215, the difference between the $222 they collected and the $6.38 they spend on roads, perhaps the statement contained on page 91 of the 2001 report of the Canada Transportation Act review panel will help us out. It states, “Federal fuel taxes stand out as having no evident jurisdiction in the eyes of road users”.
The biggest problem with the “Straight Ahead” document is that it proposes a vision to guide the continued development of a sustainable transportation system for the country without suggesting a funding formula for something as basic as roads. In my mind that is not a vision, it is fog.
To the extent that Bill C-26 is inspired by this “Straight Ahead” document, it is essentially empty rhetoric by the Minister of Transport.
I would like to turn my attention now to the specifics of Bill C-16. I have already dealt with what is absent, the commitment of highway funding, but now I would like to address what is in the bill.
Bill C-26 deals with two main themes: airlines and railways. In each case it is a mishmash of missed opportunities and dangerous initiatives.
On the aviation side, it is philosophically inconsistent. On one hand, we find several clauses arguing for a greater role for competition and market forces. Clause 3 recognizes that competition and market forces are the prime agents in providing viable and effective service in the air industry. That is a good start rhetorically, but then it starts to get confusing for those who read the bill.
In both clauses 18 and 24 we see the concept that under certain circumstances a non-Canadian company might offer domestic air service for “any period of time”. It is as though the minister is recognizing the idea that in certain situations foreign carriers might be seen as a last resort to spur competition. However at the very same time there is nothing in the bill that raises the limit on the number of shares of a Canadian carrier that a foreign airline might acquire. Thus the same type of problems that foiled the Onyx takeover of Air Canada remain and are part of the Liberal vision for the future of Canada's airline industry.
At the same time, Bill C-26 proposes a massive re-regulation of the domestic airline industry. For example, clause 11 gives the Minister of Transport new powers to review mergers even though the competition commissioner is already involved in the process. It also gives the Canadian Transportation Agency the power to ensure that merged corporation is “Canadian”. Right there, instead of one person examining the competitive implications of any proposed merger, we now have two. Bigger bureaucracy and slower service, that is the Liberal vision, and also having someone in the process who perhaps has no expertise whatsoever in the very issue that the minister may be dealing with.
We also see in clause 16 that it requires airlines to revise advertising to include all non-governmental fees and prices and to not advertise one-way tickets where a person needs to buy a round trip to get the exact price that is being advertised. However let us not forget that the Air Transport Association of Canada voluntarily agreed to this before Christmas, and that the sticking point is not the Canadian airlines industry but the need to get both Canadian and U.S. carriers to adopt similar advertising strategies for tickets on transborder routes. Clause 16 is essentially harmless but it is an attempt by the Liberals to take credit for something that the airline industry has already done voluntarily and has already done through the powers of market forces.
Clause 20 of the bill is just downright dangerous. It would give the Canadian Transportation Agency the power to review and even set airline fares in cases where there was not true competition on a route. The concept of having a government agency tell a private for profit company that it has to provide service between two points on terms and conditions that the government decides is simply frightening.
Clause 26 of the bill goes further, mandating that carriers accept domestic interlining code shares and permit access by their competitors to their frequent flyer programs. This type of policy is a real re-regulation and is driven by a genuine anti-competitive spirit on the Liberal side.
The Minister of Transport keeps telling the House about WestJet, Jetsgo, CanJet and Air Transat, but I can tell him that none of them in fact will want to be in Aeroplan, Air Canada's program, and none of them want to be forced to interline with anyone else.
If one looks at Ryanair, an Irish airline similar to WestJet, a low cost service provider, it actually states that it is a point to point airline and, therefore, does not offer and cannot facilitate the transfer of passengers or their baggage to other airlines. That is a management decision by a private sector company called Ryanair, and it makes it on its own.
Under Bill C-26 it could be illegal for Jetsco, CanJet, WestJet, Air Transat and Air Canada to adopt a similar policy.
If the government wants to regulate the airline industry, it should nationalize Air Canada, turn it into a crown corporation and abandon any pretext of private sector competition that it claims exists in Canada. Otherwise, it should truly respect that competition in the market forces is the prime agent of providing a viable and effective transportation service and do what it can to promote it, as a government.
One way it may start doing that is to have the people who book civil service travel make sure that airlines, beyond Air Canada, are considered from time to time as potential service providers. If the government truly wants to stimulate competition, it could start by buying airline tickets on some competitive fare basis rather than just going straight to Air Canada, as it consistently and persistently does.
Speaking of crown corporations, I want to turn my attention now to VIA Rail.
Yesterday in the House, on this very bill, Bill C-26, the Minister of Transport said “Unlike the majority of other crown corporations, VIA Rail did not have its own legislation”.
In order for us to understand the impact of that statement, one has to understand the different legal structures that the government uses to deliver various services.
The first is a line government department, such as Transport Canada, that used to manage airports and provide air traffic services. There was no crown corporation. The government department played a direct role in managing airports and air traffic services.
The second is a crown corporation, such as Canada Post, where the company can borrow with government backing and the government owns all the shares, names the directors and has full control.
The third is a private company, incorporated under the Canada Business Corporations Act, where the shares are traded on the stock exchange and the company follows free market rules, but the government owns a minority of the shares and names some of the directors. Petro-Canada is in this situation today and so is VIA Rail.
What the government wants to do in clause 67 of Bill C-26 is to take the private corporation known as VIA Rail and flip it over into a crown corporation.
It is important for us to understand what is happening here. VIA Rail, like Petro-Canada, is essentially operating as a private company right now. All the government needs to do to privatize it is to begin selling the company's shares on the stock market. Rather than doing this, the Liberals want to make VIA Rail a crown corporation, admitting, in effect, that it cannot compete without massive taxpayer subsidies. Let us not forget that this too is part of the Liberal vision for the future of rail travel in Canada.
Bill C-26 was sold as the implementation of a transportation blueprint, a blueprint that is not clear on competition in the airline sector, that proposes to make VIA Rail a crown corporation, and that is silent on the biggest transportation concern of western farmers who were rhetorically told that it would be in the bill. However, that concern of western farmers with regard to grain transportation, running rights and so on, is not in this whatsoever.
Therefore, rather than providing a real vision for Canada's transportation future, as the rhetoric of the package that was tabled by the finance minister says, the bill, which twins along with that, would not in fact accomplish that whatsoever.
I want to talk very briefly on another issue because of the reality of the situation in Iraq. Yesterday in his speech as well, the Minister of Transport talked about the issue of port security. I want to use an example of where I come from, in my riding of Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, which is half an hour or 45 minutes east of the city of Vancouver.
Prior to the Liberal government's reckless activities with regard to national security, Canada had the Canada ports police. The ports police in the City of Vancouver did a tremendous job and put tremendous effort forward in terms of securing our borders, helping with cargo freights, helping to stop people who basically sell people into indentured servitude in Canada in exchange for getting them here on rusty cargo ships.
Canada had a ports police that helped the police against those things and the ports police did an effective job. There was some debate on whether they were effective enough, large enough or it was cost effective.
However, the Liberal government, rather than addressing some of those concerns, rather than making some of the difficult decisions of raising the hood on the Canada ports police situation, looking at the engine and making sure that it was running properly, it decided to end the ports police.
Now we have a situation of drugs getting on shore in my riding in the City of Port Moody, which is part of the port of Vancouver that extends all the way from Delta in the south up to Indian Arm and Burrard Inlet in the north. It is a huge area for the port authorities to cover.
Since we have had the scrapping and elimination of the ports police, the City of Port Moody is now responsible for securing the port of Port Moody. It sounds good on paper but the problem is that the City of Port Moody and the Port Moody police do not own a boat. It is awfully hard to have drug interdiction, to stop smuggling into the cities and do an effective job of securing port security when the government turns over port security to the City of Port Moody and the Port Moody police and they do not own a boat in order to get those things done. The government offers nothing, no financing whatsoever, to help the City of Port Moody and other cities like it to combat smuggling.
The government brags about the fact that it is spending $172 million on port security but not a single dime of that federal Liberal money will go into my riding in the City of Port Moody to help it buy a boat in order to ensure security.
If the Liberal government took security seriously, it would re-establish the ports police, reorganize it so it was an effective mechanism to ensure that they could have an impact on drug interdiction and prevent the selling of human beings into indentured servitude, which is what is happening with the people smuggling on the west coast of British Columbia. They could establish a port security system that really works.
The scrapping of the ports police in the City of Vancouver was a tremendous mistake by the government, and there is nothing in Bill C-26 and nothing in the response to the realities of September 11, and nothing in the budget that we have been debating. There is nothing that takes real port security measures seriously.
The Liberals seem to think that the current infrastructure is fine. As long as some new technology is put in place and more money is put in place, this will work out all right. However, it will not be that way.
The City of Port Moody is hurting. It has had the keys to security turned over to it but it does not have a boat to put the keys in and get it started. Those kinds of examples are happening all over Canada, on the east coast, west coast, up and down the St. Lawrence where communities are being forced to take over the security responsibilities.
In closing let us not forget that the first responsibility of the government, above all else, is to secure citizens and make national security its top priority. It is Abraham Maslow's “hierarchy of needs”; the first thing is to protect citizens; second is to ensure their safety into the future with the basic provisions of life, and then build an economy on top of that.
The government's number one responsibility above all is to ensure the security of its citizens and yet it scrapped the ports police. The Liberal government's decision to scrap the ports police was a tremendous mistake and it has put a huge burden on the City of Port Moody, a burden that it should not have to bear. It is a disgrace that the government made that choice.