Mr. Speaker, I know that the opposition side, now dressed as government, is waiting to hear this speech with bated breath, most of it after much libation has passed through the lips.
Without casting too many aspersions on this, one has to be in control of one's senses when one listens to some of the rhetoric of the government side. I wondered why those members would not take just a moment to say that they have a responsibility as parliamentarians to come forward with legislation that is good for all Canadians. It was there and we are going to try to implement it, they could say, even though for partisan reasons they said no in the past. They said they were not going to support Bill C-44.
But in a stroke of blinding light, of genius, let us divide it up, those members said. They came to this side and asked for our support. We said why not, it is in our collective interest to ensure that legislation that helps Canadians is put forward.
I am not going to reread into the record that which the parliamentary secretary has thought useful for his party's business to talk about what is in the bill. I gave an indication earlier on that there are several things that are important about this bill and that attracted a positive reaction from us.
One of them, of course, is in regard to railway lines that are no longer used, that are declared underused by the railway companies, in that commuter agencies in the various centres through which they pass would have access to them for the purposes of developing appropriate commuter traffic. This would allow us as governments, whether it is this Parliament or the provincial legislatures or the municipalities, to develop a transportation policy for commuters in order to address the environmental, economic, transportation and consumer issues that are evident for everyone.
To do that, we have to put an infrastructure in place that would allow the minister to play a proactive role. That is what Bill C-44 intended to do. The government opposite fought that with every breath it could muster. Today the Conservatives want to put themselves in the clothes of shining bright knights who would accomplish the solutions that would satisfy all Canadians' aspirations and needs.
The truth is the opposite. The government has been asking for and receiving the support of the opposition parties. I see my colleague from the Bloc way down at the end to my left--I can say he is here, I do not have to say he is not here, as that would be for those people--and he has been patient. He has offered the same kind of support that we have offered, because in this instance, at least, he too is thinking about the commonweal.
While we have been doing this, we have watched as the Minister of Transport has ignored the larger implications that were resident in Bill C-44. The underlying principles are as follows: do what is good for the economy of the country, do what is important for the infrastructure and transportation policies of this country, and take into consideration the economic impacts of transportation policies, especially, in this instance, on rail traffic.
What did the government do? We found the minister preferred to do nothing with the cooperation the opposition parties have been offering. So what happened? With Canadian National Railway, he allowed a work stoppage, a strike, to go on for ever so long. I am sure my colleague down at the other end has received the same kinds of submissions that I have from all interested parties and communities across Canada. Whether they were in the lumber industry, the mining industry, the wheat, grain and oilseeds industries, the commercial products industries or even, as we now know, the petrochemical and gasoline industries, we had no movement of goods.
There was no movement of goods while the minister's parliamentary secretary and his government stood and said, “Oh my. Aren't we wonderful? We're just like Jack Horner sitting in a corner. We're just marvellous people”.
Meanwhile, there are communities everywhere around the country, especially those one-industry towns, those in northern Ontario, northern Quebec and northern British Columbia, to name just three places, that are completely, totally and undeniably dependent on rail traffic to get their goods to market, to keep the mills open and to keep the mines going. All them were crying for some intervention while two unions, local and international, with CN, played with the economic life of all Canadians and the minister sat there and did nothing.
That government did nothing and then turned around and told us that it was doing all kinds of great things. Look at us, said the Conservatives, we have been here for 13 months and look at all that we have accomplished.
We have asked for the cooperation of the opposition parties, they said, and look at what we in the opposition did: we gave it. We split up a bill, Bill C-44. One aspect of that has been passed. A second one is here before us today. There is a third one down the road. We have been trying to move this along really quickly.
The debate on this should have finished last week, but no, we had the minister for hot air insulting one of my colleagues, the member for Mississauga South, I think, who was here a moment ago. He is moving around the table now. Instead of carrying on with discussions of substance, that minister for hot air wanted to engage in discussions of disruption, and so the bill goes on a little while longer. Instead of capitalizing on the opportunities to build on the cooperative spirit that was here in the House, on this side of the House, with respect to transportation, particularly with this bill and particularly with movement of traffic around the country, while communities everywhere were crying for our help, he did nothing. The Conservatives did nothing. Not only did they dither, but they did nothing.
Let us look at the ports, for example. The ports in the lower mainland in British Columbia were crying for some sort of intervention. No, I am sorry, that would have been too much to ask for. They were looking for some kind of attention and interest on the part of the Minister of Transport to get some things moving. They had to lay off all the personnel, or portions thereof, at the ports. They had boats sitting out in the harbour; others still more. Trains were backed up. Wheat, lumber and minerals were being held up out in the west. Markets out in the Orient and in the States were looking for some kind of product and some kind of interest on the part of the Government of Canada to get that product going. There was nothing.
The Minister of Transport said:
My name is Pontius. I wash my hands.
It was a labour issue, he said.
The Minister of Labour came before our colleagues and asked us if would we help him out and support back to work legislation if it became a real labour issue. We said of course we would do that, but we asked why the government did not get the infrastructure in place. We asked why the government did not do the minimum that is required of all of us, which is to show interest. It is not a question of partisanship.
So now what we have in southern Ontario, for example, in parts of Quebec, and in fact almost everywhere in the country but particularly in southern Ontario, is a huge shortage of gasoline, because some of it has not been able to get to the market. Yes, there have been other interests as well, and there have been other incidents, but the product could not get to market, and there has been an increase in the price, diminishing our ability to be productive and competitive and obviously bringing all things to a standstill.
I am sure that the minister for hot air on the other side will immediately say let me see now, has there been a diminution in the emissions of greenhouse gases? Yes, that must be so in part, because there is a voluntary participation by all of those drivers who could not get their gasoline and so walked to work in the middle of winter. Great.
I guess I am reduced to a little bit of sarcasm because I sat there, watched, waited and in fact offered all the cooperation that this side of the House could offer the government to say, “Get this done”. But those members were of course interested in heckling, as they are not out of the opposition mentality. They were chuckling, laughing and being as disruptive as they could.
Could we imagine that on this side? No, it would not happen.
I know you will be shocked at this, Mr. Speaker, but there is a member of the transportation committee who comes from the riding of Essex, which is a focal point for all of the manufacturing trade in southern Ontario. The trade goes through that riding into Detroit and on to the other side of the border. Of about $2 billion worth of trade, about two-thirds of it goes through that area. What happens? Instead of being able to deal with his own party in government to get the trains back on track, he has to be fighting his own party.
Competition in parties is a fact of life that we deal with. One always has to worry about whether the enemy is on that side of the House or on this side of the House, but there we had a ridiculous situation. I am looking at a CanWest news story dated February 22 about how the member had to worry about “murder threats” from his own riding executive. There are all kinds of soap operas going on within that party. No wonder those members cannot address the issues of the country. They are too busy trying to take each other out.