Mr. Speaker, I wish to address this evening the matter of the exhibition transportation service program that was eliminated by the current government just a few days ago.
At the outset, I should ensure people understand that these are comments that I am making on a personal level, not as a critic. This is a function I no longer exercise. However, I believed then and I still do believe that we are making a big mistake here.
In March of last year, the government announced that it would basically abolish the exhibition transportation service, a service that had been working since 1976 through the aegis of the Canadian Conservation Institute and serving well over 100 institutions: galleries, exhibition centres and museums, large and small, throughout the land. It was mostly useful to ensure that works of art and exhibitions of interest to Canadians could move from larger centres, sometimes national collections from the National Gallery of Canada, and be seen throughout the land in smaller places, whether it be in the Northwest Territories, Yukon or Prince Edward Island.
The program was designed to do that and it did that very well. However, in March of last year an announcement was made, and I will quote the government document, which I would be quite prepared to table, in which Jeanne Inch, CCI director general, said:
We regret shutting down this service, and in fact, examined every option to keep it going. Unfortunately, we had no choice. It is, as one of our clients said, the end of an era.
This is where I have a problem. On November 19, I asked for a briefing from departmental officials and I did receive it. During that briefing, I asked them if they had considered one particular option. It is an option that members would be quite familiar with. In the nineties, the Government of Canada at the time had wanted to reduce the size of its public service, and there was an example that worked very well in terms of another approach.
The example was at the National Capital Commission where the people who worked at the park at the time were offered the option of creating a corporation of their own, which became Lafleur de la Capitale. They were given, on a sole-source basis, a first contract of five years, after which it would have to be renewed on a competitive basis. I believe it was once and now the corporation is working around town. It is actually doing some work on the Hill. I do not believe it has the contract anymore but it is still a going concern.
I was told at the time by the officials at Heritage that they had not thought of that and that they had not considered it. On December 6, I believe, I asked a question in the House and I was given an answer that they were working on it.
When the minister came to the committee in December, I repeated the suggestion personally to her and her deputy minister. However, it has been confirmed to me by the people at the exhibition transportation service that this was never considered and never discussed with them. I think at some point we need to start asking what the intent really was.
Did the government really want to save this useful program, which costs, not in the hundreds of millions, not even in the tens of millions and not even in the millions? It costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and serviced well over 100 institutions in the country and yet to no avail. The government shut it down and that is a terrible loss for--