Madam Speaker, back to the matter at hand.
Bill C-44 provides ports with federal agency status, allowing them to continue paying municipalities grants in lieu of property taxes after becoming independent port authorities. The result of this is stable taxation for ports that may suffer a difficult adjustment period as unsubsidized entities. However, harbour commissions which were paying no fees, grants or taxes before the passage of Bill C-44 will overnight be forced to pay grants to municipalities at the same rate as existing ports.
Reform put forward an amendment that would have allowed harbour commissions a five-year tax phase-in period as a financial buffer similar to that provided to the ports. The government shot down this proposal despite the fact that the parliamentary secretary is from the Hamilton area.
Bill C-44 stipulates that in determining the membership of a port authority's board of directors, one director shall be directly appointed by concerned municipalities, one by the province and one by the federal government, with the balance to be appointed by Ottawa in consultation with port users.
The minister has stated his intention to appoint user representatives from a list of candidates provided by those users. However, and this is subject to interpretation, but technically Bill C-44 does not oblige him to do so.
Reform simply wishes to ensure that the minister eliminates the possibility of undue patronage by agreeing to place in the bill, on paper, in writing what he has already stated before the transport committee which is his support for the list concept as advocated by user groups.
Bill C-44 in its current form does not provide for a dispute settlement mechanism for shipper fee charges similar to that contained in Bill C-101 or Bill C-14. Reform would like to see such a mechanism included in the final version of Bill C-44.
I have evaluated all the aspects of this 90-page bill. If there is a dispute it will be very difficult for somebody to come up with a resolution. Things could be tied up in the courts for a very long time.
On behalf of our transport critic who is in his constituency today, I have agreed to submit some of his personal comments and opinions on the bill, which of course I share as a Reform Party member. He tells a little bit of a different story than the parliamentary secretary to the transport minister told in his third reading intervention. The hon. member indicated that he really appreciated how so many people had spent two years and much work was done by many people to provide basically what he called a member's bill. We all know the dangers of writing laws by committee and allowing everybody to have a say on every bill. I am concerned that perhaps when there are some disputes it may not be as effective as it should be in solving those disputes.
Our transport critic believes that Bill C-44 is essentially good legislation. It has the general support of all affected groups in the transportation industry. When the bill was sent to the Standing Committee on Transport it was not with the intention of deciding if it was acceptable or should be rejected. The intention was to listen to those involved, that is, witnesses from the marine sector. These included port authorities, shippers, port tenants, municipal and provincial officials and others affected by this legislation.
In preparation for these hearings, the Department of Transport was to prepare a briefing book which would explain the impact and rationale of the legislation. Although the bill was sent to the committee before the spring recess in 1996, no briefing manual was provided over the entire duration of the summer. On return to Parliament that fall our transport critic asked what the delay was and when the document would be supplied. We were told that the briefing document was completed and had been sent out to all members, including the Reform transport critic. Obviously it had not. Only after several complaints to the committee was the document in question finally delivered.
The committee then proceeded with hearings across Canada and in Ottawa. As a result of the testimony of witnesses, many amendments were offered by all parties who are members of the committee. Some were passed, some were withdrawn and some were rejected. Among those which were withdrawn were four government amendments that were supportable in the opinion of our transport critic. They dealt with changes to the Pilotage Act which would have permitted lower costs for Canadian operators in the St. Lawrence seaway.
The Bloc Quebecois, for purely political purposes, staged a filibuster at committee to force the government to withdraw these amendments. The government did back down and withdrew four amendments which were designed to aid the control of cost of shipping in the St. Lawrence. The government members of the committee rationalized this as necessary to move the bill along quickly and suggested they would be able to reintroduce them at report stage.
The first part of their rationalization soon disappeared when the bill completed clause by clause examination and passed from the committee.
Over four months have gone by without the government bringing the bill to the House. What was the rush? Was it nothing more than a ploy to allow the Liberals to claim they had attempted to bring those amendments in but were unable to do so because of the opposition parties?
The second part of the government's rationalization also disappeared when it did not reintroduce its amendments at report stage in the House. In doing so the government was once again deceitful in its tactics. Reform was awaiting the submission of government report stage amendments to confirm that it was in fact reintroducing the four amendments dropped at committee in support of Bloc Quebecois tactics. We were told that the amendments were printed and that a copy had been sent to us. It had not been.
We complained and apologies were offered. We were told that a copy would be sent immediately. It was not. It was only when the Reform transport critic sought out the information from a bureaucrat that a copy was finally delivered on the afternoon of April 7. Lo and behold there were no amendments from the government.
As the hour was late and we had expected the government to bring Bill C-44 to the House on April 9, we had to scramble to table the missing amendments. It was not until the next day that we discovered that three of them had been tabled not by the government but by a government member acting on his own. It is nice to see there is some integrity left in its caucus, even if it only one or two members.
There were other controversial amendments. These were the amendments made by Reform in response to the testimony heard before the committee and in an effort to do exactly what the committee's intention was supposed to be: make the bill better.
One of the amendments involved the policing of the ports. Ports operating under the umbrella of the Canadian Ports Authority were policed by the Canada Ports Corporation Police. The bill will bring an end to the existence of the Canada Ports Corporation and none too soon. It was an absolute waste of money. However, with the end of the Canada Ports Corporation also came the end of the Canada ports police.
In typical Liberal fashion the government and government members on the committee gave no thought to the ramifications of the removal of the ports police. "Let the municipalities look after it" was their cry in committee.
Various cities and municipalities should look after basic policing, but the taxpayers of those communities should not be stuck with taxes for any additional policing that the ports may require.
The Reform amendment did not tie the hands of the government. It did not place any extraordinary costs on the ports. It had the support of most of the interveners who came before the committee.
In addition to the testimony heard at committee, the Reform transport critic met separately with members of various councils. Their position was that if they had to look after policing they were prepared to do so as long as they did not have to impose costs on the taxpayers of their communities for extraordinary policing requirements. That is what the Reform motion was all about.
It was a very simple and straightforward amendment but it was turned down by the Liberal majority. It would be bad enough if the government simply disagreed with the Reform amendment. As it turned out it would appear the government agreed but simply did not want it on record that it was Reform that recognized and corrected this deficiency in the bill.
For four months the bill sat with no action while the government tried to resolve the problems in other ways. In the end it did but it ended up doing exactly what the Reform motion would have done without all the costs and delays we have been subjected to by the Liberal government.
Another amendment that was treated in the same way involved the payment of municipal taxes by ports. At the current time ports under the Canada Ports Corporation pay full grants in lieu of taxes. Ports operating under the Harbour Commissions Act were not required to pay local taxes. However many negotiated some form of payment for services to local government.
The new legislation will establish many of the ports previously operating under the Harbour Commissions Act as Canadian port authorities. As such they will be required to pay full grants in lieu of taxes. The Reform Party has no problem with the payment of these taxes but there should be a phasing in period.
The Reform amendment provided for a five-year phasing in period. Ports which were already paying full grants in lieu of taxes would continue to do so. Ports which were not required to pay these grants would pay no less than what they have already been paying. No city or municipality would have received less than they had already been getting.
At the same time the phasing in period would have allowed time for the ports to prepare for the previously unbudgeted impact of these payments. The Liberals rejected this sensible amendment out of hand.
Once again it appears the government actually agreed with Reform but did not want to admit that it was Reform that had
identified and corrected this deficiency in the bill. Through closed door negotiations the government went about trying to do exactly what the Reform motion would have achieved so that it could take credit for correcting a mistake of its own making. This time it failed. As a result many small ports which will become Canadian port authorities under the legislation will be placed in financial risk. What a way to start a new program.
One amendment the government brought in that should be commented on is the one to continue the current status of Hamilton as a harbour commission. This was done for purely partisan political purposes by Liberal members from Hamilton. It is a betrayal of the committee's and the government's commitment to Hamilton Harbour Commission tenants and shippers. It is simply one more example of how the government looks after itself, no matter the cost to Canadian taxpayers.
There is some good in the bill. In fact there is quite a bit of good in it. However the objective of the committee, which was to examine the bill and with the input of concerned parties make it as good as possible, has not been met. The issues were clear. The solutions were clear but the Liberal government has failed miserably. It has failed not because of marine philosophy but because of political gamesmanship. It should not take pride in whatever accomplishments the bill might present. It should be ashamed of failing to provide what it could have been.
I did not sit in on the committee hearings, but our transport critic shared his information with me and has asked me to make an intervention on his behalf. When people are asked for input to help design a bill by consensus and by using the best ideas, why would members of the standing committee wish to play partisan games? Why ignore the ports police and put them out of work? Why ignore a period of adjustment? Often government members say that a phase in period is needed yet they did not allow one here.
Some of them were common sense amendments and common sense suggestions but the government refused to take them. As a member of Parliament I sat here last night voting on the 125 amendments to the bill. Could there not have been an initial draft by a cabinet minister and the Department of Transport for which I have a lot of respect? The department has done one heck of a good job during the 3.5 years of Liberal government. I will give it full marks for how it has run things. In this one area it came up with a marines port bill. Could there not have been a rough draft rather than 125 amendments? We sat here last night voting on 65 different votes on the 125 amendments.