Mr. Speaker, we just had a quorum call to make sure there were sufficient members of parliament in their seats to allow the debate to continue. Let us face it, this is a very dark day for Cape Bretoners, a very dark day for democracy and a very dark day for parliament.
Once again, in spite of the fact that this legislation will profoundly impact on the lives of hundreds and hundreds of families in Cape Breton and will mean a difference in the futures of hundreds and hundreds of families in this hard-pressed part of Canada, the government has decided that it does not want to hear any more debate, that it has heard enough. The government has, some 60 times in this session, again muzzled the duly elected representatives of the people of Canada from 301 constituencies who will have no further chance to participate in this debate. The government is saying that it has the understanding, the knowledge and the comprehension to say that enough is enough and that it has heard enough.
The reality is that there are many people here who want to speak to this legislation. The fact that the government has said that it is not interested in allowing debate any longer is a dark day for this institution. I know you, Mr. Speaker, must also be very said. I know Canadians are sad. I know parliamentarians are sad, at least on this side of the House. At least in our party we are making an effort to keep the debate going. I know others are very sad. I can see their heads shaking. This is a bleak, black, dark, gloomy day for democracy and for the parliamentary system in our country.
It is also a dark and mysterious day for Cape Bretoners. This has to be one of the most mysterious debates when people are raising questions that logically do not make any sense. For example, the government has decided that selling Cape Breton coal for Nova Scotia to generate power does not make any sense. It has decided that it makes more sense to import coal from Columbia, from Venezuela, from foreign countries.
Imagine how the people of Cape Breton are going to feel when those ships roll up to those docks in Cape Breton to unload coal from Colombia. It has to be embarrassing. We are going to bring coal from Colombia to Cape Breton.
Guess whose ships are going to be hauling that coal. This has to be a sad day for political leadership in the country when we find that the shipping company of the Minister of Finance is going to be used to ship coal from Colombia to Cape Breton. As a matter of fact, it has been shipping coal for a long time. There are 33 ships shipping coal from Venezuela, the United States, Colombia and other foreign countries to provide fuel for the power plants for the people of Nova Scotia.
If that is not enough, in today's newspaper we find that the Minister of Finance is a little short of ships and has to build some new ones. Does he select Canada's shipyards to build ships? No. He goes to the low wage shipyards in China. That is where he is building his ships. The Minister of Finance is building his ships in low wage China, using Philippine labour, and the ships are flagged in Liberia or some place in the Caribbean. The Minister of Finance is supposed to be setting a model for economic behaviour. There is a lot of puzzling around this which we have to get to the bottom of in committee.
Who is going to buy this? I know that the workers who are going to lose their jobs wanted to make a deal so that they could essentially run the new company. They wanted to find ways of raising finances. The Government of Canada said “Hold it, that is not good enough. We want a foreign buyer”. It is part of the theme of Canada being up for sale.
This morning Statistics Canada revealed that takeovers by foreign companies have now reached breakneck pace. We are in passing gear. Our low currency and the big for sale signs all over the world mean that foreigners are coming here to buy and control our economy like they never have before.
What does the Minister of Industry say about it? He is happy. He is one happy camper. He says that he loves that foreigners are buying up our economy and he loves that foreigners are controlling our future. I can say that we in the New Democratic Party do not like the idea of foreigners controlling the destiny of this country's next generation.
It is time to take Canada back. The problem is we had a made in Canada solution and the government said that it was not interested. It would much rather have a mysterious foreign buyer come in to take over the operation. This does not make sense.
Those people who over the years fought for this country in wars, who fought and died for democracy, and those leaders of our country from coast to coast to coast who struggled to build up economic sovereignty must be turning in their graves right now. They cannot believe this is happening in our country. It is a sad commentary.
I have heard some of my Liberal colleagues, who have given rather embarrassing presentations today, say that the people of Cape Breton should be thankful for this handout. You have been to Cape Breton, Mr. Speaker, probably many times. Most of us have been there many times. As a matter of fact I was there recently. We will never meet a prouder group of Canadians who are prepared to work hard for their incomes. They are working hard.
Today we are talking about hundreds of people who go down into those pits underground. They go down into those dark, wet, dangerous pits day after day and make modest amounts of money to provide income for their families. They have been tossed on the coal heap. Some 1,500 families have been told “Sorry folks, we do not need you any longer”. We are not talking about 1,500 jobs. That is the obvious number of jobs. We are also talking about spin-off jobs, because for every miner who loses a job, a dentist, a teacher, a shoemaker and somebody else are losing their jobs. We are probably talking about 5,000 jobs.
Then the Prime Minister roared into Cape Breton and said “Listen, I know 5,000 of you have just lost your jobs or are in the process of losing your jobs. We have got a great idea. We are going to open up a call centre so that at least 400 of you can be telephone operators”. The government expects people to cheer for this. To be fair, it is nice to have some kind of an infill.
We are talking about men and women who work hard. For generations people have been going down in those coal mines working hard to provide for their families. The idea of sitting in a call centre with a phone headset on for minimum wage is not that attractive but that is the best we have. We have to deal with this in committee.
We heard others say that today. For goodness sake, we are the most connected country in the world. Our banks are overflowing with money. We have talented and trained individuals. This country has the best minds. If we cannot find a better way to provide for the people of Cape Breton than what is in this piece of legislation and what the government has announced, something is very wrong.
If we put the proper economic strategy in place, if we included the proper industrial strategy along with an economic strategy, if we established a business plan for Cape Breton, we could turn Cape Breton into the showcase of economic development in this country if the will was there.
They are talented, hardworking, well trained and educated people who are prepared to work hard. They are prepared to create something of hope for their children, but they need a government on their side, not a government that is prepared to toss them out the window. That is another reason we have to get this bill to committee and deal with it properly.
I was in Cape Breton with some of my colleagues from the New Democratic Party. We met with individuals, mining specialists and people who know the Devco operation inside out. They all said the same thing. The theme which was emerging from all of our deliberations in all of our meetings was the systematic program to demonstrate that Devco was uneconomical.
Today many people have shared with us their personal experiences, the way they were approaching the coal faces, the way they set up those strategies and so on. In other words there was a scenario to enable Devco to be financially inept and therefore something the government had to sell off. That is definitely not the case. We have to expose that.
What do we say to a group of people who say they know they are going to get some measly severance arrangement? As a matter of fact I heard a government member say that those people are going to get $8,000 a piece to retrain themselves. Where do people retrain for $8,000? Maybe for a call centre job to learn how to put on a headset properly.
Eight thousand dollars is a bit of an embarrassment. As my fiends from Bras d'Or—Cape Breton and Sydney—Victoria pointed out, all sorts of other government settlements have been much fairer in how the men and women involved were treated. Cape Bretoners get shortchanged. Cape Bretoners do not get a fair deal. The government says to Cape Bretoners that it is not interested in giving them the same kind of deal it gives everybody else. Why is this? Why does the government treat the people of Cape Breton in such a cavalier fashion?
There are lots of questions. We are up against closure today and not many more of us will have a chance to speak. Let us just hope and pray that when the bill gets to committee and witnesses come before the committee to explain some of these questions and provide new information that the government does not use its muscle in committee and close that debate off as well. That would be the darkest day.
Although the threat of closure is about to strangle us here in a few more minutes, we hope that when the bill goes to committee we will have a chance to debate it properly.