Mr. Speaker, I wanted to take part in this debate on the Reform motion criticizing the Liberal government for its transportation policy, if we can call it that.
After listening to the remarks made by the Minister of Transport in this debate, I too wanted to say a word or two. I ventured a question to the minister, but I will come back to that later, because I was not satisfied with his attempted response. The people in my region who are interested in airports in the Eastern Townships will not be satisfied either.
I would like to raise two points. First, I would like to address airports, because, to listen to the minister, the Liberal government has resolved just about every problem there may have been in that area, when the reality is, to say the least, quite different, especially nowadays.
Just look at what is happening in airports, particularly in Montréal, where there is a real farce being played out; this is the only way this situation, which has jeopardized the future of airport operations in Montreal and has had a negative impact on all of Quebec, can be described.
Where has the Minister of Transport been doing during this time? What has the Liberal government been doing about the situation in Montreal, with people in the industry quarrelling over whether Mirabel or Dorval airport should be maintained? They ended up in court, where a judge made a questionable decision resulting in delays the magnitude of which we do not know but which, I repeat, could have untold negative consequences on the future of airports in Montreal.
What did the Minister of Transport do? He washed his hands of the whole thing. That is the policy of the Minister of Transport and the Liberal government on airports. At least, that is what it is in Montreal; they are washing their hands of it. So, I wonder how the minister can rise in this House and rave about the decisions that he and his predecessors made.
Let me give you another example of the kind of policy that this Liberal government boasts about. The minister's predecessor, who is now the defence minister, is known for his ability to casually destroy what is in place, as can be witnessed on a daily basis during question period and in light of the decisions he has made in every sector for which he has been responsible. We can see how the former transport minister, namely the current defence minister, did not care either about the real impact of his decisions on those concerned.
Let me give you a specific example which involves the Sherbrooke airport. You will remember that, a few years ago, this government decided to give up its responsibilities in the airport sector, particularly as regards regional and small airports. This decision was made primarily to dump the Liberal government's deficit on the provincial governments and on regional authorities. Not only did this government offload its responsibilities onto others, but it did not even bother to make sure the facilities which it wanted, and still wants, to get rid of, are in good enough shape to be used by those interested in taking them over. This is exactly what is happening with the Sherbrooke airport.
I raised the matter in the House. I questioned the former transport minister and the Secretary of State responsible for Regional Development on this issue, and we are still waiting for a decision that would ensure the runway is in reasonable shape before local authorities take over the Sherbrooke airport.
What are local authorities asking for? What is needed to repair this runway so that it is adequate? An amount of $1 million is necessary. Again, we have been waiting three years for a decision. This is the type of policy favoured by this government, which, as we have seen in other areas, simply offloads its responsibilities
onto the provinces, without looking at the real consequences of these decisions.
In the case of the Sherbrooke airport, I am convinced we will get a positive answer, because an election will soon be held. I am also convinced the Secretary of State responsible for Regional Development, who is the member for Outremont, will visit the regions in the coming weeks, probably right after what will certainly be a pre-election budget, to announce that the government will give a $1 million subsidy to repair the Sherbrooke airport's runway.
But why did the government wait for three and a half years to make this decision, considering that the stakeholders have had to wait all that time before proceeding with other improvements? Let the government make its decision.
This is what is being passed off as policy in the area of transportation. In the meantime, while they are refusing minimal assistance of $1 million for the Sherbrooke airport, they are going to spend millions of dollars on the Montreal fiasco in the hope of arriving at a logical, intelligent decision, not to mention the tens, even hundreds, of millions of dollars that the Pearson deal will cost.
We must not forget that, during the 1993 election campaign, the present Prime Minister, who was the challenger at the time, promised to cancel the contract the Conservatives had struck with their friends who had contributed to their campaign coffers and who wanted to take over Pearson and make huge profits.
The Prime Minister said: "I am telling you, if you go ahead with this deal, we will cancel it after the election". That is what they did, but how did they do it? They did it in such a way as to still be able to do everything the Conservatives would have liked to have done, which was to benefit their own friends.
The Pearson affair is still dragging on through the courts, and we are going to find ourselves footing a bill that will easily top hundreds of millions of dollars. Here again, I am sure we will not learn the results during the election campaign. We will have to wait, just as in the case of the events in Somalia, until after the election to really find out what went on.
In the meantime, the present Minister of Transport is telling us that one of the factors in his policy is to recognize that a large percentage of trade is towards the Asia-Pacific region, and that rail transportation in the direction of the Port of Vancouver must therefore be improved.
It is obvious that there has been unbelievable growth in the Asia-Pacific region. It is even more obvious that the Port of Vancouver is located in the Minister of Transport's home province. On the eve of an election, this is the kind of coincidence that can be helpful when meeting with future voters, those who will decide whether or not to renew his mandate; to go and tell them that all funds will be directed towards his province will probably be of help in an election campaign.
Members will also recall that the former Minister of Transport pulled a very similar stunt when he cut the Crow rate for rail transportation, literally throwing western farmers not just millions, but billions of dollars in compensation. The bill has been estimated at something like $3 billion, while an amount of only a few hundred millions of dollars has been mentioned for all of eastern Canada as compensation for ending the program of transportation subsidies. The double standard is obvious.
Meanwhile, what is going on with the railways in eastern Canada? It is obvious that improvement was called for. For years, we have seen CN, a public company, and CP-supposedly private one, listed on the stock exchange, but it thumbs its nose at its stockholders, or so I would say-both doing everything in their power to discredit shipping by rail.
How did they do so? They provided their customers with no service whatsoever, which eventually gave them the opportunity to say that the customers were abandoning shipping by rail in favour of shipping by road. Once that finding was made, there was only one decision that could be made, of course: to abandon a rail line.
I will give you the example of a situation that occurred in my riding. When I was told about it, I could hardly believe what I was hearing. I had to go there to find out for myself. A lumber business in Lac-Mégantic, Industries manufacturières Mégantic, is a major purchaser of American wood. Naturally, it used to used the railway connection with Maine to get its supplies.
When its carloads of lumber arrived in Lac-Mégantic, they were left at the rail yards and another work crew with an engine, working out of Sherbrooke, a hundred kilometres or more from Lac-Mégantic, had to come bringing other employees to pick up the car or cars that had been left there and take them to the company's yard, although this could very well have been done by the other train on its route. This was, supposedly, not possible because of the collective agreements involved.
When they had put up with this for years, with the enormous costs it entailed, the tremendous delays, it is not surprising that decision makers in the industry took another tack. Anyone would have done the same. When we see that a company is not capable of giving us the service we expect, we take our business elsewhere.
It is crystal clear that the sole purpose of this approach was to downgrade railway transportation. Finally, they got much what they wanted. Today the network is being dismantled. We should realize that it was our taxes, the taxes of everyone in this country which for years helped to finance the development of this railway network throughout Quebec. We should also realize that the global trend is not toward eliminating but increasing the use of railways
for the transportation of goods, since people have realized how expensive it is to keep trucks on the roads.
According to estimates by the Société d'assurance automobile du Québec, a single truck did as much damage to the road face as 24,000 or 28,000 cars. When we consider the hundreds and thousands of trucks on our highways, the cost is enormous.
Surprisingly, this is the responsibility of the provinces, so here in Ottawa, they could not care less how much it costs to maintain our highways, since they do not pay for road maintenance. If we really wanted a genuine transportation policy, I heard a Reform colleague put a question to the Minister of Transport about development of networks of SLR or short line railways, which will take the place of the companies I mentioned earlier, CN and CP.
When we consider that this government came to power three and a half years ago and is supposed to have a transportation policy, it is amazing that when the following question is put to the Minister of Transport at the end of this government's mandate, "how will your SRL policy work", the minister cannot give us an intelligent answer. This is proof positive that they do not have a transportation policy. What will be the consequences of this appalling lack of vision?
Today, old branch lines are being abandoned, I see this in my own region, and my Bloc colleagues have seen this as well. Hundreds of kilometres of tracks are being abandoned without any indication of being salvaged for further use. Meanwhile, our highway system will deteriorate even more.
When, 10, 15 or 20 years from now, we have to decide to rebuild our railway network because we realize it makes no sense at all to leave trucks on the road and that we should use our railway lines to better advantage, we will have to spend millions and even billions of dollars to correct a situation this government has allowed to deteriorate.