Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and I would like to commend the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for this initiative. This bill is very important because it will help protect and improve passenger transportation in Canada. Canadians deserve a suitable, safe and efficient passenger train service, and this bill is the way to fill that need.
Before I forget, I have to say something about the hon. member for Ottawa South. He said that this was a way for the Conservatives to privatize Via Rail and that this was where they were going. I agree with that. That is what all their cuts to Via Rail are leading to. Nonetheless, the Liberals have no lessons to give on this, when they are the ones who privatized CN, a crown corporation. That is where it all started. When they privatized CN they also gave CN priority rights to the tracks.
Take the example of the train that runs between Halifax and Montreal, known as the Ocean. It is an important train for passengers. Our ancestors worked hard to build the railways. At the time, the idea was to develop our country and, at the same time, to provide passenger service for Canadians. I do not believe that our ancestors wondered whether they were going to make money with freight or passenger trains. That is not what they were concerned with. They wanted to give Canadians a service allowing them to travel from one end of the country to the other.
I will just give a small example of what is happening in my area, between Halifax and Montreal. Is it acceptable for the train that leaves Moncton at 3 p.m. to arrive in Bathurst at 8 p.m.? It takes about two hours to travel from Bathurst to Moncton by car. It takes five hours by train. Who wants to ride on a train travelling at 50 kilometres an hour? As everyone knows, there are no freight trains between Miramichi and Bathurst, and the speed limit is 50 kilometres an hour. If you travel by train often enough, you can watch the deer overtake it. Perhaps we could use it to go hunting. The current VIA Rail schedule is really ridiculous.
The government has a responsibility because it is not a private company. It is a crown corporation. I heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport tell us that the government should not intervene. It is as though he was saying that the company is already privatized. He is saying that the government does not want to pass legislation to bother VIA Rail. That is ridiculous.
I would like to thank the NDP members from Nova Scotia and Quebec, as well as my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, who worked very hard with us to secure the railway between Miramichi and Bathurst. If we had lost this railway, we would have lost VIA Rail between Halifax and Montreal.
We have to try to make them understand that if you take all the people on the Acadian peninsula and in the Gaspé, from Rogersville, Miramichi, Bathurst, Campbellton and Amqui, to Rivière-du-Loup and Rimouski, there are about 300,000 people. The government was eliminating that service. They kept saying:
It is arm's length from the government. We are not allowed to get involved.
It is funny that the $10 million was given by VIA Rail, but it was the minister who came to Fredericton to announce it. The member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe is the one who presented it and then the minister was thanked by the member for Miramichi. The entire Conservative family took credit for a crown corporation that they want to keep at arm's length.
The last person to speak was the president of VIA Rail, who practically thanked the minister for giving him the money. The train is important to us since it has always served the people back home without a car who have to go see a specialist in Moncton, Halifax or Montreal.
However, things changed two years ago when VIA Rail decided to reduce the number of trips to three days a week. Before, a person could leave Bathurst at 8 p.m., arrive in Montreal at 8 a.m. and see a specialist at one or two in the afternoon. Then, at 6:30 p.m., they could board the train back to Bathurst without having to pay for a hotel room in Montreal. This was done in one trip. It is inevitable that there are now fewer passengers on the train.
On Monday morning, because of the storm, I took the Bathurst train. The train left Bathurst at 5:30 a.m. Bathurst is an hour's drive from Campbellton. We got to Campbellton around 7 a.m. and had to stop to fill up with diesel. We were not able to go on until 11 a.m. There was a snowstorm, so I am not blaming VIA Rail, but would that be acceptable in France or the United States?
The bill introduced by my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine would give passenger trains priority on the tracks, but the Conservatives seem to think that is some kind of sin and believe that passengers should have the right of way to travel.
When I travelled to France and other places, I found that the passenger trains were given priority and that they were full. As a result, there are fewer cars on the road, which is better for the environment. That is not the case here. Not only are passenger trains not given priority, but the government does not care about them at all. The government is taking funding away from VIA Rail, saying that the company should be able to support itself and even make a profit.
That is not the vision that our forebears had for VIA Rail when they put trains on the tracks. They wanted to provide a service to all Canadian taxpayers. The politicians at that time were not thinking about taking money from taxpayers. Quebeckers and Canadians want this service. They do not mind contributing to a railway that runs from one end of the country to the other. It is shameful that the government is not supporting VIA Rail's projects. I am proud that the NDP members are saying that they will support VIA Rail.
The least they could do is vote to ensure that this bill can be studied in committee, where they can find a way to refocus VIA Rail's vision on providing services to Canadians. I am proud of the fight we led to maintain VIA Rail service between Halifax and Montreal. In Bathurst, Rogersville, Halifax, Campbellton and Miramichi, people spoke up to say that they wanted VIA Rail and passenger rail service. The government cannot ignore that. Let us hope that the government does not follow the example of the Liberals, who were champions of privatizing our crown corporations. As a result, we have now lost them all.
I sincerely hope that this bill passes at second reading and that it goes to committee so that we can hear from experts.
If the Conservatives cannot support it, it is because in their minds, this is just like Canada Post; they want to privatize all of our crown corporations. That is not the Canada I want to live in.