Mr. Charles H. Thomas (Moncton):
Mr. Speaker, I spoke in the debate when this bill was before the House for second reading on April 13. At that time I referred to the bill as an exercise in futility and an affront to this parliament. Nothing that has transpired since that time has altered my opinion of the bill. In fact, events since that date have served to buttress my opinion and reaffirm my conviction that this government, as it does from time with the CNR financing bill, is again playing games with this House.
This bill is a ridiculous exercise. I hesitated to speak on it again because I have spoken so often on similar bills over the past five years that I am beginning to wonder if there is any way of getting through to this government. I thought I would try once more to convince the government they should at least heed some of the advice of their own cabinet ministers who have said over and over again that this is a bad form of legislation, that there is no proper control over the financing of these two corporations and a new method of financing should be introduced. The hon. member for Central Nova (Mr. MacKay) read some statements by previous Ministers of Transport and the present Minister of Transport (Mr. Marchand) promising that legislation would be forthcoming to provide financing for these two Crown corporations in such a way that parliament would have some control over their spending, which in aggregate has been hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
This is a good time to look at the history of these financing bills. I say that because whether we agree wholeheartedly with the principle of the amendments, it is simply to bring before this House the fact that CN and Air Canada have grown beyond parliament. They have gone beyond the priorities that were set for them when they were formed many years ago. They have certainly gone beyond the priorities established for them in the National
Canadian National Railways and Air Canada Transportation Act. It is time to examine what has happened since Bill C-164 was introduced to determine to what extent parliament is being bypassed by CNR and Air Canada.
Members on both sides have heard the comments made in the House by various ministers that new legislation would be brought down. They have attended meetings of the committee and heard witnesses dodge questions which were put to them, withhold complete answers, hide behind the cloak of confidentiality and in other ways avoid giving true answers to members of parliament. The presence on the order paper of amendments of the type we are considering is a good reflection of what went on in committee, and the way members on this side feel about the type of financing bill we are being asked to pass.
Bill C-164 was given first reading on March 19, and second reading on April 13 and 16. Twelve speakers took part in the debate at that time. Yet despite the government's assertions that this is an important piece of legislation the bill was set aside for six months and was not considered again until October 18 at which time there were five days of debate during which 46 speakers took part. Surely, we cannot accept the contention of the government that we have been delaying important legislation when 46 members feel obliged to say something about the operations of the two corporations concerned, as, of course, they are entitled to do.
Once the bill went to committee, it was handled very expeditiously in my opinion. The committee met on November 8, held 12 sittings and heard a number of witnesses. It reported back on December 20. I have described the bill as an exercise in futility but I would modify that opinion to this extent-it is an excellent vehicle for securing the attendance of officials of the CN and Air Canada before the committee. It gave us an opportunity to put questions to them which we had raised without success in the House. On each occasion the minister had sidetracked them in the usual way by saying he would take them up with the CN or Air Canada.
Perhaps the best witness I can call in support of my view that we are being asked to conduct an exercise in futility is the Minister of Finance (Mr. Turner) who also appeared before the committee. Someone asked him directly why the bill was necessary. He said, in effect, that if the bill were not passed the CN and Air Canada would have to borrow money on the commercial market and pay more for it. After all, the legislation before us is not necessary to enable those companies to borrow money. They already have that power under existing statutes. The minister added that the bill was necessary, too, because it gave parliament control over the appointment of auditors. One of my hon. friends has shown how little control parliament does, in fact, exercise over the appointment of auditors. The minister himself admitted that this appointment to the result of a cabinet decision taken without consultation and slipped into the bill for approval by parliament later. This is the way in which the government effectively bypasses the section of the act which says parliament must appoint the auditor each year.
January 8, 1974
Canadian National Railways and Air Canada
The frustration which boils up regularly in this chamber is nothing new. It appears every time a financing bill comes before the House. It is felt not only by members of the opposition. Objection to this type of financing is also taken by cabinet ministers, by a previous minister of transport and by other responsible members of the government. I recall questions being directed to the present Minister of Regional Economic Expansion (Mr. Jamieson), then Minister of Transport, when one of these bills was before the House back in 1971. We were complaining about the fact that so many of the expenditures outlined in the bill had already been made. Since there was nothing we could do about them, what was the point of discussing them?
On this point, I should like to quote from the committee report, issue No. 1. of the third session of the 28th Parliament. We were questioning the Minister of Transport of that day about the desirability of this type of legislation. He said:
This is really to permit them (the CNR) during 1971 to cover commitments made prior to that time.
He went on to say:
It is not an entirely satisfactory system from the standpoint of the committee or I may say from the standpoint of the government. I have been saying to both these corporations that they should really adopt a further forward forecasting mechanism and I have been trying to get both of them on a five-year forecasting period ... As I say, I agree with you that it is not a very satisfactory way of doing things because in a sense we are really approving something of which a good deal has already been done.
Later, I asked the minister a further question, to which he replied:
I do not want to take the responsibility for something which has been embedded in the system for decades, really, but nevertheless it is something which in my judgment we ought to get rid of or improve in some way so that we do not find ourselves in this kind of situation involving, in a way, an after-the-fact judgment.
This is what we have been complaining about. What is the point of spending days and weeks questioning officials in committee when, in fact, the money has all been spent and there is nothing one can do about it? Yet despite the views expressed by the then Minister of Transport and the promises he made in the House, nothing has been done to change the situation.
When the present bill was before the committee, I questioned the Minister of Finance about this method of financing. As members will see if they turn to issue No. 19 of the committee proceedings in the first session of the 29th Parliament, I asked him, as reported on page 25, whether he agreed that this was a proper way to finance large corporations. He replied:
No, I think it is not a satisfactory way, Mr. Thomas. I think these bills are important enough to be dealt with expeditiously by Parliament.
In reply to a further question I put to him, the Minister of Finance said:
I agree with Mr. Thomas, Mr. Chairman. I think we have to develop some more permanent mechanism for the financing of these two corporations while allowing for parliamentary control either by way of the Department of Transport estimates or through some other mechanism. I agree this is not a satisfactory procedure.
I do not know what further evidence the government needs. If they will not listen to us on this side of the House complaining that parliament is being bypassed or ignored,
surely they will listen to the brains on that side. The Minister of Finance, the Minister of Regional Economic Expansion (Mr. Jamieson) and the Minister of Transport (Mr. Marchand) all agree that this is bad legislation, that parliament has been bypassed. Since they continue to bring in the same type of legislation, hon. members should not wonder why I claim that the government is deliberately mocking this House and affronting our intelligence. This is the kind of thing that leads to amendments of this nature.
There is a feeling among members of parliament that the CNR and Air Canada are going on in their own merry way and have forgotten the primary purpose of their incorporation. The CN was designed to run a railway. Air Canada was designed to fly aeroplanes. Yet we have no control over these corporations or can give them no direction as to how they spend their money, so naturally we should not be prepared to accept this kind of legislation. In fact, I contend that if parliament is to retain any control over the spending of these two corporations, some definite changes must be made in the financing of CN and Air Canada. I suggest that much of the mess we are in now began with the National Transportation Act of 1967. I was not here at that time, but I understand what parliament was trying to do. Although the act was viable and satisfactory in the conditions prevailing at that time, it is becoming more obvious every day that the conditions which applied in 1967 no longer apply today.
When the act was passed in 1967, it was felt that transportation should be placed on a profit making basis, or at least on a compensatory basis. The railways were instructed to make a profit, and this accounts for some of the difficulties today. Members of this House rise and fire broadsides at the CN, but in all honesty the CN is only doing what the House instructed it to do by statute. As a result, we now face an almost insurmountable obstacle: we have given the CN instructions to do just what it is doing today. We have told CN to go out and make money and not to worry about giving service.
I suggest that we are not going to change the situation by lambasting the CNR and Air Canada. Let us put the blame where it belongs, that is on ministers who have said that the whole set-up at the moment is wrong. Let them back up their words by bringing in legislation to correct the situation. I suggest they start by bringing in amendments to the National Transportation Act, which would provide some method whereby the government could tell CN and Air Canada just what their priorities are, and that we do not want them building hotels and towers until and unless they provide a proper freight and passenger train service in this country.
There are many priorities that some body should be laying down for both the CNR and Air Canada. I do not want to go into the details here since I do not have the time, but speakers both today and previously have mentioned the fact that there have to be massive infusions of capital into the CN to improve freight services in this country. Reference has been made to the present ridiculous situation where we are unable to get sufficient boxcars to move our wheat or to move our feed grains. There is a shortage of cars to move potash and a shortage of cars
January 8, 1974
to move coal. Indeed, there is a general shortage of boxcars. Surely in such a situation, instead of worrying about hotels and towers in the air, the CN should be doing something to correct this shortage of rolling stock.
We have also heard about skimping on money they have spent on the maintenance of road beds, and about how crews have been cut down to the point where there is not proper supervision, as a result of which more and more accidents are occurring than ever before. The hon. member for Crowfoot (Mr. Horner) referred to a report which outlined some of the problem areas about which he has been warning this House for years. For example, just last week there were two serious derailments in New Brunswick. Fortunately, freight trains were involved and there was no loss of life, but there was a tremendous dollar loss. I shudder to think what might have happened had passenger trains had been passing over this roadbed. Although I have not yet seen the report on this accident, it appears that this was a case of too heavy traffic passing over the rails which the roadbed could not handle, so it gave way. Instead of spending money on hotels and towers, the CN should do something now in terms of facing up to the tremendous influx of passengers they will have to haul over the next five years as a result of the energy crisis.
Before I sit down I should like, in the limited time I have, to mention another area that has caused me a great deal of concern. This is a grey area that has been very frustrating. Every time I try to get an answer to questions we have the old game of shuffle ball, going from the Minister of Transport to the railways, then back to the minister, and so on back and forth. I am referring to the matter of pensions. This has been an ongoing grievance with the unions, rightly or wrongly-and I am not taking sides. However, what I am saying is that there must be an honest and frank appraisal of the CN pension scheme. I admit that this appraisal is now underway and we are expecting to have Judge Hall's report soon. But I certainly hope that that report will not be the end of the line. While the pension proposal that has been agreed on is a start in the right direction, it is certainly not the ultimate.
When we were discussing pensions in the committee two or three years ago, I was one of those who opposed the suggestion that pensions be made part of the bargaining package. What I have seen since then has confirmed my opinion that we made a grave mistake in suggesting that pensions be included in the bargaining package, and I should like to tell the House why I say that. When you deal with a group of employees whose ages extend from 17 to 65 you find a great difference of opinion existing among those employees. As far as the young men are concerned, they think of bills they have to pay today and tomorrow and are interested in wage increases and hours of work. They think of a pension at age 65 as something away in the future and are not interested in it. On the other hand, employees in their fifties are thinking about retirement. Therefore you find a conflict of interest, and this is apparent with the pension proposals that have been agreed upon. The younger members are quite happy with it, whereas anyone who has been employed prior to 1956 is very unhappy and feels he has been cheated. This is what happens when you bargain for a mixed group such as this.
Canadian National Railways and Air Canada
I do not know what the answer is. We have allowed pensions to become part of the bargaining process, and since the precedent has been established I doubt we can change the situation now. But this is one area in which the government should give direction to the CNR so that the whole pension mess will be tidied up.
In conclusion, I should like to say a few words on behalf of those ex-employees of the CN who have no one to speak for them. I refer to employees who have gone on pension and are no longer union members. These people have been continually overlooked, except of course for any representations made by individual members of the House. Now is the time when the government should tell the CNR it has a moral obligation to these people. Let us know how much is needed to bring their pensions up to a level similar to that of public service employees. If we have to find funds to do this, let us find them, but let us not have the CNR hide behind this cloak of not having the money to do it. It is for these reasons I think the amendments are good. They put into question the whole direction of CNR policy, and I hope members of the House will give them serious consideration.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAYS AND AIR CANADA