The House resumed from September 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Hon. Wayne Easter (Malpeque, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am indeed pleased to speak on Bill C-11. As others have stated, there is a lot in this bill that makes sense. In fact, it is the third time in the House for most of the contents of this bill. However, tucked within the bill is another huge loss, and this is new, a huge loss for the farm community.
The minority government opposite has taken to inserting in a lot of its press releases and so on, when it can, a quote called “the new government”, but like so much of what this minority Conservative Party does, it is all about deception. There is nothing new in the bill except the one section that I mentioned, clause 43. What this does, quite simply, is trample on the rights of farmers. Let me repeat that: clause 43 tramples on the rights of farmers.
The new government, the new Conservative government, has cut a deal with the big railways and the big grain companies to tear down agreements that the previous government had entered into, agreements reached by the previous government that would have given a little bit of leverage to the grain producers and more control over their destiny as grain producers in terms of dealing with the railways. The issue really relates to the transfer of hopper cars to the Farmer Rail Car Coalition, a cross-section of groups across the west that would have had those railcars turned over to them to manage in the interests of the transportation system and in the interests of farmers.
The provisions of this bill, then, particularly clause 43, are really symbolic of the government's real priorities. With the implementation of these two provisions, the Conservative government has, along with its decision on May 4, sold out the farmers of western Canada and delivered an asset of incredible value, once again, to the railways.
The two provisions in question come out of the government's betrayal of western farmers and a reneging on an agreement signed in good faith between the Farmer Rail Car Coalition and the Government of Canada. The agreement signed between the FRCC and the federal government in November 2005 would have seen the federal government hopper car fleet transferred to the Farmer Rail Car Coalition. The FRCC was committed to a payment of $203 million for the cars and had ensured that the maintaining of the fleet could and would be done at a competitive rate far less than the unaccounted-for costs of the railways.
The third report of the Standing Committee on Transport, on February 14, 2005, provided one of the key reasons why there had been a lengthy delay between the announcement by the previous federal government to dispose of the hopper car fleet in 1996 and the agreement with the FRCC in November 2005. It stated that “the railways had a right of first refusal to acquire the cars that did not expire until the summer of 2002”.
No action was possible until that arrangement lapsed. It was in a matter of months following that period that the federal government, in spite of less than enthusiastic support from within Transport Canada and continued railway opposition, had taken the final decision.
When it comes to Transport Canada, I have had the opportunity, in a previous life as President of the National Farmers Union, to deal with Transport Canada for some 30 years. Transport Canada has never failed in this country's history, in those 30 years at least, but to come down on the side of the railways as opposed to coming down on the side of the farmers. The previous minister of transport was willing to challenge Transport Canada and come up with a deal that worked for primary producers. The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities over here in the so-called new government is selling out those primary producers and catering to big rail in the process.
That is not what we expect from a new government. We expect a new government to stand up for those with less power in this country. This new government in that regard has failed miserably and has really betrayed the farm community in terms of that deal that was signed by the previous government.
Before getting into the specifics of the issue, I would like to speak about accountability, something the government pretends is of importance. The railways, since the issue of the possible transfer of the hopper car fleet, have maintained one consistent position: complete and total opposition to any transfer or sale of the cars to the FRCC. Yet, the railways have never once, even to the Canadian Transportation Agency according to testimony before the agriculture committee, provided their costs for maintaining the hopper car fleet which had been in their control since the 1970s.
For the benefit of those who are not knowledgeable about this issue to a great extent, I want people to understand that the past federal government purchased hopper cars for the railways which the Government of Canada owned and controlled to a certain extent to provide the rolling stock in order to provide the capacity to move the grain out of the western prairie region because the railways were not providing the rolling stock in fact to do it. That is why it was necessary. It is the cars we are really talking about in this particular instance. As I said, the railways really did not provide the costs of maintaining that hopper car fleet which had been in their control since the 1970s.
A Canadian Transportation Agency representative at the agriculture committee stated that even though the CTA made serious efforts to work with the railways, the agency found that “--the railways do not collect detailed information with respect to the maintenance of the hopper cars, which made the assignment or study more difficult--”. That was said at the agriculture committee on May 16, 2006.
The members of the new government, specifically those from rural western Canada, have failed to protect the interests of their constituents. At a minimum, they should be able to stand in the House and state that the decision of the government to renege on the deal with the FRCC is supported by one set of simple facts: namely, that the railways can maintain the fleet of hopper cars at a rate which matches that of the FRCC. They have not and they cannot do that.
On May 4 the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities stated that the government's decision would allegedly benefit the farmers of western Canada due to the $2 per tonne rate reduction. The news release of course issued by the minister indicated that the rate reduction of $2 per tonne was a potential target. Really then, the $2 per tonne is not real. It is just potential. It may happen. There is no assurance to the western farm community that this reduction will in fact be made.
In an interview, however, with The Western Producer on May 11, the same Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities stated that “the reduction in rates would likely fall in the $1.50 to $2 range”. So even the minister himself is not consistent in terms of what he is saying the potential reduction might be.
The claim by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities that farmers would realize an annual saving of $50 million is contradicted by his own news release and by his own statement to The Western Producer, but it is not unusual for the new government to be caught in contradictions. We have seen this from members in question period today. We see it every day. In fact, there is no industry which sees the contradictions as often as the agricultural industry.
During the election the Conservative leader left the impression that there was going to be immediate cash for farmers. Remember that last January and last spring? Did they get immediate cash for farmers? The Minister of Human Resources and Social Development says there was. There were moneys announced last November by the previous government and that is what is being paid out. There was less money in the budget than the previous government had paid out. There was no immediate cash for farmers from the government to this day other than what was announced by the previous government.
The minister may be talking about the options program but the options program is a blame the victim kind of program. Instead of compensating producers for low farm prices, Conservatives have come up with an options program for a farmer who has farmed for 40 years. Maybe HRDC is providing the skills development training program for farmers and they thought it was Agriculture Canada, but I can certainly see the bureaucrats of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada training a farmer who has farmed for 40 years to farm better. I can certainly see that because what the government is doing on the options program is blaming the victim. It is saying the farmer is losing money because his skills are poor. That is what the government is really saying.
May I remind the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development that the problem the farm community has is low commodity prices worldwide which are caused by subsidies by other countries around the world. Low commodity prices are what is wrong.
Just to sidetrack for a minute, the Minister of International Trade and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food had the opportunity to be in Australia today to meet with the Cairns Group, the group that Canada was an original founding member of, at which meeting the United States and the European Union were going to argue the point that we need a WTO agreement in which there would be better market access and reduced export subsidies and to argue the points that would benefit Canadian farmers. Where were these two ministers? Sitting in the House here today and neglecting their responsibility to the farm community of this country.
When it comes to agriculture, I could go through a list of six items, but I want to deal specifically with Bill C-11. The fact is the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the new government as a whole have failed miserably when it comes to dealing with the problems in the farm community.
The claim by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities that farmers will realize an annual saving of $50 million is contradicted by his own news release. This means that the Government of Canada cannot stand by the figure it initially proclaimed as going to farmers in terms of a rate reduction and for this reason alone, these provisions of the bill do not merit support.
However, the FRCC has been more than forthcoming with respect to its position with respect to the costs of maintaining the fleet for producers, and this position has been supported by the findings of the CTA in a submission to Transport Canada on March 29, 2005. That document makes absolutely clear that the two major railways, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, have been actively and intentionally overcharging, in other words gouging, farmers for more than a decade, and the government continues to support that gouging.
Mr. Dean Allison: Who was in government?
Hon. Wayne Easter: The member opposite asks who was in government. We made an agreement with the FRCC to prevent that gouging and the new government over there broke that agreement, violated that trust with western farmers and basically sold out to the big railways.
I would like to take this opportunity to read from this report, which incidentally would not have become public if it had not been for a reporter with the The Western Producer who obtained and published the report. The following are extracts from the report, sent by Neil Thurston, director of the rail economics directorate of the CTA, to Helena Borges, executive director of rail policy at Transport Canada. The report was in response to a Transport Canada request to the CTA “regarding the Agency staff’s assessment of CN and CP’s expenditures for the maintenance of the Government hopper car fleet in 2004”.
Based on the railway information, the CTA determined that maintenance costs on the hopper car fleet dedicated to grain transportation was $1,686 per car per year. Under the provisions of the revenue cap, the railways had been receiving $4,329 per car per year in maintenance costs.
There are currently more than 12,000 federal government hopper cars in service in western Canada. Members can do the math: 12,000 cars, actual cost $1,686, yet charging $4,329. Western farmers have been overcharged to the tune of over $30 million annually. The new government is going to allow those alleged overcharging costs to continue to go to the railways and continue to basically gouge farmers. The report I have referenced was tabled, reluctantly, by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
I would add that during the course of a meeting of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food on May 16, Mr. Sinclair Harrison, president of the FRCC, told the committee of additional Transport Canada reports, held in confidence, that support the position the FRCC has held for a number of years. Mr. Harrison stated:
|| At our request, Transport Canada commissioned a company called QGI, a consulting firm specializing in car inspections, to inspect approximately 1,000 of the 12,000 federal government cars, which is a representative sample. In our opinion, the confidential report prepared by QGI confirms FRCC's observation on the extent of programmed maintenance being deferred.
|| The dollar figure is in the report here and is in the hands of Transport Canada. Again, perhaps it should be released to this committee. The dollar figure put to the deficiencies in the cars, Transport Canada, and the FRCC agreed, was $35 million worth of work that has not been performed on these cars but was paid for.
The service not provided was purchased from the railways.
The facts are that there was an agreement by the previous government that would have benefited the farm community. The new government came to power and broke that agreement, which is what section 43 of Bill C-11 does. The government has sold out western farmers again to the big railway companies. It has a lot to answer for.
As I said, most of the bill is not new. It has the good points brought forward by the previous government but section 43 is doing what--
Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the bill, a bill that has captivated the attention of government members who are taking copious notes and paying deep attention to the debate today. By not presenting speakers any more shows the profound lack of commitment the current government has toward a transportation strategy for this country, for the ability to actually address some of the transportation situations that are going on around our nation from coast to coast to coast.
While most of Bill C-11 occupies what we call the administrative side of things, it is a bit of a housekeeping bill, which I am sure the government will call a progressive and aggressive form of legislation because there is nothing else going on when it comes to transportation, particularly when it comes to sustainable transportation.
I represent a riding in the northwest of British Columbia that relies very much on the rail system to move goods in and out of our communities, particularly processed goods and, increasingly, the entire nation relies on the Port of Prince Rupert. It is a terminus that is meant to be an alleviation of the pressures on the other west coast ports, in particular the Vancouver area ports which have been clogged for far too long, mostly due to government neglect and lack of planning both at the provincial legislature with the Liberals in Victoria, the previous government, and the present government seems to be taking up the charge just as slowly.
With no national public transportation strategy or planning of any kind, communities are left to struggle along as best they can attempting to alleviate the congestion in urban and, in many cases, rural communities.
I want to talk about the need for a strategy. If only the bill, in addressing some of the major aspects of transportation, had within it the opportunity to show what this so-called new government might present to Canadians as a vision for our transportation sector. Instead, it chose to allow that opportunity, like so many others to this point in this hopefully short mandate of a minority Parliament, to pass it by, the opportunity to actually invest in the places that the manufacturing sector has been calling out for, for too many years.
I would also like to talk briefly about Transport Canada and the role that it has played in my community and in communities across British Columbia in particular.
The Library of Parliament did a study for us earlier this year to assess what has happened in rail safety just in the province of British Columbia over the last number of years.
We have what some have called the diabolical sale of BC Rail to CN by the Liberals in Victoria, British Columbia, with little public input and few conditions upon that sale. We have now seen an absolutely dramatic increase in sometimes fatal accidents. These are not simply a slowdown of trains or an inability of shippers to get their product to market. Those things were going on and are going on even more so. What is even more drastic is that when a company comes in it is the responsibility of the government to hold that company and the transportation sector to account for its safety practices but the government has neglected its duties, as the previous government did. The present government is continuing that bad practice and it is putting the lives of people working on that rail at stake. We have seen a tragic loss of life in British Columbia.
We have seen increasing numbers of accidents month in and month out with ne'er a word from the transportation minister and not a murmur from the government at all about the concerns for what is happening in British Columbia along our rail system that, as I said, the entire country is now coming to rely upon, certainly if they want to ship anything to the Far East or to other countries and cannot get it through our currently congested ports. This is an absolute shirking of responsibility.
In researching the accidents, we looked at not only the negligence of the companies involved but of the Transportation Safety Board, again filled with appointments by a previous Liberal government who may or may not have had experience in the transportation sector but they all had at least one thing in common and that was a strong allegiance to a formerly misguided Liberal government.
Now we see the current government proposing appointments for this commission which speaks much to transparency but walks in the opposite direction. We have had no assurances to this point of what that process will look like.
Will it be an open and fair transparent process? Will the public have input? Will there be local community involvement in that commission, or will it simply be people who wrote the appropriate cheques prior to the last federal election and made good with the current bastions of power?
It is important to consider that many Canadians watching the debate will not realize that many of the goods being shipped by Canadian rail are somewhat innocuous in nature. There are parts, widgets and various things, but there is an increasing amount of hazardous materials being transported on the rail system as well. When we combine that reality with a deplorable record on safety, we start to create the perfect forum for not only ecological disaster, but also grave consequences for the communities in these regions. They rely on the ability to trust the government to do what it is meant to do, which is to protect the interests of the public, not the narrow interests of a CEO from Texas running a rail line, but the interests of the people who voted all of us into this place. To this point, the government has not shown a commitment to that.
A rail shipment passes through my riding of Skeena once a month. It passes into a community through shipping, lands on our shores at Kitimat and travels up major waterways, which thousands of people rely on for food sustenance. Businesses absolutely depend on these river systems. These rail systems are now carrying some of the most noxious and hazardous goods we have. Has there been an environmental assessment of this process? Has anyone looked at what would happen if yet another CN car tipped off the tracks? Absolutely not. Has there been any public accounting for what it means to destroy a major tributary or to destroy a major river habitat for what could be years?
The substances contained in some of these tankers are used in the oil and gas sector in northern Alberta: condensates and various substances that are far more toxic than any oil spill could really be. Here we have a government that is hoping it can simply slap the blinkers on, as the last government did, and not account for proper protections. It holds the public trust in its hands.
Recently CN sent letters to the various volunteer, I stress the word “volunteer”, fire departments up and down the rail line to notify them that if there were a major spill on this line, if a hazardous material spilled into a river or alongside a river, they were to hold the fort for a minimum of 12 hours. These fire departments survive and subsist on the many thousands of hours put together by these teams of dedicated people and the donations from our communities. After that point, CN might show up with a hazardous materials crew. It is an absolutely deplorable sense of responsibility.
This is a place where clearly, in the interests of the public, the government needs to step in and say, “We have licensed you to operate a rail system in this country, but we have not licensed you to play Russian roulette with the communities and ecosystems through which the rail systems pass”.
Whether it is through a major urban centre or through the ecosystems and the environments upon which we rely, this company has decided, for the interests of profit and the maximization of that profit, to change the length of cars against Transportation Safety Board recommendations and to lower the amount of braking that these cars can do in some of the most mountainous areas of the world and the government has been silent, allowing this to go on and accidents have happened.
The trust that has been eroded has been dramatic. This goes across all partisan lines and interest groups. People no longer trust the regulators to regulate the industry because there have been accidents after accidents, spills into lakes and rivers near communities where people survive on the drinking water into which this toxic sludge is seeping. The government to this point has been quiet.
The bill does not speak to it. It does not address a need for an increased level of assurance and safety and a clamping down on those companies that refuse to listen to their workers and to the communities. They simply fire off missives every once in a while to tell volunteer fire departments that is it their responsibility, departments that do not have the training nor the equipment to handle a major hazardous spill. CN will relegate all of that responsibility to those communities. It is absolutely unacceptable by any standard and any stretch of the imagination.
The investigations that have come from Transport Canada have laid blame. We are still looking for answers, and I am sure the parliamentary secretary can answer this question. To our knowledge it has not levied any serious fines and reprobations for the company even when there has been loss of life and even when negligence has been proven in the maintenance of the rail system on various bridges, on the capacity of engines to break when going down these mountains. When there has been negligence at that level, what has the punishment been? It has been near to nothing.
The commission appointments that are called for in the legislation must be taken into the public realm. They must be given the clear light of day so communities can feel confident with the few people appointed, of which there are only five to my understanding. They are meant to oversee such a broad ranging mandate and must have the confidence of the public, those who use the rail system, work on the rail system or have a rail pass through their community or environment.
A second and critical point, which we are looking to the government to respond to since the last one did not, is on the required infrastructure developments, particularly for rails like the ones that pass through Skeena. After much browbeating, haggling and demanding the last government at the eleventh hour, it decided in its benevolence to fund in some small way the Port of Prince Rupert. Everyone in the industry and across the country who had anything to do with this issue had asked that the Port of Prince Rupert be given the capacity the country needs in order to ship its goods. The government finally showed up.
In showing up, the government neglected to talk about the other aspects of this deal. Overpasses need to be created. Safety regulations do not exist with regard to carrying double stacked cars through some of the most mountainous regions in the world. The government must step up to the plate. It must join with the citizens in the northwest, the people of Prince Rupert, who have staked much on this development. They want to become facilitators for the trade our country needs so much, in light of the disastrous so-called softwood lumber deal negotiated yesterday, which will rob the communities in my area of their ability to attract investment dollars to manufacture wood products any more.
We have a government that has somehow twisted itself into the perverse notion that self-imposing a tax on Canadian industy is the wise way to create wealth and generate prosperity and jobs, Canadian companies that are lawfully transporting materials across a border, which was supposedly open under a previous government's claims of free trade. If only we could have free trade with our American partners, instead of being dragged into court and being punished over and over again with illegal tariffs. At the end of the day, when we are on the edge of winning important court cases that would mean so much to the communities I represent, when victory is within our grasp, defeat is put in its place.
For the communities I represent, a major infusion of economic diversification dollars is needed if these communities will have any hope whatsoever. According to the forestry council of British Columbia, the effects of climate change ravage our forests with fires and pine beetle infestations and it is because of negligence. The previous governments and governments around the world have refused to act while some of the more progressive and noble ones have chosen to do the right thing and make something happen with climate change.
Due to that fact the communities got kicked in the head once. Now, after years of punishing duties and illegal tariffs, they are being kicked in the head again. They are being told that investment dollars have not been secured for the diversification they need. They are being told that companies wish to invest in Canada, to process some of our wood rather than just ship out raw logs and jobs to other countries. I can remember the slogan in the last election, standing up for Canada.
We are lying down in front of our American counterparts and saying, “Please don't kick us, we will kick ourselves”. We'll pound away happily on ourselves for years to come. If you don't like the deal, by a simple whim and demand of your own decision decide that we are falsely supporting our exports again, you can pull out of this absolutely erroneous and silly deal”.
For goodness sake, the communities of this region finally was able to cajole the previous government into supporting proper infrastructure and transportation investment. We need to move it to the second level if these communities have any hope of surviving whatsoever.
We saw it on the east coast when the fish stock started to collapse. There were calls from members of all parties for the government to step in after so much mismanagement and bad decision-making. The communities simply could not survive. It was just not a fair setting of the table. How can they compete? How can they survive if a government is enacting policies that go counter to the interests of the communities? They are not asking for help.
We conducted a study through the Library of Parliament last year and we asked simple questions. With respect to the federal riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley, a very proud and hard-working riding, we asked people: Of all the tax money collected and then given back through program spending, what has the ratio been over the last decade? They were able to pull up information between 1995 and 2005. Revenue taken from Skeena was close to $1.1 billion. The federal government has done very well off the mining, resource and forestry sectors in my riding. All transfer payments into the riding through the province was one-tenth that figure. It was 10:1 ratio of tax dollars out to tax dollars in.
The provinces are asking for fairness. Fiscal imbalance is an absolute joke with respect to the resource economies of our country. Canadians work hard, earn honest livings and pay their taxes. Industries pay their taxes, some of them better than others, but when the taxes are paid and when it is time to reinvest back into these communities, the federal government says that it has a lot of pressing needs such as a critical highway between Vancouver and Whistler that needs its immediate attention, or a conference centre that needs to be expanded, or a rail line somewhere else.
Communities ask for some sort of basic notion of investment, investment in the truest sense where tax dollars are collected from the public, invested into an area, returned back to the public coffers and increase economic growth. As if there had been a single economic study by the federal government before it started shovelling money into the VANOC. As if there was any concept of what a dollar was given and what dollars would be returned. The government believed the false promises of VANOC and the Gordon Campbell government as to what this thing would actually cost. So much for prudence. So much for true fiscal imbalance.
The government claims to listen to Canadians. The bill talks about noise, traffic congestion and the need to listen to Canadians. Here is an opportunity to listen to Canadians. This is an opportunity to finally get serious about a national public transportation plan, a strategy that would allow the country, as vast and broad as it is, to realize its full economic potential. This would allow those regions that have for so long contributed to the public coffers, that have so long supported the growth of our cities and enabled the folks, who push papers from one desk to another in those cities, to earn a living, the places that the hewers of wooden haulers of water, it has often been called, the places that generate wealth in the truest sense of the wealth of this nation, to receive wealth in return.
Here is an opportunity for the so-called new government to move away from such misaligned and inappropriate actions like those we saw in the former Mulroney government. We now see our current Prime Minister doing his best to emulate what it is to sell out, what it is to lay down. This is an opportunity for our country to grow, to prosper and to achieve the dreams of all Canadians.
The legislation needs a bit of work. We need some answers from the government. We ultimately need a plan and a strategy for the country and for regions like mine to prosper. It needs to come from this Parliament.
Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak at second reading of Bill C-11. This bill is about 60 pages long and is one of those bills that we cannot read in isolation. We have to have the existing legislation there so we can follow the amendments. Unless the House is prepared to give me an extension of about two hours, I am not going to address the whole bill. I will address certain aspects of it.
We are talking about the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act. There are certainly many provisions of interest in this bill and they have been debated and discussed by hon. members through this debate, but I would like to look at a couple in particular.
Bill C-11 proposes that the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities be allowed to regulate the advertised pricing of airfare. This is an issue which is of great interest to Canadians, considering the recent history and volatility within the airline industry. It remains to be heard from the minister what his specific intentions are with regard to future airfare advertising regulations.
The whole question of regulations is kind of interesting to note for all hon. members. When we debate bills and vote at the various stages, we do so without the regulations, which do not come until after the legislation is passed, has gone through the Senate, received royal assent and is proclaimed. Then we get the regulations. There always has been this issue about whether or not there is this creeping problem where we have executive-made law, where the cabinet is enhancing what the insinuation of the legislation is through the regulations. It is the reason why we have the scrutiny of regulations committee, a joint Commons-Senate committee, to look at those regulations as they come through and to ensure that the regulations are authorized by the legislation.
I thought I would put that in because it is a very important aspect as it relates to this bill and it is incumbent upon the committee to do this. I am sure we will see this bill go to committee for review. We have to ensure that we get an indication from the government, from the minister, about the intent. What is the intent here? How can we, from an informed point of view, make decisions with regard to appropriate amendments to the legislation, if necessary?
The bill itself provides hints but no guarantees, and that is the issue. That is the problem with the regulations. Subsection 86.1(1) states:
|| The Agency may, on the recommendation of the Minister, make regulations respecting advertising in all media, including on the Internet, of prices for air services within, or originating in, Canada.
Subsection 86.1(2) of the same clause suggests that the minister may require that prices should include all costs to the carrier and all charges, but it does so without limiting the generality of the minister's power to regulate under subsection 86.1(1). Again it is this uncertainty, as a consequence of having the details, and the devil always is in the details with regard to regulations.
Members may recall that the issue of airfare pricing attracted a great deal of attention a few years ago when airport improvement fees and security charges became prevalent throughout the airline industry. At that time, the Liberal government recognized that protecting consumers was of utmost importance. Much of the materials we find in Bill C-11 are the provisions of the amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, which have been presented in bills in prior Parliaments, but which did not proceed through the full legislative process due to the call of an election.
The provisions that are in question today were inherited from the previous legislation. There are too many situations right now, quite frankly, and what we are trying to address is that every day Canadians are faced with misleading and simply false information. That is the reality that we are faced with when we are trying to decide, as consumers, how to spend our hard-earned dollars.
The wide range of fees and taxes on airfare can be particularly confounding as well. Charges vary depending on which airport one is in, the airport of origin and the destination, then based on whether it is domestic or international. Even then, in some cases when a flight connects through certain particular airports rather than others, there are other complications, so the comparabilities from airline to airline are in some difficulty too.
Then, of course, we cannot forget the taxes. When all the charges, fees and taxes are summed up, the actual price of an airline ticket can be substantially above the base price, which is usually the advertised price. Let me repeat that. The base price, without all those add-ons, is the one that usually appears in the advertising. The consumers really get a surprise when they see the add-ons.
The right to set regulations could simplify these charges into a single tax-inclusive number, which when advertised by one airline would lend itself to comparison with other advertisements by other airlines. It is possible to take for granted the importance of advertising in our society. Market economies depend on competition. The competition itself depends on the ability of purchasers, in this case the Canadian consumers buying airline tickets, to distinguish between prices in a meaningful way.
I would go so far as to say that the efficiency cannot be properly encouraged in a market without clear pricing. That is the issue. We do not really have clear pricing, at least in the eyes of the consumer.
We must see prices clearly in order to choose based on price. Only when we choose based on price do we encourage businesses to offer a better deal. This is competition. That is the purpose of healthy competition. It is to ensure that there is fair pricing. Competitive pricing means that there is a win-win.
Clearly we are supportive of the principle of price advertising clarity. However, we do not know precisely what kind of price advertising regulations the minister intends to undertake. This is a problem and it is something that I encourage the committee to address exhaustively when it looks at this legislation.
Specific types of regulation can certainly have some unintended effects as well. Forcing airlines to disclose a certain amount of information in their advertising may in fact interfere with the message in unproductive ways or confuse the consumer. If we go a little too far we may find that people do not focus in on exactly the key elements of the pricing mechanism.
We have all seen the commercials for automobiles, which contain a great deal of detail. That is an example of listing all these little things. In fact, many Canadians would argue that they contain too much detail to be of much use. Calling on the airlines to display a similar level of detail may in fact not be where we want to go. I think this is another issue that the committee should address very carefully.
As we know, industries are thoroughly interconnected. I am not just talking about the airline industry. When we think about it, even the advertising industry is obviously affected. Depending on what our requirements are, certain modes of advertising are more desirable, more productive or effective than others, so that depending on what we do in this legislation may have some consequential impacts on other industries. We have to ask ourselves whether or not new regulations will cause one type of media to take a greater share of advertising dollars than another type. It could have any number of effects, all of which we can only speculate about.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities began his remarks by outlining some details. We will be required to do our jobs, but full disclosure in any event is certainly essential. We do not know what regulations the minister will be eventually bringing forward. It is going to be difficult for us to assess some of these finer points in terms of the impacts on the industry and related industries or linked industries.
This brings me to another important point. As parliamentarians, we obviously have a duty to consider legislation very carefully, but the government is understandably anxious to more forward with certain priorities. This is one that we cannot rush. This is one that we have to be very careful of. We know it has taken some time to get to this point yet again. When we start the House every day we say prayers and one of our pleas is that we make “good laws and wise decisions”. That is always the case. Certainly we want to make sure that Bill C-11 ultimately makes the necessary amendments to make the Canada Transportation Act a better law.
Whether the bill is the size of Bill C-2, the accountability bill, which is five times the size of a normal piece of legislation, or whether it is like Bill C-3 on international tunnels and bridges, a very few pages, we cannot forget that when we give a bill our approval it eventually becomes law, with consequential effects for Canadians, whether we have had the foresight to see them.
This bill in particular has some potential pitfalls that are going to call on those responsible for scrutinizing the bill at committee to do their very best, to engage the best possible witnesses, to try to foresee, to try to identify some of those pitfalls and to absolutely ensure that the legislation does not have unintended consequences.
In terms of Bill C-11, we are asking the government and the minister in particular to take the time to properly address the many questions that flow from the amendments it proposes. The Minister of Transport spoke about another provision in Bill C-11 that is of interest. He indicated that he intends to amend the Canada Transportation Act to create a mediation process for disputes concerning federal transportation matters that fall within the jurisdiction of the Canadian Transportation Agency.
This is very interesting. It is an evolution that was previously found in Bill C-44 in a prior Parliament. Proposed subsection 36.1(1) would require a unanimous agreement of the parties in order to proceed, but in those circumstances it would seem to be a very useful process.
Any time that we can provide for alternatives to litigation in the area of transport, we do a favour to the parties who are looking for win-win solutions. We would like to explore that as fully as possible as well. The process suggests a quicker timeline and would inevitably be cheaper than lawsuits. That usually is the case. Many of our legal friends in the chamber certainly remind us of that from time to time, although for the life of me it really makes me think of the softwood deal and some of the dynamics that have occurred there.
To go back to this bill, in February 2004 CTA chairwoman Marian Robson wrote that 95% of matters that had been referred to mediation by the agency were resolved to mutual satisfaction. We can see that the history is very good in this regard.
Entities that fall under the domain of the Canadian Transportation Agency are more than likely parties that have ongoing contractual relationships. By its very nature transportation infrastructure is not particularly fluid and there may not be many possible alternative commercial relationships. Quick, amicable resolutions free up resources and ultimately lead to better prices and better services for Canadians.
My colleagues and I are supportive of these measures and commend the minister for bringing back these elements of amendments from previous Liberal bills.
Finally, I would like to dwell very briefly on the issue of corporate governance. It is a subject matter that has attracted quite a bit of attention these days and the CTA is a very important agency. The agency is responsible for balancing divergent interests in a fair and open manner. It licenses air and rail carriers and resolves complaints between shippers and railways regarding rates and service. It approves proposed construction of railway lines. It even participates in international bilateral negotiations and administers bilateral agreements.
Eyebrows were raised in the House when the minister asserted that changes to the makeup of the Canadian Transportation Agency will provide for cost savings. I think people's eyebrows usually go up when governments say they are going to save--it is almost like “show me”--but these are initiatives through which, if they are sound in terms of their operational impact, that is possible, and we certainly would like to see that.
It appears that the current board made up of seven part time members will be replaced by a board of five members in the full time employ of the CTA. These five members would be located here in the national capital region. The minister talks about efficiency of centralization, noting that more than one member must sign off on decisions the agency takes, and I would like to hear from the minister about how the agency will do its job better.
As we know, the bill is the third attempt to bring forward legislation on these particular matters. Let me say that Bill C-11 is made up of many, many amendments, some 60 pages of them. It was very difficult. I compliment all hon. members who took the opportunity to do the necessary work, the due diligence, to review the legislation so they could bring an informed debate to the House at second reading and so we could move the bill on through the legislative process with our eyes wide open with regard to the key elements that are of concern to parliamentarians and to consumers and the service providers as well.
An important part of our review was the statutory review of the Canada Transportation Act. I was very interested to hear the Minister of Transport, standing in his place earlier, mention that he would be tabling further amendments addressing the subject of rail shipping disputes. Certainly we have had a great deal of discussion on that. I know that the committee is going to be very cognizant of the concerns raised by all hon. members.
He talked further of consultations that are now complete and new conclusions that the Conservative minority government has drawn. I should note that Bill C-11 requires another statutory review of the Canada Transportation Act, something that makes a lot of sense given its primacy in an area, namely transportation, that is of broad importance to Canada and certainly to all Canadians.
As my hon. colleague from Ottawa South, the opposition critic for transport, has stated, we are looking forward to seeing the bill examined and revised as necessary at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
Ms. Pauline Picard (Drummond, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
I want to point out at the outset that the Bloc Québécois supports this bill in principle. Naturally, more in-depth consideration is advisable in order to grasp all aspects of the bill. Amendments will likely be necessary to improve it. But on the whole, as I said, the Bloc Québécois supports it in principle.
I want to make clear that my remarks will focus exclusively on the part of this bill dealing with railway noise, specifically clause 29. As we all know, the racket made by trains is a widespread problem. My riding of Drummond is unfortunately faced with such a problem.
Located close to Drummondville, the community of Saint-Germain de Grantham in particular is seriously affected throughout its jurisdiction. This is a rural community of nearly 4,000, with five railway crossings. The railway goes through it over a stretch of 8.5 kilometres, running alongside hundreds of homes.
Train whistles can be heard from one end of Saint-Germain de Grantham to the other at all hours of the day and night. There are engine noises, bells, squealing brakes, vibrations, smells, and the sounds of iron hitting iron. One can easily imagine what residents of that municipality must put up with. And because Saint-Germain de Grantham is in the middle of a boom, the problem is only getting worse. More and more residents are forced to endure this noise pollution.
Everyone recognizes that rail traffic is a necessity and that it contributed to the development of several municipalities. Everyone also acknowledges that rail safety is very important. However, the rights of those residents affected cannot be ignored. Solutions to this noise problem exist and must be brought forward. The quality of life of citizens must be considered in this debate. The interests of rail companies and the pursuit of economic development cannot be the only acceptable arguments. We cannot ask the people of Saint-Germain de Grantham, who are my main concern here, to pay such a high price.
What power do they have against the rail companies? The power to discuss and negotiate, but that may not be enough. When the power to make decisions lies only with the other party, abuses can occur.
Let us review how Saint-Germain de Grantham has attempted to deal with this problem.
In 1993, residents wrote to CN to complain about the noise. They received no response.
In 1994, the municipality requested that train whistling be eliminated, at least at night. In its response, CN said that each level crossing would have to be inspected.
In 1996, three level crossings were inspected, and it was found that constant warning time devices and barriers would have to be installed.
In 1997, these devices were installed at two level crossings.
In 1999, the municipality asked me to intervene on its behalf to have the devices installed on the third level crossing. The minister responsible at the time said that even though the crossing was near Saint-Germain's urban area, it was not considered a priority. At the same time, CN demanded a $2,000 dollar report on the possibility of enacting a regulation to eliminate train whistling.
Work was done on the third level crossing a few years later.
In 2004, at the municipality's request, I wrote to CN asking what more Saint-Germain de Grantham had to do to put a stop to train whistling within municipal boundaries. A stakeholder meeting was arranged, and it turned out that improvements would have to be made to yet another level crossing to fulfill the requirements.
Steps were taken to get this done, but funding was delayed and still has not come through.
So, the municipality is waiting. In the meantime, the train is whistling away, and the people are suffering.
In fact, early in 2006, a citizen wrote the city council, reminding it that the people of Saint-Germain de Grantham have been asking for 13 years that trains stop whistling. We can only sympathize with their frustration and despair. “When can we hope to finally be free of noise pollution from trains when we sleep?”, she asked the council.
In bringing up such representations, we realize that there really is not much the municipality of Saint-Germain de Grantham and its residents can do. What can one do against a giant like the CN?
They are also dependent on government decisions about grants, because this kind of work is very expensive. At the same time, it is important to point out that all this work is designed to enhance public safety, thus improving the railways' quality of service. Following the same logic, this work also has to help ensure that the quality of life of our fellow citizens is respected.
These people need a mechanism through which they can make themselves heard. They need a mechanism to increase their strength and add weight to their legitimate demands.
The provision contained in Bill C-11 which deals with railway noise is giving these people some hope. Clause 29 of the bill gives the Canada Transportation Agency the authority to investigate complaints about unreasonable noise, with a view to forcing railway companies to make changes to prevent unreasonable noise.
This clause gives the Canada Transportation Agency jurisdiction to weigh the need to allow railway companies to operate against the right of those living alongside railroads to quiet enjoyment. The agency will therefore be able to force rail transportation companies to make changes to limit the noise associated with their operations.
The municipality of Saint-Germain de Grantham has carried out all the work requested over the years. Major changes have been ordered over the past 13 years. After the work was completed, more was ordered.
These men and women are right to be angry today. They want their questions answered. This little game of delays and grant requests has to stop. The time has come to show them some respect. I hope that Bill C-11 will make that possible.
They have been patient enough. They have paid enough.
In 2005, l'Union des municipalités du Québec prepared a brief regarding Bill C-44, which was also introduced to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act.
The Union claimed that:
|| Railway companies under federal jurisdiction are not subject to any legislation governing damage caused by their activities. They are like aliens in our regions. This situation was confirmed in a December 2000 decision made by the Federal Court of Canada in Oakville, Ontario, which deprived the Canada Transportation Agency (CTA) of its power to make decisions concerning irritants, such as the noise arising from railway activities.
The Union des municipalités du Québec also pointed out the fact that a number of municipalities have failed to reach agreement with the railway companies and Transport Canada on the requirements for a no-whistle by-law. In this respect, the UMQ recommends that the CTA be given authority to examine any request to prohibit the use of train whistles within the limits of a municipality in the event that the municipality, railway company and Transport Canada fail to reach agreement concerning the requirements and conditions of a no-whistle by-law.
I wish to conclude by indicating that I am in favour of the principle of Bill C-11 as it will give citizens of Quebec and Canada some power in dealing with railway companies.
I am in favour of this bill because I want the citizens of Saint-Germain de Grantham, after 13 years of negotiating, searching for solutions and hard work, to be heard and to have their rights acknowledged.
I believe that it is our duty as parliamentarians to provide such legislation. It is our responsibility to meet the legitimate expectations of the residents in our ridings