Mr. Brian Jean (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to comment on improvements to Bill C-11 that have been made by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Before I do so, I would like to remind members that Bill C-11 is actually the second of three bills on amendments to the Canada Transportation Act that are legislative priorities for this government. Indeed, it is great news for the country and great news for the people who use the transportation systems, which is all Canadians.
With respect to the first bill, the International Bridges and Tunnels Act, clause by clause study was completed by the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications on December 12, 2006.
The third bill will address the rail shipper protection provisions of the act. I can assure the House and all Canadians that the government has this particular bill foremost on its mind. We are taking action on it and we expect to see it before the House in the coming weeks.
The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities heard testimony from a wide range of witnesses and received a number of briefs in relation to Bill C-11. In addition to the Minister of Transport and the officials from Transport Canada, witnesses included representatives from the Canadian Transportation Agency, the Air Transport Association of Canada, the Travellers' Protection Initiative, many citizens groups concerned especially about railway noise, commuter railway operators, the Railway Association of Canada, Canadian National Railway, Transport 2000, Teamsters Canada, and the Farmer Rail Car Coalition.
Yes, this government listens to stakeholders and we listened to many of them. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the committee members for taking the time to hear from those witnesses and for conducting a thorough review of the bill.
The vast majority of witnesses were very positive and supportive of the bill and all were seeking quick passage. This is not surprising, since the sorts of changes being proposed had been debated since the year 2000 by the previous government and quite frankly, nothing was done. A reasonable consensus had been reached on most of those items since that time and it took the current Prime Minister to push the agenda through.
Although there was broad support for passage of the bill, many witnesses requested that some improvements be made and we made many of them. A number of the changes that will benefit the users of the transportation system, urban transit providers, communities and carriers were made. I want to summarize those for the House to clarify any misconceptions that may currently exist.
The act contains a statement on the national transportation policy that is being updated and simplified by Bill C-11. This policy provides general direction in the development of programs, regulations, investments and specific policies. It also provides general direction to the Canadian Transportation Agency and the courts in interpreting the act, which is so important.
These recommendations from the committee will improve the references to safety, security and sustainable environment while streamlining and updating the policy statement. Safety, security and a sustainable environment, which are so important to Canadians, are part of this government's agenda.
Bill C-11 ensures the Canadian Transportation Agency has the proper legal authority to provide mediation services to interested parties such as shippers and railways. The agency has had good results under a pilot project that was actually undertaken on this alternative dispute resolution approach and there is strong support for this provision.
The committee has actually made other changes, including reducing the proposed time frame for mediation from 60 days to 30 days, in order to make it a more effective and quicker tool for those people who need it. The committee's changes would also permit interested parties to use the agency in commercial dispute resolution processes, including both mediation and arbitration. This is something new and we think it will be quite effective.
Some stakeholders have indicated that they would like access to the agency's expertise, even under commercial processes. The improvements will enable stakeholders to address conflicts voluntarily and in a less confrontational manner, which will in many cases get better results.
The current Canada Transportation Act requires the Minister of Transport to table annual reports on the state of transportation in the country. Toward a more effective government, we actually propose that there be additional changes. Instead of a proposal from the department which stated that it would have to be every three years, the changes put forward by committee, which I think are quite positive in this case, are to table annual reports, but they would be less detailed and more focused on an overview of the system's performance, including trends over the past number of years.
In addition, the committee recommended that a more comprehensive report, one that is actually much more detailed, be tabled every five years. Transport Canada will, however, continue to make existing detailed information available on its website. A lot of data that is accumulated on a daily basis and updated on a weekly basis will allow stakeholders who wish to do their own analysis to go on the website and do so.
The Canada Transportation Act permits the minister as well to undertake a public interest review of significant mergers or acquisitions in the airline industry to ensure that the government and future governments and the minister will know what is going on with the large conglomerates that actually employee many Canadians and have such a direct impact on our economy. This review complements the review of competition issues conducted by the Commissioner of Competitions. Bill C-11 would extend this provision to cover all modes.
One of the first steps would be a decision by the minister that the proposed transition raises issues that warrant a public review. The bill provides for the minister to issue guidelines related to this review. Amendments approved by the committee would require the minister to consult with the Competition Bureau in developing guidelines and to include the factors that would be taken into consideration when determining whether a public interest review should be conducted.
The committee approved a number of important changes related to airline service in Canada as well. One change, for instance, would require the Canadian Transportation Agency to report on the complaints it receives in carrying out its air travel complaints functions, including the number and nature of the complaints, the carriers against which the complaints were made, how the complaints were addressed and systematic trends in the industry as far as the complaint process is concerned. This information would actually be included in the agency's annual report.
I should note as well that the agency already publishes information regarding many important airline consumer issues in its annual report and on its website. These changes would be improvements to an already open and transparent reporting process.
Bill C-11 contains a provision that would give the agency the authority to develop regulations on air fare advertising; yes, that is right, air fare advertising. Many consumer groups and consumers in Canada have looked forward to this provision. The amendment made by the committee would oblige the agency to make regulations on air fare advertising following the passage of this bill. Truth in advertising, in essence, is what we heard from many groups.
Bill C-11 contains a provision that would allow the agency to resolve disputes on railway noise as well. This would be the case if the railway and complainant could not resolve their dispute through voluntary measures. This provision has attracted considerable interest. A lot of discussion took place by committee members and indeed by many of the witnesses, including groups from Quebec and British Columbia.
The committee made a number of amendments to the noise provisions which, it is hoped, will improve the co-existence of communities and railways. This country for the most part was established and has been kept together by rail. Rail is a very important part of our community and our country, but at the same time it has to coexist with the communities around the railways. We tried to find that balance in the legislation.
First, the committee added something new, vibrations, which was a common complaint, as a matter that would be subject to the provision. Vibrations will be considered in the act.
Second, the committee changed the standard to which the railways would be held. Bill C-11 would have required, as it was in its original form, “to not cause unreasonable noise”, when constructing or operating a railway. We did something different and we are very proud of this provision. We changed it to “cause as little noise or vibration as possible”. This is very important because it will maintain less noise for those people who live in those areas. It is very, very important to them. We were listening. This government does listen and it reacts in the best interests of Canadians.
Finally, the committee's amendments would add the potential impact on persons residing on properties adjacent to the railway as a factor that a railway must take into consideration when it attempts to cause as little noise or vibration as possible.
In closing, I would like to thank the committee members for their due diligence, hard work and cooperation in improving this bill. We have a great bill before Parliament now as a result.
I would encourage the House to move quickly to approve the bill. There is a lot of support for this bill in commercial and residential areas across this country and a lot of people are watching this today to see that cooperation move forward.
We owe it to many stakeholders who have waited patiently for the last five years especially. I thank them for their patience. I hope we can move forward with another great initiative from the committee.
Hon. Joseph Volpe (Eglinton—Lawrence, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I know that the opposition side, now dressed as government, is waiting to hear this speech with bated breath, most of it after much libation has passed through the lips.
Without casting too many aspersions on this, one has to be in control of one's senses when one listens to some of the rhetoric of the government side. I wondered why those members would not take just a moment to say that they have a responsibility as parliamentarians to come forward with legislation that is good for all Canadians. It was there and we are going to try to implement it, they could say, even though for partisan reasons they said no in the past. They said they were not going to support Bill C-44.
But in a stroke of blinding light, of genius, let us divide it up, those members said. They came to this side and asked for our support. We said why not, it is in our collective interest to ensure that legislation that helps Canadians is put forward.
I am not going to reread into the record that which the parliamentary secretary has thought useful for his party's business to talk about what is in the bill. I gave an indication earlier on that there are several things that are important about this bill and that attracted a positive reaction from us.
One of them, of course, is in regard to railway lines that are no longer used, that are declared underused by the railway companies, in that commuter agencies in the various centres through which they pass would have access to them for the purposes of developing appropriate commuter traffic. This would allow us as governments, whether it is this Parliament or the provincial legislatures or the municipalities, to develop a transportation policy for commuters in order to address the environmental, economic, transportation and consumer issues that are evident for everyone.
To do that, we have to put an infrastructure in place that would allow the minister to play a proactive role. That is what Bill C-44 intended to do. The government opposite fought that with every breath it could muster. Today the Conservatives want to put themselves in the clothes of shining bright knights who would accomplish the solutions that would satisfy all Canadians' aspirations and needs.
The truth is the opposite. The government has been asking for and receiving the support of the opposition parties. I see my colleague from the Bloc way down at the end to my left--I can say he is here, I do not have to say he is not here, as that would be for those people--and he has been patient. He has offered the same kind of support that we have offered, because in this instance, at least, he too is thinking about the commonweal.
While we have been doing this, we have watched as the Minister of Transport has ignored the larger implications that were resident in Bill C-44. The underlying principles are as follows: do what is good for the economy of the country, do what is important for the infrastructure and transportation policies of this country, and take into consideration the economic impacts of transportation policies, especially, in this instance, on rail traffic.
What did the government do? We found the minister preferred to do nothing with the cooperation the opposition parties have been offering. So what happened? With Canadian National Railway, he allowed a work stoppage, a strike, to go on for ever so long. I am sure my colleague down at the other end has received the same kinds of submissions that I have from all interested parties and communities across Canada. Whether they were in the lumber industry, the mining industry, the wheat, grain and oilseeds industries, the commercial products industries or even, as we now know, the petrochemical and gasoline industries, we had no movement of goods.
There was no movement of goods while the minister's parliamentary secretary and his government stood and said, “Oh my. Aren't we wonderful? We're just like Jack Horner sitting in a corner. We're just marvellous people”.
Meanwhile, there are communities everywhere around the country, especially those one-industry towns, those in northern Ontario, northern Quebec and northern British Columbia, to name just three places, that are completely, totally and undeniably dependent on rail traffic to get their goods to market, to keep the mills open and to keep the mines going. All them were crying for some intervention while two unions, local and international, with CN, played with the economic life of all Canadians and the minister sat there and did nothing.
That government did nothing and then turned around and told us that it was doing all kinds of great things. Look at us, said the Conservatives, we have been here for 13 months and look at all that we have accomplished.
We have asked for the cooperation of the opposition parties, they said, and look at what we in the opposition did: we gave it. We split up a bill, Bill C-44. One aspect of that has been passed. A second one is here before us today. There is a third one down the road. We have been trying to move this along really quickly.
The debate on this should have finished last week, but no, we had the minister for hot air insulting one of my colleagues, the member for Mississauga South, I think, who was here a moment ago. He is moving around the table now. Instead of carrying on with discussions of substance, that minister for hot air wanted to engage in discussions of disruption, and so the bill goes on a little while longer. Instead of capitalizing on the opportunities to build on the cooperative spirit that was here in the House, on this side of the House, with respect to transportation, particularly with this bill and particularly with movement of traffic around the country, while communities everywhere were crying for our help, he did nothing. The Conservatives did nothing. Not only did they dither, but they did nothing.
Let us look at the ports, for example. The ports in the lower mainland in British Columbia were crying for some sort of intervention. No, I am sorry, that would have been too much to ask for. They were looking for some kind of attention and interest on the part of the Minister of Transport to get some things moving. They had to lay off all the personnel, or portions thereof, at the ports. They had boats sitting out in the harbour; others still more. Trains were backed up. Wheat, lumber and minerals were being held up out in the west. Markets out in the Orient and in the States were looking for some kind of product and some kind of interest on the part of the Government of Canada to get that product going. There was nothing.
The Minister of Transport said:
My name is Pontius. I wash my hands.
It was a labour issue, he said.
The Minister of Labour came before our colleagues and asked us if would we help him out and support back to work legislation if it became a real labour issue. We said of course we would do that, but we asked why the government did not get the infrastructure in place. We asked why the government did not do the minimum that is required of all of us, which is to show interest. It is not a question of partisanship.
So now what we have in southern Ontario, for example, in parts of Quebec, and in fact almost everywhere in the country but particularly in southern Ontario, is a huge shortage of gasoline, because some of it has not been able to get to the market. Yes, there have been other interests as well, and there have been other incidents, but the product could not get to market, and there has been an increase in the price, diminishing our ability to be productive and competitive and obviously bringing all things to a standstill.
I am sure that the minister for hot air on the other side will immediately say let me see now, has there been a diminution in the emissions of greenhouse gases? Yes, that must be so in part, because there is a voluntary participation by all of those drivers who could not get their gasoline and so walked to work in the middle of winter. Great.
I guess I am reduced to a little bit of sarcasm because I sat there, watched, waited and in fact offered all the cooperation that this side of the House could offer the government to say, “Get this done”. But those members were of course interested in heckling, as they are not out of the opposition mentality. They were chuckling, laughing and being as disruptive as they could.
Could we imagine that on this side? No, it would not happen.
I know you will be shocked at this, Mr. Speaker, but there is a member of the transportation committee who comes from the riding of Essex, which is a focal point for all of the manufacturing trade in southern Ontario. The trade goes through that riding into Detroit and on to the other side of the border. Of about $2 billion worth of trade, about two-thirds of it goes through that area. What happens? Instead of being able to deal with his own party in government to get the trains back on track, he has to be fighting his own party.
Competition in parties is a fact of life that we deal with. One always has to worry about whether the enemy is on that side of the House or on this side of the House, but there we had a ridiculous situation. I am looking at a CanWest news story dated February 22 about how the member had to worry about “murder threats” from his own riding executive. There are all kinds of soap operas going on within that party. No wonder those members cannot address the issues of the country. They are too busy trying to take each other out.
Hon. Joseph Volpe:
Mr. Speaker, I am flattered that you were actually listening so attentively to what I was saying.
I was trying to address what I think is a perfect set of circumstances. We have an opposition party that had presented legislation and given an indication of how to actually get things done, and an opposition party, now government party, that is looking for that kind of cooperation. We have a perfect opportunity to apply that cooperative spirit. But what happens? Nothing happens.
Our trade is going down. Lumber mills are closing. Remote communities in Canada find themselves even more isolated. Jobs are being lost. We are losing market share. All of these things are happening. Why? It is because, as I pointed out, of what is represented in the press about a situation within their own party that is preventing the Conservatives from being productive here in the House. They are saying it is a drive-by smear. I imagine members would like me to read all of this, but I will just refer them to the articles. They can be found in CanWest News Service and the Windsor Star on February 22 and February 3 respectively.
Those members will have an opportunity to be able to see the impediment. The public watching this is probably wondering what is so significant that is preventing the government from doing what it needs to do. Why would the government not take advantage of an opportunity to demonstrate that it is actually a proactive government and become involved in one of the most critical situations facing the nation today?
The government waited until the workers themselves started to go back. They went back for their own internal union reasons, not because the Government of Canada was interested in what was happening to communities everywhere.
The forest product sector pleaded with every member of Parliament on the Hill. It looked for members who were willing to listen to its pleas and get involved in this litigation so that products could move. Nobody could be found to listen except for the Minister of Labour, not the Minister of Transport . The sector could not get a response.
It is up to us to raise these issues. The Minister of Transport is the same individual who, on a W5 production some one month ago, turned a deaf ear to the issues of safety that are being represented right here in Bill C-11.
We wanted to give the Minister of Transport the authority to be involved in safety and security issues as they relate to all transportation modes, most especially in the railway industry, and especially because the railway industry wanted the government involved. What did we get? We received a shrug of the shoulders from the Minister of Transport.
The former government had launched an inquiry into the safety procedures of railways. The report came down. Everybody waited with bated breath to tell us what was wrong and what measures were being taken to resolve them. We had already put in place Bill C-44 to address some of those issues.
The Conservative government has been in place for 13 months with the benefit of all of the initiatives of the previous government. What did it do? It did nothing. The minister shrugged his shoulders on national television and said he could not even release the report. Everybody must have been asking why not? Does he not have an interest in transportation issues in the country? Is he not interested in the safety of passengers and the value of the commercial product that is being moved from one end of the country to the other? He said he could not because it mentioned a third party. Imagine a minister of the Crown saying he could not.
The minister is asking for enabling legislation right here. We are giving him all the authority he needs. Why can he not tell us what was wrong with those trains? There is a public inquiry. Does the public not have the right to know? He said he could not. I think he did not want to. Why not? That is a good question.
I met with people from CN. I met with people from the railway industry. I met people from the other transportation modes, but I especially met with the people from CN and asked whether they had an objection to that report being published.
Does anyone know what the answer was? It was, “No, we only wanted to be consulted on the first draft of the report and your former colleague in cabinet, Mr. Member of Parliament from Eglinton—Lawrence, the minister of transport, asked us for input. We gave him the input and out came the final report. You are no longer in government, so where is the report? Why is it not public? Why can't we know as Canadians, whether we are commercial users or personal users of our transportation system, and why can't we know what that public report tells us about how we can move our products and persons safely around this country from point A to point B?”
When the government members applaud themselves, I do not know how they do not get cricks in their shoulders. It must be tough to do this and smile at the same time, instead of giving credit where credit is due to the people who worked diligently to put forward legislation and initiatives that were designed for the benefit of Canadians everywhere, especially in the remote communities of this country, to keep it whole, to keep it solid and to keep it united.
The government should have taken at least one moment to recognize that it has an obligation to the Canadian public and that it should discharge that obligation rather than do nothing. That is the shame in all of this. The government is squandering our cooperative attitudes.
Mr. Mario Laframboise (Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-11. I hope that this bill will be passed.
Earlier, I asked my Liberal colleague some questions. Things are not easy in this Parliament, particularly because of the very different approaches to development or to problems the public may be having. Too often, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party have great plans, but neither of them solves people's real problems. Bill C-11 will try to offer a little salve for the wounds of people who are suffering all sorts of upsets because of railway company operations.
The railway industry is expanding rapidly and has undergone major technological changes. Although it provides a useful and increasingly profitable service, it imposes constraints on the neighbouring communities. This has gone on for years, as I said earlier.
The problems associated with the noise, vibration and odours generated by railway operations as a whole have existed for a long time and are becoming more serious with the development of new technologies.
The people listening to us—Quebeckers and Canadians—will understand that for reasons having to do with economies of scale, the way things are done in the railway industry has changed. For one thing, in the mid-1990s, coupling of locomotives and cars was done by human beings. Starting in the mid-1990s or early years of this century, human beings were replaced by remote coupling, which is done electronically or electrically.
Once this way of doing things was changed, once they wanted to achieve economies of scale by reducing the number of employees in switching yards, the problems associated with noise, vibration and odours became worse. This is done following Transport Canada's standards. As yet, there is no technology that would allow this to be done while making the least noise possible. Since the mid-1990s, many groups of people who live alongside switching yards have got together and formed associations to try to control the noise and odour pollution generated by the railway industry.
Wanting to limit problems for neighbouring communities does not mean being opposed to rail transportation. On the contrary, we want the rail industry to expand. Railway companies, like Canadian Pacific and Canadian National, make profits. While they had some problems during the 1980s and 1990s, I think that since that time they have paid their shareholders a very handsome return. In fact, it rises every quarter.
Phenomenal profits are being made. Profits like these had never before been made in the railway industry.
Pressure is being taken off the roads, and that can help combat greenhouse gases. We are aware of this. Rail transportation can limit greenhouse gases, because it reduces the number of trucks on the roads. It also imposes constraints, however.
Since 2000, that is, since the 37th Parliament, this House has been trying to solve the noise problem. The Liberals introduced Bill C-26. It was virtually an omnibus bill which addressed a number of problems in the railway, airline and other industries, and which made VIA Rail an independent corporation, a corporation with share capital. This could have helped it to expand. From the outset, the Conservatives were against expansion by VIA Rail, which could have engineered its own expansion and could have created VIAFast. Members will recall that debate. The Liberals were divided: there was the Chrétien clan and the clan led by the member for LaSalle—Émard. The result was division on Bills C-26 and C-44. Bill C-26, which was introduced in the 37th Parliament, never saw the light of day because of that division. In the 38th Parliament, Bill C-44 also failed to get passed.
Once again, the people who live near marshalling yards and suffer from the noise pollution and other by-products of the railway industry have not seen any improvement. This problem was buried in omnibus bills. One of the methods used by the Conservative Party in this 39th Parliament was to divide the previous Bill C-44, which was debated in the 38th Parliament, into three.
The Conservatives say now that they broke it up in order to speed things along, but they are concealing the real reason, which is that they wanted to remove everything that had to do with VIA Rail from Bill C-44.
The Conservatives have never wanted the railways to really develop. They did not want the railway companies to compete with airlines for passengers. That was their choice. They wanted to protect WestJet rather than help rail develop sufficiently, the kind of development that the Bloc Québécois has always supported.
It is very important for the transportation sector to become more competitive. Rail is healthy competition for the airlines. There is talk of a fast train, although not a high speed train, between Quebec and Montreal and Montreal and Windsor. The Bloc Québécois has always supported this vision. The Conservatives, though, divided up Bill C-44 because they did not want VIA Rail to become an independent corporation ensuring its own development or the famous VIAFast project to see the light of day, that is to say, a fast Quebec City-Montreal, Montreal-Windsor train. That is the real reason.
All the same, we would have supported an omnibus bill that included all of Bill C-44. We supported Bills C-44 and C-26 at the time, and now we support Bill C-11, which will deal once and for all with the noise pollution problem.
It is never simple. I use this example because, at the same time, the people listening to us will understand how Parliament works. It is never simple. Insofar as the noise issue is concerned, the Conservatives took it upon themselves to bring a bill forward that touches on this problem. However, there is not just noise pollution but also vibration pollution and fumes. There are all kinds of sources of environmental pollution.
During our discussions with the government about Bill C-44, we touched on these issues but were not successful because of the entire VIA Rail question, even though we were working on fixing the pollution problems. If we are going to fix them, let us really do it. But with government things are never as straightforward as that. We have to understand. The Conservatives have never had any vision of the future; it is always short-term. So they decided today to include noise pollution in Bill C-11. Like us, all my colleagues and all the citizens out there say that if they are going to fix the railway pollution problem, why not take advantage of this opportunity to include fumes in the bill and the issue of locomotives turning night and day and producing fumes and environmental problems.
Sometimes you walk along the rails and you see pollution. Because the rails have been changed, stacks of wood are piled up along the tracks, and so on. The Bloc Québécois wanted to solve all the environmental problems related to railways, but the government decided that the noise was the problem. The Bloc Québécois tried in committee to put forward its own proposals. We wanted to solve the problems of noise, vibrations and fumes. We had clearly understood that, by including only noise, Conservatives did not want to solve all the environmental problems. So we went with vibrations and we asked ourselves whether we could perhaps solve at the same time the problems of vibrations and fumes from locomotives.
This is where we attack the law clerk of the House. The government knows quite well that, when it introduces a bill, we cannot move the amendments that we want, even though we have a lot of goodwill, even though all my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois are experiencing major problems, since, for example, some of their fellow citizens live close to the Moreau railroad yard, in Hochelaga, or the Joffre railroad yard, in Lévis. Even though this committee is now represented by a Conservative, we will ensure that all this will change in the next election. However, the fact remains that the people of Lévis complained to us and we never stopped defending their interests. There is the same problem close to the Farnham railroad yard, in Brome—Missisquoi, and to the Pointe-Saint-Charles railroad yard, in Jeanne-Le Ber, east of Montreal. All these people wanted us to solve all these problems, including fumes. Thus, we introduced an amendment, but the whole part concerning fumes was taken out. The law clerk of the House told us that it was out of order.
So, it is not like we did not try. We wanted to show our goodwill and our good faith in this issue. We tabled everything that we could think of. We even wanted to include public health, because there are now international standards on noise pollution. We really wanted to comply with public health standards. One of our amendments asked that public health not be unreasonably affected, given these essential operational needs. We wanted to include the issue of public health in the bill.
However, because the bill introduced by the Conservative Party was totally silent on public health, the law clerk of the House told us that this amendment, even though quite interesting, was out of order, because it would change the meaning of the legislation.
Those citizens who are listening to us must understand that a government is something that is complex. And when it is a Conservative government, it is twice as complex. That is how things work. That is the reality. The government uses every possible trick to prevent us from succeeding and achieving our objectives. In this case, we were able to reach an agreement on noise.
So, as we are speaking, clause 95.1 of the bill reads as follows:
|| When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company, must cause as little noise and or vibration as possible,...
This is what we have before us now. The original bill introduced by the Conservative Party talked about not making unreasonable noise.
We managed to get an amendment in that goes further. That was done with the support of the Conservatives, who finally realized that we wanted at least to settle once and for all the issue of noise and vibration, so that we would no longer talk about it, and so that citizens would be able to win their cases.
So, we managed to agree to include the expression “as little noise and or vibration as possible”.
One day, this bill will come into force, but not today. It is at third reading stage, then it has to go to the Senate and come back here. Canadian federalism is complicated. There is another chamber, the upper chamber, called the Senate. It has to study the same bills. The Bloc Québécois has been wanting to get rid of the Senate for a long time. The Conservatives have decided that senators will be elected by universal suffrage. We are far from getting rid of it. The federation will become even more complicated. However, one day, we will no longer be here—we hope. One day, Quebeckers will decide to have their own country and they will not have a Senate. That will be best. There will just be a parliament and it will be far less complicated.
However, in the current situation, the bill as amended by the Bloc Québécois, among others, reads as follows at clause 95.1:
|| When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company, must cause as little noise and or vibration as possible, taking into account
||(a) its obligations under sections 113 and 114, if applicable;
This has to do with operations.
||(b) its operational requirements;
||(d) the potential impact on persons residing in properties adjacent to the railway.
We managed to get that included. The following clause—and this is the crux of the bill—gives powers to the Transportation Agency, which is new. During its operations, it will have to take into account the potential impact on persons residing in properties adjacent to the railway. From now on, it will have to take into account those who live close by when there are problems with noise and vibration. That is how it will be for their operations.
Clause 95.2 states:
|| The Agency shall issue and publish, in any manner that it considers appropriate, guidelines with respect to:
This requires the Transportation Agency to establish and publish guidelines that the railway companies will have to follow. Just to get this part into the bill required many hours of discussion. Finally, the agency can be forced to establish and publish guidelines. It is all well and good to say there will be as little noise and vibration as possible, but there still need to be guidelines. This bill will force the agency to establish and publish guidelines.
Once the guidelines have been established and the railways are operational, we proceed to clause 95.3.
|| On receipt of a complaint made by any person that a railway company is not complying with section 95.1, the Agency may order the railway company to undertake any changes in its railway construction or operation that the Agency considers reasonable to cause as little noise or vibration as possible, taking into account factors referred to in that section.
Before this bill, the Canadian Transportation Agency had no power. Its only role was that of intermediary. Judicial power was tested in that respect in an Ontario court.
One might have thought that after getting involved in a file and participating in negotiations, Transport Canada could have made recommendations and ordered the company to take certain measures if no agreement could be reached in the end. In a decision concerning an Ontario community, the Ontario court ruled that the Canadian Transportation Agency had no power, that it was simply a mediator, not even an arbitrator. It could participate in discussions, but it had no power.
The real purpose of this bill is to give the Canadian Transportation Agency the power to order measures to be taken. That is, once it receives a complaint, it will analyze it and order the railway company to take measures.
Recently, I met with the Railway Association of Canada, which turned up practically in tears to tell us that it made no sense to force railway companies to produce as little noise and vibration as possible.
I might ask all railway employees, who work very hard, why we have this bill before us today. I might also ask the shareholders and the companies that are making healthy profits and doing good business why we are debating this bill. We are debating it because they have been so remiss in past years that we have no choice.
Personally, I took part in a meeting with citizens who live around the Moreau marshalling yard in Hochelaga; the railway company was also present. I will not say its name because they are all the same, regardless of which one it is, and I do not want to discriminate. So I participated in the discussions. It was easy to see that the employees taking part were there under duress. The member for Hochelaga was present to listen to the citizens. I was there as the transportation critic for the Bloc Québécois. My colleague from Hochelaga and the community, who had been following the Ontario decision, were very well informed and proposed some mitigation solutions to the representatives of the railway company. These people seemed interested but in the end nothing ever came about. That is how it is.
It was the same thing when I met with citizens’ groups in the Joffre marshalling yard in Charny. I had a chance to meet the Mayor of Charny, who is now a councillor for the City of Lévis and who really took an interest in this file. It was and still is the same thing. The companies listen, but in the end, when they have to spend some money, it does not go anywhere, not to the next level up anymore than to the board of directors.
Since I am being told I have two minutes left, I am going to use them wisely.
This is how we have ended up where we are today. The Bloc Québécois does not want to be one of those who would prevent the railway from developing. On the contrary, we know that it is developing just fine, that business is good and that it is probably time to put things in order and do something about the pollution that railways can cause. There is noise pollution and other kinds of nuisances.
We will not fix all that today, as I said. And it is not because the colleagues of the Bloc Québécois would not have liked this bill to solve all the nuisances caused by railways. Given that the industry is doing well, maybe it is time for it to make some investments.
At least today the noise and vibration problems should be solved. For any citizens who live along railways or near railway yards this bill should solve any noise and vibration problems they experience. From now on complaints can be filed with the Canadian Transportation Agency, which can intervene and, in accordance with the provision contained in paragraph 93(3), order the railways to take action. The Agency will be able to order railway companies to take remedial action.
Obviously this does not solve the other problems. In committee, communities came to tell us that the trains are increasingly long. In some places, they are even afraid that emergency services cannot get through. That obviously includes ambulances, firefighters, and all sorts of services. Actually the trains are so long that they block entry into entire neighbourhoods. This problem is not dealt with in the bill. I hope that the government one day will listen and table new bills that will deal with all these issues.
Ms. Jean Crowder (Nanaimo—Cowichan, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-11, the Transportation Act amendments. I especially want to acknowledge the member for Burnaby—New Westminster for the tireless work he has done on this file.
The New Democrats will be supporting the bill but we continue to have some concerns. I know the member for Burnaby—New Westminster had proposed a number of amendments, not all of which were accepted at the committee level.
I have a couple of things that I want to speak to today, one which I know other members have spoken to, which is the issues around noise. Although the legislation before the House does provide some mechanisms to deal with noise complaints from individuals and communities, we will look to the process that has been put in place to see if it works. However, we continue to have some concerns that there should be stronger language. I might add that the member for Burnaby—New Westminster had proposed some amendments but they were not supported.
Many of us in Canada, from coast to coast to coast, do have railway lines in our communities and the level of disruption that happens in our lives as a result depends on the size of the community.
I stayed in downtown Vancouver in a place that was right on the railway lines where there were a lot of sidings and a lot of noise from the various cars. I just do not know how people manage to maintain a life in that kind of chaos. However, we will look to see if what is in the legislation does actually improve the lives of people who live near railway lines. We are ever hopeful that will actually be the case.
The member for Burnaby—New Westminster also proposed an amendment to another part of the legislation but it also was not supported by the Liberals or the Conservatives. Currently, the Canadian Transportation Agency has a requirement that its members live in Ottawa.
I come from British Columbia and we often hear people refer to the Rocky Mountains as “the granite wall”. We often feel that the voices from British Columbia are not adequately represented. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster had made some proposals that talked about balanced regional representation. Surely, in this day and age, there are mechanisms to ensure that regional representation is present. We know about teleconferencing. There are all kinds of ways that people can be adequately heard. It is very disappointing that the amendments around the regional representation were not supported. Perhaps at some point more work will be done in that particular area.
When rail lines are no longer being used for rail purposes it is important to have alternatives for the public good. On Vancouver Island, we have been working hard to ensure unused rail lines are kept in the public domain and used for bicycling paths and whatnot. This is an important public interest that needs to be protected.
The legislation did amend the ability to have urban transit authorities being included in the sequence of mandatory offers of railway lines to public authorities, and that is an important step. I would argue that we need to do much more in that respect. In many cases, it would be very difficult for that land to be made available to the public for the public good and if we do not protect that public good, it will be lost forever.
One of the things that was in this legislation was the grain revenue cap adjustment. It is timely to be talking about that given the importance of rail to western farmers. It also talks about how consultation happens in the context of important pieces of legislation that come forward. We are seeing a lack of appropriate consultation right now with the Wheat Board.
When we talk about things like the grain revenue cap adjustment, we would hope as always that the needs of the farmers and community members are adequately recognized.
With respect to the Wheat Board, single desk management has been such an important part of how farmers on the Prairies have functioned for many years. We would hope that their voices are heard so that they can continue to function in that way. A number of farmers were in Ottawa today to make sure that their case was heard and that the facts around what is happening with the plebiscite were understood by everybody. I hope that a more appropriate consultation process is put in place around the Wheat Board and other things that impact on our farmers.
One of the other issues is railway safety. It certainly has been a topic over the last few weeks. There was late-breaking news today about another derailment about two kilometres from Golden in Kicking Horse Canyon. Five cars went off the rails and spilled hydrochloric acid. My understanding is that one of the other cars contained sodium hydroxide. The school in that area has been closed as a precautionary measure.
That is the latest in a long line of problems in railway safety in Canada. Part of the problem is that the railway system has been self-managed. We have seen a cutback in the very important role the public sector plays in watching over that transportation sector to make sure it is as safe as possible.
In a speech given by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, he said:
|| In 2005 we saw the highest number of railway accidents in nearly a decade, much higher than the 10 year rolling average that existed before. We have seen an increase in railway accidents. We have seen, tragically, deaths in the Fraser Canyon this summer. We have seen environmental damage such as the Cheakamus Lake in the Squamish Estuary and Lake Wabamun in Alberta. We have seen consistently a greater number of railway accidents over the last few years. This is a matter of great concern.
The New Democratic Party has been pushing for the results of the CN safety audit and to date we have had no luck in getting those released to the public. We often hear lots of talk about accountability, transparency and openness. Surely this would be a good time to make that audit available to the public, especially in light of the number of derailments that have occurred recently.
Canadians value their railway system. They want it to be safe. They want their communities to be safe. Many of the railcars that go through communities contain chemicals that impact on the safety of community members. This was the case in today's incident. There have been spills that have killed the fish in rivers in British Columbia. From coast to coast to coast we value the health of our rivers. I would urge the government to release that audit so the public can know what the issues are facing CN Rail around safety.
One of the other issues is that there is no national transportation policy. One of the great things talked about in Confederation was our national railway. In a country as big as Canada it would seem important to have a national policy that shapes what we expect out of rail and air.
Overall this speaks to the lack of a number of national strategies. In the past I have called for a national forestry strategy. Members from Windsor have called for a national auto strategy. The member for Sackville—Eastern Shore has called for a shipbuilding strategy. It would seem that a national transportation strategy would only make sense. Yet in this day age, here we are in the 21st century and we still do not have those kinds of strategies.
Given that people are clothing themselves in green cloaks these days, it would make sense if we had a national transportation strategy that looked at the benefits of things like rail transportation. I have some stats here that talk about the benefits of rail transportation and how it positively impacts on our greenhouse gas emissions.
Regarding environmental benefits, the GO Transit website indicates that the average Toronto car carries only 1.16 people. One 10-car GO train carries the same number of people as 1,400 air polluting cars, and one bus can replace more than 50 cars. GO trip projects will provide additional capacity equivalent to 10 expressway lanes and will lead to the reduction of 1.1 million vehicle kilometres of car travel every day. That is significant.
Those of us who have driven in some of the major cities know about the congestion on the roads. When there are rail projects that would benefit us not only in terms of congestion but in terms of our air quality, surely that would be an area in which we could invest.
The Railway Association of Canada website talks about the fact that commuter trains generate about one-quarter as much greenhouse gas emissions as urban autos per passenger kilometre travel. There are others.The document “Rail Transit in America” has a substantial amount of information about the benefits of rail transit and the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
It is even broader than just greenhouse gas emissions. A national transportation strategy potentially could have an impact on how we develop our cities. When we build these clusters that are serviced by rail, especially in large cities, we could substantially alter the way development happens and it could be much more environmentally friendly.
A national transportation strategy would provide us with the opportunity not only to look at what our transportation needs are but also to look at the benefits which would help us around development and the environmental impact.
Canadians have a great love affair with their railways and realize the importance around the heritage of railways, railway stations and bridges. The Kinsol trestle, one of the oldest wooden railway bridges in Canada, is located in my riding. Unfortunately, it was damaged by a fire a few years ago. We have discovered that although something has been designated as being a heritage, we have this wonderful railway bridge that is in desperate need of repair and there is no money to do it. Many Canadians are very proud of that rail heritage and yet we just do not have a mechanism to preserve it.
When we talk about a transportation strategy, this legislation deals with the fact that there is a mechanism to make sure that urban and other public authorities have access. We have a very good example of that on Vancouver Island. This is from the Island Corridor Foundation's website. The headline reads, “E&N line donated to Islanders”. It states:
|| The Age of Rail is being preserved on Vancouver Island with a donation valued at $236 million, say a group of municipal politicians and First Nations leaders.
|| In what the non-profit Island Corridor Foundation is calling a historic agreement, the Canadian Pacific Railway has agreed to hand over its Island rail assets to the foundation, a partnership of First Nations and local governments along the E&N line.
|| CPR is donating its portion of the 234-kilometre E&N, which averages 30 metres in width between Victoria and Courtenay, to the foundation. That encompasses 651 hectares of land, six historic railway stations and a number of trestles. The company is also supplying $2.3 million in “seed money” to help the foundation continue its work.
Later on in the release by the Island Corridor Foundation, it states:
|| VIA Rail continues to operate a passenger service on the E&N line, but has tried to shut it down several times, saying it's not a profitable venture.
|| [The] deal will help preserve rail service on Vancouver Island and keep E&N corridor available for such things as power lines, pipelines and hiking trails, foundation officials said. The ownership change will also allow more flexibility to deal with local concerns.
||Signing a deal to continue passenger rail service.
||Developing other proposals for the corridor, including a commuter rail service in the south.
|| The first section of the E&N line, between Esquimalt and Nanaimo, was built between 1884 and 1886. CPR bought it in 1905, and continued to operate on the Island until the late 1990s, when it decided there wasn't enough business to continue. RailAmerica later took over part of the line for a freight service.
Later on it says:
|| Also being discussed is the scope of rail service along the corridor and the establishment of a leasing arrangement with a company to run the service, said Lake Cowichan Mayor Jack Peake, the foundation's co-chair. A viable commuter rail service is one topic of discussion, he said.
|| He said the foundation wants to show what can be done with a grassroots rail service, and with the unique partnership that has been created among the five regional governments and 13 First Nations within the corridor area.
|| “I think one of the things [where] Canada is still lagging behind the rest of the world is recognizing the value that the railway corridors bring to this country that we live in,” Peake said.
This was also published in the Times Colonist in 2006. This is an example of community partners coming together. I am pleased that this piece of legislation gives some recognition to urban transit authorities and other pubic authorities. This is an example of how municipalities and first nations came together to preserve that railway corridor.
The east side of Vancouver Island is developing very rapidly. If that land had been lost, the opportunities to do some of the other proactive initiatives that the foundation is proposing would have been lost.
It is also an example of the national transportation strategy which the New Democrats have called for. It would make so much sense to have some incentives to encourage the use of existing rail lines for commuter traffic.
We have a passenger line right now. In the morning people in Victoria go north to Courtenay and in the evening they go south to Victoria. Anybody who lives on Vancouver Island understands that the commuter traffic actually goes south in the morning and north in the afternoon. If there were incentives to take some of those cars off the road and people had access to a commuter train from Chemainus and Duncan, and even from Nanaimo, as there are some people who drive from Nanaimo to Victoria for work, it would make sense. We need that kind of access and some incentives to encourage that kind of commuter transit.
That partnership is a really good example. Many in the House often talk about partnerships in a variety of areas. The Island Corridor Foundation is a non-profit organization that has built on these partnerships. One of the things the foundation talked about is that in part the partnership was driven by necessity. Its website talks a little about how it was founded:
|| When Norske announced that they would move their freight business to truck in 2002 there was considerable concern about the future of rail service on Vancouver Island. Without some significant intervention, it is likely that rail service would be abandoned and the property sold off in parcels to private interests, forfeiting the benefits of a continuous corridor forever.
|| Cowichan Tribes had the foresight to see the potential of what preserving the corridor and rail service could mean to First Nations. At the same time, the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) saw the potential for Island communities. In an extraordinary collaboration between local government and First Nations, the two groups invited all interested parties to participate in two Roundtables on the Future of Rail on Vancouver Island to discuss the situation.
It indicates that this ended up in the formation of the Vancouver Island rail initiative. It mentions the ongoing collaboration that ended up in the formation of that charitable foundation. It has preserved this right of way for all Vancouver Island residents and I am pleased about that, but I also know that the organization needs funds in order to help it pursue its vision.
We will be supporting this piece of legislation. I would argue that we need to use it as a springboard to move toward developing a national transportation strategy and looking at incentives for things like rail travel because of, among other things, the environmental benefits.
Mr. Robert Carrier (Alfred-Pellan, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today at third reading stage of Bill C-11, the purpose of which is to amend the legislation governing transportation in the Canada Transportation Act.
When the bill was debated at second reading in September 2006, I said that the Bloc Québécois supported the principle of the bill, but that we would try to improve it when it was examined in committee. Well, that is what we did. The standing committee heard 37 witnesses and then did a scrupulous examination of the bill, clause by clause.
Of the 11 amendments moved by the Bloc Québécois, plus the amendments from the other parties, the result was that 21 amendments were adopted in the House at the report stage.
First, and in reply to my colleague from Terrebonne—Blainville, I would like to point out that, for the first time, the bill sets out the objective of protecting the environment in its declaration of principle. That is still a principle. I think that we are going to have to watch the present government closely when it comes to the actual application of that principle. In any event, it is in the declaration of principle.
With respect to the environment, I would like to refer to the issue of replacing old locomotives. Only about 30% of locomotives in current use meet environmental standards. I think that if the government is really serious about its bill, it will have to set up a program for replacing locomotives. That is only one example. My colleague was talking about the environment in areas around railway lines where there is contaminated land. Now that we have this declaration of principle, we will be able to force railway companies to decontaminate all of the rail lines that crisscross the country, from sea to sea, as you know.
My primary concern with this bill, as a member who represents a riding, was the whole section supporting the development of commuter trains.
Railed mass transit does offer a number of benefits. It is fast, reliable and comfortable and has little impact on the environment. It can be used to reduce our dependence on highway infrastructures that, in my opinion, disproportionately encourage the use of private vehicles, an ineffective solution for our transportation problems in major urban centres, in addition to having a negative impact on the environment. In that respect, the bill is consistent with its declaration of principle.
Under Bill C-11, big railway companies would be obligated to offer urban transit authorities unused railway lines that could be used for public transit. This is a first in the country—that urban transit authorities will be recognized, and recognized in an order of priority. The federal government will be offered those rail lines first, and the offer will then be made to provincial governments, and then to urban transit authorities, even before municipalities. That will all be done precisely to encourage the expansion of public transit in our large urban centres.
The bill will correct the existing situation, in which urban transit authorities are not on a level playing field in negotiations with the big railway companies. The plans they wanted to implement were either delayed, because of tough negotiations, or implemented at inflated operating costs because of the power imbalance.
In one of those amendments, we added that this obligation extends to the entire territory served by an urban transit authority, in addition to the metropolitan region that it already serves.
I want to mention the example of the Agence métropolitaine de transport de Montréal; the territory it serves now extends to Saint-Jérôme, which is outside the Montreal urban area but which is part of a large metropolitan area to be served by public transit.
This line was inaugurated just last month and has been a great success, reducing traffic on our beautiful highways, which are constantly blocked during rush hour.
I firmly believe that Bill C-11 will lead to more commuter trains, which many of our constituents badly need. I am thinking specifically of the people in my riding in the eastern part of Laval, who still do not have access to this efficient mode of transportation.
I hope that this bill will make it easier for the municipality to decide to introduce a commuter rail line in the eastern part of Laval, joining the municipalities of Terrebonne and Mascouche directly to the Concorde intermodal station of the Laval metro, which will be inaugurated soon. The Canadian Pacific rail line is available. This is an innovative solution, because the commuter rail line would stop at an intermodal station instead of going right downtown, making the decision to invest even easier. The commuter rail line will be the crowning touch to the city transportation authority's project to expand the Laval metro system.
The disturbances caused by current railway operations are another major concern for the Bloc Québécois and were debated passionately and at length during our discussions in committee and with witnesses.
Our constituents who live near marshalling yards are seeing their quality of life deteriorate unacceptably. Their pleas to the railway companies to solve the problem have fallen on deaf ears.
Several citizen groups came to tell us how distressed they were that there was no mechanism for negotiating with the railway companies.
Clause 95.1 of the bill, which seeks to correct this situation, originally read as follows:
|| When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company must not cause unreasonable noise—
The witnesses, as well as the opposition members on the committee, including the Bloc Québécois members, felt that “unreasonable noise” was vague and open to interpretation, which could prevent disputes between operators and the public from being resolved. We felt that the Conservative government was giving the railways too much latitude, at the public's expense.
The Bloc Québécois decided instead to talk about “disturbances” resulting from the operation of a railway. Disturbances include noise, vibrations, emissions and anything else that can affect populations and individuals.
Further to our recommendations and with the support of the other parties, the amendment passed now reads:
|| When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company must cause as little noise and or vibration as possible,—
This wording is more explicit and closes the door on any interpretation to which a company, having better lawyers than the citizens, might resort, since “as little noise and or vibration as possible” is an appeal to all the latest technologies that can be used to reduce such noise. This problem exists mainly in the marshalling yards. There are different engines on the market now that can lessen the noise of the coupling of rail cars with the engines. The agency can now propose all these solutions and impose them on companies to ensure there is as little noise and vibration as possible.
It is all very nice to have requirements in a bill, but they have to be enforced. To ensure this, a section provides that the Transportation Agency can issue and publish guidelines. To ensure the issuance of such guidelines, the Bloc Québécois proposed amending the section as follows:
|| The Agency shall issue and publish, in any manner that it considers appropriate, guidelines—
This amendment was then passed in committee.
Now, instead of the section saying that the Transportation Agency “can issue”, it says that the agency has an obligation to do so. All this is in response to the various representations made to us by citizens’ groups who asked us to establish specific guidelines or specific criteria respecting noise in particular. As you know, some municipalities have decibel criteria for the proximity of residences. The Transportation Agency now has to issue guidelines that can be imposed on the railway companies.
This bill also amends the Transportation Act in order to make air transportation advertising more transparent. This is another subject dealt with in the bill and it is important as well. The agency can now, on the minister’s recommendation, make regulations respecting advertising in all media, including on the Internet, of prices for air services. These measures will regulate the marketing of airplane tickets by giving the agency jurisdiction to make regulations respecting advertising surrounding such sales.
This is to deal with the exaggerations found in the media: they give a price but fail to say clearly that it is just one way and does not include all the airport and security taxes over and above the transportation costs themselves.
These changes reflect the demand of consumer groups that travellers should be adequately protected. These groups came to see us in committee and told us their concerns.
Bill C-11 replaces the old position of air travel complaints commissioner with increased powers for the Transportation Agency, which will deal now with air travellers' complaints.
We felt, though, that the complaint-resolution role that the bill conferred on the agency was not very clear. Bill C-11 states that if a person has made a complaint under any provision of this part, the agency, or a person authorized to act on the agency’s behalf, may review and attempt to resolve the complaint and may, if appropriate, mediate or arrange for mediation of the complaint.
In order to reassure us in this regard, the words “may review” were eliminated and replaced by “shall review”, in an amendment introduced at the report stage that has now passed.
In addition, consumers felt reassured by the complaints commissioner’s report because of the complete list it provided of the complaints filed. Although these complaints had not necessarily all been resolved, consumers felt reassured to know that at least the complaints had been publicly disclosed. We therefore added an amendment to the bill to ensure that the agency’s annual report will include the number and nature of the complaints filed, the name of the airline involved, how the complaints were dealt with, and the general trends that emerge. In response to consumer requests, the role previously played by the complaints commissioner was therefore transferred to the Transportation Agency.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the various political parties, both in the opposition and in the government, worked very well together on studying the bill and especially during our work in committee. We thought it obvious that the bill was providing solutions to problems that everyone in Canada has noticed.
The Bloc Québécois is therefore very much in favour of this bill and hopes that it passes as quickly as possible, especially as I can recall two previous versions introduced since February 2003 that never managed to be officially passed. We hope that this time, with everyone’s help including the Senate and the entire government, the bill will finally pass.
Both the constituents we consulted and the various commuter authorities urgently need this bill in order to fix the glaring problems that have gone on for far too long.